#MenageMonday Challenge – Week 52

Welcome to the end…

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THE FINAL CHALLENGE

24 HOURS / 500 WORDS

Three prompts living under one challenge roof?

Welcome to #MenageMonday!

Week 52

*NOTE* – PLEASE READ THE RULES – If you miss a prompt, your entry will be disqualified.

Rules Recap

  • This is a Flash Fiction challenge. Your story must be a minimum of 100 words, maximum of 500 words.
  • Incorporate each of the three prompts into your story. The phrase prompt (and anything else in quotations) MUST be used exactly as given.
  • Post your story into the comments of this post.
  • Include your word count (or be excluded from judging).
  • Please include your Twitter handle or email.
  • The contest opens at 7 A.M. and closes at 10 P.M. Eastern Time.
  • 24 HOURS: 7 A.M Monday to 7 A.M. Tuesday Eastern Time.
  • Generally speaking, the winners will be revealed Tuesday evening, huzzah!

So what do you get for all your time and effort, you ask? Badges, of course. (What, you thought this was a funded operation?) #MenageMonday awards THREE (squeeee!) badges each week:

  • There is the undisputed CHAMP. Rather self explanatory.
  • There is the JUDGE’S PET, for best use of the Judge’s prompt.
  • Last but not least, the JUDGE gets a badge, because Judges need love, too.

 

Our Judge for Week 52:

She who judged the first, judges the last…

Siobhan Muir | @SiobhanMuir

 

Challenge Time!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

The Photo:

The Phrase: “guess this is [ ]” (this can appear anywhere in the story)

The Judge’s Prompt: Kurama no Hi-Matsuri / the Kurama Fire Festival

About the Festival: In the small northern Kyoto suburb of Kurama, a huge energetic fire festival takes place on October 22 of each year. It’s original purpose was to illuminate the path through the world of the living for the spirits of the departed. 

The festival begins at 6pm and continues past midnight. Tall fires are lit in front of homes in Kurama to mark the opening of the ceremonies. A procession of boys carrying small torches follows, and later teams of men chanting and marching to the rhythms of drums carry larger and larger torches, the largest of which weighs 100 kilograms. The torch bearers finally converge in front of Yuki-jinja Shrine and a portable shrine, or mikoshi, is carried through the smoky streets until the festival ends.

 

And we’re off. The clock is ticking. Good writing and good luck!

24 thoughts on “#MenageMonday Challenge – Week 52

  1. I placed the salt in my dead boyfriend’s mouth and carefully sewed stitches. Peter would not be one of those awaken by the bokor spreading her potions around for the Kurama no Hi-Matsuri / the Kurama Fire Festival. Nor would any of the other fifty people I had dug up. The back loader I had borrowed had come in handy for digging up all the coffins. The bokor, KiIkongo, thought she could defeat me by offering her elixir at 25 percent off to those foolish enough to try the zombie max, but I would stop her.

    I thought I had known things that would stop her; that her real name wasn’t even KiIkongo. And yet the council didn’t listen to me. They trusted someone who hid behind an alias; they heard her out. She claimed I was delusional and blamed her for Peter’s death. Did I blame her for Peter’s death of course I did. She had moved against Peter to stop me but I wouldn’t let her take him in death. His body would not be one of her army. He was safe now.

    I had begged city council to forbid the festival, but all they cared about was tourism. They wouldn’t or couldn’t believe me that the KiIkongo’s plan was not only reviving the dead, but poisoning and enslaving the living too. She wanted a willing army to help her take over the city then the state then the countries one by one. They insisted I take some time off and step down from being the mayor. That grief had overtaken my senses, but I knew the truth and she couldn’t silence me. I had time to stop her. I had time the festival began at six pm and continued past midnight. Tall fires would be lit in front of homes to open the ceremony; then children would carry torches to the shrine where that too would be carried through the night. I would torch homes and those who would join the parade they would be so busy putting out those fires they wouldn’t join the bokor. She wouldn’t have access to them only those she animated in the cemetery and I had dug enough of them up to prevent her from animate most of them. I had studied the ancient rituals of my grandmother who was a sangoma. I too could be a sangoma burning sacred plants like the silver bush everlasting flower. The smoke from these would counteract her medicines. I would defeat the hold she had over the zombies and save my town. I would win.

    I felt the hands that took me and knew Kilkongo had won.

    I heard “She’s extremely delusional. She believes she’s becoming a flesh eating zombie. That she is under the control of the bokor. Keep her room locked in at all times.”
    The zombies sought to fool me by speaking instead of grunting .I guess this is it; we would all be zombies soon. I surrendered.

    497 words
    @SweetSheil

  2. Sooo glad I stopped in today. I would have never forgiven myself if I would have missed your LAST Challenge.

    Always challenging and interesting… as all writing should be.

  3. Festival of the Last Days
    By Wakefield Mahon

    “Guess this is the end Larry. We done cleaned out old Jake’s pawn shop, we only have two cases of shotgun shells left with a horde-o-zombies that don’t seem to want to slow down no matter how much lead you give them.”

    “We’ll give them what for Darryl. We ain’t going down without a fight. I’ll tell you that right now. Hey what happened to that wife of yours? She didn’t…?”

    “Naw, she’s just on the phone with her girlfriends like the world isn’t coming to an end. They got them fancy satellite phones, expensive as hell but they’re still chattering away. I swear I couldn’t shut that woman up with a whole roll of duct tape.”

