Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Dead End

marble canyon death march 2 Flash Fiction writing prompt
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.

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!

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16 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Dead End”

  1. Fate
    I was born and raised in southeastern New Mexico, a land of tradition and history, legends and myths. Since the days of the conquistadors and beyond, tribes of the Southwest have perpetuated oral histories: the Jornada del Muerto, the Seven Cities of Cibola, the spirits that gave water and life. And the evils that ended lives.
    I am Mescalero Apache. Always careful to honor the spiritual beliefs and pronouncements of my elders, as a modern man I gave little credence to them, though.
    One night I was camped alongside a rocky creek at the entrance to a box canyon known as: “Hell’s Gate”. A box canyon is a formation carved by nature into sheer walls on a limestone cliff. Once entered, there is no way out unless you return from whence you came.
    “Old Roy” had been my pony for many years, bearing the burden of my body without complaint. As he aged though, he became skittish. The sound of a pack of Mexican wolves wailing that night startled him; he broke away from his leather tether and bolted into the mouth of Hell’s Gate. Without thinking, I followed him.
    We had been warned. We never returned.

  2. Not checking to make sure his phone was charged was one mistake. Not telling anyone where he was going was another.

    Falling off a cliff and rolling 300 feet down into the canyon was the kicker.

    He thought he’d sprained his wrist. It was painful, but not broken. How the hell was he going to get out of this canyon? The walls went straight up.

    He found a dry watercourse and began to follow it. What if this wash ended in a sheer rock wall, a dead end? He wasn’t strong enough to climb. Couldn’t use that arm at all; couldn’t grip. If this was a dead end, he’d have to start back the other way, but for how far? How long before another hiker found his car on the rim? He came here because it was quiet, not well trafficked. Another mistake.

    He could see the walls closing in; he was getting close. But he was not hopeful. He thought about turning around without even bothering to see the last. If he had a long hike back to who-knew-where, maybe he should start now. But, no; he’d walk to the end. Rest there, maybe rig up a sling for his arm. Then start back.

    He rounded the last corner, stopped, stared.

    At the base of the cliff was a pool of water, and six people frolicked in the cool water. Peeking out from behind a rock was a 4-wheel-drive SUV, parked on a dirt trail from the rim.

  3. I’d been looking forward to this trip for some time. We’d driven in from Flagstaff earlier that morning and Marble Canyon was one of my favorite spots for a day trip. I’ve always fancied myself an archeologist of sorts, amateur of course, despite my numerous digs, and the purple sandstone cliffs, those glorious vermillion striations on the walls, were a constant lure. Many mornings I’d wake from sleep, dreaming of running through those canyons. Understandable, since I’d left something behind there and couldn’t get over its loss.

    I leapt from the car as soon as it stilled, my enthusiasm infectious. Looking back, my companion tarried, but I was not to be deterred. Call it intuition, or plain old wishful thinking, but I felt today would prove fruitful.

    We passed cars in the parking lot, colorful rafts of every size on top of their vehicles or on trailers pulled behind. I’d once considered trying the waters on the Colorado River but came to my senses soon enough. Best to leave my adventures to walks, runs and the occasional ride, windows down, head out the window with reckless abandon.

    Suddenly, down the trail, I picked up a familiar scent. Dancing in place, I waited for my companion to catch up but there, just behind a rock, I spied it! Rocks, dirt flew as I gathered my cherished prize.

    Filled with satisfaction, I sat, my favorite bone firmly grasped between my teeth.

    Catching her look of amusement, I grinned. My human smiled back.

  4. Blocked

    Elliott had been lost before. There was always that risk when one went off trail.

    It was so easy to lose one’s way. Your own way. The one you’ve always trusted.

    Those ways had always been the untested, untried ones.

    As he journeyed further into this unfamiliar void, he tried to remember all those other times, the thicknesses in the air, the descending fogs, the increasing anxieties, all the constrictions that conspired to shut down the senses.

    As a child, he had known no boundaries, blessed with parents who permitted every outrageous action he could imagine. “Our child knows,” his mother would say again and again. His father, a shade less permissive, usually conceded. On the day Elliott toddled to the stove and reached up, his fingers feeling the warmth of the element, enjoying the stretch, his father had shouted, “the stove”, and his mother had replied, “life lesson”.

    The burn had been porcupine quill sharp. His first real pain. His father scooped him up and his mother rubbed his scorched fingertips with a soothing cream.

    “I warned you,” his father had repeated to him.

    “And now he has felt it,” his mother refrained.

    Over the coming years, he lost track of the wounds, the breaks, the injuries. Regardless, they had served their purpose.

    Each had been given voice in his exploits tales.

    He was feted as “The Writer Who Will”.

    Now, trapped in paralysis, his body locked in time’s inevitable jaws, he longed to script this final adventure.

