Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Desert

guadalupe mountains natl park flash fiction writing prompt copyright ksbrooks
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below. There will be no written prompt.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms. Please note the rule changes for 2016.

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17 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Desert”

  1. Captain Jessica Andrews did not care that her re-supply ship engines cut out to soon. Nor the fact, they crashed on the wrong side of Mars. She was to busy fighting for her crews lives trying to restart the engines. At the last minute she had them use the escape pods, but she stayed to long and her pod jammed in its launch mechanism. So like a good captain she went down with her ship.

    The ship struck the Martian sands hard enough to fire her pod away from the crash site. The pod hit the ground hard, and she had the concussion to prove it.

    Now, she was stuck in a pod with her oxygen supply almost gone. For two days, her emergency distress beacon kept sending out its signal. However, being on the opposite side of Mars away from base it was unlikely anyone would reach her in time.

    Her only hope was to make it to the remains of the cargo vessel. She locked her helmet in place and pushed the pod hatch open. She stiffly limped across the sand dune to her ship.

    Before she reached the wreckage, she unexpectedly, reached the beginning of the cargo debris field. There scattered across the sands of Mars was most of her cargo of space suit oxygen cylinders. She picked up the first one she came to, and hooked it into her emergency valve. It worked, now she could breath easier, a smile of hope returned to her face.

  2. “My feet hurt,” I said, my steps sinking into the soft sand. My friend, Robyn, was up ahead so I don’t think she heard me, she was bent on her mission to find the road to the parking lot.
    Dusk had already brought out the stinging, biting, green-head flies, and it was getting cold. We had to get out of there.

    My friend and I had been walking for hours, so deep in conversation we hadn’t noticed we had gone off the trial at the 11-mile sanctuary along the coast of Massachusetts. Once you leave the water’s edge, you could be on a desert on another planet.

    Six hours earlier, we had parked in the lot, paid the fee and raced each other out to the great blue ocean. I cheated. I had already untied my shoes and threw them down, anxious to feel the sharp sting of the cold water and the smooth stones rolling under my tender feet. I turned my face into the wind, as if it could cleanse my spirit after a miserable and desolate six months of sorrow and loss.

    “I see it!” She shouted, and waved at the top of a dune. “Come on, it’s just over here!” The relief was tremendous as we finally slipped our tired, shivering and sunburned bodies inside the warm car. Robyn pulled slowly up to the gate. Locked. Our cell phones were dead, we lost our shoes. Then we started to laugh. It felt good to be alive.

  3. Wide claw marks etched the cool walls like a modern art display, evidence of ferocious action to sustain life. Here he found refuge from the harsh heat above, until dark when he must join the group.

    Unencumbered by worry, he rested.

    Then, powerful instinct opened two beady eyes. Peering from the burrow, he scanned and tasted the environment. It was good weather for the challenge.

    With one swift lunge, he joined the others at the base of the revered saguaro cactus. Sounds of anxious feet – digging in, pacing, testing – echoed across the still expanse. Bats pitched themselves and jabbed the night air. The runners were ready.

    An unheard signal released their tense bodies. Each competitor scrambled awkwardly, but efficiently, forward, darting left and right, as they performed a mysterious ritual. An abrupt stop, a head-jerk, then hugging the ground, they jousted in a wild melee dance.

    The white moon highlighted this chaotic synchrony. Light, shadow, and sparkling sand caught in mid-air as each participant jaggedly sent messages using an ancient language.

    Let it forever be so.

    Go, gilas. Go.

  4. Just a few feet more. I knew that once I reached the top of this monstrous dune, I’d see the lodge, surrounded by palms, and river flowing welcomingly, in the valley below. My knees began to weaken. I fell into the scorching sand. Lord help me. My throat ached with every breath of burning air. I’ll rest just a second, and close my swollen eyes.

    My mind began to pulse as I remembered my wife kissing the Sultan’s son. Wrapped in each other’s arms. Swaying to the rhythm of the seductive song played on the victrola.

    I heard him say, “We’ll just tell him we’re driving out to watch them put the finishing touches on that magnificent Sphinx.”

    They did a quick two-step and twirled for a few seconds. His strong hand pressed the small of her back into his arched body.

    “We’ll just drop him off in the middle of the desert, miles from civilization.” They back-stepped and dipped. “Then we’ll caravan to my villa in Monte Carlo.

    “Yes. Yes,” she sighed. “The miserable wretch deserves dying helplsessly like that. That monster beat me black and blue every chance he could.”

    Reaching up, I pulled myself to the top of the dune. I realized I deserved whatever happened to me, but shook the thoughts from my pounding head

    Thank God. There it was below. The Lodge. The cool rippling waters.