    Yuki stopped talking.

    “She’s looking right at the back of my head isn’t she?”

    “Yup, and I reckon it’s a good thing she ain’t got a shotgun in her hands but the look in her eyes.”

    Darryl took a deep breath and turned around. “Yuki I don’t mean no disrespect but do you think you could stop talking to your friends long enough to help me hold off the coming apocalypse? Them zombies will be here any minute. I promise you ladies can go shoe-shopping all you want, later – in what’s left of the mall … if we survive that is.”

    Yuki rolled her eyes and went back to talking on the phone.

    “Ooh that woman.”

    “Aww, let her have her fun Darryl. We probably ain’t going to make it out of her no how.”

    “You got that right, Larry. Did you see them creatures? I swear I saw one – pretty sure it used to be a lady – she had purple hair, what kind of horrible zombie disease can that be?”

    “Well you know, some folks dye their hair bright blue or purple on purpose.”

    “Are you two boys finished gossiping?”

    “Huh?” The two men stared blankly as they saw Yuki standing over them, a torch blazing in each hand.

    “Snap out of it. They’re almost here!” The rhythm of drums filled the air.

    Larry and Darryl leveled their shotguns. “No, not like that genius; do you want to end up like your other brother Darryl? Take these torches and get ready for the procession.”

    “What in blazes are you talking about, Yuki?”

    “I was on the phone with my cousins. It’s October 22, right? It’s not Yuki-jinja but I’m pretty sure First Baptist on Oak Street will work.”

    “Still, not following you.” Darryl twisted his face.

    “The Kurama Fire Festival to help the departed find their way to the other side? I swear you don’t listen to a word I…”

    “In Kyoto, where you were raised, near the forest of Cherry Blossoms where the cicadas used to drive you crazy, I remember.” Darryl grabbed the torches and handed one to Larry. “Sounds like as good a plan as any, just tell me what you need me to do baby.”

    490 Words
    @WakefieldMahon

  4. No More Days

    Xaryn stopped in the center of the intersection for what seemed like hours, staring up the street at the neighborhood where he used to live.

    Since the rising nothing was safe. No one could be trusted. Everything was lost to the scourge that everyone had jokingly been preparing for, but no one really did.

    Comforting winds became the moans of a blacksnake and the blue skies darkened into soot filled storms of sorrow. It was as if the outbreak had killed everything good in the world, cremated it, eaten the ashes and this is what it crapped out three days later.

    “Hey! Snap out of it, Dumbass! You do that thing every time we pass by here.” Dane shouted as he hoisted the last of their rations onto his back and popped open an Umbrella.

    Xaryn’s eyes sliced their way toward Dane’s. “I can still hear their screams being strangled one by one as their throats were chewed out. I can still hear my parents heads being beaten like a drum on the hood of our Charger until their brains spewed out. I can still see the world looking like Kurama no Hi-Matsuri. I hate that this is all that’s left of my life, but I don’t expect a fucktard like you to understand.”

    Without another glance, Dane just leaned into the stinging rain and started to walk. “It’s two hours to dusk. I have no intention of being here in the open when the sun goes down, so hurry the hell up, or give me what’s left of your food and stay here… I don’t care.”

    Once the grayed images were sufficiently carved into Xaryn’s mind, his feet finally allowed him to leave that spot. He knew he was never coming back.

    Running the last mile, the pair stood under the “GUNSHED” sign, sweating and gasping for breath.

    “You sure there’s still some left, Dane?”

    “I said there was. Didn’t I? My dad sold off a lot of the Zombie Max ammo to the gung-ho assholes. Rule #2 was always: Don’t be a hero! He figured if they were all pumped up to get out there shooting zombies, he’d let them take the chances, and at the same time, make it easier on himself later. I’m positive he kept some for the days after the food ran out. That buckshot might say Zombie Max on the outside, but by God, I’m sure the it would tear through the insides of the living just as easy.”

    As they dropped the steel braces at the top and bottom of the door, the sound of destruction bounded from directions unknown. The infected were awakened by their nightly hunger and headed for the store.

    Dane emerged victoriously from the storage laden with boxes of Zombie Max shells moments before the door hinges gave way.

    Xaryn turned to Dane with a nod and said in his calmest voice, “I guess this is our last day together, My Friend. Let’s go out with a bang!”

    Greg Nance -500 Words
    @acenance

      1. Thank You, Ma’am. I got sucked back into FF XI last six months… trying to break out of it again, or maybe I can just share a few days. I really want to get back into writing. I sincerely hate to see your Challenge coming to an end.

  5. I kneeled before the butsudan to pray, a remnant of our life in Kyoto. We don’t leave rice anymore. The ancestors understand our poverty. Slanting light through shuttered windows heralded night and the Festival. I placed reverent kisses on the faded photos of Mom and especially Sachi.

    “It’s time, Takeo.” Dad unbarred the door as I shrugged into an old Army jacket and boots. He belted on Grandfather’s katana, slinging the crossbow over his shoulder, and then he handed me the Zombie Max.

    “Really?”

    Mute, he nodded and stepped through into the dark. Such an honor! The weapon was precious now that the Gunshed Pawn had sold out. Word from outside Broken Bow was that it’s all gone now. There won’t be any more supply drops.

    I checked the porch twice out of habit and then scurried across it and down onto what was left of Gates County Road. Dad handed me my 9-foot pine torch. Everyone had one. Up and down the street reminded me of Christmas. Cheery fires glowed outside each house and there were two lines of torchbearers. Sudden music and drumming from the loudspeakers down at the Rec Center startled me. Noise was forbidden, except tonight.

