Saturday Short: The Worlds in the Dewdrops

photograph of dewdrops on blades of grass

Almost everyone in the world has seen dewdrops on the grass. Those sparkling spheres which make fields shine with light reflecting off facets of jewels. It is a fleeting thing, a gift from dawn, recalled by a jealous noonday sun. 

They are nothing more than water droplets anyway. Pretty but unnecessary, like the changing colors of the trees’ leaves in autumn… 

My teacher looks up from reading my reflections on the dew. Her eyes, all-seeing, never revealing her thoughts, behind glasses as thick as the bottom of mason jars used for canning.

“Is that so?” Her question short, but I know not easy to answer.

“Is what so?” I have no idea where she’s paused in reading or what has caught her attention. Other students still try to interpret her expressions. I do not. Asking is far simpler and more efficient.

“That the dewdrops are merely water beads.” She looks at me and asks, “Is that what you believe?”

“Of course. It’s been proven.”

“Ah. Yes, proof is good. So different than belief.”

I frown, sensing I am stepping into a trap, but not sure what I can do. My heart is pounding and my ears begin to ring.

“What do you think dewdrops are then?” trying to sound as philosophical as her. Answer a question with a question. Always safe.

She stands and hands back my paper as she takes off her glasses with her other hand, hanging them on the beaded chain around her neck.

“Why the multiplicity of worlds, of course. What else could they be?” Then she smiles and walks out of the room.

I look at my paper and should be happy it is marked with a passing grade. I feel failure as I walk home that night and the heat of anger. How could I be so foolish to study under her? Someone who is clearly not all together, at least not anymore.

I glare the next morning at the field covered in dew and walk over, bending low so I am a mere hair’s breadth from the dew.

I gasp and run from the field all the way to my seat in the hall. My teacher says nothing, but simply writes out the next assignment for the day. I know she knows, but will say nothing, as surely as I know I have seen a world in a drop of dew.

Saturday Short: The Island with the Dead Tree

photograph of an island in the middle of the bay with a tree that looks dead in the center

Everyone gets desperate enough at some time to consider swimming out to the island with the dead tree.

Children whisper about it at night, under covers, with windows and doors locked tight, daring one another to swim out to the island. One might even dip their toes in the water the next day to the background of worried tittering from their friends that sounds like bushtits slipping between the hedges. But even when the summer sun beats down making the sand on the beach too hot for comfort and they swim in the bay, splashing each other with the still cold water, none of them swim out to the island. And they stay out of its shadow.

Young ones, not children and not yet old enough to have the cares of the world etched on their faces, talk about the island. After heartbreak, or failure, or deep sorrow that pools in the marrow of their veins. Sometimes one dives into the bay, fully clothed and swims mindlessly towards the island, but their heart turns cold and their eyes clear before they touch the rocky shore. They come back, or at least most of them do.

Adults are more reckless and careless, throwing around the island with the dead tree in conversation like a verbal tick or curse. They think nothing of it, but neither do they pause for long at the shore staring at the island like the younger ones do. Because there is a strange pull in their bellies at the sight of the island. They do not talk about this.

Old ones do not talk about the island. There is nothing more to say that hasn’t been said, no more dares to make than have already been made. They slip out of their houses that no longer contain multitudes in clothes that are more barren than threaded at night, when the moon is half-full, and they come to the shore. And sometimes, one swims all the way to the island, amazed their limbs are still strong enough to fight the tide and the cold.

And every once in a while, one will place their hands on the rocks and climb on the shore to face the tree and ask of it what they will.

And these ones do not come back. But they leave behind a blossom on the tree that is dead that can be seen from shore, though no one talks about that. But everyone gets desperate enough at some time.

Saturday Short: Always a Staircase Somewhere

photograph of wooden staircase leading up a steep hill into a forest

“She’s just like her mother.”

It’s what they whispered when they thought she couldn’t hear them or when they didn’t care. It was an insult, although if pushed they’d say it was simply fact. She was just like her mother.

Except she wasn’t.

But in a small village, where everyone knew everybody, you couldn’t tell anyone that they didn’t know everything about everyone.

But they didn’t.

Before her mother left (died), she’d told Hazel that there was always a staircase, somewhere, when you needed it. It was just the thing her mother would say. Vague and confusing if you thought about it too long, but comforting if you didn’t. She didn’t believe her mother, though, and thought she was having a laugh.

Though she wasn’t.

After days spent trying to show everyone she was nothing like her mother—not strange, or fantastical, or odd, just a girl like everyone else—Hazel ran into the woods and in the dappled sunlight of the canopy she screamed. Her shriek flushed the sparrows from their roosts and seemed to shake the earth beneath her feet.

