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!
Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms. Please note the rule changes for 2018.
19 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: El Reno”
Sometimes you need to get off the interstate and hole up. A guy can’t keep driving forever. My only stops have been for gas. Gas and Twinkies.
Couple times, I pulled up near an orchard, snagged some fruit. Felt like a kid again. Hopping a fence, heart pumping’ reaching for the apple.
Lumbering back to the truck.
Leaving a trail of dust.
Enjoying the moment, knowing it won’t last.
I’d give my eyeteeth for a solar powered rig. Every time you pull in to fuel up, you risk touching something contaminated. Who the hell knows who touched the nozzle before you? That’s it, eh. You don’t know. It could be some puss-faced germ carrier. You just don’t know. Sure, I use the rubber gloves. Got a case of them. They wear out, right? Everything wears out.
Deep in the night, lights passing. I know others are out here too. It takes smarts, guts to never stop, to keep moving, to keep ahead of the virus. It’s a fool’s paradise. I guess I know its up ahead as well.
Waiting for me.
I can’t think about that.
Back to holing up. I need a bed. One good night’s sleep. When I was younger, I could handle sleeping rough in the rig. No longer. Motels every where though, suckering you in. Tempting you with cut rate deals.
No one wants to sleep in a Petri dish of a dump.
Still, I need to sleep.
I was lost when I first saw this sign forty some odd years ago.
Why I’m back here, I really don’t understand.
It’s not about what the sign is offering today, but what it offered that night.
It could have been a sign to hell, because I was ready for the end.
Despite my wanting nothing to do with anybody, I was her target that night.
Without my asking for anything, she placed a cup of coffee and a shot glass in front of me.
I watched her float around the room like an angel, briefly stopping at each table, leaving the men laughing and watching her float away.
I was pissed, because each time she put her face in front of mine, I could feel a smile at the corners of my mouth.
I remember how much I wanted to feel what she felt.
I didn’t want to spend additional nights, but she captured my soul that first night.
By the time I ran out of quarters, I left…but I was not alone. I had a new outlook on life and she, for some reason, was ready for a change too.
We had a wonderful life together, until five years ago when the cancer intervened.
Now, I’m back to remember that night when my life took on a new meaning. I know there is something missing and the result is going to be so very different.
I’m not lost tonight…WHO am I kidding? I need Angel again.
“I can understand the pricing of the bath and the meal, but what about the room? You got anything exotic in there? Or do you include a complimentary massage with that bath? I got a few long-term aches which need some easing; if you know what I mean?”
Delores’ lips tightened. She’d heard this refrain hundreds of times. The man had looked respectable at first glance, but as soon as he’d opened his mouth, he’d let himself down. It just went to show it wasn’t just the rooms that were cheap. There was a degree of osmosis about it; the sleaze going both ways. There was no-one who left here without a touch of the taint, both the room and its occupant defiled a little more the next day. She wondered what that said about her: she’d worked here three years now, growing acclimatised to its shortcomings. She was one of the luckier ones though, working at the front desk: some of the stories she’d heard were unspeakable.
“The room’s basic,” she said, taking his money. “This ain’t the Hilton. You might get extras in a big-name hostelry, but these are the hinterlands. The price reflects the facilities here; we’re small-town humble but we’re honest. Although, I reckon you’re out of your league, even here. I hear there’re some even cheaper places if you drive on a few more miles.” She checked the register where he’d signed it, then smiled. “Although, it seems like you’re a regular here, Mr Smith…”
“Why do girls do things like that,” Billy wondered.
He finished dinner, took a bath and went into his room. He dropped onto a sawdust filled mattress and gazed up at the cracks in the ceiling. Reaching out, he flipped his Colt from hand to hand and took imaginary shots at the picture of the female pasted on the wall beside his bed.
As the Nevada day grew darker, Billy slipped into his boots and headed for his horse. She neighed and snorted, welcoming his approach.
At an almost silent trot, they neared the dimly lit shanty. He swung off his horse and peered through the window. It was her, the girl in the picture. She lay sprawled on her cot. Pat sat on its edge, caressing her slender neck. “Billy’s just a no good gunslinger and if that murdering outlaw comes here I’ll just have to kill him like he killed those eight others.” He leaned over to kiss her waiting lips.