    We had come over a year ago on the last transport from Japan, like a lot of folks. America was our best chance, we thought. More than half the boys in the street were classmates. Sachi had been one too. Thin-lipped, I pushed down the regret that tightened my chest. I guess this is her “official” funeral.

    We began the slow march up Gates County Road, singing prayers. I heard them before I saw them. The moaning and shuffling of the herd chilled my spine and weakened my legs. I couldn’t help furtive glances over my shoulder.

    Behind us trailed a grotesque parade of shambling human flesh. More than I thought there would be. The lights and noise must have attracted walkers from North Platte to Kearney. Like the Kurama Fire Festival, we led them, the bodies of our ancestors, to their final resting place, up Gates County Road to Laurel Drive and the baseball fields.

    And the dead followed us right in, even beneath the bright lights; the scent of human sweat was an irresistible lure. At the chain link fence, I secured the torch and turned, looking for Sachi. She lumbered in the infield in filthy torn jeans and the tattered mess of a Hello Kitty T-shirt. Patchy black hair remained, but her face held only a cruel caricature of the lovely lips I used to kiss. Zombie Max shouldered, I waited for the signal. We ringed the herd, sighting our ancestors first. When the drums through the loudspeaker stopped, the funeral began. Sachi turned with the herd, snarling and hungry. I squeezed my eyes shut once, parting with a prayer and a single tear. Then I sighted and squeezed the trigger, obtaining closure with a single loud report.

    493 words
    @Rowanwolf66

  6. 500 words
    lynndrc@comcast.net

    “Guess this is good enough,” Ed says, as he puts up the new sign that reads “Gunshed,” and underneath that, an advertisement for 25-percent off Zombie Max bullets, nine types available for all types of undead. It’s just a gimmick by Hornady, but Ron insists that it will bring in good business from the collectors.

    Later that week, a disheveled Japanese man with a white T-shirt tied around his head enters the store. He cocks his head to the side, wrinkled eyes and crusty mouth wide open, staring at the two men behind the counter. In unison, Ed and Ron mutter a few words that could pass for a greeting, but it really means, “What the hell is this about?” The man shuffles around the store, singing to himself. “Say yaaa, soi yaaa, sah, sorrrrya,” he repeats softly as he winds around each of the three short aisles, seeming to look at nothing.

    Tapping the pile of 9mm Luger Z-Max boxes they’d been putting in the display case, Ed quips, “Think we should shoot him?” and Ron lets out a quick howl of laughter.

    Finally, the man approaches the counter.

    And he stays at the counter.

    Realizing the guy must be senile or crazy, Ron speaks gently to him. “Hey, fella. You all right?” No response. “Can we help you with something?” Then finally, “Is there someone we can call for you?”

    The man reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a white square of paper. In the few seconds it takes for Ron to feel hopeful that it’s a phone number, the man pulls a razorblade from the small envelope and slashes his wrist, just enough so that blood trickles out of the cut and onto the glass cabinet between them. Ed picks up the phone and calls the police as the man unhurriedly walks out the door.

    Later that same week, a couple of boys, maybe 14, 15 years old come in looking to buy the Zombie Max bullets. Of course, they’re not going to get them, but they think they can. They try cajoling Ed, as though he were the female of the pair and would be receptive to pleading eyes under long lashes, a juvenile attempt to portray innocence that borders on flirting. Both Ed and Ron hope he doesn’t try that tactic on the wrong type of guy. They look at each other, eyebrows raised, half-grins, as if to say “What is this kid doing?”

    Undeterred, the kids try something else, probably gleaned from television or YouTube or video games: the precocious one stays up front while the other pretends to look around. “It’s a gun shop, for Christ’s sake. What do you think, we don’t have cameras?” This thought could be attributed to either Ed or Ron, as they are of one mind at the moment. Ed takes out a rifle. Ron puts on a deranged face, reaching for the bullets.

    “Say yaaa, soi yaaa, sah…” they sing, coming from behind the counter.

  7. A Loop of Sanity.

    “Hey, Graham!” Jennifer called, tilting her head just enough without taking her eyes off the TV.

    “What?” he grunted, after a loud bang and metal hitting the floor sounded through the apartment.

    “You should come and look at this; there’s some fire festival in China or somewhere,” she said and tore open a piece of chocolate with her teeth, “something to do with illuminating the path for the dead spirits, I think.”

    Graham appeared in the archway rubbing the back of his neck. He squinted at the small box-TV and then at Jennifer.

    “It’s really interesting – do you think it works?” she asked.

    He shrugged and walked over to window where he pulled away the curtains. The Gunshed sign illuminated by just shy of a dozen casters, was still standing.

    “Anyone out there?”

    “No,” he huffed, and walked back to the kitchen, out of sight.

    Jennifer reached under the couch and pulled out a shoebox. Inside were photos of her family, Graham’s family and some of their friends.

    It had been so long since she’d seen them, but every time she asked to go visit – Graham said no. He said she was in no condition to travel, and that they had to stay put. She caressed her growing stomach and turned back to watching the TV.

    It showed a procession of men carrying torches. They were chanting – she couldn’t make out the words.

    An hour later the TV went blank and the sound cut off, as did the picture.

    **

    Graham stood in the kitchen, trying to fix the shotgun. He only had two rounds left –unless he could get it to fire other types of ammunition.

