There are two versions of this story posted here. The first is the original 700+ word story. I pared it back to 500 for a contest. Not easy, but it certainly teaches a lesson in tight writing.

Time stilled as I focused on the hand-carved bird swinging wildly from my rearview mirror. Behind it pinks, yellows, and oranges painted the sky. Heat rolled off the canyon walls, causing the colors to rise and fall where mountain and sky merged.

And there was Shaun, as real as if he were standing in front of me. I longed to hug him one more time. Twenty minutes ago, he knelt on the porch of his parent’s cabin. Messy brown hair, rugged, he smelled like sawdust and spice. The scar along his jaw pulled tight as he smiled. My insides always turned to gel when he looked at me like that.

As clearly as I saw Shaun, I also saw myself–through his eyes. I saw the uncertainty on my face. I felt Shaun’s heart beat wildly as he scanned my black hair, aching to touch it as much as he desired to touch every other part of me. No love compared. Then his heart contracted. Something was wrong. He wondered if I loved him? If I wanted him the way he wanted me? A painful mass of confusion knotted in his gut when my dark eyes met his, and I said no.

He snapped the box lid shut and walked away.

Tears had streamed down my face. I loved him. With all my heart I loved him, but we had no money, no real jobs, and endless schooling ahead of us. We’d laid out a plan and agreed to work it. His change of plans threw me off. I only needed time to think. Why had I jumped in my car and left?

Now, he’d forever believe I didn’t want him.

Unless he looked in the wishing jar. Shaun had bought the pottery at my family’s store and requested the artist’s signature. A ploy to meet me. After I signed it, he made up a cheesy line that his first wish was to spend a day with me. He left with a wink and a challenge. To prove my jar worked, I paid him a visit. We talked all day while he carved a piece of wood. Shaun didn’t believe in magic, but he believed in fate and true love. He gave me the palm sized Thunderbird and said it would always protect me.

“But I thought you didn’t believe in magic?” I examined the intricacies of the wings and feathers, stretched out to show it in flight.

“I don’t … but this is real.” He touched the bird then let his fingers trail over my palm, the intimacy dissolving my argument. Even with no money and half-finished degrees, our love blossomed from the porch swing as we watched hundreds of sunsets come and go.

Would he find the message I’d secretly placed in the pot? I wish for a life with you. No one loves you as much as I do.

A wish that would die at the bottom of the canyon.

I closed my eyes, Shaun’s smile an embrace as I sailed down, down, down …

I opened my eyes, confused.  The car hadn’t smashed into the earth. It hung suspended in the air next to the river. Beneath a thundering cry, the old Ford shifted then dropped to the ground a second later.

What just happened?

Uncontrollable shaking set in as my body awoke from the horrific ordeal of overcorrecting and then plunging through the guardrail.

Over the hood an enormous bird flapped ten-foot wings and lifted itself into the sky until it disappeared into the setting sun.

I looked up to where I’d left the road then off to where the magnificent bird disappeared. Where had it come from? Another thundering cry rumbled across the blue sky and that’s when I noticed it … the woodcarving was gone.

***

Most recent version cut to <500 words.

Time stilled as the hand-carved bird swung from my rearview mirror. Behind it, heat rolled off the canyon walls, causing yellow, orange, and red to quaver where mountain and sunset merged.

And there was Shaun, as real as if he were standing in front of me. Twenty minutes ago, he knelt on the porch, messy brown hair, he smelled like sawdust and spice. The scar along his jaw pulled tight as he smiled.

As clearly as I saw Shaun, I also saw myself–through his eyes. I felt Shaun’s heart beat wildly as he scanned my black hair, aching to touch it as much as he desired to touch every other part of me. Then his heart contracted. He wondered if I loved him? If I wanted him the way he wanted me? A painful mass of confusion knotted in his gut when my dark eyes met his, and I said no.

Tears had streamed down my face. I loved him, but we had no money or real jobs. We’d laid out a plan and agreed to work it. His change of plans threw me off.

But why had I jumped in my car and left?

Now, he’d forever believe I didn’t want him.

Unless he looked in the wishing jar. Shaun had bought the pottery at my family’s store and made up a cheesy line that his first wish was to spend a day with me. He left with a wink and a challenge. To prove the jar worked, I paid him a visit. We talked all day while he carved a piece of wood. Shaun didn’t believe in magic, but he believed in fate. He gave me the palm sized Thunderbird and said it would always protect me.

“I thought you didn’t believe in magic?” I examined the intricacies of the wings and feathers, stretched out to show it in flight.

“I don’t … but this is real.” He touched the bird then let his fingers trail over my palm. Even with no money, our love blossomed from the porch swing as we watched hundreds of sunsets.

Would he find the message I’d placed in the jar? I wish for a life with you. No one loves you as much as I do.

A wish that would die at the bottom of the canyon.

I closed my eyes, Shaun’s smile an embrace as I sailed down, down, down …

But the car didn’t smash into the earth. Confused, I opened my eyes. The old Ford hung suspended in the air next to the river. Beneath a thundering cry, the car shifted then dropped to the ground.

Uncontrollable shaking set in as my body awoke from the horrific ordeal of overcorrecting and plunging through the guardrail.

Over the hood an enormous bird flapped ten-foot wings and lifted itself into the sky until it disappeared.

Where had it come from? Another thundering cry rumbled overhead and that’s when I noticed it … the woodcarving was gone.