The Forest

Prompt: Forest

forest mushroom

Our mother said, don’t touch the walls of the tent. So we all touched the walls of the tent. It was canvas, so water started saturating the little finger spots, droplets formed, and the inside of the tent became wet and cold.

So our mother gave us each a plastic bucket, which we hadn’t been able to use on the sandy beach all week because of the rain, and sent us out to the forest across the road to forage for dinner. No mushrooms though, she said. And: “If you don’t find food, you don’t eat.”

She tied on makeshift rain bonnets though gave up on the boots and we wore rubber thongs and our feet got wet.

The rain in the forest sounded like a waterfall; a continuous ruuuussssh of drips and drops, and the forest floor was muddy and our flip-flops kept sucking into the ground and we walked with great effort, looking for berries. Or maybe a dead rabbit? We weren’t certain what edibles were to be found in the forest.

We came across a man, sleeping on his side under a plastic sheet attached to branches secured into the ground. His hands joined in a fist and nestled between his thighs. He wore dark clothes and sunglasses and had a straggly beard. It occurred to us that he might be dead.

We saw a battered wallet peeking out from under a damp grey pillow, and pulled that out. There was ten dollars in it; we took five and put the wallet back.

Drops fell on our faces and stuck to our eyelashes.

We found some deer scat, which we’d learned about in science class. It didn’t gross us out. We didn’t see any deer, though. Perhaps they were taking shelter from the rain, or perhaps the hunters had taken them all down. My mother once fed us venison pretending it was beef, but we knew it wasn’t beef, and wouldn’t eat it.

There was a clearing ahead where the road curved around the woods, and a small grey stucco building stood in a level gravel lot dotted with tufts of grass and moss. The windows were opaque with condensation, rivulets running down and pooling on the soggy ground beneath the eaves. Letters hammered to the frame over the door said “Store”, so we went in to forage for dinner.

There was a wooden bucket of worms, and a glass jar of brass bullets, and a stack of felt cowboy hats, and a counter behind glass with tubs of ice cream underneath it, and we all had a single scoop cone. We all had chocolate. After we ate the ice cream we examined each others’ faces for traces of chocolate, and cleaned off any smears with damp kleenex.

We had enough money left from the five dollars we stole from the sleeping man to buy two boxes of macaroni and cheese, a bag of liquorice whips, which our mother liked, and a coke.

We put the macaroni and cheese, liquorice whips, and pop into the buckets along with one shiny brass bullet which the store owner gave us for free, because he said he was proud of us for not staying inside just because it was raining.

We started to head back to the tent through the forest, but we saw the sleeping man in the distance through some dripping white spruce. He was awake and packing up the shelter, folding the plastic sheeting into an irregular square and stuffing it into a nylon bag.

The rain had subsided to a drizzle, the spit of god.

So instead of going through the forest, we traced the road skirting around it back to the tent, and mother didn’t ask us where we got the money for the macaroni and cheese. She was pleased with the liquorice and said she would share it with us later.

But she didn’t.

Stags Leaping

Prompt: Crossing

Ah, Wednesday. You are here again!

Today, Wednesday should be about winter, which has made itself known today by way of a frigid and powerful north wind, which is blowing the powdery layers of snow into the air, where the sunlight catches them, and it is all quite enchanting, as I think about it in front of the fireplace.

I’m also thinking about cartoons, the first of which features none other than a mother duck (also Moses):


And for those of us who sometimes drive in the mountains (and for those who don’t):


My favourite and final, captionless cartoon on this wintery Wednesday:


Have a safe crossing into Thursday!


Highway Revisited

Prompt: Friend

mandolin head

Zach was hurt, both literally and figuratively. He was scratched and scraped all along his right side, and must have come in contact with something sharp, as there was blood seeping from a long slash on his forearm. His cheekbone felt tender, and when he gingerly touched it with his hand, he saw blood on his fingers.

His motorcycle, an old Bonneville that seemed indestructible, lay unscathed on a cushiony bed of dry leaves and pine needles, in the ditch. But his mandolin, the beautiful mandolin his father had given him, had suffered a blow. It was in his backpack, and he was afraid it had cracked when Zach skidded across the road. It would do no good to look now. He would check it out when he got home. How to get home? That was the challenge.

Zach needed another body to help him retrieve the bike. He needed to have the blood dabbed from his face and arm, and wherever else he might be bleeding.

So when a yellow taxi pulled up, just as Zach was gathering his thoughts together, he said a silent prayer of thanks.

But it was an older guy who emerged from the driver’s side, and after he assessed the situation he apologized and said he had a bad back, but would take Zach to the nearest telephone (since they were out of cellphone range) or gas station, whichever he preferred.

Zach said, patting his cheek with a handkerchief, “I only have fifteen dollars, man, sorry.”

The driver waved a hand and said, “Don’t worry about it.”

The driver put Zach’s backpack into the trunk of the cab and took out an orange traffic cone to mark the spot.

Once inside the car, in the front seat next to the driver, Zach apologized again. “Sorry, I’m bleeding on your upholstery.”

“It is faux leather,” said the driver. “I’ve wiped up worse than blood, and it’s still like new.”

Zach wondered what would be worse than blood.

The driver turn-signaled to no one and pulled back out onto the highway. It was that magic moment just before twilight, when colour and light soften. The pine and cedar treetops blurred into a deepening sky.

Zach had moved a fabric beer cooler, not empty, from the seat onto the floor at his feet. The driver seemed sober enough. It was unlikely he would risk his livelihood with a DWI. Wasn’t it?

“Are you ok?” the driver asked. “Do you need immediate medical help? I should have asked before. I have a kit.”

“Just cuts and scratches,” Zach said. “Though I think I damaged my mandolin.”

“Your mandolin?”

“Yeah, my Martin A-K. My dad gave it to me. It’s mahogany and old. I’m afraid I might have broken it.”

“Oh dear,” said the driver. “If it’s of any assistance to you, I have a friend who makes and repairs violins; I’m sure he would have a look at it.”

“Um, sure,” said Zach without conviction. Then, as they drove up a slight incline, he spotted a deer on the road. “Look out ahead!”

“Oh, I see her,” said the driver. He slowed and pulled to the side of the road. “If you don’t mind, just a quick stop.”

Before Zach could answer, the driver reached down and took the beer cooler. He unzipped it to reveal a cache of carrots, apples, and cherry tomatoes. He took a generous handful and exited the car.

The deer, a golden tawny colour, had moved from the center of the road to the shoulder, and was walking towards the driver. The sun was low in the sky behind them, and Zach could now only see their silhouettes, as the man held out his hand, and the doe accepted his offerings, and then bowed her head and took the shoulder of his flannel shirt between her teeth and gave it a playful tug. He then stroked her neck, and she nuzzled his cheek.

Then the deer bounded into the forest, leaping over the ditch and disappearing among the trees.

The driver returned, got in, fastened his seatbelt.

“Wow,” said Zach. “I think I’d like to get to know you better.”

“Thanks, son. The name’s Bernard.” He turned and held out his hand, and Zach took the offering.

They continued along the highway in the dusk, chatting casually like old pals, about their fathers, the women they loved, about deer and foxes, and who they picked for the World Series wild card, and when they reached the Texaco station, Zach handed Bernard his backpack with the mandolin in it, and said, “Maybe your friend could help me?” and Bernard took it and put it back into the trunk. He gave Zach thirty-five dollars in cash, to tide him over.

“I’ll let you know about the mandolin,” said Bernard. And they shook hands again. Then Bernard drove away. He flashed the lights to say goodbye, and Zach waved.