So, I write short stories that mutate into long stories. Very long stories. In an attempt to teach myself to write shorter and tighter, I’m embracing flash fiction (I mean, not literally “embracing” because that’d be awkward and the Melion’s Spouse would wonder why I’m hugging my computer and he’d be like, “Uh oh. Did you find naked pictures of Sean Bean on the internet?” And I’d be all, “Don’t be absurd! This is for my writing. I’m a serious author and– wait, what was that part about naked Sean Bean?”).
Today’s challenge was to write a short story in less than 700 words (it wasn’t totally an arbitrary number; I rolled 1d10 and multiplied it be 100 to get my word count). A definite challenge, but here I share with you the result. Let me know what you think, and if you’d like to see more–you’ll see more regardless, but I like to know if my readers are amused.
Arva built her birds with fading dreams. Reaching into the air, she selected the dreams one by one, seeing their beauty even as they dissolved, drifting into a miasma of nothingness. She harvested lighter dreams for the wings, joining them with the tears of joy never-cried to bodies weighted with childhood hopes that slipped through aging fingers.
She reached out and traced her fingers along one golden-tailed string of hope as it drifted before her and she felt the ache of borrowed desire stirring her mind to ideas she had never known. The pulse of a heartbeat that a young couple would never know, the trembling in their hands as they released that dream and sent it into the unknown to flutter lost and alone. Arva held that dream cupped in her hands, worked it softly across the body of her first bird, saw it ascend on wheeling wings into the eye-watering blaze of the sun.
Mostly children could see Arva’s birds, but sometimes an adult would pause, point to a small sparrow drifting skyward, wonder at the pang of loss suddenly catching in his own chest.
On one afternoon that dripped with sunlight and promise, an old lady came to Arva’s door. Hands gnarled as oak roots cradled a jar glowing with the pulse of things that could never be.
“I’ve seen what you can do,” said the lady. “I have sat at my window and seen your birds—I know what they are.”
Arva watched a shimmer of summer slip past and entwine with the fragrance of cut lilacs that prickled with the longing for one more day. Arva nodded but said nothing.
“You let them live again,” said the old lady in a voice rustling like faded satin.
Arva motioned towards the jar, encouraging the old woman to entrust it to her keeping.
“I’ve held them for too many years, but I cannot just let them go to fade away,” the lady said and the jar trembled as she extended it towards Arva. “I feel the world dimming in my bones. My children would not understand what to do with these. Let them live again and be something real, if only for a moment.”
Arva accepted the jar. “I will do my best.”
Nobody before had brought their dreams to Arva and asked her to fold them into the delicate figures of birds. She worked for several days, disentangling the strands of never-breathed hopes and forming them around the strong bones of ambitions unattained. The hope of a mother’s love, the dream of a wild world far beyond dust-swept plains, the chocolate taste of freedom in a café on a foreign side street, the smile of a young man who did not survive a war that he did not cause. A lone grave of a lover swept into the darkness of time too early. She pressed them all together with the salt tears of loss and regret.
Arva carried the creation to the old lady, placed it in her hands, touched the warmth of ninety years in the oak root fingers and smiled reassurance. The old lady held the bird for a moment, stroked its bright form. With a smile, she spread her fingers. The bird leapt into the air and circled far into the sky.
“Thank you,” said the lady, gazing towards where the bird had transformed into a coruscating shard of light high in the cloud-swept firmament.
Arva returned home with a whisping mist of dreams dancing across her and she chose one or two to catch between her fingers – they would be fine pinion feathers. That night, she heard the sirens and saw their lights blare jagged across the dark walls of slumbering homes. Arva paused for a moment with a strand silver as a moon slice stretched in her hand and then returned to her birds. One dreamer had felt the world dim in her bones, but many others remained and Arva must keep giving life to their hopes before they vanished unremembered.