Third Place Winner in the SiN Short Story Contest

Hello again faithful readers!

We’re excited to share with you the final entry of our top three short story contest entries.
Congratulations to Virginia Funk. Thanks to Virginia, the other winners and to each of you who entered. We appreciate that each of you took the time to enter. Keep writing.

For now, here’s Virginia’s story. Read on…

Harold’s Amazing Flight

By Virginia Funk

Harold woke up early. He could not contain his excitement. Today was the day he had been waiting for. He was finally going to be able to try his wings; because this was the day he would be leaving the comfort of home and venture out into the big, wide
World. He was going all by himself. Well, not entirely. One of his friends promised to help him.
Living at the edge of the forest, and from his vantage point, he was able to see the broad vista of land before him, stretching endlessly to the far horizon. He used to watch the sun go down at night, disappearing in a final blaze into the abyss in the distance, and the moon, a cool silver slice, standing out clearly against the dark sky. And then the moon, growing into an ever-larger slice, until it became a complete, round sphere, dominating the tiny stars that surrounded it. This endless cycle repeated itself over and over, and he knew many others, like him, were watching it too, at different times, all over the world.
Harold’s dad could not understand his son’s anxiety to get going. He fondly called Harold “his little seed” and wanted him to stay with the family there at the edge of the forest, and to grow big and strong. They had made a lot of friends there, many who had lived in that area for hundreds of years.
But, here it was, October; autumn, and the timing was right for Harold to leave.
It was a perfect day. The sun was shining. It was chilly and a gusty wind was blowing.
You see Harold was a two-winged “samara”. It is more popularly known as a key from the maple tree. His wings were only about half an inch in length, but the wings could spin like the blades of a helicopter. He was dying to try them out. Before he put his roots down, he wanted so badly to experience different things.
His dad had lived in this forest for over sixty years and was one of the tallest around. He was at least forty feet tall. He liked to tell Harold that he had a relative in Scotland who reached a height of fifty-five feet, and who was three hundred and two years old. There was also a cousin, a sugar maple, who lived in Massachusetts who was one hundred and thirty feet tall.
He told Harold to be proud of his heritage because back in 1700 the maple tree became the national symbol of Canada. An anthem called The Maple Leaf Forever was written before that, and also the flag was designed with the maple leaf motif.
Of course he liked to hear these stories, but he had things to do, and places to go.
It was no fun staying in one place all the time when there was a great, big world out there just waiting.
Suddenly, Harold heard his name being called. “Haarroold, are you ready?” came the voice. It was his friend, Zephyrus, the west wind. “Yes, very ready answered Harold. And with that, a mighty gust blew Harold from his bough and off he flew.
“Good-bye Dad, Mom, everybody, Wish me luck.”
He spun and twirled, sailing above ground for a great distance. He exulted in the feel of the wind under his wings. “Wow, he thought, this is great. World, here I come.”
He felt a slight bump, and knew he had hit the ground, but before he could figure out where he was, along came Zephyrus, who lifted him high again, and off he twirled passing fields and farms.
Suddenly, the wind died down and he gently spun downward. He could see water beneath him. “Oh, oh, he worried, what happens now.”
He landed on a large, maple leaf. “Hey, Harold, thought you needed some transportation.” It happened to be one of his neighbors who explained Zephyrus had blown him from the tree along with Harold to help him on his journey.
“Boy, am I glad to see you, Larry.” “Just relax, Harold, the current is carrying us along very nicely. Enjoy the ride.”
They moved along quickly. Harold could see the bottom with rocks, and small minnows swimming beneath him. He could see cows and horses grazing in the fields and it was all so wonderful. He wasn’t even afraid.
Suddenly, everything turned upside down. He felt himself being lifted into the air in some kind of contraption, along with Larry and some minnows. Then he felt himself tumbling into some dark place with a hard floor and a bit of water. He heard voices.
“I think I have enough minnows now for our fishing trip.
That was a good net. Let’s go and tell my dad so we can get going.” He was jostled and bumping about for about fifteen minutes. “Hey, Dad, came the disembodied voice, here’s some more minnows. I’ll dump them into your box.” First, I’ll clean out these leaves and dirt, and with that Harold felt himself thrown into some bushes. The voices died away and there he was tangled in some prickly branches. Looking around he noticed these spiky, football shaped things, on the plants. He didn’t know they were called Cockleburs. They hurt because they had stiff, hooked spines, and one was stuck on his wing.
