Tag Archives: fiction

Growing Pains. Short Story.

Grace stretched and yawned, she stood for a moment at the kitchen sink looking out the window at the field of cows. She was still having difficulty adjusting to all this space and the wandering farm animals. Before moving out here she’d never seen a cow in real life, never mind sheep or goats. She could hear Brad moving around upstairs with his usual heavy footsteps. The kettle clicked and she picked it up, pouring hot water into two mugs. She hadn’t slept well the night before, though Brad had slept like a log. During the night she heard an almighty bang, it was so loud it almost felt like the house shook with the noise of it. She’d prodded Brad awake, asking if he heard anything and all she got was some mumbling as he rolled over and went back asleep. She never appreciated the feeling of safety she had in the city, the fact that there were always people around and if needed, the police could be called. Out here god only knew how long it would take for them to arrive. Grace glanced out the window and frowned, there was something wrong with the fields, they were the wrong colour. She squinted at them, they were still green, but they were a brighter green than before. With a shock she realised that the brighter green was moving towards her, moving over bushes and animals alike. “Brad!”
he thundered down the stairs, “What? What’s wrong?”
she pointed out the window,
“What? Is there another cow in the garden? Just-” he stopped, staring wide eyed as the rush of green came closer. Grace reached out to Brad and gripped his hand tightly, “what is it?” by then it was almost upon the house. Grace flinched and turned her head. When she opened her eyes again a few seconds later she expected the room to be in darkness, but it was as bright as ever. She looked out the window and saw the green had stopped in a perfect half circle around the house. This close it looked like soft, verdant moss. Brad was staring out the window, his mouth hanging open. A second later the alarm started beeping, Grace looked around and saw the oven clock was off. “Power cut.” Brad stepped away from Grace, moving towards the back door, he reached for the handle and Grace leapt forward to grab his hand, “Don’t. What if it comes inside.”
“It stopped, why did it stop? Besides it’s like moss or something. That’s all.” He reached for the door again, Grace didn’t stop him.

Outside the air smelt fresh with a cool undercurrent to it. Grace and Brad had walked around the house and saw the moss had stopped in a perfect circle, about ten feet from the house. Brad’s car had been parked across the odd boundary and the moss had covered almost half of it. They were standing near the back door again, ready to make a dash inside if necessary. Brad squatted down to get a better look, then he stood. “It’s moss. It has to be, it looks exactly like it.” Grace gasped, Brad’s head snapped up, he looked to where she was pointing. A cow, completely covered in bright green moss was casually strolling across what had once been its field. It stopped and lowered its head, it looked like it was eating. “Why isn’t it dead? how can it be walking around like that? Can it even breathe?”
Greg shook his head, he had no answers for her, the cow looked like it was made entirely of moss. He picked up a pebble that was lying on the tarmac and tossed it onto the moss, it was quickly covered. He pulled his phone from his pocket, maybe the internet would have a solution, maybe it was just a rare natural phenomenon. He unlocked his phone then cursed under his breath, no signal. Grace went inside to check hers, she joined him a moment later, useless phone gripped tightly in one hand.

Inside they sat at the kitchen table, sipping their almost cold tea, they had taken a stock of the house and it didn’t bode well. They had enough food to last them a few days, a week at most with severe rationing and enough water to last a few days. Greg had tried to fill the bathtub with water but when he turned the tap nothing came out, not even a drop. They drank their tea in silence, Grace was scared, but angry too, she hadn’t wanted to move out here to the middle of nowhere, not at first, but Brad had managed to convince her. If he had listened to her they wouldn’t be here in this mess, they’d be around people, in a city somewhere and completely safe. Greg stood and moved his cup to the sink, he was going to throw the dregs down the drain, he paused and set the cup to the side, they might be thankful for that later. He looked out the window and frowned, had the moss moved closer? He moved to the backdoor, “What are you doing?”
“It looks like it moved closer, I want to get a better look.”
“don’t go out there. It’s dangerous, we don’t know what that is, what if it releases spores or something?”
Brad rolled his eyes and pulled the door open. He stepped outside into the cool air, it had definitely moved closer. He went to the edge, where black tarmac met startlingly bright green and squatted beside it. He was tempted to reach out and touch it, it looked soft, but he held back. “Well?” Grace’s voice startled him from his thoughts, he jumped then over balanced, he fell forward, hands lunging out to stop him. They sunk into the green moss, it was soft. Then the moss was crawling its way up his arms, down his chest and over his head. By the time he’d fully fallen Brad was coated in it. Grace took a step towards him then stopped, she didn’t want to get infected too. “Brad?”
He didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. He knelt on all fours, shuddering. When it stopped Brad stood and shook his head slightly, like trying to clear away the remnants of a bad dream. He smiled at grace, wide and open, even his teeth had been covered .Grace gasped then turned and fled into the house.

