Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
A young maiden named Eventide, proud owner of her own stone house and a field capable of producing much more food than she could ever eat, was also the repository of a broken heart. An illness, whether the curse of angry gods, the conjuration of witches or simply the stuff of life, had taken her parents along with the elderly and very young across the valley.
She was grateful that her father had worked hard to provide for his family. The sum total of his life’s work was this house, the field surrounded by a sturdy stone wall, the well that never failed to provide clear, cool water, the stone barn, Archibald the sway-backed plow horse, a milk cow and a few chickens.
Following her father’s example for time and conditions, Eve planted the field with seeds from his final crops. She buried and watered them, then fertilized them with dung from the animals.
On the morning after she finished planting, she went outside to witness the devastation. Birds of every kind were digging up her precious seeds and eating them with impunity. She ran this way and that, waving her shawl and screaming until her voice and her will gave out. She fell to the ground, weeping, pleading for the illness to return and take her as well.
News of her misfortune reached the village. When she hitched Archibald to the wagon and went to town to purchase supplies, Ailbeart, who now ran the dry goods store after the death of his own father, goaded her about the failure of her first crop.
“You need a good man to take care of you, Eve. With the farm as dowry, you could do very well for yourself.” He finished the little spiel with a wink and a nod.
“I have nothing against a good man, dear Ailbeart,” said Eve. “If, in the course of your business dealings, you should meet one, please send him my way.” She returned the wink and nod. "By the way, you charged me half again as much as your father would have done. If this continues, I'll take my business to a store in one of the other villages."
But the words of Ailbeart haunted her. She was doing her best to rid the field of the fowl, but it was taking all of her time and energy. Maybe the storekeeper was right, and this life was too much for a woman. But this she could not and would not accept. She renewed her efforts, drove the birds off day after day and replanted the crop. She could not bear the thought of continuing this fight, though. She set her mind to finding a way to keep the birds away for good.
I need someone equally skilled at chasing away my feathered foes. She had heard of the craft of forming a human shape that could scare birds out of a field, so she made it that day’s project. Her father’s farm clothes stuffed with dried grass made a believable body. An old grain sack, likewise filled with grass, sufficed for the head. Button eyes, a radish nose, and a string bean mouth even had her keeping a suspicious eye on her creation. She wove a straw hat, placed it on its head, and carried it into the field. Eve buried the end of a board in the ground and tied the figure to it with strips of cloth. She stepped back to admire her work.
“Hello there,” she said with a curtsey. “My name is Eventide, Eve for short. I don’t get many visitors out this way. Won’t you stay for dinner?”
The button eyes stared back and the string bean smile never wavered. Somehow the little scene left her sad and lonely.
Day after day the birds continued to raid her field. She threw stones, waved her hands and shouted until not even a feather remained. But the straw stuffed figure had been a failure.
Eve woke one morning to a ruckus outside. She looked out the window and saw a man who was attempting to chase away the birds. To Eve, it didn’t matter that he was trying to help, trespassing was trespassing. She grabbed her father’s machete and stormed out the door.
Words were on the verge of flying out of her mouth about her property and having things under control here and thank you, but please move on. Two things stopped her and sent her back to the other side of the stone wall. The first was her father’s clothes. The second was the board tied to the man’s back. He turned. Their eyes met. And Eve fled to the house.
She was too frightened to look outside. What had gone wrong? What evil had found its way to her farm? She hid along the wall in her bedroom with the straw tic pulled close, the blade of the machete cold against her arm.
By late afternoon, she suspected it had been an early morning dream. She crawled out of her hiding place. Her muscles ached from lying on the floor all day. She looked out the window toward the field. Everything was as it should have been. The birds were gone, the crops were safe and the human figure stood tied to a board that was buried in the ground.
Machete in hand, Eve ventured out. Lifeless button eyes stared straight ahead. The radish nose and string bean mouth clearly needed changing. She remembered when he had turned toward her that morning, the soft eyes, the strong, handsome face.
Eventide sat on the rocky ground. She had turned her life around and made the little farm successful. She had even earned the respect of the townspeople.
But the woman in her wanted more. She breathed deeply, afraid to speak, more afraid not to.
“I’m going back inside now. My invitation stands.” She rose from the ground, brushed the dust from her dress and went to the kitchen to make dinner.