I entered a writing contest. Unlike those where you enter a previously written submission, the Flash Fiction Challenge, sponsored by NYCMidnight, gives you the genre, location, and an object with 48 hours to write a story in 1,000 words or less.
The genre must be the style of the story. The location must be the predominate location. The object must appear at some point in the story. One-thousand words maximum.
Location: Log Cabin
Object: Fly Swatter
My synopsis: (required with the submission) The hobby that thrilled Herman as a boy, and destroyed his marriage as an adult, nearly took his life while on an ordinary Audubon outing in the forests of Pennsylvania. When he lost his group, he followed a band of birds to a log cabin, danced with a Heron, and told the story of his history of bird watching.
An Impossible Dreamer
Herman had always been captivated by birds, but never before to the point he lost his tour group. He joined the summer outing to observe families of birds in the Tuscarora State Forest against his doctor’s orders to avoid strenuous activities. It was a last minute reservation, taking a spot opened by cancellation. Vern had called him that morning.
Herman agreed without thought. He checked that his camera and binoculars were still where he last left them in the dedicated external pouches of his backpack. In the cavernous bag, he packed a bottle of spring water, two granola bars, his lucky fly swatter, and his hefty 1950 edition of Audubon’s Birds Of America, leaving the thicker The Birds of America on the coffee table. He didn’t need either book. Herman was familiar with the breeders and warblers, the Bobolinks and Blue Grosbeaks he expected to see on the Appalachian trail, but felt comforted by the weight in his sack.
He left his cabin home in Carlisle, drove the forty miles of mountain highway, and met the group as they were setting off from the field behind the log cabin visitor’s center. Vern was already talking. It was an introduction Herman had heard many times. He let his thoughts wander. Just as his ex-wife’s words interrupted his musings – a dreamer, an impossible dreamer – Herman bumped into a hunched-over woman leaning on a walking stick. The group had paused to observe several sparrows a few feet off the path.
“Distracted?” she asked.
“Easily,” Herman said. “Pained my ex-wife to no end.”
“Clearly there was an end,” she said, “if she’s an ex-wife.”
“Touché,” said Herman.
“Come now,” she said, turning back to the trail. “The group’s leaving us.”
Herman returned to his reminiscing, following the crunch of footsteps. He stopped when the sounds ceased, and pulled out his binoculars to observe a Bobolink. Herman leaned against a spruce to catch his breath, never once taking his eyes off the creamy nape and white scapular of the male perched on a branch. He ignored the pain in his arm as he held the weight of the binoculars steady. Herman didn’t notice the group move on down the trail as the Bobolink flew toward him.
“Come now,” the Bobolink said. “The group’s leaving you.”
A mismatched flock of small birds took off from at his feet. The Bobolink waved good-bye and re-perched on the branch. Herman followed the small birds and walked toward a clearing, the light getting brighter as he approached the edge of the field. He listened to their song, watched the dance of flight. He felt the tickle of tall grasses against his bare calves. He gasped when he stubbed his foot against a rock on the path to a log cabin. Herman reached out and tried the knob. The door swung open. The flock entered ahead of him, everyone talking at once.
“There’s water,” said the Eastern Phoebe.
“There’s seeds,” said the Blue Jay.
“There’s sunlight,” said the Whip-poor-will.
“There’s twigs,” said the House Wren.
“There’s room to dance,” said the Meadowlark.
“Welcome,” said the Heron. Herman saw the great-necked, long-legged beauty standing at the edge of a couch near the western window. He walked forward to meet the giant as she approached the middle of the room. She spread her wings.
“Care to dance, Herman?” she asked. Herman’s hands met her wings and the flock trilled a tune. Herman and the Heron waltzed across the cabin floor. As the song came to an end, Herman gasped for breath. He turned to the group.
“I haven’t danced like that since my wedding day,” he said. “I need to sit.” The Phoebe and the Whip-poor-will pushed a knobby wooden chair to where Herman was standing.
“Tell us a story,” the Phoebe said as she sat on his knee. The Whip-poor-will and the Jay joined on his other knee. The Wren perched on his left shoulder and the Meadowlark on his right. Heron returned to her spot of sun at the window.
“When I was a boy,” Herman started, “my mother gave me a book by James Audubon.” The group settled down in their spots.
“It was filled with pictures of every species. Each of you were in there. I memorized every page, the edges now oiled with decades of turning. I spent every weekend looking for new birds. Then I met Julia. Julia had seen birds I hadn’t, and I some she hadn’t. We spent all of our time marking the pages of our books with each sighting. Mine The Birds of America. Her’s Audubon’s Birds Of America. Our wedding dance was a compilation of the songbirds of Pennsylvania.” Herman paused and looked at his audience.
“Soon we welcomed Phoebe,” Herman said. “Jay, Will, Wren, and Meadow followed in quick succession. They were such curious children, but Julia and I couldn’t interest them in birds. Julia focused all of her attention on the children. I kept with bird watching, going on weekend hikes while Julia was out with the kids for one activity or another. And then one day Julia left with my flock. I found a note on the table.”
Herman paused again. He looked at each bird, petted their soft heads.
“Keep going,” the Meadowlark said.
“Please,” said the Wren.
“I just need to close my eyes for a moment,” Herman said. “Just a moment.” He rose, walked to the couch, and lay down. The Heron moved to the knobby chair.
The flock gathered around his head and sang him to sleep. When he opened his eyes Herman didn’t recognize the room. Stark white, beeping in place of tweeting. Julia was sitting in a knobby wooden chair. His children surrounded the hospital bed.
“Julia?” he asked.
“Herman,” she said. “Thank God! What were you thinking? You could have died out there. You impossible…” A nurse entered the room. Julia hushed.
“What happened?” Herman asked.
“Rangers found you unconscious at the back door of the visitor’s center,” she said. “Acute decompensated heart failure.”
1,000 words. It’s already submitted, so no changes can be made at this point*, but I’m curious what you think. Any feedback? Is it a fantasy? That’s not a genre I’m comfortable writing, so I do have to ask. Is the log cabin the predominate location? It took me forever to get it in there in the first draft, and then I edited quite a bit to force it in some more. Did you notice the fly swatter? It appeared in several ways before I settled on Herman packing it as his lucky fly swatter.
*If I could make changes, I would fix the Bobolink scene and change the location where Herman was found unconscious. I would have Herman drop the binoculars as the Bobolink approaches, then the small flock take flight, then the Bobolink say, “come now, the group’s leaving us”, and have it go to the cabin, sit on the couch, then move to the chair with the Heron, and be the family dog Bobo. Originally I had Herman discovered by a tree on the trail. During my edits to force the log cabin as the predominate location, I changed that. Too little too late, but that’s what I would fix, if I could fix it.
Featured Image: Cabin In The Woods
© Melanie (WritingInBoots) (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)