Flash Fiction Challenge: The Long Sleep

Photo by K.S. Brooks

The herd had moved on and left the old bull buffalo behind. He had seen many seasons and fought many battles.

He was tired. The cold made his bones ache. His breath came raw and hard. The food had been scarce and he was weak from hunger long before the killing snow came.

From the edge of the woods, he could hear the familiar footfall of a predator. He turned his head, only half-caring. He would not fight again. It was time for the long sleep.

In the distance stood an old wolf, left behind by her pack. She was limping badly and near her end as well.

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Long Sleep”

  1. The farmer cursed. “Well I never! Sixty years I been farming this land, and I never seen nothing like this.” An aging she-wolf lay against the side of a grizzled buffalo in the snow. Both animals quivered. Fear? Cold? Perhaps both. They appeared to be sharing their body heat.

    “You two look like you’re about ready to freeze into icicles and die.”

    He disappeared for a few moments, and returned with a large toboggan laden with freeze-dried dog food, metal pots, bottled water, hay, and kindling.

    “Hope you two don’t mind if I talk while I work. I’ll just set a fire here. You try eating some of that chow.”

    Neither had the strength to flee. And they seemed to realize that he was their benefactor.

    “Nice and warm, yes? Good. It’s awful being old. Here it is Christmas and my kids aren’t coming to visit. The wife is dead. I’m sick—Doc says it’s cancer. Not much longer, he says. Haven’t told anybody. Everyone’s so busy they don’t have time for me. But you’ll listen, won’t you?”

    The wolf’s eyes glowed amber in the firelight as she chewed. The buffalo snorted, then stood, gaining vigor with each mouthful.

    “That’s it. You just keep chawing.”

    He supported his back against a bank of snow while he watched predator and prey. “Does a soul good to help someone.”

    ~*~

    Searchers found the farmer the following day, a smile frozen on his face, buffalo and wolf standing guard over his icy corpse.

  2. Bitter cold in the air did little to chill old hatreds, old instincts. The wolf scented the bull ahead.

    It lived, though she smelled death in the near future. She approached the great beast with caution. They were a challenge to bring down with the pack. Alone the beast could end her, but she was dead if she didn’t try.

    The buffalo dropped to the frozen ground before her. What’s this, she thought. It caught her eyes with its own. She saw the beasts acceptance, its pain.

    She growled at the buffalo. Not a warning, but a question. Could this be your offering? Could this be your gift?

    The buffalo turned extending his neck, exposing the vulnerability to the wolf. It mewled supplication. Come take my strength so that one may live.

    She cursed her injured leg. She could not run to the kill, instead she approached as a beggar. A huntress, swift of paw, reduced to sacrifice of a bull, she approached with trepidation. Her nose worked the through the smells around them. It sifted the smells searching for treachery, deceit.

    At the last the buffalo closed his eyes, ready for the moment he would breath his last. The wolf took his throat in her jaws. A moment and it would end, the sacrifice to save her. Hesitation, she held back in reverence.

    She bit down cutting through the wind pipe. As the buffalo’s life slipped away she howled a mournful salute.

  3. As Brother Sun slipped behind distant mountains we gathered to hear stories of our people, the TetonWan (Prairie People).

    “Grandfather, how came buffalo to the high plains?” one Brave asked.

    “When TetonWan were still new on Mother Earth without horses, guns for a hunt or blankets to keep us warm when thick lay winter snows, we would move southward seeking warmth and food. This caused territorial wars.”

    “Grandfather, no guns! No horses! How?”

    Grandfather smiled, “One Hunter Moon (October) Great Spirit Tunkasila sent WiyaWaka (Buffalo Maiden) and with her many buffalo. A thick fog had TetonWan ancestors trapped inside their tipis many days. When Sun chased away the fog WiyaWaka sat on strange blankets in the middle of our village.”

    “I bring buffalo,” she said. “Their hides will keep you warm. Their meat will fill your stomachs. I bring hunting knowledge and how to make blankets.”