While he was trying to figure what to do next, a large, dark figure appeared close to him. It was some kind of animal. He recognized that it was a moose as he had often seen them wandering beneath the trees in the forest. As the moose charged past, Harold was suddenly ripped from the bush and found himself clinging to the moose’s flank. The burr, with Harold stuck to it was now firmly stuck on the moose’s hair.
“Hey, Mr. Moose, he hollered. Let me off. Stop running.” The large animal did stop, looked around and couldn’t figure where the voice was coming from. “Over here, by your right leg. My name is Harold, the maple seed, and I’m stuck on a bur which is stuck to you.” “Well, Harold, you can call me Morris, but I do not have time right now to think of how I’ll get you off. Besides I’m hungry, so you’ll have to come along for the ride while I find some juicy willow or birch twigs to eat. Keep your eye out for wolves or bears. They’re our worst enemies.
For the next few days, he was an unwilling passenger as the big animal ran, walked, and rooted for food. Actually, he had to admit it wasn’t too bad as he was getting to see some of the country, and Morris explained where he was going at all times.
Suddenly there was a loud explosion very close to him. He felt a vibration on his wing tip as an object or projectile hit with a thunk. Morris suddenly fell to the ground.
“I got him, I got him, came an excited voice. Over here, yelled the man. Soon there were three other men circled around, all talking at once.
“Congratulations, Greg, good shooting.” Stay here while we get the ropes.”
The next few hours were a blur to Harold, as the men tied, then dragged the moose through the woods until they came to their camp. He knew the men were hunters as his father had told him about this “fall” ritual known as hunting. With much grunting and groaning, the moose was hoisted up and tied to a large tree limb, with the body dangling a few feet above the ground.
There was much hilarity among the men as the story of their conquest was told over and over again.
Harold was shaking at the thought of how close the bullet had come to blowing him to bits. He also felt very sad about Morris. It was his first experience with death.
The next morning, after a very long, anxious night, Harold heard the men’s voices again. “Okay, Greg, since it was your kill, you get to do the honors.”
He saw Greg come close to the moose, with a huge, sharp knife in his hands. The knife swooped by Harold’s wing, which scared him to death, and suddenly there was a ripping sound. The man had ripped a large piece of the skin off the moose and flung it to the ground. Harold was on that piece when it landed with a force that knocked him off the burr. He lay quivering on the forest floor.
“Okay, Greg said. I’m not going to skin all of it. Let’s get this beast on the back of the truck. The butcher can do the rest.
They went back to their camp site, got the truck, lowered the moose from the tree onto the back box of the vehicle, piled into the truck and off they went.
The silence was profound but very welcome.
“Now what,” thought Harold? He suddenly wished he were back with his family in the security of his father’s arms, with all the other leaves.
The day passed and dusk crept in. In the semi gloom, he glanced about rather fearfully. What was that light in the distance? It seemed to be getting brighter. He could hear rustling, sighing and cracking sounds. It also appeared as though little lights were bouncing in the air. To his horror, he saw the light travel up a tree trunk, and with a sick, trembling stomach knew what he was witnessing. It was Fire, the worst nightmare a forest could experience. His father told tales of many trees dying in the past, from careless campers not extinguishing their campfires properly. He said that humans, 58%, caused the majority of forest fires.
“Is this what is going to happen to me? Is this my destiny?” All his dreams were over he realized sadly.
He would be brave. He would stoically wait his end. The sky turned black as night fell, but the glimmering, dancing flames, lit up the area to his left. The sound of cracking tree limbs, and whole trees falling, blackened and charred, as they met their end assailed his ears. Night creatures and small animals raced by him trying to escape the inferno.
“Why am I still alive?” Although he could feel the heat, the flames did not seem to be advancing his way. It finally dawned on him. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction. Could it possibly be that Zephyrus came to help him? Or maybe it was Erus, the east wind, Zephyrus’s brother. Harold was confused as to what wind was blowing, but knew if it was Erus, there was a good chance it might rain, because everyone knew the east wind brought warmth and rain.
