Neil O'Donnell

Neil O'Donnell

About Me

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Buffalo, New York, United States
Nationally certified career coach with expertise in writing résumés and cover letters for professionals around the world. 15+ years of focus helping new graduates and seasoned professionals find good jobs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hope in a Bottle


Prologue


It was to be a rewarding day. Yet, Debra found her waiting and the inevitable elation bittersweet; her mother would not be there to share in the moment.


Sitting on her front steps, Debra braved the nippy autumn morning to stand watch, awaiting the arrival of the day’s mail. While the chill of air and the cement steps made her vigil uncomfortable, heat from the sun’s rays that periodically pierced the clouds, along with draws from her coffee mug, helped her endure. The wait was not so terrible. The sounds of the fall season in Lancaster, New York, her home since birth, brought about happy memories. The sounds of lawn mowers and leaf blowers aside, Debra enjoyed the sound of children laughing as they dove into piles of leaves recently shed from their respective trees. The scent of burning leaves and wood burning fireplaces added to the nostalgia, providing additional comfort as her wait continued.

“Nothing like a western New York autumn,” Debra said, letting the air carry her words to no one in particular, words her mother said throughout Debra’s life. For long moments, she again went through memories of her mother. They were like twins, each with long, auburn hair, blue eyes and a slight frame that reached a height of five feet, five inches. Debra smirked, thinking of all the times people mistook her and her mother for sisters. The brief moment of joy was soon replaced by the reality of her mother’s death seven months earlier.

The heart attack was unexpected for a 54 year old who otherwise appeared healthy. Debra came home to find her mother on the floor, unresponsive. For three days, her mother remained in a coma before finally passing away in the early hours of the morning.

“I miss you, Mom,” Debra said aloud, fighting back the tears now welling up in her eyes. The familiar screech of the mail truck pulled her attention back to her vigil and the joy she awaited. Remaining seated, Debra watched the mail carrier stop at each of the three mailboxes that preceded hers. The squeal of the brakes and the sound of mailboxes opening and closing played in concert with the hum of the mail truck’s engine as it powered the oddly designed truck between stops. Finally, the mail truck stopped at Debra’s mailbox. Positioned nearly eighty feet from her house, Debra felt the mailbox might as well be a mile away for the time it took for this delivery to arrive. Then, after the mail carrier shoved Debra’s mail into the box, closed the box’s lid, waved and drove off, Debra started the walk.

After setting her coffee on the step, Debra walked slowly to her mailbox, feelings of euphoria clashing with the melancholy that seemed to appear every time she anticipated exciting news. Once at the mailbox, Debra rested her hand on the lid, delaying its opening as a flurry of worries went through her mind. What if it hadn’t arrived? What if they sent the wrong book? Debra pushed through those thoughts and opened the lid; the package was there, a life-long dream within. Rushing back to the porch, she grabbed her coffee before heading for the backyard where white flags demarcated the invisible fencing that contained Buster, the beagle puppy she adopted weeks early. Tail wagging, Buster ran to Debra’s side and jumped on to her lap as she sat in one of the red-stained Adirondack chair on the back deck.

“Here it is, Mom,” Debra said as she rested her hand on the cardboard-entomb paperback she spent years writing. Debra waited several moments examining the package before digging her nails into the tape that barred entry. Then, after a tussle with packing peanuts and shrink-wrap, Debra viewed the first finished copy of her novel, Rising Son. Born of her interest in Native American societies, which her mother encouraged, Debra used the historical fiction framework to detail the forced relocation of Native Americans during the nineteenth century. While working on her Anthropology degree at Buffalo State College, she spent a considerable amount of time visiting museums and historical societies where she examined the diaries and journals of Native Americans forced to relocate and those who orchestrated the action.

“Is that it?” a voice asked, startling Debra. Turning towards the back door, Debra saw her Aunt Becca, who exited the house and sat in one of the other chairs on the patio. After composing herself, Debra answered.

“I read a few chapters to Mom that last day. At least she heard some of it.” Becca, Debra’s only maternal aunt, looked nothing like her mother. Becca stood six feet tall, had short, blond hair and was rather quiet. Yet, for all the differences, the compassion of their family flowed in Becca as well.

“I have no doubt your mother looked over your shoulder as you read and edited every line of the proof. She’s read it, and I know she is so proud of you.”