Brad was circling the house endlessly, occasionally he would pull at a door or jiggle its handle, testing. Grace was upstairs, hiding in their room. She could see him from the window every so often, the moss was moving closer too. He hadn’t spoken to her yet, though she’d seen his mouth moving as she watched him. Finally after what seemed like hours he stopped, she watched him go to the garage, he went inside and started rummaging around. A few minutes later he pulled the lawnmower out. Grace’s chest felt tight, it was hard to breath. Saturday morning, that was when he always mowed the grass. She watched as the thing that was Brad dragged the mower across the moss until he was standing where their grass had been. He bent over and tried to start the mower, which was already covered in the moss and after a few pulls on the cord he stood up and started dragging it back and forth, like he was cutting grass with the dead mower. Grace turned from the window, she had a cramping lump in her throat that made it hard to breath. It was too much like him, she couldn’t watch any more.

An hour later and the thing that was Brad put the mower away, closing the garage behind him. Grace was shaking slightly, her eyes burned from crying, her nose was red and sore, wads of tissues were around her. She jumped as she heard someone pulling at the door downstairs, he was trying to get in again. After mowing it was always time for some TV, then lunch. A part of her wanted to go down and let him in, welcome her once husband with open arms and join him in whatever passed for the afterlife. Downstairs she heard the shatter of glass, her breathing quickened as she ran and locked the bedroom door. She heard the front door open and close again, then the sounds of someone sweeping up glass, the swish of the brush, the almost gentle tinkle of glass. Then the TV switched on, the noise was faint but she could just about hear it. Carefully she unlocked the door and crept to the top of the stairs, the door to the sitting room was open and she could just see his green arm on the armrest of the couch. Quietly she crept down the stairs, maybe she could make a break for it? She shook her head, that was crazy, there was no way she could cross that moss, but she could grab supplies while he was distracted.

She moved through the kitchen quickly and quietly, pulling open cupboards and filling a canvas shopping bag with what she could find. She hefted the bag and moved towards the hall, as she stepped out of the kitchen the TV turned off. Grace froze, eyes going wide. The green thing walked out of the sitting room then stopped, surprised to see her. It grinned, a grin that was so like Brad’s it made her stomach twist, but completely alien at the same time. He held up his hands and lightly clenched his fingers. Grace recognised that sign, it was the same one he always gave her before he would chase her down and tickle her until she couldn’t breathe, until she was screaming with laughter and tears ran down her face. She dropped the bag and sprinted to the stairs, Brad leaped forward to block her path but she ducked around him, his fingers trailed along her back and she was gone, up the stairs and into the bedroom. She had it locked before he reached the landing. The thing stood on the landing for a minute, then there was a soft, gentle knock. She knew that knock too, the soft, gentle tap tap tap letting her know he was here if she wanted him, if she’d forgiven him for what ever he had done. She sighed in relief as she heard the creak of the stairs. He was leaving. Grace stood from the door and moved around the bed, she expected to see him outside in the garden again but there was no sign of him. The moss was almost touching the house now. She turned, her heart leaping as she caught sight of bright green, then she let out a slow breath, he hadn’t gotten in. She frowned at the mirror, then crept towards it, not wanting to see. Slowly she turned and looked over her back, the back of her top was encrusted with the moss, she let out a strangled cry and ripped the top off her, hoping that somehow she was safe. As she wrestled it off herself she felt the cool softness of it against her skin, finally free she let the top drop to the ground, by the time it landed Grace was covered in moss. She stood there for a moment, then twitched. she breathed in deeply then moved towards the door, unlocking it. She went downstairs, Greg was sitting at the kitchen table, a mug with a teabag and nothing else in it sat in front of him. He stood when he saw her and held out his arms, Grace went to him, feeling his arms enclose her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, inhaling the light mossy scent that surrounded them both. Outside the moss grew across the house, coating it as it had coated the couple inside.

