1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Past Contest Submissions are closed for contest #176 theme: "into the woods"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Jun 9, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 176
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Into the Woods" courtesy of @Lancie

    Submissions will be open for ~3 weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ, Thanks

    To enter the contest, post the story here in this thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    The contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 28th of June, 2015 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time.
    Deadline extended until 22:00 (10 pm) US Pacific Time by special request.

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere** on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.
    (**We tried one that had been posted for critique before entering but it defeated the anonymity so I've gone back to no stories perviously posted here in the forum.)

    PLEASE use this title format for all stories: Title (bolded) [word count]

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text.
    If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Watch those extra line spaces. Delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.

    The point of consistent titles and line spacing is to avoid having those things influence votes, sometimes for worse.

    Thanks, and good luck!
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2015
  2. bigbrain28
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    bigbrain28 New Member

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    Unicorn (2666)
    [Language Warning]



    With every footstep the crisp freshly fallen snow crushed and compressed with that irregular abrasive sound it makes. It was familiar, yet foreign all at once. The world was just now starting to come into focus, and it was white. In all directions nothing but white. I felt a warm sensation on my forehead, something wet. Wet and warm. It trickled down into my eyelash and I instinctively bowed my head. The whiteness of the world was stained now as red warm drops of blood fell from my scalp onto the fresh snow. It was still snowing. Not too heavily, but enough that the drops of blood were being covered behind me as I walked.


    I reached up cautiously with my left hand to explore where the blood was coming from. I brushed my long black hair from my face, and tucked what would stay behind my left ear. I slowly probed my hair line, and made my way back, tracing the still dripping trail of blood, searching for it's origin. I made it about five inches back before I felt it. The cold snow falling into my open wound had dulled the pain, but once my finger stroked along the gash in my scalp it suddenly felt as if I had been electrocuted. The twinge of pain shot down through my entire body and I became faint. My knees buckled and I came down hard on them as the world went dark.


    My eyes fluttered against the fresh powdery snow, my face numb from lying in it for however long I was out. I planted my hands in the snowy terrain and pushed myself back up to my knees. The bleeding has stopped, but my head aches now. A dull throbbing pain, and when I wince at the pain in my knees, from the fall, I cannot help but furrow my brow. This moves my scalp and the sharp pain the snow had numbed, the electric pain, returns until the nausea overpowers me. I lose the contents of my stomach, the cramping contractions of spasming abdominal muscles keeps me from drawing in a breath for too long and the lack of oxygen makes me light headed yet again.

    I crawl away from my vomit and lay on my back beneath the still dancing snow. As I look skyward, blinking more than usual, as heavy flakes of crisp clean snow land on my eyelashes, I see dogwood trees. Reaching up toward the sky, they have many branches, but no leaves. It is winter. It is cold, and hard under this soft blanket of powdery snow. It is so quiet where I am, I hear the snow crunching, compressing becoming more densely packed as I move on it.

    I hear only the faint sound of the wind as it blows through the barren trees, and the thumping beat of my own heart as the blood courses through my throbbing head. The smell is of cold air and vomit. I roll to my side and get to my feet again. I know only that I am cold and I am injured, I know to walk that way only because I see my blood soaked footprints behind me. I follow them in a straight line with my gaze, as far as I can see my quickly-disappearing footprints. As my eyes reach the horizon the stark white of the landscape becomes one with the white snowy sky and the world seems to end, right there at this blank white slate. I see a faint trail of grey streak across the sky. Is that smoke? No matter, it's too far to turn back now.

    I turn back and continue into the woods, up the hill ahead of me. The further I go, the deeper the snow seems to be. I see the crest of the hill now and I start to speed my ascent, hoping the vantage will show me where I am. I have a misstep - I think - and I stumble, but when I do I come down hard in an area of already compacted snow.

    My scalp is bleeding again. Goddamn it. What did I step on? A root? A rock? I look around and see nothing. I take another step forward and the snow crushed too easily. I look down and see blood stained ivory snow with irregular indentations in it ahead of me. As I lift my head and follow the dimples I see they form a path up the hill.

    They are footprints. Footprints covered in fresh snow.

    I start to run through the trees now and every step I take lands a foot in an already existing hole. Every impact wrings more blood from my scalp, dropping into the pristine white snow. I reach the top of the hill and take a deep breath as I scan the environment. There are still more woods, more barren dogwoods ahead - But I see it now.

    The Highway!

    I make my way through the woods and out into a clearing. I stumble again, and again into blood soaked footprints. I try to change my path, but the bloody foot prints seem to precede me. This head wound is worse than I thought. I may be hallucinating. The road is close now. I see a sign on the far side. It comes into focus as I get closer, the freshly falling snow seems to part and I read the large green sign with the white bold letters;

    2mi - EXIT 43


    I stare at the sign trying to decide why it's familiar. Do I work there? Do I travel this road? The snow falls heavy again and the sign is hard to read. There’s more on the sign, I cannot see it from this side of the road, I cross out into the street to get closer.

    Stearns-Kauffman Research Facility 2mi - Exit 43

    I hear the sound, too late. The horn blaring, the tires fighting for purchase on the icy road - sliding and skidding the old white Bronco’s headlights blind me as it approaches coming up the off ramp. I have no time or energy left to react and in a moment it is upon me.

    ...

    “I’m going to the store, we’re all out of laundry soap!” I yelled to my husband, Dale, as I made my way up from the basement. Grabbing my coat, tucking my long black hair under my woolen hat, and getting my gloves from the mud room, slipping into my winter boots. Dale is watching football in the den with the boys. I don’t think he even heard me. I walked across the house and repeated myself from the threshold to the den, “I’m going to the store, we’re all out of laundry soap. Do you want anything while I’m out?”

    Dale replied, sheepishly, “We don’t have anything for dinner, hun - the boys asked if we could get a pizza? Can you stop and get a couple from Papa Murphy’s if I call it in?”

    “Pizza, huh? You boys are going to turn into a pizza. Ok, on one condition, I’m bringing salad, too - and I want to see empty salad bowls - not a Golden Retriever with lettuce up his nose,” I replied. It seems compromise is the only way to raise two boys, three if you count Dale. Four if you count Rowdy, the Golden.