“I just wish I could see her hold it,” Debra said in reply. Becca’s heart ached for both her sister and her niece. Yet, she could think of no words to console either. Pulling Debra into a hug, Becca let long held tears flee her eyes as Debra did the same. Buster, now calmed a bit, sat and watched his human handlers as they wept. Soon, he too displayed sadness, letting a whimper resonate for a long moment. Aunt and niece both laughed as they turned to look at the sullen beagle whose tail suddenly rocked the small canine body.

“I tell you what,” Becca said, as she stood and pulled Debra to her feet. “Your uncle won’t be home for a couple hours yet. Why don’t I throw a few sandwiches in a backpack and we can go each lunch and read in Como Park, by the creek? Your mother and I used to do that all the time. I figure you could read a chapter or two to your mom. Sound good?” Debra nodded. Arm in arm, niece and aunt went into the house to prepare their impromptu picnic before heading to the park.

***

Ham and cheese sandwiches, washed down with raspberry iced-tea, preempted a run around the park by Becca and a stroll to the creek bed by Debra. Spreading out a blanket, Debra opened her book to the dedication. The tears came quickly.

“To Mom,” she said, reading the words she intended to be a part of every dedication. Flipping to the acknowledgments, Debra looked over the list of people who provided her the support to get through the last few months; her aunt, her agent and the editor who spent ample time making sure the final print was polished and something Debra would be proud of. After finding energy in her supports, Debra started to read aloud the first chapter, laughing at the hidden jokes laced throughout the text, jokes only Debra and her mother would get. Minutes later, the chapter finished, Debra closed the book before looking skyward.

“Can you see this, Mom?” she asked, her sorrow in full swing once more. Debra looked to the water, watching the current for direction away from her thoughts. First, she eyed a fish circling just below the surface. Her eyes then darted to a small branch that glided along the current at a slow and steady pace until it wedged between a cluster of rocks where a plastic, 20 oz pop bottle was likewise trapped. For long moments, she watched the bottle bob in and out of the water, the current and rocks isolating the bottle to the area. Standing, Debra gained a better view of the bottle. While adhesive and bits of its plastic label remained affixed to the bottle, no discernible marks were visible. Its shape and maroon cap reminded her of the Dr. Pepper she drank daily. Yet, the flavor of the contents failed to interest her once she saw the note inside the bottle. Removing her shoes and rolling up her pant legs, Debra wadded into the cold water, maneuvering over the slick shale that lined the creek bed. Her progress slow, it took nearly ten minutes to bridge the thirty plus feet to the bottle. Once there, she pulled the bottle from its snare; the seal was intact, but the note inside was folded over so she could not read the message. After unscrewing the cap, Debra wiped hr hand on her pant leg before shaking the note out onto her palm. Securing the bottle under her arm, she then opened the note and read aloud its fateful message.

“A mother’s pride in her child is all knowing and everlasting!” Tears of hope and joy flooded Debra’s eyes as she again looked skyward, peering beyond a lone seagull that circled overhead.

“Thank you, Mom,” Debra said. “I love you.” In time, Debra framed the note and hung it over the roll top desk where she ultimately penned all her future manuscripts, never once doubting her mother was watching on with pride.




Chapter 1


William Sullivan stared out the back window of the taxi, watching his sisters and brother wave goodbye, and then vanish, as the taxi turned onto Seneca Street. He could never have imagined it would be the last time he would see them.


William was embarking on a journey to South America to help build schoolhouses and shelters for a remote village devastated by two hurricanes, which pummeled the region in a span of three weeks. Thousands were dead or missing and presumed dead; rescue efforts were now replaced by recovery and reconstruction activities.


William carried with him a leather satchel his brother gave him when he graduated Buffalo State College. William’s studies focused on archaeology, so his older brother thought William needed a bag like what Indiana Jones carried in Raiders of the Lost Ark. His crate of clothes and books forwarded the previous day, William only carried two pairs of khakis, three pair of socks, three pair of boxers, and two white, long sleeved, button-down trail shirts like those travelers wore on safaris. For comfort and distraction, he tucked a vinyl case amongst his clothes, which contained his two most cherished books along with the rosary he received on his First Communion. With a pair of deck shoes, a journal, and a few pens stuffed into a side compartment, William felt prepared for the journey south, though anxiety over his work consumed him. Would he be able to provide comfort for those who grieved? Would he be able to withstand the death spread throughout the region? Would he bring hope to those he served? Answers to his questions would come soon enough.


