A flash fiction story (1,000 words) I wrote for NYC Midnight this weekend. My assignment was a fantasy story with a sword and a boat parade. I had a blast writing this one.
The muskrats live happily on the banks of the Tumbly River until the beavers arrive. Hamish MuskGregor decides he will not leave his burrow to the beavers and will fight them to save his river home.
“Papa, tell us a bedtime story,” Phineas begged. His mother had bathed him and made him brush his sharp incisors. Now, the tiny muskrat was ready for sleep.
His father waddled across the burrow to the nest of old fur and soft leaves where Phineas, Nigel, and Matilda slept. He settled his large frame onto a birch stool and leaned forward. “I’ll tell you a tale if you promise to go right to sleep afterward. Tomorrow is a big day in the pond.”
“We will, Papa,” the three muskrats promised. They circled their nest, pushing and pulling the softest leaves into place before they curled into a tight clutch of bodies. Their furry faces looked up, black eyes wide, as their father began his speak.
“This is the tale of Hamish MuskGregor, chieftain of the Fernpond clan,” Papa said, his voice deep.
“He’s the reason we have the boat parade, isn’t he?” Matilda squeaked. She used her paw to push her brother, Nigel, to the far part of the nest. Nigel barked a protest and a brief tussle ensued.
“Children, if you don’t stop this instant, you’ll go straight to bed without a story,” Mama said. She dried her paws on the dish towel by the sink and sat down on the leaf and twig couch. She picked up her knitting needles made from porcupine quills. Soon the clicking of the needles filled the burrow.
Papa lit his acorn pipe. “Hamish wasn’t always a chieftain. In fact, he began life as a humble muskrat on the banks of the Tumbly River. He spent his days gathering crayfish and cattails and building his burrow in hopes to one day find a wife.”
“Like Mama?” Nigel asked.
Papa nodded his grizzled head. “Like your mother. Life was peaceful on the river. Water rats, birds, and foxes lived in harmony.”
“But it all changed when the beavers moved in,” Phineas said.
“Who’s telling this story?” Papa puffed on his pipe and waited for the pups to settle. “Yes, the beavers came with their large dams and big ideas for change on the Tumbly River. Chieftain Tomas was head of the family and went to speak to them.”
Phineas closed his eyes and imagined the large muskrat chieftain marching to meet the beavers with his fur slick and shiny with water. He must have been a magnificent sight.
“Chieftain Tomas believed the beavers to be friendly, so he went alone. But the next day, his body was found bruised and battered on the banks of the river with a tuft of beaver fur clenched in his hand.”
Little Matilda shivered. She enjoyed a good story, but Mama knew she would have nightmares. Mama laid her knitting down and came and stroked Matilda’s head. The little muskrat pup closed her eyes and waited for the tale to continue.
“The Fernpond clan held a council with the elders of the river. Half of the clan wanted to move to new waters while the others wished to stay and fight. There was no easy answer for the muskrats. The beavers were bigger, and their tails were deadly,” Papa said, his voice low and deep.
Then Hamish spoke up.” Phineas sat up and smiled, his yellow teeth glinting in the candlelight.
“Back in bed,” Mama admonished. She grabbed a blanket of old cloth she’d found on the bank of the river and tucked it over her three pups.
“Yes, young Hamish MuskGregor had built a beautiful bank burrow and he wasn’t eager to leave it behind.” Papa closed his eyes. “He came to the center of the clan meeting and although he was small, he stood on his hind paws and turned to each clan elder one-by-one looking them straight in the eye. Hamish said this was his home and his river. He then reached into a small scabbard he had fashioned out of leaves and pulled out a sword made of bone. Hamish held the bone sword high in the air and declared he would fight until his final breath to keep his home.
“When he was done, Hamish stood waiting. A roar of barks and squeaks filled the air. Teeth gnashed and long tails whipped in a frenzy as the clan decided to go to war.”
Nigel’s eyes were wide. He popped his thumb into his mouth and sucked. He waited for Papa to continue the story.
“Hamish and his clan brothers built a fleet of boats from twigs and cattails. The women gathered old fish bones from the banks of the river and used their teeth to sharpen them. Even the young pups worked by sewing sails from leaves and hair from a horse’s mane.” Papa shifted the acorn pipe from one side of his mouth to the other, drawing deeply. The bowl glowed with each puff. “One week later, under cover of darkness, the Fernpond clan boarded their boats and sailed towards the beaver dam.”
All three muskrats sat up and leaned toward their father, eager to hear the end of this well-known story. “They were so brave,” Phineas said.
“Yes, they were,” Mama said. She reached out her paw to try to smooth a cowlick, but Phineas wiggled away.
“As they drew close to the dam, Hamish gave a mighty battle cry. The rest of the muskrats swarmed across the branches, ousting the beavers from their beds. Although bigger, the beavers weren’t prepared for the onslaught of swords and teeth. By dawn, all that remained of the beavers was a small log trapped on a rock.”
“And the beavers never returned,” Phineas said, giving a satisfied sigh. He settled back under the blanket. “Now, we have our Tumbly River Boat Parade to celebrate the victory every year.”
Nigel gave a big yawn. “I want a troutsicle after the parade.”
“Me, too,” Matilda said, her eyes fluttered as she fought sleep.
“Goodnight, children,” Papa said as he blew out the candle.
“Goodnight,” Phineas mumbled as he drifted off to sleep.
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