in the AiR!
Congratulations to this year's flowering fictionist, Mick Udby!
"Shpring is in the Air" 2023 Prompts:
Your shtory may be any genre, but the plot must be inspired by one of the following prompts:
1. A caterpillar confronts a "former caterpillar."
2. A child searches for the afikoman... but finds something else instead.
3. The Easter Bunny starts a new line of work.
Read Mick's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Mike Vogel and second runner-up Penelope Waples—below!
By Mick Udby
These days, a chill wind comes threatening our home. You feel it in the morning when you wake. Even as the ants pour out of their mound and the sowbugs uncurl from their sleep, you see it haranguing their every step. Their antennae shiver. Morning sunlight does little to ward off the low temperature. Meginnis has warned us of this.
Meginnis flies around us, his wings buzzing. He encourages the ants moving dirt. He tends to them, and then to the beetles, and then to any others whomever they should be. You can hear his laugh across our kingdom at the foot of Large Tall Never Fall. Sometimes, he entertains the younger ones as their broods work. I see him play with hatchlings and tell them of the fruit he has found beyond the Broad Flat Black Plain. The brine flies still speak of the salt rock he brought to them. The cold does not slow Meginnis.
The ants roll dirt towards our new home. Meginnis watches. Flies carry twigs to the construction site under his thoughtful gaze. If a sowbug grows weary dragging the leafy panels we cut out, Meginnis intervenes.
His carapace clicks as he sets down on our branch. Us caterpillars welcome him with cheerful tones. We take breaks from biting through leaves and gather around him. The younger ones crawl up to him eagerly. Older ones sidle over.
“Hello, hello,” Meginnis greets us with a smile. He extends a paw, leans over, and pets the closest larva. “And how are my favorite friends?”
The caterpillars chime in together. Our voices mix into a jovial chorus. One of the young ones brings to him the triangle she cut from a leaf. Meginnis picks it up and holds it to the sun. The light illuminates the emerald veins and runs inside it. For a moment, Meginnis turns it over and over. Then, he returns his focus to us.
“Expertly done, my friends! This will make an excellent wall for our new home,” says Meginnis as he hands it back. He motions us closer with a clap of his paws. “My dear, dear friends, I wanted to come over and thank you so much for everything. When the White Rain Long Remain comes, we shall all be very warm inside. Very warm indeed.”
The young all cheer this. I hear a few of the old, old caterpillars next to me grumbling.
“You ask him.”
“You brought it up.”
The old, olds shove one another slightly until one of them is pushed forward. He stumbles into another caterpillar and apologizes quickly.
“I’m sorry, is something the matter?” Meginnis asks with a furrowed brow.
“Well, Monsieur Meginnis, we’ve been wondering…”
“It’s just that… It's been so many nights since we last spoke of the Spindling.” Mention of the Spindling sends ripples through our group. Young and old all focus on the new speaker. “Those of us who are old, old have put it off for far too long. Our feet ache.”
Meginnis nods quietly. After a moment, he speaks. “But would you leave the rest of us to do your work? To help make our new home before the White Rain Long Remain?”
“We old, olds just don’t see the point, Monsieur Meginnis,” admits the old, old caterpillar. “We will not need a new home after the Spindling. Our legs are oh so tired.”
“The work will be complete soon, my friends. And then we will all rest,” Meginnis reassures the entire group with a broad gesture.
The old, old persists. “But, Monsieur Meginnis, it is only right. We need the Spindling. It is just Nature’s way. It doesn’t take anything from the others. We’ll pick a far branch on Big Tall Never Fall, so as not get in their way.”
Meginnis does not move. He stares at the old, old speaker. “Very well. You may go now. Leave the others in peace. Begin the Spindling. I must see to the termites. I will see you all tomorrow, my favorite friends.” And without another word, Meginnis takes flight and departs.
The old, olds speak amongst themselves excitedly. As the rest of us return to chewing the leaves, they make their way across the green grass to Big Tall Never Fall. I look up from time to time to watch their procession.
Early the next morning, I rouse myself. Mindful of the other sleeping caterpillars, I make my way to Big Tall Never Fall. I wish to see the Spindling with my own eyes. Climbing up the trunk takes the morning. I can hear the kingdom awaking beneath me. I ignore the harsh winds that buffet me. I am too eager to feel cold.
I’ve never witnessed the Spindling. I wish to see it with my own eyes. As I come upon the branch of the old, olds, I see their cocoons all lined up across. But, as I get closer, I pause. I see each one has been torn open. They couldn’t possibly have flown yet.