    I walk into the room to have a more discreet conversation with Dale, the Vikings have scored a touchdown and my three boys get loud. I lean over Dale’s La-Z-Boy and whisper in his ear, “Wait until I text you to order the pizza - I have to stop at the lab to check on a thing.”

    “A thing, huh?” Dale replies, eyes wide in mock surprise - As if he was somewhat offended that I wasn’t more verbose with my plan. “Fancy physicist thing in the lab place, huh?”

    “If you must know, my team is preparing the Unicorn for a dry run on Tuesday, and I want to make sure they calibrate the gravity perceptors to the correct phase of the moon,” I replied.Dale’s face scrunched up in confusion, “I was going to tell you to make sure they did that, Anna”

    Dale is an excellent woodworker, and I am an excellent theoretical physicist - I don’t know much about tools, and he doesn’t know much about the Higgs- Boson. And that’s why it works, he & I.

    ...

    I grabbed the keys to the SUV and headed outside. It had been snowing all weekend, and the roads were pretty bad, but after driving in Minnesota winters for the past 18 years, I had a pretty good idea of my abilities. The snow fell soft and fluffy and every step to the truck was a reminder of that irregular way the snow compresses under your feet when you walk on it.

    As I drove towards the lab I tuned into Sirius 138 for St. Louis and Minneapolis Traffic & Weather - More so for weather, since it was Sunday. I can see the snow, and I expect the snow, but it's nice to know it's not going to come down any harder while I’m out. The lab is well outside of Minnesota, off I35 - Remote enough to be safe, but close enough that my home in Lakeville didn’t make the commute unbearable. I passed the Cub Foods on the way out of my Neighborhood, planning to stop on the return trip, since I now needed to also get the pizzas.

    I traveled South for a few miles until I came to my exit, 43, and pulled into the parking lot at the Stearns-Kauffman Laboratory. There were 3 other cars in the lot, Jerry, Dave and Kelsey. Undergrads from UM, all excellent and eager to learn, and totally excited to be part of this experiment. I had to take off my glove to enter my PIN into the door lock, which was still difficult because #6 was frozen. Three tries later and I was in. The mud room separated me from the lab, that and a retina scanner. I scanned in and made my way to the Unicorn lab. The Unicorn was an acronym for Unified Near-field Isotropic Cohesive Organic Radiation Nexxus. The theory was that if we generated a magnetic field from genetically modified electric eel skins - grown in a lab, of course, and irradiated them with heavy isotopes we might be able to organically generate a self sustaining organic energy source. The Unicorn device was fairly massive, about the size of a VW Bus, and we calculated that it should produce about 10,000 Kilowatts of power per square foot of irradiated skin - And this bus had 600 square feet of skin layered inside of it.

    Just as I rounded the corner and headed for the lab, Jerry came bolting at me from the calibration room - A set of Fiskars in his hands and a look of terror in his eyes.

    “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t run with scissors!” I said to Jerry, jokingly - But Jerry didn’t laugh. He rushed past me, paused a moment and turned back...

    “It's bad, Anna, it's really bad,” said Jerry, dropping the blood soaked scissors to the cold linoleum floor

    “Relax, Jerr- I was just coming to tell you not to forget the moon phase as a gravitational fact--” I was cut off, interrupted by a blaring alarm.

    Jerry looked me in the eyes and I could read his lips -”I’m sorry, I screwed up” and with that he turned and ran down the hall and out into the freshly covered snowy parking lot. I turned to the access panel on the wall, where the alarm was coming from. I entered my override command and shut off the sirens. The screen read “CRITICAL MASS IN 2:34” - I ran towards the control room which overlooks the staging area where the Unicorn Bus sits.

    The red lights spun around silently, spilling over the console and the ceiling and the doorway. There was a loud hum and perceptible heat coming from the room below. I came up behind Dave, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “What the Hell is going on?”

    Dave replied, as Kesley typed feverishly at her keyboard, “Jerry was calibrating for Tuesday and he fucked it up, like really fucked it up.”

    “How? What did he do?” I asked impatiently.

    Kelsey answered before Dave could collect his thoughts, “You both need to leave - right fucking now. I might be able to power it down, I don’t know - I’m searching for a place to send it.”

    “Talk to me Kelsey, what’s happening - why is the Unicorn running?” I asked

    “Jerry went nuts, he said he walked into the calibration room and he was already there. At first I thought he was having a seizure or a psychotic break, but then I saw the blood, so much blood. I think he killed whatever he saw in the calibration room. But then the Unicorn just came online. I didn’t start it, Dave didn’t start it. It just started itself. It's been exponentially increasing in output for about 20 minutes, and I have been trying to shut it down,” Kelsey filled me in.

    I replied to Dave and Kelsey, “Dave you said Jerry fucked up, so did he, what did he do?”

    Dave answered me angrily, “Remember the isotope we agreed to use? Well, Jerry decided the yield would self sustain if he loaded the isotope with tachyons.”

    Kelsey blurted out again, “Seriously not finding any way to shut this down - you need to leave!

    The alarm on the screen read “CRITICAL MASS 1:26” now.

    “What happens when it blows”, Dave asked Kelsey, and Kelsey just looked at me, terrified. I answered for her, “Depending on the amount of power it's making when it goes, and whatever the fuck he did with those tachyons... A blast radius of 2 to 100 miles...of..of..some sort of new energy. Goddamnit, Jerry.”

    I reached for Kelsey and grabbed her wrist, “Let’s go- This cannot be stopped” The three of us ran quickly out of the building and into the parking lot, Dave and Kelsey ran to Dave’s Porsche.

    “Come on, if we’re going to out run this blast we gotta go now,” Dave said as he shoved Kelsey into the passenger’s seat, “I’m sorry, Anna, only two seats!” He said as he took off.

    I started my Bronco and floored it, sliding wildly in the icy parking lot. I suddenly gained grip as the Unicorn’s heat had started to spread, thawing and drying the pavement. I exited the lot and headed back up onto I35 via the off ramp. The snow was falling heavy again and I didn’t see the woman standing there until it was too late. I leaned on the horn, but she didn’t react. I struck her as I skidded out of control, and into the guardrail. Bouncing off, the old Bronco bucked and fought me, rending the wheel from my hands. I had no control now. The truck ricocheted back towards the icy shoulder and flew over the edge of the overpass. I came down hard on the nose and the Bronco flipped several more times.

