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Some of you may remember that I recently competed in NYC midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Although I didn’t bring home the cash and prizes I did have so much fun and gained so much from the feedback on the forums and from the judges that I’ve decided to participate in this year’s Short Story Competition as well.

During the Flash fiction challenge we had two days to write a 1000 word story using a randomly assigned Genre, Object, and Location. This time the word count varies per round and competing writers are randomly assigned a Genre, a story subject, and a character. Both the story subject and the character must have significant impact on the story, though they are not required to be the main theme or the main character.

Check it out and let me know what you think. Please. I love feedback. 🙂

My round one assignment at 2500 words is:

Genre: Fantasy
Subject: A wish
Character: A school Bus Driver.


Of Cancer and Dragons

            The great dragon sweeps low over the mountain top, his mighty fire-breath adding to the rampaging flames surrounding me. I let another arrow fly, piercing the beast’s wing and bringing him crashing to the ground. The beast roars in rage and pain and my bow falls to the ground as I draw my great sword, answering the dragon’s rage with a challenging bellow of my own. We rush forward, meeting in a clash of sword and fang, armor and claw. Blood paints the grass at my feet until the dry dirt churns to mud. With a final great heave, my sword splits the mighty black scales and severs the head of the once unbeatable foe. I throw back my head, yawping in triumph as the dragon’s soul sears through the surrounding air, filling me with ancient power.

“Okay, dude. Time to call it a night.”

“What?” I whip around. “C’mon! Ten more minutes? Please?”

Rick reaches down and presses pause on the game’s second controller. “Nuh-uh. I gave you ten extra minutes when the dragon showed up. It’s getting late.”

“Please? I’m almost done with the quest.”

“I said ‘no’. Now get up. We need to get you back to the ward before lights out.”

I let my bottom lip start to tremble and force a weak cough. “Please Rick,” I whine. “You know I’ve got cancer.”

He tosses his head back and laughs. “No way, dude. That fake little cough might fool Raquel from pediatrics, but it won’t fly with me.”

“I had to try.” I shrug. “Grandpa always said you should use everything you’ve got to get ahead; good, bad, or otherwise.”

“He was right about that,” Rick says, “but people don’t usually learn it so well.”

“I’m twelve years old, Rick. I’m not a little kid anymore.”

Rick rolls his eyes and reaches toward the monitor. “Honestly, Jeremy. You’re the only cancer patient I’ve ever known that wants to stay in Chemo treatment.”

“The T.V.’s are bigger in here,” I say, quickly saving my game. “And I get one to myself. Back in the ward I have to share with all the other kids.”

Rick slowly unhooks the game cables from the T.V., watching me from the corner of his eyes. “Uh huh…,” he says slowly. “Are you sure it doesn’t have something to do with a certain Miss Sarah Whittkins from two beds down?”

“What?” I sputter. “No way!”

“I hear she tried to kiss you yesterday.”

“Ugh. She attacked me.” I hand Rick my controller and swing my legs off the edge of the bed. “Seriously, Rick. You should have that girl checked for rabies.”

I struggle to standing on wobbly legs and Rick swings around, dropping my game console on the bed. “Whoa!” he shouts. “Easy man, let me get you into the wheelchair.”

“No, it’s okay,” I say, trying to bring my shaking legs under control. “Grandpa never used a wheelchair. He always walked back to his room after chemo.”

Rick sweeps the wheelchair around to my side of the bed anyway. “Yeah. Your grandpa was one of the toughest S.O.B.’s I’ve ever met.”

“It didn’t help him though.”

Rick jerks his head around to stare at me. “What does that mean?”

“Well, you know…” I shrug. “He still died. And now I’ve got his cancer and I’m gonna-”

“Stop right there.” Rick snaps. “I don’t want to hear that crap. You are not going to die unless you give up. Your cancer is the same type as your granddad’s, but that’s it. His was too far gone when they found it. Yours we can beat, but you have got to keep fighting.”

“But…” This time my lip starts to tremble on its own. “We were supposed to fight it together.”

Rick squats down and pulls me close. “You are buddy. I promise. Your grandpa’s cancer is what let us find yours. If you hadn’t been tested for a donor things could be a lot worse. Your granddad gave you the best weapons there are: time and knowledge. All you gotta do is use them.”

I let him help me into the wheelchair. “I just wish it was more like the game,” I say, “I wish I could just get a sword and go kick cancer’s butt.”

“I wish it worked that way too, buddy.”

