Flash Fiction Challenge: That Which Awaits

yellowstone raven 102008Among my people, it is said that the vigor of battle brings the warrior closer to the nether world. 

Great significance is accorded to the first animal a warrior sees after combat, for it is said that in this moment, more than any other, we can see what the future holds for us.

My friend Axor saw the rabbit. He would soon be blessed with abundance. Hrull saw the hawk, signifying victory in his next battle.

I kept quiet while the others celebrated. I did not want to admit I had seen the raven. Yet, inwardly, I began to prepare myself…

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: That Which Awaits”

  1. I had lost arrows in the battle, but had no time to make more. The dark of the moon was four days away. My war club was still good; it would have to be enough.

    Without my wife seeing, I put out strips of meat for Raven on the rocky outcrop behind our village. I hoped my offering would be enough to court favor. With Raven, you never knew.

    Over the next days I spoke to each of my sons, one at a time. To my oldest I gave my stone knife, hafted to antler from the deer. I reminded him that he carried responsibility for our family when I was absent, but power must be tempered with gentility. To my younger son I gave my bearclaw necklace and told him that he had strength yet untapped within him.

    The day before the dark moon when the barest silver crescent rose before the sun, I brought water for my wife from the stream. She eyed me strangely at the unbidden help, but said nothing. That evening I made love to her as if we were newly paired again, and young.

    The next morning I took my weapons and looked for Raven to lead the way. He flew high overhead, cawing. I followed him to the dark cave in the hillside, that place where the earth breathed and no light penetrated. I thanked Raven for his help, said a prayer to the earth and began my descent into the underworld.

  2. I laughed at the irony. Ancient wise men believed the raven was a symbol of impending doom. Death.

    I do not fear death. I have smelled the sickly sweet stench of blood soaked earth. I was a guest at the native ceremony, a newcomer to this forest. My friends paid no attention to my odd appearance, the scarred and pitted skin. My journey to this point was different from these young warriors. These hunters wore their hope of future glory like a medal of honor.

    The raven turned to get a better look at our circle. I felt its eyes upon me. The hook of his beak in profile and his mature size was visible from the distance. He squawked a harsh command. Where were his cohorts? Was he, like me, alone in a crowded landscape?

    Slowly, other black shapes floated in and silently filled the trees around us. Only I saw the slow build of their army. What did the constable want with us? The lookout cawed again, and the dark soldiers organized their flanks.

    While I observed the conspiracy prepare for battle my naïve friends celebrated their new names with a shared pipe and rousing songs of courage and bravery.
    We ate our roasted meat and drank our beer.

    The lookout squawked and Axor the rabbit looked up.

    “Hungry? We will share our bounty, brother raven.”

    The edible detritus was offered and one by one they descended. The lookout bowed, and grabbed a chicken leg. Absurd engagement.

  3. I woke up from the dream not knowing where I was. But of course, I was still in our tent at the campground in Cortez. I glanced over at the turquoise arrowhead beside me. I could hear Aleksey breathing steadily, sound asleep behind me.

    Yesterday, at Four Corners, an elderly Navajo woman had waved me over. I remembered looking behind me, thinking she meant her signal for someone else. But I was alone. I gazed back at the woman. She was still trying to scoop me towards her, now with both hands.

    “Ma’am,” I greeted with a respectful nod, once at her booth.

    She held out a turquoise arrowhead on a string.

    “No thank you,” I replied. “I don’t wear jewelry.”

    Looking down at the ring on my left hand, she poked the pendant at me yet again. Oddly enough, the arrowhead’s color matched the sparkling stones in my apatite ring.

    Again I nodded, but as I began to walk away, she spoke. Her voice was raspy and hushed with the heaviness of at least eighty years. “Take this, mighty warrior. It will protect you.”

    A chill crawled up the back of my neck.

    The gargle of a raven behind me interrupted my recollection. I turned to look in its direction – but instead, wedged between me and Aleksey, I saw a rattlesnake. We made eye contact. In one fluid motion, I grabbed the arrowhead in my left hand and stabbed over my right shoulder, into the snake’s head. Perhaps it was time to start wearing jewelry, after all.

  4. Axor hopped around the campfire, imitating Rabbit. “You may have my armor, Hrull,” he laughed. “Soon I shall have the best weapons money can buy!”

    Hrull preened like Hawk. “I won’t need your castoffs to be victorious in our next battle!”

    Vulf eyed his drunken friends. “Laugh it up, boys,” he muttered into his mead.

    The warriors went to bed at sunrise. But Vulf waited until his comrades were snoring. Then he stole away.

