A Short Story
© 2020 by Larry F. Sommers
Read Time: 16 minutes.
Below is the first draft of a story. You can help make it better by commenting on what you liked or what you didn’t. Feel free to make suggestions. How could the story be better?
PRISCILLA FLEW BEHIND SEAMUS, just above him, off to one side, safe and carefree. Her filoplumes, tiny feathers that tracked the angles of her plumage, signaled neither discord nor danger.
Everyone honked for joy, as usual in migration. Priscilla loved honking her way south beside Seamus, their offspring behind them, their friends all around them. Even more, she would love flying back home in spring to raise a new brood of fuzzy goslings. Seamus would be with her all the way, to father her chicks and guard them.
The long V of the squadron veered, flew lower, wheeled. They came down on a pond of water that had a broad field of grass beside it. Priscilla had been here before. It was a good place to rest. An open place, where you could see scary visitors when they were still far away. Scary animals, scary birds. Or monsters.
Priscilla feared monsters most. They walked on two feet like geese but had no feathers. They had long legs, ungainly bodies, gangling wings. Their call was not a proper honk but a garbled bellow. Priscilla had seen monsters many times and had always steered clear of them. It comforted her to know that Seamus and the other ganders kept lookout.
The squadron stayed at the pond three days, eating grass from the field and weeds they plucked with their beaks from under water. On the second day, monsters came near to throw rocks. Their featherless wings useless for flight, the monsters used them instead for mischief. They could pick up stones with their forked wingtips and hurl them great distances.
The geese near the rock-throwing monsters leapt into the air and honked.
Bigger monsters came then, twice as big as those that threw rocks. They bellowed. They shook their wings at the smaller monsters. The big monsters chased the little monsters away. When all the monsters had gone, the geese settled back down on the field and pond.
Priscilla was glad the rock throwing had ceased. It would be nice to stay another day or two. She wandered to the very edge of the field, where stood a thicket of woods.
Night was falling. Soon it would be dark.
Seamus honked suddenly, as loud as he could. Priscilla’s filoplumes prickled.
A red fox trotted out from the woods, his head low. Priscilla was nearer to the woods than any other goose. Seamus flew right past her and landed in front of the fox. He stretched out his neck and honked. Other ganders joined him. They all hopped forward, hissing. The fox turned tail and trotted back to the woods.
Priscilla stood spellbound as Seamus and the others drove off the fox. A dark form swooped into view above her. She honked out a scream.
Sharp claws jabbed her wing. A huge owl was trying to carry her off in its talons, to make her his dinner. She honked and beat her wings as hard as she could.
Seamus heard Priscilla’s screams. He flew straight at the owl, who struggled to lift Priscilla off the ground. Seamus crashed into the owl, pecked with his bill, and beat with his wings.
Priscilla was pulled off the ground. The strong talons squeezed her wing. Something broke, her wing jolted. Help! she honked.
Other ganders joined Seamus, bashed at the owl.
The owl opened his fist and flew off, chased by honking ganders.
Priscilla fell to the ground, crying.
Seamus landed beside her. He touched her hurt wing with his beak. Then he huddled next to her to keep her warm while she shivered from fright and pain. The two of them hunkered in the field, beside the pond, away from the fox’s woods. Seamus kept a sharp watch on sky and ground all night long.
The next day, Schuyler, the squadron commander, said it was time to fly south again. When the sun sank low, Schuyler took off from the pond. A hundred geese rose with him.
Priscilla was not in the squadron as it circled over the pond, ready to fly south. She could not fly. She lifted her head with longing as her friends stretched out their wings, formed a long V, and departed.
Seamus remained on the ground beside Priscilla. He stayed to guard and protect her.
The squadron had left them lonely.
And in peril. Seamus did not stray far from Priscilla’s side. He stood sentinel, his white chin strap sweeping both ways as his head swiveled to scan field, pond, and sky.
If the fox came back, it would be hard for the two of them to fight him off.
What if the monsters came again? That could be even worse, because monsters were bigger than foxes or owls, and they could throw things. The thought made her filoplumes itch.
As one day led to another, Priscilla could only walk around the field, her limp wing trailing on the ground. When she swam in the pond, it was better. The water held the wing up nearer her body, where it hurt less.
She ate grass and weeds, but still she got weaker. Seamus brought her food. He gave her a shiny, wiggly thing that he caught in the water. She gobbled it down.
But the air was colder. The ground was colder. The water was colder; at the pond’s edge, it turned to ice. What would they do when the whole pond froze over? How would they get through the winter with all their friends away in the south?
A lone monster loitered one day by the fox’s woods. Seamus stood erect, alert, his head level at the top of his long neck. He honked.
The monster frowned and watched the two of them. Then it took a scary black thing in its wingtips. It held the black thing before its eyes. Priscilla shivered.
Seamus honked again, twice, and took a step forward. The monster slouched away.
The next day, Priscilla weakened. She could not get up to drag her broken wing over the ground. Seamus brought weeds from under the pond. He laid them on the ground near her beak and made a hopeful noise. Eat.
She did not feel like eating, but she tried.
More monsters showed up. A gaggle of monsters came into the field from all sides. Priscilla and Seamus were alone in the field. They knew who the monsters were after.
Priscilla struggled to her feet and stumbled toward the water. It was her only way to flee the monsters, since she could not fly. Seamus stretched out his neck, bobbed his head up and down. He ran back and forth from one monster to another, honking, hissing, beating his wings. But the monsters kept coming on.
Priscilla collapsed. A monster threw something large over Seamus. A moment later, Priscilla’s world went dark.