We roll the rest of the way to the ward in silence. They haven’t called lights out yet, but the big room lights are still off when we get there, only the hall lights and some of the reading lights above the beds are on. Rick puts the console away and helps me crawl into bed. “You want your light on, bud?”

I shake my head, suddenly really tired. “Nah, ‘m jus’ gonna…”

*

My reading light blazes to life and I snap awake as someone starts shaking me. “C’mon pal. We gotta go.”

“Huh?” I blink around the room. The man next to my bed is tall and thin, wearing overalls and a baseball hat. His face is half hidden by the light but he looks like my old school bus driver. “Mr. Bulger???”

He beams down at me with a crooked smile. “Come on, we’re running late.”

I rub at my eyes and slide my arms sleepily into the jacket he’s holding out for me. “But I don’t have school today,” I mumble.

“Oh, it’s better than school,” he says, tying my shoes.

In seconds, I’m dressed in my favorite jeans and my ‘I’m with Skywalker’ T-shirt and we’re out the door, racing down the hallways toward the hospital’s main doors. The hallways are empty and dark, but I’m too excited to be scared. I’m running! I had chemo today and I’m still running! I laugh down at my legs, watching them move. Mr. Bulger laughs too, racing along beside me. In the parking lot I can see the dirty yellow school bus that used to pick me up. I laugh again, racing toward the bus. It’s been so long, I’m actually excited to go to school.

Mr. Bulger charges up the short stairs into the bus behind me and throws himself, laughing, into the driver’s seat. His seatbelt clacks into place as the bus’ double doors squeak themselves shut. We laugh together at the old familiar sound and rocket out of the parking lot along the dark streets.

The dirty old bus seems to soar over the empty roads and around the few cars still coasting along at this time of night. I watch the night whip by, rubbernecking from window to window. Streetlights turn to stars and comets, streaking past us as we sail into the night. “I got us a chance, pal,” Mr. Bulger says. “We’re gonna make your wish come true.”

I crinkle my forehead the way grandpa used to. “What wish?”

“We are going to go kick cancer’s butt.”

I blink. Suddenly the ride doesn’t seem fun anymore. “Uh… I… I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Yes you can, Jeremy. I know you can. No more tubes and wires. We’re going to head out there and take it head on, together.”

I sit back in my gigantic bus seat. “I can’t beat cancer. Cancer killed my grandpa.” I stare out the window, watching the stars streak past. “Can’t we just go out there?” I ask. “Can’t we just sail away?”

Mr. Bulger’s face softens into a calm smile. “We can do this, pal. I know we can.”

“But… but what if I can’t? What if I’m not strong enough?”

“There’s really only ever one good way to find out,” he says. “You’ve gotta try and see.”

I swallow a lump in my throat. “Grandpa said that to me once.”

“Sounds like a smart guy.”

“You’re not really Mr. Bulger, are you?”

A smile and a wink. “Nope.”

“Are you an angel?”

“Ha! No way, pal. I’m a school bus driver.”

His laughter spreads through me and I can’t even be scared. His eyes gleam with mischief and adventure and a second later I feel the same gleam enter mine. A grin spreads across my face. “Okay!” I say. “Let’s do it! Let’s go kick cancer’s butt!”

“’Atta boy!”

The-bus-driver-who-almost-looks-like-Mr. Bulger-but-isn’t twists the wheel and points out the front window. “There it is! That’s where we’re going.”

I jump to my feet, watching the speck of brilliant purple light streak toward us, getting bigger and bigger as it comes. I swallow back another lump of fear. “What is that?” I ask.

“That’s your doorway, pal. Our stop is on the other side.”

“W…What’s it like on the other side?”

He gives me another crooked contagious smile. “Whatever you need it to be, pal.”

The swirling pool of light gets bigger and bigger until it seems to cover the whole sky. I want to shut my eyes, but the patterns are so pretty that I can’t. I gawk, spell-bound, out the windows until suddenly it’s gone. The bus shudders below me and suddenly we’re bumping and scraping across an open field of windswept grass.

“Whoa!” Mr. Not-Bulger shouts, swerving to miss a broken stump in our path. “That was sudden.”

The bus shudders and bumps to a halt and Mr. Not-Bulger swings the door open. “Looks like this is it.”

“Wha…What do I do now?” I ask.

Mr. Not-Bulger steps off the bus and looks around. “I guess we follow the path.”

“Okay,” I say, pulling my hat tight into place. “I can do this.”