    I rolled down into the mirage and joyfully splashed hot sand onto my dehydrating body.

  5. I fled the city in darkness, scrambled over the low row of dunes sheltering the city from endless desert blasts. The wind was full, deadened, muffled, a thick hot dense breath; a gasp of sand, the mountains trying to catch a cool clear suck of air. The dry rasping last breath of an old man.

    The city imprisoned me before my crime, squeezed me alone in the crowd. I hungered without coin. Why suffer guiltless?

    One name, no name.
    Before the sun is full the city will learn what I’ve done. My flight is a lie.

    The desert wind tells you stories at night, and shouts at you in the daylight.
    It shouts now, naming me liar, and more.

    The city should suffer my crime but the crowd is oblivious, a waste of breath. Lives not lost but taken. So soon the desert called me to answer, called on the wind promising a hearing. The desert wind remembers; holds secrets, whispers them in its own voice. The desert wind cannot hold a lie but will pass it on. The desert upholds the wind’s judgement.

    My pocket full of coin, there is no place to spend it, no time. How great the guilt for one man’s death, or forty?

    One name, no names.

    The city imprisoned me without guilt. The desert is also prison, its emptiness: punishment. Condemned.

    I trudge dusty steps left faint across the dunes. I no longer see the city, nor know in which direction it lies.

  6. Glass

    “Why have you named this program ‘Glass’ Dr. Oppenheimer?”

    “Well Bob, while the process is complicated, the chemistry itself is quite simple. For hundreds of years men have been combining silica (which is the major component of sand) with sodium and calcium carbonates (the principle components in limestone) — subjecting it to high heat — and producing glass!”

    “I understand that sir. But this project…umm…’Glass’…and why here. It’s so remote, dare I say desolate!”

    “Look around you, Bob. We’re surrounded by hundreds of square miles of fine white sand and limestone outcroppings left here as residue from a prehistoric sea.”

    “What we will attempt to do is generate immense heat causing the elements to fuse and producing an enormous sheet of glass.”

    “Is there a practical use for this experiment?”

    “As you can see from all of the security surrounding us, this is a Top Secret project. I can’t divulge any more information at this time.”

    Dateline: Los Alamos, New Mexico — July 16, 1945. Glass is made.

    Einstein would be proud.

    Next stop: Nagasaki, Japan.

  7. I feel like I am living a Biblical parable, walking along a beach. But it’s not a beach, it’s the desert. The sand is in small ridges and waves, looking like giant tan snakes working its way up and down the dunes. The sky is so gray the mountains in the background look like a dense forest. The grass is sparse. There should be two sets of footprints, or even just one, mine or His. Only I don’t see any footsteps at all.

    I see someone in the distance. There should be footsteps! Maybe they came from the other direction?

    Why am I walking here? It’s chilly, the sun isn’t even shining. No sane person would be in the desert on such a yucky day like today.

    Maybe that’s it. I’m not sane.

    That’s not to say I’m insane. I’m not a threat to myself or others. But I do like my solitude. In fact, I crave it. I’m at that stage of life where every little idiosyncrasy just annoys the snot out of me. And don’t give me that old “Others are annoyed by your idiosyncrasies, too.” I don’t care. This is why I am wandering alone, my mood matching the bland, gray sky.

    Ahead I see a bright light in the sand. I chuckle as I walked toward the lighter area, reflecting on those who claim to have died and walked toward the light. But it’s not beckoning me to death, it’s a mirage. Story of my life.

  8. We take every precaution for our drive through the desert, plenty of water, dry snacks, a full gas tank and more. From the extra spare tire to the complete tool kit, we think we have every possible eventuality covered so nothing will spoil our vacation.
    Our one mistake is stopping…
    With hindsight, we should have stayed on the road – after all there wasn’t a vehicle in sight for miles in either direction and plenty of time for little Johnnie to take a pee before they would reach us. Instead, we pull off on what seems to be a hard sand shoulder to let him take care of business behind a rock, leaving the engine and a/c running.
    Mama digs in the picnic basket for snacks.
    After a few minutes the engine shuts off.
    No amount of stomping on the gas pedal or cursing will restart it.
    “We’re sinking!” Billy in the back seat yells.
    “Can’t be.” Father casually looks out of the window and panics when he can’t open his door.
    “He’s right – we are – open your windows and get out – Now!”
    The sand is halfway up to the door handles and sinking quickly before we are safely on the blacktop.
    “Quicksand!” Father swears.
    There’s nothing we can do but watch the roof of the station wagon slide under the surface, taking all our ‘precautions’ with it.
    Johnnie steps out from behind the rock. “Where’s the car dad?”

  9. He went to the desert for solitude. He had grown tired of the traffic, of the crowds. The world was too full, too noisy. And since she’d walked out without any explanation, there was no longer a reason to endure any of it.

