The shelf in the riverbed was behind them and so was the roar of the rough white water. The river was now almost motionless. It was glassy and gliding and calm. Paul watched a current as it slid round a boulder and marked the river’s brim with a spinning silver stream. He saw the mirrored trees going down through the waterway, toward the blue sky beneath a mass of green leaves.
Then his daughter’s voice came shrilly from behind him. “What is it?” She pointed at the path. Paul’s head swung round from the river. His eyes squinted, came open, and he smiled. “It’s a shrew,” he said amusedly, and all four of them stepped forward to have a look.
The handful of grey fur moved deliberately across the woodland footpath. It hurried past some fallen brown oak leaves, and stopped beneath some ferns on the wayside bank. The children squatted in front of it. They watched it clean its fur in the shadows beneath the leaves.
“I think it’s a vole,” whispered Angela.
“Maybe,” said Paul. “But I’ve never seen one as closely as this.”
It climbed up the bank in front of them, traversed a ledge, and disappeared down a hole. Paul straightened up and frowned. Slowly, he shook his head. “I saw one once before,” he mused, “many years ago. I spent the whole of one summer looking for it.” He paused. “I only ever saw it that once.” He turned again from the bank beside the footpath, and looked through the trees to the wide brown river. “You can spend the whole of your lifetime looking,” he said quietly, “but you won’t see anything, unless you get some good luck.” His eyes moved over to a sunbeam, which broke on a wind wave into a galaxy of stars.
Then the little boy stood up. He turned and looked searchingly at Paul. “But we are lucky, aren’t we, Dad? Aren’t we lucky? To see things like this?”
Paul turned, and his face was in shadow, but the glints sharpened in the sockets of his eyes. A ray of light had pierced the treetop above him and his family were brilliant in a yellow shaft of light. “Yes, we are,” he agreed. And he looked altered. Then he took the boy’s hand and they set out again along the path.
“Things Like This” first appeared in Cabinet of Heed, 2017.
IMAGE: Emily Carr, “Forest, British Columbia”, 1931-32. Oil on canvas, 130 x 86.8 cm. Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Dave Alcock has been interested in flash fiction ever since 2016 when he received Flash Fiction Forward (ed. James Thomas and Robert Shapard) as a surprise gift. He read the first page and was hooked and he has been ever since. His work has been published by Every Day Fiction and Flash Frontier, as well as some other excellent lit-zines, and can also be found in two books published by Ad Hoc Fiction. He works as an editor and lives with his wife and two children in Devon, England.