Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Red Clouds

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: Red Clouds”

  1. “Wow, that’s quite a photo, all right!”
    “Yeah, I’m pretty proud of it. Took it early last month.”
    “Musta been a helluva storm that day.”
    “Whaddaya talkin’ ’bout.”
    “Haven’t ya ever heard that ditty: ‘Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’? I’ll bet the skies opened up shortly after you took that photo.”
    “Well, actually—”
    “Let me see . . . as I recall, we had a terrific thunderstorm on the 8th. The National Weather Service put out a tornado watch early in the day—around 5 a.m., I think—followed an hour later by a full-blown warning. It wasn’t 15 minutes later that I thought I heard the faint sounds of sireens off to the north.”
    “Sho’nuff, saw on the TV that an EF3 struck up around Guthrie Center or thereabouts. Blew down several houses and barns, it did, and flung trucks around like they was toys!”
    “I know that, but—”
    “Oh, what is it?!”
    “This photo was taken on the 15th . . . in the evening.”

  2. Rocco’s Sophia

    Red clouds swept over the limo as it screeched to a stop at Rocco’s house. Joe, and Louie Two Toes, leaped out of the car with guns drawn and kicked open the front door. They charged in aiming at the three frightened people huddled in the kitchen.

    Joe called out to Rocco’s mother, “Okay. Where’s your son? That dirty rat ain’t gonna get away with squealing to the cops.”

    “Don’t know,” Angelica mumbled.

    “Get out of my house,” Rocco’s father shouted, waving his arms.

    “Where’d that snake go?” Louie Two Toes screamed at the voluptuous girl whimpering in the corner.

    “This is my niece, Sophia,” Angelica purred, putting her arm around her shoulder. “We know nothing of what’s going on. Why don’t you just get out and leave us alone?” She bit her lip and gestured the sign of the cross.

    Sophia nodded. Her long black hair shimmered in the light. She looked at Louie and smirked, recalling tales of how Louie fell and cracked all his toes when his over-stuffed tutu split during a pirouette in his ballet class that no one in the Mob knew about. Surgery lopped off eight of his toes.

    After hours of frustration, Joe and Louie drove away.

    Sophia whipped off her wig and… there stood Rocco, instead. He wiped off the rouge and lipstick. “Grazie Dio. That worked okay.” He reached into his dress and took out the two ripe cantaloupes which they sliced and enjoyed with a chilled wine.

  3. Jake stopped at the edge of a wasteland that was once a living city. He breathed deeply through his gas mask and scanned the horizon. Skeletal buildings dotted the landscape like gravestones while lingering reddish clouds filled the sky like a funeral pyre. What happened? A nightmare: rising tensions, panic and then . . . regret. Some mistakes can never be undone. Once you open a bottle and spill the contents, the deed is done.

    From a breast pocket he retrieved a picture of his family and looked at it. Were they still alive? He closed his eyes and then put the picture back into his pocket. He adjusted the straps on his pack and then continued his hump through the ashen debris.

    He walked for miles through the barren land, encountering only broken buildings and twisted metal. Then he came to a small hill and decided to climb it to get a better vantage point. After reaching the top he spotted something unusual a short distance away: a flower. Was it a mirage? He ran towards it.

    Within minutes he was standing beside the flower. It was real. Somehow it had survived. It stood alone, defiant, like a tattered flag at the end of a battle. He pulled off his gas mask, sank to his knees, and then slowly, lovingly, cupped the flower in his hands. It had a radiant beauty and its fragrance was like the sweetest perfume. He looked up. Maybe there was hope after all.

  4. Marty pulled his red convertible into a parking space at the Roswell Diner, as angry red clouds began to roll across the evening sky. He snapped an image and quickly sent it to everyone in town, “Quick! Come outside! You gotta see this!”

    They in turn repeatedly texted their friends in town, until almost everyone in town stood outside staring upward. At first they chatted about the strange sky, however, everyone stopped chatting as sunset came and went. The intriguing clouds continued to glow more intensely in the night sky. Finally, the last person came outside to watch the strange glowing clouds.