Out in the Darkness. Short Story.

Nancy pulled the blanket tighter about herself as the wind shook the trees against the sitting room window. She made a mental note to talk to Hanna about getting someone in to cut the trees back a little, then promptly forgot about it. The fire crackled in the hearth, providing heat that Nancy just couldn’t seem to feel. The heating had been on all day and she spent most of the afternoon in the sitting room, doors closed and fire blazing, blankets layered across her lap. She had a sip of tea, now only lukewarm, and changed the channel on the TV. Outside the tree tapped on her window again, the sound reminded her of something, though she couldn’t quite place it. Nancy dismissed the feeling and pulled the blanket closer. She’d have to have a talk with Hanna, maybe there were some drafts and she hadn’t realised, she couldn’t even remember that last time she was this cold. A voice spoke up at the back of her mind, soft but with a hard edge, “that isn’t true, you do remember.” she frowned at that. The weather had taken a turn about three days back, the mild, wet winter they’d been experiencing giving way to the freezing winds. The scent of snow hung on the cold air, fresh and promising, Nancy always loved that smell, ever since she was a little girl. The tree hit against the window again, only this time it was a gentle scratching sound, it sent a chill through her already cold body and she remembered the last time she had been this cold.

She had been fifteen and finishing up her shift at the store, outside it was already dark and the store was mostly empty. Keith, the manager, was somewhere in the back. Nancy didn’t mind working in the store too much, it was easy enough work and most people were nice enough. The only thing she hated was walking home during the dark, winter nights. Nancy buttoned up her coat and shoved her hands in her pockets, she’d forgotten her hat and scarf in her rush to make it to the store on time. It hadn’t been too noticeable then when the sun was shining down on everything and the wind had fallen still. Now the wind was blowing steadily and the air was frigid. She stepped out into the street and for a second found it hard to breath. The feeling passed and she took a deep breath, smelling the snow on the air. She smiled, Nancy always loved the snow and as she started to walk a few solitary flakes started to fall.

Ten minutes later and Nancy felt frozen to the bone. Snow was falling steadily around her, thick flakes drifting to the ground. Her ears were burning with the cold and she had a strange feeling that she’d never feel warm again. She paused at the intersection then turned down the alley, it would cut off a good ten minutes of her walk, her parents didn’t like her going down it but on a night like tonight she wanted to be home as quickly as possible. The alleyway was poorly lit and seemed darker than usual. Nancy kept a steady pace, ignoring the pounding of her heart and the sudden bloom of fear. She wasn’t a child any more and it was just an alley, she knew there weren’t monsters lurking in the dark. A figure lunged out of the darkness and she shrieked arms going up, Mr. Franklin from down the road stood in front of her, his eyes wide and staring, alarm replaced by concern Nancy touched his arm gently, “Mr. Franklin? Are you OK? Did something happen?”
“It’s coming again. I have to warn them. Have to warn everyone. It’s coming.” he looked at her, his eyes suddenly focusing, “Nancy? What are you doing here? Get home, now. Don’t talk to anyone on the way either it isn’t safe.” his head whipped around, he let out a strangled yell, “it isn’t safe. Get home and stay there!” and before Nancy could say anything else he took off, half running, half stumbling through the alley and out of sight. Nancy stared after him for a few seconds, torn by indecision, should she go after him? He didn’t seem to be in his right mind after all and if he was lost or confused. A freezing wind tore through the alley with a howl, Nancy stiffened, the cold stole that last of the warmth she had, shivering she turned and started to walk again. He would be fine, of course he would. She’d let her parents know when she got home, they’d know what to do, she wasn’t dressed for this weather and Mr. Franklin had been dressed warmly.

That night Nancy lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Her parents had rang the police and last she heard they’d found Mr. Franklin, he’d been going through the town raving at people and was currently safe and warm in the local police station, sleeping off whatever he had drank. She shivered beneath her heavy blanket, the cold had gotten into her bones and she couldn’t seem to get warm again.