    The sudden silence from the room next door alerted him to the situation and he hurried to the living room.

    Jennifer sat motionless staring at the wall, her eyes were large, and in this state she looked quite lifeless.

    He walked over to the TV, pressed rewind on the VCR, and then play.

    The TV flicked back into life, and he skulked back to the kitchen.

    “Hey, Graham!” Jennifer called.

    He breathed in relief.

    “What?” he asked.

    He whispered the words as Jennifer called to him. “You should come and look at this; there’s some fire festival in China or somewhere – something to do with illuminating the path for the dead spirits, I think.”

    Japan, he thought – It’s in Japan. It didn’t matter – not really. She was nearly herself again while watching that tape, even if it only lasted an hour at a time. She’d bounce back again soon – this was just shock, trauma from seeing her sister being killed, and the neighbors.

    “Guess this is it,” he whispered, as he looked down on the useless gun, “unless I manage to get across the street somehow – without running into one of those things.”

    Somewhere in the distance someone screamed, but he didn’t care anymore – it was time to go and check on Jennifer.

    Word count: 491
    @ChessnySilth

  8. LAST STAND

    It was a nice pastoral stretch of back country crisscrossed with lazy shaded lanes where the old truck finally sputtered its last. Closing my eyes I placed a hand reverently on the dash.

    “Thank you, old girl.”

    A year ago I would have been mad at the junker for giving out in the middle of nowhere, and especially steamed at myself for ignoring twenty miles of the no fuel light. Funny how everything going to hell makes you grateful for little things.

    “Now what?” My companion stared statue-like at the road no longer rolling under us.

    He knew as well as I did what came next. Still, it’s hard when your options evaporate around you. I’d known desperation in my life, but this kid never had. Not like we were in now.

    “We hoof it.”

    I opened my door and dropped out, hefting my back from the bed. We had to keep moving. Those who stopped died. The kid grabbed his own pack, fell into step alongside me, and we kept the sinking sun at our backs. My military surplus look and his street punk aesthetic would have seemed an odd pair six months ago. These days everyone left looked a little scavenged, a little worn.

    We walked in silence. Even in the best of times we never had much to say to one another. These days, there wasn’t anything left to be said. By dusk we reached a small town with neon billboards neither of us really expected to light. I was tired, and the kid looked ready to drop.

    I sighed, “Well, I guess this is it.”

    He knew what I meant, but just nodded. The advertised zombie sale wasn’t some capitalistic attempt to make the best of a bad situation, but a desperate plea for somebody else to please do something. The results of that plea were more than evident. Even small towns don’t get this quiet.

    The grille on the pawnshop was still good, so we holed up in there. We even managed to scrounge some fresh munitions. Enough to make me wonder if this particular town ever even had a fighting chance.

    They came in the dark of night, rattling the grille and throwing themselves against our improvised barricades. They knew we were in there. It wasn’t anything the kid or I hadn’t heard before, but we both knew this time was different.

    “You ever hear of the Kurama no Hi-Matsuri?” the kid looked over at me.

    “The fire festival? Yeah, I even been to it. Years ago.”

    “She told me it was to guide the spirits of the dead. You think we could fix all this if we had something like that?”

    I grunted and closed my eyes like I meant to sleep. I didn’t tell him about the radio broadcast I managed to get that morning while he was out. I didn’t say his girl wasn’t coming back.

    485 words
    @DavidALudwig

  9. He looked over at her, his face screwed into his best attempt at a soulful expression. “I’m glad you are here with me, Sam. Here, at the end of all things.”

    She paused for a moment, and then guffawed, reaching out to slap his arm. “You dork! You…are a complete bastard! You’ve been saving that up since the night we met, haven’t you?” Her grin belied her angry words. “And keep your eyes on the road, you psycho. This is our last day on Earth, let’s not spend it in a ditch.”

    “As… you… wish… I am glad, though.”

    “I know.” She sighed. “It still doesn’t seem real, y’know? It can’t all be coming to an end, can it?”

    “I ran the numbers myself. The asteroid’s too big, and we’re too in its way. It’s going to hit southeast of Kyoto at 9:17. The impact…” He knew when he was lecturing, and this wasn’t the time. “Yeah. I know what you mean. I wanted to spend forever with you. I just didn’t know that forever was only twenty years.”

    She reached out and took his hand, both resting on the stick shift. He’d always loved how they could just sit silently together, but not tonight. He had so many things to say, and he hated that he wouldn’t be able to tell her everything. So he started babbling.

    “I guess this is called a Kurama fire festival. Some of the lab guys are from Japan, and they set this up out in the canyon. It’s supposed to help our souls pass from this world. With seven billion of us going at once, we need all the help we could get. They’ve timed the biggest fires to start at impact. We’ll have a few more hours, but it’ll be dead Earth spinning.”

    “That is a singularly ugly phrase. You’re going to use it twenty times tonight, aren’t you?”

    “Probably.”

    She saw a sign up ahead, the first one they’d passed for miles. “Hey, stop a minute. I need to pee.”

    “At a gun store?”

    “NRA freaks have bladders too.” She smiled. “Maybe it’s about time I learned to shoot a gun, don’t you think? I mean, I can’t imagine they’ll be obsessive about background checks tonight.”

    “Probably not. Get me one too – that Zombie Max sounds pretty sweet for an apocalypse gun.”