    Three Hunter Moons came and went before WiyaWaka left us.

    We knew how to chase buffalo over a cliff so they’d fall to their deaths. We had learnt to ride their backs or move silently within a herd in order to use our spears. We knew how to made warm robes, blankets and winter tipi coverings.

    To this day before each hunt we dance to remind Buffalo his death drives the evil spirits Hunger and Famine away from our village. We dance after each hunt to thank Tunkasila for sending the Buffalo and for the successful hunt.

    In this way Buffalo came to be.

  4. If only I had a disguise, thought the bear, I could walk safely across the farmer’s field to hunt fish in the stream behind the barn.

    Anxious to find a solution, the bear started fiddling with some branches from the fir trees, but they were too finicky and he had no rope to die them down.

    He packed snow around his body, but it refused to clump to his hair.

    As the bear started pulling bark off the trees to make a suit of wooden armor, a shivering buffalo saw him and stopped him.

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Disguising myself,” the bear replied.

    “Why?”

    “So I can fish in the stream behind the barn.”

    “I see,” the buffalo said, his teeth chattering, “that’s really no problem.”

    “What do you mean?” the bear asked, too involved in his hunger to notice the buffalo’s suffering.

    “The farmer never shoots buffalo. No reason to.”

    “But he’d always shoot a bear. Every chance he gets,” the bear sighed.

    “Exactly,” the buffalo said. “But I know you’re not dangerous, so all we have to do is trade clothes. We’ll trade them back when you return satisfied. And for a little while, I’ll be warmer.”

    Hunger hastened the exchange and the bear pounded off across the field.

    But before the bear could cross halfway, a bullet tore through the air and he fell to the ground. As the farmer approached his prize, sad, dying eyes tracked a warm buffalo moving comfortably through the trees.

  5. William gazed out the window of the train jostling its way along wintry prairie tracks. He unscrewed the cap of his flask, taking a long pull of liquid fire. 

    A tow-headed boy, no more than seven, scampered into the bench across from him, and smudged the window with his hands and face. “Wow!” the kid breathed.

    William pulled out his spectacles to see what fascinated the child. A moment’s glance revealed a buffalo, fur covered in snow, laying down in the middle of a passing field. “What’s wrong with that buffalo, mister?”

    William cleared his throat. “Well, when an animal gets old or sick, sometimes it’ll just lay down and die. It keeps the herd strong and gives predators an easy meal, rather than having them chase the young.”

    “Oh.” The boy thought on that for a moment. “Makes sense, I guess. My name’s Frank.” He stuck out his small hand. “Where you headed, mister?”

    William shook Frank’s hand. “I’m William, and I’m headed out to see my grand-daughter in Kansas. Someone’s giving her trouble out there and I aim to fix it.”

    Frank’s eyes widened as he noticed the Colt on William’s hip for the first time. “Are you going to kill somebody?” the boy whispered.

    William smiled hard. “I expect not. Most likely they’ll kill me.” He leaned forward. “But killing me will bring down the law on them.”

    “Sometimes the old have to sacrifice themselves to the predators so the young can live.”

    Word Count: 250

  6. “Go ahead. I know you’ve hungered after my flesh your whole life.”

    The old wolf sat only inches from Buffalo’s throat, but only licked the festering wound on her hip. With one golden eye and the other silvery blue, she studied his face. A jagged white stripe decorated his brow.

    “You’re old and stringy now, too tough for my teeth. A calf would be easier to chew.”

    Buffalo stifled a laugh. “There’ll be none until spring. You’ll have to make do with me. I’m too tired to fight anymore, easy game. One of us at least should live.”

    “Well it won’t be me. I no longer have the strength to bite your shaggy hide. Even my pack has left me for dead.”

    “Perhaps Bear will put us both out of our misery.”

    “Bear sleeps. Even Crow hides from this blustery snow, warm in his roost.”