Gun in hand, Billy kicked open the door and leaped into the room landing on his belly. The girl fainted. Pat, whipping out his revolver, dropped to the ground. Gun shots shattered the night air waking neighbors who rushed to the scene. Pat crouched over the bullet riddled body of Billy. “Good riddance to him. You can take the body of Billy the Kid and do what you will.”
As they carted his body away, dying Billy wondered, “Why do girls do things like that?”
The game broke up inside the cheap motel
Those who’d come up empty nursed their wounds
The Gambler stepped outside to have a smoke
The morning sunlight made him shade his eyes
He’d been inside twelve hours since he first sat down to play
Opponents one-by-one had come and gone
They laid their money down feeling confident of gain
But no one save the Gambler won a hand
The smart ones knew that luck that night had left them in the lurch
But others muttered ‘cheater’ as they lost and held a grudge
The Gambler lit his smoke and took a drag
The smoke streamed from his lips and disappeared into the sky,
as one revengeful loser crept behind him as he smoked
A single shot rang out and he was down upon the ground.
The murderer set quickly to his work.
He picked the Gambler clean and left him dead.
The Gambler’s life was draining, had no time for sad regrets
Perhaps if he had studied hard in school,
he might have, so he mused, avoided fate
And not be gunned down in the morning air.
But choice and circumstances led him there,
to die beneath the sun without a friend
ELIGIBLE FOR EDITORS’ CHOICE ONLY
My name’s Henry. I’m seven. Me and my mom, Sophia, live in El Reno. In Oklahoma, not in Nevada. People get confused about that, so it’s worth mentioning.
My dad Jimmy said he couldn’t live in the same town with Sophia anymore. So, he dropped us off in El Reno and high-tailed it back to his town, real fast. I miss him a lot.
The kids around here are fine kids and they like me, I guess. They ride their bikes by my apartment and wave. Sometimes they yell my name until I come outside, but I usually don’t go with them.
Usually, I sit under the big sign hanging on the front of the Hotel El Reno with my best friend Viho. That day my dad left us here, I couldn’t let my mom see me cry, so I walked and walked. I ended up at the Hotel El Reno where Viho was sitting cross-legged under that big sign.
Viho said he had been waiting for me. I didn’t know him, but I guess he knew me. He said he was once a sad boy like me who lost his father. He was born here before it was called El Reno. Said he was a brave Cheyenne Chief, who still watches over this land and its people.
Viho told me because we live in El Reno, he watches over me and mom too. I was real happy about that, since we both still cry a lot.
Only yesterday this sign was so beat up I could hardly read it. The building it was nailed onto was nothing but a falling-down shanty with a busted window. Now the building is so fresh you can almost smell the paint. The window’s polished. The sign looks like it was just put up yesterday. I’d be willing to bet it was.
So what does that say? I’ll tell you what it says. It says either I’m dreaming, or time is moving backward. In all my years working here at the ghost town I’ve never had a dream like this, so I’m going to go with time moving backward. In which case this could be a long journey, in which case I could use a bath and a meal. And this is just the place for both. I hear voices inside.
Perfect. I’ll just step inside and see what they’ve got to offer.
Hmm, not much. Just some kind of … something. Looks like bits of leather floating in scum. Buffalo soup? No, thanks. I’m not that hungry right now. How about a bath?
Hmm, so that’s a bath? Looks a lot like a big soup bowl, only dirtier. How many guys have bathed before me? That many? I think I’ll just take a room. Sleep a bit. Maybe wake up and find this was all a dream. Let’s hope…
When I awaken the buildings are gone and an Indian towers over me, an upraised tomahawk in his hand.
“Dammit, John, this sign’s way over the regulations. You know it and he should know it.”
“Can’t argue with that Mr. Mayor. He’s a stubborn cuss, has this libertarian streak, thinks he should be able to advertise however he happens to want to.”
The mayor finished measuring the sign. “He’s fifteen inches over the max length and three inches over the max height and it just plain looks tacky.” He spat on the wooden sidewalk. “We’re striving for realism here in Devil’s Ditch and our visitors expect everything to look like it’s 1895. And he didn’t even try to age the wood.”
