Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Mother (as in maternal parent) (04/24/08)
- TITLE: Not So Different
By Loren T. Lowery
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Tess, a Trumpeter Swan, looks up into the darkening sky and calls out to her two cygnets.
“Jason, Jolene,” her voice is flounced, muted by the wind. Trees along the edge of the lake began to sway. The cattails protecting her nest bend and bow, dipping to shake their heads in and out of the unsettled water.
Jason swims up to her and she motions him into the protection of the nearby reeds.
“She was just behind me.”
“Jolene,” she trumpets out again.
The lake is deserted. But for the wind, whisking through the tress and whistling the bulrush, there is no sound.
Tess scans the water. “Stay inside the reeds where it is safe. I will find Jolene to bring her home.” A rush of wind pushes Tess sideways and she fights against it, swimming in place.
Hard pelts of rain strike her body. Cold, gray, it runs into her eye. Lightening forks across the sky; moments later thunder shakes the pond as if the leaded clouds had fallen from heaven itself.
Briefly, the wind lulls, Tess cocks her head to hear a voice, distant, but familiar, “Mommy, Mommy,” it cries, the words instantly whipped away.
“Jolene?” She pushes towards it, against the wind, against the towering, frothing waves that seem to boil beneath her. The wind gushes, there is a ripping sound and a branch from a nearby willow swirls above her head. It plummets into the water next to her, scratching her graceful neck.
“Mommy, Mommy,” Jolene’s voice honks again. “Help…” the wind fades her words, sweeping them eastward.
Tess looks to the right, to the far bank. She spots a puff of color, downy brown and a yellow, brilliant even in the translucent gray downpour. It is Jolene. She is huddled beneath a stone bridge, on a small embankment. The water rising from the storm is about to sweep her away.
Heart pounding, Tess lifts her wings to rush to her. But the wind catches them like a billowed sail, spinning her in a dizzying circle.
Jason peeks out from the swaying reeds. “Mom?” His voice terrified.
“Mommy, Mommy,” Jolene cries in muffled honks through the wind.
Tess regains her bearings, “Stay inside,” she tells Jason. “I need to get your sister.”
“But, Mom…” his voice trails behind her, lost in the storm as she paddles toward the bridge.
Water surges down the nearby hills into the lake, creating a flashflood under the bridge. Jolene is caught in the current and is swept away. Her tiny body pulled beneath the lake’s surface by an unseen riptide.
“You will not take my daughter.” Tess screams into the storm and dives beneath the pounding waves. The noise of the storm is instantly silenced. The water is cold, murky and eerily lit only by the sudden flash of lightening above.
In the opaque light, she spies Jolene. Her eyes are closed, her body listless, swaying in the undercurrents of the lake. One of her legs caught between two rocks. Tess dives deeper, her lungs burning for oxygen.
Trying to free her daughter, she finds her bill is too large to wedge between the rocks. She breathes the last of her air into Jolene’s lungs, cuddling her head.
Something tugs at her wing, it is Jason. Instinctively, acting as one, they work to release Jolene from the imprisoning rocks. Finally, with Jolene held between them, they rocket to the surface, gasping for air.
Jolene floats lifelessly; Tess lifts her head in the pelting rain, to breathe air into her lungs once again. Moments pass and Jolene coughs, opening her eyes. Jason wiggles, fluffing his feathers in delight.
An hour later, the storm has passed. A rainbow appears in the sky and Tess with her two cygnets are swimming in the center of its arc. In the mirrored lake, the rainbow appears as a perfect, unbroken circle.
Two women with children stop at the lake’s edge. Tess hears one say to the other. “Isn’t that the most beautiful, peaceful thing you’ve ever seen? God is so good to give us such lovely creatures to bless us.”
“Yes,” the other agrees. “And you know, I bet if we were to study their lives, we’d find they are really not so much different than our own.”
Tess nods her head in a silent reply.
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