Week #32 of Suzanne Burke’s Fiction in a Flash Challenge. You can read the entries and join in here.
I wrote this as a scene for my WIP and went over the 750 word limit by a bit- sorry!
Jessica and Chris had been trekking for what felt like forever, though when she glanced at the tech-watch Nick had bought for her birthday, only five hours had gone by. At first, the thrill of a new adventure had kept their steps light and spirits high, but as the sky became leaden with menacing dark clouds and the trees loomed tall and intimidating the further along the forested trail they traversed, the more she second-guessed her decision to go camping. The warmth and comfort of home beckoned louder and louder with every step she took away from town.
“How much further?” Chris asked, his voice muted as he lagged behind.
Jess stopped near a fork in the path, a fallen tree covered in moss providing a natural resting place. She sat and took a long pull from her water bottle while Chris hobbled to join her, his lips pressed into a thin line.
“What’s wrong?” Jess used her bottle to point at the foot he was obviously favoring.
He shrugged and slung the heavy pack off his shoulders, letting it fall to the dirt with little regard as to what he might be squashing. “Just a blister, my shoes are too loose.” Sighing, he took out his water bottle and took a small sip before returning it to its pouch on the side of the bag. “Better watch how much you drink, if we don’t make camp tonight there won’t be any for the hike tomorrow.”
Shoot, he was right. She’d been so thirsty she hadn’t thought ahead, some team leader she was turning out to be. This deep into the woods, what little light was left—after being chased by the clouds—was fast disappearing. Instead of stumbling around in the dark, they might be better off building their tent right here. At least they’d be protected from the brunt of the storm rather than if they were out in the open campsite.
“I think we should stay here for tonight. That way you can care for your heel and we can setup before dark.” She glanced up as rain sprinkled down on her head. “And get out of the rain.”
Chris nodded, his shoulders slumping with relief. “Works for me. That way if…” He stopped, his cheeks flushing.
“What?” She asked, then gasped. “You’re hoping Nick comes looking for us, aren’t you?”
“Aren’t you?” he countered, his chin in the air. He waved his arms around them. “We don’t need to get lost in the back of beyond to prove some point to your dumb want-to-be boyfriend. C’mon, Jess. If he doesn’t like you for who you are, he doesn’t deserve you.”
Stunned, she took in Chris’s belligerent attitude and frowned. “I thought you were my best friend.”
He rolled his eyes and turned away to dig out the battery-operated lamp they’d brought along for night-time use. “I am your friend, silly. That’s why I can say stuff like that, and you’re supposed to listen—that’s how it works with true friends.”
He continued to quietly set up their camp for the evening, untying the tent from the bottom of his pack and pulling out the lightweight sleeping bag that was rolled into a tight ball. As the rain began to fall in earnest, Jess dove into her bag for the bright yellow rain jackets they’d packed at the last minute.
“Here,” she said, shaking one out for him to wear. He smiled as he accepted the coat, and she was struck by how mature Chris seemed. He’d always been thoughtful and considerate, but now it was layered with authority, the child turning into a young—and attractive—man.
Confused by her wandering thoughts, she grasped the handle of the lamp and rose. “I’m just going to, you know—be right back.”
Chris nodded, though his brows lowered. “Don’t go too far, okay?”
Sensible advice, but she needed privacy to answer the call of nature, so she walked up the right fork of the trail until she crested the hill and started down the other side. Glancing back, she shivered. The path, cloaked in mist and shadows, reminded her of that dinosaur movie Chris loved so much.
Wading through thigh-high ferns, she carefully stepped off the trail, the lantern held high to shed light as far as she could get it to go. “Far enough,” she muttered, and set the lamp on the ground to peel her pants down and do her business. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” she chanted, seriously creeped out now. Flying insects dive-bombed the light, their buzz adding an eerie addition to the choir of rustling leaves, creaking branches, and the drip, drip of rain on her hood. That’s it, she wasn’t going to eat or drink another thing until she got home.
She zipped her pants and bent to pick up the lantern, then froze. Something was nearby. The woods had taken on a stillness, as though holding its breath. And maybe it was her imagination, but it felt like someone, or some thing, was staring at her—waiting.