Published on Dec 01, 2019 in Short Story Sunday
I’ve always had a passion for writing fiction, but I rarely make time to do it. To remedy this issue, each Sunday I’m setting the goal of writing a short story as my daily blog post. Here’s the first one…
Poppy popped his head up, pricking his ears. He’d heard a sound. The young man turned his nimble neck, scanning his surroundings. Waves crashed into the white-sand beach beyond the palm tree he was readying to climb. A gentle breeze pattered the leaves of the forrest. Neither of these were what Poppy heard, though. It was more direct. There was intention.
The midday sun beat down through the trees onto Poppy’s shoulders. It felt nice, but he craved the sweet milk of the coconut teasing him mere feet above his head. Just as Poppy wrapped his hands back around the coarse palm tree trunk, he heard the noise again and froze.
“You look flustered,” squawked a voice.
It was coming from behind him. Poppy flung his head around, worried he’d miss it again.
“That coconut is quite high up there, isn’t it? And so much work for just a few sips of slightly sweet water,” said the voice.
Poppy moved his eyes up and down the creature, trying to make sense of what he saw. The voice was coming from a parrot. The bird’s feathers were red as blood with a few obsidian-black streaks down his sides. He moved his beak as he talked, reflecting the sun’s light in Poppy’s eyes. It was bright. This bird didn’t have a normal beak, it was made of gold. He should respond. It would be rude to ignore this divine creature.
“I do wish they were easier to get,” replied Poppy, “but the milk is sweet and delicious.”
“Ah, I see what’s going on,” said the bird.
“What do you mean?” asked Poppy.
“Well it’s just that coconuts aren’t that sweet. Not if you’ve had a mango or pineapple.”
“What are those?”
“They’re the sweetest, juiciest fruits around! You’d love them!” declared the parrot.
“That sounds great,” said the young man, “where can I find one?”
“Oh, you can come with me! Just beyond those mountains is a valley filled with mangos and pineapples!”
Poppy turn to look back towards camp. His family was starting a fire. It looked like they had managed to kill a boar. Poppy hated boar. It’s all they ever ate. And he couldn’t stand the thought of sitting around the fire for yet another night, watching the stars go round and round while he stood still.
“Ok,” Poppy replied, “but it’s not too far? I’d like to be back in a day or two.”
“Oh, no no. Not too far. Just over those mountains. I’ll show you the way!” he said, flapping his wings and taking off.
Poppy gave one quick glance back towards his home, then set his feet into a sprint to keep up with the bird.
Poppy and the parrot traveled all day, hacking through the forrest. Then the earth steepened, and he knew he was climbing one of the mountains the bird had pointed towards. It was the furthest Poppy had ever been from home. He felt free.
The next day Poppy and the bird reached the crest of the mountain. He expected to look over the other side and see a giant field full of ripening fruit. Instead, he saw more mountains. These ones quite a bit taller than what they’d just climbed.
The bird flew on, never giving Poppy a chance to question him. The next day passed and they again made it to the top of the mountains they’d set their sights on. And yet again, Poppy was greeted with disappointment. Giant snow-capped peaks lay beyond.
Poppy thought about turning back. But he’d come so far already. Surly these must be the end of the mountains. They can’t get much higher than this.
For six days Poppy followed the bird up steep, icy cliffs, and then back down giant glaciers. On the seventh day, Poppy had become furious with the bird. He waved the parrot over, but instead of coming to him, it sat on a rock at the top of the current mountain they were summiting.
Poppy climbed with vigor, ready to give the bird a piece of his mind. When he reached the pass between two ragged peaks, the bird squawked, “Just like I promised you, more fruit that you’ll ever need!” Poppy looked down the mountain and confirmed the bird was telling the truth. Without replying, Poppy ran towards his loot.
“Goodbye,” said the parrot.
Poppy didn’t bother to reply.
When he reached the fertile valley, mango trees greeted him in all directions. He pulled one off a low-hanging branch and bit into it’s tender flesh. This is heaven, thought Poppy.
“The mangos are good,” declared a voice.
“Go away, parrot. You said this valley was close. We’ve been gone a week!” yelled Poppy, staring back over the mountains. He knew which way his home was, but it would be hard to get back quickly without the parrot.”
“We’ll that’s a rude way to speak to someone you’ve never met,” said the voice.