    “Then let me die in peace.”

    “Humph. Peace. You think I don’t wish for such a thing. I’m cold and tired. Death claws both our hides.”

    “Rest with me. Perhaps some good will come of this end.”

    Wolf curled up against Buffalo and closed her eyes. Content, their spirits leaped for the sky together. Snow soon hid their bodies.

    ***

    “What odd looking hatchlings we have this spring,” said Mother Hawk.

    Father Hawk studied the two chicks. One had a strange white stripe across his face; the other had one silvery blue eye. They snuggled against each other as if winter clawed at them.

  7. Stumbling, her faltering pace had slowed to a crawl. Before long, Black-Face, the lame, old she-wolf would lie beneath the trees and finally succumb to ‘the long sleep’.

    The runt of the litter, from the very beginning life was a struggle: she’d had to fight for her share of her mother’s milk. Black-Face proved herself to be a tenacious hunter. One day during her second winter a hungry cougar tried to steal the pack’s kill; fearlessly, she was the first to leap into the fray and with Grey Beard, her wily old pack-leader, had driven the cougar away. After that Grey-Beard had chosen her for his mate.

    Several winters on, as the pack attempted to cut a calf out from a small buffalo herd, sustaining a kick to the head from a young bull, Grey-Beard was killed instantly. From that moment Black-Face became the pack-leader.

    Eventually one of her grandsons, the very image of old Grey-Beard, became leader of the pack. One day, catching the scent of a buffalo herd, he led the pack off, leaving her behind.

    Alone now, nearing the end of her tenth winter, she was bone-weary, freezing to her core, and well overdue for ‘the long sleep’. Raising her nose to the icy breeze she caught the unmistakable scent. As she came out of the trees the old bull lifted his head from the snow and, with dull eyes, watched her approach. Touching noses she lay down beside him. Finally, together, they took ‘the long sleep’.

  8. Tur’Rok faced the wolf, shoulder aching from the cold. Injured five years back when Dai’Mog, a younger bull had nearly dethroned him.
    Dai’Mog got stronger while Tur’Rok slowed until three months back, Dai’Mog plowed into his side, crushing the bones in Tur’Rok’s chest. Breath wheezing through the blood dripping from his nostrils, Tur’Rok fell to the grassy plain.
    The herd firmly in Dai’Mog’s care, left Tur’Rok there to die, but he survived.
    His wounds weren’t fully healed, but Tur’Rok was a raging bull. He could never just give up and let his predators feed. No, he and he would die in battle.

    Moon-Dancer limped, her right foot bloody and sore from the metal teeth of a trap. Forced to chew off part of her foot she barely escaped before the men came back to kill her.
    It had taken days to free herself from the trap. Her pack was long gone. Belly rumbling she knew she couldn’t chase down any prey. No, her only hope was to take on the largest bull she’d ever come across. Death waited for her one way or another and she preferred to die quick than the long hard pain of starvation.
    She planted her bloody paw in the snow letting numbness crawl up her leg. she sprang forward, launching herself into the thick, matted fur of the buffalo.

    Something broke inside as Tur’Rok lumbered forward. His legs gave way and he crashed into snow as the wolf sank her fangs into his soft belly.

  9. His eyes found hers and recognition seeped into his brain slightly warming his fading spirit. He had seen those eyes all his life. They once burned with blood lust as they watched just beyond the edge of his herd. Watching, stalking, waiting for any separation – any opportunity or sign of weakness. He felt sad for her. After all these years of watching him, she finally had him alone and she was as near death as he was. Perhaps it was only fitting.
    .
    His knees buckled, surrendering to the long sleep, giving in to those hungry eyes.

    Two hearts froze as one on that day. Life long adversaries surrendering to the familiar common enemies of cold and hunger. They lay opposite each other in the snow, pale dead eyes locked in an eternal stare for the long sleep. In their dreams perhaps they would find different paths but as life had kept them from each other, death had brought them together. Hunter and prey now dream partners as the icy winds blew snow over their sleeping forms.