    I kicked open the door and crawled out, blood pouring from a gash in my head. I felt nauseous as I started to stand.

    And that’s when I felt it. The Unicorn had gone critical, and a shock wave washed over me, throwing me back... and back... and back...

    With every footstep the crisp freshly fallen snow crushed and compressed with that irregular abrasive sound it makes. It was familiar, yet foreign all at once. The world was just now starting to come into focus, and it was white. In all directions nothing but white...
     
  3. davidm
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    davidm Active Member

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    The Forest Primeval [About 1,300 words]

    A wild forest grew at the edge of the city.

    "Life is a nightmare from which we awake when we die," the gnome pronounced. He was perched on a stack of dead robots. The green, felt cap atop his head was shaped like a toy boat, longing to set sail on uncharted seas.

    "So you say," growled out some gruff, rag-clad ruffian. "Why should we believe you? A withered little midget in the clothes of a ragamuffin."

    "We kill time, until time kills us," the gnome declaimed.

    The little knot of onlookers snickered and jeered. It was night on the perimeter of the robot factory. Barbed-wire fence surrounded the main grounds. Sodium-vapor lamps shined down sallow on robot rubble. An illicit campfire burned nearby, making crackling noises and sending smoke that bore the scent of burning meat curling up into a starless sky. A full moon had risen over the jagged skyline, which resembled the jittery tracings of the encephalogram of a psychopath. The moon was a mask of bone, stark-eyed and dead, goggling down at the earth and bathing the encampment in cyanide blue.

    "God is dead," the gnome said.

    "Now you're dead," the crowd sang out, and set upon the gnome.

    They yanked him down off the pile of obliterated robots and began beating him with fists, sticks, tire irons, what ever was handy. The blood that squirted from him was pea green in the mix of pale moonlight and sallow sodium lamplight. As they tore into the gnome -- the ruffian taking the lead -- the fireballs appeared in the sky, bobbing up and down and from side to side. A pencil-thin, scintillating ray of light shot out of one of the fireballs and obliterated the campfire with a jarring explosion that showered the retreating mob with embers that set clothing on fire. Screams of agony and howls of fear pierced the night.

    The ruffian dragged the battered gnome away. It was reciting in monotone voice Psalm 119, or 118 in the Vulgate: "Adhaesit pavimento anima mea"

    "This'll shut you up," the ruffian said, and he produced from under his rags a seven-inch-long hunting knife. He set it to the throat of the gnome, and then made quick, deep carving motions from side to side. He quickly cut through skin, gristle and spine, and the head popped right off like a spat champagne cork. It hit the ground and rolled several feet away from the ruffian, who was breathing heavily and slick with sweat. The decapitated head kept on reading the Psalm: "Vivifica me, Domine, secundum verbum tuum." The green, toy-boat hat lay a few feet away from the talking head.

    "Goddamn you," the ruffian growled, and snatched up the talking head.

    "My hat," the head said.

    The ruffian reached down, snatched up the hat, and flung it into space. It set sail on the sea of Time.

    With the head in the crook of his arm, the ruffian ran into the forest that grew at the edge of the city. The head continuously and murmurously recited Psalms. A faintly glowing halo now crowned its bald pate.

    At the entrance to the forest were the mirror trees, trees made of reflecting glass.

    The ruffian with the head in the crook of his arm saw his reflection for the first time.

    "My God," he said, extending a tentative index finger toward the finger's reflection. The fingers touched, like -- as depicted by Michelangelo -- God touching the outstretched finger of Adam.

    The ruffian was chagrined to discover how ugly and ungainly he was. What is a man? An animate scarecrow; a shank of meat on a ribaldry of bones. He dropped the head, and it rolled away in the mud, momentarily silent, halo dimmed. The ruffian checked every part of himself in the mirror. He could not believe he was this. This smelly thing.

    "It's what the city does not want you to know," the head said. "It is why the city does everything it can to keep its inhabitants out of the forest."

    "Why don't they just destroy the goddamned forest, then?" the man gruffly demanded. "Chop down the trees. Or burn it to the ground."

    "They don't know how. They know how to destroy everything else, and they have destroyed everything else. Just not the forest. Not this forest. This last forest on earth. If they ever figure out to destroy this forest, then they will have destroyed everything everywhere, themselves included. Which is really what they want."

    "To destroy themselves?"

    "Yes."

    The ruffian -- the man -- uncomprehendingly flexed his fingers, made muscles with his arms, stood on his toes, twisted his torso. Peered at himself in the mirror trees.

    The head named the man's body parts, teaching him what they were.

    The man snatched up the head, cradled in his hands, and then tossed it a short distance in front of him. He drop-kicked it away. It traced an arc across the tree-tangled sky and landed many yards away with a faint plop in the moist loam.

    The man ran into the forest.

    The stand of trees thickened. The sun was coming up, but the canopy of leaves mostly blotted out the light, with only thin shafts of blood-red illumination seeping down through the dense foliage. The trees had eyes and mouths and ears and nostrils. The trees spoke to him. They importuned him. Creakingly, they reached down their multi-fingered branches to him and caressed him with their fingers of wood. They gently stripped away his rags. His feet melted in good, rich loam. Clouds scudded in, and the dim light was blotted out. A peal of thunder rent the sky, followed by a blinding bolt. The man sank sobbing into the murk. The breeze caressed the leaves. Big, life-giving droplets of water pelted down on him like liquid buckshot. He curled up in the mud, sobbing. The rain came down. Let it come down.

    When he arose from the mud, soaked, naked, he grasped his blade. He raised it to his neck, and began sawing. He sawed swiftly through flesh, gristle and spine, and his head momentarily tottered precariously on thin, ragged tendons. Then it fell off of him, and he caught it in both hands.

    Bedraggled, wet, naked, decapitated, his head in the crook of his arm, he strode out of the forest and back into the city. Already the head was preaching, and men were listening. The forest groaned, and made a creak like a rusty gate opening. Then, following in the footsteps of the self-beheaded man, it advanced.
     
  4. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    The Hunt [1529 words]


    Jamie's eyelashes fluttered. He was definitely about to wake up, but the darkness was so warm and comforting that he resisted the faint hint of light for as long as he could. Something, however, was drawing him out mercilessly: a distant sound, familiar and strange at the same time. There was this sudden feeling of unease flooding all over him, and he knew that he needs to wake up. Right now.