After reaching the airport, William headed into line to be scanned and questioned about his travels. After thirty minutes of waiting and removing and re-donning his belt and shoes, he walked straight to the terminal after first getting a cup of McDonald’s coffee.


“Last chance for the good stuff,” William said as he choked the coffee with sugar and milk before taking a seat outside the gate. He leaned far back in his chair and gazed at the disorganized activity that consumed the runway just outside the windows. People, fuel trucks and carted luggage appeared to encroach on each other’s space leading to a frenzy of curses the terminal’s glass windows failed to silence.


“Great view,” William muttered before taking a few sips from his coffee.


“Traveling far, Father?” an elderly woman asked as she sat in the chair across from William. Suddenly very aware of the collar about his neck and his black suit, William was taken aback. His ordination just days earlier, he still found the title an awkward change years in the seminary failed to prepare him for.


“I’ll be above the clouds for the better part of the next two days,” he said as he considered the trek to a Brazilian village he first heard of only weeks earlier.


“At least you’ll be closer to God, Father,” she said, before she pulled out a book, ending their impromptu conversation.


“Indeed,” William replied as he returned his attention to the chaos outside.

***

Never a fan of flying, William clawed into his armrests as the mounting storm jilted the twin prop plane carrying him on the last leg of his journey. Seven others, the pilot included, struggled to stay in their seats. The plane, appearing to have been last serviced by the Wright brothers, had the aerodynamics of a semi-trailer, which explained why passengers and crew alike gripped onto their seats as if their hands were vices. However, with the plane lacking constraining seatbelts, several passengers were thrown to the cabin floor by the conflict between inertia and gravity. For the first time in his life, William actually saw passengers use the vomit-bags the airline provided.


“Please, please stay in your seats!” the pilot called out over the intercom, first in Spanish and then in English. “We should be out of the storm soon.” Based on the pilot’s distraught tone, William guessed things were about to get a lot worse. Gripping the armrests tighter, William peered out the window by his seat looking for any sliver of hope the plane would reach calm skies. Yet, the craft seemed to head only deeper into the mix of grey and black clouds. A number of passengers, William included, started praying, seeking hope through their collective faith.

Then suddenly, all hope vanished.

Lightning struck, seemingly at several parts of the plane simultaneously, and for an instant, the world seemed on fire. Another bolt then struck the tail section, shearing off several outer plates and forcing the plane into an upward climb, stalling the engines. At the mercy of the growing winds, the plane somersaulted before plunging into a dive. Amidst the screams of the other passengers, William heard the pilot cursing the plane, and for a second, the young priest watched the pilot pull back on the yoke in a last ditch effort to level the aircraft’s descent. Then, all was quiet.


Not a sound resonated through William’s ears as his mind latched on his childhood home and the image of yellow, burnt orange and crimson leaves falling from the maples lining the property’s borders. He walked between the two silver maples nearest the house where he spent many autumn afternoons reading and writing. The sun gleaming, William felt at peace.


“So this is Heaven,” William whispered as he reached to catch one of the leaves mid flight. The leaf gently rested in his hand, its descent ended.


“Padre!” cried out a voice in his mind. “Padre!” called out the voice again, this time pulling William from his vision back to reality.
Tepid salt water slapped William seconds before the lone flight attendant did.


“Get up, Padre! We’ve gotta go, NOW!” She had already unbuckled his seatbelt and pulled William to his feet. Emergency lights, few and far between, provided the only illumination, but it was enough to see the water rising as quickly as people were exiting the plane. Suddenly the plane rocked, knocking William into the now empty seat across from his. His satchel, jarred loose by the plane’s abrupt movements, fell from the overhead storage compartments and into his lap.


“Ahora, Padre!” the flight attendant screamed as she rushed towards the nearest exit. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, William struggled towards the doorway where the pilot now stood, the only other person remaining on the plane. The pilot wasted no time. He grabbed William, pushing the young priest out the doorway before exiting himself; they both fell beneath the turbulent waves bombarding the sinking aircraft.


For long moments, William was lost in the cool, churning ocean, not knowing which direction the water’s surface lay. Fate intervened once more as he felt something grab hold of his left arm and pull him above water.


“Father, are you all right?” the pilot asked as William fought for air amidst his coughing up salt water. He nodded after a moment as his breath grew regular in pace.


“We’re all here, captain!” the flight attendant exclaimed as the pilot grabbed onto the nearest of two inflatable rafts now bobbing in the water. She smiled at the captain; at least they all survived the crash.