    She pulled the handle and turned to step out of the car. It was hard watching her go. Too much was unsaid. “Hey, Sam?”

    “What? I gotta go, you know me.”

    “I do. I just wanted to say…yes.”

    “Yes, what?”

    “Yes, I have been waiting to use that line since the night we met. You were so beautiful, and I’d been drinking, and it was everything I could do not to start quoting Tolkien at you. I am such a dork. I…”

    “Yes you are. But you’re mine.” She paused. “Just swing over there by that bush. Who needs a gun when I’ve got you and fire and forever?”

    500 words
    @drmagoo

  10. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve had a healthy relationship. It really was a great run,” I said to him. He didn’t respond, but I knew he was thinking about what a big idiot I was. He made that very clear the last time we hung out, acting out and bruising my chest with his punishing blows. Truthfully, his actions were what put me over the edge and I knew I was making the right decision. He was getting too old. The boys always gave me a hard time when I showed up to events with him on my arm.

    I half expected him to go off on me, but he was silent and cold to the touch. I started to panic even though he was taking it well. My faced flushed and my palms grew sweaty. The guilt weighed me down like an indigestible six pound burrito.

    “Look, I know it’s just a festival, but it means a lot to me. There’s this girl and I can’t screw this up. She wants to go and even though I can’t pronounce the name of the festival, I need to go. I want to go. I know there’s more out there and I can’t settle for you and stay here. You know that. You’ll find someone else, I know it. Someone who can love you for you.”

    The man behind the barred counter window coughed. “Are we doing business? If not, I’m going to call the cops.”

    There was a time, in our youth, when we wouldn’t put up with that lip. The fact that his comment didn’t bother us signaled better than anything that it was over.

    “I guess this is the end,” I said, stroking his long shaft. “Thank you for everything. It’s been so wild and I’ll never forget any of our…”

    “Sir.”

    I stepped forward and offered him to the man behind the counter who reached through the bars and tugged. As he pulled, I only held on tighter. It was instinctive. I couldn’t let go. When he finally pried him from my warm, sweaty hands, he held it up to the light and snickered.

    “I see you’ve filed the serial number off. It’s an older model, too, so I can only give you a few hundred.”

    It felt like he had shoved a knife into my chest and twisted. I felt the tears coming on so I just lowered my head and nodded. The cash register rang and the door slid out.

    “…Three…Four…Five hundred,” the man counted from a large wad of cash and started to laugh, shaking his head. “What kind of name for a gun is ‘Fabulous Freddy Giraffe’ anyway?”

    On the way home, I looked at Freddy buckled in the passenger’s seat and seated atop the ten grand. “Can you ever forgive me?” I asked.

    @hlpauff – 473 words

  11. The sign said Gunshed. “I guess this is the place.” Gunshed was the oldest gun retailer in Florida. My car’s tires screamed as I slammed on the breaks and I turned into the parking lot. Tire smoke filled the air. I didn’t care. We were all dead anyway. All of us. It was only a matter of time. The virus was already adapting in some parts of the world. Spreading through the air, not just through the exchange of body fluids.

    I threw open the back hatch of my SUV. Pulled out every gun I’d been able to find. Two rifles. Two shotguns. One double barreled. Four handguns. Two 38s, and two 9mms. As I did, three guys raced out of the store. They punched a hole in the SUVs gas tank. Gas gushed out everywhere.

    “We’re making our own Kurama no Hi-Matsuri!” one of them explained. I about died of laughter. “We’re gonna send the dead on their way out of this world!”

    I rushed into the store. A guy closed the door behind me. Locking it. The steel cage attached to the door would slow down anything that tried to break in. That was a good thing.

    “Any left?” I asked him.

    “Yep,” was all he said. “And we’re makin’ it fast as we can.” With that, he handed me a case of Zombie Max. 24 boxes of 24 rounds. Guaranteed to take out any zombie in one shot.

    I looked around the store. Men and women lined the walls, guarding the windows. All of them armed with rifles and handguns. Waiting. “Where do you want me?” I asked the man.

    “You know how to pack shell casings?”

    “Yeah,” I nodded.

    He turned a pointed to the back of the store. “In there. They could use your help.”

    I carried my guns and ammo with me into a little cinder-block room that was centered in the store. Three other guys were in there. Packing gunpowder into casings. Tipping them off. Making rounds of Zombie Max as quickly as they could. A fourth guy was propped up against the back wall. Blood was everywhere. “Glad you’re here. We could use your help.”

    I looked at the dead guy. “Had a couple of rounds go off. They took him out.”

    That’s when the people out front started screaming. “They’re coming! They’re coming!” I heard the firestorm in the parking lot as they lit that sucker up. No idea how many Zombies got crispy crittered in that fire. But it would never be enough.

    Damn that virus. What a way to go. Roasting Zombies, and then blowing them to hell until we ran out of ammo, and they got to us. And we joined them. No one had ever really believed there’d be a Zombie Apocalypse. But it had arrived. And now everyone, everywhere was going to pay.

    497 words.
    @LurchMunster

    As the dolphins said when they left Earth. “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

  12. Tradition

    “Don’t you think it’s a little ironic?”

    “My english is not as good as yours,” General Ogawa said. “Even I know, this is not correct use of ironic.”

    “Guess this is as good a killzone as any.” Corporal Sterling smirked. “I’m just saying, it says Gunshed and Zombie right on the damn sign. I mean if they could read, they’d know it was a trap.”

