Friday, July 30, 2010

UNSUNG HERO

This week's story is based on a tweetale I wrote sometime ago and always wanted to expand. Thanks to 3WW and #fridayflash, I found the inspiration.

UNSUNG HERO

Troy watched the seagulls wheel above the ocean, dive for clams, then guard their catches from comrades. With tourist season a memory, the gulls had to work for their meals.

A runt gull burst from the surf with a large shell bulging from its bill. In his peripherals Troy noticed a gray-winged giant intent on the smaller bird's catch. The runt soared above the cottage line, hovered as if measuring the distance. The larger bird took flight. Troy shouted to divert gray-wing's attention, but the bird disregarded him and aimed for the roofline. It swooped in just as the clam crashed on the rooftop and stole the sweet meat. The runt screeched its frustration, but gray-wing ignored the tantrum and flew away. Troy understood gull law; every bird for himself.

Troy dropped his cooler in the sand, set up his beach chair, then placed his easel before the ocean, eager to draw uninterrupted. No sunburned brats asking mister whatchya doin' or couples begging please! a souvenir, we'll pay; Troy could stare at the horizon, replicate the trawler and lazy clouds and create artwork motels paid modestly for. Not quite the life he envisioned when teachers asked what do you want to be when you grow up? but, eh, it paid. Almost enough. As long as his buddy let him crash at the beach house, Troy could afford art supplies and child support. Child support for a daughter his ex rarely let visit. Bastard lawyer. Stole his woman, his daughter and somehow, most of Troy's income.

The trawler winked off the horizon. Troy sketched enough to paint the scene later, away from the breeze and sand. He settled in his beach chair, retrieved a coke and a snack and surveyed the encroaching tide for inspiration.

Sunlight glinted off distant whitecaps, rainbow hues danced above the water. Troy opened a bag of chips. The gulls heard the crinkle. Within moments, a flock descended. Several positioned themselves to dart for fallen chips. Gray-wing flapped and squawked, bullied the competition out of range. Troy broadened his hatred of lawyers to include bullying gulls. He took off a shoe and threw it at gray-wing. The flock dispersed. Troy sketched the stragglers, tried to capture their robot-like pecks as they waded in the rising surf. A huge wave sent the remaining birds airborne.

A child-sized creature with seaweed hair and glass eyes emerged from the receding wave. With nubby appendages, the creature dragged itself beyond the tide line, settled itself onto the sand. Troy flipped a page, sketched as fast as he could.

He filled the page with a blob-like form, no legs, but a growing extension. The nubby appendages ended in two projections, the rudimentary beginnings of a thumb and hand. The neck fused into the body. If it weren't for the face, Troy would have assumed the creature was a deformed seal.

Nothing outward indicated male or female, but Troy thought female. Maybe it was the seaweed tangles, clumped like his daughter's after a day playing. Maybe it was the way the eyes sparkled clear blue, like his daughter's, smiling eyes that made him feel loved. Troy rubbed his face, waited for his vision to clear, wished damn gray-wing hadn't reminded him of bullies.

Troy sketched in details as he watched her gaze settle on him. The creature opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again. Troy ventured a smile. She dragged herself closer to his spot. Troy noticed pink skin peeking underneath flaking scales. Troy drew her aquiline nose, dainty upon her amorphous face. She wrinkled her nose, moved closer and barked.

Troy retrieved the bag of chips. She opened her mouth, kept her gaze on him. "Are you hungry, little one?" She barked again, seemed to nod. Without thinking, Troy threw her a chip. The gulls descended.

"Get away you bastards!" Troy rushed in, kicked at the birds. The creature's bark sounded like a cry—less seal-like, more human. "Leave her alone!" Troy's action dispersed all but gray-wing. The giant bird opened its bill, clamped on an appendage. Before Troy could grab her, the bird flew with the creature in its mouth.

Troy chased gray-wing as the bird struggled to stay aloft. "Greedy bastard! Drop her!" Troy kicked off his remaining shoe, lobbed it at the bird. He missed. Gray-wing rose a few feet. Runt-gull dive bombed at the bigger bird, pecked at the creature dangling in the beak. Gray-wing faltered. The child-creature wailed.

He had to throw something else. Gray-wing refused to let go as the other birds tried to steal the prize. Troy strained to hear child-cries inside the gull screeches, prayed she could survive the abuse. The attacks prevented the giant bird from gaining altitude. Troy ran back to his cooler for the soda cans. Two full ones left; he hoped that was enough.

Troy ran towards the diminishing mob, thankful the child's weight kept the melee low. The fight drifted near the shore rather than the roofline. Troy prayed they'd remain near the water.

He ignored the cramp in his side, closed the distance, and lobbed the first can. Feathers and bird poop and soda fizz rained on his head. Troy wiped his face, focused on gray wing and hurled the second can.

Runt-bird dove at the same moment. The can hit the runt-gull, hurling its body into gray-wing, knocking both birds over the ocean. Three bodies plummeted into the water. Troy raced into the surf before another greedy gull dove for the child-creature.

