Title: Ten Inches Genre: Psychological thriller Warning: Sex and drugs The hike is done, the tent is erected, and the fire is lit. The young couple is exhausted and settle in to spend the rest of the day and night communing with nature and each other. That was the plan anyway, nothing they hadn’t done before. Laura Camden and Alex Bertelli were like any other college students: energetic, carefree, and crazy about each other. They had met as freshmen three years ago: a casual encounter at the frat party that blossomed into a deep connection. Since then, they have been inseparable. “I’m exhausted,” Alex groans, kneeling down on the dirt to sit next to his girlfriend and watch the fire crackle and pop in front of them. “Here, this’ll help,” Laura passes him the joint she’d been smoking. He took it eagerly and placed it between his lips. “It’s so hot out,” she fans herself with her hand and rolls over to reach for the water bottle that they had in the tent. “I’m so dehydrated,” she leans back and places her head against a log and shut her eyes. “Yeah, the hike was pretty tough,” Alex puffs the joint and hands it back to her. “Lemme have some of that,” he reaches for the water bottle and takes a big gulp. He gargles it for a moment, enjoy the feeling of the cool liquid is his mouth. “I’m good,” he says, turning down the joint as Laura offers it back. “I’m waiting for that,” he points at the tin cup of tea brewing next to the fire. The psilocybin mushrooms gently bob up and down in the frothy water. “Have fun, I’m not touching that,” she shrugs and continues to smoke. Laura’s taken magic mushrooms a few times before, but only at home. Tripping out in the woods sounds like it could be scary, but Alex is braver than her. “How much longer?” She watches him touch the dull vessel. “I think it’s ready,” he blows on it, the steam rising off of it swirling under his nose as he sniffs it. He takes a sip. It tastes like tea, but with a strong fungal aftertaste. He winced at it and stuck his tongue out. Laura laughs. “Good?” She smiles. “Oh man,” Alex couldn’t help but laugh too. “That’s pretty bad,” he took another sip. It wasn’t the flavor he was drinking it for. He poured a little of the cold water in it to cool it down and took a long swig. “All you,” she reiterates and gets herself up. “I gotta pee,” she announces and walks barefoot out into the woods. The dried leaves crackle underfoot, and the smooth, cool dirt felt nice to her tired, dehydrated soles. She positions herself against a tree and squats down, still smoking the joint. She holds her temple, the slight twinge she felt earlier is starting to evolve into a full-blown headache. They haven’t eaten or drank anything for the entire walk up here, and didn’t have breakfast this morning either. The cottonmouth from the marijuana only exacerbates her thirst. She finishes and looks down where she peed instinctively. She can tell that her pee is brown, indicating extreme dehydration. She throws the roach into the dirt and heads back to the tent. Alex isn’t there. She looks around. Where could he have gone? She was only gone for a minute. She walks over to the fire and puts her hands on her hips, scanning the trees for her boyfriend. The cup of hallucinogenic tea is sitting next to the fire, empty. His clothes are on the ground too. Is he wandering around the woods naked? She kneels down to pick up his shorts, but suddenly feels herself being grabbed and dragged. She struggles for a moment, before she feels Alex’s hands running up and down her, to which she lets out a squeal of delight when she realizes that he is, in fact, naked. He holds her tight and picks her up, carrying her away from the tent. “No, let me go,” she playfully kicks and resists. She can feel herself tingling as he forces her to come with him. “Let me go,” she continues to roleplay, even slapping him in the face gently. “Oh, now you’re going to get it,” Alex glares at her and grabs her by the neck. Laura couldn’t help but smile and touch herself. He bends her over and gives her a hard spank. She squeals in ecstasy and wraps her arms around a tree, presenting herself and submitting to his will. He grabs ahold of her hair and pulls her close. “You’re gonna be a good girl?” He clutches her wrists, “or am I going to have to restrain you?” She pretends to struggle, “I’m not doing anything you say,” she taunts. Her eyes widened as he attaches handcuffs to her wrists. She pulls on them, stuck hugging the tree and pretended to be scared. “No, let me go,” she flirts. “You need this?” He stands back from her, towering over her and showing her the key. She gave a damsel in distress look and nodded her head. He smiled coyly. “Not yet,” he tosses it down on top of his clothes and grabs a ball gag and a condom from the tent. She turns her face away from him so that he can’t see the elation in her eyes. She opens her mouth and graciously accepts being muzzled. He slowly pulls down her soft pink shorts and runs his hands up her toned leg before entering her from behind. She moans into the gag and holds onto the tree; she’s in heaven. The bark scraps her shoulder as he thrusts, but she doesn’t care. It feels so good. She tightens her embrace on the trunk as Alex grabs her hips and goes harder. He finally slows down and Laura gives him a moment to recover, slowly grinding against him, but Alex appears to have stopped entirely. She looks back at him and sees that he’s got his eyes closed and he’s holding his head. She observes him for a moment as he rubs his chest. They lock eyes and she raises her eyebrow, querying why he’s stopped. “It’s hot,” he says. “Gimme a minute,” he lowers his head and breathes deeply. She’d