_

Short Stories

I wrote this short story for a contest sponsored by the Writers' Village. Although I didn't win, I was in the top 50 and received a valuable critique. 

For your enjoyment, here is:


The Other Side of the Road
By
Paul M. Schofield


  Turtle stared at the green barrier ahead. “I can do this, I’ve done it before. Twenty summers—that’s pretty good, if I do say so myself. Just be careful, pay attention, choose the right time and hope for some good fortune—that never hurts in this world.”
  Head held out he pushed forward a jerky three inch step, and then another, and another, plowing through the grass towering before him, mindless of the spiny blackberries. The rhythmic ply of scaly feet and claws pulled along body and home in tandem. Grass compressed in his wake but sprang up again undamaged after his deliberate passing. Familiar scents led the way, the same genetic memories that guided his ancestors, their ancestors, and their ancestors through eons of time.
  Late morning sun warmed his back, quickening his reflexes, and drying the dew that dripped from his lichen plastered leathery shell. The heady mixture of black earth, leaf mould and fresh green shoots gave way to a familiar reptilian odor. Snake: a black ring-necked snake slithered across his forward path. It turned in a relaxed half-coil and gazed at him with unblinking serpent eyes, its forked black tongue flickering in and out.
  “Don’t go that way,” snake said. “You’re getting close to the road. It’s dangerous. I lost a cousin two days ago. I warned him—he thought he was fast enough. Now the cursed crows and vultures are eating him. Turn around before it’s too late.” Still unblinking he turned and glided away, a raspy whisper on the sun warmed grass.
  “Crows and vultures—I’ll be cautious. I’ve done this before.”
  Turtle pushed forward one small repetitive surge after another, penetrating the continuous green barrier, heedless of what lay ahead. What will come, will come, was his instinctive mantra.
  A sudden blood-scent touched his nostrils, slowing his pace. He pulled his head back and crept through the thick foliage. “Possum,” he said stopping inches away. An upturned glance revealed no circling carrion-eaters. “Nothing yet, must have happened last night. Is his mate waiting for him? He looks young—a first crossing? The road is cruel.”
  He stared a moment longer, shifted his bulk to the side and skirted the corpse, hastening to forget the grim reminder. The sea of grass continued on, sprinkled with purple thistles thrusting upwards. Rocks increased, the grass thinned, and the path steepened as he labored up, finally reaching the crest. He paused at the gray rock-chipped edge of the asphalt sloping out of sight in front of him, stretched out his striped neck to the full, and stared to the right and to the left. Satisfied he placed a foot on the road and waited—waited for the vibration. He sensed it before he felt it; the tremor in the road grew stronger.
  “I recognize this—two summers ago—noisy, blood colored machine—I’ll wait.” He slunk back a few steps. Movement on the other side of the road caught his eye. A squirrel bounded toward him and halted on the center-line, its jaws fastened on a large nut. It suddenly noticed the approaching truck, reversed direction, stopped and turned again, scampering in panic along the center-line. The truck sped up, the roar and vibration escalated.
  “Jump to the side!” turtle said as loud as he could. The squirrel zigzagged on the pavement. The tremors increased, the exhaust bellowed and tires squealed toward the hapless creature. “Jump!” turtle yelled as he pushed himself back into the thin grass.
  Its eyes wide with fear the squirrel sprang from the center-line to the road’s edge and leaped into the grass as tires shrieked behind it along the abrasive edge of the asphalt. The red truck swerved to the center, sped up in a roar, and hurtled down the highway, laughter and curses trailing off through the open windows. The vibration died out. The squirrel scurried up an oak tree and clung to a wide branch, the nut still in its mouth.
  Turtle tipped his head to consider the fortunate rodent and turned back to the road, lumbering nearer, listening for traffic. He heard and felt nothing as he struggled up over the pavement’s edge. “Onward, as fast as I can,” he thought, starting across the gray expanse in deliberate incremental strides, claws useless as his calloused feet slipped along the hardened surface.
  “Uh-oh, vibration.” He neared the center-line and stopped upon it with head stretched up, golden eyes searching. A sky colored machine quietly drew near as the road tremors increased. “Not enough time—safest to stay in the middle—it’s worked before.”
  Head still extended he watched the mini-van approach, slow down, pull to the side and stop. Excited voices carried out the open windows. Yellow-orange lights flashed at the front of the machine. “It’s a turtle, mommy. Can we take it home?”