    Marty sensed that everyone in town was now outside staring up at the glowing night sky. So, he touched the saucer shaped icon on his smartphone; the glowing red clouds swirled as the mothership broke through the boiling clouds.

    Sitting in his red convertible with the top down, he waited for the townsfolk to return as he played an alien abduction video game. Just before dawn, he received the all clear signal, so he started up his red convertible saucer and took off skyward, homeward bound, to his mothership.

    At most, the last thing most townsfolk remembered was the red glowing clouds, but not the memories of being aboard the mothership, or of Marty returning them before dawn in his convertable. However, some of the townsfolk wondered who the little man, in the red convertible, was in a selfie they posted online?

  5. The Night the World Ended on My Block

    We fully expected to live out our lives in the home we built. That Saturday, I gave some thought to mowing the lawn again. I had trimmed it a couple of days earlier, in the evening. It was quite late I guess. Truth is, it was 11: 00 pm.

    Hugh, my neighbour, came out in his purple pajamas and gently chastised me; “Do you know what time it is, Tinker?” They call me that. Too often, for my liking. My name’s Bob Bell but…well, you know how they get there.

    I’ve gotten use to it.

    Or at least I thought I had.

    Anyways, I answered Hugh with, “Too late, Hugh?”

    He nodded and said, “By half, Tinker.”

    But I had made my point, enough of it, anyways, even if he likely went back to bed wondering what sort of Nimrod lived next door.

    So, Saturday rolled around.

    The neighbourhood was alive.

    Julie, the young widow from across the street, was washing Sam’s 1956 Chevy. Sam’s dream was to enter the car in the Viva Las Vegas car show next year.

    His wonky heart had other plans.

    The twin sisters down the street, they’re eight I think, set up their lemonade stand. Energetic kids. Entrepreneurial.

    They would have been credit to capitalism.

    The day closed.

    Night fell.

    And those clouds came.

    Red as blood.

    We all stepped outside.

    “Nothing to worry about,” said Hugh.

    “I wonder,” said Julie.

    And then the sky exploded…

  6. Ryan stopped overnight in the Walmart lot east of Tucson. It had been a long ride with frequent potty stops on his way to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Robotically-assisted Prostatectomy. Sounds so matter-of-factly high-tech, so modern-medicine-like. But, all he could think about for the last thousand miles along I-10, alone in his old Chevy pickup, was that he would soon have one of his most intimate parts excised by strangers.
    He had been through a lot in seventy years with his proclivity for risky life choices, and little to show for it. And now, cancer. The surgical option was dicey for a man his age and health, but his own bias towards action drove him to it. Yet still, he doubted.
    Sleeping bag placed on the back seat of the Impala, Ryan downed the cardiac cocktail he had been taking for a decade after his heart attack. Hungry, he walked into the Walmart to buy some deli food and use the john. Shuffling back to the car, confident he would make Scottsdale by late morning, he was struck by a wonder never seen back home.
    Somewhere south, a sandstorm had just subsided and a fine dust stayed suspended in the evening sky, cast in a shade of dried blood by the oblique rays of the setting sun. In its natural beauty, Ryan found a moment of clarity missing in his ordeal of anticipation. He knew the torment of his choice would pass like the storm, with time.

  7. Grandpa’s Tree

    The afternoon sun made the clouds red; a cheerful, not an angry red. They watched over Beatrice at her work. She wiped a dirty hand across her sweaty face. She winced as her hand grazed the fresh bruise on her cheek, but the ache in her arms and back was a good hurt.

    Beatrice patted down the dirt at the base of the small fir tree. She smoothed and graded the earth, taking pride in a job done right. The little fir took it’s place at the far end of a cordon of trees screening Grandma’s backyard from the road. They were perfectly aligned, like tombstones.

    Some were in fact tombstones, marking the final resting place of a beloved pet or, in the case of the oldest and tallest, Beatrice’s Grandfather. He’d insisted he be buried on his own land. In the old days town fathers didn’t meddle. People did as they pleased on their own place, no questions asked.

