I’ve been a WOW! reader for years. I first discovered their quarterly flash fiction contest back in 2013. I submitted a couple of times, without success. My writing wasn’t at the level they sought, and I didn’t yet have a good grasp of what flash fiction really meant. But I started reading their blog, The Muffin, where I drew inspiration from their writing tips and anecdotes, eventually becoming a guest blogger myself, twice in 2014 (in September and November) and again in 2016. I was honored to have my words share space with the women who had motivated me.
This fall, I decided I was ready to give the flash fiction contest another try. I submitted my 748-word story “Phoenix” and crossed my fingers.
“Phoenix” is a subtly witchy story about the power of nature and the power we hold within ourselves. It’s about persistence and sacrifice and a love for unwanted things. It’s unlike most of the pieces I write, and I didn’t know how it would be received, so I was ecstatic when I learned it had placed in the top ten of the contest.
(A visual collage of “Phoenix”)
I want to thank the editors at WOW! for selecting my story as a finalist and Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency for choosing it as a runner-up. I appreciate you giving Gwen and her story a home.
Go to this link to read all the winning stories from the Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. Or, to skip straight to “Phoenix,” simply click here.
WOW! will be publishing an interview with me on The Muffin, so if you’re interested in hearing the background story of “Phoenix” and what the writing process was like, stay tuned…
My hubby refers to the person he’s living with right now as “Summer Carie.” Summer Carie is a little crazy. She stays up late but also, somehow, gets up early. She reads for hours on end, only stopping to skip over to her husband, kiss him on the cheek, and tell him her latest idea for a creepy short story. Summer Carie decides on a whim to turn an old skull candle into a bird feeder or clean out the medicine cabinet or reorganize all of the books in her house. She takes walks and naps and texts her husband far too often while he’s at work. Summer Carie can be a bit exhausting, but she’s happy and relaxed and carefree and creative.
I love her.
I love being a teacher, but I also love my summers. I NEED my summers. Without them, I would not love my job. I haven’t once checked work email since the last day of school (I probably should, I will eventually) and I haven’t planned any lessons. Right this moment, I can’t even tell you what day we go back to work (and I don’t want to know). But every day, while I rearrange books and work puzzles and make bird feeders and take pictures of raccoons, somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Could I use this in my classroom? Could this tie in to a lesson? How could I share this experience with my students?” I’m always a teacher, even when I’m Summer Carie, and I think I’m a better teacher upon returning to work because I allow myself this time.
Please don’t hate on teachers because we get the summers off. It’s not why we do the job. It’s why we CAN do the job.
Ok, I’m off to hide something that belongs to the hubby and leave him a trail of sticky note clues to find it. Summer Carie strikes again!
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an “internationally recognized botanic garden dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes” located in Austin, Texas.* In other words, it’s a pretty, outdoor-y, nature-y place where you can take walks, learn about flowers, swing in swings, watch turtles and owls, look at art, climb a tower, listen to giant wind chimes, eat a snack, and generally enjoy the outdoorsiness and leafiness and buzziness of life with your friends, your family, or yourself.** And I am incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. I love visiting the center and have always wished they were open longer hours, especially in these warm summer months.*** Well, I must have wished loud enough because they now stay open until 8PM on Tuesdays and open at 7:30AM on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hooray! Thank you, whoever made that decision!
* From the Wildflower Center’s website
** For some reason, the Wildflower Center did not ask me to write the text for their website. ???
*** It’s only June and already our nightly low is 77 degrees. Did you get that, northerners? Our LOW temperatures are almost 80. Yeah.
So last Thursday morning, in an effort to adhere to my summer goal of making exercise a habit, I got up at 7:30 and walked to the Wildflower Center. I was looking forward to seeing the place at a new time of day, to see what was awake at this early hour and maybe catch a glimpse of a new bird or cute critter. As soon as I got there, I hit the trails. I’d passed a couple of employees on the way in, but I didn’t see or hear any other guests. It was just me and the blue sky and the bugs. I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. No distractions. I didn’t even bring my cell phone. I smiled.
Then I came around a bend in the path and saw a giant snake skin hanging from a tree. It was at least four feet long, and it hung from a branch at least ten feet above the ground.
Now, let’s get something straight. I am not afraid of snakes. I respect snakes and am appropriately cautious of them, especially the dangerous ones, but I like snakes and enjoy seeing them in nature from a safe distance. However, there is one thing that I just do not agree with about snakes, and that is their ability to climb trees. No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Snakes should stay on the ground, as the universe intended.
Also, I had just read an article the day before about a man in Corpus Christi who cut the head off a four foot rattlesnake and then got BIT BY THE SEVERED HEAD. The man survived but was in really bad shape. So, I’d just come up with a new rule that dead snakes should stay dead and not bite people.
Furthermore, I was not actually looking at a snake in its natural habitat. I was looking at a large snake SKIN. In a TREE. Which meant there was a EXTRA-large (too large to fit in that skin), fresh, tree-climbing snake somewhere nearby.
I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. I DIDN’T EVEN BRING MY CELL PHONE!
Despite coming down with a severe case of the willies, I did not turn back. No, not this determined trail-walker. I forged ahead, staying on the path and keeping an eye out for fresh snakes above, below, beside, and all around me. Once, when I got too close to the edge of the path and a piece of spear grass brushed my ankle, I let out a high-pitched squeak that a person sitting on their porch in my neighborhood probably mistook for a coyote bark. But all was well. I made it out of the Wildflower Center alive.
My Good Deed for the Day
When I left, more morning guests were arriving, which made me happy because I want them to keep these new hours. In the busy parking lot, I saw one of my favorite critters: a large, brown, Texas tarantula. She was on the move, scurrying quickly, obviously with places to go. Unfortunately, the places she needed to go were on the other side of the driveway, and a car was coming. I couldn’t bear to see her get squished, so I stepped in front of the car, pointed at my little friend, and mimed for them to please wait until she had safely crossed. They did.
I recently learned that while male tarantulas often don’t live more than a few months, females can live up to 40 years. I don’t actually know the gender of the one I met, but I like to think that I helped a little old lady cross the street.
I survived my morning walk. I got some exercise. I saw some sights. I plan to go back this week. I think maybe this time I’ll take my cell phone with me.