But it hadn’t.

Instead it had shook loose the stairs. Hazel rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, but the staircase was still there, disappearing into the woods where a staircase had never been.

But it had, once before.

And without a second thought (most unlike her mother), Hazel bounded up the stairs not caring where they led as long as it was away.

And they did.

Saturday Short: Watching Mushrooms

photograph of mushrooms growing in a pile on the ground

Evelyn loved storms. She loved the way the thunder rolled across the valley. It was like the wind had transformed its motion into sound. She loved how it reverberated against her chest and made the windowpanes shake. She loved the lightening that came after and counted to see how far away it was, how long she had to wait for the eye of the storm to settle in the valley. It made even the shadows of the well-worn buildings in her village new. And, she loved the rain. The winter deluges that swept away the hardpacked dirt from the sidewalks and the dust from the roofs.

Evelyn loved every part of the storm, except for what it birthed. She hated the toadstools and mushrooms that sprouted after the storm passed, like stowaways in the ground making a break for it. She knew other people loved this aftereffect of the storms better than the storms themselves, but she thought they were mad.

Evelyn knew what came with the toadstools and mushrooms, even if no one else believed her.

A huge mound of mushrooms sprung up alongside the path she had to walk to the library and she glared at it as she passed. It looked like nothing more than a lump of brown gills, like cauliflower that had gone off, but she knew it hid a secret that she’d glimpsed when she was but a child of seven and she refused to ever eat mushrooms again.

“I see you,” she whispered as she walked passed. “I will watch you.”

No one and nothing answered her, but after she turned and was almost out of sight of the mushroom mound it shivered and shook, like it was waking up from a nap. And a dozen mud-stained eyes followed Evelyn until she disappeared around the bend in her path.

Saturday Short: A Swim of Cormorants

photograph of cormorant on a rock

“Cormorant” by Kerry Helmer on Flickr CC-BY-ND

Ashleigh never trusted the cormorants that sunned themselves on the rocks outside the window of his office. His office overlooked the bay and every morning there was a group of cormorants on the rocks, wings spread like ragged capes, eyes closed against the glare of the sun or open under the weak light of cloud cover.

They weren’t raucous like the scrub jays or numerous like the pigeons, but the cormorants bothered him. He glared out his window at them even as they stood like silent winged statuary someone had forgotten to take in with the tide.

If he had ever been pressed to put into words why he disliked the cormorants, he wouldn’t have known what to say.

He took his lunchtime walk by the rocks, usually the cormorants had left the rocks by that time, and he was relieved. But today there was one cormorant still on the rocks and a girl, in a black slicker, sitting on the bench closest to the rocks. It didn’t smell like rain.

Ashleigh walked by, watching the bird out of the corner of his eye.

“They know you don’t like them.”

He started and found the girl staring up at him. Her eyes had an interesting halo around the irises. He’d seen it before but couldn’t place it.

“Excuse me?” He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

She gestured to the one cormorant still on the rock who looked like it was listening. “The swim, they know you don’t like them.”

“The swim?”

“The group of cormorants.”

“Oh.” He wondered why she knew such an odd piece of vocabulary. Most people he knew didn’t even know they were called cormorants.

“But they don’t mind you. They think it’s because you’re jealous.”

“Jealous? Of what?” He was not jealous, but annoyed his carefully planned routine had been upset. First by the bird and now by the girl.

“Because they can swim and fly, but you can’t. Also, we like the rain.”

He scoffed. “That is ridiculous. Good day.” He resumed walking without looking back when she called,

“Yes, it looks like rain.”

He turned around, but the girl was gone. And there were now two cormorants on the rock. The second shook out its feathers and droplets splattered the rock face. When he turned around to head back into his office, the first drops of rain hit his head and he could have sworn he heard laughter but there was no one around but the birds.

Saturday Short: Sidewalk Shadows

photograph of blurry shadows on a sidewalk

Come find me.

That’s all that was written on the blurry photo dropped through the mail slot in her front door on Sunday morning.

While most people’s first thought would be, “Who sent this to me?” or perhaps, “Who needs finding?” or even, “There’s no post on Sunday.”, Laura’s first thought was how much she hated that mail slot. She should have boarded it up as soon as she bought the house. It was drafty and now apparently a target for pranksters.

She stomped down to the basement and rummaged through boxes until she found her hammer and some nails. She ripped a wooden slat from a crate she hadn’t bothered to move when she moved in six months ago. One struck thumb later, she had the mail slot boarded up and had forgotten about the photo.