The ground is firm and the grass slaps against my legs. I look around. “Where are we?”

“This place came from you. Your mind and heart built it for us.” He winks at me. “Lead the way, pal.”

We trudge across the empty grass for what seems like hours, following the path up a narrow hill with a single ancient tree on one side. At the top of the hill I stop, looking around. The path ends in a large dirt circle and my stomach starts to twist in recognition.

A high-pitched shriek rips across the sky and we turn together, gazing into the sky. Shivers of fear race from my toes to my head and back as I suddenly remember where I’ve seen this before. “This is from the game!” I shout. “This is where I fight the dragon king!”

The creature shrieks again, swooping low and blasting the side of the hill with tongues of orange fire. “Now’s your chance!” Mr. Not-Bulger shouts. “Get him!”

“Are you crazy?!?” I scream back at him as I run for cover. “I can’t fight a dragon! I’m just a kid!”

We throw ourselves to the ground by the old tree as the dragon screeches over us close enough that I can feel the heat from his breath on my face. I look up. Leaning against the worn trunk is a gleaming sword. The edges shine with sharpness and rubies glitter along the hilt. “It’s the sword of Sword of Dragon Slaying!” I yell, grabbing the heavy sword and dragging it back toward Mr. Not-Bulger. “Take it! Hit him!”

“I can’t!” he yells back, fighting to make himself heard. “You’ve got to do it!”

“You said we’d fight together!”

“Fighting together means you’ve got to do your part! You can’t just wait for me!”

The dragon swoops past again, swatting me to the ground with its tail. The razor claws lash out and drag Mr. Not-Bulger screaming into the air.

“NO!” I yell, racing after them. “You can’t leave me!”

The dragon arcs back toward the hill, tossing the body of my bus driver to the ground below. The dragon’s eyes bore into me as it beats its mighty wings, hurtling toward me. I bolt across the open grass, throwing myself to the ground as the dragon lashes out for me. I land hard and blood spurts from my nose. I’m starting to hurt all over. “I can’t do this!” I yell. “This thing killed my grandpa!”

My own words echo in my ears and I scramble sideways, grabbing the big sword as the dragon dives toward me. Now’s my chance. “For Grandpa!” I scream and lift the sword, running forward.

The hit knocks me onto my back, but I hear the dragon scream in pain for the first time. The massive brute lands hard in the field behind me, blood dripping from its wing. We lock eyes and the dragon snarls in rage and pain. I’m scared and angry and my hands are so sweaty I can barely hold the sword. I’m shaking all over like I just had chemo and I feel so alone. The dragon barrels toward me, teeth and claws flashing. The heavy scales come so close I can count them as I struggle to raise the sword. A car horn trumpets above the dragon’s roar and the dirty yellow school bus slams into the dragon’s side sending him sprawling to the base of the massive tree.

“Now Jeremy!” The battered voice of Mr. Not-Bulger screams out of the bus’ open door. “Get him!”

I heave myself up and forward, dragging the heavy sword behind me. The dragon snaps and roars against the bus, trying to shake himself free. I can see the old tree trunk starting to splinter under the weight of beast and bus. I scream with panic, swinging the heavy sword as hard as I can, over and over until Mr. Not-Bulger plucks the heavy sword from my hand. “It’s okay, pal,” he says with a smile. “You got him.”

I stumble away from the dragon, watching it shrink and fade. Tears stream down my face and I’m gasping for breath. After several minutes I turn back to look at the mess on top of the hill. “You hit him with a school bus.”

Mr. Not-Bulger shrugs and gives me another crooked smile. “Well, like I told you before: you gotta use everything you can in life; good, bad, or otherwise.”

He shifts his favorite hat to the side and the shadow shifts across his face, changing it until I finally know who it is. “Grandpa!” I shout, leaping toward him. “You came back!”

“I never really left you, pal,” he says, “and I never really will.”

“But…” I stammer, looking around. “What is all this?”

“I called in a favor.” He shrugs. “You needed to see it was time to start fighting.”

I hold him tight and start to cry from happiness, and sorrow, and fear, and pain, and loss, and bunch of other things I can’t name right now. “You’re the best, grandpa.”

He laughs, long and loud, just like he used to. “Come on, pal. Let’s get you back home.”

We race each other the few feet to the school bus and climb inside. The dragon is almost gone now, fading to the size of a mouse. We turn the battered old bus around and head down the hill, laughing the whole way.

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