    His comrades awoke around mid-afternoon, groaning and holding their heads. Axor groped for his waterskin – and then groped farther. “Where is my armor?” he moaned. “I left it right here.”

    Hrull cracked one eye open. “Mine is gone, too. And where is Vulf?”

    “Here,” he cried, his voice setting off another round of groans.

    “Did you see the blackguard who took our armor?” Axor managed after a moment.

    “Why, yes,” said Vulf. “It was me.”

    “What?” Hrull yelled despite his splitting head.

    “Axor was giving his away, and you said you wouldn’t need yours,” Vulf said. “So I took it all to town and sold it. Axor’s fetched a good price.” He handed a bag of coins to his comrade. “There is your abundance. But it’s a little short. I had to pay the man to take Hrull’s.”

    “Why you…” Hrull attacked Vulf, beating him viciously.

    “You win,” Vulf gasped at last. “The prophecy is fulfilled.”

    “Prophecy?” Axor said suspiciously. “Which animal did you see after yesterday’s battle?”

    “Raven,” Vulf groaned. “The Trickster.”

  5. I knew the meaning of a visit by Raven after battle could only mean that there was trickery afoot. The Raven had stole magic from the women folk and delivered it to the men in ancient times. It still bore the evidence of that crime on its feathers where the intense heat of the crone’s fire burned him.

    By the end of the day I was deep into my enemy’s territory and under the cover of darkness discovered their main village. As I circled the perimeter of the main camp I looked for a sign from my spirit guide. Like the Raven, I would steal from my enemy that which gave him power. When my eyes found the young princess sitting with other girls her age around a small fire, a dark shadow crossed her face as the flames from the fire dropped for an instant. For an instant, I though I saw a large black shape cross over the fire.

    She is beautiful! Tonight I steal my bride from the enemy camp and assure peace for our people for generations to come. I took the pouch of embers from my waist belt and began to paint my skin black like that of the Raven even as I kept my eyes fixed on the lovely young woman by the fire. Thank you Raven! You have shown me the value of the old stories yet again.

  6. He’s waiting.

    Or she, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. The head cocks from side to side. No expression in those glass beads. Is he mocking me? We both know I can’t wait in here forever.

    I glance across the garage at the locked gun cabinet by the basement stairs. My sweating palms long to hold the cold blue steel within. I look back to the window.

    He’s still waiting.

    “What are you doing?” My wife pokes her head in through the door from the house.

    “He’s out there.” My hand flutters toward the window. I struggle to keep my voice and expression reasonable.

    “The crow?”

    “It’s a raven” I correct her, as if that will explain and justify everything.

    “Right, like the poem by that guy you like – Moe or Beau or something.”

    “Poe” I manage a weak smile. My wife has many wonderful and redeeming qualities. Literary acumen is not among them.

    She follows my gaze back to the gun cabinet. “Well just don’t do anything silly. They’re God’s creatures too. Remember, ‘brought the Raven, Heaven’s s’mores’.”

    She cheerfully hops in her car and zooms off to work. I must follow. He knows that, and that it will be three more hours before the garbage truck arrives. By then half the garbage in the bag I’m holding will be scattered over the lawn. It’s a flat walk to the end of the driveway, but somehow it feels like I’m climbing thirteen steps.

  7. “Death,” Miriam said. “You walk in Death’s shadow.” Heated words with a somber tone, she hissed them at me.

    I pounded my fist on the table and caused many heads in the mead hall to turn our way. “Hold your tongue,” I said. “We are all that know of this. Do you wish to make matters worse?”

    She righted the flagon I knocked over. “Do not waste words, nor the drink of the gods,” she said. Her eyes were the hardest to accept. They looked through me, was I already dead to her?

    “My war bounty is yours, for the young one.” To be strong, did it go further than just to cleave my enemies?

    She nodded then looked away. “Come to bed tonight,” she said. “Give me a last night as yours.”

    I left the hall, eyes forward. Nothing left for me there but kinsman I would see never again. Night’s fall would come soon enough.

    We came together for our last tryst between the goat skins of our shared bed. Not our first time together of course, Barak the boy came several winters ago. But for this, our last, it held something special. Our nocturnal dance fed my soul as much as it sated our desires.

    In the end it was not a blade that took me from her warm embrace. My heart could no longer take the strain of battle. I had grown not only hardened to battles but also the better things of life.

  8. “Life is a battle for the mind full of conundrums and lies. As babies we learn from family. Wasiçius schools teach in rote, an assembly line, no thinking required. We forget how be warriors. Soon wasiçius children were included in this non-thinking education.”

    “Grandfather, professors say people today use ten-percent of their brain. When you were young they said you used twenty-five. Are we loosing this battle? If we forget how to think, we’ll be nothing more than robots for some Big Brother Puppet Master’s scheme. That frightens me.”