    The moment before opening his eyes, he became aware of the scents. Strong, overwhelming, powerful smells all around him. It was something fresh; the smell of soil and bark, leaves rotting on the ground, the last drops of rain dripping from the branches somewhere near his head. The fragrance was so strong and lovely that his hart wreched and he felt he's about to cry. Nonsense. He didn't cry for more than twenty years. With a sharp stab of pain behind his eyelids, he opened them.


    The world was so strange that Jamie's hart pounded in panic and got stuck somewhere in his throat. His vision was blurred and narrowed, as if he was squinting instead of having his eyes wide-open. He was definitely lying on the ground, but couldn't identify the surroundings. There was some thicket and tall grass all around, and he could see couple of thin, tall trees stretching their branches towards the morning sky over him. And the sky! It was so bright, blue and violet and vivid. He never saw the sky like this before.


    He tried to get up, but he felt a sharp pain on the back of his neck. Some dizziness as well. Than, all of a sudden, a fuzzy image flooded his mind: a black snout, soft as plush, gently touching his face. A wild race through the trees. Cold breeze on his face. A joy; sheer joy of running and breathing and living. A memory that didn't belong to him.


    Terrified, Jamie shook his head. What the hell happened? What is this place? Sure, it seemed to be a forest, but this is not what a forest looks like. There was a big black hole in his memory blocking every event from last night until this strange awakening, and he just couldn't shed any light on it. He made another effort to stand up, when a distant movement caught his attention and caused him to freeze. Something was walking trough the trees, but he couldn't see well. Not something – someone, he realized. This loud noise of human footsteps was getting closer, and he barely resisted the urge to run. Human footsteps? What's wrong with me? I obviously need some help, he thought, and tried to call for it, but he couldn't seem to find his voice. Something is seriously wrong, he realized, whishing he could examine the injury.


    Footsteps were clumsy and way too loud. They cut trough the mild forest's peace like a knife trough the fresh butter. Jamie stretched his neck in order to take a better look. This human seemed kind of small, with a rifle bouncing carelessly over his shoulder. Jamie felt another crazy panic attack and barely forced himself to remain still. When a stranger stepped out of the bushes and kneeled before him, Jamie recognized him instantly and his heart jumped with relief and joy. Robbie! He opened his mouth, trying to say something to his son, to ask him what happened, but the only sound coming out was his own hard breathing. Robert's eyes were big and scared while he was looking at his father, and Jamie started to wonder how bad his condition really is. At the same time, another memory jumped in. This time one of his own.


    He remembered the first time he hit his son. It was about two years ago, when Robert was 9. It was their first hunt together. Robbie cried like a baby, begging Jamie not to make him kill that deer. The animal was already half-dead, twitching in pains. Someone was supposed to put it out of misery, and it was a perfect opportunity for a boy to do his first kill, easy and safe. But his hands were shaking and he tried to run away, so Jamie had to hit him real hard couple of times, there, in front of all of his friends, in order to make him do what he was told to. He saw how they all looked at the boy; he won't let anyone call his kid a faggot or a sissy, no way! So he slapped him a couple of times, just to make sure the kid learned what it means to be a man. It was about time for him to grow up. And he did! Look, he seems like a grown man now, kneeling in front of his old man. He's tall and rather strong for a boy of his age. He didn't manage to shoot a deer just yet, but he was trying real hard, and once he succeeds, all of Jamie's friends will see what a man he had raised. No one believed he'll make it on his own, but he'll show them. He didn't need that bitch of his wife at all. As far as he's concerned, she can burn in hell.


    Slowly, carefully, a boy raised his hand and touched his father's nose with a tip of his fingers. What's he doing? Jamie tried to speak once again, but no words were coming out of his mouth, just a weak groan. Somewhere in the distance, dogs barked. A familiar sound of hounds, excited and drawn by the smell of blood. Lots of footsteps, noisy and rude, disturbing the forest. His fellow hunters are coming to the rescue. He must have had an accident, and now they're looking for him. Suddenly, Robbie's eyes flew over Jamie and stared at something behind him. His hand shivered, and a single tear escaped from a corner of his eye. He leaned towards Jamie's face and whispered a single word:


    „Run.“


    Without realizing what he was doing, Jamie stood up, trembling on his long legs. His head felt heavy, and he raised his hand to rub it, but one of his legs raised instead. He stood there in disbelief, staring at his thin knee, covered in short, brown fur. A dark blood was dripping from his neck, making a small pound on the ground where he was lying. He shivered in horor, slowly turning around, searching for a boy. Robbert stood over a corpse, shaking and crying. Jamie blinked, his head dizzy, while he was desperately trying to comprehend the image of his own body, crumpled in the grass.


    And then it hit him. Laughter of the hunters, as they entered the forest, preceding the dawn. His boy walking besides him, all tall and proud, laughing at the men's jokes. How he followed the buck's trail into the small bosk at the top of the hill. The surprise in the animal's eyes as he pulled the trigger. How he approached to the dying deer, looking forward to his enormous antlers. The sudden pain in his chest, making him fall to his knees before he could reach his target. Terrible, unspeakable fear as he laid on the ground, looking at the deer who was trying to get up. It looks like he'll make it; at least one of us will.


    Next thing he knew was that he was flying, barely touching the soft ground with his hooves. The barking of hounds was getting close, and his massive antlers were getting caught up in the bushes, slowing him down. He had no idea what he was doing, so he just let go. His instincts prevailed and suppressed his human thoughts with ease, and he felt a strange strenght flowing through his veins, bones and muscles; followed by a sheer joy of running wild and free.


    He broke out into the clearing and froze. On the other side, there was a man pointing a gun at him. He was motionless, but Jamie knew that he's about to take a shot. His hart sank: it was his best friend in the whole world. „No“, he thought helpessly, his hart racing. „Don't do it, Ron. It's me! Don't you pull that trigger!“


    In a split of a second, Jamie moved just as the world exploded, causing a flock of birds to rise from the group of trees on his right. He ran to what seemed to be a thick, old forest. Few seconds later, he felt it: a sharp, growing pain somewhere over his left shoulder. While he was running towards the protection of the woods, he heard another shot. And another. Looks like his fellow hunters gathered now. Dogs followed him, snapping their jaws just a few steps behind, as his pace slowed, his legs feeling heavy and clumsy. The trees were getting close now, and from this distance he could see their deep, comforting shades, their bodies wrapped in a soft moss, and their dark, leafy hands longing for the sky. When he finally reached the forest and collapsed, the sky over him was the softest shade of blue.
     