  10. “Wait!” the young ensign cried, entering the command center.

    “You are not authorized to be in here!” the commander bellowed, his gravelly voice echoing off of the expansive screens and blinking control panels.

    The ensign recoiled: not from being reprimanded, but from the amazing view of the blue planet which turned slowly in the darkness below them.

    “My apologies, Commander, but I was told to notify you immediately if I found anything…and I have.” Her large, saucer-shaped eyes and her tone both brimmed with hope.

    “We were about to commence annihilation and leave orbit, Ensign.” While his green-gray skin remained expressionless, as the Volpish always were, his voice made clear his displeasure.

    The ensign stood at rigid attention. “May I approach the con, Commander, and bring up the information on your screens?”

    “Very well.” He emitted a grunt through his lipless mouth.

    Wanting to rush, but fearing she might stumble, the ensign carefully glided to a control panel to the right of the Commander’s station. With her long, graceful fingers she pressed a few glowing buttons which changed the vast screens from the deep, dark layers of outer space to a snowy scene down on Earth. Gasps and ahs spread over the command center like waves overlapping upon a shore until the Commander spoke.

    “All I see is what they call snow. Is this a prank, Ensign?”

    “No Sir!”

    The room was dead silent.

    The commander leaned forward and focused. “Two enemies lie together. Perhaps Earth does have a chance at peace. Mission aborted…for now.”

  11. The old wolf leaned into the howling wind, her thinning fur still more than a match for the late winter snow. Her arthritic joints were another matter, especially the leg. She had spotted Meat lying in the field of fresh snow well after the pack had moved on without her. What was he doing down there? Didn’t he realize the others would eventually find his scent?

    Wolf let out a vapory breath and ambled down the hill. When she was within a few paces of the buffalo, she spoke. “Hey, Meat. You have a death wish or something, lying here in the open? It has been a hard winter and the pack is hungry. They will come back.”

    With heavy eyes, the buffalo blew out a snort of yellow, green sludge from his nose. When he spoke his voice creaked like old wood. “It matters not, Hunter. The Great Spirit is calling me toward the stars. Let your pack feast on my cold flesh.”

    “It is no longer my pack, Meat,” the wolf said. “I, too, have been left to become food for the scavengers, but I won’t give them the satisfaction of making it easy.”

    “Go away Hunter. It’s not your business.”

    “You’re a proud beast, Meat. I’ve seen you fight off friends of mine. So get up!”

    The buffalo slowly rose from the frozen ground and stood on shaky hooves. “Okay, I’m up. Now what?”

    The wolf smiled wryly. “Come on Meat. I’ll race you across the meadow.”

  12. The buffalo and the wolf regarded each other from a distance. Both were old, tired and alone since their respective packs had moved on without them.
    He could see she was badly injured, her pain obvious as she limped across the snow covered ground. Their eyes locked and a look of mutual respect and understanding passed between them.
    Old buffalo dropped heavily onto his knees and lay down. Swirls of snow covered him, cold seeped into his bones. He thought back to better times when he was young. He’d been the leader of the herd, the strongest bull who had sired many young. He had fed on the sweetest pastures and fought many battles; he’d been brave and fearless and had good, long life.
    The she- wolf had reached him. There was a time, many moons ago, when she could have taken him in his weakened state. She would’ve shown no mercy and torn the warm flesh from his weakened body. Now though, she only licked his face and joined him on the ground, curling herself against his flank.
    “Look old friend, our ancestors are here for us.”
    He raised his eyes and peered through the driving snow. Lights of green, blue and gold flickered in waves across the darkened sky. Buffalo and wolves ran together as friends in the eerie glow.
    A dog and a cow paused and beckoned them. Leaving their frozen carcasses behind, they rose with sublime lightness of being to join them in the eternal dance.

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