I am thrilled to have my short story “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth” published by Setu. Thank you, Editor-in-Chief Anurag Sharma.
The Most Beautiful Place on Earth
The pages were flying off the wall calendar like doves fleeing their cage. Roger could not stop time from slipping out of his grasp. His stomach churned and tightened from anxiety. He clutched his jaw and paced the floor. How was he ever going to meet his deadline? Should he just give up and quit?
It all started five months ago, when Roger finally got the nerve to apply for the job that he had been considering for almost two years now. He had always dreamed of being a photo-journalist for National Geographic Magazine. After all, isn’t that the dream of every writer and photographer? Up until now, he had worked for several small-town newspapers, and one small state magazine. He did well with those jobs, but he wanted more. Back in March, he cleaned up his portfolio and decided to go for the gold. The interview went smoothly enough. The co-editor seemed moderately impressed with Roger’s former work, but if he wanted to work there, he would have to prove himself worthy of the prestigious magazine. He was given an assignment to turn in in six months: an article with photographs of anyplace of his choice. Roger flittered the five months away trying to decide where to go to write this story. Now he only had one month left, and he still had no idea what he was going to do.
Roger was standing over his desk, frantically leafing through the pages of a large Atlas when his wife Helen walked in. Helen was a bright and optimistic person. She always had a smile and an uplifting word or two to share. She stopped in the doorway to Roger’s office and just stood there shaking her head. Her long brown hair with silver-gray streaks shimmered in the fading sunlight, coming through the west window. Then with a huge grin, she proceeded to speak, “Roger, if this is your heart’s desire, then choose someplace that you love, and just go there and start taking photos. You were given your choice. Why not go to Bermuda or Alaska, or someplace where you don’t have to worry about getting vaccines and Visas to travel to? Make it easy on yourself, and you will do a great job.” Roger closed the Atlas and turned towards Helen. “You are always so practical and wise. That is why I need you to balance out my over-ambitious personality.” Roger walked over and gave Helen a great big hug, then kissed her on her forehead. “Well, then it is settled,” she replied. “Just open up the North American Index in the Atlas and give it the old ‘Een, meeny miny moe.’” Roger laughed loudly and said, “You are always right! I’ll do it first thing in the morning. I stressed myself out too much today and it is getting late. I want to have a clear mind when I do this!” As Helen turned to walk away, she muttered to herself, “Always procrastinating!”
That night, Roger tossed and turned and could not fall asleep. He felt as if he was back in college with projects and exams looming over him. He looked over at Helen, who was sleeping peacefully. Her beautiful wavy tresses were cascading over her face creating a sheer veil of hair. He imagined her as some enchanting Renaissance painting, and this made him smile. He quietly rolled out of bed and tip-toed out of the bedroom. When he arrived at his small home office, he very carefully closed the door as to not make any noise. Pulling out the Atlas, he started to go through places that would be easy to get to, but still breathtaking to photograph and write about. He started to make a rough list of all the places that he had visited that would fit that bill. After all, Helen was right [again], he could write with passion about places that he knew and loved. And, in the end, the assignment was a test run. It was not going to be something that National Geographic was actually going to publish in the magazine, they just wanted to see what he could do. Roger yawned and stretched his arms up in the air. He needed to clear his mind and be alert if he was going to do this right.
It was one in the morning when Roger started working through his list. The first place that he decided to consider was Telluride Colorado. Now there was a magnificent place. Thousands of acres of pristine forests, icy mountain streams, and snowcapped mountains with peaks over fourteen thousand feet. He had climbed several of them in his younger days. Oh, the memories! Horseback camping in the mountains, and four-wheel driving narrow rutted paths to the old mining ghost towns. And, the town of Telluride tucked in the valley between towering ranges. It instilled feelings of a past time, with saloons, general stores, and boarding houses. The picturesque Bridal Veil Falls at the end of the box canyon overlooking the town was the crowning glory. It painted a picture of the Old West like no other place on earth. God, he loved that place. It took his breath away to even think about it. But he had to consider other places as well. Roger wanted to write the best story of his life.