Nancy slipped from her bed and put on her slippers and dressing gown. Normally she brought a glass of water to bed, but with all the excitement of the night she’d forgotten and now her mouth and throat were dry. She crept across the landing and down the stairs, avoiding the parts the creaked. She didn’t bother turning on the lights as she went, she knew where everything was. In the kitchen she grabbed a glass then went to the sink. She peered out the window that was just above it, into the darkness and the sheet of falling snow in front of her. It was still coming down pretty heavily out there, maybe school would be cancelled tomorrow. She turned on the tap and started to fill her glass, listening to the pipes gurgle. Outside something moved amongst the snow. It was too dark to get a proper look, but it was large. Nancy frowned and squinted, trying to see something, anything but it was too dark. Then something was pressing itself against the window, Nancy stood frozen as she looked at the creature. It tapped on the glass gently, almost as though testing it. It had two dark eyes, a cruel, hooked nose and a short gash of a mouth. Its eyes met hers and it grinned, even though it looked like a man Nancy knew in her very soul that it was anything but. The thing winked, then it was gone from the window. Nancy’s glass overflowed, bitingly cold water washed over her hand and she dropped her glass with a startled gasp, it clattered as it landed in the sink.

By the time Nancy slipped back into her bed she had convinced herself it was just a trick of the snow and her overactive imagination. As she rolled over she heard a gentle scratching against her window. She nestled deeper into her blanket and squeezed her eyes shut. She had the urge to look, to get out of bed and walk to the window, the pull it open and let the cold night air in. Her stomach twisted, nausea building, the urge turned deeper, into a maddening need, an itch that she refused to scratch and still she heard that gentle sound that seemed to fill the entire room. There was a loud bang on the window, Nancy jumped her eyes opening. The scratching had stopped, she needed to know. She swung her legs from bed and stood shakily, goosebumps rippling across her skin. She walked to the window and gently pulled back the curtain revealing her empty window. She let the curtain drop back into place and went back to bed feeling foolish. She was just a little jumpy from her scare earlier. That was all. Nancy repeated it to herself again and again, but still she couldn’t’ seem to believe it. Eventually she fell into a fitful sleep filled with dark and violent dreams.

When she woke the next morning her parents had been sitting at the table in the kitchen, clutching cups of black coffee, her mother was pale, her father looked angry.
“Schools cancelled today.” her father’s tone was sharp.
“Snow day?”
her mother and father shared a look, “No, something happened last night, there was-”

“Joseph!” her mothers voice was high and slightly scandalised.
“What? What happened?”
“She’s going to find out sooner or later. It’s all the kids will be talking about, hell it’s all anyone will be talking about.”

Her mother was silent, “some people were attacked last night. Killed they think. They’re not sure.”
Nancy frowned, “what? How are they not sure?”
Her father looked at his coffee, “they didn’t find any bodies, but there was blood. Lots of it.”
Nancy sat at the table, feeling light headed. “Who? Who was it?”
Her parents shared a look, “we’re not sure yet, they haven’t released the names, but we know three of them were kids.”
Nancy felt her stomach clench, “Three of them? How many were there?”
Her mother slammed her hand on the table causing them all to jump, “That’s enough I don’t want to hear anything more about it. It was just a drifter, that’s all. The police will catch him and everything will be all right.”
An image flashed in Nancy’s mind, the man she had seen last night, maybe it wasn’t a dream. She opened her mouth to speak and her mother gave her a hard look, Nancy closed her mouth again.

In the end twelve people were killed, six children, six adults. Nancy didn’t know any of them personally, but she knew of most of them. The killer was never caught and the bodies had never been found. Most people seemed to think that Mr. Franklin had been involved somehow, he kept raving about the killings, he always seemed to know the nights something would happen. After the seventh victim a mob, consisting of the family of the victims went to his house. Mr. Franklin hadn’t been seen after that and the police were too concerned about the murders to worry about a crazy old man going missing.

