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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Autumn/Fall (08/27/09)

TITLE: Nothing Left to Whisper
By Ann Grover


It was one of those days that evokes memories, like a brightly coloured patchwork quilt, as fading remnants of the waning summer were pieced together with fragments of rich and vibrant tapestry. The air was crystal-clear, scented with a fragrant bouquet of damp leaves, woodsmoke, and tangy frost. The halcyon sky was a deeper, more vivid blue.

Laney and I were deer hunting, stalking through the woods, by turns pretending to be safari hunters, frontiersmen, and leather-clad Indians. Bagging an elusive buck would be a fortuitous bonus, as our intent was to enjoy each other, delighting in singing silly choruses about bears, mountains, and buffalo, and telling jokes in which the punch-line became lost in translation or lost altogether.

“Why do loons laugh?” Laney giggled as she tried to imitate the lilting cry of a pair of loons, the only wildlife we’d seen.

“They’re talking to other loons. Or maybe they see us. Or the lake.”

“Oh.” The non-technical answer satisfied her. Time enough later to differentiate between loon yodels, hoots, and tremolos. She trudged through a drift of dry leaves, nudged at a rotten log, and then hunkered down to peer into the hollowed centre.

“There are elves or maybe hobbits.” She winked. “Or more’n likely an old, dead skunk.”

She bent down again, excavating in the pithy wood with an elegant finger. I crept up behind her and tickled her. She shrieked, then stopped, wide-eyed. “We’ll scare the deer away,” she admonished, flicking splinters of decayed wood at me.

I hoisted her onto my shoulders, and she announced in a haughty voice, “You’re an elephant and I am the maharanee,” she declared. “Go faster.” I became a dauntless and stouthearted pachyderm, trotting in a most un-elephantine manner, weaving through the brush, side-stepping stones, dodging branches, and slowing down when loose leaves made mad galloping too treacherous. I swung the indignant princess to the ground.

“Let’s rest, baby girl,” I gasped. Laney sat cross-legged, digging in her small backpack for a chocolate bar and water. “Want some?” she offered, and I took a long swallow.

“Why do leaves turn colour, Dad?” she asked between bites.

I considered an easy explanation.

“Well, green is not a leaf’s real colour. All summer, the leaves have been making chlorophyll to make food for the tree to grow. Chlorophyll is green, right?” She nodded. “The green covers up the red, orange, and yellow. But, when fall comes, it’s time for the tree to rest, so, it stops making chlorophyll, and the trees reveal their true colours.”

She had a look of wonderment on her face, quite unwarranted by my simple account, but I realized she was looking past me, at something in the trees.

“A deer, Dad.”

A young buck stood a hundred yards away, camouflaged in the ribboned shadows of the woods.

“Stay here, Laney.”

I readied the rifle, balanced it in my hands, and carefully followed the animal at a slightly oblique angle.

Maybe it was excitement, the certainty of an easy shot, or any one of many distractions, but I knew as I stepped on the downed cottonwood I had misjudged, miscalculated. The rotting bark tore and slipped away from the trunk, and I fell, revolving in a deadly pirouette that lasted for an eternity, landing on my back.

The gun thundered.

For an awful moment, the forest held its breath.


I scrambled through the leaves, slipping and sliding, to reach Laney. A crimson stain spread across her plaid jacket. A leaf was stuck on her cheek, a crumb of chocolate on her lips. Blood trickled from her nose.

Her eyes closed.

“Laney.” And again, “Laney!”

My cries reverberated from tree to tree, until my echoing disbelief became a wordless whisper. Around me, the trees rained down golden tears in silent lament, shedding their burden of dying splendour. The gilded hills bowed in mourning, while the blazing forest burned in grief without being consumed.

My baby girl. I held her until the shadows lengthened, and I’d said what I could, of my love, remorse, rage.

The smell of woodsmoke re-kindles memories of that day, and I am caught between longing to triumph over sorrow and torturing myself with reliving the hideous moment. I desire to shine as I truly am, stripped of the ordinary, the superficial, and the pain of each day without Laney. To be clothed in grace, radiant and gloriously resplendent.

And forgiven.

Author’s Note: The title is taken from the autumnal poem “Tragic Song” by William Stafford -- “...nothing left to whisper, not even good-bye, to the wind.”

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This article has been read 931 times
Member Comments
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Laury Hubrich 09/03/09
I loved reading about this father and daughter but shocked at what happened to Laney. So sad but very well written.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/03/09
This story is so powerful it took my breath. It's masterful on so many levels, with exactly the right word and phrase presented to show the tragic story.
Loren T. Lowery09/03/09
A true paradox for the reader, a tragedy beyond imagining, beautifully written. It is one of those writings where you want to freeze a scene and go back to it to change the outcome; yet you know you can't and must allow the author their leniency. The entire work leaves the reader emotionally tied to the MC and his daughter - the last two paragraphs importantly, is the hope that unites us all.
Charla Diehl 09/03/09
"Oh no" is what my heart said as the tragedy unfolded.
I loved the light hearted play between the dad and daughter at the beginning. Then sadness and regret for the dad took over as the MC tells his story. Gripping, tender, sad but ends with a hopefilled message. Excellent writing.
Catrina Bradley 09/04/09
You took me on a journey, physically and emotionally. Stupendous.
Allen Stark09/09/09
Let me begin with the positive. Those who see the beauty in autumn have given me a new appreciation for this time of year. This piece also managed to educate me.
And now...I hope this wasn't based on a true story. However, I am aware of similar things happening involving hunters in the area I live. I'm glad my experience as a combat medic in Vietnam cured me of ever wanting anything to do with guns.
Ada Nett09/09/09
Your words flow with such a quiet beauty into a deep river of pain, then settling into a pool of grace. I was stunned.
Gregory Kane09/09/09
I appreciate that others have written about the shock in the conclusion. Personally I thought that it worked well. What took me by surprise was the single word 'Dad' about halfway down. Up until then I had imagined a pair of young lovers enjoying a honeymoon trek through the forest. Just shows how readers can come at a piece from different viewpoints
Scarlett Farr09/09/09
It is always so hard to say "great job" to a story with such a dreadful end. But I have to say your descriptive phrases are beautiful. I loved it all except maybe for the pachyderm part. That seemed a little awkward for me in such a serene wooded scene where they are looking for graceful deer.
Mariane Holbrook 09/10/09
What a great piece of writing. You'll place high with this one! Kudos!
Janice Fitzpatrick09/10/09
Congrats Ann on 3rd place. Wow, this piece is breathtaking and beautiful. I hope that this isn't based on a true story that involved anyone you know as this is so tragic. The relationship shown between dadddy and daughter is wonderfully described through dialogue, a couple of imaginative minds going for a walk in the woods. I wanted so to erase the accident part as it is so heart wrenching and was a complete suprise, but this worked in the story and the hope of eternity flowed smoothly through the conclusion.
What a lovely piece Ann. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Lisa Johnson09/10/09
I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I don't think I breathed for at least a minute when I realized the Dad had shot his precious little girl. The forgiveness and grace in the end of the story was wonderful. Congratulations on your level placing and your EC.
Chelsie May09/10/09
Wow. Very well done. Congratulations.
Bryan Ridenour09/10/09
Incredible writing...this piece truly moved me. Congratulations on your high placement.
Patricia Turner09/10/09
Spellbinding all the way to the tragic moment. Beautifully written with wonderful imagery. Congratulations on your EC!