Monday, May 22, 2006

Flashlight Tag, Part 4 (Fiction)

(Just joining us? Go back to Part 1)

       Color bloomed in the flashlight's circle.
       Nothing. No one there.
       "Damn," Stephen whispered.
       He tracked the ground up the side of the depression. Shadows sprayed as the light moved.
       Still nothing.
       Along the rim and down the other side. Empty, except for moths twirling in the air.
       He dropped the light back to the bottom.
       "Jesus," he croaked.
       A shape crouched. A guy on his knees?
       He wasn't there a few seconds earlier.
       "Hey! I got you down there! Come on up!"
       The shape did not stir. No acknowledgment.
       "Chris? Is that you?"
       Chris wore a dark jacket. Could be him.
       Maybe they switched jackets. Oldest trick in the book.
       "Don't be an ass! Don't make me chase you down!"
       Still nothing.
       It was a person, right? Not a stump. Not a rock sticking from the ground.
       He shook the flashlight despite the steady, crisp light. He aimed it again.
       His chest squeezed.
       The figure was standing. Not Chris. Not anyone he recognized.
       Man or woman? The ratty clothes had no definition. Shoulder-length hair hung in oily clumps. A glint reflected from hidden eyes.
       It stepped forward. Branches snapped. A chill snaked up Stephen's arms.
       Instinct yanked him backwards. He dove into the trees and sailed over ground as fast as he could. His light thrashed through the forest.
       He pushed himself higher and higher on the slope toward the others, but soon his legs burned. The pull of the valley was too strong. To keep speed, he turned bit by bit. In the end, he was heading down again.
       Panting, he ripped himself around a trunk and pointed the flashlight back. The light bobbed with his breath.
       He searched left and right.
       No. No sign of the creepy figure.
       The crickets sang to the calm, still night.
       He waited. Listening. Trying to calm his thundering heart.
       Nothing moved out there. He must've outrun it.
       He started forward again. He pointed the flashlight ahead.
       "Gah!" he cried, shrinking back.
       The figure. Ahead of him.
       And closer.
       The hush a moment before crashed as it came toward him. Panic exploded.
       As if on wings, he spun and sprinted. Pounding the soft ground, he smashed away branches with his shins.
       Like a hurricane in the forest, he stormed downward, gobbling speed. Last year's leaves hurtled from his shoes. Faster and faster, his legs flailed to keep up with the ground.
       Then, his shoulder caught a sapling. It punched him sideways.
       The back of his head struck a wind-bent tree. His ankles pitched up. The world whipped in an indigo soup of swirls.
       His face hit. His body pattered down later. The impact knocked his fear spinning to the heavens.
       His unconscious body skidded to a stop. Flakes of bark settled, and quiet poured over him.

* * *

hickory hickory hickoryhickoryhickory

(in the dark)
blowing and
(blowing and)
colors in light
blood in the light
goose bumps singing
find me sitting
stars circling
listening to mother moon

(in broken windows)
they ran

(I'm afraid)
they ran
they ran and ran and ran and ran....

* * *

       Stephen stirred. He crawled through the fog of his injury back to consciousness.
       He unknotted his neck. He spit grit from off tongue.
       What was he doing in the dirt? Dreaming? God, his head hurt like hell.
       Images still flitted in his mind. Craig's house. Back when they were kids.
       He was remembering the night he slept over years ago. The night Craig alluded to when he scared the others. They had screwed off half the night. Way past three o'clock.
       Stephen didn't remember shutting his eyes. One moment television scenes danced, the next he was swimming in the strangest sensations. Especially wetness. On his feet.
       Craig told Stephen the next morning. Told him what he did.
       Craig heard the door. He snapped awake. Where was Stephen? Not in the sleeping bag.
       Craig checked the house. The bathroom. The kitchen. He never thought to check the front door.
       A breeze nudged it as he tiptoed by.
       Craig pushed and bared himself to the open darkness. Stephen?
       Not much choice. He laced on shoes. He slipped into the pre-dawn stillness.
       Craig walked a while, avoiding the woods. Headlights washed over him from one lonely car. It didn't stop. It wove deeper into the scrub lands. It's tire-hum dwindled.
       Farther on, he heard it.
       Crunching. Crunching.
       A porcupine waddling?
       No. Too steady. Too long for stubby legs.
       Craig prodded himself into the black sweep of the mountain. Poked, scraped, and scratched, he caught the form of Stephen tracing unseen trails. He grabbed him.
       Below, a fiery glare burst through the trees. The rising moon reflected in the broken windows of the cottage.
       Next to the windows, an open door.

       And now his ass was planted in the dirt. What the hell happened?
       The pain in his head was exquisite. Jesus Christ.
       He sat up in the darkness. He leaned against the tree he bashed his head into.
       Vaguely, he recalled running, but the throbs in his brain scrambled the memories.
       Wait. That's right. He was looking. Playing the game. He cornered someone. He--
       He curled his legs closer.
       Chased! He'd been chased!
       He craned in all directions. Searching. Listening.
       Where was it?
       No sound of it now. Not even a breeze moved.
       God, how long was he out?
       He felt a lump under his legs. He reached and found the grip of the flashlight. Cupping light with his hands, he glanced at his watch. Only forty minutes since the game started. The light flicked out.
       What should he do?
       He listened for the others higher on the mountain. He rubbed the knob swelling on the back of his skull.
       He had to get up there. As a group, they'd figure out what to do.
       Some crazy asshole was loose in the woods.
       And he was afraid.
       Cautiously, making no sound, Stephen pushed himself to his feet. He faced the long climb.
       He had to do it.
       He had to do it fast.
       He relit the flashlight.
       And there it was. Already coming.
       The forest erupted before he could scream.