A log in the fire popped, startling Nancy out of her memories, it was happening again. She could feel it. What ever that thing she had seen was, it wasn’t human and it was coming back. She stood from her couch, disentangling herself from the blankets. She needed to get to the phone, needed to warn someone before it happened again. She didn’t know how she’d get people to believe her, but she’d find a way. The scratching at the window came again, but it was different this time. Nancy froze, then slowly turned around, he was standing at her window, he raised his hand slightly in a half wave, around him snow was falling steadily. Nancy let out a shriek, she turned from the room and ran. Panting, Nancy stood in the kitchen, searching for the phone, it wasn’t in its cradle, as she searched she curse under her breath. How many times had she told Hanna if she used the phone she was to put it back in the god damned cradle? She could hear it tapping at the window in the kitchen, she refused to look, some part of her knew that if she just didn’t look everything would be fine but that need was back, that itch she knew she shouldn’t scratch. She felt herself turning, eyes rising and meeting the gaze of the thing on the other side of the window. It smiled at her, a slow, lecherous smile that made her stomach drop. Nancy started moving forward, unable to stop herself, she moaned as her shaking hand reached towards the latch, her hand gripped it, feeling the cold metal beneath her fingers. It turned and opened, the lock opening with a gentle, light click that filled her ears. The wind caught the window and blew it open, ripping it from her grip, thick heavy snowflakes blew into the kitchen, melting as soon as they landed. The creature was suddenly inside, she hadn’t seen it climb through the window, it was just there, in front of her. It nodded at her, the gesture was startlingly friendly and familiar, a quick “nice to see you again.” then it lunged. Nancy started screaming, a high shrill sound that was suddenly cut off.

Hanna let herself into the house, she stepped inside and stopped, it was freezing in here, did something happen to the heating? It had seemed fine yesterday. “Nancy? Everything OK?” Hanna didn’t bother stripping off her jacket or gloves, she opened the door to the sitting room and peered in, it was empty. She moved into the kitchen, Hanna pushed the door open and stopped. The window above the sink was open letting in the cold air and there was blood, so much blood, it seemed to have covered everything. Hanna fumbled for her pocket, wrestling to grab her phone with fingers that felt numb and somehow too large at the same time. After what seemed like an eternity her phone was finally in her hands and she called the police, fighting against the vomit that was at the back of her throat. She left the kitchen and stumbled into the sitting room, half collapsing on the couch where she’d remain until the police arrived, phone still gripped tightly in her hand

Life. Flash Fiction.

Patrick took a sip of his coffee, in front of him was a croissant, he picked it up and took a bite, the buttery flavour filling his mouth. Across from him Sherry drained the last of her coffee from her cup in one large gulp, “I’ve got to get going, see you later tonight?”
“Yeah, do you want me to cook dinner?”
“That’d be great, I’m don’t feel like eating out again.” Sherry stood and after giving Patrick a quick kiss she left the coffee shop. Patrick took another bite of his croissant and another sip of coffee, he felt a strange pang in his stomach, a second later a small flashing icon appeared. Sighing, Patrick stood and wound through the tables of the coffee shop, he stepped outside into the bright sunlight and began the walk home. It was a short walk but he was feeling antsy, he kept looking around himself as he went, wondering if people could tell, if they knew. He made it back to his apartment without seeing anyone he knew, which was a bit of a relief. The flashing icon was red now, he had to hurry.

Patrick sat on the comfortable couch and closed his eyes, a second later he opened them. The room had changed, gone were the carpet and soft furnishing, instead he was in a small room, about five feet by five feet. The machine whirred and ticked as he stepped out of it, already hating the way everything felt. The cold grit beneath his feet, the shiver of goosebumps across his body. He stumbled to the door and pulled it open, revealing a larger room, this one had a small table and chair, in one corner there was a sink, across from it was a toilet, a fridge had been shoved into one corner, Patrick went to it, muttering to himself. God damned machines always breaking down, his feeding tube had gone offline about two weeks back and they still hadn’t fixed it. It had been hell keeping it a secret from everyone, how would they react if they knew he wasn’t important enough to have his tube replaced immediately? It happened to Gary, his and Sherry’s neighbour, a year back and his had been replaced within the day. Patrick pulled open the fridge and grabbed out a meal pack. He tore the foil wrapping on it and started eating the flavourless block. His stomach growled as he ate it, wolfing it down as quickly as he could. That was one of the great things about Life, the food there was flavoured and delicious. He finished the bar and let the wrapper drop to the floor, joining the other wrappers strewn across it. At least the company were giving him food blocks to keep him going until they fixed everything and the waste disposal unit was still working too, thank god for small favours. He glanced out the window, the sky was a flat, lifeless grey, everything here was a drab, lifeless grey, the sky, the ground, the buildings. He caught sight of a clump of green, probably weeds. Tall towers were dotted across the landscape, buildings just like his filled with hundreds of thousands. Most people lived in the small room that contained their access Pod, Patrick, being wealthy enough, had the luxury of this extra room. He shook his head, it was always so ugly out here, but then why did that even matter? Hell most people never see it anyway. He turned from the window and went back into the room with the pod, quickly getting back into it. It took a second for the machine to start then everything went black. A second later his apartment appeared and he felt the soft couch beneath him. He went to his computer and wrote another email, maybe this would be the one that would get them to hurry up. He had to get this fixed before anyone found out, if Sherry knew she’d probably leave him and he’d lose all of his friends too. They’d be afraid that his lower standing would infect them. It was funny, how much he’d taken it for granted, he was wealthy, of course he was, but he hadn’t nearly as much as he thought. It had seemed that over the years the fortune had been slowly drained away. As it was there was a danger of them moving him to a new place in the Outside, he’d be stuck in one of those small boxes, like all the other poor people. The thought of it made his skin crawl as he imagined being in just a small room. He pushed the thoughts away, he had to act normal and remain calm. It would be fixed soon, of course it would. He went into the kitchen and started pulling out ingredients, he had spent longer Outside than he had intended and Sherry would be home soon, it was time to get started on dinner, he still hadn’t gotten another job and she wouldn’t be impressed to come home to an empty table. Things had to be normal, he had to be normal.