Next, he considered Bermuda. Now that is a paradise for sure. Positioned in the middle of the Sargasso Sea, water so clear blue, that you can see down to the bottom of it. The famous soft-pink sand beaches, and friendly natives, all against the towering downtown business section where bankers from all over the planet congregated to do business. Roger remembered snorkeling the reefs, visiting the Botanical Gardens, and the charming tiny cube-shaped houses that lined the narrow streets. Each house was so colorful, like pastel candies in a jar, with limestone roofs to collect and purify the rain water. And, who could forget the famous luscious rum cakes? He brought home one of every flavor. Roger’s eyes were growing heavy as his mouth stretched into a loud yawn.
Roger thought hard about Alaska. He had never been there, but always wanted to go. Maybe it was best to stick to familiar places with such a close deadline. He wanted someplace he could get to easily, and know what it was he wanted to photograph, and write about. The next stop on his mental adventure was Ocracoke North Carolina. An idyllic quiet fishing village on the Outer Banks. It was an island that you can only get to by ferry boat, or a small private airplane. That was a place that he was very familiar with. He and Helen vacationed there often, and knew many of the local residents. Ah, the ocean, Pamlico Sound, Silver Lake inlet. The lush marshland, and shore birds, quaint shops and historic homes. He could write about this place in his sleep. He even had many photos from past visits that he could dig up to use. It would be the easiest place to get to. Roger knew that all of the places he loved would have already been featured in National Geographic. He wanted to have an edge, something different to stand out. As he pondered his dilemma, he began to grow drowsier.
It was six in the morning when Helen peeked into the office. She found Roger with his head on his desk, fast asleep. She touched his shoulder and said, “Good morning sleepy head.” He jumped up startled, with his heart pounding. “Oh, I must have dozed off while working on my assignment” he replied. Helen kissed him on the top of his head and said “Coffee and French Toast are waiting for you, if you are hungry.” After breakfast, Roger went over all his ideas with Helen. She thought that they were all very good ideas, and would make interesting articles. Roger was still not convinced. He knew that if he ever did get this position, he would have to travel and be away from home, but he really did not want to leave Helen while he was working on this preliminary assignment. Helen had her own career, and it would be unfair to ask her to come with him on such short notice.
Roger decided to take a walk outside to clear his head. As he stood along the edge of the yard, a hummingbird buzzed him. It flew up and down right in front of his face, checking him out. Then it flew off to indulge in its own breakfast of nectar from all the wonderful flowers in Helen’s meadow. The hummingbird stopped at each and every Cardinal flower, penstemon, and red sage plant, as other hummingbirds joined it in the feast. There were also many bees and butterflies in the meadow: Monarch, Swallow Tail, Black Swallow Tail, Fritillary, and many more. Just then, Roger leapt up in the air with joy! He knew what he was going to write about. How could he have not thought of it before? The most beautiful place on earth was right in his own yard. Helen had lush meadows of native wildflowers, and right behind the house was a fast-running rill, that originated from a spring at the top of the hill. There were woodlands on the other side of the rill. Across the lane was a Nature Center with more beautiful meadows and woods. It was right there before his eyes the entire time.
Excitedly, Roger rushed back into the house, huffing and puffing. Grabbing Helen around the waist, he picked her up into the air, and swung her around. “I got it” he exclaimed.” “I got it! I am going to write about our yard and this area.” Helen blushed and was speechless. She had never seen Roger this excited about anything before. He looked into her gorgeous big green eyes and said “Thank you for being you. I am going to start writing immediately.” Helen turned, and her gaze followed Roger as he actually ran back into his office. She had to giggle. “Well, if he is going to write about something he loves, I guess our yard and the Nature Center are a good place to write about,” she said to herself.
Roger spent the next two weeks taking hundreds of photographs of the yard, rill, woodlands, and of course, all the pollinators and wildlife that inhabited the meadows. He also took photos of Helen working in the gardens, weeding, dead-heading, propping up tall plants. He took numerous photographs of the Nature Center lands and interviewed the staff there. He was very pleased with his project. Even if it was not some famous far-off place, it was a place that very few people would be aware of.
Roger was not anxious anymore. He exuded confidence when he walked into the office of one of the editors at National Geographic. It felt like forever as the editor looked through the folder. She looked up to Roger and said, “Of course I have to run this by everyone on the hiring staff, but from what I see here, you have a fervor for what you do. We will be in touch with you within the month.” Roger let out an inaudible sigh of relief as he stood up to shake the woman’s hand. Roger was beaming as he drove back home. He may never work for National Geographic Magazine, but he knew that no matter how many exotic places there were in this world, he lived in the most beautiful place on earth.