“Are you gonna take it to the Historic Commission as a violation?”
“And get bogged down in a year of hearings and lawsuits? No way, I ran on a platform of being real tough on the zoning and signage regulations.”
“So? What’re you gonna do?”
“Get out the circular saw. This sign is going down now!”
John, the town clerk, blanched. “You shouldn’t do that, boss. I’m telling you he’s unpredictable.”
“Just give me the saw!” The mayor grabbed the saw and buzzed it right through all three boards and left the pieces where they fell. As he turned to walk away, he heard his clerk scream, “Noooo!”
It was the last thing he ever heard. The proprietor of Mr. B’s Western Relics and Souvenirs store had emerged with a twelve gauge. The buckshot blew the mayor’s brains out.
I jumped off the back of the turnip cart as it slowed down and thanked the driver for the lift into town. I walked the planked sidewalks until I came across a wooden Indian outside an establishment that offered exactly what I sought. Problem was, I needed a dollar and only had seventy-five cents.
The place here has rules to keep out riff-raff and I suppose I must have appeared as such. I couldn’t get a meal unless I first took a bath. Plus they wouldn’t rent me a room unless I promised to pay for a bath before sleeping in the bed. That meant I had to forego a meal just to clean up and get a little shut eye.
First, I spent twenty-five cents for a bath and got presentable. Then I headed downstairs and had the first hot meal in a week. Clean, with a full belly, but left with only twenty-five cents in my pocket, I had an idea. I mosied out the swinging doors and stood next to the wooden Indian. I took off my cap and put it on the ground in front of me and started whistlin’ some of the ditties of the day. Folks smiled as they walked in, and a few threw me some coins. In a couple hours I had enough for a room and a hot meal the next day. That was five years ago. Now I own the place. I changed the name to “Whistler’s Rest.”
The forty-year-old was dressed in full cowboy regalia. From the polished pointy-toed boots with spurs, to the brown chaps covering his legs, to the prettier-than-expected shirt with bright red kerchief, Sidney looked the part. Even his two six-shooters were loaded and ready.
“You work here?” asked the six-year-old boy in the khaki shorts and green t-shirt with a monster truck emblazoned on the front.
“I don’t work here,” said Sidney, “but I’ve got work to do here.”
“What might that be?” asked the older gentleman holding the six-year-old’s hand. “You going to put on a shoot-em-up show?”
“No, sir,” said Sidney, removing his hat and wiping the sweat from the inside hat band. “When it rains, I’m going to shoot dead the man in brown with the bogie hat.”
“That’s what I mean,” said the older gentleman. “You’re putting on a show.”
“The man dressed in brown needs killing,” said Sidney. “I’m the one to do that.”
“What’s this man dressed in brown done?” asked the older fellow.
“He won’t die,” said Sidney. “He’s been hit by a car, shot by a sheriff, poisoned by a lady. Keeps comes back. I intend to stop him.”
“But this is all fake,” said the man. “That sign for room and board. This main street boardwalk. It’s like a movie set.”
“You sure?” asked Sidney.
“For heaven’s sake,” said the old man. “Where’ve you been living?”
“None of your business,” said Sidney as he turned and headed to the parking lot.
Doc eased into his favorite chair, a cold glass of sarsaparilla in his hand. After a long guzzle with boots up comfortably on the settee, he pondered what to do next. There were several things he’d been hankering to start, a few projects just coming to an end.
He glanced over to the calendar on the wall, marveling at how the days passed. ‘Time flies’ seemed dang apropos. He never regretted his decision, was content to stay here on their farm, tending to crops and chickens. Once a month, he and Clara would take the buckboard into town, see what was going on with the locals. He was considering a run for Sheriff. Doc was well liked, Clara deemed him a shoe in. The only trouble they’d had in years had been handled, it wasn’t likely he’d have much to do but smile, wave and kiss the babies at church socials.
About the most excitement was when Doc shared a new invention. The townsfolk promised to keep anything they saw to themselves. They’d all benefited one way or the other from his past tinkerings. Irrigation designs had improved their crop yields. The El Reno had extra soft mattresses and a contraption Doc called a One-Armed Bandit that would’ve been invented by Mr. Fey in another fifteen years or so, anyhow.