But the photo hadn’t forgotten about her.

It appeared stuck into the frame of her bathroom mirror when she got out of the shower the next morning. She threw it in the wastebin.

She opened her lunchbox to work through her break and found the photo on top of her sandwich and it went through the shredder. The photo, not her sandwich.

After a week of having the photograph show up in her shoe, in the egg carton, on her dashboard, and in her book, Laura threw her hands up and screamed,

“How do I find you?”

She looked down at the photograph and the writing swirled like oil on top of a puddle after the first autumn rain.

Follow the shadows on the sidewalk.

“Great,” Laura muttered. “Now I’m taking directions from a haunted photograph. I must be mad.”

But she picked up her coat and walked out her front door, photograph in hand.

Saturday Short: Endings and Beginnings

photograph of sunset over the ocean

“Wherever there is an ending, there is also a beginning,” Teacher said with that half-smile that made us know she was testing us with some private joke.

“That is obvious,” Jessica said with a sniff. As if she couldn’t care less about the matter, but actually was determined to sound the smartest and get the answer the quickest.

It was the last day of school for the year and I knew that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave for the Festival until one of us got to whatever point Teacher was making. The sounds of hammers and flutes could already be heard over the wind in the eaves and I jiggled my knee under the desk.

Teacher was still smiling and waiting for us to get to the answer. Mother said Teacher could have been a mystic in a cave, just a bit removed than the rest of us. On a different wavelength, she’d say, but not without fondness.

“Where there is a beginning, there is also an ending,” Joselle said as she tried to imitate Teacher’s half-smile. On her it looked like a smirk and matched her personality.

“Often, yes,” Teacher said. But that was not the answer she was looking for.

There was always a lesson to learn and I stifled a sigh while I fought the impulse to fidget in the wooden chair. It would creak and I didn’t want to be called on. I just wanted to run outside while there was still light because the days were short. And I wanted to get a maple candy with the change that would jangle in my pocket when I ran. I didn’t care about riddles and wisdom, even if they were from Teacher.

My mind wandered and the answers of the others in my class were merely humming nonsense in the background as I strained to hear more of the Festival’s sounds of preparation. When my name was called, I bolted upright out of my dream.

“What do you think it means?” Teacher asked.

All eyes were on me. I hated that. I wasn’t clever or fast or witty. And I didn’t have the personality to pretend.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But it makes me think of the end of the year and the beginning of the Festival.”

Teacher said nothing but slightly, ever so slightly, nodded.

“And,” I continued, “I think someday I’ll care about beginnings and endings, but right now is more important to me…now.” I finished and felt my cheeks warming and no doubt they were now red. I wasn’t an elegant speaker either.

But Teacher smiled, a full smile. “Class dismissed.”

I smiled back and sprinted out of the door into the last sunlight of the last day of the year. A good beginning or ending, no matter how I looked at it.

Saturday Short: Portal Key

photograph of carved stone cornice on bridge pillar If you are ever in trouble, go to the portal key. It will know what to do.

Her mother said that every day on their walk to her elementary school. Every day when they crossed the bridge and passed the one, faded, carved stone pillar in the middle of the bridge. Her mother would touch it lightly with her fingertips, as if reassuring herself it was still there.

Still solid, she’d sometimes say so soft it was nothing more than a puff of breath.

When she was six, Flora never thought there could be trouble in the world. There was her, her mother, and her routine. There were always cookies on Tuesdays and singing on Sundays. Herbs in the summer and chestnuts in the winter. Nothing changed and no trouble could ever penetrate such a bubble.

But that was before today. Flora narrowly missed crashing headfirst into another commuter walking, head down against the wind. The sky overhead was grey, the color of the sidewalk, and smelled like rain wasn’t far off. Tears soaked the collar of her shirt as they skidded down her cheeks like the tires behind her.

She couldn’t look back. She wouldn’t look back. She only had to make it to the portal key. It would have to save her. The scene at her house, etched into her mind, told her no one else could.

Shooting out between two bicycles, Flora ran across the street, straight towards the portal key. Behind her a man shouted for someone to stop her, but she dodged the startled couple pushing their stroller. She slapped her hands on the stone, cutting her palms at the same moment she felt someone drive into her, not expecting her to stop and she fell with a scream over the bridge.

Screams from the couple with the child raised as someone tackled the man who had pushed Flora over the edge. But when the couple looked over the bridge, there was no sign of Flora, no ripple in the water, and while they would never admit it to the other, they both saw a scene for a brief flash that made no sense. But they were soon brought back by the crying of their baby and the sound of police sirens drawing near.

