Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Photo Credit: JosephGilbert.org via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JosephGilbert.org via Compfight cc

The words won’t come. I try to coax them out into the open. Sweet sing-songy platitudes call them forward, but they remain just beyond my sight. I know they are there somewhere, but the miasma has engulfed them. Frustrated I call louder, more urgent, insistent. Still the words won’t come.

I give up the pretense of being calm or rational and slam my fist as I demand they answer me. I know they are out there and now I can feel them laughing and mocking my building rage. I feel them, but I cannot hear them, they won’t even give me that much.

So many times they have lead me by the hand, feeding me reassurances that I possessed a measure of talent. They enticed me with visions of worlds yet explored and tales unconquered. How could I have not been made to think this was what I was called to do? My whole life believing, with a sense of entitlement, that these words belonged to me and me alone. Knowing that one day I would hold them close and they would tell me all of their secrets. I would wield them like a well sharpened sword and cleave a path to my destiny. Only now, they refuse and I can see my path crumbling like over-baked clay. The more I struggle to collect them the less substance they hold. Soon they will blow away and I’ll be left alone.

I thrust my hands into the darkness and flail helplessly trying to find some small purchase to take hold of. I almost think I’ve got something, but I’m overeager and loose my grip before I can even begin to reel it out into the light. I feel the anger rise up in my throat like bile and I spit it out into the air around me letting it fill the room like a heavy fog. With no vent to escape the dense clouds instead double back on me causing my eyes to tear up as my self inflicted hatred wounds every exposed part of me.

It is in these times I know the terrible truth of myself. My fraudulent nature, my unfulfilled desire to be more than I am. I know and I mourn the things I can never allow myself to want because in these moments I know I do not deserve them.

The cursor blinks on the empty screen, still waiting for me to begin. The words won’t come.

Seeing Red

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Short Stories

Clayton pressed the lock on the bathroom door until it gave a very satisfying click. His eyes scanned the sink-top until he found the white plastic stopper which he quickly used to plug the hole. While the sink filled with water he dug into his back jeans pocket and pulled out the folded over packet of Kool-aid he’d snuck from the pantry that morning.

Anticipation overwhelming him he ripped the top off the packet and spilled almost half the powered contents into the still filling sink. The powder reacted quickly turning the clean clear water a pale then deep red. Marcus had been right!

Delighted by his success, Clayton opened the cabinet under the sink and took out his tub of bath toys. Digging through the assortment of pirate ships and action figures he finally found some rubber dinosaurs which he felt would be perfect actors for his game.

The orange T-Rex gave a mighty roar as he circled the watering hole in search of his next meal. Suddenly from the side he caught sight of a solitary stegosaurus making his way to the pond. The air stilled in the trees as the T-Rex took one steady step forward, than another. If the stegosaurus noticed him too soon he’d lose out on yet another much needed meal. Determined the T-Rex lowered his head as he began moving faster toward his prey.

The stegosaurus turned his head cautiously, perhaps giving in to a sense of foreboding. He saw the beady red eyes of the charging T-Rex baring down on him, now at full speed. The monster’s teeth gnashed in anger at being spotted, but he was already fully committed to his course of action by this point. The stegosaurus readied his tail for the coming fight, the plates on his back tingling in the hot sun.

A sudden and loud hammering broke the moment as the T-Rex slipped from Clayton’s hand and fell into the blood red sink splashing colored water everywhere.

“Hurry up in there, I need to get ready to go to the mall,” Veronica said.

Her voice carried throughout the entire second floor of the house. Clayton just cringed.

“I’m busy,” he said loudly.

“Clayton, I need to get ready, quit playing with yourself and get out of there!”

“I’m not playing,” Clayton said, blushing as he cast a guilty look at his toys. He reached into the water to fish out his T-Rex.

Veronica banged her fist against the door again, shaking it in its frame.

“I mean it Clayton, get out of there right now or I’m telling Mom!”

“Use the bathroom downstairs,” Clayton said.

“I can’t you little twerp, I need to take a shower.”

“You just took a shower last night, even you don’t smell that bad.”

Veronica pounded furiously on the bathroom door. Clayton worried that the flimsy door lock wasn’t going to be enough to restrain his sister.

“Clayton, I’m counting to three!”

“Go ahead, I told you I’m busy,” Clayton said. He readjusted the stegosaurus on the counter, getting it ready for another attack.

“That’s it, I’m telling Mom!” Veronica said. Clayton heard her storm off down the stairs and begin calling for their mother.

