This story is by Brittney Schlechter and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Every morning, Harold woke from his sleep and sighed, unwilling to face yet another day in this godforsaken pond.
Once upon a time, many years ago, a strange animal he had never seen before approached the lake that he had lived in since he was just a small bit of roe. From their secluded body of water, all they had ever seen were trees and skyfin, nothing else.
These creatures were strange but intriguing. Harold and his family swam up closer to get a better look and, just that quickly, they were trapped. They were hoisted into the air, flailing their fins and whipping their tails but they could not escape. Harold feared certain death as they struggled to breathe. The air drowning them with every moment that passed.
The creatures stuck them into containers of water and brought them here, to Lonely Pond. Just Harold, his mom and his two brothers, trapped in a prison they would never escape.
The two-legged creatures visited the pond daily, throwing yellow pellets or soggy grain into the water for Harold’s family to eat, but it wasn’t enough. Soon, the tiny pond became sick and his brothers and mother succumbed to the green death.
Now he floats aimlessly around the pond, waiting for the day he can go to the great lake in the ocean to rejoin his family.
He began today with his morning routine, slowly floating to the far end of the pond to wait for his daily rations but the creatures were late. Typical.
He began to swim to the shallow end of the pond to wait for his rations where it was warmer, when he noticed a shadow. It disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared so he kept swimming, when he saw the shadow a second time. This time, he saw its owner, a skyfin. It swooped, pumping its soft fins to maintain its height before landing on a log at the far side of the warm end. It cocked its head back and forth as it took Harold in, watching his every move.
Harold had no reason to be afraid. Skyfins were harmless at home, even kind, sometimes dropping worms into the lake for everyone to share.
He swam to the surface to get a better look. This skyfin was stunning. She had long, colorful limbs in cool shades of blue, purple and green. They were moss-like, covering her entire body. Her beak was a pale yellow, like the sun on an overcast day, and her head was splattered with various shades of orange and red, like a sunset. Her belly was stark black except for two streaks of white in perfect symmetry, dividing her body where her legs met her frame.
They gazed at one another for a long time. He was completely taken by her beauty and he suddenly felt like he was being removed from the lake all over again, breathless, without the flailing.
After what seemed to be an eternity, she gave him one last, long look and took off, flying into the sky over the pond. She soared into the tree line, stunningly apparent against the deep reds and yellows of the turned leaves, and then out of sight.
He spent the rest of the day searching the sky for her, waiting for her cool colors to return over the horizon. The sky soon turned purple, then pink then red and then there was only darkness. He fell asleep with a sunken heart and a bruised ego. Was he just imagining it or did she feel it too? The energy that flowed between them, like an earthquake.
He was up before the sun broke over the horizon, skimming the surface of the pond, searching the sky for any sign of her. He spent all morning looking, allowing his scraps of food to sink to the bottom of the pond. He was about to give up when he saw a shadow; her shadow! He bolted to the surface and waited for her to land on the log.
He swam right up to where she was sitting, where she seemed to be waiting for him. She dipped her beak towards the pond and stared at him again, bobbing her head back and forth, taking in every detail; his scales, his fins, his eyes. He was a bit on the colorful side as well, a rainbow of understated colors danced down the sides of his scales, the sun making them more vibrant and breathtaking.
This lasted for another eternity before she turned and took off again, heading in the same direction she had come from the day before.
This continued to happen. Every day for almost 10 days she would swoop down mid-morning, perch on her log and stare at him. Harold would stare back, holding her gaze in his, never wanting her to let go. But every day, she would fly away, stand out mercilessly against the ever-changing tree line, and disappear into the clouds.
On the tenth day, Harold decided he was going to do something about it. After she left for the night, Harold devised a plan to collect as many insects over night as he could and offer them to her in the morning. It was how he was taught to show affection at the lake. He spent all evening and well into the night collecting insects before drifting off to the sound of the crickets, feeling energized by the thought of presenting her with all of the insects he had collected for her.
After what felt like a long time, he woke in the darkness. The excitement of expressing how he feels about her must have woken him up before the dawn. He looked up to see the moon but it was only dark. Except it wasn’t dark, above him to the right was a small, red patch of light. To his left, a handful of yellow lights sprinkled their way across the pond. As he continued to look around, he noticed more and more red and yellow patches peppering the top of the pond, allowing in no light from the sun.
The leaves! What time was it!? He couldn’t tell. He only knew that he had to find an opening, let her know that he was still in there- that he was still waiting for her! He swam around the pond frantically looking for even a pinhole of a spot that would allow him to break through the leaves and see her but there was nothing. He attempted to push his way through areas he thought were less dense with leaves to no avail. He was stuck and there was nothing he could do.
What if she wouldn’t wait for him? What if she decided to never come back!?
He sank to the bottom of the pond and let his worst thoughts enter his mind. He would never see her again, would never get to take in her gaze or search for imperfections in her beautiful colors. She would never wait for him.
Suddenly, there was a poke, then a splash and a stream of light. Light! He swam to the hole just in time for another poke to connect with the top of his head, followed by a splash and an even bigger stream of light. He shook off the poke and swam back to the hole. He peeked through as an object made its way forcefully towards the leaves on the top of the pond. This time he ducked out of the way just in time and he caught a flash of yellow.
Was it her?
The hole was large enough for him to stick his head through now and he made his way to the surface. There she was! Waiting for him on her log, gazing at him over the leaves that had removed her ability to see him. She dipped her head towards him, in an apparent attempt to begin their staring contest again when he remembered the insects!
He swam to the bottom of the pond, collected the insects that were still left and then he made his way back to where she was sitting.
For a second, she looked confused by his sudden withdraw from her but changed her demeanor when she saw the insects he had brought with him to the surface. He offered them to her, using his tail to push them in her direction.
She looked from the insects to him and back again, and she laughed.
Harold was confused. Had he done something wrong?
With a smile spread across her beak, she bowed her head towards him again and opened it. Harold was puzzled for a moment until he noticed the worm safely nestled in the bottom of her beak.
He looked up at her and smiled. She flipped the worm into the air and he caught it in his mouth, finally feeling the happiness he had always longed for.