The Sleeping Giant

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was taking part in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge, and shared my first entry, called Defective.

I was very excited to learn that this story placed third in my group, giving me 13 points so far.

This past weekend, we were assigned our next 48-hour, 1000-word story challenge, with a new genre, location, and object. Along with the rest of my group, I was required to write an Action/Adventure tale that takes place at a volcano, and includes a bird’s nest.

I was a little worried by this assignment. Did “action/adventure” require a muscle-bound hero doing daring deeds? Because that’s not my thing. At all.

I spent Saturday morning researching volcanoes, trying not to freak out. Eventually, an idea came to me and I ran with it. I like the story that I ended up with, even though there isn’t a muscle-bound hero to be found. Hopefully the judges do, too.

volcano

 

THE SLEEPING GIANT 

(A short story by Corrie Adams)

The sky is the colour of morning glories – a shade of blue so rarely seen in the heavens, I decide this day must be a gift, made especially for me. It is cloudless and vast, the edges trimmed by crimson-tipped trees; I could almost drown in those dizzying depths. I feel an insistent, instinctual pull. I belong there.

My children slumber in the shadows behind me. They dream with the mountain, safe in his arms. “I won’t be missed,” I whisper to the trees. And so I slip away, free.

The day’s beauty restores me. It feels wonderful to stretch muscles that have grown stiff from staying home so long. But all too soon, my reverie is interrupted by the urgent roar of thunder.

But wait. Thunder? From an empty sky?

I turn to look at the mountain — the sleeping giant lying across the horizon behind me. Its upper reaches are lost within a roiling cloud of smoke. Without warning, the giant has awoken, and he is angry.

Iron fingers of shock grip me in a tightly clenched fist. My heart stops beating, my blood no longer flows. Helpless, I watch the cloud spread, shrouding the slopes with a sinister speed. All thoughts are wiped from my mind but one: The children.

I struggle against the phantom fingers that restrain me. Blood flow resumes, painfully rushing through my veins, as forceful and unstoppable as the river crashing through the rocky rapids near my home. My heart pounds out a message, over and over again. The children. The children. The children. They need me, and I am not there.

Conflicting urges war within me. One commands me to flee, to save myself. I am ashamed, and shove all thoughts of my own safety aside. I strike out for home, toward the centre of my universe. I am a mother; in the end, I have no other choice.

The surface of the mountain is cloaked with thick smoke, seething like a swarming anthill seen from afar. The cloud of ash rises up before me, blocking out the sun. The day has ceased to exist and I am thrust into an artificial night. Hot air pushes against me, attempting to turn me away. I cry out in wordless agony, but I carry on.

The mountain continues to grumble and groan. The trees around me quiver, leaves rustling in the hot breeze. I continue my ascent, seeking shelter beneath their arms as debris and rock fall from the sky like hail stones. I manage to avoid the largest missiles, but I don’t escape completely unscathed. I am battered and bruised; I am a hundred points of pain where pebbles and other bits of rubble have struck me.

Suddenly, the world tilts sideways and I’m lying on the ground. The grey skies press down upon me; I’m dizzy and weak and I close my eyes. Just for a moment. And I drift.

Warm sunshine wraps the world in a soft, golden glow. I vaguely recall being frightened, but the memory is as elusive as dandelion fluff, and I make no effort to chase it. It’s peaceful here. I can rest. I feel the stress drain from my body; I take a deep, relaxing breath…

…and I’m choking on thick air.

My eyes open to a world of dark ash and bright pain. The lure of the dream is strong and I know that it would be easy to return there, but my children need me, and that impulse is stronger.

I lean against a tree trunk for support and try to get my bearings. I’ve traveled through this forest countless times and thought I was intimately acquainted with every tree. But the fury of the mountain has turned the once familiar landscape into a nightmare. Ash falls from the sky blizzard-fast, covering me. Blinding me. The sky is now my enemy and I am lost.

I hear screams in the distance. Logically, I know that it is not my children’s voices on the wind. But it sounds so much like a call for me, for Mama, that I’m driven to follow it. I shake my head to clear the soot from my eyes and I start forward once more.

An ancient sense, one almost forgotten, tells me I’m close now. In this mad landscape, I trust it more than anything else. Perhaps it is my imagination, but the dense cloud seems to be lifting. My field of vision expands ever so slightly and I study my surroundings, looking for familiar landmarks.

There, up that rise! I see the Lightning Tree, a leafless, blackened sentinel that stands guard near my home. I rush forward, hardly daring to hope.

Those dead, bare branches offer no sanctuary. But just beyond this one, there is another tree, green and strong. And there, in its arms, is my home.

I swoop down into the dust-covered foliage, heading for the crooked notch that holds my dreams. I find my nest, and within it, three indistinct lumps, buried deep in ash. The children.

I nudge the first lump free, tenderly brushing the smooth surface of the egg clean. I bring it close to my body and listen. The answering silence breaks my heart. This child is gone.

I free the second egg. I pull it into the contours of my body, envelope it with my life force and wait for a response. I wait and wait. There is nothing.

All but destroyed, I turn to the third egg, the smallest of the trio. Expecting nothing, I am ready to dismiss this possibility too, and prepare to turn away. Perhaps I will just close my eyes and return to the sun-drenched forest of my dreams.

In my grief, I nearly miss the slight tremble that signals new life within. My heart soars, all is not lost. I am a mother, still.

 
photo credit: Storm Crypt via photopin cc

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