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Flash Fiction – The Gnarled Oak

It’s been a busy couple weeks. Life’s chugging right along and I’ve had a couple inconveniences lately – flat tire, someone broke into our van, doctor’s visits – so I’m grabbing my mantra by the horns and reminding myself that God is still on the throne.

“An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – G.K. Chesterton

My current light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of the Omaha Christian Writer’s Conference, which I’ll be attending this weekend. Bonus: I’m bringing my wife along with me! I’ve only ever been to Realm Makers and I’m really looking forward to listening to writers, authors, and editors. Check out the class offerings! I’m excited about seeing some Realmie friends, too!

To keep us all in a writing mood, I decided to post a flash story about an adventurous boy, who is inconvenienced by a missing dog.

The Gnarled Oak

By Josh R Smith

“Dad, I’m telling you. I really saw a badger! It had stripes on its tail and huge fangs!” Samuel Evans held his hands near his mouth, imitating the fangs of the monstrous creature he had seen. His dad laughed, and assured his son that badgers didn’t live in north east Missouri.

“I’ll give the conservationist a call in the morning, bud. We shouldn’t go out in the dark to look for it.” Walter Evans scratched at his arm. “It was probably just a raccoon. Mr Jones down the road told me they can get pretty big out here.” Walter kissed his head and gave him one last “good night, son” as he turned off the light and closed the door. Bebop, the family pug, was snoring at the edge of the bed.

“What do you say, Bebop? Should we see if we can catch that badger?” Samuel pulled back the covers, still dressed in his worn jeans and unlaced boots. Creeping to his closet, he grabbed his good flashlight. Bebop gave a loud snort at the noise. Samuel glanced out his window into the moonlight night. “It’s a full moon tonight! It’s now or never.”

Samuel turned to find his companion still snoring. “Get up, mutt!” He prodded the pudgy dog with the flashlight. “You’re my hunting dog tonight. You gotta be quiet though. None of that snorting and sniffing. We’re gonna hafta be quiet if we’re gonna catch that badger.” Bebop protested again with another snort, and leapt onto the floor with a thump.

Samuel crept silently past his parents’ door while his faithful beast romped beside him. The duo reached the kitchen without incident and Samuel set to gathering the dinner he hid under the table. “Here we go, Bebop. Bait!” The pug sniffed hungrily at the plate of ham and green beans. Leftovers in tow, the pair snuck out the back door.

Samuel grabbed the length of rope he’d stashed that afternoon, and bolted for the trees. The grass squished under his boots as he crossed the yard. The moonlight faded as they trekked further into the woods. Samuel held his flashlight out, searching for the gnarled oak where he’d seen the badger. An hour went by, but Samuel was too excited to stop. His friends would freak out when they’d seen what he’d caught. Bebop frolicked along beside his master, his pink tongue flopping out the side of his mouth.

Forcing his way through a bush filled with briars, Samuel burst into a clearing. The old tree stood tall in the center of the glade. “We made it, Bebop. Now be quiet and we’ll catch that badger.” Samuel crept closer to the tree, its branches twisting out in all directions. The bark was rotted in several places and at its base was a large dark hole.

Samuel edged closer and peered into the hole. Bebop found a clump grass to eat. Samuel emptied the contents of his uneaten dinner near the edge of the hole and tied a slipknot from the measure of rope. He placed the noose around the hole, careful not to fall in, and crept around the tree where he and Bebop could watch what came in and out of the hollow.

Time passed as the duo watched for their prey. The moon shone bright over the clearing, though an occasional stretch of fog marred the starlit sky. Samuel began to picture the looks on his friends’ faces the next day. He’d be the coolest kid in the fifth grade. “What do you think, Bebop. Does the president give medals for catching wild animals? Bebop?” Samuel turned his attention from the hollow in the tree, and realized his pug was no longer next to him.

Samuel stood and gazed around the clearing. He called out softly for Bebop, but was only rewarded with a gentle breeze and the thrum of his heartbeat in his ears. Samuel took a few steps, and listened for any sound of his pug. The leaves rustled on the nearby trees, and a patch of fog blacked out the moon.

“Bebop! Come on, buddy. I’ll give you some of the ham! Where are you?” His attempt at whispering had mostly failed. Realization settled in that he was far from home, and his parents had no idea he’d left. A gentle snort sounded on the other side of the gnarled oak, and Samuel almost clapped his hands with excitement as he rushed to collect his pug.

As Samuel rounded the tree, his feet stop moving of their own accord. The grass shone with a hint of red in the moonlight. A black paw lay on the ground, ending abruptly in a bleeding stump. Black and white fur was strewn around the tree. Among the carnage was Bebop’s blue collar. Samuel turned from the gruesome sight and threw up what dinner he had eaten.

Done with his retching, Samuel drew in deep breaths. His heart pounded and his mind raced. His knees felt weak and he began to tremble. He put his hand to the tree and braced himself against it. A twig snapped behind him, and Samuel froze. He felt for his pocket knife and turned to look at the sound.

As his eyes locked with the beast, his mind tried to process what he was looking at. Towering high, it was like a large man with a wolf’s head. The beast was covered from head to toe in grey fur. Its eyes were deep black and it held in its arms a snorting, and alive Bebop.

Samuel was petrified as the creature bent low and sniffed him. Samuel feared for what would come next. Surely that badger had only been an appetizer. “Go home, Samuel” the beast snarled. “If your mother hears you snuck out, you’ll be grounded for a month.”

Samuel’s fear turned to confusion. There was something familiar about this beast. He looked at the grey man-wolf’s eyes and a moment of clarity struck. “Dad?”

End

2 comments on “Flash Fiction – The Gnarled Oak

  1. Wow good twist.

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