A loud, screeching noise split the air above his head. He looked up to see a helicopter circling the area. It flew lower. Ropes were lowered and men began to rappel themselves to the ground. They had axes, pumps, and other equipment to try and contain the blaze.
They worked feverishly, cutting smaller saplings, and clearing brush, which would only fuel the fire.
Hours passed and a great roar of jubilation arose from the crew when rain began to fall.
“This will help, along with the water bombers. I think we caught this in time. Here comes the helicopter again with some fresh men. My team will take a break,” and with that the leader began to walk toward the plane. He stepped on the moist ground, where Harold was lying. His boots picked up mud and debris, which stuck to his deep cleats, and Harold found himself wedged deeply in one of the wide spaces of the boot.
A short time later, Harold was in the helicopter stuck tightly in the mud caked on the sole of the fireman’s boot. He certainly always wanted to have a ride in this kind of plane or any kind of plane, however he did not dream it would be in this unorthodox manner.
They landed at the base, and upon alighting from the plane, the leader continued on to the lot where his van was parked. Jumping in he drove quickly to the highway.
Eventually he turned into a driveway and stopped at a neat, framed house.
“Hi,” he hollered as he went into the house. Two children bounded out from the living room and threw themselves at him. “Dad, did you put out the fire?” “Not yet, but it won’t be long now. It’s raining and we got there at the right time. Let me get these dirty boots off. He undid the laces and removed the boots. Walking out the door to the porch, he leaned over and clapped the soles together to loosen the dirt.
Harold was dislodged and landed under a tree. He couldn’t believe it. It was a maple tree and there were very many keys and leaves lying on the ground.
“Oh, I’m so glad to see you guys. “Hi, they all said in unison. Where are you from?” So, for the rest of the night he told them about his adventure and made many new friends.
The next day, the two children came out of the house, armed with rakes and began to pull all the leaves into a pile. The girl, who was around ten years old, bent down and picked up a couple of keys, one which was Harold, and a couple of brightly colored maple leaves and put them in her pocket. “Before we get rid of all these leaves I picked out some for my homework tonight. I have to do a project for school on the different kinds of trees. I already have some oak, willow, apple and some I don’t know the name of but Mom or Dad will help me.
“It’s lunchtime,” their mother called, so dropping their rakes they ran into the house.
“Look, Mom, I found some more leaves,” which she removed from her pocket and dumped into a bowl with an assortment of leaves, cones and berries.
“What do you think she’s going to do with us?” said the oak leaf. “I don’t know what else could happen,” answered Harold. There was much muttering and murmuring in the bowl, but they were all going to find out very shortly.
The little girl dumped the contents onto the kitchen table and one by one; she placed them carefully on the paper, nicely spaced and proceeded to tape the leaves to the page. Harold found himself tightly stuck to the page with a piece of scotch tape across his chest. She printed the names of each underneath. Under Harold she wrote, as told to her by her mother; double-winged fruit from the maple tree – function – to grow into a maple tree.
The teacher was very pleased with Olivia’s work and gave her an A and all the students wanted to touch Harold’s wings and seeds.
“Mommy, asked Olivia at dinner that night, can I bring my paper when we go to Grandma’s house? I want to show her my A.” “Yes, it won’t take up that much room in the suitcase, her mother answered.
They were leaving on the weekend, and Olivia insisted on keeping her precious paper with her in her carry-on case on the plane, in case they lost their luggage.
Her grandparents lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she had not seen them in a very long time.
The day finally arrived, and off the family went to board the plane.
Harold’s head was sticking out of Olivia’s case as she had so many papers, coloring books, and crayons, the papers couldn’t all fit nicely. His eyes widened at the sight of the huge jet plane they were going to be on. This is so exciting, he thought.
The flight went smoothly. He nodded off, along with Olivia, at one point. I sure couldn’t have flown all this way by myself, he mused.
They were soon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and everyone went to bed early because they were all tired from jet lag because of the difference in time.
After exclaiming over Olivia’s A, grandpa said. “I know what would be a good idea for one of our sight-seeing trips. We’ll all go to the city of Stirling. It’s only about an hour north of here. We’ll go and see the most famous maple tree in the world. It is fifty-five feet high and three hundred and two years old. “I’m going to bring my paper too”, exulted Olivia. Harold could not believe his luck. His father had told him this story, and here he was, going to be able to visit a relative too.
