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 tripped.
       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.
       Or worse.
       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."
       "Me neither."
       Craig frowned.
       "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.
       Nothing attacked.
       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.
       They listened.
       "Hey," someone whispered, "did you hear that?"
       "Hell yeah. What was it?"
       "Shhhhhhhhh!" Craig said.
       "A coyote?"
       "No way."
       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.
       One breath.
       Two breaths.
       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--
       Dear God!
       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.
       Not alive.
       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.
       Something moved.
       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.
       And more.
       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


Bernita said...

Well, that was fairly fearsome!

Terri said...

Awesome! You have outdone yourself and yes, the final part made it come together really well.
Phew, can I breathe now?!

Scott said...

I had to re-read the ending again, and finally put it together. Then I remembered your synopsis before you wrote any of it. The forest only attacks those with flashlights, and Stephen figured it out in time to save himself, but Craig and the gang are running towards their doom. I like it--a lot. I think it could be clearer at the end though. But I have to stress that I'm not great at reading comprehension.

Scott said...

Perhaps right around the point where he understands the situation with the light. You say that he obliterated the flashlight with a rock. I would expand this a little, share the epiphone with the reader. The light, thought Stephen. It's the light.

Anonymous said...

Bernita, much appreciated. :)

Terri, deep breath, deep breath. :) I'm very happy it came together! On a whim, I added a ton more complexity than I originally intended. It made the execution very delicate.

Scott, that's a fine addition!! I continue to struggle with making my reveals clear enough. I've added some to the part you mentioned and to the last section when his friends are coming.

Flood said...

Holy shitballs.
This is terrific. I remember Bernita asking why you shared these with us and I really have to echo that sentiment. This was good enough for a horror anthology, or an ezine or something that makes you cents-per-word. You owe it to your writing to think about that.
It's great that the kids (Craig, etc) redeem themselves as heroes from being jerks, only to be eaten. Haha. You definately increased my pulse.

Anonymous said...

Wonga... Stunning mastery of your craft, there. Left me silent and shocked for a moment.

And for what it's worth, I thought your original subtlety was just fine - it was very obvious to me that he had figured it out and destroyed his light to make his escape. But then again, I tend to prefer stories that leave some of the details in the grey and force me to think, just a little, in order to figure out what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely case of goosebumps. Excellent pacing - you definitely had me hooked.

anne frasier said...


excellent, jason.

and i LOVE that photo. amazing.

amazing and wonderful all the way around.

mermaid said...

This reminds me of a movie, can't remember the name, but in it, a society chooses to live in isolation, and uses a fictitious forest creature to scare the community into not crossing the boundary between their community and the forest.

Reading this is so much more vivid. BTW, 2nd draft much better. The reader can smell, taste, hear, see, and touch Stephen's (and even Craig's) fear. Craig's compassion even shows through his thick skin.

Jeff said...

"The little boy didn't wander out into the forest.The forest came and snatched him."
I liked these lines in particular.
Good story, Jason. :)

Anonymous said...

Flood, I definitely like the switch in characters. Craig is jerk and Stephen is downtrodden at the beginning. The ending is a bit different, hehe. Thanks for the encouragement!

Jim, thanks so much! Great to see you again. I'm a fan of subtle too, but I definitely have a tendency to confuse readers. I don't mind adding a little extra clarity.

Sarah, goosebumps...awesome! I love evoking goosebumps. :)

Anne, thank you. :) Let me know if you have any more bad dreams. (BTW, these pictures are the first time I've done flashlight-painting photographs in quite a long time. The LCD flashlight gave a nice color to the light, don't you think?)

Mermaid, I think you're thinking of "The Village" by M. Night Shyamalan. I really like his movies. He uses thoughtful suspense, not cheap horror movie tricks. ** Thanks for the feedback!

Jeff, thank you kindly. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, everyone. I'm off to the forest which inspired this story until Monday! See you then.

anne frasier said...

jason, i was going to ask you how you took the photos.
flashlight painting. is that an actual photo term, or what you call it? do i need something special to do it?
and yes, the color is perfect.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Jason, so cool and enjoyable trippy. =D

ProducerClaire said...


Melissa Amateis said...

Oh boy, Jason. Superb!!! I felt myself almost scanning the text, my anticipation growing with each word as I raced to the finish.


LiVEwiRe said...

I had some catching up to do, but wow - I'm sure glad it's bright and sunny out while I read this; otherwise I'd be typing from under my computer desk! Of course, I'm sure I'll remember this when I'm walking to my night... right by the edge of the little forest that flanks the parking lot at (Excellent work!)

anne said...

This felt like a film. I'm sure I'm not the only one for whom the scene was actually playing out in "real" images. Excellent use of... everything, really. ;)

Esther Avila said...

Wow! What a story. You had me at the edge of my seat. I love the way you went back and forth between the two scenes -- Stephen in the forest and Craig and the others.

Your descriptions -- hair of decayed moss, skin like tree bark. Leering fangs, skeleton of a bird, and the eyes as glistening slugs -- *shivering* - you described this so vividly that you actually had me rubbing my arms to get rid of goosebumps.

great work!

Linda said...

Staying inside tonight Yep I am staying in and away from the woods. Loved it Jason!!

Anonymous said...

Anne, I sent you a more detailed email, but the way you do it is to have a very long exposure, and while the shutter is open, use a flashlight to paint light onto what you want in the picture (in this case, my arm). Only what you paint with light will show up.

Kelly, thanks, my friend. :)

Claire, =)

Melissa, thanks so much! I put more effort than I intended into this story. I suppose I hooked myself! :)

Livewire, just remember to walk to your car in absolute dark. It can't get you if you stay in the dark. ;) BTW, thanks for catching up! I missed your visits.

Anne, that's great feedback, I appeciate it! I was experimenting with a writing style pressed right up against the action. I'm glad it had that sense of immediacy.

September, thanks so much! The scene breaks with Craig and the others was a great way for me to maintain the tension. If I had to stick with Stephen, I don't think I could've played out his fear as long or as carefully.

BeadinggalinMS, we woodsy folk are hardy. I'm sure you're marching around just daring those monsters to come out of the shadows. :) Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Jason once again you've thrilled me!! I just love reading your stories. Forget being a lawyer hon and become a published author!!

Thanks for the reading!

Anonymous said...

Annagain, you always give great encouragement! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :D

Bailey Stewart said...

You really ought to consider taking these stories and putting together an anthology. They are most definitely publishable. The imagery, rhythm, the palpable feeling that imbues each word is pure magic. Thank you for sharing this with us. Sorry I've been amongst the missing - I kept stopping but felt I didn't have the time to actually give this story the attention that it called for. So I took the time today to catch up. Glad I did - and I'm also glad that I waited long enough to actually read it as one story instead of installments. Much more effective this way.

Anonymous said...

Eve, thanks so much for catching up on the story! I really enjoyed writing this one.

I'm really very humbled by your comments. It's wonderful when what you are trying to do shines for someone. :) Thank you for letting me know.

An anthology is an intriguing idea. I would like to construct a kind of storyline among stories someday.

Anonymous said...

Just read your interview on Flood's blog and linked to your short stories. I read this story yesterday and didn't get a chance to comment cause I was at work. The image has stayed with me all night. It's a great story. I didn't see where it was going and I love how the story about the mother in the cottage was linked back to the ending. The image of Stephen running away and sacrificing his friends is so strong. You created such a sense of atmosphere and such great characterisation. I can see him being haunted by this in his old age.