Contest #86 shortlist ⭐️

108 comments

Fantasy Contemporary Bedtime

She took her first breath in a grove of towering aspen trees, under the shadow of a hummingbird’s wing. Her mother was the melody of the mountain stream and her father was the glitter of sunlight through the coin-shaped leaves. 


The forest cared for her, swaddled her in wildflowers and sustained her with birdsong. When she cried, the butterflies kissed her cheeks and dried her tears. She grew strong and fast, and in only a few years she was taller than the saplings that sprouted on the day of her birth.


When the nights were cold, she slept beside the fawns, curled up against their spotted backs while their mothers sang lullabies and told stories. On warm spring evenings, she lay on beds of moss and sweet-smelling fallen leaves. 


She played with the bluebirds, who taught her to sing. She raced the coyote pups along dry stream beds. On rainy days when the earth smelled of sky, she wandered down to the mountain lake and swam with the river otters.


She lived a contented life for many years in the little grove. The woods and the mountainside loved her dearly, knew the sound of her footsteps and the touch of her fingers. Even the most fearsome creatures were tame in her presence. The bears told her where to find the sweetest honey. The chorus of wolves sang her dirges in hollow harmony, hoping to see her smile. Even the mountain lion tipped his regal head in her direction as he stalked by in search of prey. 


She was the forest’s very heart. 


One day, she awoke to strange sounds in the woods. Voices, clumsy and ill-defined, not lofty like birdsong or steady like a doe’s murmur. She climbed to the top of an old pine tree, who straightened with joy at her touch. 


A man and his son rambled through the woods, snapping limbs from sapling trees and trampling larkspur underfoot. The man was tall and thin, and the boy stood about the girl’s height, with a smile cool as a riverbed stone. 


She watched all day from a distance as they cleared a space in the aspen grove to make camp, gathered wood, made a fire, pulled fish from the lake with a stick and a string and roasted them over the flames. 


When night fell, the forest held a hushed conference about the strangers. The nervous squirrels chittered, the bucks stamped their hooves, and the owls quieted everyone down to warn them: no one was to go near these trespassers, especially not the girl.


The next morning, the girl licked dewdrops from the wild mint leaves and wandered the woods, avoiding the spot where the man and his son lay sleeping. She hummed to herself as she walked, and did not notice the boy, who had risen at the sound of her song and followed it. 


“What’s your name?” he asked as he approached, and the forest grew deathly still. 


The girl did not have a name. She did not know what names were. There was no use for such things in the forest, for the creatures knew one another too intimately for names.


“Your name?” he asked again, slowly. 


She shrugged. 


He frowned. “I’m Liam.”


“Liam,” she replied, letting the word fall from her tongue like overripe berries from a vine. 


He nodded and stepped towards her, hand outstretched. In his palm rested a hand-carved wooden rabbit, one of the most beautiful and strange things she’d ever seen. Hesitantly, knowing that the disapproving trees were watching, she snatched the rabbit from him and dashed away, vanishing into the woods.


The man and his son stayed in the grove one more day. Neither caught a glimpse of the girl in that time, and the man was quite convinced that his son had dreamed her. 


But Liam knew the truth, and so did the forest.


After the trespassers left, the girl clung tightly to the wooden rabbit and whispered her wishes in its ears. The creatures in the forest told her to forget the boy, begged her to join their games. For weeks, she could not bring herself to do either.


A year passed, and somewhere in that time the girl nearly forgot Liam. She left the wooden rabbit under the old pine tree. She played once more with the otters and sang with the sparrows. The forest was whole again, whole and happy.


Then, Liam and his father returned. 


This time, the girl was bolder and met Liam in the grove while his father fished down at the lake. He didn’t look up from the fire when she appeared, he only smiled into the gentle flames.


“I knew you were real,” he whispered.


She smiled back.


Liam and his father returned to the woods once every spring. Each year, much to the forest’s chagrin, Liam and the girl stole a moment together beneath the shade of the pine branches, nestled in the scent of fallen needles that clung to their skin.


They talked and they laughed. The girl came to love speaking in Liam’s clumsy language, just as he came to love how well she knew the forest, how deeply she belonged to it. 


The third year they met, Liam stole a kiss from the girl under the pine tree.


The fourth year, the girl stole two kisses and Liam stole a caress of the girl’s wildflower skin.


One day after many years of stealing kisses, they stole much more from one another, and lingered in the shade of the pine tree in a breathless reverie. 


