Saturday, March 10, 2012

“Sponsor's Apprentice": a terribleminds flash fiction challenge

This weeks terribleminds flash fiction challenge is to write and post a 1000-word flash fiction story before Noon EST, March 15th, (this one totals 1000) using 10 of the following words: 
Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.

            Tour groups always made me want to scream, and the junior-high groups were the worst. The gaggle of boys who slouched in front of me during my talk on falcons all wore the same rumpled skater clothes and the same cow-stupid expression. They expected to be entertained, not educated. Nothing I did, short of pulling an Xbox and big-screen out of my gauntlet, was likely to make an impression. I gave the talk anyway, mostly ignoring the two right up front who were chatting over me.
            “You should be more respectful of him,” one of them sagely told his buddy. “He’s a dinosaur, y’know.”
            I almost took offense to that until I realized he was talking about the bird on my glove, instead. These guys didn’t look clever enough to craft left-handed compliments.
            “Is not,” his friend said, apparently ignoring my existence altogether. “He’s a falcon. And not even a very big one.”
            “Well, falcons are birds, and birds are dinosaurs. Just look at a bird’s skeleton and a dinosaur skeleton. You can totally tell.” He paused as if something profound had just occurred to him. “You’re an idiot.”
            “Shut upYou’re an idiot.”
            “Thank you for coming,” I lamely offered as they moved off with the group to the next station, still declaring their mutual idiocy. As they went, they scuffed their feet through the gravel, leaving dark furrows I’d have to rake back into place later. One of them turned back just to give me the finger.
            What charming citizens.
            I tried not to sigh as the next kids rotated through. It was bad form to look bored around the guests. Skipper, the kestrel I was holding, didn’t seem to mind. Sitting on my gloved thumb like a brown-eyed fluffy peach, he bobbed his head in that ridiculously-cute way kestrels have, and I grinned. He always made my day better. The tour group would leave soon and I could take him out to the parking lots for a little hunting. If I flushed a sparrow for him, his day would be better too.
            I really did love this gig, and would probably do it even if it wasn’t my job. I was lucky to have found a university with such a fantastic raptor research facility on campus. Being a general-class falconer—and at twenty-three, only a year away from master already—had made me an easy pick for this job when the departments were filling their work-study positions, and my boss was glad to have someone she didn’t have to train from scratch, for once.
            The next—and thankfully last—group was girls who cooed over Skipper like pigeons on a seed pile but paid no more attention to me than the boys had. When they moved on, snapping their gum at the world with slack-jawed disdain, I was free. I already had the whistle and most of the gear; I’d just grab a baggie of tidbits and a bush-beating staff, then head out to the lower parking lot by the gym, and….
            “Umm…Mr. Grainger?”
            Thinking there was no justice in the universe, I turned back to find a skinny dark-haired girl nervously lingering by the display. She’d been at the rear of this last group, gazing intently at the big falcon poster the whole time. I wasn’t sure she’d even looked at Skipper, which is unusual, given raptors innate charisma. “Yes, can I help you?”
            “Do you ever, I mean…that is, I wonder if you’d consider, umm….” Her face flushed bright red and she picked obsessively at the button on her shirt cuff, not making eye contact and looking as if she wanted to bolt. Then her eyes locked on Skipper and she lost her train of thought entirely. The cheeky little beast actually chirruped at her! I defy anyone to convince me that kestrels don’t know how cute they are.
            “Did you have a question?”
            As if entranced, she spoke directly to Skipper. “Mrs. Harris said you’re a, umm…. Do you take apprentices? ‘Cause I, uhh….”
            It was the first halfway-thoughtful question I’d been asked all day, and the last thing I wouldve expected from a group like this. But then the spiel kicked in. “Falconry isn’t pet-keeping. You have to hunt with your bird, and there’s a long process to go through before you get one. Most sponsors don’t let their apprentices start with kestrels: weight management is really tricky on the little hawks, and it’s easy to make a fatal mistake….”
            She was already nodding but it wasn’t that false patronizing acknowledgement that teens are so good at. This was earnest, as if she was anticipating me. She swung her backpack down, fished out a dog-eared, tattered paperback and handed it to me. I smiled in surprise as I recognized it. It was a copy of Beebe’s “A Manual of Falconry,” one of the first falconry books I’d ever read, and it was well-loved. Its pages glowed with yellow highlighting. Notes crammed its margins.
            Her initial nervousness forgotten, she puffed up with the resolve to prove her worthiness. “I have my triple-beam scale, bath pan, swivel, perch, leash and glove. I’ve read all twenty-eight falconry books the county library system has, some of them twice. I can tie the falconer’s knot and make anklets and jesses. I made my own bal-chatri trap; it’s got forty-seven nooses I tied myself. My grandpa has a farm just down the street from my house, with starlings; he traps and kills them but he said he’d give me some live ones to help train my bird with, and he doesn’t put poisoned bait out, so I could hunt her there once she’s trained. I made flash cards with all the questions for the state test and I’ve been studying nonstop for the last six months. Ask me anything.” 
            Her intensity was formidable. I’d never had such a young apprentice with such drive. Only in eighth grade and she already had the fever.
            I smiled. “Want to go hunting?”


  1. Sweet! Loved that girl.

    You nailed the other kids as well!

  2. I loved all the references to the kestrel and birds of prey. Something different and interesting. You got the humans nailed too.

  3. She's so eager :) I hope she and her bird have lots of happy hunting together!

  4. Yay falconry! Kestrels are too cute to be legal in my opinion.