1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Contest Winner! Congratulations @Paddybass for "Borrowed Things"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Jun 9, 2014.

    Congratulations @Paddybass for your excellent story.
    Short Story Contest (155) - Theme: "Yellowstone".

    You won with an emotional and eerie entry, edging out @xanadu who came in second with another good story.

    Send me a PM with your theme for the next contest. If you get it to me in the next couple hours I'll use it this week, but if not we'll use it in two weeks.

    Thanks again to the other authors that entered and all the forum members that voted.



    BORROWED THINGS
    [3,275 WORDS]
    Dedicated to the memory of Chris McCarthy.

    The glow from the moon was completely unnatural. Sitting beneath the stars, I couldn’t help but feel as though some kind of heavenly glow was bestowed upon me. Some divine providence; a sign that things were going to get better.

    It had been two months since my wife left. Following a bitter exchange of obscenities, she packed a handful of clothes into a small suitcase, stormed out the door and drove away. This was not one of those dead of the night runaway jobs, mind you. This was in the middle of the day, with the other neighbours looking on.

    Vultures. Waiting for any tidbit of gossip to devour and regurgitate to anyone who’d care to listen. They just passively observed, with an excitement glowing behind their eyes. At the time I was filled with an adrenaline rush from the fight and the reality (and finality) of the situation had not yet hit me. I slammed the door and paced the house for hours, ranting at the air and spitting out swear words into nothingness.

    It wasn’t until two weeks had passed that it finally sunk in. This time it was for real. This time she was gone. It hurt me, right at the core of my being, but at the same time there was a release. A moment of pure clarity that told my brain; you’re free now. I had only worked in that dismal 9 to 5 brain drain for her and now that she was gone it was time to live my own life. Time to get selfish.

    We had no kids, having only been married a few years. I often wondered if the hostility in our relationship made it impossible for us to conceive, but when the separation finally happened I was glad for it. I wasn’t very good at being a well-rounded adult, let alone a competent parent.

    After the divorce proceedings began, I threw in the towel on the whole “acting responsibly” thing. I quit that soul sucking, number crunching job and sold the house – splitting the profit with that harpy obviously, even though I was the one who paid the mortgage.

    I wanted something fresh. A new start. I wanted to drop off the grid and escape the trappings of modern living. So I bought the tent. A nice tent, of course, almost bordering on a fully fledged house. It had plenty of modern conveniences that made camping rough all the easier. I had been travelling around Wyoming for around two weeks, before that night.

    I enjoyed the momentary exchanges. Brief conversations with others, that served as exposition for my own personal journey. I remember the couple I met at the truck stop in their big RV, who told me they hadn’t stayed in one state for more than a month in over a decade. They had kids, but they were grown and were in college down in Florida.

    This couple asked for my backstory. I told them the story of a man subjugated by his wife, desperately fighting for air and his escape to freedom. They rallied around me saying things like “Good job” and “You’re still young. The whole world’s ahead of you”. Made me feel ten feet tall. We parted ways after breakfast and they congratulated me once again as their RV peeled away.

    There was the old redneck guy camped out back in Henry’s Lake State Park in Idaho. He was a scruffy old guy, missing three fingers who still had more digits than teeth. His grin was a gummy affair that brought “Duelling Banjo’s” to mind. He was a nice enough old guy, although bigoted as hell. He moved up north to escape his several ex-wives and various alimony payments.

    We sat on a bench and talked about action movies, women and Yellowstone itself. He spat a thick black tar like substances every few minutes and chewed on Tobacco incessantly. He told me that Yellowstone was everything he ever dreamed of, that it served as the perfect escape for someone like him, with so much to run from.

    He told me my wife was “a bitch” and that I was better off without her. I nodded in agreement and said very little, taking in his wisdom while all the time reminding myself that this sage had no understanding of personal hygiene or the human rights movements of the past 40 years. He was for the most part a nice guy and even though I disagreed with many of his views, I still felt a deep respect for the man.