    “They can’t read.” General Ogawa walked to the edge of the roof and checked on fortifications for the fourth time. His decades of management experience may have been useless after the Emergency, but his hawk-like attention to detail had saved more lives than he cared to count.

    General Ogawa yelled down to his right hand man setting the trip wires. “Sumimasen!”

    “Hai!”

    “Too close. The corner must overlap. Fix it,” General Ogawa’s voice cracked. “No mistakes!”

    Corporal Sterling had seen Hikaru deal with almost impossibly stressful situations in the year and a half since he joined 3rd Brigade. But tonight the man—the warrior—seemed sad. There was something bothering him, beyond the inevitable loss of life that came with battle.

    “Want to talk about it?” Corporal Sterling put his hand on Hikaru’s shoulder and flinched when the General’s hand flashed to his katana out of reflex. He knew if Hikaru had decided to draw, his head would be rolling on the roof before he had a chance to blink.

    General Ogawa turned away, his face falling with the setting sun.

    “I have seen too much.” Hikaru’s voice was soft and raspy. “I want to forget. But I can not. Do you truly forget what today is? ”
    “Halloween? No, wait…it’s Thanksgiving.” Corporal Sterling prodded the former Japanese executive, trying to elicit a smile. General Ogawa ignored him. Sarcasm was difficult to translate to Japanese.

    They waited in silence for long minutes as the sun crashed into the horizon and the sound of the drums at the edge of town were audible.

    “Do you know where this strategy was born?” Hikaru asked.

    “I thought it was your idea.”

    “No. It is born of tradition. Today is the start of Kurama no Hi-Matsuri,” General Ogawa said. “In my home, the festival of fire is ancient. Young men lead the lost spirits with fire and drums through the streets to the Yuki-jinja Shrine.”

    Corporal Sterling could see the torches of the baiters at the edge of town heading their way. It wouldn’t be long now. “Did they kill the lost souls when they got to the Shrine? Because that would be ironic.”

    “Tonight is the anniversary of the Emergency. Four years ago today, I took my son to the festival in Kurama. It was his favorite day of the year.” General Ogawa stared out over the barricades, lost in memory. “It was his birthday.”

    Corporal Sterling barely heard the General’s whisper over the sounds of terrified men loading weapons. The fearless, unstoppable enemy was coming; their number legion.

    “Tonight, I will avenge him.”

    499 words
    @zombiemechanics

  13. I hesitate to send this last one in. It’s real now. 🙁 Bye, #MenageMonday. <3

    Guess this is it, Steven thought to himself again, hand shaking on the car’s handle. I’m for real this time. He can’t just treat me however. Use me when he needs me, when he needs it, then fucking dismiss me like some hooker.

    Like you don’t see me. You’ll see me. You’ll see me now.

    He got out of the car, barely glanced at the Gunshed sign before shuffling in. He passed the background check He bought the .45. He went back to his car.

    ***

    It was the brightest night of the year. The fires were beacons to all—locals, tourists, for new residents and those who were old and returning, for the living, for the dead.

    Every face shone bright in the dancing light, reflecting the shapes of their lives in the shadows they cast as they wound through the town.

    ***

    Steven went home. He knew that Jake would be home soon. He waited at the kitchen table, smoking a joint. The gun lay on the table. When Jake came in he stopped in the garage doorway, hand on the doorknob.

    “Steven,” he started, voice shaking.

    “Don’t,” Steven said, touching the gun. “Come inside. Take off your jacket. Go to the bathroom.” For a long time, Jake didn’t move. When he finally decided to, it was in halting steps. Steven could understand. Could you walk right into death, even if you knew that you deserved it?

    Steven got up as Jake passed, grabbed the gun and stuck it into Jake’s back, sliding his hand around his chest. One last hug. The best hug he’d ever gotten. The last one Jake would ever have and it belonged to Steven. It always would.

    ***

    As the evening grew older, the disposition of the night changed. The light remained, ablaze in front of houses, pinpricking the night for miles, even appearing to float in the sky at certain points.

    But the sweet festivity began to bubble into something darker, something heavier. The weight pressed upon the festival-goers, as if the veil to the other world had not lightened, but turned into lead instead.

    The older people knew it meant there were spirits that needed finding.

    ***

    He had Jake sit in the bathroom. He stood over him. It was one of the few times he ever had. He didn’t say anything. Just pulled the trigger.

    ***

    Eyes shut, Jake screamed into existence, holding his arms up, kicking out wildly. He hit nothing, which made him stop his thrashing. He didn’t recognize where he was. He didn’t understand what was going on.

    How long had he been here? He stumbled into the street and found a crowd of people. He tried to ask where he was. But no one would talk to him. He realized no one could see him. He was alone. He would always be alone. But he deserved it after…

    Then, the light caught his eye. There was so much light. And it led somewhere. So he followed.

    @J_M_Blackman
    500

  14. “Looks like we park there,” my husband said, and I blinked. Gunshed Jewelry Corner? The strange things one sees in Japan. Nonetheless, I pulled the rental in and parked.

    “Guess this is it,” I said, noting the fires lit in everyone’s yard. It was really very pretty and I snapped a few pictures. “Where do we sit?”

    “Looks like we line the street,” Jimmy noted, pointing to the crowd. His camera was going as well. “This is amazing.”

    Finally, around six, people became quiet. I watched as a procession of young boys came down the street, carrying small torches. Behind them came teams of chanting men, the torches becoming larger and larger as they made their way down the street.