And then my gaze falls. Green spatter covers a branch beneath the cocoons. My legs trip over themselves on my way down. Partially dissolved, in the midst of their metamorphosis, they lay out drying in the cold wind. I rush between them asking what happened. Their faces lie still, if I can see them at all. Towards the end, I finally come across one somewhat intact. Its torso juts out of a puddle of viscera.
“What happened?” I ask breathlessly.
“Meginnis…” The old, old gasps. “Meginnis… flee. Flee.” I recoil from his words. His eyes close.
As I sneak back down the side of Big Tall Never Fall, I see Meginnis fluttering above a group of beetles convoying a rock across the dirt. I take up behind an outgrown root and risk a peek over it. Meginnis puts his paws on his hips as he looks down at the beetles. And I hear him ask:
“And how are my favorite friends?”
By Mike Vogel
Peter sipped his carrot juice and fidgeted with his notecards. He whispered to himself over the round of applause. He had no idea how many people were here, but the sound of all of those hands clapping made him chew his fur. His big ears flopped over.
“Wow! Funny stuff. Funny stuff,” the emcee said into the microphone. “Okay, our next comic is a first-timer, so let’s go easy on the guy. Please welcome to the stage, PETER COTTONTAIL!”
Peter rose from his seat, accidentally knocking into his carrot juice and spilling it over the table.
“Oh Jesus, I’m sorry,” Peter said to the couple at his table, clearly trying to enjoy their date night.
“It’s fine,” the woman said. “They’re already coming to clean it up. Go! Go!”
The crowd cheered as Peter shuffled his feet to the stage. He took the microphone from the emcee and looked out into the crowd. Those lights were murder. Peter held up his furry hand to block some of the light, to try to get a better look at the crowd.
“Hey,” Peter said. “How are we all doing tonight?”
The crowd cheered again.
“That’s good. That’s good. So… I was at IHOP the other day…”
Peter paused. He expected a laugh here. But he only heard the sound of his turned over glass being tossed into the busser’s tray. And Peter could hear everything with those ears.
“Get it… because I’m a rabbit?”
A man coughed.
“Right. Well, I may look nervous up here, but this isn’t my first time on stage. Yes. In fact, this room is almost as dark as the hat I hid in for Penn & Teller.”
Two people chuckled quietly to themselves.
“The famous magicians… um, what else? Um, some of you might know me from my previous job as the Easter Bunny. Boy was that a weird job…I bet you wish I’d leave eggs in your house more often, right? Ten bucks for eggs?”
A man in the crowd projected his voice. “My kid was pissed when you didn’t come this year.”
“Yeah mine too!” chimed in another man.
Peter began panting. Rabbits don’t sweat the same as humans. His hands were shaking. His ears could pick up a conversation that two people in the back were having.
“This guy sucks…”
“I feel kinda bad for him…”
Peter took a deep breath.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about sir,” Peter said to the heckler. “I came plenty this year. Just ask your wife.”
The house erupted with laughter. Peter swiveled his head at the crowd as a man shouted, “Oh shit!”
“Yeah? People like to carry a rabbit’s foot for good luck. Well… I’ve got news for you. I have four of them, but I don’t think I need them to get lucky with your girl either there, dude.”
The crowd continued to hunch over laughing. Peter’s smile widened.
“That phrase? Humping like bunnies? They got that from watching me and your wife go to town on each other!”
An entire grouping banged their fists on the table, keeled over.
“Yeah, you don’t want to go down this rabbit hole.” Peter pointed at his tail. “You might find your wedding ring.”
The table at the front was wiping tears. “Oh my God,” one person said.
“When she said she was having a bad hare day, that’s because I didn’t call her back.”
The hysterics reached their highest level. It was the loudest the club had been all night. Peter waited for the howling to die down.
“Sorry man, the claws came out. But on a serious note folks, I have officially retired as the Easter Bunny. For those of you with kids, this is Santa all over again. I know. But Nick is enjoying his time as a sumo wrestler in Japan right now, and I thought I deserved a chance at happiness. So here I am.”
The crowd was silent.
“Also, how hot was Lola Bunny?”
“Yeah, okay, I guess I’m done. Thanks everyone.”
Chairs slid on the floor as people got up to go to the bathroom while a few people clapped, like they’d forgotten they were just wiping tears from their eyes.
Peter sat back in his chair and ordered another carrot juice. The emcee continued with the show. Peter didn’t even notice him introduce the last act until she was on the stage in her white dress with blue wings. Her star wand knocked over the mic stand.
“Oops! Sorry everyone,” she said. “That was acci… dental.”
The crowd roared with laughter except for Peter, who shoved back his chair and yelled “OH, COME ON!”