If he ever got to missing the adventure of his old life, he’d wait for the dark of the next new moon and take a quick spin in the DeLorean.
Night after night she would wake up in a cold sweat obsessed with how her life had turned out. She wanted to scream and, at times, thought she was going crazy.
There was a full moon that night that again had woken her up in anguish and thought a walk would do to clear her head. While walking she came across the building with the sign offering such cheap rates. This was not the world she lived in; was this a hoax? After pondering for a moment she peaked her head in the window. What she saw terrified her more. She saw bars and thought if she entered she would be trapped there forever like she felt in her life. However, she noticed past the bars there was a truck. Was this her chance for escape to emotional freedom?
Not until she tripped over a curb and hit her head did she realize that she had been sleep walking. She picked herself up and kept walking not knowing what was waiting ahead for her but never wanting to look back.
“Chet Rogers, get down here, coward.”
I stood with my back against the wall and pushed the curtain back with the tip of my Smith & Wesson. Why is he after me?
“Don’t make me come up there,” he spat without breaking stance. The sun glistened off the twin Colts’ pearl handles that held back his long, tattered duster.
I slipped the lucky coin my gal had given me into my shirt pocket and stepped through the swinging door.
“Well, well, whatta you know,” he said as his lips curled into a smirk.
I stopped at the edge of the porch. Three stairs stood between me and the legendary outlaw. I glanced behind me.
“Ain’t nobody gonna help you now.” His voice was dry and raspy.
Room 50₵, Meal 25₵, Bath 25₵. The fresh paint on the sign clashed against the cracked, rust-stained wood of the old inn. “Humph,” I snorted under my breath. Who pays that to stay in this rat hole town?
“No sense in putting it off.” He took a slow step forward.
I stepped down, facing him. Lord help me.
“Do you have the money you lost to me last night?” he sneered.
My stomach rose into my throat. I gripped the handle of the Smith & Wesson tucked into my pants. What the hell happened last night?
I jolted awake.
The streetlight outside my window illuminated a dark figure with a pistol pointed at my head.
On March 17, 1866, Francis Conlon was an Irish mason working the Choctaw rail line in the Oklahoma Territory. He was a craftsman. He specialized in dry stone construction. He helped design the company’s outbuildings and bridges. The Company built skeletal communities along the Choctaw to invite immigration along its right-of-way.
Francis was an Irishman. He only took the job because his skills were in high demand and it paid well. In a few years of work and saving, he would return to the family farm in Roscommon County. It was Saint Patrick’s Day. A day to honor the Saint. But not in this stretch of forbidden landscape, surrounded as he was by all manner of heathens and Chinese laborers. Those Americans who were Irish by descent favored a wild celebration of drink and song on this day.
He went off with those of his kind to a small inn called El Reno in the town of the same name well west of Oklahoma City. Whiskey was a quarter and beer a nickel. Francis was not shy around the public bar. He drank and sang for hours until the tempo rose to fight level. Out of caution, Francis removed his false teeth and placed them in his back pocket. That careful move made him lose focus and a right hand laid him back on the floor, cracking his teeth.
The police were called and Franny and his crew were locked up in the new dry stone prison that Frankie built.
Lorn fingered the coins in his hand, mostly pennies found lying about and forgotten. A room for fifty cents, and a bath and meal for only twenty-five cents each, were a dream come true. Was it a real offer or just decoration? All week he’d huddled across the street trying to stay warm, but never saw this house. Maybe it was invisible like he was.
Hardly anyone noticed folks like him other than to shoo them away, so it wasn’t a surprise when people walked past, unperturbed by his loitering. A loud grumble reminded Lorn of his empty belly. All he’d eaten since yesterday was half a hamburger from the trash. If the sign was fake, the worst that would happen is they kick him out. He could always dig through the garbage again.
The iron gate creaked as he pushed it open and walked to the door, shuffling his tattered shoes across the paving stones. Before he could work up his nerve, the door opened. Lorn’s eyes widened at the eighteen-hundred’s era boarding house décor, but even more so at the woman that greeted him with a broad smile. It was a face he hadn’t seen since before the war. But that woman died years ago.