“Where’s the third raft?” the pilot asked, only seeing two small rafts overburdened with passengers.


“It had a tear; it sank!” she replied, the smile now gone. The last raft had barely room for one more occupant.


“Father, get in! Leave your bag!” the pilot exclaimed as he started to lift William by his collar.




“Tell my wife and daughters, I love them!” he yelled to the flight attendant. She simply nodded as she pulled on William’s collar trying to lift the priest the last couple inches into the raft. Yet, William was not willing to reach the safety of the crowded craft.
Brushing aside the flight attendant’s hand, William pushed off the raft and into the grip of the water and the pilot.


“FATHER, GET IN!” the exasperated pilot exclaimed as he tried to lift William back into the raft. Then, for a moment, the winds and water seemed but a distant distraction. The two men, priest and pilot, locked eyes as peace filled them both.


“Your daughters need you,” William said, his visage reflecting nothing but calm. William then smiled. “Go,” William then said before he pushed away from the pilot and the raft. A giant wave quickly covered the priest, and in its wake, no sight of William remained.


“FATHER!” the pilot called out. Yet, William was beyond earshot. After several long seconds of peering into the darkness, the pilot finally got into the raft where he and the passengers would spend the next day while the storm passed. As the waters calmed and the sun rose, their vision reached greater distances, but there was no sign of Father William Sullivan. After they were rescued and brought to shore, the pilot immediately contacted William’s family, an action he dreaded but knew he alone must do. The lone casualty of the crash, William’s family took some solace that their brother’s final act saved the pilot. The pilot, meanwhile, made his way home to be with his family. He swore he would remember the priest always. Like William’s family, the pilot offered remembrances to William throughout the rest of his life, speaking of how the young priest had kept him whole for his family. They collectively toasted William’s life, never knowing William’s life was far from over.




Chapter 2


The wave drove William away from the rafts and into the heart of the storm, where calm reigned. It was surreal for the young priest. All about him waves churned, casting cream tops across every wave, while stars above cast a luminous veil revealing hope. Wreckage from the plane floated about William including two life vests, a trench coat and a number of bags of chips and peanuts. He attempted to reach for the nearest life vest first, but William struggled to swim; his satchel, surprisingly still slung over his shoulder, made it difficult to propel himself through the water. After adjusting to the satchel’s bulk, William made it to the life vest, which he the pulled over his head before tying its attached straps about his waist.


“Thank God!” William exclaimed as a bit of relief set in. It was short lived as the zone of calm started to collapse. Fearing a loss of the bounty floating about, William swam straight for the food, which he clumsily gathered and stuffed into his satchel’s main compartment. Then, after slinging the second life vest over his shoulder, William reached the coat.


“Never turn aside a gift from God,” William said as he gathered the beige coat into a ball and pulled it to his chest, just before the calm collapsed; William was back in the storm. The next few hours he rode out an amalgamation of torrid winds, pelting rain and monstrous waves, the latter of which routinely knocked the wind out of William. He vowed to fight on as long as God gave him strength, determination that helped him shake off the storm’s fury throughout the night.


Yet, fear of reality remained ever-present.


As a child, William thought of pursuing marine biology to study sharks or archaeology to study America’s prehistoric past. His interest in archaeology won out in college, but his knowledge of sharks remained extensive given his years reading everything he could about sharks from encyclopedia articles to books. That knowledge told him to worry. Miles from any coast, William knew the nearest “man-eating” shark likely swam only yards away and would notice the priest after the seas calmed. Once the storm passed, the race of the searchers would begin. William’s hope was in any rescuers sent by the airlines, but his money was on the sharks.


Hours passed as did the storm. By the time the sun crept over the horizon, the clouds were sparse and the waves placid; perfect conditions for spotting planes or dorsal fins.


“Mother of God,” William uttered as the sun first fully broke above the water. With wisps of stratus clouds the only obstructions, the sun cast its orange-yellow rays virtually unchallenged, an awe-inspiring sight William would remember always. Then terror struck.
The water’s surface exploded behind William, jarring him from his thoughts and causing him to twist around and hold out the balled up jacket for protection. He extended the jacket just in time to deflect a charging, wayward tuna. William laughed.


