The bell has struck, the hour has come, and all the entries are in. Thanks again for those who have submitted to Flashes of Inspiration. I realise time is short and you all have busy lives. What’s heartening is that I seem to be getting new people every time, which gives us a good variety of styles and mindsets. Who are the authors? I hear you ask. You’ll find out next week when I declare the winner. Winner? I hear you prompt – because there may be new readers here, ya know. Oh yeah, you can vote on your two favourite pieces. Take a read of the three submissions below then pick your two favourites. I hope you enjoy them.
The Charge of the Carnival Brigade – by Andrew Knighton
We stood straight-backed with rifles raised, bayonets bared across the back of the barricade. Behind us lay the last stretch of sanity in the city, a few dozen feet of sun-bleached planks. Our thin red line was all that held against an all-consuming bedlam.
They thundered towards us, a cascade of cackling clowns and masked madmen, carried by the carved steeds of the merry-go-round. Horses, hounds, hens, hyenas, a monstrous menagerie of wooden beasts hopping down the pier on the poles that had once fixed them in place, their features set in snarls of joy and rage. The wild magic was in them, beasts and riders both, and there was no holding back.
Still they kept coming, laughing and leering, howling and hollering.
Reloaded, fired again.
The roar of rifles.
The smell of cordite.
The spray of blood and the thud of bodies.
Reloaded again, too late.
The carnival cavalry barrelled into the barricade. Crates crashed to the ground. Weak men scattered and strong men stood. I wavered, my rifle trembling in my hands, as a wooden horse reared over me, a masked maniac with bulging glass eyes staring down.
I retreated with stumbling steps, bayonet thrust out before me, until my back was against the rail. My choices were the madness or the ocean, nothing else.
The horse reared and the rider laughed, then reached out a hand.
Choose joy over discipline,” he said, the words muffled by the mask. “Give in to the carnival.”
I thrust ineffectively with my bayonet.
The rider laughed again.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard laughter. It was infectious, a wild tumbling thing that tore through me until I too shook with mirth. The world was a joke and I was its punchline. What sort of man fights against magical horses and masked carnivals? Who doesn’t embrace their own joy?
I dropped my rifle into the ocean, took his hand and swung up onto the back of the horse. Then we pranced back along the pier, leaving the blood and bodies behind.
RuiNation – by Dion Winton-Polak (RUNNER-UP)
The End came, but that was just the beginning.
Oh, hair was pulled and teeth were gnashed for a short time. Only to be expected I suppose. All that was known and certain in our lives was shattered or made strange to those of us who survived the Great Liberation. It was a shock to the system, for sure. Devastating. But as the dust settled, as the new normality began to assert itself, we discovered a new truth:
We were free at last.
And all it had taken was ruiNation.
A drug turned into a disease; who’d have thought it possible? Users in the old days talked of the sense of immense power it bestowed, the boost to self-confidence – all the while maintaining a perfectly lucid state. Yeah, it was kind of a no-brainer. It cascaded. Ran rife through schoolrooms and boardrooms alike. Everyone wanted it.
And then everybody got it, whether they wanted it or not. It sounds like a conspiracy but, I mean, it has to have been done on purpose. Drugs can’t evolve.
But no-one claimed responsibility— which is weird, right? Okay, a shit-ton of people died, but this was the Great Liberation. The strong survived. Who wouldn’t want to step up and take a bow? The Government stayed shtum, even as they fell apart. Foreign powers watched us, but they didn’t celebrate, didn’t try to capitalise. I don’t know if they were more scared or envious. I mean, we were re-writing the rules of the world here. But from the Revolutionaries? Nada. Zip. There were no Anonymous videos; no ransom calls from maniacal scientists; no calls to arms by radical Reds.
By the time the disease theory came out, it was already too late. We’d shrugged off every damned restraint the old world put upon us, and we paid the price smiling.
That should have been it.
But something’s gone wrong with the kids – at least those born after The End. Maybe they’re immune, maybe they’re all just wet hens. I dunno. It’s like they don’t get it. We made life a playground for them, for all of us. We live as we like and we don’t take shit from anybody. But somehow that’s not good enough for them.
They could dance in the bones of the old world but for some damned reason they want to rebuild it.
Isn’t that crazy?
Ride, Boldly Ride (With apologies to Poe) – by Jan Edwards (WINNER)
Round and around in a bubble of music, swirling in a vortex of sound. I am alone now, separated from the outside and its vacant bystanders, with their candyfloss and nylon bears. A pallisade of watchers out there in the cold night air, ignoring the rain as only we can. Bedraggled hens watching and waiting for their chicks to pass them by, hands rising and falling at each circuit in a Mexican wave.
And I alone know where it leads. I am ready. I know how it goes. This journey will take me to the ends of the earth and beyond. My weapon on my hip and my helmet at the ready. The lights beyond the perimeter are dazzling, like a super nova, casting shadows that twist around me like barber’s stripes.
That darkest shadow of all is watching. He has gold in his bag that jingles as he moves from pole to pole, slapping each steed as he passes, stirring them into action. Riding, searching. He is standing in the centre now, where the music lives, raising the volume so that dust falls from the darkest corner and cascades all around me; motes of gold dust.
I know he watches and I know he wonders and when he comes to stand near, to speak, I know what his question will be. What his question always is.
‘You’ve been riding this way for a long time. Where are you going in such a hurry?’
‘To the ends of the earth.’
He nods, taking coins from the bag and letting them fall, though I do not hear them.
‘What do you think you will find there?’
‘Time,’ I reply. ‘And peace.’
And he laughs, head tilted back to show his perfect, white, teeth that seem at odds with the lines of his face and aeons in his eyes. His laughter is a power that urges me on. The ride is, faster and louder, in a maniacal, headlong rush.
I cannot see the waving hens any longer, or the light and shadow. Only feel the wind. I rise in the saddle and lean into the momentum, eager for the destination.
‘When shall we be there?’ I ask him.
‘Ride, boldly ride,’ The shade replied—‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
That’s it for this week. You have until midnight on Wednesday 13th March to vote. I’ll announce the winner the following day and then set the next contest going. Oh, and for those of you who are interested in its provenance, the featured image which helped inspire these stories was taken by Chris Luckhardt. You can find out the real story behind it here. It’s pretty cool.