    “Wow,” I breathed, as the portable shrine followed the last of the procession. People filed into the streets, headed for the large shrine where the ceremony would wrap. I took as many pictures as I could. “We need to come back sometime.”

    “Happy anniversary, love,” Jimmy said, kissing my cheek.

    @Aightball
    170 words

  15. Title: Traditions

    “Momma, we’re not in Japan anymore,” Atsushi said as he stood and examined the logs from the pile in Hikari’s front yard.

    “Don’t matta,” the elderly Japanese woman said, as she pulled a large log. “Spirits everywhere in world. Kurama no Hi-Matsuri show the way.”

    Atsushi sighed, knowing he would not be able to talk his mother out of building the bonfire, and just hoped the cops wouldn’t be called. He stopped trying to fight her efforts and began helpding build the pyre. At least if he was helping and keeping an eye out, Hikari would be less likely to burn the neighborhood down.

    After the pile was complete, Atsushi helped his mother carry her mikoshi down to the yard so Yuki Daimyojin could watch and protect them from evil. Atsushi didn’t put much stock into the old traditions anymore but knew they were important to her.

    As evening approached Hikari rose from her old rocking chair and hobbled over to the pyre. With the shrine overseeing the yard, she and Atsushi lit the scraps of paper and tinder they had packed into the pockets of the stacked wood.

    Slowly the fire gained strength until the flames reached higher than the roof of the small house. Hikari smiled and settled back into her rocking chair. When Atsushi turned to go into the house, the old woman reached out quickly and grabbed her son’s arm.

    “Where you go?”

    “I was going to get you some tea, Momma.”

    Hikari nodded grimly. “Be quick, Shi. There is great evil tonight. We stay by fire.”

    Atsushi returned a few minutes later with his mother’s family tea service. It was tradition that the woman of the house serve tea, but it was something he liked to do for his mother.

    “Thank you, musuko.” Hikari sipped her tea as Atsushi sat next to her.

    “So, I guess this is it to the festival?” he asked her.

    “No. The evil will come and fire will set free.”

    Atsushi put his tea cup down. “What do you mean, kaasan?”

    His mother’s expression warmed. She enjoyed hearing him speak her native tongue.

    “End of world,” Hikari said simply.

    “What?”

    Before Hikari could answer, Atsushi heard several loud crashes and screams from his neighbors around him. There were also several figures on the other side of the fire. They didn’t approach but shifted their weight from side to side. An occasional groan was heard.

    “What the hell?” Atsushi murmured.

    “What is American word?” Hikari asked. “Oh, hai, zombies. My tea leaves from yesterday predict zombie apocalypse during festival. Those who believe and light fire for Yuki Daimyojin will be spared.”

    Atsushi sat in stunned silence as the zombies did not to cross the bonfire, instead they turned to easier prey, Hikari’s neighbors. She seemed entirely disinterested in their welfare.

    “Those who believe and light fire will be spared,” Hikari repeated, barely above a whisper as she watched the zombies break in the house across the street.

    @MLGammella
    498 Words

  16. Sasha shifted the took the cigarette from her mouth, blowing a cloud of blue smoke out. She stared at the line of people outside the pawnshop, waiting for the portal to open. People were outside, dancing around and screaming to the sky like the drunk, rednecks they were.

    She didn’t know what they were doing exactly but then no one really knew what to do with the single Japanese resident that had moved there the other month. She thought she heard something about some sort of ceremony that he wanted to perform and everyone took it to mean some sort of party.

    Small towns. Had to love them.

    She yawned, adjusting the little zombie that sat next to the register. It was almost Halloween so the shop bought people’s treasured items for a reduced price because they were short on a bill, they also had things to sell. The cutest thing she saw where the little zombie couple. Zombie Max and Zombie Mary. They were a Zombiefied Raggedy Ann and Andy. Cute and ugly at the same time. Their strange charm was wearing on her.

    “Well, Maxie. Seems that things are getting pretty intense. I don’t know what they are doing but maybe trying to summon some jobs. Maybe an elder god or two? I for one am willing to vote for the Greater Evil of Gods that want to come rule over us slavering human beings. What do you think?” She turned the doll towards her and nodded it’s head forward. “Thanks, Max. I’m glad you agree.”

    “It is a ceremony to say good bye to the spirits and help them go away.”

    The quiet voice had her jumping and straightening up. She didn’t even know anyone else was in the story.

    The Japanese man wasn’t much older than she was, shoulder length straight hair and dark eyes. She saw the start of sleeve tattoos that disappeared under the folded sleeves of his dress shirt.

    “May I help you?”

    “You are not going to celebrate?” He waved to the revelers outside. Someone had started up a drum.

    “No, I need to watch the shop. The boss would get really upset if I left my post. That and I really like to get a pay check.” She gave him a tight smile. “Funny thing, needing money and stuff to make it.”

    A corner of his mouth quirked up as he put a pack of flares on the counter. “Just this, please. Your boss has an interesting shop. Lots of very…interesting things.” His eyes dropped to the zombie. “You might want to watch what you say to your companion. They say that dolls can take on a life of their own.”

    She eyed him as he turned and left. “Riiiiight. I’ll keep that in mind.” She glanced down and paused. Zombie Max had been put face down but he was face up, eyes on her.

    Yeah, that was really creepy. She could have sworn that the doll winked.