Shortly after that day, Liam and his father departed the woods again. The girl fell ill. The forest did not scold, only sighed at the inevitability of it all and nursed her as best as it could. In time, she grew better and stronger. She grew fuller, too, and felt the terrifying exhilaration of life within her.


She bore a child under the shade of the aspen trees, a daughter with wildflower skin and eyes full of wishes. The girl gave her daughter the little wooden rabbit to play with and when spring came, the two of them waited under the pine tree for Liam’s return. 


When he did return, this time without his father, his cool smile did not last long. His countenance grew dark at the sight of his daughter, sleeping in a bed of pine needles. He knew that this child, like her mother, was not human, not quite. And that knowledge made him tremble.


Liam could not hear the girl’s voice over the sound of fear, rushing in white rapids within his ears. He raged, more at himself than at the girl, but the forest heard and bristled at his fury. The girl did not weep, did not plead as he turned and started back down the mountainside. She simply picked up her daughter and left the shade of the pine tree for the last time with a soft goodbye. 


The girl could forgive and forget, but the forest could not.


Liam did not make it down the mountain. 


When the girl discovered what the forest had done, she went out in search of Liam’s body, thinking she might bury the man she loved under the pine tree where she loved him. She left her daughter beside the fawns in the tender care of the aspen grove where she was raised, promising to return.


She searched for days. The forest would not tell her where he lay, so she wandered in aimless grief. With gentle chirps, the birds cautioned her to go back to her daughter. The wolves invited her to add her loss to their somber song and allow herself to heal. The mountain lion said nothing, merely nuzzled her hand and pointed her home. 


Still, she did not stop searching for Liam. The forest wept for her, with her, bitter tears of regret and love.


When she found him, lying in a field of larkspur and thistles with his eyes open to the sun, she stood over him with tears in her eyes. 


The very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved did not rise. 


Year after year and even to this day, all the creatures of the forest gather at the edge of that field in early spring. They bring with them the girl’s daughter, to show her the wildflowers which bloom over the place where her parents lie.

March 20, 2021 07:35

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108 comments

14:28 Apr 09, 2021

a beautiful, lyrical, breathtaking story. your writing treads the line between poetry and prose. a wonderful plot. only one critique- when it says, 'the very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved did not rise,' should it be, instead, 'the very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved {and} did not rise?' or am i misinterpreting this? all in all, amazing story, and deserved shortlist. great job.

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Kyler Mattoon
15:43 Apr 08, 2021

Oh my goodness....this is so beautiful and melancholy. It is reminiscent of old faerie tales - such an old, mysterious feel! Love it.

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Adam Schwartz
15:51 Apr 07, 2021

This was beautiful. The shortlist honor was very well deserved.

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Nicole Burnett
23:33 Apr 06, 2021

I loved this story! You make me want to write again. Keep up the good work. :)

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Shea West
15:31 Apr 03, 2021

Well, what a lovely introduction to your stories 😍 I especially love how you created this world where the mere existence of the forest spoke so very loudly, yet Liam and the girl hardly spoke at all. A weaving of what love looks and sounds like we my takeaway. This was so beautiful.

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Claire Lindsey
17:26 Apr 03, 2021

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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Alice Claude
07:05 Apr 03, 2021

This is beautiful- the whole story had a calming yet sad bedtime feel to it, and the descriptions were so ethereal- I especially loved how you linked together the mention of wolves and lions, "wildflower skin", and the overall personification of the forest that fueled this story. Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Claire Lindsey
17:26 Apr 03, 2021

Thank you!

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CY Croft
00:28 Apr 03, 2021

Beautifully written.

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Anna Romano
16:29 Apr 02, 2021

Oh my gosh!! This os the BEST short story i have read in a VERY long time! It's something of myth. I LOVE this! I love the creativity and how every aspect links together! I would submit this to a magazine, if i were you. Is the daughter now rhe forests heart or is that why the forests are dying and deforestation occurs?

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Claire Lindsey
16:51 Apr 02, 2021

You’re too kind, Anna, thank you! In regard to your question, I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

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Christina Marie
16:24 Apr 02, 2021

Claire! This is amazing!!! Congratulations on the shortlist, so well deserved. Outstanding imagery and wonderful melodic prose.

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Ru .
16:24 Apr 02, 2021

YES! Finally — After Linden Drive I was waiting and now just. . .yes! I'm also happy that this was shortlisted for the fairytale prompt in a spring-themed contest. Speaking of those, these new prompts, Claire!