    “Grandpa’s feeding that tree”, Grandma had told Beatrice when she was a child. “See how big and strong he’s growing?”
    Beatrice rubbed at her bruised eye socket and cheekbone. It would turn an ugly purple-yellow by morning. She’d stay with Grandma until the swelling went down and the color faded to normal.

    She stamped down the soil one final time around the base of the sapling then called it a day. She wondered how big and strong the little tree would grow with her ex-husband Ralph feeding it.

  8. “Color is just a perception.” Anne was babbling again, about something she had learned from the sanitarium’s art therapist. “It is only one of the perceived qualities of things. Say, for instance, that you have never seen colors, only black and white. How could someone explain to you what color is? What words would they use?”

    Nelson wished Anne would look up, just once, and see the brilliant red sky. Really see it for what it was. A wonder of nature. “Look….” he began.

    But Anne was still talking.

    “What other qualities exist that people cannot perceive? Maybe each person has a different aura. Mystics have believed that for centuries. Do you ever wonder about things like that?”

    Anne was clinging to his arm. Most of the other patients had been taken indoors out of the coming storm. The sky was darkening. Nelson thought they should go in too. Between the strange red sky and Anne’s ramblings about mystics and auras, Nelson felt that trouble was brewing.

    He had to listen, to be understanding, and he did listen and try to understand. But sometimes it was just too much.

    He felt a growing sense of relief as they entered the sanitarium.

    A key was produced. Ward 17 was unlocked. And Nelson breathed easier.

    Once again he was safe in Bed 5, Ward l7, and Anne was back in her office.

  9. I’d never seen the sky quite that shade before, orange maybe, sometimes even a violet, just before the last rays of the sun faded away. But red was significant – dangerous even. I hurried inside our home.
    The house was deserted, She was gone, and even though I shouted and searched there was no trace. Her clothes were there, shoes and coat by the door. Purse, handbag and phone, all neatly laid on the kitchen dresser. She never left home without those essentials.
    Picking up the phone I tried to call her sister – the phones were dead, landline as well as the mobile. I got panicky, her motor was still in the drive. the nearest neighbour was over a mile away, she wouldn’t have gone there, not without her shoes and coat.
    I went out looking, I took my scrambler, noisy but quick, down the road, over the bridge and left on the main highway. I could see over the low fences and across the fields, still lit with that eerie red glow, but there was no sign of her anywhere.
    The sun had set by the time I reached the outskirts of the city, but still I could see clearly. Too clearly it seems. I could see them as they could see me. They weren’t human, but they were armed. And dangerous. Their first shot hit me square in the centre of the chest. Blew a hole straight through.
    It was only then I found her. Together at last, forever.

  10. Storm-clouds unrolled like Thor’s chariot streaking across the colorless gray; his harnessed rams with splendid horns and fleet hooves of flaming bronze leaving a swirling sea of vermillion in their wake. The Thunder God rumbled, urging them faster, – his wild, russet mane billowing behind him, – red cape flying free.

    A few impetuous raindrops fell from the restless sky. Harbingers of the coming squall, they hit the parched dirt of home-plate and beaded up in the dry dust. The air, charged, electric, raised the hair on the back of my neck. I stood in the batter’s box.

    Scowling, squinting, the pitcher reared back. He wound up, – released the pitch. Time slowed to a static crawl. Tick,… tock. The ball telescoped toward me. Thor wielded his hammer. The earth quivered with anticipation. I breathed in the power of the universe and focused it all on the sweet spot of the bat. I swung. Lightning flashed white, – splitting the heavens in two. I was Hank Aaron in the bottom of the fourth, Atlanta, ’74. I was Theseus wrestling the angry Minotaur.

    Bat and ball met in perfect time with the solid crack of Thor’s deafening hammer-strike. Everything stopped. I gasped. An expectant hush fell over the crowd. The ball sailed over the field, high, higher,… speeding, spinning,… above the lights,… clearing the fence,… It was GONE! I exhaled and time turned at normal speed. The loudspeaker blared.