    497 words
    @solimond

  17. This night gnaws at me. It tears me up inside, shreds me to pieces organ by organ—kidneys, liver, lungs, one by one, methodically, scientifically. Never the heart, though—no, never the heart: the heart is left to me so my pain will stay fresh and raw in its tattered cavity.

    It is dark.

    It is always dark now.

    I grip my crook tightly, watching dispassionately as tiny shards of oak worm their way into my palm. They weave patterns into the flesh, delicate as a spider’s web, angular as ice flakes. Like me, the patterns formed will never be mistaken for beauty, nor will anyone recall them in the morning.

    The hour approaches; the earth begins to tremble with light desperation beneath my feet.

    They are coming.

    First, the children, cheeks pink and glowing in the firelight. They dance, they skip, holding their infant torches above their heads, sweet, ignorant laughter mingling and melting with the sparks in the air.

    I wait. Steady—yes, steady. My turn will come.

    Next, the men. Their beacons roar, broad and muscular, biting into the night with teeth of flame. If I were other than what I am, I, too, would tremble, cowering at the thunder of their steps. But the men pass by, eyes locked forward, mouths shouting something I can’t quite catch.

    The streets lie ablaze before me, fires in the doorways, torch and flame on the horizon. My treacherous heart strains against the confines of its cage, clawing at my ribs. Are they coming? Is it time??

    Yes.

    Shuffle. Shuffle. STOMP. Shuffle. STOMP. Shuffle. Uneven, dissonant scrapings. Familiar scrapings.

    Faces grey, eyes wild. A legion of them. Two legions. They stagger vacuously; they snap at each other, growling, hissing. They stumble across the village, ravenous, raging, the smell of pulsing blood in their nostrils.

    NOW.

    I grip my crook with both hands and step into the street in front of them. They see me. They fall silent, bewildered by my bloodless heart-pounding.

    “Come,” I say, my voice low and soft. I take a step backward, toward the firelight.

    Shuffle.

    Uncertain, they follow.

    STOMP. Growl. STOMP.

    Still they follow.

    “Come,” I say again. I continue to step backward, their eyes on me, frantic, confused.

    They follow, urgently, hungrily.

    They will follow me unblinking deep into billowing flame.

    In their violent, joyful celebrations, the townspeople do not see what they think they see; they would never guess this is what it is.

    “To the Shepherd of Souls!” they shout, raising glasses in a raucous toast, their festival accomplished for another year.

    Shepherd, yes.

    Souls, no.

    Silently I wipe ash from my cheeks. I gaze at the flushed and noisy faces, contemplating for the tiniest of moments what it might feel like to smile. Or to breathe.

    The moment of self-pity passes, for now.

    A new year dawns.

    I spread out my arms and let the night devour me one more time.

    489 words
    @postupak

    –With heartfelt gratitude for a rip-roaring ride!!! Imagine, ending with ZOMBIES!

  18. THE DRAGON MAKER

    Takeshi crouched in the boxwood shrubs beyond the Yuki shrine. Not the original. This replica, artfully tucked behind the southern koi pond of the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden, had pieces of the Kurama based shrine mixed into its foundation, courtesy of long ago immigrant smugglers.

    He patted the Hellsing .454 strapped to his thigh, reassuring himself that it was there should he need it. Fully loaded with Zombie Max ammo, just in case. Tonight there would be no parade of torches or chanting. Only the final desperate act of a man who had sacrificed family, buried friends and forsaken his very soul to arrive at this precise moment in time.

    Patience was a tenuous ally as he waited beneath the malevolent fingernail moon. Water rippled. Leaves rustled. Branches rattled. A heron’s call came once, then twice, lingering in the air, heavy and cloying as the scent of a lily. Bamboo stalks trembled like skeletons, a dead giveaway, but his eyes stayed fixed on the trickle of light at seeping out from beneath the door of the shrine.

    Holding back terror and anger and adrenalin, he watched as the light coalesced, pushed the door off its hinges, and cascaded down the stone steps, becoming a living pulsing river of power. When it flowed past his hiding spot, he broke cover and ran for it, emptying the first z-max cartridge into the lumbering shadows on his heels.

    Heading for the shrine, arms pumping, legs pushing, and lungs screaming, he reloaded the second cartridge, slid the gun into the holster and reached back for his katana. Bracing himself for the impact, he thrust the metal blade into the green jade eye above the door.

    No time to worry about the surging liquid inches below his dangling feet, or the searing pain in his shoulders as he supported his weight on the katana handle. Reaching for the Hellsing, he unloaded it a second time, buying himself a few more precious moments.

    Swinging around to face the shrine’s interior, he shuddered, and said to himself, “I guess this is it. If this truly is the path walked by the spirits of the departed, than I swear on Bishamonten’s terrible tiger breath, that I will bring back one of those spirits to rid the living world from this flesh rotting pestilence.”

    As he climbed the rafters, a scarlet ribbon caught his attention. Looking up, he saw it was attached to a beautiful dragon kite. He reached for it, fingers clutching and missing, until at last, he lost his balance and plummeted into the golden abyss. But the scarlet ribbon coiled around him, lifting him onto her back.

    The dragon Akemi was a kite no longer, but lashed to a master, and spewing sulphuric retribution. He felt a splinter of hope. Or perhaps it was merely a dragon claw piercing his thigh. He smiled. Once the last corpse was in ashes, he could turn his skills to a more worthy venture: wooing his fiery dragon bride.

    – – – – –
    @bullishink / 500 words

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