2022 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 25
For today’s prompt, let’s write something that ends with a promise. It could be that a promise is made from one character to another or that your character promises themselves something or is promised something or even that a promise is broken.
Remember: As mentioned yesterday, these prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.
(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)
Here’s my attempt at ending on a promise:
No Promises, No Names
It’s been three days since Mika has gotten off the nest. The eggs are dead; that’s what Daddy thinks. The previous brood had done OK, but not this one.
Daddy chases Mika off with the old push broom that’s been on the farm longer than I’ve been alive. He holds her in the corner of the stall while I put all the dead eggs in a bucket. She hisses and rips at the broom bristles, and I feel bad for her, but she’ll stay on that nest ‘til she dies of dehydration if we don’t help her.
“You can have the eggs, Bobby,” Daddy says when we’re done. “Throw ‘em against a tree or something.”
Last summer, Daddy’d given me one of his old fishing vests, which I liked because it had a bunch of pockets. So, I take my sweet bologna sandwich and a little Tupperware of Granmama’s coleslaw and stick them in the vest before hauling the bucket through the west field and up in the woods near the mountain.
I’ve always liked the woods here. Daddy says there’s different kinds of woods depending on where you’re at, but I can’t believe any woods are better than ours. When I was little, I used to look at the mountains and imagine they were the folds of a big, thick blanket, or maybe the ridges on the back of a huge dragon.
I think I see the Green Man because I have such a good imagination. Not sure what else it could be. Granmama says our family sees what others don’t because we’ve been on the land so long, but Mama says that Granmama drinks too much and we shouldn’t listen to her when she talks about stuff from the Old Country.
“She never even lived there,” Mama says, rolling her eyes. “She’s just remembering stuff her granmama told her.”
He’s at the bottle tree again today. Granmama says that her daddy was the one who started it, and she’s too old to take the trip out to this part of the land anymore, so sometimes Daddy will bring some new bottles down to replace the ones that get cracked and to make sure the wood post doesn’t rot right through. After the first few times I saw him here, I asked Granmama why we keep it up, and she said it’s leftover from when the enslaved people were brought here—they brought the tradition from Africa to keep evil spirits from getting inside your house. Daddy says it’s just something we do to keep Granmama happy.
Anyway, Green Man’s crouched at the base of the bottle tree, rooting around in the grass with his dirty fingers. If you’d asked me what I thought a Green Man would look like, I probably would have said something about leaves and maybe fur, like a Bigfoot. But he mostly just looks like a scraggly old man with a scraggly beard and wild hair, naked and sometimes sunburned. But his teeth are real pointy and always a little bloody. I don’t know why.
“Heyo, Green Man,” I call out. “Got some eggs today.”
He’s grinning a little too wide when he lifts his head, his eyes beetle shell black and bright. When he speaks, it sounds like many people talking at once.
“Boy,” he says. “Thought you forgot about me.”
“Naw. Just been busy.” I set the bucket down gently a little ways from him, backing up to a nearby oak and taking a seat.
He moves quickly and on all fours like a bear, sniffing and sniffing while he pulls one of the eggs out. He puts it between those pointy teeth and bites down. I try to breathe through my nose, so I don’t smell the sour-sweet stench of eggs gone bad. He slurps out the raw parts and tosses in the shell after he swallows, heedless of the mess he’s making of his face and his hands.
“How’s your Granmama?” he asks after a while.
“OK.” I pull out my little jar of coleslaw and start scooping it out with the plastic spoon I keep in my pocket. “Doctors are still saying her memory is going, but she still whoops my butt at cards every night.”
The Green Man cackles. “And your Daddy?”
“Yeah, he’s OK. Thinking about maybe getting a bear hunting license this year.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him for you,” he says. “If you keep bringing me treats.”
I nod and he grins. If you want to know the truth, I think he’s just lonely. Most of the families don’t do too much with their mountain land anymore, and my friends prefer to stay inside or near the houses these days.
“Kelsey got accepted to Penn State,” I tell him. “So, looks like it’ll just be me in the house come fall.”
Green Man makes a face.
I laugh. “What’s that for?”
“Most families don’t raise up their young anymore like your folks did,” Green Man says. “No one wants to fight for the land anymore. Twenty years from now, there’ll be more developments and less farms. They’re already cutting down trees in Sugar Valley. We’ll be next.”
That’s news to me. I frown and watch him lick the last remnants of egg off his hands like a cat. He doesn’t seem upset but thinking about what he’s saying puts a hard knot in my stomach. I can’t imagine the valley changing that much, but at the same time, I can.
“I won’t ever leave.” I’m a little surprised by how fierce my voice comes out.
The Green Man barks, which I guess is his version of laughing. He turns the bucket over and taps the top of it in a weird, offbeat way.
“I’m gonna fight for the land,” I say. I stand up and glower at him, the knot in my stomach getting heavier.
“OK, boy,” the Green Man says graciously, shaking the bucket so it rattles. He’s always playing with the stuff I bring, like a little kid who can’t sit still.
I clench my fists, an idea taking over the landscape of my mind like a wildfire. “I’m serious! I swe—”
Suddenly, the Green Man is on me, his hand clamped against my mouth, pushing me back into the rough bark of the tree. His eyes are all I can see, fathomless pits framed by his wild, matted hair.
My breath feels frozen in my chest.
“No promises,” he snarls, his voice dark and warped, like a clap of thunder right outside your window and the long rumbles that echo from it. It hurts my ears to hear. “No names.”
His fingers dig into my cheeks, and he rattles my head a little for emphasis. He bares his teeth at me, growling like a bobcat. I’m more aware of my body than I’ve ever been before, how weak the muscles in my arms and legs are, the narrow splinters of my bones beneath. He could snap my neck between one heartbeat and the next, with my family none the wiser.
He’s gone just as quickly, crouched near the base of the bottle tree. He’s staring into the forest, eyes cast down, body hunched, limbs tucked in. A threat no more. After a moment, he rips up a handful of grass and starts fiddling with the long strands.
“I’m sorry,” I say, thin and winded.
Another little growl; he sounds grumpy. He glances over at me and away. “Keep your life, boy. No need to tie your fate to this place. It’s all just dirt, in the end.”
I watch as he reaches out and puts a little braided circle of grass onto the top of the bucket. After another glance at me, he’s gone.
It takes a while for my heart to slow. I have to convince my feet to move to the gift he’s left me. It’s lovely, the knots gentle and complicated. I rub my thumb across the edge of it before sliding it into my pocket and collecting the bucket.
I think about the power of names and promises as I make my way back to the farm. I think about the world—my world—getting smaller. From a distance, the farm is unchanged. The red pain on the barn is faded; the paddock fence is worn in places. In twenty more years, will any of it still be here? Or will it just be another parking lot?
I might not say it out loud, but I do make a promise then. No matter what, the Nash Homestead will still be here. I’d see to it.