tell him to stop and get them both a drink, but she can’t remove the gag on her own; her arms aren’t long enough to reach it. He starts hyperventilating and she feels him come out of her. He drops to his knees in distress and puts his head down, clutching his chest. There is a moment of terror in his eyes as he starts to see a long dark tunnel. He quickly opens his eyes and raises his head up, trying not to pass out, but the action of standing up too quickly pushes him over the limit and he collapses in a heap at her ankles. Laura’s face changes to dread and she attempts to free herself to check on him. Her arms and hands scrape against the rough bark of the foot-wide trunk. She tries to call his name, but the gag is in the way. She pushes on it with her tongue, trying to pop it out of her mouth, but it’s too tight. She kicks at Alex in a panic and he rocks gently, unconscious. She hugs the tree tightly and tries to position her hands to reach the gag. She tries to scream his name, which only comes out as a dull, muffled whimper. She looks around in fright, then examines the handcuffs with her eyes and fingertips. She tries to use her nails to pick the lock, and presses on anything that feels like it could be a release. She pulls on the chain between them, but it doesn’t budge. She rotates her wrist in them, trying to slip free. If she can get her thumb out, the rest of her hand should fit. She continues to twist her hand, but they’re too tight. She’s having difficulty breathing, her mouth pried open by the gag, which excites her during sex, is beginning to become uncomfortable as she struggles. She pushes on it with her tongue, then tries to use the bark of the tree to pull it out of her mouth, scraping her cheek in the process, which slowly starts trickling blood. She looks down at Alex, limp in the fetal position. She places her foot on him and rolls him over onto his back, hoping to rouse him. He’s never done anything like this before, what’s happening? Is he even breathing? A new level of fear enveloped Laura as she studies his chest, watching for the rhythmic rise and fall of his breath, but his body is motionless. “Alex!?” she tries to scream, tears streaming down her face and the gag stifling her voice. She moves closer to the trunk and stands fully erect, trying futilely to budge the ten ton tree. She rests her head against it and desperately clings to denial. “This isn’t happening,” and “it’s going to be okay,” she repeats to herself, trying to slow her labored breathing. She reaches out and shakes Alex again, not sure what else to do, but he rocks back and forth under her foot limply. She puts her toes in front of his nose and felt for his breath. She rationalized the lack-thereof, by thinking that her toes weren’t sensitive enough. She looks around for something to help. Her gaze settles on the key on top of Alex’s clothing. It’s in front of the fire, a few feet from the base of the trunk. She gently drops to her knees and lays out on her stomach, trying to grab the clothes by reaching for it with her feet. She can’t quite reach. She kicks in the dirt, trying to grab it. She twists and turns against the tree, trying to find the best position, but all of her flailing is in vain. She looks at where her feet are landing, and the marks that she’s making in the dirt. She’s a foot from the clothes. Not even a foot: ten inches, but it might as well be ten miles. She lays on her belly, defeated. She tries again to wake her boyfriend, to no avail. There is nothing that she can do except wait. She waits for ten minutes, but Alex still hasn’t so much as twitched. She’s done nothing but stare at him, mentally begging for him to move. Her mouth feels like it’s full of salt, the dehydration from the walk only made worse by the fact that the gag is keeping her mouth open, further expelling water. The hot sun is causing her to sweat, and other than to use the tree, she can’t keep her sweat out of her mouth. She tries to produce some saliva and swish it around just for the sensation of water, but her mouth is too dry, even her tongue feels like sandpaper. She adjusts herself to be more comfortable, sitting indian style with the trunk of the tree between her legs. Everything is starting to hurt, the ground and the position is just uncomfortable. She continually dabs her bleeding cheek on her shoulder, which is just smearing it around now, making things worse. The drying blood and sweat is causing her hair to stick to her face, she tries to blow it and shake it away, but rubbing against the tree is the only thing that works. Stupid tree! How stupid Alex was to cuff her to it! Why was she turned on by being controlled like that? Is something wrong with her? Her mind raced, mostly with questions, very few answers. What to do. What to do. As she gets more desperate, panic starts to set in and she pulls violently on the handcuffs and sobs as they don’t get any looser and start cutting into her skin. She puts her knee against the tree and pushes on it, pulling on her wrist with all her might. She finally gives up and hugs the tree in pain, her wrist almost feels broken and she sobs. She squeezes the tree with both her arms and legs and tries to shake the tears out of her eyes, as using her shoulder to wipe them is only adding salty sweat, making them burn. She gently bangs her forehead against the bark in frustration. “Alex!” she tries to scream. “Wake up, you stupid fuck,” her frustration starts getting the better of her and anger enters her emotions. She kicks at him, pushing him hard, then stomps on the ground is a fury. She again, violently tries to shake the tree, kicking and screaming at it, cutting herself over