Friday, May 26, 2006
Flashlight Tag, Part 5, Final (Fiction)
(Just joining us? Go back to Part 1)
Stephen stumbled back.
He was caught. His legs too rubbery to run. The figure's crooked movements bounded down the hill.
The light shook. His mouth stretched wide to shriek.
Then, his heel slapped a rock.
He flailed and landed.
In the last seconds, he surrendered his body. Like prey finding peace in the jaws of the predator.
Only, he didn't want to see his blood.
He crunched down on the flashlight.
Flinched from the final blow.
All sound vanished in the darkness.
He lay cringing.
Crying voiceless tears.
"Get your hand off my fucking ear!"
Craig dragged Chris with a nice pinch. He was pulling him up the path like a schoolmarm.
"Ah, wook. I got a pwetty one."
"All right. Let him go, Elmer Fudd."
"Well," Craig said, dropping Chris on the pile of trophies. "Looks like I win. You're all a bunch of losers, you know that?"
"Yeah, yeah. We all bow to the majesty of Craig. Now suck it."
"Just one problem," Craig said. "Where the hell is wet diaper?"
"I haven't seen him."
"That's pretty strange," he said. "Stephen's got an amazing vibe in the forest. Really fucking amazing. I thought he'd win."
"Well, not this time."
"Maybe the dude went home," Chris said.
Stephen coiled in the soft decay. The smell was scratchy, too pleasant for the decades of death comprising it.
Crickets called in the stillness. Something squeaked in the trees overhead.
Had it gone?
Stephen didn't think so.
But he couldn't pry open his eyes. He wished it would strike. He wanted it to be over.
"So how long do you want to wait for him?"
"Screw waiting for him! Let's split up and find him."
"No way, we'll all get lost," Chris said. "We'll be looking for each other until dawn."
"No we won't. He's got a flashlight. All we have to do is look for it."
"No," Craig said, cutting off the debate. "Chris is right. If we split up, we're dead. Stephen's flashlight won't be on, anyway. He's better than that. He only uses the light to catch you. Never to find you."
"No. It's not. It's just what he does," Craig said.
Not even the tiniest crunch of a leaf.
Trembling, he dared to stir. Just a hair.
He stopped. Waited.
Nothing answered his movements.
He shifted more. Gripped the flashlight.
Each moment he lived, he warmed a bit more.
He began to turn onto his knees.
"So what do you want to do then? Make a campfire and toast marshmallows?"
"Shut the fuck up," Craig said. "Let me think a minute."
The thought of running blind terrified Stephen. What if he touched it? What if he dove toward the valley and crashed into its arms?
He felt along the ground and closed over one of the countless stones, long and jagged.
He locked his hold. He raised it to strike.
"You know, that was the worst hiding spot I've ever seen. Those rocks barely hid your head. Your ass was waving in the air. We should call you ostrich from now on."
"Get off my back, Chris. I just got chased out of an awesome spot. How was I supposed to know you were coming up the other side?"
"You didn't hear me fall like thirteen times? That was a pitiful short cut. I--"
All heads turned to the south.
"Hey," someone whispered, "did you hear that?"
"Hell yeah. What was it?"
"Shhhhhhhhh!" Craig said.
A howl rose.
Perhaps from the Earth itself.
"Someone's down there," Craig said. "Calling for help."
The others hesitated, but Craig ran.
In his mind, Stephen roared a battle cry. He hurled the flashlight beam up the hill. The light splashed on the steep slope. On the lichen-stained stones.
And nothing more.
He didn't believe it.
He waited. Steady. Sure it would come.
His heart exploding.
Something hopped in the ferns. A wood frog shopping for a new home.
He turned to run.
If he could just make the wood line. He'd reach the cottage and--
In the light.
Not more than an arm's length behind him.
He saw the delicate rib cage first. Then the face. Then the shape.
A person, but not a person.
Hair of decayed moss. Skin like tree bark. Leering fangs fashioned from the skeleton of a bird.
Except the eyes.
Their squirming sparkled with hideous consciousness. Two glistening slugs. Tortured to the creature's purpose.
A hand of branches flashed toward his face. Stephen dropped the light.
Only a breeze tickled his skin, but along the ground where the cone of brightness lay, those horrid fingers ripped at the ground.
The light. It came in the light. But it lived in the dark.
Stephen obliterated the flashlight with the rock.
Then perilous silence seized him.
He screamed so hard his throat tore.
"Keep up!" Craig yelled. "It came from down there!"
"Jesus, someone's going to break their neck! There are rocks everywhere!"
"Not my problem! Come on! Get those fucking flashlights up here!"
Stephen heard the thundering above. Heard them coming. Light winked in the trees.
Nearer and nearer, the rays tightened.
A sweet breath on his cheek.
In a blaze, he understood. He saw their lights coming. Their lovely lights. He knew they would die.
A rush of wind and branches raged up the slope toward Craig and the others. Stephen threw himself the other way.
Flying down, down, he broke from the wood line. His footfalls beat when the weeping and shrieks erupted.
As he glided past the cottage, he saw himself in the broken panes.
Just like the night he walked in his sleep and Craig found him, Stephen saw the little boy who died. But it wasn't like Craig's story. It wasn't like the way it was always told.
That little boy didn't wander out into the forest. The forest came and snatched him. And his mother watched. She ran from the bright cottage to save herself.
The little boy cried. He stayed. He feared the dark.
The forest came, and his mother watched.
Like Stephen watched.
And they both kept running.
Back to Part 4
Posted by jason evans at 12:03 AM