Flash fiction: Ponderosa by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story about a tree of (any type of) significance that is cut or falls down.

Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series. You can read the ebook for just $2.99. The series, like the following story, is inspired by events of her childhood with a dash of whimsy and a serving of imagination.


By Val Muller

Today she would be a cowboy. She chose her cut-off jeans—because that’s what a cowboy would wear in the stifling summer heat. Buttoned up a checkered blouse. Donned her leather belt, the one with the two holsters. Stuck her two cap guns in and tied a red bandana around her neck. She wiped Froot Loop crumbs off her face and donned her straw cowboy hat.

Outside, her clubhouse would be a one-room frontier home. Her sandbox today would be her open fire, where she could roast deer and squirrel and mutton—whatever that was. She’d have to hunt, of course, in the forest of pines at the side of the house.

In the suburban neighborhood, those pines provided a bit of magic. The ponderosa’s soft needles fell to the ground like a mattress and muffled sound like a blanket of soft snow. The dripping sap spoke of frontiers, not minivans, and the leafy branches blocked the view of four other homes.

It was that row of ponderosa pines that made her frontier play possible. The needles, brought to her clubhouse, created a mattress and play food that could be mixed with sand or water or dirt to imagine any type of culinary delight of the frontier. At certain times of year, the sap could be collected and made into frontier potions and salves.

She started at her clubhouse, as she always did, tucked away in the furthermost corner of the back yard. The pantry was bare: she’d have to go hunting. Carefully, she lowered her hat and unholstered her weapons. A kill could be waiting around any corner. She shot a deer in the nearby field, but she missed. The imaginary deer leapt away, its escape warning countless others.

She’d have to travel further from home. With a nod of resolution, she made her way to the ponderosa forest. Turning the corner near the garage, she froze. Her pulse raced behind her ears. The tree was—


In its place, a pile of logs, like bones snapped and bloodied by a predator. But it was no predator. The real world came rushing in. The frontier silence gave way to the ordinary sounds of a lawn mower, someone’s air conditioning, and the neighbor’s old dryer. And there, at the center of the massacre, was her father.

He and a neighbor were efficiently piling logs into a wheelbarrow. A million questions circled her head, but she could utter none of them. Her dad looked up only after the wheelbarrow was full.

“Ell,” he said. “I thought you were watching a movie with breakfast again.”

She shook her head.

Her dad rubbed the back of his neck and glanced bashfully at the neighbor, who graciously hoisted the wheelbarrow and made his way to the back yard, through the newly-opened passage at the side of the garage.

“This was all supposed to be a surprise, Ell,” he said.

“What?” It was all she could utter—barely a syllable.

“A pool,” he said. “We’re getting a pool. The excavator’s out front.” He pointed to a giant yellow machine sitting in the road in front of the house. In the paradise of childhood summer, she had not heard it during her sugary meal or her frontier plans.

“Pool,” she repeated senselessly.

“It couldn’t get to the back yard. You know, to dig the hole. It couldn’t fit. We had to cut either the pine or the forsythias, and the pine was getting kind of big, anyway.”

Ell turned to the other side of the house, where the forsythia bush peeked at her tauntingly, as if boasting its own existence in the wake of her pine.

“Hole?” she said.

Her mother materialized from inside, as if sensing shock. She held out a shiny brochure. “See, honey? A pool. It’ll be ready within the next week or two. We thought you and your friends would love to—”

Ellen listened patiently without hearing as her parents explained the benefits of the new pool. Her eyes were directed by adamant fingers to the pattern chosen for the pool’s liner, to the color of the pool’s siding and even the style of the ladder.

But all she saw was the brute strength of the industrial era, westward expansion driving the buffalo to near extinction. How could they cut down her pine? She nodded graciously and left her parents to clean up the remains of her pine. She quietly went inside to pout.

Before she threw herself on the bed, she removed her holsters, her hat, and her bandana. Cowboys had no place in such an industrial world. As the mechanized pattern of the excavator lulled her into a nap, her mind filled with images of cool blue water and a lost city of Atlantis.

Tomorrow, she would be a mermaid.


The Spot Writers:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

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