Sunrays dazzled upon a sleek body as it dove into the water. Troy glimpsed flowing hair, long arms, a naked bosom and a sleek tail. Water exploded as the woman-fish broke the surface, hugging the child-like creature. The creature flapped a nubby appendage at Troy before the pair disappeared into the ocean.

Troy went back to his easel, flipped the page. He drew his daughter with seaweed hair and glass eyes. No one would ever believe he saved a mer-child.

*************
*************

The 3WW words were abused, cramped and hatred. Including those words, I took this story in a different direction from the original nano-fic piece I posted on Twitter on 1/23/10:

The wave receded, revealing a child with seaweed hair and glass eyes. It barked. Scared, I threw it a Frito. Thank god for hungry seagulls.

26 comments:

Linda said...

Wow, his daughter. Well-played action, all the while I'm wondering why he cares about the creature. I am curious -- did he love the woman-fish? What would be his reaction when she broke through the ocean surface? peace...

Jay Thurston said...

Your imagination is a scary place Peg. Are you sure drugs aren't involved? jk.

You never know where you are going to start the reader, much less where we will end up even after your tale has begun. Barely any dialogue was used, I think "Get away you bastards" was it... and you still told a tale through vivid interaction and description. Excellent as always!

Cathy Olliffe said...

Peggy, this was the first thing I read this morning and wow, what a treat. Your easy telling caught me right from the get-go and at first I was sad for the runt gull, who had his meal stolen. Then I got wrapped up with the artist, and loved the comparison of the greedy gulls with the greedy lawyer. Then you introduced the creature and at first I was shocked by the appearance of fantasy but I got absorbed by that, too. And when you rolled it all together with him fighting off the gulls to save the child, wow. Masterfuly storytelling. What an imagination you have and how well you paint your subjects.

Dee Martin said...

what a captivating story - I was mesmerized!

mazzz in Leeds said...

Fantastic! Love everything about this

Jen Brubacher said...

There are so many great details in this. I could see it really well, and was right there in the action.

No, no one would believe him. At least he knows.

Mike Robertson said...

Peggy, what Cathy said. And then some. I had a small problem when the gull lifted the infant because I had pictured it in my mind as being much too large for that. But it's been a while since I was around gulls, and I expect they're larger and stronger than I remember. Well and masterfully told.

Valerie said...

I think what I like most about this was the idea that his first impulse was to draw the creature. That's artists for you. Well written and a good read.

K said...

I love where you took me with this story. Started off pretty normal, easy going and then wham! A mer-child? Who-da-thunk? Sweet.
You wrote this with such an easy flow and clarity that I was hooked till the end.
Thanks for this beautifully written and surprising tale.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

This was fun. I got a little bogged down in the bird fight at the beginning, but you sure followed through with a nice reward for patience.

T.S. Bazelli said...

I had a little trouble trying to picture the mer-child, but I still enjoyed this. How small was it if the birds could lift it? For a moment I thought it must have been the size of a fish.

Donald Conrad said...

Wonderful; that the artist, who wished to be alone with his art, was interrupted by a mer-child; that it was an errant mer-child on its own journey, no doubt; that it was all sooo believably told. Thanks. I enjoyed it.

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent story! Loved the description of not only the action that was the meat of this story, but the day in general.

Al Bruno III said...

Sweet and dreamlike...

Christian Bell said...

Your telling of this tale pulled me in from the start and held me there until the end. It has qualities I can't quite describe--part fantastical, part something else all together different. But it's wonderful.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Awesome, Peggy... Took me a while to figure out what it was but damn ... it was like a surreal, indie film. Quiet, yet frantic at the same time. Lovely...

Alan W. Davidson said...

This tale takes us to the same fantasy place as your 'Walk-in Closet' story. I'm thinking that his saving the mer-child is atoning for not having his own daughter about. Wonderful details, Peggy.

I'm thinking that a bit of early description on the approximate size of his child would clear up the confusion as to whether or not a seagull could pick it up.

Laura Eno said...

What Christian said...this was awesome!

ganymeder said...

Whoa. Didn't see that coming! Well done.

Lou Freshwater said...

Fantastic imagery, the whole scene played out in such a vivid way for me. I could hear the gulls and smell the surf. Great read, thanks.

brainhaze said...

What a gripping and lovely written piece - brilliant

jasonwarden.com said...

Nicely played, caught me off guard at the end. Wonderful pace and imagery.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Great story. You built up the sense of place so well. Great ending too. Was the merchild really his, or did he redraw her features on his daughter?

Timothy P. Remp said...

I never would have guessed Mer-folk was going to be in this piece. Your descriptions were very powerful and I too liked the comparison between lawyer and seagull.

Wonderful jump from nano to short fiction.

-Tim

Tomara Armstrong said...

I really enjoyed this peice... I really felt bad for Troy; he was dealt such a bad hand losing his wife and child. I love his struggle with the birds and how he saw love in something that was so strange. I wish I could see his painting :-)

~2

G.P. Ching said...

A wonderful trip into your imagination. The descriptions were vivid and I didn't guess she was his mer-child either.