By Penelope Waples
It was over again, much too fast. The Bunny stared at the empty field in despair. The children in their fancy clothes and hats had wandered off, carefully escorted by their parents carrying overflowing baskets for them. A few cried, wanting to look for more eggs. In a few hours, Bunny would smell the meals being cooked, and hear the parties starting. He sighed. He wasn’t ready for everything to end so soon.
An ethereal woman wandered up to him, her hand over her stomach, cradling the life within.
“This was a good one this year,” she smiled down at the Bunny, pushing a strand of dark brown hair back behind her ear. Her dress rippled in an invisible breeze as her red lips curved in a gentle smile. Bunny twitched his nose at her, but he couldn’t hide his sigh as his mind wandered.
“Good luck on your day coming soon, Mother,” Bunny twitched his ears back as he gave her the same greeting he did every year. He clutched his paws in front as he bowed to her and she inclined her head gracefully back at him.
“What are your plans next? Perhaps a nice vacation to the beach?” She winked at him and sat down in the field, preparing to wait her turn. She shook out her skirts and leaned back on her elbows to watch him. Normally Bunny would have taken off by now, but he lingered, unsure of what to do next.
“Well, I think I’m going to try something new,” Bunny mumbled, his face prickling with heat. He pulled out a well worn envelope from his pocket. Inside the envelope was a well worn piece of paper, crumpled from being opened up, read, and then put away carelessly multiple times now. The word ‘oncology’ caught the Mother’s eye, and she leaned forward to peer at the paper he clutched.
“Something new?” She arched a delicate eyebrow. Bunny swiftly crammed the paper back into the envelope and into his pocket.
“Yeah, I think… Well, I have bills to pay, you know. They raised the rent and well, well …I think it’ll be worth it.” He couldn’t help the nervous wiggle of his nose as excuses spilled from his lips.
“Of course,” she nodded encouragingly at him and patted his back. “You’ll do well, and it’ll help you save for that vacation next year! Good luck!”
He nodded and hopped slowly away from her, back to his barrow. He was thoroughly embarrassed by the excuses that had spilled out of his mouth.
The next morning he stood before the big hospital entrance. He jutted out his chin determinedly and took a deep breath before hopping inside. He approached the front desk and stood on his back legs to get the attention of the woman behind it. Her coffee was cold, and as he stood up, the wilting tulips on her desk straightened up and bloomed a little brighter. Her eyes slid from his ears to his toes, taking in his form before back to the flowers.
“Oh, hello! You must be our newest hire!” She chirruped, dropping her pen into the cup with coffee. She pulled out the pen with a nervous giggle, wiping her hands on her scrubs. Bunny felt his nose twitching as he patted his pockets for a handkerchief and found he had left it at home.
I am so unprepared, he thought nervously. How could I show up without even a hanky? The woman interrupted his thoughts.
“You’re quite the celebrity. It was Bunny, right?” The woman opened up the drawer next to her and rummaged around. She pulled out a lanyard with an ID card and handed it over to Bunny. He carefully looped it around his neck and looked at her expectantly.
“What next?” Bunny nervously ran his paws over the hard plastic id.
“Ready to start? Okay, follow me.” The woman didn’t wait for Bunny to respond. She ushered Bunny through the doors and down several corridors to where the dingy white hospital walls were replaced with bright cheerful amateur paintings of meadows and flowers.
Bunny accidentally brushed up against the paintings on the wall and in his wake paint butterflies unfurled their wings. Springtime bluebirds and robins with rosy blobs on their chests peaked out of the amateur green blobs that represented trees. The woman didn’t notice as she paused outside of a room.
“Ok, so here’s where we need you the most. Just… be yourself,” she smiled encouragingly as she opened the door, waving him in. Bunny took in the bleakness of the room with rows of beds separated by dull blue curtains. What am I doing? He thought to himself as he dropped to all four paws. Small faces leaned forward with interest as the woman drew back the curtains.
“We have a friend visiting today,” the woman carefully announced. Bunny paused by a bed, his nose twitching. Fingers hesitantly touched his long ears. He patted the hand with his paw, mindful of his nails.
“Hello,” a small raspy voice whispered. “What are you?”
“I’m the Easter Bunny,” Bunny whispered back, “but you can just call me ‘Bunny’…” he trailed off leaning into the eager scratching fingers. The child giggled, running his fingers over Bunny’s head. “My job is to bring you spring.” He announced, leaning into the child.
Inside the room, a sudden soft gust of wind gently ruffled the children’s hair whispering the promise of spring, of growth and hope. The children crowded around Bunny, petting his soft white fur and touching his rough paws reverently. Bunny smiled. He could do this. The sunlight that slanted in the small windows grew stronger, and outside the birds sang louder, as the trees on the street burst into bloom.