A few days later, off they all went and soon they were standing admiring the most beautiful Maple tree in the whole world. The diameter of the tree was four feet, just huge. It took Olivia many steps to walk around it. “And, said Grandpa, its head is forty-three feet across.”
“Hello, there, yelled Harold. I’ve come from America, far away from here. I’m related to you.” “Well, welcome, my young seed,” answered the giant. For the next fifteen minutes they had a wonderful conversation. Of course, the family could not understand. They didn’t know that the sound of rustling leaves was actually the way trees communicated.
While in Scotland he got to see churches and castles. He also had a train ride, so he experienced many new things.
When they got home to Canada, Harold was placed on a bookcase shelf in Olivia’s room with many other papers, and promptly forgotten. It’s a good thing he had the other leaves on the page to talk to, but naturally he wondered what would become of him.
He languished on the shelf for a couple of months. But one day the cleaning woman took the pile of papers and asked Olivia’s mother what she should do with them, as there was hardly any room on the shelf anymore. Distractedly, Olivia’s mom said to throw them in the garbage, not realizing that the A paper was among them.
The garbage was picked up by the truck the next day, and Arthur found himself sitting on a pile of refuse where he had been dumped along with the garbage of the whole neighborhood.
“How demeaning this is,” he said to the maple leaf stuck next to him on the paper.
“Yes, she said, and I hope I won’t dirty my beautiful, red sweater”, as she was from the Scarlet Maple. She knew few could vie with her blazing color and beauty.
It began to rain and soon the ground was soaked. The papers became sodden, and the scotch tape, which had imprisoned Harold, lost its adhesiveness and he was suddenly free from his restraints. A strong wind swept in from the North blowing debris helter, skelter. The current lifted Harold up into the heavy, leaden sky and he was twirling, twisting and tumbling in the wind. He gloried in the feeling of freedom and just allowed himself to be carried wherever.
On and on he flew over the countryside until the wind seemed to run out of steam, and Harold slowly drifted down until he landed on a grate on the ground. A slight eddy of wind pushed him into the slot of the grate. Down, down, down he tumbled coming to rest on a very damp surface. It was very dark and also smelly. He could hear the trickle of water nearby.
When his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could make out shiny, wet walls that seemed to be rounded. He must be in a tunnel of some sort. There were bits of paper, grass, leaves and all sorts of debris around him. He prayed there were no moles down there, as they liked to eat the seeds of the maple.
He started in fright as he imagined there were glowing eyes all around him. “O, no, he whispered to himself. They’re moving. It’s not my imagination.” And they’re coming toward me.” A dark shape loomed up in front of him. The apparition squeaked. Harold felt something cold touch him. He stayed as still as he could, the hairs on the back of his neck standing straight up. He shut his eyes tight and prayed, “please, please go away.” He felt his body being moved and heard a sniffing sound. He peered out from under his eyelids. The dark shape was a huge, black sewer rat. The rat rolled him about with his nose, and then in disgust, turned and scampered off when it turned out that Harold was not something that appealed to him as food.
Harold expelled a huge sigh of relief, but it was short lived, as his body was moving down the tunnel, carried by a rush of water that had gushed down from the grate.
He, along with the other flotsam and jetsam around him floated rather quickly down a path that twisted and turned, The darkness was pierced every now and then by light which filtered down the grates from streetlights above.
He seemed to float for miles, when suddenly there was a blinding light, and a great swooshing sound. Out he flew into the daylight. He had come to the end of the sewer that emptied into the river. Now he had an even bigger worry as this huge body of water faced him.
Before he could figure out his next move, a projectile flew down from the sky. It was a hawk, which had zoomed down, grabbed a fish with his feet and roared back up into the sky. Unfortunately, Harold was also caught in the claws. When the hawk plunged down to grab the fish, Harold had been in the way,
The wind whistled in his ears as the great wings flapped unceasingly. The hawk flew ever higher and higher until it seemed to stop in mid-air. It released the fish with Harold who tumbled down into a nest of baby hawks, whose mouths were wide open. They were hungry and there was much commotion and feathers flying as they attacked the fish.