  5. We stopped just before the last turn in the narrow gully. The smell was deafening. Really. It was so pungent my senses were scrambled. Barney stood, hackles up, deeply sniffing. He’s not put off by the smell of dead things. He took the lead. I pressed on after him.

    The gully widened into a spillway strewn with rubble. Barney leapt from rock to rock heading for a heap of corpses at the spillway’s mouth. “Barney, Leave it!”, I shouted. He looked at me with disappointment but obeyed.

    Everywhere was a tangle of arms, legs, torsos and heads heaped up. Theirs and ours, as if chopped up in a blender. Hundreds of thousands. I’ve seen battlefields before but this gruesome finality was impressive.

    At the center of the killing plain smoked a bombed-out bunker. Barney went in first and barked. Maybe he’d found what I was looking for—a survivor. I ducked as I stepped down into the bunker, it’s roof open to the sun. More dead, but a sound, a cough. Barney pawed at a body. It twitched. I dragged it outside.

    I gave him some water. He smiled. The horns and tail marked him as one of theirs. I helped him to his feet. The final battle had ended. This devil, no longer an enemy. We’d have all of eternity to trade war stories and argue who was right and who was wrong.

    Barney, his purpose fulfilled, lay down peacefully on the plain of Armageddon and slept forever.

  6. It was the early summer, right after his sophomore year. Ronnie set out on his trek through a huge park, feeling grim and determined. He had his tent, sleeping bag, miscellaneous items, $115, a solar cellphone charger, freeze-dried food, lots of water and more back in his old car. He also carried enough medication for an overdose, fully intending to commit suicide.

    At 20 years old, Ronnie weighed 346 pounds. He was tired of the ridicule, loneliness, and well meaning advice from family members, friends and even total strangers.

    “You have such a nice face! You’d be handsome if you lost weight.”

    “Never thought of that!” he wanted to answer.

    Or, “Why don’t you get the weight loss surgery?”

    “It’s great for those who don’t burst their staples!” he thought, “I don’t want my stomach to be irreversibly redesigned. And the lap band’s not for me, either.”

    His hike was neither easy nor comfortable. He kept busy at night playing games, writing in his journal and praying. He was proud of himself that he was actually hiking. By the time he reached a dead end, he didn’t want to kill himself anymore.

    On the way back, he refilled his bottles in a flowing brook. It was so beautiful there, he sat down and wept. He thanked God that he was alright. A girl winked at him and he smiled back.

    Once home, Ronnie found out that he had lost 16 pounds. Tomorrow he would try Weight Watchers.

  7. The old man and his middle-aged son stopped as the trail moved into cliffs. Sun brightened the upper reaches of the orange sandstone while the remnants of winter’s snow hugged the shadowed curves.

    “We part here,” said the younger man, his voice constricted by the hard hike or the stifled emotions. “This isn’t what I want but I’ve got Kim and our son to consider.”

    The elderly man turned to look back down the trail and then on up to where he was headed. “Besides, I’m old,” he said with a mirthless laugh.

    “There’s not enough for everyone,” said the son. “This isn’t easy for me, either.”

    “Easier than for me,” said the old man, adjusting the load of his backpack.

    “I don’t make the laws,” said his son.

    “But you follow them,” said the old man, “to the letter, just as I raised you to do.”

    The younger man, smaller than his father and thinner thanks to reduced rations, shuffled his feet. “You were a good father,” he said shortly. “And grandfather.”

    “Still am,” said the old man. “I’m not dead. Yet.”

    “Good luck” said the younger one, extending his hand to shake his father’s one last time.

    “Mind if I hug you?” asked the father.

    They hugged, the younger man stiffly, unbending because of guilt.

    “I don’t wish this for you from your son,” said the old man, taking his leave. “And I may surprise you by surviving, though you’ll only wonder, never know.”

  8. The sun kissed the sandstone walls, the heat emanating from the crevasse. Larson called for his dog to come hither. Alabaster did. He sometimes thought of the ramifications of naming his dog Alabaster, but usually in the company of other folks. He kicked one of the rocks lining the dried waterway and trudged on, the sun devouring more shadows every moment.

    Alabaster could imply my dog has no father, but of course, here I am.

    Larson turned in the canyon, up ahead was nothing but a straight path.


    “Let’s eat before the sun cooks us, Alabaster.”


    “Good Boy!”

    Larson slung off his back pack and got out two cans, one beans and the other, dog food. He also fished out the dog’s food bowl and a can opener. He took care of the dog and went to work, eating his beans.

    “When we get to Utopia, we’ll be set boy. Gourmet meals for us both. Maybe even lady friends.”

    Larson smiled at this and stared at the expanse in the distance.

    “Let’s get going, boy.”


    Larson replaced the bowl and can opener and brushed himself off. Hours passed. Larson looked up ahead and saw a figure in the distance.