    After all, he was everything I longed to be... Well, barring the bigotry and alimony ducking. He was free. He could, and probably would, live until the end of his days free from the judgemental eyes of others, only having the occasional tourist (like me) to occupy his days. Would this be me in thirty years? An angry, dirty old man embittered by a lifetime of mistakes but filled with the freedom of anonymity.

    My last day at Henry’s Park came and I began loading my gear into the Hyundai. The man spied my efforts and walked over to help. When it came to loading in the enormous tent, I appreciated it. We chatted briefly and I sensed he was actually sad to see me go.

    “Boy, I see a lot of mahself in you. You’re young and free and out here in the wilds not depending on no one.”

    He leaned against the rear of the Hyundai and opened his little snuff box, taking out a large lump of Tobacco before thrusting it into that gummy maw where a mouth should be.

    “One thing though. Yellowstone is an ol’ place. An ancient place… and ancient places, carry a lotta history… and you, if anyone, know’s what comes with history… Baggage. Stick to the trails. Stay at the camps, but don’t test the land. Don’t go out where you’re not welcome. Most folks that do that, well… most folks that do that… don’t come back.”

    His voice wavered slightly in that last sentence and he spat another blast of black goo to the ground. I recalled that in my time here, I never asked how he lost his fingers. I felt like it might be a sore subject, but considering I’d probably never see him again, it was worth filling in that particular mystery.

    When I asked, he just shrugged and continued chewing his tobacco. I wasn’t sure whether he simply hadn’t heard me or he was tastefully ignoring the question. Either way, I didn’t feel like pressing the matter further. I took another glimpse at his matted greying hair tied back in a ponytail, his dirty white t-shirt bearing the “Coca-Cola” symbol and his shit encrusted brown combats and thought; please let me avoid this future.

    I opened the driver door of the Hyundai and rolled down the window. It was just after noon and the interior was stuffy and humid. As I put the car in reverse and began to depress the pedal, suddenly a mangled hand flew through my open window.

    “My fingers. I … lost them… On a fishin’ trip with a buddy o’ mine. Not far from here. There… are … things in that park… things people might never see. I was one’a the lucky ones. My buddy… not so much… please, look out for yerself out there. You seem like a nice fella and I’d hate to think’a you windin’ up… like… him”

    My heart was beating out of my chest. This guy was nuts. I mean, I had obviously thought that a few times but now with him telling me about ancient evils in Yellowstone National Park and unseen things lurking in the dark, he had confirmed my speculation. I nodded and smiled, assuring him that I’d stay at campsites and away from the expanse of the park itself.

    Driving away I focused on the look in his eyes. There was a sadness there, like he knew something I didn’t. I couldn’t help but feel unnerved, more by his sudden outburst than what he had actually said.

    Now sitting in a clearing, deep within the park itself, well off the beaten track, I knew he was absolutely crazy. This place was beautiful. Sure there was always a possibility of bears, or wolves, stopping by, but that could happen in any rural part America. I’d travelled around most of the outskirts of the park over the last few weeks and observed most of the mainstream wonders, such as Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon.

    However, it was the stuff found far away from humans and their meddling that was the most awe inspiring. Old Indian structures ravaged by time stood alone by a massive river – probably a sublet of Lake Wyoming herself. I stared up into infinity at giant redwoods whose summits could not be seen from the forest floor. Yellowstone was an ancient place, that was evident all around.

    Every so often I would happen across a ranger station, or a care home and grit my teeth. It was so ugly to see these monstrous, alien structures embedded into the environment. It furthered my belief that getting away from reality, all those horrible alien concepts like a shared homespace and a “slave to the wage” job structure was the right choice.

    I took some time to explore the Indian structures at length. They were clearly from the last century, if not earlier and were mostly rotted to high hell. I pressed my finger into bullet holes and touched lead still embedded deep within the wood. If these walls could talk… they would probably scream out in pain. A totem pole, disfigured by the ravages of time had collapsed in the courtyard of one fort.

