Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Lelawala" (fiction)

Well, the winners were announced today in the Buffalo News's short story contest, and my winning streak has ended at one. Oh well...I can't even get angry at the winner, since it turns out that he and I both work for the same company, but mark my words: next year I shall crush all comers like half-rotted pistachio nuts! Even more sadly, my submission wasn't even chosen to be one of the five entries that are still alive for the "Reader's Choice" thing, but that's OK, since I've got a blog and I can therefore award my own tale the "Best Flash Fiction meeting the Requirements of the 2008 Contest Award EVER So Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It You Goobers" Award. Huzzah!


Anyway, here's my entry. The requirements were these: no longer than 600 words, the story must be set in Western NY, and must include a man, a woman, and "a job offer". My tale is based on the Native American legend of the Maid of the Mist. Enjoy. I rather like the way this one turned out; I gravitate toward ambiguous tales of magic.


Handing her a cup of tea, he asked: "You said you have a job for me?"

The old woman nodded. "A woodcarving project that my husband started just before he died."

He cocked an eyebrow. "I don't do much carving anymore," he said. "It's getting hard to hold a chisel." He rubbed his arthritic fingers.

"You carved that," she said, gesturing to the item on the mantelpiece behind her. "I saw it at the Fair last month. I knew when I saw it that you were the one for this job."

He lowered his head. "I didn't want to enter it at all. My son made me do it."

"I'm glad he did," she replied, approaching the figurine on the mantel. Eight inches long: a Native American woman in a white birch canoe. Intricate carvings of animals along the sides; her gaze turned upward into the sky...or beyond. "I doubt Lelawala had red hair," she said.

The man sighed. "Artistic license. She's only a legend."

She smiled. "Maybe not. My grandmother always claimed her as an ancestor." She glanced at the framed photograph next to the carving, a photograph of a red-haired girl. "But it is a likeness, isn't it?"

The old woman's eyes compelled an answer, and he nodded. "Yes."

"Your daughter?"


"She died?"

"Last February," he said. "It's been hard." He didn't mention that her middle name had been Lelawala, or that he and his wife had met on the Maid of the Mist.

The woman brushed away a tear. "I had a son, once." She ran a finger along the wooden boat's painted gunwales. "I want you to carve this. Just the canoe. I need it finished by the next first day of Spring."

"Why then?"

"Because it has to be then. Will you do it?"

"By Spring? That's six months--"

"I didn't mention that the canoe is life-size," she cut in.

He gaped. "Life size?"

"Can you do it?"

He swallowed. Again her eyes compelled him, and he nodded. She smiled and drained her teacup. "I will call you with the arrangements. Thank you."

After she was gone, he wondered why he agreed. He would wonder that often, all the rest of his years.


The six months he had were just enough. Finally on the first day of Spring he met her on Grand Island, at sunrise, amidst the swirling mists, at the edge of the water, as she had instructed. She was so much more frail now: the result of age and leukemia. He knew what was to happen now, of course. He'd long since figured that out.

"I can't stay," he said. "I can't watch."

Her only reply was to kiss him on the cheek, and then she climbed into the boat and began paddling away from shore. The current was slow at first, but it would become soon become inexorable. He stood there watching as the mists closed about her. At the very last, a beam of young sunlight shot through and made her hair appear as though fiery red.

"Lelawala!" he shouted, but no response came. The mists closed and she was gone.

There were few tourists on Goat Island that early. It was cold and foggy, and the water was still choked with winter ice. Some thought they saw a boat, but in the fog no one could be sure, save one German tourist whose camera caught a glimpse of a red-haired maiden in the mist, riding a canoe into the embrace of mighty Niagara, the thundering waters bringing her home.



Becky said...

I like it. It said a lot in few words. Not easy to do.

Aaron said...

Very nice.