    “No. Couldn’t be. This path is secure.”

    Larson fumbled around in his backpack for his binoculars. He took off the lens caps and looked at the figure. It was one of them. One of the dead. It was shambling his way.

    How did it get over the wall? No time to worry about that now.

    He felt around in his back pack until he found it. His father’s handgun.

    “Looks like we’re going to take a little longer top get home, Boy.”


  9. Ben feels his chest tighten as he tries to control his panic. Ever since he lost track of his hiking group, he has wandered from one dead-end box canyon to another. His little dog, Rascal, has remained his only companion. The sun is dropping ever closer to the horizon. Ben knows that even summer nights can grow frigid in this wilderness.

    As they trudge through another canyon, seemingly identical to the rest, Rascal halts. Ben nearly steps on his dog, who crouches and yaps frantically.

    Looking around, Ben sees a coiled rattlesnake lying on a nearby ledge. As Ben creeps backward, away from the danger, the snake slithers in the opposite direction toward a pile of rocks. But Rascal continues to bark loudly. Then he dashes down the canyon.

    Careful to avoid further danger, Ben follows slowly. After all, Rascal will have to stop when he reaches another dead-end.

    But soon Ben hears something besides Rascal’s barking – human voices. His friends are calling his name. Rounding a boulder, Ben sees his companions waving and shouting, open space just beyond them.

    “Where’ve you been, man?” they ask. “Let’s get out of here before dark.”

    Later Ben and Rascal sit in the back of the van. Ben wraps his arms around the little dog and whispers, “Good boy.”

  10. “Well, Jables,” Veronica said to her faithful canine companion, “it looks like there’s no more road to follow. What say we go back, eh?”
    The dog turned its head as she looked up at her, intently listening.
    “What’s the problem, girl? There’s nowhere else to turn.”
    Jables sat down, whined a bit, pawed at the air.
    Veronica crouched down in front of her.
    “We keep coming back here, and we’ll never get home. It’s great that you like this place so much, girly girl, but…”
    Veronica trailed off as two people closed in on them. She didn’t look afraid, but Jables was. She got in between her and the newcomers and barked in warning.
    “Jables,” Veronica said, “it’s time to go home.”
    “What are you barking at, girl?,” the new woman said.
    “Why does she keep coming back here, Vicki?” the new man asked.
    “You know why, Jim. She’s looking for Veronica.”
    Jim looked at the rocks, sees no one in front of him, and nods his head.
    “I guess we all are.”

  11. “Don’t touch the bottom.”

    Old Gammi’s words drifted back to me as I gazed into the ravine’s pit. Standing this close felt like being at the edge of the world. Leelyn pressed her dirty white fur against my leg, panting heavily.

    A year ago, this place had been a pool of cool, blue-green water, too deep for anyone to reach the bottom. We’d laughed at the old timer’s warning and dove as deep as we could, leaving markers on the wall. I even held the town record.

    That record never sat well with Scott. He drained his savings to get deep scuba certification and hired another diver as a guide. They descended with fancy scuba gear, flashlights, and cameras. It didn’t take long for them to pass my signature as if it was nothing. I couldn’t turn away from the live feed, even with nothing to see but smooth walls.

    There it was, a hand-shaped rock, sticking out at the very bottom. That fool, Scott, grabbed it, posing with a thumbs up. A second later he was yanked down. The camera spun out of control. Our quiet swimming hole had become a whirlpool that swallowed Scott and his diver.

    Where I now stand should have been twenty feet below the surface, but it’s as parched as the pit, along with all the creeks and wells. Some blame an earthquake for the water disappearing, but I know it was the hand. We should’ve listened to Old Gammi.

  12. Allie knew what it was like to be under the media’s microscope.

    She was the only daughter of the famed archeological team of Mark and Addison Millstone. At fourteen, she’d been thrust into the spotlight when her parents’ charter plane crashed on the way to what they had teased would be the biggest find of the century; eventually, the scrutiny died down, but the memories stayed.

    A decade later, their mysterious last venture still weighed heavily on her. She’d poured over their papers trying to decode their destination. Finally, she stumbled upon a lead.

    Trekking through the desolate canyon, she felt their spirits urging her on. At last, she arrived at the dead end. Dropping her backpack, she peered into a fissure.

    Allie told her dog, Jasper, to stay while she set up her equipment. Carefully, she scaled down the crevasse.

    It was nothing like she’d imagined: a perfectly preserved Mesozoic Era site that stretched for miles. Almost completely intact dinosaur skeletons were embedded in the sheer rock walls. It was surreal walking among these prehistoric giants.

    Her parents would be proud to have this discovery made in their honor. However, she cringed at the thought of the media onslaught, and the excavation crews that would change the face of this peaceful site. It would be discovered someday, but it didn’t have to be by her. Allie picked up a stone and carved a small heart filled with her parents’ initials near the entrance.