    Most of the icons were unrecognisable, bar the top figure which seemed to be a black jaguar. Its eyes had once been a deep red, but years of exposure had turned them rust coloured. The deep obsidian paint used for its coat had turned a pale grey, looking more like slate than charcoal. I wondered what tribe might have lived here. Imagined the children playing, the men hunting. The day the white men came… It must have been lambs to the slaughter.

    Examining the downed relic, I came across an arrowhead embedded deep into the wood. These things are worth a fortune, I thought. Better I take it now, than leave it here to be lost to history or worse, grabbed by someone with zero understanding of it’s worth. I made my way back to camp and readied myself for dinner. I was preparing some beans and spam; a real roughneck delicacy.

    The moon was still glowing, like some kind of floating irradiated rock. It looked huge in the sky, through the clearing in the trees and it basked the trees in a green tinted light almost as bright as day. Must be some kind of solar event, I mused, continuing to focus on my cooking. Boiling the kettle was paramount. For all the vices I left behind in my previous life, addiction to caffeine was not one of them.

    Kneeling by the stove and stirring the beans, I felt the hairs stand on the back of my neck and all up along my forearms. You know that feeling you get when you feel someone watching you. Well, that was it. I looked around the treeline, searching for some kind of woodland critter or maybe a fellow traveller. All I saw was trees, glowing a pale green, darkness punctuating the spaces between each trunk.

    That was when I spotted him. Standing atop a rock near a clearing in the trees, towards the top of a hill. He was tall, maybe 6”5, but more worryingly he was mostly naked. Barring a small pouch that covered his manhood, the figure stood basked in the glow from the moonlight, completely motionless. In his hand, he held what looked like an old tomahawk. Re-enactors? Out this late? Or was it a local Native American tribe who liked to scare tourists.

    I shouted up to him but he remained completely still. I became uneasy at witnessing the figure on the hillside, especially considering the events of the day. I turned towards the tent, rubbing my shirt pocket where I felt a sudden itch forming. That was when I saw the others.

    Scattered along the treeline behind the tent were maybe thirty more figures, all wearing the same minimal clothing as the figure on the hilltop. They were all shapes and sizes. Men, Women and children, all stood motionless emanating that same green tint from the moonlight. Except, the moonlight wasn’t piercing that section of treeline… meaning… they were glowing. Some kind of ethereal light, reflected from their skin and reverberated off the surrounding tree trunks.

    I felt a very real fear drop into the pit of my stomach. Suddenly all the massive life changing events of the past few months; the split, the divorce, the resignation – felt decidedly trivial next to this very strange, and all too real scenario. I took some small steps towards the tent entrance. As I moved, I noticed that the figures in the trees began to crouch and silently leave the treeline. I fought red hot panic, filling me with a desire to turn and flee into the darkened woods.

    There were things I needed from the tent. My car keys for one, as well as a cellphone. As I crept towards the entrance to the tent, I glanced back up towards the hillcrest where the large figure stood only moments before. Gone. I picked up the pace and pushed through the semi-open door of the tent. Once again I battled with panic as I searched for my car keys. The tent suddenly felt darker than ever before.

    Through the canvas walls of the tent, I saw the green light closing in. I desperately pushed aside some clothing, my hands shaking and found the Hyundai keys protruding from a shirt pocket. Grabbing the keys, I decided to abandon the search for the cellphone. Self-preservation was key here and I’d rather get the jump on… whatever was outside, than spend more time looking for my phone.

    I grabbed the tent pole holding up the outdoor porch as I moved through the entrance and my whole body shook with an alien feeling. I could feel my bones shudder and my vision became spotty. Looking down at where my hand gripped the pole, I saw a glowing green Tomahawk dug into the pole. Above it was my hand. Below it, dropping to the grass were my index finger and thumb.

    I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t even necessarily feel the intense pain; although I would later. All I felt was the vibration of my own heart and my body juddering as shock set in. I looked up from my maimed hand and into the face of my attacker. It was the man from the hill. He was an older Native American man, with the markings of a cat painted on his face.