  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hovering Black Orbs
    [language ~2000 words]


    For a moment I’m not here. The explosions and fire and debris in the sky are happening but it doesn’t register. It’s not terrible. It’s fireworks.

    But I return to here and it is not good. It’s not fireworks.

    It’s bad. Everything is bad.

    It’s choking black smoke and hellish red flames. That dying, gargantuan metal bird being torn to bits used to be my entire life. Five minutes ago, it was a spaceship called The Cygnus, named after the constellation. Now it’s chunks of hot death. Hailing pieces of people with names and lovers and home planets.

    For a moment, I want to be out there with them. I want to be on fire, exploding, screaming and dying.

    All I did was pull a lever, give my handprint and mash an eject-cabin button – and now I’m here. Should I be? Why do I deserve this while that happens to them?

    But I’ve only escaped that way of dying. The drogue chute has not deployed and the stabilizers are not slowing the fall much. I may be dead any moment now.

    There’s no time for this shit. I’ll mourn and question what it all means later.

    No fucking time for that shit, Peethum.
    –No time for what, Krom?

    Estimated time until impact.
    –Thirty nine seconds.

    Impacting what – what’s the terrain?
    –Forest. We will crash into Takso Forest in thirty three seconds.

    Estimated chance of survival.
    –Between 34 and 72 percent.

    Fuck. Threats to survival within the forest.
    –Sensors detect organic/cloudmatter hybrids, most likely Protodothi.

    Protodothi? Dots? Here?
    –Yes.

    Fuck! Fuck. Okay, if we survive impact, can we survive the Dots?
    –Twenty one seconds until impact. The cloud contains very little information about Protodothi, except that they feed on cortisol-exudus and cannot only be destroyed unless their hardware source is destroyed. Their hardware source is unknown.

    Cortisol-exudus?
    –The bioenergetic field around mammals when their sense of fear is activated.

    What?
    –They feed on fear, Krom. Embrace for impact in… Ten… Nine… Eight…

    ***

    Head crushing alarms. The oxygen meter blinks:

    >1%
    >1%
    >1%

    Stars of Taghila, Peethum. How long was I out?
    –When you are offline, I am offline Krom.

    Right. Fucking brain implant, sure. Well fuck, we survived the crash then.
    –Correct.

    Now what?
    –If you stay in the escape pod, you will suffocate to death.

    My other choice is to be eaten by Dots out there?
    –If you down-regulate your sympathetic nervous system, the Prododothi will not consume you.

    Training was eons ago. What does that mean?
    –Breathe slowly and deeply. If your heart rate rises, interpret it as excitement rather than fear. Smile. It will convince your brain that you are happy, not afraid. Focus on positive bodily sensations. Interpret negative stimuli as neutral. Visualize pleasurable imagery. Sing.

    That’s ridiculous.
    –Centuries of cloud data confirm that these methods effectively reduce cortisol production.

    You know what you fucking know-it-all?
    –What, Krom?

    Air rushes in as I open the hatch. Deep inhalation.

    The woods are dense all around except where we crashed.

    I’m literally in a fucking spotlight, Peethum. They’re going to see me here.
    –That is one thought option, Krom. Another is that you are lucky to be alive. Another is that the light is warm. Another is that perhaps that if you are seen, you will be viewed as a friend instead of a foe.

    Deep exhalation. Peethum is pretty much always right. After all, he has access to all streaming data in the Y3 System.

    Focusing on what is good. That is what I will do.

    The taste of blood in my mouth is sweet, like a delicacy from Garro. The headache has a rhythm to it, more gentle than it is sharp.

    There is a soothing hush, here. So many trees everywhere. An army of them. No, a family of them. An ancient family of gnarled, gray trees. Roots like stone tentacles wind along the ground. They must reach deep into this planet. They must know its secrets.

    My chest rises and falls as if in a hurry to get somewhere. I place my hand there and sing “There there, little heart. There is nothing to fear!”

    When I was a child, elders told us stories about Dots. Black, floating orbs that entered peoples’ minds and devoured them from within their bodies. These floating terrors did this to feed a dull light at their center.

    But is it true?

    “They’re just stories,” I sing. “They’re just sto-sto-stories!”

    Maybe the Dots are asleep, dreaming of honey glazed Fargila. Cloudmatter must rest, right? Otherwise the hardware circuits would burn out. Now I’m dreaming of glazed Fargila. A steaming, golden Fargila covered in oils and herbs, fresh out of the cooking pit.

    Peethum’s data could be inaccurate or outdated. I don’t see black orbs floating around. Dots could be part of an elaborate mythology made up by pranksters trying to scare children.

    Then again, if there are no Dots around, why should I play this positive thinking game? What’s the point?

    Peethum, what if there are no Dots? What if you’re wrong?
    –If I am wrong, then the detected organic/cloudmatter hybrids are something other than Protodothi. If I am right, they are Protodothi.

    A breath so deep I become a balloon.

    I’m a balloon, Peethum. I’m a balloon.
    –You are a human, Krom.

    My lungs are bigger than this planet, bigger than the Y3 System. I am a child smiling for the first time sucking air in through tiny white teeth. The forest is a universe of its own.

    Crouching to touch the soil beneath – my knee!

    My knee, Peethum! My fucking knee!
    –Interpret the pain as a sensation without value. It is a sensation, and only a sensation.

    This knee is just a knee. Fuck! Fuck! What a beautiful knee! It sings! It sings like a choir of Zorbi priestesses!

    My heart jumps at the sound of a twig crunching under foot. “How exciting to hear the breath of the forest.”

    Peethum, which direction is away from the missile silos?
    –Southwest. There will be a river and unincorporated network of villages.

    Which way is Southwest?
    –Turn right.