  11. The first time we saw the red clouds at midday we thought it seemed weird. Usually they appeared at sunset. But when the rain started, particles of metal dropping from the sky caused more harm than the worst hailstorm. Not only did they damage cars and windows, but they shredded plants, and wounded people and animals. The official word was that the red clouds carried space debris. We called the phenomenon “junk rain.”

    The storms worsened. High winds blasted metal shards through any flimsy structure. All who could not find shelter risked their lives. Animals and homeless people suffered many losses. My husband became one of the early casualties as he attempted to get home from work.

    Now I try to maintain my sanity by observing weather forecasts and remaining indoors as much as possible. Today’s storm appears to be another major one.

    I see a young woman running up the sidewalk. She clutches a small child. She races toward my door. I stare in horror as shrapnel spears everything around her. Suddenly she stumbles. A large piece of metal protrudes from her back. The child screams.

    I am no hero. I am shaking with fear. But I throw open my door and run. I cannot pull the woman to safety, but I pick up the child. After we rush safely inside my house, I see more shards pinion the dying woman. If my tears had not already dried up, I would shed them now.

  12. Faye kept her foot pressed to the floor of the 1963 Ford Falcon. There wasn’t much poop left in the old car, but she could slow down for anything as she zoomed north on I-10. If she made Phoenix, maybe she would be safe.

    Glancing at the rear-view mirror, she was struck by her puffy, bruised eyes and the splattered blood across her face, the same color as the sunburned clouds ahead.

    There he was. David was way back but she knew his yellow car. It was much faster than her car, kept getting closer and closer. She dared not stop.

    Tears trickled down her cheeks as David and his roadster gained on her. Ahead, Faye could see the lights of the city. Could she coax another mile per hour from her car? David raced up behind her, beeping his horn and yelling words Faye could not hear. She only read his vicious expression and violent gestures, fearing his red-fired hate.

    Thunder crashed as the storm unloaded. The road was all down hill, but the curves, long and sloping, turned to slippery oil and water mix.

    She had to brake or leave the road. Her lights flashed red, red like the clouds, red like the blood on her face, as she made the turn.

    David never learned to slow down. His yellow car left the road in a roar and catapulted down the hillside, blowing up in a red mushroom cloud.

    Faye stared straight ahead.

  13. Blood streamed across the sky, great rivers of orange-red gushing from an unseen wound in the Earth’s side. It dripped onto the land and trees, the buildings and cars, onto Mark’s hands, staining everything with its rusty damp. He tried to staunch the flow, but he couldn’t find the wound. His hands swam through the blood, probing, searching, to no avail. There was too much, too much, too much! His eyes skipped frantic across the world. The road. The twisted metal. The other people, staring, paralyzed with fear as the whole world bled to death before their eyes. “Help me,” he pleaded, but nobody could. The Earth’s breath stilled, save the distant wail of sirens inching closer, closer, but not close enough, not fast enough. It was all up to him, and he couldn’t stop the blood.

    Mark looked at the woman lying on the asphalt beneath his crimson hands. His tears mingled with the blood on her face. “Please help me,” he begged her.

    But neither could she.

  14. Adjusting her pack, she looked around. How long had it been? Days? Weeks? Even longer? Looking down at the scruffy dog who had started following her a while back, she asked it, “What do you think, dog?” The dog just cocked it’s head at her quizzically.
    She never thought she would be survivor. She wasn’t sure how long she would survive. She was alone, and had been since the bomb. In sheer desperation, she had taken shelter in a root cellar when the sirens went off, and managed to survive. She hadn’t seen another person, living, dead, or otherwise since she’d come out.
    Spotting the strip mall parking lot, she wasn’t surprised when the lights came on. They were far enough from the blast site so they hadn’t shattered, and these things were on timers. She and her scraggly unnamed companion would take shelter inside one of the abandoned stores. There was bound to be some bedding, maybe even a mattress. The sun was setting, and the clouds were red.