Stupid Veronica, Clayton thought angrily. He knew this wasn’t a fight he could win, not once Mom got involved. Ever since Veronica had started middle school their mother had been taking her side in everything. Suddenly he wasn’t allowed in his sister’s room anymore, couldn’t walk around in his underwear in the mornings, wasn’t even allowed to be ‘rude’ to her annoying friends who called every waking minute.

All this lead Clayton to form the absolutely true belief that teenage girls, or even pre-teenage ones, were absolutely impossible to live with.

Quickly, Clayton stowed his toys back under the sink and surveyed the mess on the counter. He unstopped the sink and did his best to rinse out the pink ring left on the porcelain. Now he needed to figure out how to wipe down the counters without leaving red stains all over his Mother’s favorite hand-towels.

Thinking fast he opened the hamper and dug around until he found one of Veronica’s black t-shirts. It had the words “Girl Power!” embossed across the front in a glittery silver mess. It was a stupid shirt, it was perfect.

Clayton used the shirt to wipe down the counter until all the red water was absorbed. He then tossed the dripping evidence back into the hamper and slammed the lid shut. There, now it didn’t look like he’d been up to anything. The only evidence left was the half-full package of Kool-aid sitting on top of the closed toilet seat.

Hearing footsteps clomping up the stairs, Clayton knew his time was running out. He was about to just toss the package away in the trash when he suddenly got a better idea. He slide the shower door open and reached up for the bright pink shampoo bottle his sister had insisted on buying last time they were at the store.

Veronica banged her hand against the door forcefully.

“Clayton, let me in!” she said.

“I’m almost done,” Clayton called back.

“Mom, he’s been in there forever!” she cried putting her hands on her hips in what she assumed was the most dignified stance to indicate her disapproval of the situation. Mrs. Blake checked her delicate golden watch and sighed. She really didn’t have time for this right now.

“Clayton honey, other people need to use the bathroom,” she said.

The toilet flushed and the sink ran for a moment before Clayton sheepishly opened the door.

“I told her I’d be done in a minute,” he grumbled, eyes downcast. He kept his hands in his pocket, to hide the red that had absorbed into his fingers.

“You two are going to have to stop butting heads over everything,” Mrs. Blake said, “I’m going to be late for Bridge if I don’t hurry up and get ready right this minute. I can’t always drop everything to break up your arguments.”

“Yes Mom,” Clayton said. Veronica just crossed her arms over her chest defiantly.

“Can I go to Marcus’ house?” Clayton asked, he had to let his friend know about the experiment.

“Is your room cleaned?” Mrs. Blake asked.

“Yup, finished it this morning,” Clayton said.

“Okay, go play. Be home for dinner.”

“Thanks Mom,” Clayton said, he shouldered his way past his still pouting sister and ran down the stairs. Somehow he thought it would be best if he wasn’t around for the aftermath.

“Finally,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes as she reached for the bathroom door.

“What about your room?” Mrs. Blake asked pushing the door shut.

“Mo-om,” Veronica wailed, “I don’t have time, Jenny’s mom is coming to pick me up in an hour. Can’t I do it tomorrow?”

“Veronica I told you kids yesterday that I wanted those rooms cleaned first thing. Go get it done or your not going anywhere tonight,” Mrs. Blake said firmly.

“You’re ruining everything!” Veronica cried stamping her foot. She whirled around and stomped down the hallway slamming her bedroom door behind her.

Mrs. Blake shook her head wearily and slipped into the bathroom. She looked at herself in the mirror, trying not to notice the bags under her eyes or the wrinkles that seemed to have sprung up overnight. At least she still had her long blonde hair to get by on, the same as Veronica’s.

She undressed quickly and turned the shower on hot, letting the steam fill the stall. Climbing in the shower her eyes were immediately drawn to Veronica’s shampoo bottle. Such a gaudy “look at me” shade of pink. Still her daughter had insisted it was the only thing that could make her hair look right. Apparently, the bargain brand shampoo she had been using all her life was no longer good enough.

Mrs. Blake had indulged her, not only to prevent another argument, but because there were plenty of times when she wished she could treat herself to a little something special. In fact, now felt like one of those times.

She read the description on the bottle. Something about unlocking hair’s natural beauty with specially formulated enzymes. Sounded about right, besides if it was good enough to keep Veronica’s hair looking vibrant and young then surely it could perk up her own look.

Mrs. Blake squeezed some shampoo into her hand. Wow, what a strong color, she thought. Guess this is what it feels like to be trendy, she chuckled as she set the bottle down and began to work the shampoo lather into her hair.

Blue

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Short Stories

The canvas was blank. White actually, I guess white counts as a color, but for all intents and purposes it was blank and so was my mind. I felt the need to fill it, make something of it, but I didn’t know how to start.

