Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative,
poem, spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.
Helen Presents: a flash fiction piece from Stacy Post
Baby unlatched the back door and toddled toward the pond. The snow was thigh deep, but he didn’t hesitate. He jutted Ducky into the air. “Bath! Da-Da. Bath!”
His bare feet punched crusted snow as he passed the Willow tree.
Willow stood encased in winter freeze, an iced spider, glittering in gray sunlight. There was no breeze. Too cold for bird chirp.
Baby dropped on his side and rolled down the slope. “Whee!” Ducky slipped from his grasp, falling into a footprint, the candy corn nose protruding just above the shine.
Baby stopped near the frosted reeds. “Where Ducky go?”
Willow couldn’t respond, her branches tethered by ice slips.
Baby toddled onto the powdered pond where wide black circles emerged near the center. “Ducky?” His feet lost traction. He fell onto his naked hands. He looked around before crying.
Da-Da was in the house. Willow understood. Da-Da had fallen asleep watching television. Again.
Willow watched the baby many times. Those parent people were often distracted: on the phone, arguing or visiting with sketchy guests. Baby was too comfortable with water.
On the surface, Willow was frozen. She could do nothing. Every branch was stuck except for her crown, which was beginning to warm.
Her roots tickled, though winter was not the usual time. The ground was solid but not completely frozen underground yet.
She burrowed, shooting roots under the house, clawing and crawling through any crack she could find. The first tendril smelled must. A mouse nibbled at her presence. She quickly withdrew.
Her tendrils were thin and weak. She couldn’t clasp anything heavy enough to make noise. To wake the Da-Da.
If she had wind, she knew how to squeal. She’d saved the Indian woman’s voice, the cries of people who’d sobbed under her arms, the laughs and the surprise shocks.
But there was no wind. Not today.
Willow burrowed again and struck something metallic and damp. She wrapped a tendril around it, taking a tentative drink, careful not to fill too much because if her trunk waterlogged, she might freeze from the inside out. Then, she dipped the tendril into the hole and at first, followed the pipe down to the well.
She needed to go up, not down. She split her tendril, leaving a feather thin finger hooked, because the water was so fresh, so cold, not spoiled by humans as the pond was.
The split tendril traveled up, up and further up to an opening inside the house. She felt along a warm smooth porcelain surface and reached. She clasped something hard, something glass and knocked it over, hoping it made noise. Then she retreated, took another route to a water-filled bowl with warmer water than the well and she felt her tendril relax. And drift.
Baby screeched on the ice. He clapped and chattered. His red chin wobbled. Baby scooted closer to the dark center spot. He moved sleepily, his cheeks bright red now and his fingers in his mouth. “Ducky?”
Willow’s tendril inside the house, leaning from the bowl, spun softness, the soft weight thinning. Soft things didn’t make a sound. She had to do something else.
She climbed the slick porcelain wall, feeling something cold and hard. It moved under her grasp. She pushed harder and then suddenly, her tendril was forced down with a great push of water.
Baby glanced at the house. “Potty?”
The tree shivered. She tried to shiver again, hoping movement would crack the ice encased around her limbs. If she could get a single branch free, she could snag Ducky and lure Baby back to solid ground.
Baby sucked his fingers and crawled towards the reeds. “Ducky? Peek a boo!” He looked behind the reeds but then wailed when the Ducky wasn’t there.
Ducky was stuck in the snow with its nose warming in the sunshine.
Willow shot a new tendril underground this time going around the house to the front. She’d never gone that far but she shot the strained tendril up, punching through the ground, up through the snow and felt the raw burn of exposure.
It stung like a hangnail. Then it burned like the old prairie fire that had nearly killed her when she was young. Her roots weren’t made for air and light. Her instinct was to pull back, to shrivel and lick her wounds. Yet she climbed the house bricks. Then, when she felt glass again, she tapped with all her might.
Baby toddled back onto the ice and edged closer to the middle. He spread his arms and leaned back to make a snow angel. He giggled and kicked his heels. His bare skin purpled.
Willow recoiled all her roots back to her trunk hoping to dislodge the ice from her branches. One thin limb near the slope broke loose. Three others broke off entirely and slid down the crusted ice, stopped only by the reeds.
She split her limb, knowing cold air might ruin her beauty forever. But without wind, her branches were useless. One thick root near her trunk loosened snow and emerged. The pain of exposure tore through every cell, every atom. The root rolled over the snow and clasped the hard rubber Ducky.
She tried to lift it but it was too heavy. For all of her efforts, Ducky had lodged its rigid body under an ice shelf that Willow couldn’t break.
The wind blew a fine layer of powdery snow over Baby’s footprints.
Willow grasped Ducky again, shook hard and lifted it just above the snowline. But Baby wasn’t looking. Instead Baby was pounding his fist near the wide black circle. “Da-Da! Da-Da!” At first his call was sing-song but then it turned into a piercing cry.
Willow understood Baby was cold, his cries similar to bedtime wails. She released Ducky and focused on her roots. She mustered all the voices, including her own and vibrated knowing that it might crack the earth and expose all her roots, killing her forever. It might also crack the pond ice. But it would vibrate the house enough to startle the Da-Da inside.
She roared underground. The house above her roots trembled.
The snow shook and slipped, exposing Ducky.
The pond ice groaned.
Baby sat up. Baby blinked and stared at the tree. Then he saw Ducky.
“Ducky!” He toddled across the pond, pulled on the reeds and climbed the slope to Ducky’s side. He picked it up, kissed its nose and then tossed it to the pond where it slid to the edge of the wide black circle.
Baby frowned. “Bad Ducky!”
Da-Da sprinted out of the house, slipped on the icy sidewalk and passed Willow to scoop Baby up. He hugged him and half screamed. “Don’t you ever do that again. You hear me?” He kissed the baby’s blue cheeks and rubbed Baby’s fingers with his free hand. He stamped his feet. “How did you get out here?” He blinked and looked around. “Where’d your mother go?”
Baby smacked Da-Da’s cheeks hard. “Ma-ma. Gone.” He squirmed in his father’s arms. He reached for the ground, for the pond.
Willow drooped from her efforts. Ice plinked from her branches onto the crusted snow.
Baby squirmed again and wanted down. “Ducky? Da-Da. Ducky.” He pointed and tried to turn his father’s face.
Da-Da didn’t look for Ducky. Instead, he held Baby tight and carried him into the house.
Stacy Post is a Midwestern writer in multiple forms: fiction, poetry and plays. Her poetry chapbook, Sudden Departures, debuted with Finishing Line Press. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her short plays have been produced in festivals around the U.S. www.stacypost.com