Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Written Word

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story about the aftermath of Will's first meeting with Diana is concurrent with Tin Soldier, the first book in my series.

Amalia walked into the kitchen, startling Will as he sat at the table, poring over a book and piece of paper. “What on earth are you doing?”

Will slammed the dictionary shut and shoved the paper under it. “Nothing.”

Amalia had been trying for months to teach Will to read but the eleven year-old runaway saw no value in it, having fended for himself since he was eight without the benefit of letters or numbers. For him to willingly open a dictionary was startling, but it was the defiance in his eyes and his faint flush of embarrassment that brought Amalia up short. “I thought you were going to help me with the wagon. There isn’t much time before it gets dark.” She paused, then added, “You sure took your time getting back here with that horse.”

Will looked away, his cheeks bright red. “That girl talks a lot.”

“What girl? Diana?”

“I guess that’s her name.” He rubbed the frayed edge of the dictionary spine. “She wouldn’t shut up.”

“We don’t get a lot of new people in this valley. I’m sure she was just curious who you are and where you came from.”

“She asked a lot of questions.”

“I hope you were nice to her. The Petersons are good neighbors and it was generous of them to lend us their horse.” At Will’s curt nod of agreement, Amalia said, “Let’s go hitch that wagon. We should be able to get one cartload before sundown, and we’ll do the rest in the morning.”

Will stood up, hesitated, then pulled the paper from under the dictionary and shoved it in a pocket. “You going to want me to take the horse back tomorrow?”

“I think it would be best, since we won’t need it any more. Don’t you agree?”

“I guess. It’s just—”


Will drew the crumpled paper out of his pocket and handed it to her in frustration. “She gave me this, and I don’t know what to do with it.”

Amalia scanned the brief note, her lips twitching with the effort to keep from laughing. “I don’t think you have to do anything with it, Will. It just says—”

“No!” He grabbed it out of her hand. “Don’t tell me. Just show me where the words are in the dictionary so I can figure it out for myself.”

Amalia considered. The note was only a few sentences and the longest word was “horse.” If such simplicity was beyond his ability, it was going to take more than a dictionary to help him puzzle it out. “I suppose you think you should have an answer when you go back?”

“That’s how you do it, right?” He folded the paper neatly this time, caressing the creases like a treasure. “No one’s ever wrote me a letter before.” He gazed up at Amalia, his gray eyes suddenly vulnerable. “You’ll help me write a letter back, won’t you? She acted like I was smart and if she finds out…”

“She won’t think you’re stupid. But if this is what it’ll take to get you to read—”

“Just this kind of stuff.” He dropped the note back in his pocket. “I don’t want to read those big books like what you read.”

“Okay.” She started for the door, motioning for him to follow. “What kinds of words do you want to learn first?" she asked as they walked the path to the barn. "Should I teach you to spell ‘pretty?’”


She gave him a sly smile. “How about ‘girlfriend?’”


“So what do you want to say?”

“Just ‘thanks for the horse.’”

“Hm.” Amalia nodded wisely.

“And maybe ‘nice.’ That’s an easy word, right?”

They were at the barn now and went inside. Will headed toward the tack room with an air of quiet authority. “You’ll let me do the writing part myself, though. And you won’t tell her I needed help.”

“Of course not.”

“No one’s ever acted like I was smart before.”

“I think you’re smart.”

“It’s not the same.”

“You're right.” Amalia watched him take the harness off the peg, marveling that three sentences from a ten year-old girl had achieved what months of badgering had failed to accomplish. To Diana, it was probably just a few careless words on paper— a fun way to practice between lessons. But for Will, who might finally learn to read more than his name, the note was transformative.

Amalia smiled in the dusty gloom of the barn, resolving to never again doubt the power of letters on paper.


Anonymous said...

How fun, to see what a powerful effect Diana had on Will, even so early in their acquaintance! :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Ahh, young love...

I love this, Bunny!!!! (of course)

Michael said...

I really miss your Will and Diana stories. I'm glad I stopped in and read this. Another, deep and heart-warming piece, Bunnygirl! Thanks for sharing it.

I confess that I've only read Day 1 of My Newfound Land (opting for books I can hold in my hands over the electronic variety), but I do like it and plan to read more. I will be back, and that's promise!

William Skye said...

That is SO SWEET.

Possibly, possibly, possibly (I hesitate to comment on the craft of such a well written, well thought-out work) the first sentence of the third paragraph, where we get the Will background, could be broken into snippets, tucked here and there within the story. In so doing, letting the reader discover Will (in this piece) a bit at a time.

Thank you, Bunny!

Michael said...

Okay, I've read several more days now in My New-Found Land. The diary style makes it easy to read and I'm really enjoying it.

Copito said...

Hola Bunny Girl, tienes muchos blogs!!! Eres muy hermosa, me encantas y me están dando ganas de pedir una hermanita como tú ='·'=

Saludos desde México

orion_mk3 said...

An interesting and heartfelt read. Nice work.

I did find myself wondering a bit at the setting, though--not being familiar with the longer work which the story prefaces. I assumed it to be a period piece; is this correct?

A. Catherine Noon said...

I really like this! It's touching and sweet. You've captured the little boy's voice in a way that makes him very vivid in my mind. I like that!

~Liz~ said...

Nicely done. In this short piece, you managed to capture my interest in the characters. I want to know more about them and their situation.

Anonymous said...

Heads-up, Bunnygirl -- I tagged you for a book meme! It's a fun one. :)

Alix said...

Thanks for the link to these stories. I have enjoyed them. You create such wonderful characters who I really care about. I'm glad to see your still writing about them.
This one was so sweet and really broke my heart given that I know what is coming.
You mention Tin Solider at the top of this post but I can't find it anyway on your blog or at Lulu, can you point me in the right direction?

bunnygirl said...

Alix, Tin Soldier is the first novel in my peak-oil aftermath series. (Actually it was written as a stand-alone novel. I was surprised when it turned into a series!)

I still hope to get it published in traditional fashion, so I don't have it publicly available. I have an early version on a password-protected blog and now you've got me thinking I should update it. You're not the first person to express curiosity about the first book, so maybe it's time to refresh it and let some new folks see it.

It's also time to get back to researching agents and querying, but my writing time is limited and if I'm querying, I'm not writing, and writing is what keeps me sane. What a shame I can't take a sabbatical from the office! :-)

Alix said...

Well I'd love to read it, I find the world you created fascinating.
I hope you do try and get it published, shame there aren't more hours in the day :)
Good luck and thanks again for lots of enjoyable reading.

Gwen Mitchell said...

This is a wonderful use of the prompt and yet another glimpse into the lives of these characters that you paint so vividly. I can't wait to get deeper into their story. I loved several passages, but your last line was by far the best.

And it was very real too - that a child could reach another child where an adult couldn't. Loved it.

Alice Audrey said...

I love the line “And maybe ‘nice.’ That’s an easy word, right?”