George has been stationed at a remote fire lookout tower and hasn’t seen another human for weeks. Either he is starting to lose his mind, or Mother Nature is playing tricks on him.2019 Short Story
A NYC Flash Fiction 2019 Challenge – One thousand words in 48 hours!
Assigned genre: Historical fiction
Assigned location: A fire station
Object to appear in the story at least once: Mosquito net
“The Light Show”
He must be losing his mind. After being alone in the woods for six weeks, insanity wasn’t out of the question. As a fire lookout with the US Forest Service, he’d survived remote posts, but this position was wearing on him. He hadn’t seen another human in weeks.
From atop his wooden lookout tower, he surveyed the land in all directions. One hundred feet in the air, windows on all sides, the landscape was uninterrupted. If smoke were to rise within a twenty miles radius, George would be the first to know.
He sat in the center of the small tower, binoculars in hand. At nineteen years old, it was difficult to sit still, even if it was in the clouds. He’d rather be on the ground exploring the wilderness. Foraging came in handy during fire season. Anything to spice up the bland government rations he’d been provided. Just that morning he’d found wild mushrooms. They were waiting for him in the cabin below, simmering in grouse fat and wild garlic.
A large brass plaque reminded George why he’d taken this job. He ran his hand across the metal lettering, “The Great Burn of 1910. Three million acres lost”. Though a decade had passed, it seemed only yesterday the largest wildfire in American history had terrorized his home state.
He’d been just a boy, but George would never forget the blackened sky, ash falling like rain. He tied damp handkerchiefs around his sisters’ faces to filter the smoke, but breathing had been near impossible. He remembered his mother crying, afraid the fire would consume them.
If fire threatened his family again, George would be the first to know.
The sound of metal clanging below reminded the young forester that his dinner awaited. He made good time down the ladders, nine stories to the ground, but found his dinner splattered on the floor. Ruined. The cast iron pan lay sideways on the ground, only a small portion of his meal intact.
His hard earned meal was being lapped up by a large, furry beast!
George scowled at the black bear in front of him. “Get out” he yelled, which startled it. The panicked intruder crashed through the open window, ripping the mosquito net curtain off its frame.
“Stay out!” George yelled after the bear. Climbing the tower worked up his appetite and the bear had taken over half his meal. Determined to enjoy what was left, George retrieved the pan off the floor.
The bear’s leftovers were delicious, but did nothing to fill George’s belly. Grudgingly, he grabbed a can of sardines and headed back to the tower. Once atop, he scanned the area through binoculars. The bear hadn’t gone far. It lay next to the cabin. George could see every bristle of fur. He was close enough to see fleas jump, close enough to see the bear was acting very strangely.
Plunked on its rear end like a friendly toy, the bear examined its own body. One by one, it put each front paw in front of its nose, wiggled its ears and sniffed. It acted as if it had never seen its own paws before. Instinctively, George looked down at his own hands, which had suddenly began to feel much larger than they usually did.
He brought his hand into view, barely believing what he saw. His pink skin was buzzing, as if each cell was vibrating. His fingers left trails of light behind as they moved. Something strange was going on, his body was tingling all over.
As if in mirror image, the bear started at his paws in similar amazement.
It was getting dark. George was surprised to see the sky had turned deep red. Had he been staring at his hands for hours? He must have lost track of time. It took longer to climb down the ladder this time, but was far more exhilarating. He could feel the forest around him. He could hear every chirp, creak and breeze. He may have been the only human for miles, but he wasn’t alone. This old growth forest was teaming with life, and George suddenly felt aware of it all.
He should be tired, but he felt exhilarated. His mind was whirling, but his legs weren’t working anymore. He needed to sit down. He stopped in his tracks and laid down on the ground between the cabin and the tower.
And there, right beside him, was the bear.
For the second time, they startled each other. Only this time neither of them ran away. They both settled onto the ground with no intention of moving.
Hours passed, and the young man lay in awe of the night sky. Comets zoomed, leaving bright trails. Constellations twinkled and danced. The light show never ended, and George was riveted. Each time he looked over, the bear seemed to be experiencing the same, its black eyes taking it all in. Sometimes the pair gasped in unison as a shooting star shot across the sky.
It went on like this all night, bear and boy entertained by the cosmos. Eventually the sun began to peak over the horizon. As the light show ended, the creature lifted onto all fours and approached George. Bear loomed over human and gave a big snort.
It lumbered into the woods without any more of a goodbye.
There was nothing else to do but resume post. With unsteady legs, George climbed the lookout tower. As he sat down in the center of the room, he knocked over a mushroom guidebook. An open page exposed large text, “Psilocybin Mushrooms” followed by a familiar illustration. Text followed, “will produce hallucinations, make one lose sense of time and heighten senses. Native Shamans claim it has magical properties.”
Either he had just eaten magic mushrooms with a bear, or he was losing his mind. After this long alone in the woods, insanity wasn’t out of the question.