    So he sold or gave away his possessions, packed his camper and moved to the desert. With just the cat for company, he settled into the quiet, austere beauty. His meager homestead consisted of the camper, a tiny garden, a shallow well, and awnings for midday shade.

    Each day brought the peace and aloneness he’d sought. The cat entertained itself catching lizards and an occasional snake. Evenings, he and the cat watched the flaming sunsets over the distant mountains. He spoke little, the cat even less.

    Eventually, he resumed his painting. He captured the glow of sunsets, the desert blooms, the cactus growing in the golden sand. Once a month, he traveled to the nearby village where he traded paintings for supplies.

    After one such journey, he returned to an empty trailer. When the cat still hadn’t returned by morning, he began searching and calling its name.

    He found the mutilated body in a wash behind their home. He cradled the small animal in his arms and petted it gently. Touching his own cheek, he was surprised to find it damp with tears. He’d never cried at all over that woman who broke his heart. But without the cat, this solitude suddenly became unbearable.

  10. Phil shuffled through the hot sand, compass in one hand and shovel in the other, searching for the horseshoe crab rock. His grandfather’s stories told of a grand treasure buried in a cave behind the rock. Only by approaching it from the right bearing, hence the compass, could the rock’s shape be clearly recognized and the treasure uncovered. He had found the proper bearing in an old captain’s log.
    Phil had been following the right path all morning and found it was leading him into water.
    Wrong. There has to be some problem with the compass.
    Phil took out his metal canteen and passed it by the compass. It didn’t move. It wobbled a bit but didn’t move toward the iron band around the old army canteen.
    I must be on the wrong side of the island. There’s no way I’ll get back to the last ferry.
    Phil dropped onto the sand and stared out with a frown across the beautiful clear water of the cove.
    His expression changed into something of puzzlement as the sunlight sparkled off of something on the far side of the tiny bay.
    I have to swim it.
    Phil left the shovel and compass. He walked into the calm warm waters and swam.
    He was soon at the shining object clearly embedded in the cliff wall. The legendary treasure was forgotten as he realized what was before him.
    Unbelievable! Could there really be a diamond this big?

  11. The solitude had lured her here. She left the city because she could no longer tolerate the inconsiderate and uncaring creatures that humans had become. Obsessed by their endless need for irrelevant possessions and all-consuming hungers, they neglect the simple act of enjoying life and caring about others.
    She felt at home in the desert, bleak loneliness was what she craved now. She especially loved this time of day. She loved the searing heat surrounding her and imagined it was absolving her from sin. Burning the evil from her soul and leaving her pure, it was a soothing balm to her burdened spirit.
    The bleak landscape mirrored her mind, both wastelands to be avoided. The tattered shreds of her fast-beating heart were stilled by the blankness. The everchanging, shifting sands reimagining the dunes, reminded her of the oxymoronic permanence of change.
    There was stark beauty here, the never-ending dance of life of the participants. Scorpions, tarantulas, and snakes, she could relate to them, they felt like family, offspring of her violent thoughts. She too had venom, she too could lash out in self-defense, best to avoid that outcome.
    The whole was a fitting scene for the last remnants of her existence. Successes, failures, hopes, regrets echoed across her mind like a bad movie. Here she could forget, here she would exist in numb survival and acceptance until it was over.

  12. Love For The Lost & Lonely
    By D. Doug Mains

    I am but a grain of sand on the vacant hills of desert where no one has ever walked. There are millions like me, huddled together for miles in the exposing light of the sun. Heat warps the horizon. Winds rippled the landscape giving it the appearance of yellow water stilled in motion. Water. I wish I were a grain on the shore pulling the tide over me like bedsheets in the morning.

    I am but a grain of sand on the vacant hills of desert where no one has ever walked. I could grasp the claw of a vulture and escape into the abyss. I could claim my name as that one brave particle who fled monotony for thrilling adventure. I could be like Bilbo who was an average hobbit of an average sort plucked away into meaning.

    I am but a grain of sand on the vacant hills of desert where no one has ever walked. I am the same as those around me. Identical. Or at least too small for variation to matter. I’ve heard it said that if it were not for each individual the mass would not be the same. I don’t buy it. To the sky, I am worthless.

    I am but a grain of sand on the vacant hills of desert where no one has ever walked. Until now. Beauty passes by, weightless as a mirage, pressing on my soul. I cling to her. I will never be the same in her arms.

  13. There he was. She’d lost sight of him for a bit while climbing the enormous dunes. Sarah knew following him out here, to the middle of nowhere, was stupid. But he’d come to her in a vision – no, his young victim had come to her, begging for help, revealing his face. What had he done to her?

