NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

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I recently entered an online writing competition. The competition consists of four rounds over six months. The challenge is this: write a flash fiction story of 1000 words or less in 48 hours. The story must be within an assigned genre and setting and must contain an assigned element.

This was my assignment:

genre: Action/Adventure

setting: Igloo

element: a calculator

Full disclosure: I’ve never written an action/adventure story — ever — and I had no idea where to start. The germ of an idea came to me on the hike down from Hidden Valley in the Rockies near Jasper. By the time I was home, it had morphed from an alt history about the Franklin Expedition to a story about enduring love. I wrote the rough draft that night (1300+ words) and edited it down the next morning (1000 words on the nose). My time for research (no internet at the cabin) was limited, so I hope I didn’t make too many cultural or linguistic blunders. Also, typos, I bet there are typos. *groan*

Despite a few initial misgivings, I loved the process. It’s amazing what comes out when you have a tight deadline. Ha, ha.

Anyway, here it is.

Ata and Aput

by Roberta Laurie

Aput was unhappy. He didn’t know how to articulate his sadness, but it weighed on him like the long dark night of winter — close and pressing. He had felt this way ever since his ataatatsiaq, grandfather, died two weeks ago. Ata, he had called him since his small mouth could form the word. It wasn’t that Ata’s death had been unexpected. He had already lived through many winters, and even Aput’s mother said that it was better for him to go before he was flown to a hospital to live his last days a thousand miles from home.

They had been close. It was because of his grandfather that he was named Aput, snow. Ata had insisted on a traditional name. He had wanted to preserve the old ways: showing Aput how to gut fish, skin seal, construct a tallow lantern from hollowed rock. Just two months before Ata’s passing, they had cut and shaped a small igloo from the hard-packed snow. Aput hadn’t visited the igloo since the night he’d spent curled under its opaque dome pressed against his grandfather for warmth, but he suddenly knew he needed to go there. He had to see it again before the spring winds came.

He felt such a rush of knowing, knowing that this was a last way to say goodbye to his grandfather, that he packed quickly. His mother was at work, and if he hurried, he could be home before she knew he was gone. The days were short, so he didn’t have much time. He needed to be home before the Arctic night returned.

He pulled his notebooks, pencils and calculator from his school backpack and replaced them with a box of Smarties, a bottle of water, a flashlight, and the hunting knife that his grandfather had given him for his tenth birthday.

He shrugged on his warmest parka, tucked his feet into his mucklucks, slipped on his sealskin mitts and opened the door. A puff of wind ground ice crystals into his cheeks.

He set off down the snow-packed road, past his auntie’s house, his school, a few more houses, and he was out of town. A limitless white terrain. He followed the line of the airport road then took a sharp turn when he came to Qimmiq River. If he followed the frozen water, he would come to Prayer Rock. From there he would find the igloo.

The journey seemed more arduous without Ata. Here on the vast open tundra with the sun hugging the southern horizon, he felt small and solitary. He was light, so he could easily walk on the snow’s frozen crust. It wasn’t until he came upon a hardened drift that he struggled, but he knew Prayer Rock was not far, so he persevered. Then the giant rock broke the horizon. That gave Aput renewed strength, and although the wind was picking up, he plunged on.

The walk to Prayer Rock was longer than he expected, but the igloo was where he remembered, covered with fallen snow that made its outline faint.

He dropped to his knees and, with mittened hands, scraped the snow from the entrance tunnel. Then he fell to his belly and wiggled his way inside. It was just as he remembered it, snug and dim. For a moment, he thought he could hear Ata’s breath in the small space. He felt safe, and for the first time since his grandfather’s death, he didn’t feel alone.

He unzipped his backpack and pulled out the Smarties, the knife, the water and the flashlight.

He opened the Smarties. Counting ten into his hand, one for each year of his age because Ata always said, “Save some for later.” Then he closed the box. He took the smallest of bites to make them last, and as he nibbled, he wished that Ata were there to eat the Smarties with him. But maybe he was, in a way. If Aput closed his eyes he could see Ata’s smiling face. When he remembered the day that Ata had let him gut a fish without any help, he felt big and important. When he remembered waiting with Ata for the seal to come to the ice’s surface, he felt pride that he could be patient like Ata and the other men.

He had forgotten to eat the last of his Smarties, so he popped it in his mouth. He could hear the wind outside and knew he should leave the igloo. He took a sip of water and repacked his bag. “Goodbye, Ata. I love you,” he whispered into the dimming space. He crawled out to a darkening world. The wind had begun to pick up the snow. He had stayed too long.

Aput could just see the dark shape of Prayer Rock. From there he once again followed the river, but under the darkening sky its outline was indistinct. Aput pulled the flashlight from his pack and flicked its switch. Aput walked as fast as he could, but his small body was pressed by the wind. The wind could trick the ear too, and that may have been the case, but it seemed like he heard his grandfather’s voice, “Keep walking.” So he did.

Aput’s attention wandered and he thought that he had lost the line of the river, but he heard Ata’s voice on the wind: “Too the right.” And he corrected.

His face was raw and his legs were aching by the time he reached the road: “Almost home,” said the wind.

There were small dots of glimmer in the darkness. “Keep walking,” said Ata.

The lights got closer, and Aput knew he would make it. He began to run.

He ran up the three steps of his house, opened the door, and was home. Cradled by warmth, he shrugged off his pack and hung his coat by the door. He took out the Smarties and sat on the couch. Before opening the box, he whispered, “I love you, Ata,” into the quiet stillness.

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