But sometimes late at night they would awake from a dream and remember they saw a tea shop floating in mid-air about the creek that day on the bridge advertising Flora’s cream in the plate glass window, before they fell asleep again.

Saturday Short: A Haunted House

photograph of a house at night that appears like it could be haunted

Everyone knew the house at the end of the block, the one with the peeling paint and dry-rotted steps, was haunted. Everyone knew this like they knew that rain came from the sky and Tuesday always followed Monday. No one ever questioned how everyone knew this fact, but everyone knew it.

The house stood empty for years, since the beginning of time a high school student said when daring his friend to run up and knock on the door as they stood on the sidewalk facing the house, the sun going down, down, down as it was wont to do daily. His friend didn’t take the dare and they both lived until a quite respectable old age. Neither questioned how a house could stand since the beginning of time, if one assumed houses didn’t grow like trees or cats or mountains. But then, it was never quite safe to assume.

No one thought that anyone would ever live in the house again, assuming that someone once had. No one at city hall could say for certain who owned it. Perhaps it was now a ward of the town, like other abandoned property. But not even the mayor wanted to set foot in the house, not that he’d admit he was a bit afraid of it.

So the house stood empty except for the pigeons that roosted in its attic, coming in through a broken window, the baseball that broke it long since forgotten, lying under a shroud of dust. And a fox who lived quite happily under the porch steps, hauntings meant no never mind to foxes who have more important worries.

That was, of course, until a jaunty sold sign appeared in front of the house one day. It was the talk of the town. No one knew who bought the house and everyone wanted to be the first to know. Such a storm of gossip hadn’t whirled through the town since the cows escaped at the fairgrounds and ate the flower showcase. Everyone thought someone else was to blame.

No one saw anyone move into the house, no moving vans, no contractors, no sound of hammers or drills or saws, no movement inside, though everyone seemed to find a reason to saunter by the house. There was no change until one day the town awoke and the house looked brand new. It was like someone waved a magic wand. The sold sign now announced an open house at midnight the next day.

It was the talk of the town and everyone came. They lined up on the sidewalk and at midnight the front door opened and strains of music, sweet and slow, came wafting down the steps. And everyone moved forward as one towards the house.

But not the fox, he watched from across the road, in the moonlit shadow of a box hedge. The house now longer was home, but haunted and he was clever enough to know when it was time to move on. He faded into the night as the first person stepped into the house, crossing the threshold of the world.


Saturday Short: A Confusion of Chiffchaffs

photograph of chiffchaff on branch

Chiffchaff by hedera.baltica on Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

There was always someone who was more brilliant or faster or more clever, always. At least, that’s how Sharyn always felt. She kicked a rock out of her way as she walked home from school and dragged her backpack behind her. The rock skittered off into the bushes and startled a bird into flight. It was some kind of warbler. She wasn’t sure which kind.

The bird flew up to the lowest branch of the nearest tree and cocked its head to the side, considering her. “Why are you glum, human?”

Sharyn stopped so suddenly that her backpack hit her calves, but she didn’t notice the sharp pain. Her eyes went wide as her mouth dropped open.

“It’s rude not to answer. What’s wrong, human?” the bird asked again.

“Birds don’t talk.” Sharyn squeezed her shut and was sure when she opened them the bird would be gone.

It wasn’t.

Instead, it was closer, sitting on the top of the bush it had flushed out of only a minute before.

“Well, I don’t know about all birds. But I am a chiffchaff.”

“A what?”

“A chiffchaff.” The bird drew itself up to its full, small height and puffed its dull-yellow feathered chest. “The most noble of birds. And you still haven’t answered my question, human.”

“Oh, yes.” She scratched the back of her neck. “I’m not as fast or clever as the rest of the kids in my class.”

“And that’s why you are sad?”

“I’m not sad.” Her words sounded like a lie even to her.

“Of course not.” The chiffchaff, whose name was George, but they weren’t friendly enough yet for first names. “But they can’t be that clever.”

“Why?” Sharyn screwed up her face in question.

“Well, they’re not talking to me, now are they?”

“No, but how does that make them not clever?” Her head began hurting her like when she was trying to solve a long division problem with a remainder.

“Think harder.” The chiffchaff seemed to smile.

Sharyn started gnawing on her bottom lip. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m confused.”

George laughed and it came out as a rolling twitter. “Oh, no. A confusion is a bunch of us. You haven’t experienced that…yet.”

And she forgot all about feeling dull or unhappy as she smiled. And George chatted with her entire way home before he took off and joined his flock in the tree in her front yard. She knew then if she remembered nothing else, she’d remember it the chiffchaff and its flock, a confusion.