Flash Fiction: The Bears

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is to write about a statue. Today’s contribution comes from Val Muller, author of the YA novel The Scarred Letter, the new release Corgi Capers 3: Curtain Calls and Fire Halls, and the new release Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi.

The Bears

By Val Muller

She knew it was a bad idea, but how many times did she come back to her home town? She hadn’t been back since her parents moved away, years ago. And of all her old haunts, this was the one she missed the most. But it was Thanksgiving break, and all her friends from high school were busy. Or said so, anyway. After all, who went hiking in the middle of winter? But against her better judgment, she posted it on Facebook:

Back in town for a conference. Who wants to check out the Nature Center with me? Now that I have a digital camera, I can capture all my childhood memories…

Her friends were quick to reply:

Out of town.

Busy with family.

Do you know how cold it is?

Cooking.

Why go hiking in this weather?

Come out to the bar instead.

But she was undeterred.

I want to get a picture of that statue. The one of the three bears.

No one responded to that comment. Why would they? It was a private tradition she had kept with her father. They had gone to the Nature Center almost every weekend. Each time, they’d race from the parking lot to see who would be the first to touch the noses of the statue, the statue of the three bears. “Bet you can’t reach the top,” her father would tease.

When she was little, her father had to lift her up to reach the top nose. That is, when he let her win the race. Sometimes he won—just to keep it real. It was a poignant memory, but she had no pictures of it. When she told her father of her plan last week, he laughed it off.

“We moved away for a reason. Bigger and better things. Same as you. Why look back?”

She was only in town another day, and with the snow storm approaching, she knew how crazy she was to leave the hotel. But she didn’t mind the cold. After all, she’d grown up in such winters. And she was leaving the next day—assuming she didn’t get snowed in—so it was now or never.

But hiking alone in the woods… wasn’t that how so many horror movies started? So she was relieved when Ralph responded. Good old Ralph. Her lab partner from eleventh grade. She barely remembered being Facebook friends with him—they had only been casual friends, after all—but here he was, volunteering to be her companion for the day.

He met her at the park. He was waiting as she pulled into the lot. She patted her Chevy’s dashboard as she saw him. She laughed and then sighed, thinking that the car she drove in high school was more reliable than her Chevy. The Impala had been cooperating for months, now. The last time it left her stranded was at the Post Office back home in the heat of July. Something with the ignition, an inconsistent problem that never manifested in front of the mechanics, of course. In fact, she hadn’t even thought about the Chevy malfunctioning until she saw Ralph. But now, it popped into her head. What would happen if they she got stuck here? How awkward would that be? And it would be just like the Chevy, wouldn’t it? To leave her stranded right before a snow storm.

Ralph was wearing a red hunting cap—the kind Holden Caulfield wore—and an oversized winter coat. He’d lost weight since she’d seen him last, and she squinted to get a good look at him under his winter gear.

“Long time no see,” she said. She tried to remember some kind of private joke from chemistry class, but those memories were lost.

He smiled as he approached. “Been practicing your spins?”

“What?”

His smile persisted. “Spins. Remember? It was the thing you had trouble with in chemistry…”

The memory flooded back. She hadn’t understood that chapter, and their lab teacher made her stand at the board in front of the whole class until she figured it out.

“Talk about repressed.” She laughed it off. “Anyway, thanks for coming.”

“Oh, thank you for inviting me. I didn’t have any plans.”

“No wife by now. No kids?” she asked.

He shook his head and embraced her in a bear hug. She didn’t remember hugging him in high school, not even once, but he threw himself around her with such warmth that she couldn’t help but hug him back.

“It’s been so long,” he said. “I’ve often thought about you.”

She squinted at him. His eyes were eager, his smile genuine. She couldn’t help but remember English class—she had no idea if they’d had that class together or not. The class had been assigned The Great Gatsby, and she remembered discussing the moment Jay Gatsby finally reunited with Daisy after all those years.

This moment seemed just as awkward.

“Anyway.” She held up her camera. “Let’s get this shot while the light’s good.” She captured the bear statue from several angles: a mother bear and two cubs. Ralph took a picture of her, too, reaching to touch the top of the tall bear’s nose—the bear that stood on its hind legs. “I could never reach that as a kid,” she said. “Take another one. Make sure it’s a good one I can send my dad.”

Ralph snapped the final picture just as it started to snow.

“We should probably go back. You know—not a good idea to hike in the snow.” She glanced at the trails waiting near the woods. “But maybe I have time just to glance down them.”

Ralph smiled and nodded. “No rush.” He laughed. “If we get snowed in, we can camp out in the car.”

Car, he had said. Not cars.

She shuddered and made her way toward the Swamp Loop Trail. “Let me just get a few pictures.”

She tried to let the place rekindle her memories, but it looked so different in the falling snow. She and her father never came during the worst of winter. They both hated snow. Maybe her father was right. Why revisit past memories?

“We should go back.”

“Want to grab dinner, maybe?”

She looked at the sky. “Not a good idea. The snow and all…”

“You could eat at my place. If it gets too snowy, you could crash there.”

The idea flashed in her head for just a moment. She hadn’t married either. Maybe this was one of those things. Those magical, holiday, fate, destiny…

“No thanks,” she said. “I’d best get back to the hotel.”

“I remember how you looked at prom,” he said, out of the blue. “The way your golden dress sparkled under the lights. I didn’t have a date. I was hoping to sneak in a dance with you, but you never noticed me.”

She was glad for her scarf; it hid her blush. She didn’t know whether to be flattered or fearful.

“Oh, Ralph. You should have asked me. I would have danced with you.” But she was already fingering her keys, praying to her Chevy to start. She hurried to the car, hopped in, and turned the key.

Nothing.

Stupid Chevy.

“I can give you a lift,” he said.

She shook her head. “I need my car. I’m supposed to drive home tomorrow.”

“I’ll bring you back in the morning.”

She looked up. The lights in the parking lot came on in the darkening twilight, illuminating the falling snowflakes. They had already started to muffle sound. She could understand why some people liked the snow, why some thought it was so beautiful and peaceful and serene.

“I’ve got a fireplace, and a spare bedroom.”

For just a moment, her mind flashed with the possibility. Going back with Ralph. Catching up on old times. Falling in love. Raising children who would go to the same high school their parents did. Just like in a fairy tale.

She looked out at the snow and tried to see its magic. But something else caught her eye. It was the statue of the bears. She saw movement in the snow. It was only a shadow, a memory.

It was a little girl laughing, her father running at her heels.

“I bet I can beat you to the statue,” the wind whispered.

And the girl, running with all her might, stretching her legs, testing her stride, determined to touch the bears’ noses first. Always pushing for more.

“Bet you can’t reach the top,” the wind echoed.

With one final turn, she tried the ignition. The engine roared to life, and she flashed Ralph a smile. “Thanks for coming, Ralph. I’ll see you around Facebook.”

She pulled away before he even started his car, and he watched her, waving into her rear view mirror, as she drove hastily away in the beautiful falling snow.

 

 

The Spot Writers—our members:

 

RC Bonitz: http://www.rcbonitz.com

 

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

 

Catherine A. MacKenzie: http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

 

Kathy Price: http://www.kathylprice.com