Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Graves

boothill graveyard feb 2017 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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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Graves”

  1. Smiley

    Surprising, ain’t it? Never gave two hoots about it before, you know, but now, from this perch, kinda swirlin’ above this tangled rocky crapshoot of soil, I’m getting the shimmies thinkin’ about being below snakes.

    Wouldn’t have meant much before. You just lived your own life, lived with the miseries, a good meal now and then, not often but every once in a while.

    Couldn’t ask for much more.

    Wasn’t much more if I’m bein’ honest.

    Did have me a woman, better half of a year. I was still young then. Eighteen! Nineteen! Maybe twenty! Eliza, she was somewhat more advanced in years then me, but she had a good laugh and took care of me better than I’d ever been looked after afore, but then she got the cough, was choking’ all the time, the fever cookin’ her skin, the boils.

    She went quick. I planted her in her garden, back of the house. Wasn’t much of a garden, and the shack and all likely blew away with the wind after I left.

    That wind, it always bore down somethin’ cruel.

    Left nothin’ but dust. Bones and dust.

    Spent the rest of my days wanderin’.

    One day I just stopped.

    Gave up the ghost.

    Come ta think of it, that’s kinda funny.

    Now, I’m the ghost, floatin’ ‘round the world, seeing thousands of COVID mass graves, full of nameless bodies.

    Ghosts can’t weep.

    Leastways, I’ve got my name on a tombstone.

    Still surprises the hell outta me.

  2. “Look really close here.”

    “What am I supposed to see?”

    “You don’t see it? Guess you’re not looking close enough.”

    “I see SMILEY…is that what I’m supposed to see?”

    “They called him that because he always had a smile on his face.”

    “…but he’s dead. Did he have that smile on his face when he died?”

    “Yup…that’s what they said killed him.” He took off his weathered Stetson, and held it across his heart. “The story goes, he was playing cards with this other guy over there, and was winning most of the hands. Well, the other guy said he was cheating.”

    “So, what did Smiley do?”

    “Well, for one thing he just kept smilin’, which the other guy took as an acknowledgement that he was cheating. The guy went for his forty-five, but before he could get it out of his holster, Smiley already had his. Smiley didn’t wait for the other guy to get the draw on him and pulled his own trigger.”

    “Did someone else shoot Smiley?”

    He put his hat back on. “No. Nobody knew Smiley’s real name, but when his revolver made a kind of ‘Chenk’ noise and didn’t fire, they decided that’s what they would put on this grave. ‘Smiley Chenk?”

    “You know his story well.”

    “Yeah think so? Well, when I was little, my Mom used to tell me stories about him, and that she fell in love with his sh*t eatin grin. She also told me it would get him killed someday.”

  3. They called it Boot Hill because its occupants got there by dying with their boots on. Somewhere to discard society’s refuse . . . gunfighters. Men who lived and died by the gun . . . or from hanging because they killed someone. Society never had a use for them when they were alive so they tossed them outside of town after they died.

    But was that right? Were they so worthless alive that they deserved to be abandoned in death? Weren’t they children once, who had parents, siblings, friends? Did they earn any love from those in their life?

    It makes you wonder when these men became gunfighters? Was it the first time they picked up a gun? When they first took on a job as a hired gun? Or was it the first time they killed a man? Even then you have to wonder was it self-defense or a malicious act?

    Who were these men who lived by the gun and died with their boots on? Does anyone ever really ask? Or are they just images branded in people’s minds from over a century’s worth of mythology created to entertain the masses?

    Should you ever visit a famous city of the Old West like Dodge or Tombstone, and if you stop by Boot Hill to take pics of some nifty old graves, remember those graves are filled with people, people who – good or bad – had lives. Do them a favor when you visit, think of them as men not myths.


    Tumbleweed rolled and a coyote howled. Sand grains bit at his eyes. A pungent fragrance of flowering chaparral prevailed, blending with the acrid tangs of black powder and dried sweat whenever the wind quartered.

    “Well, Jed,” the first man said. “That’s that. All done and dusted.”

    “I guess.”

    The other man had been taller but reed-like, his clothing hanging loosely on his body. He had little flesh to him anywhere, an embodiment of pemmican and jerky, wearing spurs. The first man had been quicker to his gun but had missed, his shot passing harmlessly to Jed’s right. But then Jed’s gun had misfired, erupting in a flash, taking away three of his fingers.

    They’d both decided to call it quits then, neither of them having any stomach for more fighting.

    And then the living plague had ridden into town on the back of a black horse, making any further discussion moot. Everyone had died and then risen again, the doctor and the gravedigger both giving up before they eventually succumbed. It got so the undead had to dig their own graves, craving the dark and the quiet during the day, while the final two languished safely behind bars, imprisoned for public affray.

