Thursday 23 March 2023

Panther Meadows - Flash Fiction Story - by Terry Sanville

 



Panther Meadows


Flash Fiction Story

by Terry Sanville

 

In the late afternoon Lizzie tended the campfire, intense, like some white-coated laboratory technician studying bacteria under a microscope. I had amassed a huge pile of twigs, dead branches and pinecones, gathered from the dense forest next to our meadow campsite. She carefully selected each twig and laid it on the burning coals, the feng shui of fire building.

 The green grass, bright sun, and electric blue sky almost blinded us. I had tried trout fishing but gave it up, hypnotized by the braided stream that flowed resolutely across Panther Meadows. The water turned into coloured ribbons. It draped itself over stones and moved inexorably downslope between moss-covered banks toward the far-off valley floor to join the great Sacramento River. We had the place to ourselves.

For a few moments, everything turned rose-coloured. Mt. Shasta and Shastina, the tops of the fir trees, our naked bodies, all glowed in sunset. Then the grey set in and a cool fog out of nowhere rolled through the trees and smothered the meadow. I heard trout jumping in the stream, glad that I had left them alone to enjoy their evening feed, flashing silver in the dusk. I think Brautigan had been there years before. It felt like his kind of dream.

We checked each other’s bodies for ticks and other unwanted critters then made love on the blanket beside our fire, staying quiet, not wanting to destroy the peace, invite intrusive memories of city life, nor think about why we decided to camp in early March when snow patches still covered the shaded earth beneath the trees. We took our time. The fire crackled, the fog flowed over our bodies until everything beyond arms’ reach got lost.

“What now?” Lizzie asked, her eyes blazing rainbows.

“Food.”

“But you caught no trout.”

“Make something up. I’ll eat it.”

“All the stuff’s in the car,” she said.

“No, don’t go. The fog will take you away and you’ll drift forever.”

“You mean, like we are now?”

“Yes, sort of. But without me.”

“I can’t do that. Just let me think.”

“I thought we gave up thinking for Lent,” I said.

“I’m not Catholic. And I can’t turn it off.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Yes, you’re probably right.”

Lizzie kissed me, pushed herself up and dressed. She rummaged in her knapsack while I snoozed, dreaming of trout fishing the lakes and streams along the North Coast where they drained downslope into the ocean. She woke me with a gentle shake.

“Here, drink this.”

I took the cup. “What is it?”

“Mint tea mixed with dandelion wine.”

“I need food.”

“Wait just a minute, it’s coming.”

I sipped the hot brew, shaking my head to try and clear my sight. But everything looked like I stared through a kaleidoscope – Lizzie’s body divided into symmetrical patterns that pulsed in the firelight – scary at first but then becoming magnificently beautiful. She handed me a plate with something on it and I popped it into my mouth. The mystery food tasted like fried grasshoppers topped with melted jack cheese. Don’t ask me how I knew that. Not bad. I gobbled it down.

We sat by the fire and watched the fog slowly dissolve as the stars burned through, some so bright that it hurt to stare at them, so close that we could almost see their solar flares.

“Ah, Jeez, I forgot,” Lizzie cried and bolted to her feet.

“What? What?”

“The baby. I left Tina in the car.”

“No you didn’t, silly.”

“Well where is she? It’s time for her to nurse.”

“She’s back at home. Your sister is taking care of her, remember?”

“No, I don’t. I think you dreamed that.”

“Come here and lie with me. I’ll phone her in the morning. Did you bring the alarm?”

“Yes, it’s right here, set for dawn.”

We snuggled in my Sears and Roebuck sleeping bag, the one with the flannel duck-print lining. The fire burned low. Overhead, the heavens closed down, as if Morpheus drew his thick purple cloak across the sky. Everything became soft and comforting: the air, the ground, Lizzie’s body, the sweet meadow smell, the low calls of the night birds. Somewhere in the distance, a panther cried. Then nothing.

 

An infernal buzzing bore into my skull and wouldn’t let go. I swung my arm into space and knocked the alarm onto the floor. Wait! The floor?

Lizzie groaned and rolled over in bed. “I ain’t gettin’ up. Make your own breakfast.”

“What about Tina?”

“She can wait.”

From the other room the baby began to cry. Lizzie threw back the covers and stomped off, grumbling. I turned on the TV and watched the early news before getting depressed and turning it off. In the background, morning traffic on the 405 sounded like high surf rolling off the Pacific. I got up, dressed and downed corn flakes and coffee. Afterward, I sat on the edge of the bed and struggled to tie my shoes, my head still wrapped up in Panther Meadows and trout fishing.

Lizzie padded into the room, Tina burbling in her arms, breast-feeding. “You know, you’ve got that appointment with the DMV this afternoon.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah . . . and the dealership called. My car is out of warranty. It’ll cost us three grand to replace the catalytic converter.”

“Double shit. Enough already.”

Lizzie sat next to me, balancing the baby in one arm while massaging my back with the other. “You know, I’ve . . . been thinking.”

“What? Remember, we gave that up for Lent.”

“Maybe you did. I’m not Catholic. I was thinking that you’ve got plenty of time coming. We should go camping . . . just the two of us . . . leave Tina with my sister.”

I stared at Lizzie, could almost feel the crackle of the chilled mountain air, see the stream, the trout jumping at stoneflies.

“Screw work. I’ll call in.”

We couldn’t leave soon enough.


Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and two plump cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, and novels. His short stories have been accepted more than 500 times by journals, magazines, and anthologies including The American Writers Review,The Bryant Literary Review, and Shenandoah. He was nominated three times for Pushcart Prizes and once for inclusion in Best of the Net anthology. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist – who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.

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