There were times when the idea just flowed from my mind onto the work in such a rush that I didn’t even know if I’d had anything to do with it at all. As if it had just blinked into existence and my hand just happened to be the outlet that provided it’s release. Those were the good times.

Lately though, now that the gallery was calling, asking for more to display, I was starting to wonder if the well had finally run dry.

It had been a typical day, hours wasted at a day job I hated, bad coffee with annoying co-workers, rush-hour traffic all the way home. I tried to clear my mind, take a sip of tea and steady my hand, but the inspiration wouldn’t come.

Frustrated I set my cup down and slumped down into my chair pulling my legs up under me. I tried to visualize what color I was feeling, but all I could come up with was blue. Blue was better than white, but on it’s own it wasn’t art.

Why was I blue? Blue was such a passive color. Why couldn’t I be something exotic like carmine? There was a color with mystery and passion. Clearly this was getting me nowhere.

I unfolded myself from the chair and began pacing across the polished wood floors of my small studio apartment. I had thought myself quite the ‘real’ artist when I’d moved in here. Living in a studio, struggling to get by on my creativity. It had all sounded so much more romantic in my twenty-year-old mind.

The harsh realities of a diet consisting primarily of raw fruit and ramen noodles as I struggled to make it from paycheck to paycheck had killed the romance. Still this had been my dream, grow up, move out, become a real artist.

My parents had been cautiously supportive, so long as actually went to college they were happy enough to admit to knowing me. When I visited I still got the feeling they were waiting for me to drop the bomb, come clean and admit that they had been right and that I was changing my degree to something with a straight path to success. I never did make things easy on myself.

The gallery discovering me had been a happy accident. They had only accepted two of my pieces. The ones they felt would have the most ‘commercial success’ I suppose. Even amongst art types I didn’t seem to fit in.

All of this wasn’t helping. I considered just putting my paints away and saving this whole event for another time. I tried to create something everyday. Find something, no matter how small that would inspire me to take my skill to the next level.

Sometimes I cheated and just made sloppy sketches in my journal. It was a form of art, and a few even went on to inspire full paintings. I gazed at the journals laying open on the kitchen counter and just sighed. I’d been over them countless times in the past few days leading up to this.

It had been nearly a month since I’d done an actual painting. I had just been so preoccupied with nothing as of late. Finding all sorts of distractions to fill my time. Take my mind off the fact that I wasn’t really creating as much as I wanted. It was surprisingly easy to lose your motivation in a fast paced world of technology and for a time I embraced it.

Now I was paying the price. Chastising myself for being lazy and growing complacent with my position in the universe. How could I ever raise my head above the sea of mediocrity if I couldn’t even be bothered to turn off the TV?

I stopped in front of my poor blank canvas. Somewhere there was a statement waiting to come alive. I just had to find where the lines began and give them the color to be seen. I had to do it, because if I didn’t who would? Even if someone else did how would I know they would ever make the same statement that I could?

I picked up my brush and gently dipped it into the blue. I pushed it through the paint, feeling the texture and smoothness of the material. Ready or not, I was going to paint now.

The brush slide smoothly over the canvas leaving it’s mark, a single blue line curving from top to bottom. The canvas was blank no longer.

I wish I could say that I created an amazing piece. Something that took people’s breath away when they saw it, but the truth is that by the time I decided to call it quits it was just another canvas sloshed with paint that would probably never be seen outside of my tiny studio apartment.

Friends would say they liked it and my family would pretend to get it, but I’d know it was just a show of politeness. Still I was glad to have struggled. When I finally do make something amazing it will be all the more worthwhile if I had to fight to get myself there.

Besides, they can’t all be Rembrandt.

Half-empty

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Short Stories

I took a sip and set the glass back on the bar. The brown liquid sloshed a bit then settled itself to stillness. This wasn’t my first drink of the night and although I hadn’t given it much thought I didn’t expect it to be my last.

Somewhere in the bar an old country song played on a tired player. Pool balls clacked together and people laughed. It wasn’t a busy night, being in the middle of the week and all, but somehow the locals still managed to make the place feel lively. It was nice to be somewhere that felt like it still had some life left in it.

The waitress pulled up next to me, leaning in to tell the bartender what beers she needed. She seemed a nice enough girl, I briefly wondered what her excuse was for working in an establishment like this. She looked more the friendly IHOP type, smart pony-tail, not too much make-up. Shame to think that even nice girls ended up working at sloppy bars in the middle of backwards small towns.

Not that it was my place to judge mind you. If people around here knew what I really did for a living I’d be lucky if they even left me have a place at the bar anymore. I wrinkled my forehead in irritation, I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that now. Hell, I didn’t want to be thinking about anything right now.

