Berry Picking

I wrote this story snippet one week when I had nothing to offer for WIPpet Wednesday. The narrator is not me, but we do have a few things in common. 🙂

-K

“And that’s when the dragon ate her. The End.” Gran chomped her teeth together and grinned, eyes sparkling.

I snorted. “I had no idea dragons even liked blueberries,” I said, and settled on my haunches to reach a few sweet berries nestled beneath a spruce.

“Oh, they don’t particularly.” She twisted a thick strand of iron-grey hair behind her ear, pinning it beneath the arm of her glasses. “But they’re a might territorial, my dear, and unlikely to pass up a meal.” She stood and stretched her back, rolling her shoulders forward. “Especially not a tasty morsel like that. You know, she probably looked a lot like you. Young woman, strong, tender. Blueberry-filled.”

I turned to her and tossed a handful of berries into my mouth, and we both laughed as juice squirted out between my lips and down my chin. I wiped it on the sleeve of my red plaid shirt.

My grandmother had always told unconventional bedtime stories, even when I was a child. Princesses found their way out of ogres’ lairs without the assistance of princes, the old witch in the woods occasionally saved Hansel and Gretel from their abusive parents, and no one was guaranteed a happy ending. At eighteen I had long outgrown my need to be tucked in when my family visited Gran in Newfoundland, but I still enjoyed the stories on rainy days, and they helped pass the time during chores.

Gran winced and rubbed her knuckles.

“Are you all right?”

“Of course,” she said. “Rain coming later, though.”

I glanced up at the blue sky, streaked with a few high mare’s tails. Cirrus, I reminded myself. I kept two sets of names in my mind for most of the natural world: the Proper Names, and Gran’s Names. She always listened with polite and amused interest when I shared names from my field guides, then went back to explaining the useful properties of whatever plant we were examining at the time. I looked at the clouds again. Mare’s tails. Gran’s names were always better.

She crouched beside me and resumed her efficient plucking. “D’you have a story for me today, my treasure?”

“Maybe later?” I asked, and she nodded. It was so easy for her, telling her stories as she worked, the ones she’d learned when she was a child, fables from her family or her isolated community, or those she’d made up herself as she raised her children. I was a storyteller, myself, but I had loftier ambitions. Fame. Fortune. An adoring fan-base who would devour very word I came out with, if only I could find the courage to share those words.

Not yet. The words weren’t ready yet. They had to be perfect before I could share them.

I stretched my own stiff back. “Excuse me for a minute? Lemonade’s catching up with me.”

Gran nodded, and I wandered off to find a likely-looking spot in the bushes.

“Mind you don’t wander too far,” she called after me. “They say they found that poor girl’s charred bones not far from here.”

I smiled and nodded, and hoped she was joking. My mother worried that Gran was growing senile. I usually told her that she was being overprotective of her mother-in-law, that Gran was just being fanciful when she talked about the fairies in the garden. Sometimes, though, she seemed to believe her own tall tales, and I wondered whether Mom was right.

A few minutes later I pulled up my jeans and rinsed my hands as well as I could in a cold stream. A patch of sunlight on the other side lit a berry patch, packed with promising-looking blue clusters. Best time of year, I thought, and hopped from stone to half-submerged stone across the stream. I thought about going back to tell Gran where I was going, but I wouldn’t be gone long. I’d just check it out, then go back and let her know. I didn’t want her to wet her boots in the stream for nothing.

The berries were like nothing I’d ever seen or tasted. Large, juicy, and impossibly flavorful— I couldn’t resist eating as I went. Without realizing I was doing it, I followed what looked like a path deeper into the woods, stepping forward to reach each tantalizing bush as it came into view.

When I looked up, the shadows were long. I pulled out my phone, but the battery was dead. It wouldn’t have done me any good to try to call Gran, not out here where there was no signal to speak of, but I’d have liked a sense of the time. Was she worried? I turned to run back toward the stream, but the path was gone.

“Gran?” I called, but the sound seemed to disappear in the trees. I cupped my hands around my mouth. “Gran?” No response. Don’t panic. Fine advice, of course, but my racing heart didn’t want to hear it, and my skin broke out in a cool sweat.

We weren’t far from civilization. Someone would find me. I just hoped Gran wouldn’t try to search on her own. To pass the time and distract my mind, I stepped into a clearing and crossed to look at a strange tree that grew on the far side. Its thick, twisted trunk was covered in deep and regular scars, as though someone had been at the bark with a knife. Long branches drooped toward the ground, covered in deep pink, heart-shaped leaves. I inhaled. The smell was sweet, and somehow comforting. I wanted to touch the leaves, but resisted. I wasn’t going to risk a rash on top of being lost.

Something rustled in the woods behind me. I spun to face it, sending a few berries flying from my over-full basket. My throat tightened as a sleek, green head appeared from beneath a clump of bushes, followed by a sinuous neck covered in shining scales. The lips on the pointed snout pulled back in something like a sneer, revealing dozens of teeth that looked razor-sharp, and glowed white in the shadows.

The creature chuckled, and every hair on my body stood on end. A hiss burst from the long throat, and golden eyes looked me up and down. My stomach clenched as the beast smiled. “Who’s been eating my berries?”

(c) 2013 Kate Sparkes

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blueberries


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