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Claire Lindsey
16:32 Apr 02, 2021

I think it’s very fitting that the shortlisted one is dedicated to you haha! Feel free to share in the spotlight :) Also- these PROMPTS! I’m just going to wander into fairy tales and never come back. They can’t make me.

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Courtney C
15:37 Apr 02, 2021

Congratulations on the shortlist! This was such an enchanting story, and your writing was so lyrical and lovely.

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Claire Lindsey
15:51 Apr 02, 2021

Thank you Courtney! I need to catch up on your stories, I’ve been falling behind with everybody lol 😅

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Holly Fister
15:28 Apr 02, 2021

Congrats on the shortlist!! I knew this was a great one when I first read it. 💕

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Claire Lindsey
15:34 Apr 02, 2021

Thanks Holly! <3

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Emma Louise
03:45 Apr 02, 2021

Ahhhhhh!!!! I am fairly new to this site, and this is my favorite story I have read so far. You wrapped it up so nicely, you weren't limited by the word count but used it to your advantage. The imagery and the diction was incredible, it is meant to be spoken allowed. I have no words (and I am writer at heart, so this is rather rare). It deserved a win.

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Hafsa Fahim
13:18 Apr 01, 2021

wow!! that's a deep story an amazing one. i don't know what to say but it was a beautiful experience reading this.

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Chris Karounos
09:48 Mar 31, 2021

This is my favorite of the few short stories I have read in this category. Best way I could describe the experience of reading this is as delicious. So much so that it seems like plot doesnt matter so much. More significant was the experience of reading this. It was the beauty of the moment and I think that is something very at the heart of the forest and our human experience within it. Found it interesting how Liam (a potential allegory for man) exploit's the heart of the forest and dies because of a sort of xenaphobia which may be just an ...

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Claire Lindsey
00:45 Apr 01, 2021

Hi Chris, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I agree with you that this story was a bit lackluster in terms of plot, but I’m thrilled to read your interpretation of the story :)

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Holly Fister
13:42 Mar 29, 2021

Wow! This was enchanting, beautiful, and then incredibly morose. I loved it!

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21:52 Mar 25, 2021

This is absolutely beautiful. "her mother was the melody of the mountain stream" "she was the forests very heart" --beautiful! You have a very lyrical, poetic style which works very well for short stories. It really makes the whole thing feel whimsical and magical. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing it :)

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Claire Lindsey
02:29 Mar 26, 2021

Hi Lizzy, thanks for the kind comment! I’m glad you enjoyed this story :)

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Ru .
04:30 Mar 22, 2021

I read this as soon as you posted and if I'm being honest, I seethed. Here I was planning to surprise you with a dedicated story and you beat me to the punch. The audacity is an skyrocketing! Jokes aside, this is stunning. So stunning. Utterly. From the butterflies to the leafy tears, from the broken hearts to the graveyards of flowers it is teeming with magic. Never. stop. writing like this.

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Claire Lindsey
12:32 Mar 22, 2021

Great minds! I love that you planned to dedicate one to me, too. I hope I get to read it! Also—I’m not sure what you mean, you can write circles around me lol! Your stories are always so original and sparkling with beauty and depth. I have absolute faith that germinating idea, fully-fledged story, or anywhere in between, yours is golden 😊

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Unknown User
08:56 Mar 21, 2021

<removed by user>

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Claire Lindsey
13:22 Mar 21, 2021

Thanks for the critique, I’ll certainly keep it in mind moving forward! I should probably start trying to plan out my stories a bit (oh joy). I like to see where they go as I write but sometimes that leads away from character and plot. I’ve been toying with alternate endings for this one but haven’t come up with anything I like better And yeah... the bookkeeper one was a classic force-myself-through-writers-block situation that rarely ends well for me. It’s joined my extensive scrap heap of stories lol

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H Bolton
20:18 Apr 06, 2021

Ohhh, if it isn't impolite, what other endings have you thought of? The current ending is very star-crossed lovers but I could see with your beginning that this could go a very different direction!

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Claire Lindsey
23:01 Apr 06, 2021

Not impolite at all! I’m trying to remember haha... I think one of my ideas for another direction was to have her leave the forest with Liam early on. Another was to introduce conflict by having the father find her, or by having Liam bring someone else to the forest to meet her. I’m sure I had several more but I’ve forgotten them by now!

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H Bolton
01:49 Apr 07, 2021

Ohhh, the introducing someone else would be heartbreaking! At least they are Ovid-style together forever

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Claire Lindsey
07:37 Mar 20, 2021

For R.K. :) Once again, I’m not sold on the title. Suggestions?

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