I grabbed my glass and took another sip of the brown liquor. It burned my throat on the way down, but I didn’t mind. Throwing my head back I finished off the glass and set it back on the bar.

“Another?” the bartender asked. I nodded and he topped the glass off again.

I pulled the tumbler back towards me, perfectly content to continue milling in my own silence when a man hopped onto the bar stool next to me.

“Don’t ya know ya ain’t supposed to drink alone?” he said.

I turned my head slowly toward his grinning face. Looked like some sort of business type, dress shirt and slacks, collar pulled up a bit on the side as if he’d just pulled his tie off in the car on the way over.

“Mind if I join ya?” he asked waving to the bartender. I just shrugged. Small talk with strangers isn’t exactly my strong suit. Not that I was in a social mood anyway.

He got his drink that turned his attention back to me.

“Name’s Leo,” he said.

“Jake,” I replied.

“Nice to meet ya Jake,” he said. I began to worry he was going to launch into an insurance sales pitch or something. He was giving off the creepy car salesman vibe of over-eagerness. I don’t trust people that happy to talk to someone they don’t even know.

Apparently my lack of enthusiasm didn’t dismay him in the least as he continued talking.

“Great weather today, wish I could have spent more time outside in it, I hear it’s going to rain some more again next week,” Leo chatted.

I just nodded and sipped my drink. Most people, normal people, get the hint soon enough and leave me to myself. Evidently Leo wasn’t such a person.

“What kind of work do you do Jake?” he asked.

“Sales,” I lied.

This was enough to send him off on another tangent about something or another. At some point in his monologue he finished off his drink and ordered another. Not sure when he found time to drink with all the talking he was doing, but I continued nursing my own glass and only contributing the minimal obligatory social responses to Leo’s conversation.

“Did ya hear about the murder in the next town over from here?” Leo asked suddenly.

I shook my head.

“Damn shame, some poor girl strangled to death on her way home from work. It was all over the news,” he said.

“I don’t watch much TV,” I said looking down at my drink. It was probably the longest sentence I’d uttered to him all night and I immediately regretted it. I didn’t owe this guy an explanation of my media habits.

Leo must have taken this as a sign that I was interested and started to fill me in on all the gory details. How the girl was found naked in an alley, no sign of a murder weapon, no suspects.

“That ain’t even the worst of it though,” he said leaning closer, “Seems like this wasn’t the first girl to go missing lately, just the first one they found.”

“Is that true?” a woman’s voice asked. Leo and I both turned in our seats to see the waitress standing behind us, hanging on Leo’s ever word.

“100% true, the news is trying to keep it quiet, but I got friends around that say the same kinda things been happening all over the state.”

“That’s horrible,” she said.

“Yeah, shame what the world’s coming to, eh Jake?” he said.

“Seems like it,” I replied setting my glass back down.

The waitress got some more beers and scampered away toward the less morbid patrons. Part of me wanted to follow her.

“Half-empty or half-full?” Leo asked.

“What’s that?” I frowned, unsure where the conversation had gone in the past two seconds.

“Your glass Jake, do you see it as half-empty or half-full?”

“Empty I suppose,” I said wondering where the trick was to his question.

“I figured as much, you seem like an empty sort of guy, no offense,” Leo said taking another drink.

He paused as if giving me a moment to consider if I should actually be offended before he continued.

“I’m more of a half-full type of guy myself, good way to live, right on the edge,” he said, his fingers drumming absently on the bar top.

“Ya know, I used to be a lot like you Jake,” Leo continued.

“Is that so?” I asked. My patience was starting to wear thin. If my tone conveyed any of that though, Leo deftly ignored it.

“True story, dead end job, nothing to ease the pain of daily life. I was pretty miserable,” he said.

“I’m not miserable,” I said.

“Sorry man, didn’t mean to imply anything,” he said patting me on the back. My hand instinctively curled into a fist, but I just took another sip of my drink.

The din of the bar had quieted down by now. The bartender was setting chairs on empty tables and the waitress collecting the last of her tips as the patrons stumbled out into the night.

“Anyhow, you know what I finally figured out? The trick to being happy?”

The question hung in the air for a bit, I would have been happy to let it stay there all night, but Leo grew impatient.

“Finding your rush, finding what makes you feel alive and want to get out of bed everyday,” Leo finished.

“Is that all?” I asked with a chuckle. I’d half expected him to pull out a bible and start lecturing me on the best way to find God at this point. Instead his expression grew dark and his lips turned down at the corners.

“Don’t laugh man, it wasn’t easy to do. The first time…. Well it took some practice, but I’ve got it all figured out now,” he snapped.

“If you say so,” I said wondering at his change in demeanor.

The waitress came back up to the bar and set her serving tray down.