His hand shook as he held out the coins. “Is this enough for a bath, meal, and a room?”
“It sure is, Lorn. I’ve been expecting you.”
The chill in his bones vanished as he crossed the threshold. He was home.
“So much for having a quiet day,” the sheriff mumbles walking toward the Jackrabbit Saloon.
Entering he sees one-man dead, another dying, a tipped over poker table, and a cocky kid downing a shot.
“Alright, what happened?” the sheriff asks.
“He was cheating sheriff, even admitted to it,” the dying man exclaims, trying to stop his bleeding.
“This true son?” the sheriff questions the kid.
“Well . . . They shouldn’t have drawn on me.”
The sheriff notices the dying man is unarmed. “This man’s unarmed.”
Kid grins, “Oops! Didn’t notice.”
“You’re under arrest, hand over your gun.”
The kid’s hand dangles next to his gun, “I’m not going to jail.”
The sheriff eyes the kid, “You threatening a law officer, son?”
To the Kid’s surprise the sheriff turns and leaves. “What kind of town is this?! Your sheriff’s a coward!” he laughs.
“He ain’t no coward,” the bartender replies. “He just doesn’t play games with life like you do.”
“Shut-up and pour me a drink.”
The bartender pours.
As he raises the glass the kid hears a familiar sound. CLICK! CLICK!
Turning, he sees the sheriff aiming a double-barrel shotgun.
“Should’ve come along peacefully.”
BLAM! BLAM! The kid’s body flies across the bar.
The dust settles. All the patrons are calm, as if this were normal.
“Another one for Boot Hill sheriff?” chimes the bartender.
“One day they’ll learn,” the sheriff laments. “One day they’ll realize how seriously we value life in this town.”
The two little girls showed up at the Hoplingers’ El Reno Hotel every Monday afternoon, like clockwork. They always wanted the same thing: a shared bath, and two meals.
The Hoplingers guessed their ages to be eight and ten. Bella, the eldest, was clearly in charge; and Priscilla, the youngest, followed along. After a few weeks, Mrs. Hoplinger suggested they bring a change of clothing, so she could wash the dirty ones.
They never mentioned where they lived, or who was caring for them, yet the Hoplingers sensed in them a disturbing sadness. On a slow day at El Reno, they followed them home.
The girls were orphans. They had been selling produce from their parents’ farm, but with no one to work the land, that income was dwindling. From Tuesday through Sunday, they lived on fruits and vegetables, the milk from one cow and eggs from a few chickens.
The bathtub had been the scene of their mother’s violent murder, followed by the suicide of their father in the backyard.
“Daddy buried Mommy, but there was no one to bury him,” said Bella. “So we asked a man to do it. We paid him in vegetables and eggs.”
“Would you like to come live with us?” asked Mrs. Hoplinger. “We’ll mind your farm. What grows there will benefit us all.”
Two white crosses, once part of a picket fence, marked the graves of their parents, carved in a child’s writing and decorated, up and down, with flowers.
The largest and most dangerous tornado ever recorded hit near Oklahoma City May 31, 2013. Storm chasers were out following the storm as they always do. At its strongest it was near 3 miles wide. The windspeeds reached nearly 300 mph.
The historic El Reno began soon after the 1889 land rush that my grandfather claimed was set up to rip off the Indians, some of whom had walked from North Carolina to Oklahoma in Andrew Jackson’s “Trail of Tears.” Yes, it is 25 miles west of downtown Oklahoma City and located in Central Oklahoma. It is the crossroads of the Chisholm Trail and Route 66. According to the 2010 census, the population was 16,729.
The storm chasers who died that day did not know they would become well-known because the El Reno Tornado would be the first tornado to cause the deaths of storm chasers. They became the first.
El Reno was a nice place to stay in the old days. The bath was cheap. The room was worth the pay. Then El Gringo moved to town. He bought the motel and started letting in the wrong sort. Women with lust on their mind were there nightly. The place was robbed every other month. The piano player kept getting shot. They had to go with a player piano. The sheriff was wise to the comings and goings at the bordello. He asked El Gringo to put an end to it. El Gringo spat on the ground and told the sheriff to draw. El Gringo was laid to rest the next day. And the motel returned to peaceful harmony.
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