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Fiction Friendship

Beth knew she was almost gone. Her organs had turned on her fragile body and the wind threatened to topple over her feather-light frame. She saluted the sky with her right hand, shielding her eyes from the white sun. She swayed in unison with the grass to the wind, gooseflesh gathered on her arms and legs. She turned toward the sound of a lark in the distance.


Peter was tending his grandmothers garden when he heard the sound of the small, brown bird. His hand went up to shade his eyes, his other dropping the shovel he was using to join it. He saw the bird circle in the pale, featureless sky. He wondered what he must look like, to that lark. He picked up the shovel again when he heard his grandmother scolding him for getting distracted.


The tree was enormous. Its leaf-laden branches swayed with every passing wind; its sturdy trunk planted firmly enough that it did not so much as waver. Beth was envious. She craved that consistency. She didn’t want to be this slight thing, shivering leaf she had become. She craned her thin neck to take in the full sight of the oak. For that was what she had decided it was. The leaves were thin, rounded, with blunt edges, almost reminiscent of a moose’s antlers. It was the only tree on this prairie for what seemed like miles. Her weary eyes drank in its burly trunk, and she coveted its strength, gnarled and knotted as it was. she was beginning to resent it, she thought bitterly as she trudged toward the patch of shade it offered. These constant reminders of what she had been told she’d never be. Doctors had pronounced her illness chronic. Her disease, they said, would continue until it found the last brass-plated skeleton key to her last reserve of strength. Her soul. She heard the tinkling laugh of the lark again. She remembered her own as a shadow lurking at the edges of her mind. That ghost-filled graveyard of earthly majesties she hoped she wouldn’t take to the afterlife: her memories. It drifted about as a listless thing, and she wondered if it would sound different if she ever had use for it again. Perhaps not. Perhaps so.


Peter was not the sharpest knife in the proverbial drawer, but he did pride himself on one thing: his unique ability to sense the exact moment that lunchtime occurred. It was glorious. Lunchtime allowed for a myriad of possibilities. After devouring a wholesome meal consisting of two thinly sliced, de-crustified pieces of white bread, one spoon-spread of peanut butter, and another of his grandmother’s grape jam, he was free to do as he liked for the remainder of the hour. Oh, how he relished these times of utmost freedom. Gone were the constraints of watchful, spectacle-clad eyes, blind as they were. Gone were the tuts and groans when a hole wasn’t dug deep enough, or a plant was bruised in his seeming carelessness. He could be anything. An archaeologist- a word he had recently learned meant the most-exciting, digging up of old things- dragging his grandmother’s shovel into the dense grasses of the high-swaying prairie behind his small form. This, or he could rid himself of his rubber soled foot-burdens on the bank of a creek he had found, jumping from stone to stepping-stone with the mighty strength of his favorite amphibian: the bull frog. He was the stuff of the minnow’s legends, he was sure, for they witnessed many stunts that they themselves would only ever dream of. He grinned when he heard the telltale rasp of his grandmother calling him to lunch. He would demolish his sandwich like a crazed mountain lion; and then it was off to the prairies.


Slowly, Beth brought dirt-streaked fingers to her stinging eyes. The small treads of stunted fingernails scraped softly at her eyelids as she rubbed them. The sun was even higher in the sky now, and she sighed as she braved the last few steps toward the tree. Her head hung heavy as she reached it, legs collapsing in exhaustion, dropping ungracefully onto sun-warmed sod and dried leaves. She leaned against the trunk, savoring the now-obstructed rays of sunshine that filtered through the branches. Her head fell back against the rough bark, her dirt-brown hair snagging on bits of moss and lichen. There was a time, she thought wistfully, when that would have bothered her. She would have been terrified some ant or otherwise unwanted creature would find its way onto her scalp, digging its scrambling appendages into carefully shampooed strands of hair. Her eyes drooped, and a sudden pain flashed against her side, causing her to wrap her arms around herself. She had been warned that over-exertion could be her ruin. Let it be. She curled into herself, falling on her side into the dust. Her temples started to throb uncontrollably. The lark screamed. I would do that too, she thought. If I could. Her body started to relax, sinking farther into the earth. The sun warmed her as dizziness crashed into her spinning head.


He was an explorer. Tall grasses parted around him as he swung his shovel like a machete, cutting violently through goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, dropseed. His stomach was full of sandwich, and he swung all the harder, energized for the hunt ahead. He was going to find an artifact. The yellow magazines that came in his grandmother’s mail assured him that long ago tribes of spear-wielding peoples had roamed here, raising cone-shaped tents and hunting buffalo on horseback. That was why there weren’t any trees, he had learned. The buffalo had trampled the seeds before they could grow. This, and frequent fires caused by lightning that anointed the parched land with ash that stifled new life. His shovel continued to swing, and he prided himself in the fact that he had not yet grown tired. He narrowed his eyes into the cunning glower of a predator, never looking back upon the path that he’d bludgeoned with his spade. Whoosh, crash, whoosh, crash. He was on his way to the digging site, a well-trampled spot in the shrub near a large oak tree. It offered plenty of shade for his task. He was determined to find a spear head for his museum. Oddly shaped pinecones had begun to bore him.