“I’m gonna be heading out in a minute Charley, you want me to take the trash out on my way?” she called to the bartender.

“That would be great Shirl, thanks,” he said. She ducked under the bar and went into the kitchen.

Leo finished his drink and put a couple of crumpled bills down on the bar.

“Been a real pleasure talking to ya Jake,” he said, “You think about what I told you, okay?”

Leo stepped down from the bar stool and made his way to the door. It swung shut behind him just as the waitress came back out from the kitchen.

The bartender glanced around and scooped up the money on the bar. Then went back to cleaning up for the night.

“See you tomorrow Charley,” the waitress called waving with the hand that wasn’t carrying a bag of garbage.

Sighing heavily I pushed myself to my feet.

“I’ll be right back to settle up,” I called gesturing to the men’s room.

“No problem,” the bartender called back, grabbing some ketchup bottles and taking them back to the kitchen.

The bathroom was dimly lit and as I figured, poorly ventilated. As such there was a half open window next to the sink that served as the only source of fresh air in the place. After locking the door I placed both hands on the window and shoved it all the way open. It would be a tight fit, but I’d dealt with worse.

I hoisted myself up and tumbled through onto the ground outside. The faint light from the window cast my shadow on the grass below as I pressed myself tight against the building and began sliding towards the rear of the bar.

Sure enough I could hear the sound of bottles smacking together as the young waitress tossed her load into the dumpster. There was a pungent smell of old liquor and rotting food that I could have done without.

Suddenly the waitress paused and looked over her shoulder.

“Charley is that you?” she asked.

Her sneakers crunched on the rocky back lot as she walked towards the sound of the noise. There was a startled yelp then a sickening thud as her head was bashed into the ground. Blood pooled over the white gravel.

Leo crouched over his victim wrapping the rope tightly around her neck. I stepped out from the side of the building calmly and walked up to him.

The girl was struggling under his weight, the blow to the head hadn’t been enough to knock her out. Leo purred vulgarities to her under his breath, panting with the exertion of keeping her pinned.

It was a simple matter to take my blade and run it right into the back of his neck. He swung around in surprise as my fist connected neatly with the side of his face, the blood from his neck spattering the already moist rocks as he slumped over.

I pulled the knife back out, having to twist it slightly to dislodge it from the vertebrae it had impacted. Leo lay panting on the ground. The waitress’s eyes were wide with horror as her hands frantically worked to undo the rope around her neck. She kicked her legs and managed to buck Leo off of her. His body twitched and twisted where he fell.

I lifted the knife again, not too high, not like they do in the movies, just the right amount to get some force behind it and plunged it into his throat. It was sloppy work, I’m usually much more meticulous about these kind of things, but in the end there was no ‘nice’ death.

 

Leo stopped twitching and the last trace of life left his eyes. I removed the knife and pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to clean the handle.

“You, you saved me,” the waitress choked. I glanced down at her, she was covered in blood and dirt, her eyes full of tears. It was a shame to see her in a place like this. The rope had finally come undone from her neck and lay in coils on her legs.

“Here,” I said holding the knife handle first out to her. She reached up slowly and took it from my hand as I folded the handkerchief back up and tucked it neatly into my pocket.

Her eyes were locked on the dark smears of blood dripping off the blade. She never saw my foot coming up to connect with her head. As her cranium smacked hard into the rocky lot once more I waited to see if her eyes would flutter open again, but they remained still.

Climbing back through the bathroom window was more difficult, it always is for some reason I mused. I cleaned myself up at the sink, letting the water run a bit longer than necessary. The white noise was always soothing. Finally I dried up and unlocked the door. The bartender was waiting for my by the door.

“There you are, was starting to worry,” he said.

I made my way back to the bar and to my glass. I picked it up and downed the last of the liquor in one final sip before tossing some money on the bar. The bartender unlocked the door and came over to pick up his cash.

 

I took one last good look at my glass before I walked out the door into the night. It might be empty, but at least I wasn’t thirsty anymore.

 

 

 

The hike

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Short Stories

I turned the map slightly to the side squinting over the top of it trying to make sense of the markings. An exasperated sigh caught my attention and I lowered the map to turn toward my companion.

 

“I’m pretty sure it’s this way,” I said, trying to hide the doubt in my voice.

 

“We are completely lost aren’t we?” Eric asked, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

 

“Not completely, we are definitely somewhere on this map,” I said.

 

Eric sighed again and leaned back against a tree with his backpack. I was sure he regretted carrying so much of our gear by now. Even if we had made it back to the car when we were supposed to he’d have been sore from carrying so much. The added two hours hadn’t done much to improve his disposition.

 

“I thought you knew how to read it?” he asked.

