A Message Gone Astray
Writer's Weekly 24 Hour Short Story Contest - Spring 2019 - 1000 Word (prompt)
Winner: Grab Bag Prize
The air pressure changed suddenly, and the wind began to wail. Yawning to pop her ears, she glanced out the cabin window, and saw dark purple storm clouds racing over the hill. Remembering the puppy was still outside, she ran to the door, and called him. When he didn't appear, she quickly walked outside and found him frantically digging at the dirt near the rickety fence. She called him again and he looked back, whined, and continued digging. A blast of ice-cold air slapped her in the face and then the clouds above released the torrent of rain that had been building all day.
She made a mad dash across the yard to scoop up the puppy, who by now had his nose pressed into the hole he was digging. Molly felt him resist. The puppy was gripping something in his teeth still half buried in the soil. She bent down to look and recoiled slightly, realizing it was the skeletal remains of what appeared to be a small bird. As a flash of lightening lit up the sky, she caught a glimpse of something shiny wrapped around one of the bones. She plucked a large leaf from the shrub near her, and wrestling the bone from the puppy’s mouth, she wrapped it inside the leaf and shoved it into her pocket. Scooping up the puppy, she sloshed back through the soggy yard.
Soaked through, she hurried inside and deposited Otis on the kitchen floor. Grabbing some towels to dry them off, she then set about making a fire, noticing the lights had flickered several times already.
Although her nearest neighbor was miles away, she wasn’t worried about being there alone. She knew the local sheriff would likely make the rounds to check on everyone as soon as the storm let up. Her mother, Charlotte, had been raised there as a child and up until she passed away a few years ago, the family had gathered there every summer. Molly liked to sneak away at least once a year by herself for some much-needed R&R.
While she warmed up, Molly carefully laid the leaf on the table and began to examine the bone she had collected. Wrapped around it was a ragged piece of leather with tarnished metal snaps holding a small plastic tube. She recognized it as a carrier pigeon holster.
Years ago, Marion, the little town south of the cabin, had experienced a momentary “claim to fame” for being one of the last towns in the country to still use carrier pigeons. It was mostly just an interesting news fact more than anything serious. But Molly knew that some of the long-time residents who tried to weather the winters there, still used the pigeons occasionally to get messages to their neighbors or the sheriff.
The cap on the tube in front of her was badly rusted, but with a little bit of rubbing alcohol she was able to gently pry it off. She tipped it on end and shook loose the paper inside that was yellowed with age. She unrolled it and was surprised to see handwriting she recognized as her mother’s.
The note was dated June 28, 1977 with only a few lines of text that read, “Levi, my answer is yes. I will wait for you at our big rock tonight. If you don’t show up, I will know that you have changed your mind in light of everything.” It was signed, “With Love, Charlotte”.
Molly sat back not knowing what to think. As Otis found the carcass of the pigeon in the backyard, it appeared the message was never delivered. Over the years, she had never heard her family mention a Levi. She grabbed the photo albums hoping for a clue but there was nothing in them that shed light on this puzzle.
The album from that time period contained mostly pictures of her parent’s wedding. Stephen and Charlotte had been married on July 3, 1977. They had not waited long to start their family, so the remaining photos were of her pregnant mother and some of Molly’s baby pictures.
With her mother no longer around to ask, she wasn’t sure how to proceed. One of the perks of retreating to the cabin was the lack of distractions afforded from no internet and spotty cell phone coverage. She’d have to put this mystery aside until she returned to the city.
A few days later, once Molly and Otis had settled back into her city loft, Molly fired up her laptop. It only took an hour or so to uncover genealogy and census records for Marion. Within the information, she located only two men with the name Levi. One was deceased, while the other was still living not far from the cabin. Based on the information she found, he had been there during the time of the message and would have been a few years older than her mother. Molly knew he might be the only one that could answer her questions and put this riddle to rest. She made a plan to head back to Marion that weekend.
When she arrived, it wasn’t hard to find his weathered cabin on the outskirts of town. Armed with the note, she approached the door with a tentative knock, wondering how she would start this conversation.
As the door opened, the face that looked back at her was so similar to her own that it was like looking into a mirror. She staggered when she fully realized the consequences of the message being lost before delivery. The loss of that pigeon may have changed the course of her entire life.