    “Come on, Jasper; let’s go home.”

  13. The wait is agonizing. Crouched behind a rock, the creature wills its sinewy legs to stay still, resisting the urge to pounce on the unsuspecting prey that lay just before him.

    Like a lamb to the slaughter, the unsuspecting hiker will soon be on a trail that will lead to his ultimate demise. A dead-end, a wall of rock that will echo his terrified scream as his flesh is ripped slowly and carefully from his body.

    Just a few minutes more and the chase will begin. The creature thinks of the delicious treat that awaits him and begins to drool.

    It’s time…

    With a howl, the creature leaps from its hiding place and the terror-stricken hiker begins to race down the winding rocky path. The creature knows it can easily overtake its prey. It takes its time, knowing that the longer the human runs, the more exquisite the meat. The more the sweat glistens on the human’s skin, the saltier and more delectable the flesh will be.

    The creature can see the rock wall ahead of him. The race is over; it can almost taste the meat now. With a final sprint, it pounces as a scream echoes throughout the trail. The scream is beautiful dinner music for the creature as it slowly licks its malicious lips and begins to eat its well-deserved treat.

  14. Jake needed a break. But, the call center was busy. This was high-season for summer wear. The money was good and his student loans wouldn’t take a holiday, so he kept working; call after tedious call.

    Finally, he had the long Memorial Day weekend off. A chance to get out in the air and enjoy the company of his dog Fred. No phones. Just fresh air and exercise after months of 10 hour days.

    They set off from El Paso for Big Bend National Park. A long drive, but worth it, thought Jake as he and Fred took to the open road with the windows down.

    They camped that night within the park near where the Rio Grande leaves the Chihuahuan Desert and begins to carve its way through the Chisos Range. They spent a comfortable night near a creek under a cottonwood canopy with the sweet smell of hackberry blooms.

    In the morning they set off towards the Rio Grande. By noon, they reached the trail’s end, overlooking the river. A chasm lay before them with escarpments of eroded sandstone and shale on either side of their trail. They sat for lunch.

    Jake was disappointed. Not in the beauty revealed by their perch above the river, but in the trail’s end. They would have to return by the same route and see the same things. He knew he wanted more. As he trudged back down the hill, his thoughts meandered to other dead ends in his life.

  15. dead end – fr. Brit. / London c. 1878, slang

    The term’s origin is quite unusual. In 1878 in London, it was discovered that over 4800 cartage horses went lame and had to be destroyed. Testimony by various drivers determined that the injuries were caused by the vigorous reverse and forward efforts required to depart roads that had only one exit. After testing it was determined that, it was the addition of the hardness of the road to the forward and reverse exertions, that was to blame. The concept of humans dancing on a marble floor as compared to performing on a wooden one.

    While the problem was being considered, a bizarre solution came from an unexpected quarter. Sir Nigel Fount, having just returned from Egypt with a cargo of several thousand mummies, was searching for markets for his unusual cargo. He suggested that an underlayment of mummies would, in his words, “Provide the required flexibility.”

    Several roads with no outlet were selected for testing and were excavated enough to provide for a single layer of mummies over which the traditional cobblestone technique was used. Subsequent tests revealed that few horses were injured and those injuries that did occur did so because of other factors. The installation of mummies as an underlayment for roads with no exit became the accepted construction procedure.

    Initially the roads were called “Dead-under” which became shortened by use to “Dead Un” roads. This later metamorphosed into “Dead-End” which continues in use to this day.

  16. Just keep running.

    Already Tameeka was getting winded and had a stitch in her side. She’d thought herself reasonably fit, but she’d never attempted such a desperate run.

    What kind of idiots thought a bunch of gangbangers could beat an empire that flew between the stars like airplanes flew to Tokyo and Sidney? All the Watts Rebellion achieved was to get the entire LA Basin marked for internal exile.

    She’d been lucky. At home, she would’ve been stuck. But her mom had sent her to her aunt’s place up, in the hills. Here she had a chance to get out of town before the Kitties got to their neighborhood.

    But she’d never run through open country before. The big water bottle was empty, and she had no idea where she’d find more. The sun beat down like a hammer, and sweat formed a sticky layer under her extensions.

    Behind her she could hear the distinctive buzz of one of the Kitties’ little fliers. Had someone dropped a dime on her? Or was it one of the Kitties’ telepaths, tracking her by thought?

    She rounded an outcropping, sure she was almost home free. But no, she’d gotten herself into a box canyon.

    Behind her the Kitties were coming closer. Feeling like a mouse, she searched for any escape route.

    Could those rocks serve as hand and footholds? She wasn’t a climber, but anything beat surrender.

    Just keep climbing.

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