Neil Campbell with The Stoat as the next contribution to Wales Arts Reviews’ Flash Fiction Month, a month-long celebration of the flash fiction form.
After most of the snow had melted away, causing the burns to roar down from the moorland and raise the river levels beyond the three metre line under the bridge, I headed out onto the moorland above the castle.
Passing the castle, I crossed the burn and took the bridleway past an enclosure filled with partridge. I climbed higher on a long winding path between grazing sheep. The tarmac gradually disappeared into a grassy track and I crossed a stile into a field. Walking among pheasants on a tree shaded road I passed the farmhouse along a muddy track and paused by the silver descent of a waterfall. Climbing over the brow of a hill, a view of the valley stretched out before me, all the way across to the hills and beyond. The silver river shone in bright curls.
As I walked back down the road and returned past the castle, I was stopped in my tracks by a white wave in susurrations along the tarmac. Reaching into my rucksack I took my binoculars out and trained them onto the stoat, which was bright white against the greens and browns and blacks of the winter scene. It stood up on its hind legs to survey the muddy terrain of the fields on either side of the road, then lowered itself and ran a little, before stopping and surveying the scene again. I had made previous mistakes with nature, taking out my camera in order to try and get a picture and in doing so missing the moment, so this time I just watched the stoat, fixing my binoculars on its movements. I inched slowly along the road and got closer and closer, adjusting the binoculars as I went, to capture the white stoat in its winter image. I couldn’t believe I could get so close, but the stoat was so preoccupied with its own observations that it didn’t seem to see me at all. I was upwind of it and kept watching, so transfixed I didn’t notice the ache in my arms from holding the binoculars. When I did feel them aching, I lowered the binoculars for a moment, and when I looked through them again the stoat had gone. I rushed down the road to where it had been and scanned the fields on either side, but I never saw the stoat again.
What made it such a special moment for me was that I hadn’t known what it was when I saw it; before that moment I didn’t know that such a creature existed. It was then that I thought of the buzzards in the sky; those buzzards looking down on a stoat that stood out so brightly from its surrounds. And I thought that the stoat wouldn’t last long unless it learned to shed its winter coat at the same time as the snow began to melt.
The Stoat by Neil Campbell is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.