“I guess that makes me the chicken of the sea,” he mused as his breathing slowed within norm. Once calmed, William determined he should keep up his strength. Pulling his satchel above the water’s surface, he scanned into the main pocket where he placed the chips and peanuts recovered from the plane crash. The effort uncovered a half-empty bottle of Pepsi. Parched, his favorite drink seemed appealing, but the caffeine posed another threat; dehydration.


“Well, it’s got water in it,” he said before taking a swig of the cola. The acidic liquid burned its way down William’s throat. He then recapped the twenty-four ounce bottle before pulling out and opening a bag of peanuts. “Starve or dehydrate?” he asked himself before ingesting a mouthful. He spit out the peanuts seconds later as a dorsal fin broke the surface of the water heading straight for him. William froze. The fin swam closer. Thirty feet… Twenty feet… Ten feet…


The fin’s owner, a seven foot, blue shark, vaulted out of the water, propelled by the upward rush of a bottle-nosed dolphin. After splashing back into the sea, the shark moved off.


“You, you don’t see that everyday,” William said between breaths. Then, just when his breathing settled, a new visitor stole it.
A dolphin’s snout popped out of the water five feet from him, chattering on like a long-lost, old friend. Soon three other dolphins joined in the conversation while another two jumped out of the water, their course set towards the fleeing shark.


“I don’t suppose any of you speak English?” William asked. The dolphins just continued chatting, their message still indecipherable. William, for a moment, laughed at his company before his heart broke and tears flowed from his eyes, which silenced the dolphins. After bobbing in the water for a few more seconds, the dolphins disappeared into the blue.


“Don’t go! PLEASE!” William attempted to swim on in their direction, but his bulk and lack of fins made pursuit impossible. “WAIT!” William cried out, as frustration and hopelessness took hold again. Yet, the awe of the moment returned within seconds as one of the dolphins broke the water’s surface and appeared to fly. “A life’s worth of wonder in minutes,” William thought. He laughed and then looked skyward. “Thank you.”
As if in response, a dolphin rose out of the water at William’s side and began nudging into the priest with his pectoral fin. Befuddled, William reached out slowly to pet the dolphin’s head, but the dolphin did not cease prodding him in the gut with its fin. Curious, William gently, but firmly, grasped the dolphin’s dorsal fin after which the dolphin propelled itself forward. Twice William lost his grip, and both times the dolphin returned for him. In time, the dolphin slowed before diving away from William; another dolphin then appeared to takes its place. The rotation of members of the pod continued for what seemed like hours until an island appeared on the horizon.




Chapter 3


William’s flight with the dolphins brought unique awareness to the priest. Previously concerned with potential predators lurking in the depths and signaling rescue craft, William never truly observed the ocean itself. His journey with the dolphin pod changed that.
The water was a rich, deep hue of blue unlike anything he ever observed, almost a melding of a summer sky and the feathers of the blue birds that often visited his backyard in Buffalo. Looking down, the edge of his vision registered a darkness beyond midnight, with only a hint of any shade of blue remaining. He suddenly feared that depth. What lay beyond in the darkness?
Light soon broke through the depths, casting shadows over the canyon walls now visible to his tired, brown eyes. Dividing his gaze between the depths and the approaching island, William watched as the distant ocean floor gave way to sand dunes punctuated by schools of unknown species, merely specks to his eyes. The submerged terrain then jumped up towards William and his companions; they were now less than fifty yards from the beach. Abruptly, the dolphin he rode bolted away, leaving William to tread in water just over seven feet deep. Looking around, he watched as the curved dorsal fins of the dolphins danced amidst the waves, almost as if they were playing chase.
“Thank you,” William said, before turning towards the beach and swimming towards the beach. With the trench coat wrapped around his left hand and the extra life vest straddling his right shoulder, the effort was awkward, but progressing. William heard chirping sounds vocalized by the pod, which seemed to move in pace with the priest.
“Let’s see you swim with this stuff,” William said between breaths, wondering if the chirps were bursts of laughter from his companions.
He reached the shallows minutes after he started his crawl. The moment his shoes touch the pliable sand, William relaxed his arms before sprinting to the beach where he collapsed.
“Thank you, Father,” William whispered as he kissed the dry land before flipping over onto his back. Up towards the sky he looked, squinting as the sunlight reached out to everything. “Thank you, God,” he said once more as his breathing calmed. Above, seagulls soared, calling out as if in welcome. He knew he was safe.
Chirping from the ocean dragged William from his meditations. Propping himself up, the now sand-covered priest from the Buffalo Diocese looked out towards his rescuers who were jumping out of the water twenty yards from shore. He stood up and ran to the water’s edge, his arms waving in jubilation.
“THANK YOU!” William cried as he watched the pod move off to the north. “Bless you my friends,” he then whispered before a sudden sadness overwhelmed him. William was now alone.