    His mouth was contorted into a grimace and in the light of the moon, I could see that although he was an ethereal being, his translucent visage was barely held together. Chunks of the spirit’s flesh hung in thick clumps from his face, and one eye was no longer in its socket. He spoke in a tongue unknown to my ear, his voice ragged and lifeless.

    “Uthchaka, Uthchaka fera”

    The effects of my shock were starting to wear off and I felt the pain throbbing in my hand. Two little knubs now sat where digits used to be. I pushed past the man and saw them lining the sides of my camp. The tribe was furious, chattering and leaping. Screaming and hollering. The children had climbed atop the tent and were pushing it down towards the forest floor.

    Several of the Indian spirits saw me break into a sprint and I heard the whistle of their arrows sail by, far too close to my head for comfort. I heard the tall man, clearly their leader, let out a guttural cry and break into a gallop behind me. I pushed my way into the relative safety of the tree cover. I felt a searing pain in my leg as an arrow plunged through the flesh, meeting bone before simply disappearing. Although the arrow vanished, the wound was all too real.

    I continued on, not sure where I was running to. Simply obsessed with making it through this, I suddenly missed my other life. My boring job. My angry wife. Those things were minor inconveniences. Being chased my Native American ghosts through a gigantic forest in the dead of night, now that was a real problem. I limped onwards and spotted a huge redwood, with more than a few climbable branches.

    I could hear them now, bursting through the woods behind me. Searching. Hunting. I climbed the tree as best I could, considering the condition of my left hand. There they were again below me, shouting in that bizarre ancient dialect. I felt the itch in my shirt pocket again. The arrowhead?! Is that what they were searching for? Taking the small stone relic from my pocket, I casually dropped it from the tree and heard it whish through the air before thumping softly to the surface far below.

    As I sat there, leaning against the tree trunk, holding what was left of my hand against my side, I heard them below. They had gotten quiet. I could hear the leader, occasionally shouting what I presumed to be orders. Glancing down through the branches, I could see the leader searching in the brush. It was the arrowhead. That was what they sought.

    He looked up into the tree and I struggled to regain my composure. After some searching, he must have found the arrowhead, because they began to move silently away from the tree, disappearing like smoke into the moonlight. The leader looked up into the canopy, clearly aware of my presence and shouted something. A warning maybe. With this he too wandered off towards the treeline and into the moonlight.

    Although the tribe was gone, I was in no state to go anywhere. I felt my vision began to falter and my balance shifted to my left side, pulling me unceremoniously from the branch on which I lay. As I plummeted towards the forest floor, I stared up into that big glowing irradiated rock in the sky and cursed my own selfishness. If you had just stayed where you were, this never would have happened I thought. I heard the air whoosh by for what felt like forever and then I crunched to the floor, a mangled mass of flesh and bone.

    A hunter found me the next day, my wounds were infected and he was sure I wouldn’t make it to Yellowstone Memorial Hospital. I surprised them all by pulling through. I surprised them even more when I recounted my tale. The next year I took a trip back up to Henry’s Lake State Park to visit the old redneck. The camp owner told me he moved on a few months back. Maybe those alimony payments caught up with him, I thought with a smile.

    I stood by the lake looking on into the distance and my mind raced. What happened out there?

    Picking up rocks to skim across the surface, I moved some debris to get at the larger stones beneath. My breath caught in my chest when I saw it there. The arrowhead.

    END.FIN
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Congrats! :agreed:
     
  3. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    I liked this story... a lot!! Congrats! :) Looking forward to seeing more of your work!

    ~ B. :)
     
  4. Cyclone
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    Cyclone New Member

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    well done Paddybass
     
  5. Paddybass
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    Paddybass New Member

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    All the entries were absolutely amazing so I'm a little shocked. Thank you to everyone who voted and all the other participants.

    Totally in shock over here :)
     
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