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Grasshopper Wing

1000-word flash fiction, prompt from Terrible Minds.

“Wait here a minute,” Dad said, “and don’t go near the water yet.”  He then waded into the waist-high golden weeds that led away from the small, deep pool of water.

Kenny dropped the olive and tan tackle box he’d been tasked to carry, glad to put it down.  The box required both hands to carry, held out in front of him on account of its large size, which set it to bumping his shins with every step on the hike down the hill to the stream behind their campsite.

When they didn’t know he was listening, Kenny’d heard his mom and dad arguing about the trip.  She wanted to go to the beach.  He wanted to camp in the woods and go fishing.  “Kenny’s nine and has never been,” his dad had said.  This was important.  Somehow.

The stream was small and shallow, bordered by gray rocks the color of his schoolyard blacktop, capped here and there by crusty blue moss stuff Dad had said was “liken” (whatever that was).  On the bottom was a brown muck the color of some disgusting family dinners.

He didn’t know why Dad had wandered off into the weeds—surely he’d have a whole ton of stickers now, the kind that pierce your sock and wedge themselves up against your shoe, poke you every time you take a step, and make you take off your shoes and dig them out one at a time.

Nearby was the fishing pole his father had brought: dark maroon segments that could collapse into one another, bright silver rings that guided thin, white-clear fishing line, and a black reel with a crank and a complicated-looking metal guide for the spool of line.

A thrashing sound announced the return of Dad, white t-shirt and blue jeans and the grass-stained sneakers he wore to mow the lawn, hands cupped together in front of him, face split in a triumphant grin.

Dad went straight to the rod while Kenny leaned over the deep pool for a closer look.  Trees dropped orange leaves and dappled, golden light across the surface of the water.   There, down below a rock that jutted out over the sandy bottom about a foot down, were two fish, plain as day.

Kenny looked over just in time to see Dad shove a grasshopper onto the end of a hook.  It made a crunch sound.  One of the wings tore off and fluttered to the ground like a leaf.  Once, when the wing caught the light, Kenny saw rainbow colors instead of the clear.

“Oh,” Kenny said.  He looked away from where the wing landed on the ground.  The rainbow was gone.

“What’s that, son?”

“Nothing.  I just thought we were going to use the eggs.”  Before they’d left camp, Dad had opened the tackle box and shown him hooks, sinkers, spinners, and a jar of fake fish eggs: little red spheres that smelled nasty but apparently passed for fish snacks.

“Nah,” Dad said, and handled the pole across to Kenny.  “This here’s the real deal.  My dad did the same thing for me, my first time.  It’s like a fish Big Mac. They can’t refuse.”

Kenny took the pole and tried not to look at what dangled from the end of it.

“Okay, now hook your pointer finger down around the line to hold it,” Dad said.

Kenny fumbled with the pole, then did so.  “Like that?”  He wanted to do this right.

“Now flip open the catch.  Good. Now just give it a little toss, and let go with your finger.”

The grasshopper and hook landed on a rock on the other side of the pool.

“That’s okay,” Dad said.  “Reel it in nice and slow.”

Kenny gave the reel a timid crank.  The guide clunked into place, and the grasshopper slid into the pond, sending rings of ripples out across the calm surface of the pool, but didn’t sink.  The fish just watched from their little spot under the rock.

“Maybe they don’t like grasshoppers?” Kenny suggested.

“Do it again,” Dad said.

Kenny cast the bait again, praying for a direct hit and a dramatic fish-fighting scene, so that they could call this a success and just go.  Fishing’d sounded like fun, until they hiked out here, until Kenny got stickers in his socks even though he stayed in the clear areas behind his dad, until the bug went crunch on the hook and the sun beat down on them and made his back get all sweaty under his red Spiderman t-shirt.

The bug hit dead center of the pool this time.

Bullseye!

But no fish came up for a bite.

They stood for ten minutes in silence, watching the fish watch the grasshopper.

Dad was trying, Kenny knew.  He was trying, too.  Even though he decided he didn’t like fishing very much.

When they finally gave up, Kenny busied himself skipping rocks into the pool while Dad packed everything up.  At first splash, the watching fish disappeared deeper under the rock.

Take that, stupid fish.