***

A chill wind raked across the island finding every crevice amidst the foliage and rock that called the land home. At its peak, the wind generated a hollow whistle as it crossed the leaves and grasses. Scanning the landscape, William struggled to identify the vegetation. Certainly not the mixed forests of western New York, yet a familiar peace filled the air. Then, as if on cue from the conductor, birds added their whistles to the unfolding symphony. The lonely island now seemed rich with life, and William instantly felt at home.


“Well, time to explore,” William said as he started to remove the clothes he had worn for days. Every bit of clothing he had was wet, but putting on a different shirt and pair of pants was refreshingly life affirming as the dead don’t change clothes. First rinsing clean of the sand he accumulated in the surf, William put on one of his travel shirts, a pair of khakis and his deck shoes. Then, while stuffing his black, priest garments into the satchel, he came across a baseball cap he forgot he packed. The worn cap was his father’s and bore a patch from the bakery his father worked for during William’s childhood; Arnold’s Bakery.


“I miss you, Dad,” he said as memories of going on delivery runs with his father remained joyful recollections; stocking supermarket shelves, going to Poor Bob’s Restaurant for giant hamburgers, and listening to his father’s tales about time spent riding horses and exploring the outdoors of Glenwood. Donning the hat backwards, William flipped through his memories while deciding what to eat for his first substantial “meal” on the island. “I’ll have peanuts with a side of Doritos,” he joked as he pulled out two snack bags and his bottle of Pepsi, which still contained a few gulps of the drink. Taking his hat off, Father William said grace before devouring the foodstuffs. William then packed up his belongings before heading to the island’s interior in search of fresh water and, hopefully, help.


The trek was not easy. The vegetation appeared determined to obstruct any passage along the ground, almost as if to protect some ancient treasure or civilization from would-be invaders. With only his hands as implements, William pulled at vines, bushes and gigantic networks of tree limbs in search of holes he could maneuver through. In what seemed an hour, William covered only about a hundred feet of the mixed forest, a revelation that allowed frustration to set in. In a moment of furry, William ripped into the nearest cluster of vines and pushed forward, which ultimately resulted in him stumbling through the vines and landing soundly on his back.


“Ahhh! There’s got to be a better way,” William said as he stared upwards towards the poplar and conifer treetops that now appeared like skyscrapers over a city street. The illusion was enhanced by the sudden cry of a seagull that sounded like a taxi driver leaning on his car horn. The gray-winged gull, capped with snow-white feathers, floated down to a branch several feet above the priest before continuing to squawk and call out what William assumed were fits of laughter.


“You’ve got it easy; all you have to do is flap those wings!” William cursed mildly as he propped himself to rest on his elbows. The seagull took exception with the priest’s scolding and flew down to William’s chest to register its displeasure. First squawking loudly, the seagull then pecked at William’s chest grabbing potato chip crumbs before flying back to its previous perch.


“That’s it, keep eating. You’ll make a great supper some day,” William said, amused at his new companion’s lack of table manners. The bird ignored him.
After spending minutes watching the seagull struggle to swallow the crumbs it snagged, William stood up and brushed off sand he accumulated during his fall. “Well, it could be worse,” William whispered as he finished brushing his clothes off. The sudden rustling of grass and ferns only feet away told William he was about to find out just how bad things could get. Backing up a few feet away from the disturbance, William looked for a defensive tool, finally locking his eyes on a fallen branch from a nearby poplar. Picking up the yard-long timber, William gripped it like a baseball bat while praying he had the courage to confront the unseen interloper.


“I think we’ve got company,” William said as he looked up to the seagull. His avian tormentor shook its head as if in response before flying off. “Chicken,” William cursed as he tightened his grip on the impromptu club, his knuckles whitened by the sudden loss of blood circulation through his hands. “Better not be a polar bear,” William whispered as the mass of grass before him started to part. The beast from the shadows then revealed its head, teeth exposed.


“AH!” William exclaimed, his whole body quivering. The tiny, gray rabbit that emerged from the grass, meanwhile, seemed indifferent to the human presence as it continued munching on the surrounding blades of grass. Between heavy gasps for breath, William laughed.

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