Flash Fiction: Grandpa’s Thermos

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 25. I spent two hours on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about a cryptid. Write about your favorite animal whose existence is unsubstantiated. It can be aquatic (like South Africa’s Mamlambo or Australia’s Bunyip), terrestrial (like Brazil’s Minhocão or Indonesia’s Ebu Gogo), or winged (like the North American Thunderbird or West Virginia’s Mothman)…the choice is yours!.

Image from H2O Craft Rentals and Repairs

Grandpa’s Thermos

Grandpa’s white bearded chin slowly dipped towards his chest, eyes shielded behind clear aviator glasses closing. His shoulders dropped and the grip on his fishing pole relaxed. A few seconds later, a drawn out inward snort sounded from his nose. He was finally asleep. 

I kept staring at him for ten very long minutes to make sure he wouldn’t suddenly wake up. 

The two of us sat in his small fishing boat a few hundred yards out from an out of the way alcove, our fishing lines cast out on either side. The day was overcast with a spring breeze cold enough to bite through my hoodie. Other than Grandpa’s snoring, it was eerily quiet in this part of the lake. 

“It’s the best part of the lake to be in,” Grandpa had said earlier this morning as he guided the boat across the water. “Been going to it since I was your age.”

Mom and Dad hadn’t listened to me when I said I didn’t want to go fishing with Grandpa. “Wanda, you’re not going to spend another entire school break sequestered in your room alone drawing,” Dad said. Mom followed up with, “You need to get out more; explore the world; have an exciting adventure!”

Looking around the empty portion of the lake we floated in, surrounded by silence—except for Grandpa’s snoring—I didn’t think this was a very exciting adventure. So far, our first Granpda-Grandaughter fishing trip had been very boring, filled with a lot of sitting and waiting and awkward conversation between two people that had little in common other than a last name. 

Once the ten minutes were up, I gingerly let go of my small fishing pole and then swiftly turned around, intending to pull from my backpack the sketchbook I snuggled past Mom and Dad. However, the sudden movement caused the boat to rock back and forth, fast enough and wobbly enough that I yelped and dropped to my butt. Something splashed in the water next to the boat. I clasped the bench with one hand and grasped the side of the boat with the other.

After a minute or so, the boat calmed, the rocking turning more and more gentle. 

I glanced up at Grandpa . . . who sucked in another loud snore. I blew out a breath and then crept over to the side of the boat next to Grandpa, the area I heard the splash come from. Looking over the side, my eyes widened when I saw what floated in the water.

Grandpa’s thermos. 

“No, no, no,” I whispered, clutching the side of my head and pulling my coarse black hair. 

That was Grandpa’s favorite thermos. Scratch that. That was Grandpa’s favorite thing ever—except his children and grandchildren, of course. It was an old, dented tin thermos Grandpa got when he was eight when his own grandfather took him on his first fishing trip. Whenever anyone asked why he treasured the old container, he only ever said it was a lucky thermos and that he nearly lost it, but a special friend got it back for him. 

I frantically scanned the inside of the boat for something, anything, to help me get the thermos back. I snatched the fish net and reached over the side . . . no good. The hoop of the net was wide, but the handle was really short. The thermos was too far out, and it lazily floated further and further from the boat. 

I grabbed Grandpa’s fishing pole and stretched out over the side of the boat, causing the edge to drip close to the water. The tip of the long fishing rod smacked uselessly into the water, the thermos inches too far. 

Pulling back, I reeled in the line as fast as I could. A small, wobbling, green and brown gummy-like fake worm popped out of the water. Then, just like Grandpa showed me, I reached my arms back over my shoulder and then thrust them forward. The fake worm sailed through the air before plunging into the water . . . nowhere near the thermos. 

I reeled the worm back in again. My second cast was worse than the first. Meanwhile, the thermos continued drifting away. 

Eight more unsuccessful attempts at thermos-fishing later, I dropped the pole and slumped onto the seat. The tin thermos was now really hard to see; it had drifted far and the slight bobbing of the water along with refracting light provided good camouflage for the container. 

I looked down at my chest, studying the black buckles of my purple life vest. I sucked in a deep breath. There was no other choice. I had to swim after it. 

I hated swimming. Wasn’t a fan of the water either. “Going fishing will give you a chance to overcome those fears,” Dad had said. It wasn’t that I was afraid of swimming or of the water, I just wasn’t fond of either of them.

I peered across the water toward the thermos—my mouth fell open and I stopped breathing. 

Something long and slimy with an extended snout and sharp eyes poked out of the water next to the thermos. The creature—I didn’t know what else to call it—gently bobbed in the water, watching me. 

It tilted its head. 

I slumped back to the bench, unable to breathe. 

The creature peered down at the thermos, then back up at me and finally over to Grandpa—who, miraculously, was still asleep and snoring. Ducking its head, the creature clenched the thermos in its mouth and silently dove into the water, taking Grandpa’s treasured container with it. 

I kept staring wide eyed at where the creature disappeared into the depths of the lake. How was I going to explain this to Grandpa? Should I even try? He’d never believe me if I told him. 

An intense desire to capture what I’d seen overtook me, a need to draw like I’d never had before—which was saying something. Scrambling around the boat, I opened my backpack and pulled out my sketchpad and a pencil. I sat back down, facing where the creature had disappeared and put pencil to paper—

A drip, drip, drip of water came from behind me followed by the smells of algae and wet earth. 

Gulping, I slowly turned and looked over my shoulder and my eyes grew wide. 

The blackest eyes set in a skinny, snake-like head stared down at me. Rivulets of water flowed down the creature’s long, gray neck while droplets of water fell from the thermos clutched in the creature’s teeth-filled mouth.

I don’t know how long we stared at each other—it felt like a lifetime and yet like no time at all. 

Not knowing what else to do, I said, “Uh, hi,” and gave the creature a little wave. 

It bobbed its head. Then it leaned down to the boat—I flinched, just a little—and deposited the thermos on the red and white cooler sitting near Grandpa. It pulled back, gave me another nod, and disappeared quietly into the lake once more. 

Silence interrupted by Grandpa’s snoring settled around me.

I peered at my sketchpad. With shaking hands, I drew. 

I finished five different drawings of the creature by the time Grandpa shook himself awake, grumbling away phlegm and rubbing his eyes. 

“Just taking a small nap, that’s all,” he said, grabbing the thermos to take a swig of the coffee contained within.

I stared open-mouthed at him, wanting to say something, but found I didn’t have any words.

He stared back, worry etching itself across his face. “What’s the—” He glanced at my drawing and his eyes grew wide. 

It was a drawing of the creature with its head poking out of the water, clasping a dented tin thermos in its jaw. 

Grandpa’s eyes softened. He smirked and nodded, looking back at me and holding up the thermos. “Told you,” he said. “This is a lucky thermos returned to me by a special friend when I was your age. I’m glad you got to meet her.”

I went on many exciting fishing adventures with Grandpa after that.

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