    But they were always red, nowadays.



    My husband Joe lies beside me complaining about his tingling legs,
    “You don’t hear, listen to me, I’m dying.
    I’m dying, I want to die. Life is focused pain.
    Oh God, diffuse my pain.”

    The other side is where he wants to be. In God’s gracious hands.
    Yesterday he was a man with energy, drive, humor.
    A decade ago he jumped from a 30-inch boxed palm. Safely.
    Today, he struggles to place his feet on the floor.

    An inch ago he was that man who loved every ounce of me.
    A foot ago he could make love all night, exhausted, wanting more.
    A yard ago he designed clients’ yards, laid out sprinkler systems.

    I hear him. I listen to him. Tonight he slips away.
    The end of life is not what he really wants.
    He slides slowly into God’s heavenly pastures. He sleeps.

    I awaken to hear him snoring, peacefully,
    Knowing soon life will color his vision.
    I lie here dreading the moment he awakens, reliving his pain.

  16. Reggie and Curtis sat on a table in the park’s shelter, watching the sunset wash across the clouds.

    Reggie fidgeted with his beer bottle’s label. Curtis was his closest friend, practically a brother. But that didn’t make this any easier.

    “If you were having problems with anything, you’d let me know, right?”

    “Of course, cuz.” Curtis laughed, an easygoing sound that Reggie immediately recognized as a bald-faced lie. “I tell you everything, don’t I? I told you about trying to hit it with that hottie the other night.”

    Reggie groaned. “Yeah, don’t remind me. Some things I don’t need to know.”

    “And then I tried to hook you up with her hottie friend. And not my little sister.”

    Reggie held up his hand. “To be fair, Rana is much hotter than either of them.”

    “Dude, she’s my sister.”

    “I agreed she’s off limits, didn’t I?”

    “Yeah.” Curtis chuckled. “And Imma hold you to that.”

    “So seriously though, everything’s okay? I ain’t seen much of you around lately.”

    Curtis hopped off the table and stood at the shelter’s edge, staring out at the stormy sky. “I said, I’m fine.”

    “’Cause Rana is kinda worried about you….”

    Curtis whirled around, glaring. “You just said, there are some things you don’t need to know. Stay outta this, okay?”

    Before Reggie could respond, he stormed out of the shelter, just as the skies let loose a downpour.

    “I just wanna help,” Reggie said to the rain, and then took a swig of his beer.

  17. LATE ENTRY (Sorry it’s late)

    The Promise of Good Weather

    How could a letter change your life in an instant?

    The one Mary received changed everything.

    She looked at the familiar handwriting, and her heart quickens. When Kyle her high school sweethearts left, 2 years ago, it had been for a summer adventure.

    “Who goes out sailing just to have an adventure. He should be in college,” her mother said from her sick bed.

    “It’s personal…”Mary said.

    “An adventure that didn’t include you,” her mother snapped.

    Three months ago Mary would have been ecstatic receiving a letter from Kyle.

    John, Merry Maids mother died suddenly.

    Her mother’s bossy sister blue in,” You need to go back to college, to finish that degree, and do something with your life.”

    “I know… Mary said sadly. Without siblings, she was alone.

    “I’m going to stay until we sell the house, and you are out of this one-horse town.”

    her tuition and plane ticket or paid. Mary looked out at the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, and wondered if she should open the letter.

    “Dear Mary, I have never stopped thinking of you…”

    Mary quickly read the letter.

    ‘I will be sailing into town around the 12th. Please meet me to talk about us.’
    (Sorry it’s late)

    (Sorry it’s late)

    “That’s tomorrow!”she thought.

    The weather was reporting a possible storm. Mary looked outside and the evening sky was red.

    She remembered a saying, to help predict the weather:

    ‘Red sky at night Sailor’s Delight.’

    “If he makes it,maybe…”

    He did.

    Kyle sailed in on a beautiful morning, and they ran into each other’s arms.

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