 

“Yeah, It made a lot more sense when we were still by the river. Now it’s just a mess of greens and squiggly lines,” I gestured at the worn paper in my hands.

 

Eric looked over at the map as if he wanted to snatch it away from me, but to his credit he didn’t. He did continue to pout however.

 

“You may as well get out something to eat,” I told him, smoothing the map open on a nearby rock for a better look.

 

“I’m not hungry,” he said.

 

“You haven’t eaten since breakfast, we’ll never get back if you get sick now,” I said.

 

Eric bit his lower lip slightly considering his response, the green of his eyes flashed briefly up to meet mine and I knew I’d won the argument as he shrugged out of his pack letting it drop softly on the ground. He knelt beside it and zipped it open.

 

“Do you want anything?” he asked, holding up a granola bar.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” I said taking it from him.

 

We munched our granola bars in silence. Eric avoided meeting my gaze, choosing instead to monitor the activities of a nearby ant colony. The silence continued as we re-shouldered our packs and began to move again, Eric falling into step quietly behind me.

 

He made for a somewhat large and ominous shadow following behind me that way, his tan skin blending into the darkness of the forest floor. Some of the others didn’t like working with him for that very reason, but I’d grown accustomed to his stature and the stealthy way he managed to carry himself.

 

We made quite the pair, me with my compact figure and pale skin contrasting against his large muscular frame and deeply browned complexion.

 

I heard a twig snap from somewhere behind me causing the corner of my lips to tug down slightly. It would have been easy to write it off as nothing, but I knew better than to ignore my instincts.

“Right side,” Eric said, his voice barely a whisper.

 

I nodded my head slightly to indicate that I had heard him and continued walking forward. I closed my eyes slightly and tilted my head back inhaling deeply through my nose. The woodsy smell of trees and mud swarmed my senses. I pushed those smells aside and tried to pick out another smell, different from the others.

 

Eric grabbed my shoulder suddenly jerking me to a stop. I snapped my eyes open and glanced down at the rock I’d nearly tripped over.

 

“Anything?” he asked.

 

“Can’t place it,” I admitted.

 

He nodded as if he’d expected as much and released his grip. I stepped around the rock and continued walking. Eric fell back into step behind me, but I could feel him walking closer this time. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled slightly as a drip of sweat slipped past them.

 

It wasn’t long after that when we heard the second twig snap. I glanced up at the bits of blue sky peeking between the tree tops. There was already some pink starting to mingle with the blue signaling the onset of dusk. I stopped walking.

 

Eric managed to catch himself before he ran into my back, but only just barely.

 

“Scout left, circle back” I said dropping my pack to the ground slowly.

 

Eric glanced behind us tensely, his pack slowly lowering to the ground.

 

“We’ve got to be close now,” he said.

 

“Maybe, but we can’t take the chance,” I replied. I shifted myself toward the right and began carefully making my way through the dense foliage.

 

Off the main path the smell of rotting leaves and wet wood was nearly staggering. I picked my way carefully between the trees and bushes, stepping over the branches and vines that threatened to snag my sneakers.

 

Finally I had gone far enough, I hunched down low and quietly made my way back the direction we’d come from, moving slightly back towards the path. This was costing us valuable time and as I continued my slow progress I began to worry that I’d made a mistake. Perhaps the sound had just been some hapless woodland creature not smart enough to stay clear of us.

 

A dark shape moved suddenly into my line of sight. I dropped low and held my breath as it slipped just beyond the trees that surrounded the path. It moved swiftly and I lost sight of it just as quickly as I had managed to spot it.

 

I nearly slipped on some wet leaves as I stood back up and made my way back to the path. I slid behind a tree and peeked around the side down the path toward the direction the shape had traveled. Whatever it was it had been following us for some time.

Glancing down I tried to make out some imprints in the mud, but the mess of leaves coating the ground made it impossible to discern anything.

 

“Did you see it?” Eric asked. I glanced up, momentarily startled, but managed to quickly recover myself.

 

“Any idea what it was?” I asked him as he pushed past some branches blocking his way back onto the path.

 

“Some kind of animal I guess,” he said.

 

“Pretty big animal,” I said.

 

Eric shrugged and looked away.

 

“Lets go get our stuff,” I said, “We’re going to have to hurry if we want to make it back before dark.”

 

By now the sunlight was already beginning to wane. I wasn’t holding out much hope of making it back to the car before we had to break out the flashlights, but I figured now wasn’t the time to sound pessimistic.

 

We walked a ways back down the slim path to where we’d left the back packs. Trouble was there were no longer any back packs to be found.

 

Eric cursed softly, I agreed, and the sun continued to set.

