Monday, January 3, 2022

Flash Fiction: One-Eyed Yak

This is a story written for the amusement of my trekking group in Nepal, using some very random prompts they gave me. I'll put the prompts at the end of the story! It was a great way to spend a couple of afternoons, and was meant only to be a bit of goofy entertainment. I'm sharing it here as a supplement to the photo posts on Nepal!

One-Eyed Yak

High above a wildly scenic lake way up in the Himalayas, a hermit lived in a cave with hand-painted walls.

Elbert Pumpernickel was not a happy hermit who had chosen the life of isolation and deprivation from religious or spiritual motives. He was in fact embittered, broke, and on the run. Or he had been on the run, until he came to the end of the trail at the cave above the lake. Now he was stalled, trapped, and more bitter than ever against the cause of his ruin.

None of the problems he had were his fault, of course. It was certainly not his fault he was stuck on this mountain, with nothing to do all day but stare down the valley at the lake, which he hadn’t yet realized was beautiful, because he was too busy being bitter. His bitterness, like everything else that had gone wrong in his life, was his parents’ fault.

It wasn’t that they failed to love him, though he had no real reason to believe they did, either. No, it was all their fault because they had named him Elbert Pumpernickel (though the surname, he admitted in his more reasonable moments, wasn’t actually their fault, they hadn’t done very well with it).

The torment had begun early. After months of staring at the lake he decided his course toward this cave on the mountain was set in motion by the teasing he received from the moment he started school and first began to interact with other children. Exactly why “Elbert” should be a risible name is unclear, but there it was. Six years of “Elmo-Bert” and “Elbow” had softened him up for four years of high school. There, aside from jokes about pastrami sandwiches, the torment consisted mainly of a universal cold shoulder. That, and a periodic dunking in the nearest garbage can, something that was all too possible because his parents had also failed to provide the genes that would have made him large and muscular.

There were also the stinky feet. Even the kindest and most pitying of the girls left him at the sock hops when they became aware of the rotten-cheese smell wafting from Elbert’s socks. When word of that got around, being dumped in the garbage can would be accompanied by an explanation that that was what you did with spoiled cheese and stale bread.

Later, as an initiation rite for a college fraternity that turned out not to exist, Elbert had stolen the makings for enough s’mores for his floor of the dorm. Out of that venture, he had gotten one marshmallow, and a knock on his door from the police before he had time to roast it. He did manage to stuff the evidence in his mouth before they cuffed him.

The CCTV had caught his face, a so-called friend fingered him, and there he was with a court date and an insulting fifty-dollar bail, which he’d still had to borrow from the coke machine in the student union.

Unable to face the shame and humiliation, not of being sent up, but of being sent up for stealing marshmallows, Elbert fled.

Where a young man of normal upbringing and sense might have fled to another state, Elbert concluded his life was over. Once he started running, he just kept going.

When he finally stopped running, Elbert was in Nepal, in a cave overlooking a lake at an absurd elevation. He had traded his jeans for a set of monk’s robes and his fringed buckskin jacket for a set of down pants and parka, and he managed to convince the locals, if not himself, that he was on a holy quest. The locals shrugged, having seen this before, and expected to find him shivering on their doorsteps any day.

After three years in his cave, Elbert had begun to paint the walls in psychedelic designs with pigments made from ground rocks. He had also learned to sit motionless and gaze down the valley at the lake for three hours at a time, and was working on making it four. In short, he was adapting, though he didn’t realize it and still bitterly resented his parents and his fate.

When the one-eyed yak began hanging around the cave in the fourth year, Elbert found the final link to the peace he hadn’t known he sought.

It took another three years, but in the end, Elbert and the yak became friends. The yak was the first friend Elbert had ever had, and he loved it more than he had ever loved his parents. He named the yak “Pumpernickel” in an ironic nod to his parents, and lovingly combed its hair daily.

Elbert didn’t return to the US until the yak died of old age, and every bit of the cave walls was re-painted in portraits of the love of his life, the yak who never minded about his smelly feet.  

Not a one-eyed yak.

Here are the prompts I was given:

—smelly feet


—A man named Elbert who thinks all his misfortunes are due to being named Elbert

—A one-eyed yak

—looking down the valley for 3 hours

—a mountain lake


 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
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  1. This is so wonderful. Look out for opportunities to enter it places :)

    1. Thank you! I never thought of it as anything more than a bit of goofiness, but maybe I can do something with poor Elbert! (by the way, that part of the prompt was from my son :D).

  2. Hmm. Scrawny Elbert was a prompt from S#2? Did he also confide in the teasing part?

    1. Naw. He never got bullied, that was his brother. I did worry about the resentment over names. I'm not sure he's ever forgiven us for his middle name, but he also can ignore it :)


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