Another grasshopper jumped and landed on a nearby weed.  Kenny paused, his rock-skipping arm half-drawn back, and squinted at its small, tan form.  Its wings were clear, but sometimes had colors, too.  On the ground, the other wing was dirty now, crushed into the sandy muck by Dad’s shoe.

With a rasping flutter, the grasshopper bounced off the weed.

Kenny nodded.  Clear.  But rainbow, too.

On the walk back to camp, he decided that the real color of a grasshopper wing was the happy freedom to bounce around in a field.  The color of a grasshopper wing was also sadness when you got shoved onto the end of a hook, which was doubly dumb when the fish didn’t even bite, so you were better off not getting caught and baited in the first place.

If someone asked, would he say it was clear?  Rainbow?

Both.

#18 Free *

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevec77

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevec77

Rain fell, but it did not touch him.

Pedestrians trundled along the sidewalks, hunched and withdrawn against the downpour. He walked loose and relaxed with a smile on his face.

Death was the best thing that ever happened to him. He once joked that it would be a blessing compared to middle management. How true.

He wandered as he willed, invisible and aware.

Ghosts have no need of umbrellas.

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#17 Never Went Inside

http://www.flickr.com/photos/aporetic

http://www.flickr.com/photos/aporetic

I am dead, at the end of a poor but full life.

My regret is the university building on University Drive. Those steps flanked by trimmed hedges and topped with glass.

I walked by every day before I swam in meat, grease, potatoes.

The building was a chance, a change, but more than doors separated us.

It ain’t easy. Not when you’re poor and afraid.

I never went inside.

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#16 A Suit And A Gun

http://www.flickr.com/photos/slipstreamjc

http://www.flickr.com/photos/slipstreamjc

He watched from across the street and did not help as his mother unloaded groceries.

He hadn’t known what “disappear” meant until he signed up for the program. It meant not helping your mother with her groceries.

It meant no identity. Just a suit and a gun.

The dark Buick pulled away from the curb.

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#15 Star Gods

http://www.flickr.com/photos/insightimaging

http://www.flickr.com/photos/insightimaging

Melora’s robes swished around him.

Or so he imagined. In reality, they were so new that they merely hung, creased and awkward, like the apprentice he once was.

It was his turn to go before the gods and listen. This night, he would do so not as a student, but as their priest. One day, his robes too would swish, once age and experience had softened both man and fabric alike.

Would age and experience quell the doubts he felt whenever he read the stars? His teachers approved his findings, but the messages he saw in the stars’ twinkling lights felt nothing more than lucky guesses. It felt like there was something missing.

“Go now, Priest,” the Elder bade. “Bring back whatever message the Gods have for you this night.”

Melora nodded, drew up his hood, and left the warmth of the building. He kept his eyes to the ground, as was taught to him, both to watch his way and to prevent reading the stars until he was ready.

Of all nights, please let this one be true, he thought. Of all nights, don’t let this one feel like a guess.

He found his position, took a deep breath, and threw back his hood. The vastness of the greeting sky awed him. It humbled him. The sheer immensity drove his lessons from his mind even as the chill air licked as his scalp.

“Concentrate, Priest,” Melora told himself.

He let his eyes relax as he waited for a position in the sky to draw his attention. A place did so. His eyes locked on it.

Or had it? Now that he looked, he saw nothing at all. No messages in the waves of light. No portents in the pattern.

Panic blocked whatever message might have been there. He would be found out as a false priest this night. The stars said nothing to him.

Motion in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Melora shifted his gaze. This was surely the true message. What was at first a tiny star–no more than a pinpoint of light–grew brighter and bigger, and it did so far faster than anything Melora had ever seen in the night sky.

A tail grew from that point of light. It traced the sky. Almost too soon, Melora realized that it was getting bigger because it was coming at him. He jumped to the side as a bright flash of light plummeted to the earth in a crash of heat and soil.

Melora paid no mind to the dirt and leaves that stuck to his garments as he got up. He crept forward, staring at the small crater in the ground. Steam rose from it. The ground glowed a dull red.

Inside he beheld a chunk of what looked like scrap metal from the smithy. It was no bigger than the size of his fist. The glow came from the metal itself, almost as if it had been just removed from the forge and was ready for hammering.

He looked to the sky where it had been. Its place was empty.

If stars were but metal in the sky made into gods, what did that say about men and their teachings?

Melora ran naked through the night. The old gods shimmered above him. His robe would soften as water and weather assulted it, but there would be no man in it.

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