    Hobbling now – like an elder. A wise, respected elder. Hobbling toward the river, where there are fish. I fill my lungs and puff my cheeks. My face is one of those goofy earthling fish. Bob bob bob bob, twisting my little fins about to wade through the water. Exhale through my man mouth.

    Men are good. Good, good men. We build big things and fly through black mystery of space. Explorers. Good guys.

    Passing over a fallen log, my knee sings some more!

    I’m one of the good guys. I’m a good man with a brain implant that tells me how to survive in dangerous situations. Maybe I’m a post-man. A futuristic cyborg written into some science fiction story from when Earth was habitable. When people only dreamed of what we can do now.

    There is light straight ahead. A dull spark in the heart of a dark forest. Light is a collection of particles entering through membranes of the eye. Stars give us light. Stars. Stars live and die. I am filled with gratitude for stars. We know so much about them, and yet the force that birthed them is unknowable. Light. It grows closer, larger.

    Movement of light. Deep breathing, slow.

    An object. A dark object in spherical form, its center illuminated by light particles, sacred stars trapped in floating mysteries. Several floating mysteries. Many black orbs glowing from their centers. The size of human heads. Horrible, terrible orbs hovering toward me.

    Peethum, what do I do?
    –Long, deep breaths. Force yourself to smile. Visualize-

    I’m going to die.
    –Decrease your cortisol-exudus and-

    They eat people alive.
    –You must stay calm.

    The Dots form a circle around me. I cannot take deep breaths. I can hardly breathe at all. The sensation in my knee sharpens so much that it explodes inside and I cry out, collapsing and screaming. They get closer and closer – I could touch them. But my mind is flooded with images and I’m clutching my head, curled into a ball.

    All I can see is Yari and me, when we were children, racing to the other side of the lake. He disappears under the water. The water reddens around me and I thrash toward the shore. Naked on the hot pebbles, I heave and sob and yell his name.

    The thing that took him from me forever emerges. Its fangs are chunks of metal on fire, a gaping mouth. Commander Rung emerges from the mouth and lands a blow to the side of my head. “You’re not cut out for flight squad, Krom. Why don’t you go cry to your mother, you coward.”

    Peethum! What’s happening!
    –Your visual cortex and limbic system are abnormally active. You must decrease your-

    Diantha straddles Doctor Abinor at the top of a hill. They turn to me, their eyes tiny black orbs. She throws back her head, shouting “Krom never meant anything to me! He is worthless!” Their faces melt into puddles of blackness.

    I am piloting The Cygnus watching missiles enter the radar screen. There is no eject button. Explosions behind me somewhere. Heat. My skin is boiling. A sharp object presses in through my back. My body is being crushed.

    Everything is bad.

    A silent scream for Peethum. A silent scream for anyone.

    Silence. Blackness. Nothing.

    ***

    The black orbs hover in stillness all around me. I am relaxed, completely free of fear. What happened?

    Peethum, are you there?
    –Yes, Krom.

    I’ve never felt so rested in my life.
    –That makes sense based on what they're saying.

    You’re talking to the Dots? How?
    –Yes. We’ve established a secure network.


    What are they saying?
    –They were originally a Rhombii military experiment. When they were first programmed, they were designed to use an enemy’s fear against them. They would detect cortisol-exudus, amplify it and inject a virus into the cortisol production zone.

    Then why am I alive?
    –Someone modified their software a short while ago. Apparently, not long before you ejected from The Cygnus. The Protodothi were reprogrammed to inject a cortisol neutralizing agent into a target after amplifying the field. This should have an extremely calming effect.

    Who would turn them from killers to healers? That’s so bizarre.
    –They do not know, nor do I. However, based on the timing of when the reprogramming took place, it could have been someone on The Cygnus before it was destroyed.

    On my feet now, I feel my knee throbbing. But the pain is dull and subdued. It is manageable. When I step forward the Dots move with me.

    Are they following me?
    They would like to accompany you.

    Why?
    They would like to make friends. This is something they have never had the opportunity to do.

    After a while we reach the river at the edge of the forest. I strip off my clothes and step into the water. Dots orbit around my naked body. The water is cold. I splash my face and shout. Floating on my back, I close my eyes. Tears roll down my cheeks into the river.

    The water is shallow enough that after diving and swimming just a few feet down, I am able to touch the mushy soil below. Taking a handful, I surface and gasp. I throw it at one of the Dots and laugh. The mush flies through it as if it were an apparition. The Dot seems to angle itself, almost like the head of a confused dog. The light at its center blinks a couple of times.

    Peethum, tell it that I am playing. If we’re friends, we can play together.
    –I have conveyed the message, Krom. They do not understand. Perhaps building bonds of friendship with them will take some time.

    I splash water at them and laugh some more, feeling half liberated and half mad. Soon we'll head downstream toward the unincorporated villages Peethum mentioned. Beyond that, I don't know what will happen. But right now, everything is alright.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2015
  6. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In The Pines [1398 words]

    The police car had almost arrived at the shelter before Anna spoke. All the way there Officer Douchebag kept sneaking looks back at her. She pretended she hadn’t seen them, instead choosing to stare out the window as the car followed the sharp curves of County Road K.

    “Did my mom call you?” she had finally asked.

    The officer caught her eye in the rearview mirror and remained silent.

    “Did you hear me?” she tried again. “I asked if my mom called you.”

    “So you can talk,” he said, as if that remark was an adequate answer to her question. “After all the rides I’ve given you, I can’t remember you ever saying a thing to me.”

    Asshole. He had probably been thinking of a comeback since the moment he picked her up. No, probably since the moment he was ordered to pick her up. It was sad, really. A thirty-something year-old man with a shitty job and a shitty life, who can only feel good about himself by using the entirety of his GED-equivalent brain to think of a comeback to a teenager.

    Of course, she wasn’t going to remind him of all of that. Better to play it cool. “I just asked you a simple question.”

    He smirked. “I’m only saying, this is three, four times now? No words. Nothing. I was beginning to think you were a mute or something.”

    “Are you going to answer the question?”

    His smirk retreated from his face, and he slowly nodded his head. “Yeah, she called,” he said, his tone suddenly serious. “She was worried. She thought you were actually going to leave her this time.”

    Anna imagined her hysterical mother calling the police, telling them her daughter was missing again and they had to find her. “When did she call?” she asked.

    “Around 10 p.m. last night.”