and over again on the rough bark. She gives up and leans on it, short of breath. She tries to take deep breathes, but can’t. She’s got to find a way to get this thing out of her mouth. She turns her attention to it, pushing on it from all angles with her tongue, trying to just get it past her teeth. Why was it so tight? Why did she like it like that? Kinky idiot! Hours go by, she continues to try everything she can think of to get free. She manages to grab her shorts with her toes, but is unsuccessful in using them to try and grab the key or water. It just doesn’t have enough friction. She then tried to pull them on, but gave up after ten minutes of trying. She stares at Alex and wishes him to wake up. The temperature starts to plummet as the sun gets lower on the horizon. What felt like a blistering sun a few hours ago, which slowly burned her pasty irish shoulders, now felt like a parting friend gone too soon. The fire had gone out too, and there was no way to refuel it. As she starts to get cold, a new nuance presents itself. She feels the first mosquito in the middle of her shoulder blades. She tries to shake it off, but it doesn’t move. She flexes her back muscles and tries to crank her head back to scratch it. It itches. She brushes her hair back and forth against her back, which shoos away the insect, but the itch remains, unscratchable. Then comes another, and another. Without a fire to repel them, mosquitoes will swarm this area tonight. She’s not able to swat them away and curses herself for being naked from the waist down. She constantly tries to keep moving, if only making a circle around the tree to get the bugs to stop biting. After only ten minutes, every inch of her arms, back, and legs itch. She scratches the inside of her leg against the bark as the bites continue to count up. She yells out in frustration and twists herself as she gets the first bite on her privates. She growls and rubs her legs together, trying to relieve herself, before the next bite gets her attention on her bare butt. She wiggles her butt, but there is nothing to scratch it on. It’s driving her crazy and she bawls at how uncomfortable she is, sitting back down to prevent the nasty insects from biting her behind. She hugs the tree and continues to twist every time a bug lands on her that she can’t reach, they’re tenacious. She quickly regrets sitting down as the indian style position opens her legs, and the bugs swarm in. She can feel that she’s dirty, and can even smell herself: a stagnant stench of her own dry juices, the lubricant from the condom, sweat, blood, and dirt. “Oh my god,” she tries to cry out in frustration and repositions herself, closing her legs and extend them out to her side, forcing her core to be twisted. She can barely tolerate it as the bugs bite her continuously all night, attracted by her warm body and the smell of sweat and sex. As the temperature reaches fifty and the sun finally rises, the bugs cease, but the itching doesn’t. She writhes on the ground, trying to scratch the back of her legs and butt, but not able to turn over to do so. She shivers quietly at the base of the tree, staring at the bottle of water that’s stilling next to the fire pit, less than a foot from her furthest reach. There must be a way to reach it. The smell of her own breath is worrying her, like rotting meat. The cold and the position kept her from sleeping and she got more and more delirious. Early in the morning, the bugs came back. Crying and helplessly being bitten, she again tries to get to her stomach and reach for the water or the clothes with the key. Ten inches, that’s it. That’s all she needs. She looks around the ground from where she is. Maybe she can hook it with a stick, alas, there aren’t any obvious. She paws at the ground with her foot, touching every root she can find, hoping that it’s a loose stick. Finally, a thin one, about a foot and a half long, pops up. Big enough. She carefully grabs it with her toes and starts poking at the clothes. She can’t really see what she’s doing and she goes slowly, but she can’t get the stick to do anything other than push the key further away. She tries to hook the clothes themselves, but that doesn’t work either. Is this really happening? How could this happen to her? She’s done everything right in her life. She sits up and sobs again. She’s gone to school, she’s getting her degree, she’s never hurt anyone, why is this happening to her? What did she do? What about Alex? She looks at him. She just wants to be held by him. She reaches out with her foot and touches him. He feels different today. Cold. His body also doesn’t rock as she pushes on it anymore. Rigor mortis has now fully set in and his body lay stiff in front of her. What happened to him? The mushrooms! It must have been. Maybe they were some toxic look-alike. Oh my god, she almost took them herself! That could have been her! It still might be. She puts her head against the trunk, and starts pulling on her handcuffs again. Her constant pulling has prevented her wounds from healing and they continue to leak blood and puss. She feels the slipperiness of it and tries to use the fluids as lubricant, pulling with all of her might, stopping only because it feels like it’ll break if she pulls any harder. She suddenly stops and listens. Could it be? Voices? She gets up and looks around. That was definitely a human voice. They must be on the hiking trail. The camp site isn’t too far off of the path. She tries to yell out. The gag in her mouth, now caked in dry saliva, dampening everything she says. There! She can see someone. A man, with a bright white baseball cap heads up the trail towards the summit. “Stay