She was a chrysalis. This is what it must feel like, she mused. To be turned to mush and reformed. She imagined herself her own species of butterfly, cast no more in the shape of a bumbling caterpillar. She was reemerging, heated by the dark cloak of her transformation. She heard a sound in the distance; it sounded like someone shouting at her. No, she screamed inside her head. Let me get my wings. I will fly away once it’s done, and you won’t spare me a glance but to admire me. A shadow seemed to fall over her- she couldn’t be sure in her mindless state. She curled farther into herself, wondering what it would do to her. Hands landed on her shoulders, and she struggled away from them, jerking her head to the side. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” She barely registered the words. “I promise I’ll get help. Just wait here, I’ll go get help, okay? I promise.” Why did he sound so panicked? Didn’t he know what was happening? It was impossible to live on the prairies without some sort of knowledge of butterflies. Perhaps he’s not from around here, she thought. That must be it.

Peter was hysterical. He had arrived triumphantly at the oak tree, machete clutched in sweaty hand, only to find that he was not alone. There was what had seemed like a large animal hunched in the sod by its trunk. Naturally, he was curious, stepping closer on the balls of his feet so as not to startle it. It didn’t seem to notice him, and so, with the softest of footfalls he had approached it, peering at it until he realized it was not, in fact, an animal- but a small woman, curled into herself like a hedgehog. After this discovery, he had padded even closer, his shovel long forgotten. “Are you okay?” he had asked. She didn’t respond. He asked again, louder this time. When, after six tries she still had not moved, he began to panic. What if she was dead? What if she had died right here under his oak tree and nobody knew? He closed the distance between them and shook her shoulders, asking again if she was alright. She had turned away, endeavoring to free herself, and relief had flooded him until he noticed that she was barely lucid. She wouldn’t open her eyes. She was shaking like the leaves above and below. He tried to determine the best course of action, finally promising the woman he would come back with help. As he rushed back to his grandmother’s house, his face stung with the grasses he couldn’t push away. He hardly felt it. He knew that if anything happened to the woman before he got back, he would never be able to forgive himself. This pushed him to run even faster, his legs aching from the strain.


Beth woke up in a strange bed. The sheets, the pillow, the blanket, everything was pure white. She looked around the room she was in, noticing it was plain but clean. She reclosed her eyes when she heard voices- two of them- one of them a young boy’s. The voices entered the room, and she felt sure the other must belong to a mature woman. It was gravelly, a rasp, like she had seen the world for most of her life through a puff of white smoke.


“Do you think she’s awake yet?” the boy asked.


“Yes,” the older woman said. “She’s awake.”


At this, Beth found her eyes fluttering open. Sure enough, it was a boy of about nine or ten who had spoken. Next to him was a wrinkled woman adorned with a crown of snowy hair.


“Do you remember what happened?” she asked. Beth shook her head. It hurt.


“I found you curled up under a tree,” the boy said. Beth searched her memories and found that she vaguely remembered collapsing under a great oak. She nodded.


“I remember passing out.”


“Yes, well when I found you, you were barely conscious.” The boy looked perturbed, like this had greatly disturbed him. He looked down at the floor, briefly, but raised his eyes after a moment with a smile on his face. “But you’re okay now. I’m Peter, by the way.”


Beth smiled. “I’m Beth.”


The boy leaned toward her, a grin on his lips. “You know, when I found you I thought you were a hedgehog.” Beth laughed hard to the sound of a lark singing outside.





April 16, 2021 20:12

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6 comments

Andrea Magee
09:31 Jul 12, 2021

Lovely story!

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Sarah Martyn
15:41 Apr 24, 2021

This reminds me a little of my favorite book series The Circle by Ted Dekker. Loved the imagery.

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Amelia Bowen
16:13 Apr 24, 2021

i've heard his books are really good, i'll have to read them sometime:) Thank you!!

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15:54 Apr 22, 2021

I enjoyed your story. If you're interested, I think your writing would come more alive if you changed some of your telling into showing. I've included an example below of what I'm talking about, so that you understand what I'm saying. Of course, you still want to maintain your own voice. I hope you find it helpful, but if not, please continue to write because you have interesting stories to tell. :-) Twittering through the field, the tinkling laughter of a lark shadowed her own, lurking at the edges of her mind. That ghost-filled earthly gr...

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15:58 Apr 22, 2021

I did want to point out that I loved this sentence. "This, and frequent fires caused by lightning that anointed the parched land with ash that stifled new life."

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Amelia Bowen
18:20 Apr 22, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback! I love your idea of adding more showing! I am always open to new ideas/constructive critisism- in my opinion, no writer can improve without it. Thank you again for your comment! I will look for ways to incorporate your suggestion:)

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