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 John MacAyeal
“Children, we’re going to the duck pond,” Miss Sally announced.
He ran faster than the all others and got in the bus first. But no one said he was the winner. He was disappointed that no one was racing. The bus pulled out of the parking lot and he saw an airplane in the sky. His daddy had been in an airplane on Saturday.
“Here’s the duck pond,” Miss Sally shouted. “Now everyone off, one at a time, and remember to behave yourself.”
So this was the duck pond – just water – and smaller than the swimming pool down the street. It didn’t even look deep enough to swim in and it looked dirty. There weren’t any ducks either. He wasn’t even sure what a duck was.
Eddie was shouting, “Big bird! Big bird,” and all the others were following him.
“No running, children,” Miss Sally shouted.
The children stopped running and walked behind Eddie. He turned to follow them. All of the children were gathered in a crowd by water that had big grass growing out of it. He looked back and saw that Miss Sally and Miss Jenny were getting the picnic ready. Maybe he should help them. Then he turned and saw what all the other children saw. They all stood stunned and silent.
Before them was a heron, but they didn’t know that’s what it was called. All they knew was that before them was the biggest animal they had ever encountered besides a dog or a cat. A few of them had been to a zoo, but even they had never before been so close to a wild animal this big.
The heron stared at the crowd of children for only a moment. Satisfied that these creatures weren’t competitors, it turned to stand watchfully before the water.
“Big bird,” Eddie shouted.
Jim picked up a rock.
Just then the heron turned around holding a crawfish by its right claw in its beak. The children froze. They had never seen a wild animal so big. Now they beheld the biggest bug they had ever seen.
One of them shouted, “A lobster.”
Is that what it was? But he wasn’t sure about what a lobster is.
Frozen they watched as the heron flipped the crawfish in the air. As it sailed downward, the heron grabbed it sideways in its beak. Now it chomped on it to break up its shell and make it more palatable. They watched the creature’s hard shell disintegrate, the flakes falling to the ground. The heron then threw its head back and positioned the creature lengthwise so its head faced the merciless, dark tunnel of the its throat. Then the heron swallowed. They watched the lump descend down its throat. Then the heron turned back to the water, bent down, and drank, washing down the meal as they washed down their Oreos with milk.
“The big bird ate a lobster,” Eddie shouted.
“Children, lunch is ready.”
“The big bird ate a lobster,” Eddie shouted again. More repeated.
“We’ll watch Big Bird later today,” Miss Sally said.
That night he told his parents, “We went to a pond and we saw Big Bird eat a lobster.”
“You saw Big Bird eat a lobster,” his daddy answered blandly.
Years later he would remember the incident and wonder what he had seen exactly. He was sure for a number of years that he had seen a lobster. Later he wondered how that could have been. There were no lobsters in a pond in the Southwest. And what could that bird have possibly been? It did look like Big Bird from Sesame Street, but as an older boy he knew there were no birds like Big Bird in reality.
Getting even older he learned that the “lobster” must have been a crawfish. “But it was big,” he said to himself, too big to be a crawfish. Yet, it had to be. Still he didn’t know what the bird was.
Years later he was in a Starbucks waiting to meet someone from Match.com. Reading an article about koi ponds just to pass the time he saw a picture of the animal he saw that day twenty year before. “A heron,” he wanted to say out loud. “So that’s what it was. Still, could a crawfish get that big?”
The woman from match.com arrived. She was more than he expected, but he could tell that he was less than she expected.
“How are you?” she asked.
He wanted to say, but didn’t, “You know, I remember how much effort my parents put into my schooling and a quality education, but in one day when I was a little kid in day care I learned everything I’d ever need to learn.”
“And what is that?” she might have asked if he had said that.
“The big rule the small.”
John MacAyeal has a master’s in English from UT-El Paso and works on the IT help desk for a major retailer.