    “Daughter, in each life there is a season when we take accountability for our thinking-beliefs. But Puppet Masters scream, ‘No! Mindless non-thinking must continue!’ So most all we read, see and hear hammers the messages telling us what to think and believe.”

    “We are becoming mindless robots?” daughter asked.

    “Some yes. Those who question and seek the truth, no, but warriors are ridiculed. To accept without questioning is to lose thinking power. Taking responsibility challenges everything we were taught. It takes a lifetime to unravel all the conundrums and lies.”

    “Spirit Woman says there are three sides to any discussion; one side, the other side with truth somewhere in between.”

    “She’s right. Power comes with the dawning of truth. Truth dispossesses untruth like the sun’s rising clears deep shadows. Warriors are accountable to speak truth, not double-speak.”

    “What do I gain, grandfather.”

    “You gain that which awaits down this less traveled path of critical and creative thinking? Freedom, my daughter, freedom.”

  9. Two days and still nothing. I’d been vigilant. You know Raven. He’d trip me up when I least expected it. My nerves, already frayed from the battle, were even worse now, for lack of sleep. Curse my luck. So this was my reward for killing two enemies and taking that deep slash to my leg. Now I couldn’t even walk well until it healed.

    I watched Hrull swagger about the camp, pretending not to notice the come hither looks from the eligible maidens. No such glances came my way. I shot an envious glare at his back and took another look around. Where was that trickster?

    Axon strode into camp with a large deer over one shoulder and a handful of rabbits dangling from his other hand. He threw a triumphant look in my directions as if to say, “See, Rabbit was right.” He’d get Telsa now, for sure, the girl we’d both been after. This would prove what a good provider he was.

    Me, I’d prove what? Hah! I choked back a curse at Raven. If he heard he would really make things bad.

    My leg burned. I lifted the poultice. The wound was fiery red and hot to the touch. Was this my prize?

    Telsa walked over. “Let me see.” She knelt, placed her hands on the wound. It healed at her touch.” She beamed into my face. “Tonight we will show them all I am a healer. Then we will dance together.”

    Thank you, Raven.

  10. Raven Mockers

    Not only could I see the inky, black silhouette of the raven, but also I hear his portentous cries across the baleful, indigo sky! A pertinacious orator, jetty black plumage, a powerful wingspread, with a heedful warning. Raven he’ll be cryin’, when the Mockers come a knockin’, for silently they tread! Never leave the infirmed or dying alone, endangered in their beds! At least that is what I was taught by the old shaman who lived deep in the woods. As the others celebrate unaware—I remain an obscurantist, well versed in these ancient teachings. Crass materialism has brought a plague of gross ignorance to matters of spiritual warfare.

    Evil was lurking—concealed from the revelers’ sight. I began to sense the approach once cued by the Raven’s cry to battle. Vitality is what they steal—dark enemies to the warriors of light— I am a warrior of light! Invisible—these black-hearted shamans—sneak inside, and without a single mark, they kill and then cut out their victim’s heart. Feasting upon it, they add years to their life—perpetuating this perilous dark medicine!

    The raven’s ocular organs were sharply focusing ahead. There an ailing elder was inside, left unattended in his bed. Slinking away from the celebration, I must go immediately to retrieve my medicine bag and prepare for the spiritual vigil and the confrontation to come. Glancing back at the conviviality, I think, Respect and heed the Raven’s portent cry! Evil-doers, the Raven Mockers may be dropping by!

  11. The first animal seen after your first battle is your totem spirit. At least that’s what I’ve been told all my life. Now my friends all boast of the animals they saw and the good omens they portend. My experience was different. I should be joyful. My totem is the bearer of magic, wisdom, and messages from beyond. Yet happiness eludes me.

    Juices run down my hand from the fresh roasted meat I hold, but it feels dry in my mouth. It’s not the cool night air that sends shivers down my back, it’s the vision I saw as the fighting ended, right after I saw my totem. I edge closer to the fire, hoping its warmth will drive away my chills.

    I don’t fear death. Never have. Never will. Perhaps that’s why this totem chose me. With my free hand I clutch the pouch that hangs from my neck and close my eyes. Images from the battle replay in my mind, each detail, clearer by the second. The end never changes.

    A loud caw caw and the flutter of wings. A lone black feather swirls to my feet. I watch the raven as it circles three times then flies east. Wind tugs at my hair. Sand and dirt blind me, yet my sight is true. I look down. The raven feather still rests at my feet.

    It’s a new beginning for me, a vision of the future….but none of my friends or family are in it.

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