close, Pippet,” he calls, obviously to his dog. Laura bangs on the tree, rattling the handcuffs as much as she can and trying to scream. She desperately tries to push the gag out of her mouth with her tongue and jaw again. She scrambles, rubbing it against the bark of the tree, trying to get it out, or break it, or anything. She let out another squelched scream and ferociously yanks on the hardwood. She puts the gag against the tree and shakes it side to side. It just has to come loose, it just has to. She gives up trying to remove it and simply screams as loudly as she can to the man, who is now heading away from her. She watches with tears in her eyes as he obliviously frolics after the black lab. No! She again succumbs to rage and starts beating on the tree. She screams in frustration and in a self-destructive fit, pushes herself away from the tree. She howls and her eyes go wide in excruciating pain as her wrist finally breaks. She nearly bites the gag in half and screams over and over again. Once the shock wears off, she wonders if it was now loose and tried to pull again, but nothing’s any different. The only delta being that now putting any pressure on it at all makes pain shoot up her arm and causes her to see spots and nearly black out. Again, she sobs gravely. Bleeding and beaten, she sits with her back to Alex’s body, her shoulders starting to burn again in the sun. With her legs starting to cramp and her body too low on water to even produce sweat, all she can think about is water. She goes back to her belly and takes her stick between her toes again, this time trying to knock the water bottle closer to no avail. She can poke it, but it doesn’t move. She loses the stick and desperately tries to bring it back, but ends up kicking it further away. She reaches with her toes, still ten inches. She lays on her stomach, and struggles to breathe. She rests, saving her energy. Everything hurts. Her head is throbbing, her muscles are cramping, every inch of skin itches or is bleeding, and her throat feels like sandpaper. Physically, she’s defeated. Mentally, almost. Her mind is cloudy, all she can think about is how miserable she feels. Is this death? Is this where it ends? At twenty two years old? How is that fair? Why God, why? Why would he create someone, just to kill them off as their life really began? Why would he torment her? She asked him quietly, not expecting or receiving any response. Perhaps he’s forsaken her. Maybe she did something wrong. Maybe he’s not there at all. “Please,” she begs. “Don’t let me die,” she prays while whimpering, but no tears come out anymore. She drops her head, nearly nodding off, but hitting it on the tree. “I’m tired,” she said, in a delirium, thinking she’s talking to Alex. She attempts to get up and go into the tent, but falls on her face as the handcuffs restrain her. The lack of water is started to make her confused and it takes her a moment to remember where she is. She leans on the tree and tries to nod off, but can’t. She hears the familiar ringtone of Alex and is brought back to reality. She looks around for it, thinking for a moment that she’ll pick it up. It’s in his clothes, with the key. It’s probably his mother, she knew they were camping. How long would it be before someone noticed that they didn’t come back when they were supposed to? She looks at the clothes, but dosen’t bother trying to get it, she knows she can’t. Why bother? She stares at it until it stops. All she would have to do is reach it. There is a sudden intense pain in her legs and they both charlie horse. All of the muscles in her leg contract at once, forcing her out of position and onto the ground. As she jerked, she strained her arms and shoulders, her broken wrist being pulled violently, causing shooting pain. She can’t scream, she can’t move, her body starts cramping all over and she can’t control her movements. It feels like being forced around by an elephant. She tries to resist the convulsions and rub her burning muscles, but is not able to. She thrashes wildly around the tree, rubbing against the bark and hitting her face on the ground multiple times. She gasps for breath as bile starts to fill her mouth, drowning her as it gets dammed up behind the gag. She can’t control herself to swallow it and starts choking. She dry heaves as a small amount of bile fills her mouth and sprays out through whatever opening in the gag it can find. All at once, she stops, and is motionless. Barely conscious, lying face down in a small pool of bile and blood, not able to move at all. She slowly drifts into unconsciousness. She finds herself awakened on the ground with a terrible headache. She tries to get up, only to remember that she’s still stuck by the jolting pain in her wrist. She has no memory of the seizure. She tries to pull herself up on the tree, but is not able. Her panged muscles aren’t cooperating. She winces and grabs her broken wrist with her other hand and cries. As the agony from her muscles and wrist subsides, the itching returns. It’s much later in the day and the bugs are coming back; she must have been unconscious for hours. She itches everywhere, and the tree bark has torn her skin apart from scratching. It hurts, and some of them are getting infected. She looks at Alex’s body. “I love you,” she said quietly, thinking of everything they’ve done together. She cries, this time for lost love, as the temperature, like the night before, starts to dive. She lays on her belly, arms wrapped around the tree, naked from the waist down, cuffed and gagged. That’s how her body will be found eight days later by a ranger: her toes still ten inches away from the key to the cuffs that bind her.