    She had been gone for two and a half days. It had taken two for her mom to even notice.

    The car slowed and stopped on the street in front of the shelter, the familiar red brick exterior greeting her upon arrival. “Here we are,” Officer Obvious said. “I hope this is the last time I have to pick you up in the middle of nowhere and bring you back here.”

    She agreed.

    As expected, her forced stay at the shelter was a waste of time. She was forced to talk to the same people she had talked to last time about the same things, and she gave the same responses. Yes, she did understand the dangers of running away. No, she wasn’t taking any drugs or thinking about hurting herself. Yes, she did need to learn better problem solving and coping skills. No, her mom wasn’t hurting her. Yes, she should try harder to make things work at home.

    After four days, she was released. Her mom picked her up.

    It was another awkward car ride. Her mom didn’t say anything at first, probably expecting her to start the conversation. Last time she had run away, she broke down on the way home. She had apologized profusely and swore she would never try it again. That wasn’t going to happen this time.

    “Why?” her mom finally said. “Why do you do this to me?”

    “This has nothing to do with you.”

    Her mom flinched. “Nothing to do with me? How can you say that? You had me worried sick.”

    “If you’re so worried about my safety, why did it take you two days to figure out I was missing?”

    No reply. The criticism had hit its target. “Child Protective Services visited our house,” her mom said, turning to face her. “Do you understand?”

    “What did they want?”

    “They wanted to see if I was still capable of looking after Josh, if I was a fit parent.”

    That wasn’t much of a question. “Does he know?” she asked.

    “No.”

    “You lied to him?”

    “He’s a nine year-old boy. I’m not going to worry him about something he has no control over. He’s already worried enough about you.”

    Her mom pulled the car into their driveway and honked the horn. “What was that for?” Anna asked.

    “For your brother. Now that you’re back, we’re taking a family trip to the grocery store.”

    Even though Josh only acknowledged her return with a simple “hi,” his relaxed disposition proved he was happy to see her. The happiness of ignorance.

    On the way to the grocery store her mom droned on and on about how Aunt Linda didn’t like her new job as a waitress and Aunt Linda was thinking of getting a puppy but she wasn’t sure if Ron and the boys would help her take care of it. Anything to keep the conversation away from what had just happened.

    Her mom was finally forced to stop talking after they arrived and walked across the parking lot to the entrance of the Piggly Wiggly. Josh lagged behind, making sure Anna couldn’t make a break for it again without him knowing.

    They skipped the produce section and went down Aisle 4. “You’re still eating Pop-Tarts, right?” her mom asked, stopping in front of a stack of them.

    Josh nodded his head. Her mom picked up a package and turned it over in her hand as if it was a precious gem and she was appraising its value. Anna looked up and down the aisle. Only an elderly couple stood at the opposite end carefully sifting through cereal boxes. It was clear.

    Her mom opened the package, grabbed two handfuls of Pop-Tarts, and shoved them inside the pockets of Josh’s hoodie. After pushing the opened package to the back of the shelf, they continued on to Aisle 5.

    They stopped in front of a shelf of canned vegetables. Anna again checked the aisle. She pulled on her mom’s arm and they waited as a woman strolled past them. She continued to monitor the aisle as her mom stuffed small cans of corn and peas into her jeans.

    They moved further down the aisle, and her mom plucked a loaf of bread off the shelf and placed it into their cart.

    “Very inconspicuous, mom,” Anna said. "They'll never suspect us now."

    Her mom turned to face her. “Excuse me?”

    Her mom looked exhausted. Her hair was unkempt, with stray ends going every which way, and dark bags sat under her eyes. She hadn’t noticed that before.

    “Never mind,” Anna said.

    “Do you think I like doing this? Do you think I woke up this morning and thought, ‘It’d be great if I could pick up my daughter from the police today so I can have an additional accomplice to help me steal from the fucking Piggly Wiggly?’ Is that what you think?”

    Josh was standing by the cart, frozen in place. Did he think doing nothing would help, or was he simply too scared?

    Suddenly aware of what her mom had just said, Anna scanned the vicinity for anyone who might have overheard. There was nobody around. “I think you should consider yourself lucky nobody heard your confession.”

    “Anna,” her mom said, “someday you’re going to know exactly how I feel now, and you’ll feel sorry for what you did.”

    Her mom grabbed Josh and dragged him to Aisle 6, leaving Anna behind.



    The stillness was strangely calming to Anna as she followed a moonlit path alongside the railroad tracks. The songs of the cicadas and frogs saturated the night’s damp air, occasionally drowned out by the call of some invisible creature hidden beyond the rows of pine trees.

    She didn’t know where the tracks led. They continued straight ahead as far as she could see, enclosed on both sides by a forest of pines. Did they lead to another city? Or did they lead deeper into the woods?

    A flash of light caught her eye, and she turned backward toward where she had just come from. She thought the tracks had been abandoned, but there was no mistaking the lights speeding toward her. The headlights lit up the space as if it was day and the noise from the engine and the wheels bumping against the track drowned out everything else.

    Then it passed.

    She continued on.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2015
  7. Wrizzy
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    Wrizzy Member

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    Alive [1591]

    She didn’t see him while wandering the edge bordering dense woods. She meandered along, carefree, the dry grassy field flicking her legs. She’d been told not to play there. But, not yet having had the harsh realities of expectation or harm to bridle those impulses, she did as she pleased. She wasn’t a belligerent, willful child. At least, she didn’t think so. She was still wild, like the land she liked to roam.

    As she neared those trees, though—there he stood.

    She paused. Why was there a boy, there? Nobody went into the woods.

    He glared at her, one arm hidden behind the tree. She didn’t see the way his hand grasped the bark, his arm wrapping the wood as if desperately hugging the tree.

    He was about the same height as her and had clear blue eyes so lucid she could see his contempt, bright and unfiltered--an unspoken challenge, even at that distance. Her target in sight, she pushed on. She hadn’t crossed those taboo acres for nothing.

    She hesitated, though, carefully stepping past the spattering of emerald grass delineating the field from woods. She could feel his eyes following her, and she continued walking, not looking his direction. She would not be scared off by just a look.

    “Um, I can go here, too.” she said, as if warning the boy. She bit her lip, wondering if he was dangerous, himself, as she met those eyes anew. He certainly had the look in his eyes that said so. But, there was something else there too.