  “Look at the colors on its shell. Can we get it, please? We’ll take good care of it.”
  “It’s a painted box turtle and no, we can’t take it home. It’s an old one—do you see how big it is? Its home is out here. I wish it’d stay off the road.”
  “I’ll get it and put it back in the grass.”
  “Well, okay son, there’s no traffic and box turtles don’t bite. Be careful and hurry. I’ll watch for traffic. Put it on the same side as the car—don’t cross the road.”
  “Okay, mom.”
  The door creaked open and footsteps approached. “Why is it always children?” turtle thought and pulled in his legs and tucked his head into his shell. He stared out the narrow opening into wide-opened bright blue eyes.         “Oh, I hate being lifted up.”
  “Don’t worry, Mr. Turtle, I won’t hurt you. Uhh—you’re kind of heavy. Here’s the grass—stay off the road now.”
  “Easy—easy—don’t drop me.”
  Footsteps ran back to the mini-van. “Okay, mom, the turtle is safe again.”
  “Thanks, son, you did a good deed. Buckle up and we’ll go home.”
  “Where was the turtle going, mom? Doesn’t it know the road is dangerous?”     The seat-belt clicked and the mini-van started to move.
  “I don’t know where Mr. Turtle was going. Maybe he was…” The words faded as the sky colored machine diminished, turned off its flashers, and disappeared over the hill.
  The vibration ceased. The faint songs of robins blended with the hum of bumble bees and the steady chirp of crickets. The road was quiet.
  “Why couldn’t he have put me down on the other side? Now I have to start over.” Turtle stared across the gray rock-chipped surface, stretched out his head and looked both ways. No machines could be felt or seen. “Here we go again,” he said beginning his practiced gait.
  The overhead sun warmed the road and his shell giving him extra energy, tempting him to increase his momentum. Thistles and tall grass climbed into view on the opposite side, beckoning him to hurry, but his feet and claws lost traction with the increased pace. “Slow and steady,” he reminded himself. “It’ll only take another moment.”
  He reached the yellow center-line and felt the vibration tingling up through his feet and legs, subtle but growing. And he recognized it. “Steady, steady,” he repeated as he stretched and turned his head hoping not to see the blood colored machine, but the growing familiar noise dashed his hope. Another machine followed not far behind.
  “Not good,” turtle thought as the first twinge of fear crept into him. “Steady, keep moving.”
  The growl of the truck increased accompanied by taunts, faint and unclear, but with obvious intent. His fear grew as he realized he couldn’t reach the edge in time. Halfway across the lane he pulled in his legs and head, his eyes focused through the edges of his shell on the green grass only moments away, perhaps now unreachable. The roar and vibration increased, pulsing up from the pavement through the bottom of his shell. He drew a deep breath and concentrated on the foliage in front of him.
  The red truck sped up, the driver yelled a whoop, and aimed his right wheel at the small domed unmoving shape cowering in the road. The driver glanced in his mirror and his eyes grew wide. He jerked the steering wheel, the front tires squealing as the rear wheels lost traction, shrieking sideways, catching on the gravel at the road’s edge. The engine roared, front wheels twisted, and gravel sprayed as the truck lurched forward, rubber screaming on the warm pavement, charging ahead on the road.
  With a deafening squeal the front tire slid by the side of turtle, knocking him under the truck toward the center-line. Turtle slammed into the side of the skidding rear wheels, turning him the opposite direction and tumbling him over, leaving him spinning up-side-down in the middle of the lane. He held his breath and waited for the final blow.
  Screeching tires instantly bore down on him and stopped, the front of the machine directly above him, pulsating blue lights flashing from one side to the other. A door opened and quick footsteps approached. He was lifted up and hurried to the side of the road into the deep grass, turned over, and gently set down.
  “You look okay, old man, just a few scrapes. I’ve seen you before,” the trooper said. “Stay off the road and keep living. I’ve got a speeder to catch.”     He ran back to his silver machine and sped off. The wail of the siren passed over the hill and slowly died out.
  Turtle rested a few minutes longer. Finally he extended his legs and stretched out his head staring up at the blue sky, shining sun and the tall grass surrounding him. Familiar scents invigorated his memory. He knew where he was, his ancestral path was clear, his journey could continue. Once more he was safe on the other side of the road.

The End

 © Paul M. Schofield, 2013