    A few hours later, she saw him. It had to mean something. Sarah felt destined to save the young girl. But how? It wasn’t like she could call the police. What would she tell them?

    So here she was, out in the desert, trailing him. Then she saw it: a tall, green tent. He entered, and began talking to some other people. They were leaning over a table. Was the little girl on it?

    Sarah ran as fast as her feet could carry her through the sand, screaming, “Leave her alone!” When she reached the tent, she flailed her arms to fend them off, but the man put her in a bear hug, containing her assault.

    When she finally stopped thrashing, Sarah realized the table was covered with rocks and pottery shards. Where was the child?

    “Jeez, Sis,” the man said. “Are you off your meds again?” He sighed, then turned to the other archeologists. “I’m sorry about this. She’s been this way ever since her daughter disappeared.”

    “But I know she’s here!” Sarah sobbed.

    “Um, guys?” came a voice from outside the tent. “I just found a body.”

  14. Refining Sands
    by Jack Spies

    Awakened by her husband’s fretful tossing about, Helen says, “Can’t sleep, dear?”

    “Nope, and I need my seven hours.”

    “Tried counting sheep?”

    “Doesn’t work for me, Helen.”

    “Works for me, dear.”

    “Well, woman are different, especially when it comes to sleep.”

    “Now, Dan.”

    “Sorry. But I really, really need Mr. Sandman to come and knock me out. Maybe I will try the ‘sheep thing’ or the ‘walking alone in the desert thing.’”

    “How about meditation? You’ve always been good at that. You’ll be asleep before you know it, and I’ll cook your favorite, Eggs Benedict, for breakfast.”

    Dan settles in and begins to breath deeply, focusing on each breath. “Good air in. Bad air out. Good air in. Bad air out.” he says to himself. He continues the mantra for several minutes and falls into a deep dreamless sleep. In the morning he wakes up refreshed and beaming. His ears pick up the sizzle of fresh Canadian bacon frying in the kitchen. He nose catches a whiff of a toasted English muffin, and he remembers the before-going-to-sleep talk that he had had with Helen the night before. After he washes up, shaves, and puts on the silk robe she had given him last Christmas, he strides into the kitchen.

    Seeing her husband, Helen, says, “Happy anniversary, honey. Your eggs will be ready in a sec.”

    Dan give his wife a kiss behind her ear and says, “Happy anniversary, sweetheart. You’ve never been more beautiful.”

  15. The Focus of Attention
    by William Weiss

    The world went sideways for a moment; the sand under her feet fleeing like a skittish animal.  Landing flat on her back, her breath knocked out in a surprised “Oomph!”

    How long had she been wandering in this barren?  She didn’t know, and that wasn’t the worst of it.  There was the little matter of having no recollection of how she came to be here.  Her last coherent memories involved walking home from Sarah’s house.  That had been at night.  In the falling snow.  In Maine.  A blinding light, and then this: nothing but sand in every direction.

    The woman sits up, rubbing her back.  This wasn’t the first earthquake.  They happened with frightening regularity.  With a grunt, she rises, and whisking off sand, gets moving.  What else can she do?  She ran out of tears miles ago, either due to dehydration or resignation.

    She makes a small figure against the vast waste.  Her passage leaving a meandering trail in the sand behind her.


    “I’m not going to ask again.  Get in here for dinner… Right now!” 

    With a sigh, Tommy sets aside the gift from his dad.

    “You can play with your human-farm after we eat,” his mother says, giving him the stink eye.

    He eats, but his mind is elsewhere.  His thoughts keep returning to something he has seen human children do in the earth surveillance videos.  

    Something with a magnifying glass.

  16. Her Oasis

    “I’ve come to ask you a favor,” said Victoria.

    In her mind her words fall on the ears of the desert around her. A gentle crunch follows her every footstep as she moves through the white sand. She’s been here before. The deserts always helped her through; always helped clear her thoughts. She ventures deeper to where she can listen to its hidden charms speak to her.

    His proposal had come as a surprise to her; the black velvet box and the ring glimmering inside catching the sparkle in her eye.

    As she walks towards the mountains she compares her likeness to the desert whose aridness governs the day and whose icy embrace envelopes the night. This is how she treated his advances in the beginning. Gradually he won her over and something began changing in her.

    A spring sprang forth from within her breast but what little water flowed simmered away in the searing heat of her intenseness. This continued until enough water formed a rain cloud. When the rain came a flood overtook the parched land of her soul and she drowned in his refreshing stream of gratitude and attention. When the waters receded a tract of fertile land, green as ever could be in the desert, grew.

    “Is he the one?” she asked.

    The shrubs sway as the desert wind stirs. She understood – “I am the desert and he my oasis.”

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