Flash Fiction Friday: The Collectors

We’re back to normal with the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig.  Even though I’ve been writing the Adventures of Victor I missed this weekly diversion.  I did keep his other prompts just in case I want to work on them some time in the future.  You never know!

This one is a challenge to include four items at random from a list of ten.  I chose every other one and listed them for you at the end.  It’s 1,005 words.

The Collectors

The ram’s skull lay on the table, eye sockets glaring at her.  She loved the smooth bone, bleached by the sun, wind and rain over many months, or even years, as it lay on the hillside above the loch. She traced its contours, fingertips caressing the upper nose, the eyebrow ridges, and sliding down the cheek.  There was no jaw.  She wondered how the jawbone had been detached.  It would have fallen off, she supposed, if the one part had been kicked aside.  Were eagles strong enough to lift a skull and carry it away to their eyries?  They could lift a lamb.  Maybe a ram’s head wouldn’t be much more.  Even given the weight of the horns.

The horns!  Full and curving, round in a full spiral and a half more.  How had it managed to carry them? Had the animal had to fight with them?  Or maybe it had been a prized animal, competing at the Island’s Show?  She lay back in the wooden bed in the converted croft and gazed into the eaves.  She pictured a golden eagle, swooping on the dead animal, tearing at the head and lifting off with the jawbone in its talons.  But the weight was too much – or maybe he’d been pursued by ravens, and in his twisting and turning, looping and stalling to evade them, the jawbone had stayed clutched in his talons and the rest of the head fallen back to earth.

Wouldn’t the horns have smashed?

Not if it landed in one of the boggier parts of the moor she’d been on.  And it had probably been dragged who knows how far by other predators.

Next day she packed her things, ready for the long drive south, and hesitated over the skull.  Then she wrapped it in newspaper and stowed it on top of her baggage in the boot.

***

“So, what shall I do with this old thing?” her daughter asked her own husband, as they cleared her mother’s house.

“Grotesque!” he replied.  “Where did you find that?”

“On top of her wardrobe, I think she brought it back from some holiday or other. It’s not been here long, anyway.”

“How do you know?”

“No dust.”

Her daughter held out the ram’s skull by the horns. “Yuk.”

“A friend of mine might use those horns.”

“He can have them. What would he do with them?”

“He carves things.  They might be useful.”

“Here you are then, but give it to him as soon as you can.  I don’t want it hanging around in our house, thanks.”

***

He picked up the wooden soldier and tried for the fourth time to glue its arm back on.  For some reason, whatever type of glue he used, the arm fell off next morning.  He looked at it closely, and laughed.  It wasn’t the right arm.  He had been gluing a left arm onto a right shoulder.  He sighed and put it down on the table.  So was there another soldier somewhere that needed a left arm?  If so, it wasn’t going to find it.  This was the only wooden soldier he’d salvaged from the house after the fire.  That and the dead man’s guitar.

He’d been fond of the old man, well, fond as neighbours go.  He’d sat in his wheelchair at the front of the house to watch the world go by.  People stopped and chatted.  “Complete strangers, at first,” he’d said.  But strangers had become friends, and he’d taken his guitar out on his lap sometimes when the weather was good.  Strummed some chords, imagining a tune behind those far-off blue eyes that twinkled when they came back to you.

The old man told stories that went with the chords sometimes.  He wasn’t sure whether the stories went with the tunes to the chords or whether they were from something else entirely.  Some were of islands, and sea adventures, and eagles. Others were of battles, and leaving one’s home behind to go to war.  And some about coming back.

He looked at the soldier again, wondering whether to carve it a new arm or just give up on it.  He’d got some lightweight wood, balsa or something like it.  The soldier was made of stronger stuff though. He wondered whether he had anything suitable.  He rummaged round in the box of bits under his workbench and pulled out half a ram’s horn.  He still hadn’t finished that chess set he had planned to make from the pair.  Had he got a shard that would work for the soldier’s arm?

***

The letter came as a surprise.  He hadn’t known anyone who had a croft on Mull.  Yet the solicitor assured him that it was now his.  He offered to put him in touch with a reliable agent if he wanted to sell or let it.  He read the details through, signed the legal papers, and contacted the agent.  The way the agent talked about it made him want to see it.

Three months later he unpacked his hatchback at the entrance to the cottage, and moved the car round the back, out of the prevailing wind.  His clothes went in the little bedroom with its quaint wooden bed.  He hoped he wouldn’t ruin his toes on the footboard at night.  The rest went in the main room; his box of bits, an easel, his paints and carving instruments, as well as food and books.

As he sipped his wine that night, he strummed the old guitar he’d brought along, wondering how to tune the strings.  He noticed a piece of ivory inlay that needed replacing.

A couple of days later he was hard at work on a bench outside the door, carving a bishop and a pawn from the end of the ram’s horn, saving a piece for the inlay and another sliver for a new arm for the soldier.  An eagle flew overhead, to be mobbed by ravens, and he watched something fall from its grasp.  It was great here, he thought.

The items were: a dead man’s guitar, a chess piece, a child’s toy, and an animal skull.  I hope you’re happy with the way I made them more specific.

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4 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Friday: The Collectors

  1. I like it! Yeah, I’m just getting around to catching up. I hate missing so many stories, having missed so many Fridays!

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