    Jed hawked and spat, and fell to his knees, waiting for his end to come. They’d both seen the symptoms developing, and they’d agreed on what would be needed when his time came. A single shot and then mercy, making the first man eventually the last.

  5. Jerome and Clem were the last, at least as far as they knew. They had always thought they were the only two anyway, in this little abandoned town about as far west as you could go without falling into the ocean. Then one day a uniform rode into town in a camouflage-painted jeep and posted notices on every building still standing.

    “Must Wear a Mask to Enter” was the silliest, in Jerome’s opinion. Only bandidos wore masks. Clem favored the “Social Distancing” one. “Six feet between people at all times.” What else, with water so scarce and baths an unheard of luxury?

    Besides, the dust that jeep kicked up took a whole week to settle. Well, after a town hall meeting, which the entire population of two attended, they came up with an idea to get rid of the uniforms and their dust storms. They would erect prominent headstones with their names prominently carved on them. Killing off the last two residents would leave the town empty and erase the need for further notice posting. They hoped the guardsmen had enough intelligence to realize that two dead out of a population of two would leave zero, an unpopulated town.

    And their little plan worked. Nobody ever wondered who had dug the graves. Or who had changed the population number on the town’s welcome sign from two to zero. Which confirmed Jerome’s and Clem’s opinion of the intelligence level of commissioners and policy-makers in general.

  6. Sam’s roan scraped the dry ground while Elizabeth’s bay whinnied. Neither horse wanted to stay in the graveyard on this hot afternoon. The two riders, a young couple married only last month and heading out to California, sat on their mounts and gazed at the old wooden marker, worn by time and weather.

    “This is the only one I could find around here,” said Sam, watching his bride with concern. “Your father’s name was Glen, right? Glen Smiley. Died 1884. Not that long ago.”

    Elizabeth tried to settle herself, ease the fire of emotions bubbling under the surface of her calm exterior. “He must have stayed around here after he left me and Mama. All these years and he was this close.”

    “Do you remember anything?” asked Sam, wiping his face with his kerchief. “When he left? Why? Your mother ever say what happened?”

    “I must’ve been seven or eight,” said Elizabeth, her voice shaky. “It was like Mama held her breath until I got old enough to take care of myself. She never said a thing, not even on her death bed.”

    “Could’ve been anything, then,” said Sam. “Another woman. Itchy feet. Something.”

    Elizabeth drew her revolver and rested her arm on the saddle horn, the pistol pointing at the grave.

    “Go ahead and shoot,” said Sam. “Might help.”

    Elizabeth looked over at Sam and smiled ruefully as she reholstered the gun. “No help to be had,” she said. “It’s time to move on. Let’s go.”

  7. ROCKS

    Josh backed the pick-up to the Smiley grave.

    “Wait! These are the rocks?” exclaimed Janice.

    “Yeah. Enough for a border around the garden.” Josh hopped out and started loading stones.

    Janice followed, “That’s somebody’s bloody grave!”


    “You’re disgusting! You can’t desecrate a grave!”

    “Don’t worry. This bloke died over a hundred years ago. He doesn’t need ‘em.” Josh tossed a rock in the bed. “Besides they use rocks on shallow graves to keep the dingoes from digging it up. After a hundred years I don’t think there’s anything left for the dingoes.”

    “Stop!” Janice pulled his shoulder as he was lifting a large boulder. Turning to snap at her he didn’t see, but quickly felt the bite of the deadly taipan. It struck again and again before retreating to what’s left of its abode. The rock dropped, crushing several bones in Josh’s sandaled foot.

    “Get me up!” Josh lay on the crude cairn in pain. Janice pulled his arm and quickly released it avoiding a return strike by the snake. Josh rolled over to the truck and pulled himself up into the bed of the pickup. Janice scrambled to help him in. “That was a taipan! I’m screwed. Get me down the mountain to the hospital at Grafton.”

    Janice ran to the cab. “Where’s damn the keys?!” Josh felt his pocket … nothing. He caught a glint of sun off metal by the mouth of the taipan’s abode and thought he heard an old man cackling.

  8. The Dare
    Soumi does not believe in ending. Nor she believes in cycles. Of Karma. Of elements, of energy.
    The girl refuses to see death as an agent of disintegration. From family, friends, acquaintances. Into elements that constitute living being’s body. Into panchabhut – earth, water, fire, air, space.
    Millions of cells, the tiniest living units, constitute a living human body. When heart stops pumping blood to each of those cells, or brain stops sending pulses to moderate activities in those cells, the body is accepted to be dead. But the life in all those cells does not die immediately. Otherwise, humans cannot live by assistance of ventilators; human organs from dead bodies cannot be transplanted into dying bodies for rejuvenating those bodies.
    These are Soumi’s arguments in support of her notion. Nobody takes them seriously.
    For proving her point Soumi enters a burial chamber alive. She has set different clocks to her different organs. Those have been programed to stop with death of respective organs.
    Soumi’s friend, Tanuj starts the clocks remotely, simultaneously. He observes their performances and stopping remotely, too. Hours, minutes, seconds, when the clocks come to stop, are the exact time of death of respective organs. Tanuj records, obviously remotely.
    After all the clocks stop ticking, Tanuj goes to dig up Soumi’s body to prepare it for proper cremation. He cannot find even a spec of her teeth.
    The tombstone says, “Here lies Soumi. She gave her life to prove a point” though.
    Yet, Soumi seems true.

