Round one of NYCmidnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge went really well for me last month. This month I got my assignment for Round #2. For those of you who haven’t been following it’s a random assignment of Genre, Object, and Location. Participants have 2 days =48 hours= to write a 1000 word story. It’s a lot of fun, but I have to admit this assignment threw me for a loop. Check it out.
Genre: Ghost Story
Location: A Pond
Object: Jelly Beans
Anyone who read my work from last year may remember I had to do a Ghost Story then too. I hate ghost stories. I just get stuck on trying to make them original and engaging. The original part really gets me. Cliche’ happens for a reason.
A pond is something I can work with, but Jelly Beans? I started doing research and poking around, trying to find something to tie these all together. It was tough, but I did learn some interesting facts about Jelly Beans. Did you know Jelly beans have been around for more than three hundred years? And that they were a favorite treat of Civil War Soldiers?
So there’s a lot of room there, but I still couldn’t come up with much until I decided to scrap the idea of a cautionary tale, or a creepy ghost story, or even anything serious. Instead, I decided to embrace the ridiculous. So, with no further ado, I give you my second round entry.
The Second Battle of Boykin’s Mill
“Dammit, Holden!” Jen yells, scrambling over the low rock wall. “If I get killed out here, I swear to God I will haunt you for the rest of your life!”
I throw my lanky frame over the wall a second before the next barrage of musket fire splatters against the heavy rocks. “You’ve been threatening to haunt me since Kayla Murphy kissed me in the third grade.”
Jennifer’s eyes narrow into coal black pits. “That Witch knew you were taken.”
I scramble to my feet and peer over the stone rim. My canteen of holy water lies in a jumbled heap with the rest of our supplies about thirty yards away. “How was I ‘taken’? You and I sat beside each other on the school bus.”
“Yeah, well, in third grade that counts as taken.” Jennifer manages to snake an arm out fast enough to grab the silver knife she’d dropped in our scramble over the wall. She throws me a look. “How are they doing out there?”
I look past the pile of stuff toward the wall of translucent grey figures stalking legless across the grass. Snarling dead faces watch the wall and shimmering silver hands move over their guns. “Oh, uh, they’re reloading.”
“Great.” Jennifer slides the folding silver knife back into her pocket. “Do we have anything resembling a plan?”
“The plan was to get here before they rose, consecrate the ground, and then try to talk you into going skinny dipping.”
“I am not skinny dipping in a pond.”
“Yeah, the rest of the plan isn’t working too well either.”
“Can we at least salt the ground so they can’t get past the wall?”
“Tell me you brought salt.”
“Of course.” I hook my thumb toward the wall. “It’s in the cooler next to my sandwich.”
“Oh, great.” Jen slaps her palm to her forehead. “We can season the roast beef.”
An ancient voice rolls through the air, too distorted by the veil for me to understand, but a split-second later the air convulses with noise. The stone wall shudders under the impact. “What the hell was that?” Jen screams.
“Volley fire!” I shout back. “We gotta move!”
The rear of my hand-me-down Dodge was barely visible at the other end of the narrow embankment. It was two hundred yards of open ground, but we had to try it. I point at the car. “Go!”
Jen doesn’t hesitate. She leaps into motion with the same sprinting speed that let her tie the high school record last year. I watch her race and try to count the seconds, wondering how long it will take to reload. When I reach twenty I leap to my feet, waving my arms and shouting, “Lincoln for life!”
Nearly a hundred spectral rifles swing toward me. I throw myself back to the ground a moment before the eruption of gunfire and pray as hard as I can.
Stones shatter and crumble down on top of me. My ears ring with the force of the noise and heavy spectral smoke blankets the area. I scramble out from under the rubble and race along the bank toward my car.
I dive to the ground near Jen’s feet on the far side of my car. She jerks me into a quick hug before slugging me in the shoulder. “What do we do now?”
“We have to find the main spirit and figure out what it wants. The rest of them are just echoes of rage and fear. I think.”
“You’re the genius! Do something!”
“I can’t! Everything I know is in that pile of crap by the fort!”
“There’s got to be something!”
“I don’t know!”
Individual muskets bark in the distance. Bullets nose-dive into the ground near us, showering us with dirt and grass. Jen takes my hands in hers and tries to keep her voice calm. “Focus, Holden. What do you know about this place? Why is it haunted?”
“Okay, okay…” I swallow hard. “The Battle of Boykin’s Mill was the last battle of the civil war in South Carolina. It was the last time a union officer was reported killed.”
“There!” Jen shouts. “That! Could he be the main ghost?”
“No. But there’s someone else! Burwell Boykin died here too. He was only fifteen. His family owned the land.”
“Okay! What does a scared fifteen year old want?”
I strip off my shirt. “The same thing we all want!”
“I told you I’m not skinny dipping!”
I laugh and grab a small paper bag from the front of my car, standing and holding my white T-shirt far above my head like a flag. The army of ghosts slow their march up the narrow bank and I take a deep breath, stepping out from behind the car. After a moment, Jen shrugs and stands beside me.
“Burwell Boykin!” I call. “I carry a message from your father.”
One of the soldiers steps forward, shorter than the others, but far more solid looking. The wisp of a mustache adorns his upper lip. “You know my father?”
“Yes. Colonel Boykin told me to give you these.” I say, holding out the bag. “He said they were your favorite.”
The soldier reaches out and plucks the bag from my grip with a surprisingly solid hand. “Jelly Beans.” He beams.
The wall of ghosts starts to shrink as Boykin’s anger and fear start to fade. I smile at him. “Your dad wanted me to tell you the war is over,” I say. “You can go home now.”
The shy boy shudders and smiles, his form rippling and fading into a river of moonlight. My breath whooshes from my lungs and I slump. “He wanted candy?” Jen asks.
“He wanted to be safe.” I sigh. “To be told it was all a big mistake and that he could go home.”
“Now what?” Jen asks.
“Well, if you’re sure skinny dipping is off the table?”
“Then I want my sandwich.” I say with a grin.