He found himself in the corner of the nest trying to avoid being stepped on. After their meal, the birds settled down for a sleep. Now that their stomachs were full, they were quiet,
When morning arrived, Harold decided to introduce himself. They were intrigued and peered at him curiously. There were three of them. “How did you get here, asked one of the bolder ones. So he related the story. What an amazing adventure, they all agreed. We’re going to leave the nest soon ourselves said the oldest. We want to fish for ourselves. I want to break my mother’s record dive, said one. She can dive one hundred and twenty feet to catch a fish.”
Harold didn’t think he’d mention that the thrill of the outside world was beginning to wane. It was a dangerous place as far as he was concerned.
He wanted to go home. He wanted to nestle at his father’s roots, where he would be warm and protected. He wanted to put his roots down there, too, and grow to be as tall as his Dad. But, he thought, as the realization hit him. “How am I going to get back there.”? The mere enormity of it made him want to weep.
The day arrived when his newfound friends told him it was their time to leave the nest. Their mother was there, perched on the side watching proudly as one by one they took off and soared into the sky,
Their mother flew off to see that they were all right, so Harold was all alone.
Day turned into night, and night turned into day. Life went on in the world, but it had stopped for him. There he was, at the bottom of the nest, stuck on some cliff, heaven knew where. The mother hawk never came back. She had abandoned him too.
One day, huge, white snowflakes began to fall. It wasn’t too long before Harold was buried under the soft stuff. He couldn’t complain. It was cozy and warm, but it only increased his homesickness.
The sun would come out and melt the snow and Harold would gaze at the sky. The process repeated itself time and again.
“I mustn’t give in. I must have faith. I’ve survived this far,” he repeated to himself daily.
One very cold night, he was gazing at the stars when he thought he saw a red star, but it seemed to be moving. It came closer and closer. He also heard a jingling sound, like bells. Suddenly, the red light was with him in the nest and he cowered in fear. The red light turned out to be the nose on an animal. It was rooting around in the nest.
“Please don’t eat me, wailed Harold. “Well, said the animal, I’m really looking for tough grass and twigs to eat and then I’ll be on my way. I need some real food. I’m sick to death of carrots. That’s all I seem to get on these trips. I can’t keep the rest of my buddies waiting. We have lots of places to go tonight. My boss stopped to let me rest, so here I am.”
“I wish I could come with you,” said Harold mournfully. “Why don’t I ask my boss, replied the stranger. That’s part of his job, granting wishes.”
A few moments later, Harold found himself lifted up in a mitten hand, and a kindly face framed by a bushy, white beard said gently. “Rudolph tells me that there’s someone here who wants a wish? Tell me what it is you want.” “I wish I could go home, cried Harold, and I don’t know how I’m going to get there.”
“You’re talking to the right person. Come on, you can come with us. I have quite a few stops to make, but I’m sure I can drop you off where you live.” There are a lot of obstacles in the way, but one gets used to it after so many years. We had a close call with a jet around the Los Angeles airport, and trouble because of some very slippery roofs, but if you’ll bear with us, I can make it happen.”
Tears of gratitude fell down Harold’s face as he was brought to a huge sleigh, which was pulled by nine reindeer. It was jam packed with all kinds of gaily, wrapped parcels. He was placed on the seat right next to the red-clad, portly man. “Just call me Santa, he said, that’s my name.” “I’ll fill you in as we go.”
And, with a crack of his whip, and the sound of bells, they were up and away.
They soared over cities, towns, valleys, rivers, mountains, and plains. The trip was exhausting, but to Harold, it was the most exciting adventure of all. And the jolly man next to him regaled him with stories that Harold knew he would pass down to his children and grandchildren.
Finally, Harold’s dream came true. As the sleigh flew along, empty now, he recognized the familiar landmarks, he had left ages ago. There was old farmer MacDonald’s building. There was the meadow, and the stream, the bridge, and best of all, there was the forest. He could see his father’s head, bare now, but it was the most exciting view of all.
As the sleigh came over the trees, Santa said. “There you are young fella. Home,” the most beautiful word to Harold’s ears. He dropped him over the edge of the sleigh. As he twirled and floated down, he yelled back, “Thank you, Santa, I’ll never forget you.”
“Dad, he screamed, I’m home and I’ll never ever leave again.
There were three things he learned from his flight. The grass is not always greener on the other side. There are lots of good people in the world. And best of all, family and roots are really the most important things in the world.