 

We wasted more precious time searching the area, but aside from some matted grass where the packs had sat there was nothing to find. Eventually we gave up and decided to continue on our way.

 

My stomach growled miserably, breaking the silence.

 

“You okay?” Eric asked, his tone implying more reflex than actual concern.

 

“I’ll be fine once we get out of here and grab some dinner,” I replied.

 

At the mention of dinner Eric’s stomach chimed in with a growl of it’s own. I grinned at him. He was less than amused and crossed his arms again.

 

I considered teasing him to try to lighten his mood, but Eric wasn’t the sort to react well to such things so I left him alone.

 

The light had gone gray around us by the time I caught the first whiff of something out of place, asphalt.

 

“We’re near the road,” I said.

 

“The right road?” he asked.

 

I shrugged, the map was tucked firmly inside my pack, wherever that was.

“I guess it’s better than wandering around the woods all night,” he said.

 

A soft rumble in the distance caught our attention. A small ways ahead of us I could just make out the dim headlights of a car poking their way through the tangle of the wilderness.

 

“Hurry,” I called as I shot off toward what I assumed to be the road.

 

Our footfalls pounded in my ears as we ran, ducking under branches and hopping over roots as we made our way off the path. The rumble of the car engine increased to a mild roar as we made our way closer to the road. The headlights flashed between the trees, reflecting in my eyes and blinding me for a second. Eric wasn’t able to catch me this time and I went sprawling to the ground. I heard a crunch as he dove sideways to keep from running me over. The engine sound got softer and softer as the car continued on into the distance.

 

Now it was my turn to curse as I rolled onto my side and grabbed at my knee. I could feel the slice in my jeans where the warm sticky blood was seeping out of me. Eric was kneeling over me a second later, pushing my hands away so he could get a look at the damage.

 

“It’s too dark, I can’t tell how deep the cut is,” he said wiping the blood away with his hand over and over.

 

I breathed in and out deeply trying to regain my composure. I was just starting to calm down when something made a sound from the direction we had come from stopping my breath in my throat.

 

“Can you walk?” Eric asked looking back over his shoulder into the darkened woods.

 

“I think so,” I replied, suddenly not all that sure. He stood and extended his hand to me. I grabbed onto him and he easily drug me to my feet where my knees promptly buckled nearly sending me sprawling again.

 

Eric slid his arm around my waist holding me tighter this time as I regained my balance. Once my feet felt like they were actually going to stay put I released my death grip on his arm and managed to stand on my own. I took one step, then another, my knee burning as I moved.

 

“We need to get to the road,” I said, hobbling along as best I could.

 

There was a rustling, closer this time. I glared toward the road, willing it closer when another sound caught my attention, another car.

 

Eric reached out for me, but I pushed him off.

 

“Get to the road, if you can flag down that car they can give us a ride back to the lot,” I said.

 

“Come with me,” he said, trying again to reach for me.

 

“I’ll meet you there in a minute, but if you don’t go now we’ll miss the car,” I said angrily.

 

“What about?” he started.

 

“Just hurry up and go, I’ll be right there,” I said sternly.

 

He hesitated glancing back into the woods.

 

“Eric, hurry,” I said. The headlights were visible now, the car would be passing by soon.

 

Swearing he broke into a run, I continued jerking my leg forward trying to keep up, but he was quickly becoming just a dark shape mixed with all the other dark shapes that stood before me. Soon I couldn’t even pick him out.

 

I focused on the headlights, growing closer and closer. I hoped he made it in time. A growl behind me stopped me in my tracks as I spun around. Something moved between the trees, in the darkness I could only make out a slight glint of what I assumed were its eyes.

 

Behind me I heard the sounds of tires screeching to a halt. Eric had made it to the road.

 

The growling grew louder as the mass moved towards me. I stepped backwards trying to create some distance, but it was no use. The furry beast raised up onto it’s hind legs,arms spread wide,it’s claws glinting in the dying light. It was the largest bear I had ever seen.

 

Eric called my name, he was coming back for me. I took another step backwards, toward Eric and the road.

 

The beast sniffed the air and roared,so close I could smell the rankness of it’s breath over the dirt and leaves.

 

Another growl broke out low from behind me then another. There was a grunting noise followed by a piercing howl. The bear lowered himself down, eyes darting behind me. For just a brief moment I thought maybe I’d gotten lucky, maybe the bear would run away, but as it raised it’s hackles preparing to charge all hope I’d had disappeared.

 

I opened my mouth to scream as the bear heaved itself toward me, my arm covered my face instinctively.

 

There was a smacking sound followed by a series of growls and barks as the wolves propelled themselves onto the bear. The smell of animal and blood overwhelmed me and I fell backwards into Eric’s arms. He pulled me away as the wolves continued their onslaught.