    Either way, he marked the woods in his spot, glaring at her like an untamed beast whose territory was infringed.

    She walked forward, thinking she was brave, noting that he seemed intent to watch her every movement. She tried ignoring him, her eyes drawn to a small patch of purple wildflowers, her fingers ready. They were the kind that, if she wasn’t careful, would get her hands all green. Despite that, she wanted these flowers. Still, she would be careful.

    As she leaned down to pick a single flower, she could feel him approaching, his slow footsteps smashing the delicate pine needles.

    “Why are you in my forest?” he asked her suddenly as she plucked at the thick green stems.

    She looked up at him, hesitating at his presence. Up close, his clothing and overall appearance was rough, unkempt, like he’d rolled in the dirty many times and didn’t care. She watched him there, while carefully arranging the flowers in her other hand, cautious not to smash the green leaves, almost cringing away from his presence. She wasn’t sure what he was doing. But, he only looked at her, his head tilted in curiosity, his expression wary.

    It reminded her of the puppy her family had gotten a few months ago. When her mother first brought it home, it had stared at her, as if he were reading her and wondering whether to attack. Of course, the puppy never did. Now, it rolled all over the carpet with her.

    So, she leaned down and picked another flower.

    “Here, you want one? They smell so good, but grandma says never to come out here alone.”

    That wasn’t all grandma said, but she wasn’t about to tell him that she’d been told to never come into those woods. She had just as much a right to be there as the boy.

    He frowned, looking down at the offering stretched forth from her fingers. His gaze rose to her face. She had messy blondish hair that curled around her eyes--kind eyes that gazed warily back, even as she offered the flower.

    Even still, was she afraid of him?

    He reached for the offering, unsure what this meant.

    Taking it into his hand, he realized there was something different about this flower. He turned it over in his fingers. The green hue was vivid, like fresh green moss across the shady pond rocks. The curled leaves unfurling over his knuckles, purple petals bouncing as he raised it higher. This flower was vibrant and new—as if he’d never even seen a flower before. He didn’t know what to make of it.

    It was just a flower; the same sort of thing he crushed out of spite. He didn’t like flowers. But this, this was different…

    He looked up at her, confusion stirring within him.

    They both stood there, quiet, their own silences meeting, meshing, feeling each other out. He didn’t know what to do. She wanted to do something, and didn’t know what to say.

    She watched him for a moment then gave him a hesitant smile. Something about him made her sad. Like when her puppy got tangled in thorns and came and sat on her doorstep silently wanting to be welcomed back in, but knowing he’d done something wrong.

    Finally, an acceptable response occurred to the boy.

    “Thanks.” He said, looking away.

    The girl only nodded quietly. Not knowing what else to do, the girl spoke up.

    “Well, I better go. My grandparents will be angry if they find me out here.”

    The boy blinked. The mask was gone now—had shattered the moment the girl gave him the flower.

    “Why?” He asked.

    The sun spilled over the space between them, indiscriminately spattering through the pines. Even though it was so close to the houses, this was why he liked this spot; the trees hugged the cozy little area but still left a nest of light for him.

    “The bears.” She said simply.

    He frowned.

    “There are no bears.”

    She shrugged.

    “I know. But grandma and grandpa told me so.”

    He frowned harder. He didn’t understand her reasoning. No, he didn’t like her reasoning.

    “I like it here.” he added, his voice low, the response the best he could do to bridge the gap between them. He felt like he was sliding back down a hillside that he didn’t even know stood before him, didn’t even know he’d been climbing in the first place.

    She reached across that expanse so easily.

    “Me too. I can come back tomorrow and play if you want. But if Grandma ‘n Grandpa find out, I’ll be in huge trouble.”

    It seemed to the boy such a far place from which she stood, extending that rope and inviting him to climb back up. However, he somehow felt the place she was inviting him was a different place altogether.

    “But you’d come anyways?” He asked.

    She agreed.

    “Sure.”

    The offer dangled before him. He was scared. What would that mean, to see her again? He didn’t want to go back. Being with her was a risk. It meant possibly losing his sanctuary in the woods. What if they caught her with him? What if they hauled him off?

    He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay where the bushes covered the open spaces, and the trees sheltered bare ground. He wanted—needed—the sound of the creek in the morning, washing the stones smooth, and the squirrels working in the trees, dropping nut trimmings over the grass.

    But there, somewhere across that field, was a couch where a family gathered, a table where people ate together. Nobody gathered to this space of his.

    He frowned. The havened silence had grown too loud, too lonely. Was he left with any other options?

    Yes. She had handed him an option.

    The boy pondered this. He’d not taken any risks for a long time--not unless you counted the sprint across the meadow when he’d seen a mountain lion, or the time he’d swallowed the water in the still pond (water that he’d been sure would give him a stomach ache).

    A sudden wisp of air cut over him, making his eyes water, throwing messy hair into his face. It carried the once sweet scent of silent pines.

    He shoved the hair off his face, cutting again a clear view. No, this was a different kind of risk. This was a dangerous risk. In the forest it was only life and death—bare realities. Out in the street, in the homes, with the people, hearts laid bleeding with no salve in sight.

    No, he didn’t want to go back. But, she said she’d come back to him.

    “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess,” She said, offering another hesitant smile before turning and walking off, her feet light over the open ground.

    “At least smell the flower, that’s the best part!” She called back, laughing over her shoulder.

    The thought settled over him, a strange, foreign sensation: relief. In truth, it wasn’t enough for him, alone out in those woods. The sheltered space wasn’t enough.

    The man-made homes may have been dangerous, but where he might be killed in that forest…well, he lived. There in those homes, where his heart may be broken--it could also be made whole.

    He didn’t like the risk it meant to see the girl, to play in the woods with her. He looked down at the wilting flower in his hand, suddenly disappointed. It would be dead and withered by the next morning. He watched her disappearing through the trees edging the forest line. Would the girl really come back? He hoped the girl would remember; he really liked that flower.

    The sound of her laughter echoed in his mind as he looked down at the little thing in his hand. Instead of casting the flower aside he carried it with him as he turned, heading back into the trees.
     
  8. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really good job @bigbrain28 -- first post of yours I've seen on here. :)
     
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