She felt herself lifted, then dropped into a small, dark space. She tried to move, but walls enclosed her. She was bumped. She heard a strange sound and felt more bumping.
She heard a gander’s honk. She knew it came from Seamus. He did not sound happy, but it made her happy just to hear his voice.
After more bumps and swaying, light chased the dark away. Priscilla blinked and saw a monster in front of her. She honked in terror. She had never been so near one of them.
It squeezed Priscilla with its wings. Pain shot through her injured wing. The monster lifted her out of the small, dark space into a bigger place. Roomier—but it was still a monster place under a monstrous sky—a sky of white, full of small black dots. Parts of this monster sky held strong lights, like little suns but not so bright.
Two monsters stood her up between them on hard, shiny ground. The monsters bellowed at each other. Priscilla quaked.
One monster reached out its wingtip to torment Priscilla’s broken wing while the other one held her still, throttling her neck just below her white chinstrap. She saw that the tips of their wings forked into many branches that could move together or apart to hold things. The monster holding her bad wing wiggled it, moved it this way and that. The pain was intense, but it went away when Priscilla fainted.
When she awoke, she was tied up. But the monsters had made a poor job of it. She found she could stand and move around. Her bonds only trapped the one bad wing. Priscilla smiled to herself. The monsters’ cruelty had actually made her feel better, because the bound wing now clung to her body and did not drag on the ground.
They picked her up and carried her to another place that had a different kind of monster sky. They put her down on a bed of soft straw. But Priscilla paid scant attention to that, because Seamus was there.
The two geese came together neck to neck. Seamus wiggled for joy, and Priscilla did too. The monsters left to do their dark deeds. By evil magic, the light left at the same moment the monsters left.
Priscilla did not care. She did not need light. She snuggled up by Seamus and went to sleep.
The light came again, bringing the monsters with it. Priscilla and Seamus honked at them. The monsters bellowed back at them, but Priscilla thought that in this case they bellowed just for show. By honking, Seamus and Priscilla had shamed the monsters into bringing food. They left corn and wheat on the ground, then went away again.
Priscilla and Seamus ate. They had earned this meal by standing up to the monsters.
Priscilla heard a splash. Turning her head, she saw Seamus swimming. Even though this prison field was not very big, it had a small pond. Seamus and Priscilla ducked their heads under the water but found no delicious weeds. Of course. The monsters had made this pond as a place of torment. But the chance to swim pleased Priscilla.
One day followed another. Sometimes the monsters took Seamus and Priscilla to a different field, a big one with fresh air, sunshine, and a normal sky of blue. But the air was cold, and there was snow on the ground. When the monsters chased them back into the smaller monster field, Priscilla grieved the loss of open air, but at least she felt warmer.
The days piled on each other. The monsters sometimes untied Priscilla’s bad wing, but then after they looked at it they tied it up again. After many times, they seemed to give up on the idea of binding her wing at all. Priscilla stretched both wings for the first time in ages.
But now, just when Priscilla had regained the use of both wings, the monsters no longer took the pair of geese to the place with the open blue sky. They kept them under one of their monster skies all the time.
Priscilla began to lose hope that she would ever see the blue sky again. She would never fly through that sky in a squadron of geese, never reach home, never raise a new batch of downy goslings. Why even try to eat the grain the monsters brought?
Seamus waddled around their little field, looking up at the strange, bumpy sky in this monster place as if he hoped to see a V of homeward-bound geese. But this bumpy sky could not hold such a thing.
One day, when the monsters came, Priscilla’s feathers stiffened in alarm. Something was amiss.
The monsters chased Priscilla and Seamus around their small field, drove them into a corner, and grabbed them with their hideous unfeathered wings. They stuffed the geese into small places, like before—separate small places for Priscilla and Seamus.
But these places did not seem so dark as before. Priscilla could see out in front. She stuck her beak out, but something stopped it. Something thin and cold, with square spaces between. Still, she could see. Maybe she could see a way to escape.
The monsters lifted the geese in their small places and put them down on something. Then came strange noises and a lot of bumping. Then they were lifted back down.
Priscilla peered out and knew where she was.
It was the pond with the field beside it and the fox’s woods. The place where the monsters had seized them so long ago. Blue sky above the pond. Warm air filled with sunshine. And all over the field—geese.
Priscilla must act. At last, a chance to escape the monsters. She flapped her wings and honked like mad. Seamus, from his small place, did the same.
Their raucous protest must have confused the monsters, because the thin, cold grid in front of her swung outward, and then nothing blocked her from the sky.
Priscilla burst out, all fury. The monsters bellowed, but she flew right past them.
Seamus broke out too.
They flew away from the monsters and landed among a hundred geese who waddled around the field. They looked for friends, listened for voices they knew.
But they saw none, heard none. They did not know this squadron.
Strange ganders approached, necks coiled, heads low, and hissed at them.
Then Seamus raised his head and swiveled it around. Priscilla scanned the sky. She heard a far-away honking, one which included their friends’ voices. She heard a clear call from Schuyler.
Their own squadron came and circled the pond. Priscilla leapt upward and climbed the air toward the squadron, honking in joy. Seamus flew just behind her.
Schuyler! called Seamus.
Schuyler honked a return greeting.
Their friends opened a space on one side of the V. Seamus and Priscilla claimed it. With the field and pond occupied by another squadron, Schuyler gave the command to fly on to the next rest area. Priscilla followed right behind him.
Priscilla’s heart raced as she rose with her friends to cruising altitude. All foxes, owls and monsters defeated, she was back where she belonged, headed with Seamus for their northern home and a new brood of fuzzy goslings.
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Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)