 

“Did you see the size of that thing?” I asked as Eric carried me to the road.

 

“Really? That’s all you have to say?” he snapped.

 

“Um…Thank you?” I asked. Eric just sighed.

 

The engine of the pick up was still running on the road. Eric scooped me up and planted me on the open tailgate. He went around to the open passenger door and dug out a flashlight and a first aid kit. Then he made his way back and began fussing over my wounded knee.

 

I could still make out the sounds of the battle going on in the forest. The bear let out another roar, the end of which was drowned out by a victorious howl.

 

Eric finished tidying up my leg and stowed the first aid kit back in the truck, slamming the door shut.

 

“Should probably turn off the engine, don’t wanna run out of gas,” I called to him.

 

Eric moved around the front of the truck and slid into the drivers seat the engine died and he got out and shut the door.

 

I continued watching the line of trees at the edge of the road for any sign of life.

 

“Think they’re almost done?” I asked as Eric came around the back of the truck and leaned against the fender, arms crossed again. .

 

“They’ll probably gonna feed, not often they get such a big kill.” He said.

 

“You should go get some, I know you’ve got to be starving.” I said.

 

Eric shook his head. “I can wait.”

 

“Thanks for coming back for me,” I said glancing up at him.

 

“Yeah,” he replied.

 

The sound of laughter cut him off as Jason stumbled to the edge of the trees, his bare skin shinning in the moonlight.

 

“You guys missed one hell of a fight,” Jason grinned.

 

“That wasn’t a fight, it was a massacre,” Ty laughed coming up behind his brother. His chest was still covered in blood.

 

“Where’s Grayson?” Eric asked unfolding his arms.

 

“Getting in a few more mouthfuls before you two take over.” Jason said.

 

“Yeah, it’s not often he gets to eat before the Alpha.” Ty said.

 

“Sorry boys, Eric’s got me all bandaged up, looks like I’ll have to settle for some fast food on the way home,” I said, glad to see they were all okay.

 

“We can go now if you want” Eric said.

 

“No way go get you some bear before we go, no telling when we’ll have a chance like this again,” I said with a smile.

 

Jason found his pants in the dark and pulled them on, stepping out from behind the bushes. Ty was still groping through the darkness trying to find his clothes.

 

Eric considered my offer and slowly slid out of his t shirt, resting it gently on the side of the truck.

 

“I’ll be right back,” he said to me as he strode off toward the tree line, undoing his belt as he walked.

 

Jason came up to the truck carrying an armload of assorted clothing he’d managed to recover.

 

“Are you sure you didn’t find my pants?” Ty called, still beating through the underbrush.

 

“Sorry little bro, no gotta,” Jason said. He winked at me and I stifled a laugh.

 

“Your backpacks are in the truck, Ty picked them up a few hours ago while we were tracking you,” Jason said. He tossed the pile of clothes down next to me and grinned.

 

“Technically you didn’t find us,” I said.

 

“Oh, I beg to differ. I nearly ran Eric over when he came running out of the trees.”

 

“Exactly, we found you,” I replied.

 

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that,” Jason said cocking his head.

 

“Jay, toss me some pants, I’m not finding anything over here,” Ty yelled, still taking cover behind the bushes.

 

“Come up here and get them yourself,” Jason called back.

 

Ty cursed at his brother as Eric and Grayson emerged from behind him walking side by side. Grayson still had some blood on his face from the hunt, but Eric looked as clean as ever. Eric was already half dressed and Grayson had his boxers on, having cleverly left them in an easy to find location.

When they reached the truck Eric grabbed his shirt off the fender and tugged it easily over his head. Grayson picked his own clothes from the pile and started getting dressed as well.

 

“Come on guys,” Ty whined.

 

Jason just chuckled, but Eric grabbed Ty’s balled up pants and tossed them down to the tree line. Ty emerged a moment later, half dressed and blushing despite the darkness. When the guys had finished dressing Grayson hopped in the back of the truck with me while the others climbed into the cab.

 

As the engine started up again I could hear Jason laughing about something through the window. Grayson slid close to me as we drove back to the parking lot to collect my car.

 

“Does your leg hurt?” he asked.

 

“A bit, but I think I’ll live,” I said.

 

“That bear could’ve got you,” he said.

 

“Naw, I was just about to shift and take him out myself when you guys showed up,” I said.

 

“You’re a bad liar,” Grayson said.

 

“Yeah, I am,” I admitted, snuggling against him.

 

I’d have a lot of explaining to do when we finally got home, but for the moment I didn’t even care. My pack was with me and we were safe. Sometimes that’s all that matters.