What It Takes
He tip-toed toward the door and wrapped his free hand around the knob.
“Gareth!” Nerra’s harsh cry drifted from their bedroom. “Don’t forget the bait.”
Gareth froze. If she thought he’d already left.
“I know you’re out there.” Or not. “Don’t you dare leave that bait behind.”
He sighed. “Yes, dear.” No getting out of it now. He scooped the silver-painted marbles from the counter and shoved them in his pocket. They were supposed to attract animals with magic powers. What a joke.
“Attaboy. Holler when you get back.”
What else would he do? He pushed the door open and stepped outside. Nerra had the best of intentions, but the woman nagged him almost to the breaking point. As if a dozen silver balls could help break Derin’s fever.
He gripped the sack’s handle tighter and lumbered into the woods. Who was he fooling? If carrying around two dozen marbles would save his baby girl’s life, he’d do it.
Beneath the trees, bird songs and squirrel chitters bounced from branch to branch. Gareth followed his well-trodden path to the stream. If any of these animals were magic, they certainly didn’t show it. He dipped half the net into the crystal water and waited. The sun’s rays played through the canopy now, shimmering like gold.
The net shifted. A small school of fish butted against the webbing. Gareth brought the second half of the net to the first and scooped the entire thing clear of the stream, dumping the fish into the sack. He repeated the process for two more catches and then stood. Now to check the traps.
The closest stood beneath an old oak. Gnarled and twisted, the ancient tree stretched to the sky, its branches full of colorful birds. A good-sized nest of eggs would feed his family for a week, and eggs were good for illness. If the traps didn’t yield enough, he’d go climbing.
He rounded the tree and crouched by the first trap. Within, a pheasant struggled for freedom.
Gareth blew out a sigh. Well, food was food. A pheasant wasn’t the best catch, but it would do. He reached for the trap.
The bird wilted back, squawking at his hand. The tone was low and the tempo slow, almost sad?
“What’s the matter, girl?” At least, it looked like a girl.
The pheasant cooed, pointing one wing to a cluster of leaves.
Gareth crawled toward the bundle and held his hand over it. The pheasant made encouraging sounds, so he brushed the top layer of leaves aside.
Inside, a baby pheasant lie, not moving. Something was wrong with the little thing. Its eyes were half closed, and its breaths came shallow. It squeaked and shook, a cough.
Gareth withdrew. The pheasant was a momma, and its baby was sick, maybe dying.
He crawled back to the trap. “Well, I’ll be.” His heart cracked. He worked with the mechanism until it clicked open. “Go on, girl. Take care of your young.”
The pheasant gazed up at him with wide, brown eyes. Then, it shimmered and grew. “Gareth Wellben,” it said. “We all make choices. Your family is in need, but you chose to protect a creature unknown to you. It is more than any other man might do, and for that, I will grant you one wish.”
Gareth put a hand to his heart. There really were magic animals in the wood, and it didn’t take silver marbles to find them. One wish…as if there was a choice. He opened his mouth to ask.
Words: 623 Noun: pheasant Verb: nag
Mary DeSantis is an –ism—enough said—currently living in North Carolina with two parents, no dogs, no cats, and one constantly playing mental soundtrack of Disney music.
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