  9. Sergeant Kane reports, “All clear, Sir. No sign of the critters.”

    I order the troop to move west. We have nearly wiped out the wild animals that attacked our colonists.

    Although they are bipeds, they do not look like any species we’ve previously encountered. While their pointed snouts and yellow eyes appear wolf-like, they have no fur. Instead, their thick, brownish skin resembles that of lizards.

    A few scientists had tried to establish communication. But the result was chaos, destruction and death. Some say our people attacked first, but I doubt that.

    Regardless, it’s been decided that the creatures’ violent instincts would endanger all our settlements. So our military has been tasked with the elimination of every pack of them. My unit has done an exemplary job.

    As we approach another desolate hill, Sergeant Kane calls me. Beyond some bushes I see several graves, covered with rocks. Headstones are inscribed with unreadable hieroglyphics. On one grave a small pot contains local wildflowers.

    Kane says, “Critters were kneeling at the graves when we arrived. They ran too quickly.”

    I stare at the sergeant. “Burying their dead?” I ask.

    Kane shrugs. “I never heard of wild animals doing that,” he responds. “What do we do now?”

    I hesitate for several minutes. “We have our orders. We complete our mission.”

    I send the sergeant with several men to track and destroy the fleeing creatures. Then I command the rest of the troop to demolish the gravesites.

  10. The roughly carved letters are barely visible on the faded wood, in stark contrast to the other whitewashed grave markers, but Chunk Smiley wouldn’t care. Being buried out here was what he wanted. Six feet down and covered with a mound of rocks, only a few yards away from Tod Worchill, his favorite horse, and the rest of his kin. That was enough for me.

    Some sixth sense must have told him his time was near. He spent months digging holes across this clearing and making markers. Twelve in total, including mine. All we had to do was lower him down and return the dirt. It took nearly a week to fill the grave, and another to muscle the rocks on top of it.

    Chunk was special, the kind of human who cared for everyone and everything with the same respect and kindness. When I was nothing but a flea ridden pup, he took me off the streets and gave me a home and a purpose. Others in our family had similar stories. If only all people were like that.

    It’s been three years since he passed. One hole remains amongst the eleven mounds, but there’s no one left to cover my body when I go. My joints ache as I drag the last marker to Chunk’s grave and lay my head on the wood. Someone should keep guard, and I’m happy to oblige, after a little nap. Peace settles around me as I rest.

    “Good dog, Arthur. Good dog.”


    It is 6:00pm late evening, the sun is almost down.My brother asks me, “Do you want to see where Maa was cremated?”.
    With a pensive, choking heart I nodded “Yes.”
    We started walking, towards our mango garden, heads down, trying to trace my mother’s foot-steps; where once we walked together.This time without her though.
    Mosquitoes buzzing around my ears, milkman was milking the buffalo; as we walked silently.Just 2 months have passed since we lost her.

    “Why couldn’t Maa wait for me?” With teary eyes and swollen throat, I asked my brother for a definite answer.

    There were only 10 days left, tickets were booked,I talked to her, just 2 days before she passed away.

    “She was so happy, we made plans about things to do together when I come.”

    “It was so sudden, sister! mother did not know she would leave us.” He said consoling me.

    As we went deeper in the garden,I saw a few clothes folded neatly; kept on the bench, right beside a mango tree.
    I ran as fast as I could, grabbed the clothes ,covered my face with them.
    “This is Maa’s clothes, where is she”? I cried.

    There was a cold ash mound, with a stone carved : “My Maa”
    My mother’s grave.I picked up a handful of ash trying to find the signs of mother.There was none.I planted a “Holy basil” on the ash mound and sat next to her grave, searching for peace.


    The grass has grown tall among the scattered tombstones. Thin slabs of limestone, they bear silent witness to those whose lives have no other record. Time and weather has eroded these monuments until the names have worn away. To us they remain readable only through the minute changes in the crystal structure of the stone, the echoes of the stonemason’s chisel.

    These are the lost, the people who left so little record that it remains impossible to piece them back together and restore them to life. Some theorists believe it may someday become possible to hack the quantum hologram and reboot everyone who ever lived.

    Until that day, we will continue to ensure that they do not become forgotten altogether. And we who have gained the gift of immortality are left wondering whether in doing so we have also lost a portion of our humanity.

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