Poppy turned his head and saw a panther. His eyes were red and his coat black as coal. Tick. Tick. The giant cat tapped his claws onto a rock. Poppy noticed they were made of gold, just like the bird’s beak.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
“No worries, young one. The parrot sent me. He said you needed guidance. This valley is full of fruit, but you’re a young man. And you’ve been climbing up and down mountains for the better part of a week. What you need is meat. And I’ve got good news for you. Down the river and through the forrest lie a plain with grass as tall as you are. Bison roam the lands. They are ten times the size of a boar and taste twice as good. Follow me and I’ll show you the way,” said the panther, turning and breaking into a sleek trot before Poppy could reply.
Poppy wanted to go home, but he also wanted meat. The cat was right, he needed something with more sustenance than fruit. The black panther was almost out of sight and showed no signs of slowing down. Poppy had to make a choice. The parrot had told the truth about the fruit. There was no reason to think the panther would lie to him.
So he set off following the giant cat. He followed him for days. And then weeks. The river bent left and right, meandering through the thinning forrest each day. Poppy thought about turning back, but he’d have no idea which way to go. He needed the panther to help him get back home, and he knew the panther wouldn’t stop until they reached the plains.
After three weeks, the trees gave way to giant fields of grass, herds of Bison stampeding over the rolling hills. Poppy thought the panther would stop, but instead it lept into a sprint and tackled one of the bison by the throat, suffocating it until its limbs went still. When poppy reached the kill, there was a fire made and ready to cook the fresh bison meat, but the panther was nowhere to be seen.
He enjoyed the meat for several days, sticking to his lonely campfire. There was hardly anything to see in any direction. He had no idea which way home was anymore. He thought the panther would come back, but he didn’t. A few days passed and Poppy had eaten as much meat as he fit in his stomach before it went bad. He chose a direction and started walking. Days passed. He grew hungry.
A week later Poppy was still wondering through the fields, his stomach roaring with anger. The sun was falling towards the horizon. It would be dark again soon and he’d hardly found anything to eat that day. Then out of nowhere, a fox burst through the grass.
“You look hungry,” said the fox.
Poppy noticed that his teeth were gold, just like the parrot’s beak and the panther’s claws.
“Take me back home!” demanded Poppy.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know where your home is,” said the fox, “but I do know where yams grow. Have you ever had yams?”
“I haven’t, but I don’t care. I just want to go home.”
“Oh, yams are delicious! And the best part is that they last for months! They don’t spoil like meat. Follow me and I’ll show you where they are!” said the fox, bounding into a playful canter.
Poppy knew better than to follow the fox, but he needed food. There was nothing in this plain except bison. And he couldn’t kill one on his own.
So he followed the fox. They went over endless rolling hills, then through hot, dusty canyons. Weeks passed. Then months. Poppy survived off bugs and grass. One day they came over a hill and Poppy saw a pine forrest beyond.
He followed the fox to the edge of the forrest, where they stopped. An eagle was waiting, his golden talons blaring in the light.
“I’m afraid I’ve lost my way,” said the fox, “but this eagle is my friend. Follow him and he’ll show you where you can catch more salmon than you’d ever imagine!” And with that both the eagle and fox set off in opposite directions. Poppy didn’t know who to follow. The fox had lied to him, so he followed the eagle.
They too traveled for weeks through mountains and valleys full of ponderosa pine. One day they reached a frigid beach where a river met the sea.
“I can’t believe it. We’ve missed the salmon run,” said the eagle, “I feel terrible. I didn’t think you’d be so slow.”
Poppy was speachless. As the eagle continued rambling apologies, a white bear crept out of the bush and crossed the river greeting them with a roar. He could barely make out the bear’s figure in the twilit sky.
“Don’t be alarmed,” said the eagle, “this is my friend. He’s going to take you north where you can hunt seals all year! No more worrying about missing the salmon run!”
Poppy didn’t care anymore. He followed the bear. He didn’t have much of a choice.
They braved windy tundras and multi-day storms. A few weeks later they came to the edge of the world. The bear ran out onto the ice and Poppy lost sight of him. The sun was fully set now. It was too difficult to keep track of the polar bear on the white ice in the dark.
Poppy stood motionless, the icy breeze biting at every inch of his skin. He expected some new creature to appear and guide his way, but none came. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know where to go.