On to Part 5
Back to Part 3


Scott said...

I'm not sure what is going on now. I'll have to wait for the next installment to piece it together. I'm looking forward to the other comments.

Scott said...

I should say too, that this is excellent writing. I'm just a little lost.

Anonymous said...

Scott, was there a certain point or points where it went south on you? Maybe I can do some clarifying/cleaning.

Bernita said...

I'm a little confused too.
Is the song IT's song?
The dream confuses me. Real? His hallucination?
It's all very good ( those verbs - "light sprayed") but I'm lost, now.

Anonymous said...

Scott and Bernita, thanks! I've made a few edits to try make clear what's going on. More edits may be necessary....

mermaid said...

Agree witht he others. Somehow, I feel like it was written this way on purpose to convey Stephen's confusion and dreamlike state.

It's alsmost as if you are playing with Stephen's mind and those of your readers. What's real? What isn't?

Antonia said...

I like that how you write how he thinks, what goes on in his mind....very much like reality...and very nice creation of tense
how is the sebald by the way. I feel a bit responsible...:)

Terri said...

"Like a hurricane in the forest"
I love that.
But yes, I'm a little confused too. Perhaps we need the next instalment to make it clear..?

Anonymous said...

Hi all! Thanks for the comments. The early readers pointed out that the flow of action was unclear/confused. I've tried to improve the transition between parts. Although the significance of the vision and dream are not clear at this point, is the flow of action understandable?

To put it concisely, do you understand what is happening even if you don't understand why?

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, you're right about my intent--the reality/dream/memory interplay. I can't push it too far though. Hopefully, I've blended it better.

Antonia, it's a delicate process--showing the character's fear and confusion without unduly confusing the reader. :) I'm not terribly far into Sebald. He's definitely not light reading!

Terri, I'll try to tie it all together well. ;) I think I torture myself with these complex stories on purpose. =)

Melissa Marsh said...

OMG, OMG!!! Just when I thought you were going to be kind and give us the entire story, you leave us on the edge again! I was seriously holding my breath for this, Jason. You've managed to suck me right into the story.


anne frasier said...

ooooh, i love it, jason.
i especially the whispered chant/poem in the middle. nice, nice, nice. :)

it is tough to find the right balance when you don't want to give too much away.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, give you the whole story?? What would be the fun in that? ;) I got my own heart thudding on this one. Glad you felt it too. :D

Anne, thanks so much for the feedback! I'll let you in on a little secret. The parantheticals in the chant/poem go together to make a message.

Scott said...

Ok, Jason, much better. I was still a little confused during the flashback scene, at the beginning. The dreaming sequence is a little poetic for my tastes, but I think I get it. Right after that you make it clear that he is remembering back, but I wonder if I was right for a short spell, then I am pretty sure that we are still talking about a flashback. Then it is perfectly clear that he was dreaming in the last segment.

I hope I'm being clear. That was the way I thought while reading it. Much better. I like it that now the whole situation will have changed while he was out, and he can depend on nothing. Everything and anything could have happened.

Flood said...

I think I am reading this after your edit. I inferred that some of the confusion was purposeful because Stephen is confused himself. It kinda reminds me of when I was a kid and I would fall asleep at 2 in the afternoon and wake up in the dark thinking it was the next day, but it was really only suppertime. It was a scary, lost feeling that I can't imagine being coupled with being pursued by God-knows-what.

Some crazy asshole was loose in the woods.- that cracked me up. I'm feeling bad that Stephen is going to have to rely on all his senses except sight.(I think.) Looking forward to more...

Jeff said...

Great use of imagery in this piece, Jason. Your description of Stephen's disorientation and fear comes across very well. :)

beadinggalinMS said...

If I see a shoulder lenght, oily clumpy hair thing in my woods I am running too! LOL
Stephen is scared, I am scared!
I am really enjoying this one Jason.
The way you described him running in the woods excellent! You really do have to watch out for those saplings. I know I have had them knock me down.

Incase your wondering the kiddos and I play a lot in the woods, paint ball, hide n seek or just walking the trails to the river. So I know all about running in the woods. haahaa :)

anne said...

I think I understood this (although I'll definitely need more on the "lullaby" and I guess we'll know more on that night at the cottage...), but regardless of understanding or not, I really like it. Can't wait till the next instalment now.

Anonymous said...

Scott, thanks for your help! The transition is much sharper now. Not perfect, but sharper. Sometimes when I push the envelope, it rips. ;)

Flood, thanks for the comment about the disorientation of waking up in the middle of night. That's what I was going for. I wanted to layer some complexity into this story instead of making it a straight chase scene.

Jeff, much appreciated! I hope to see your next story soon. :)

BeadinggalinMS, I knew you were really a woodswoman! (Geez, that just doesn't have the nice sound of "woodsman"). Paint ball would be a blast! No pun intended. I've never tried it, but I'd like to. I'm glad the fear crept off the page for you. :)

Anne, the next and final installment will be Thursday night/Friday morning! No more cliffhangers. hehe. I'm glad you're enjoying it. =)

beadinggalinMS said...

Jason one word of advice about paintball -Yes they hurt up close! haahaa.

Kelly Parra said...

Jason, you creeped me out with the figure in the dark! Argh. Good job! =D

Anonymous said...

Kelly, *rubs hands together and laughs evilly* hehehehe! ;) Thanks for the feedback!