Exodus. Flash Fiction.

Margaret leaned back, tilting her head up towards the sky as she watched the ships launch. She held her breath as they rose through the sky, then finally she released it in a long sigh. She could hear people shouting and screaming on the streets, cheering at the rockets overhead. Margaret didn’t feel their joy, Owen was on one of those ships. She always thought there’d be more time, that they could take things slow. They signed up for the lottery together, dreaming of a life built among the stars. They never thought that only one of them would be picked. He had tried to back out, give his spot to someone else but she insisted, she didn’t want him giving up his future just for her. It wasn’t fair or right to ask that of him. The planet was too full, to make life possible for everyone, some people had to go, that was just how things were. New planets were being seeded across the galaxy, the rockets would ferry them to the great ships and from there they’d start their journey. For Owen the journey would pass in a blink of the eye but she would be long dead when he finally reached his new home. Part of her understood those celebrating below and she did want to join them, all this space, this freedom. Almost half the population were leaving the planet, maybe now those left behind would have a chance, after all the earth could support their numbers now.

Margaret heard the door behind her open, she didn’t turn to look, she couldn’t seem to take her eyes from the sky. She felt hand on her shoulder, “He’s better off up there.”
“I know.”
She heard him sniff, “you’re mother would have loved to see this. She’d have loved to be up there, going on such an adventure.” Margaret didn’t look at her father but she reached up and took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. She felt a sudden wave of guilt, she had been so focused on going she hadn’t spared much of a thought for who she’d be leaving behind. In all her fantasies of life on a new planet with Owen, her father had just been there, part of the scenery. He never signed up for the lotto, he said he couldn’t bear to leave behind their small apartment, the memories there. He sat down beside her and pulled her into a hug and together they looked up at the stars.

The Sickness. Short Story.

John walked down the empty street, his breathing was slow and heavy, each breath came with a wheeze. Occasionally he would stop and hawk up a lump of phlegm, spitting it onto the ground. He ignored the twin streams of mucous running from his nose. He’d been sick for two weeks now and it seemed like he was the last person left in the city. When rumours could still circulate he’d heard the other cities weren’t fairing much better, at this stage he could be the last man anywhere. He was tired, so very tired but he kept going. Around him the street lights began to grow brighter, it was dawn. He started coughing, each cough tore at his chest, his vision started to swim, John stumbled forward then dropped to his hands and knees until the fit passed. He spat on the ground again, ignoring the flecks of blood that streaked through the mucous. Slowly he got to his feet, that alone took almost all of his strength, but he was nearly there now.

He stopped outside the door, it was smaller than he remembered, less imposing, about eight foot tall and ten feet wide. John went to the small computer screen at the side of the door. He’d soon find out if he was right or not. He pressed a few buttons before he found the option he was looking for. He clicked open, a woman’s voice spoke from the wall, startlingly loud in the quiet “Opening the door will expose you to harsh conditions outside and may mean your death. Should the doors fail to re-engage it would mean the destruction of this city. Do you wish to continue?” he clicked yes. His throat was sore, each time he swallowed it felt like he was swallowing razor blades. He hadn’t spoken since Matilda died a few days before, he wasn’t sure if he still could, most people couldn’t at the end. A siren started blaring from the door as red lights began to flash, “I require identification from the highest ranking member of the community. Please look directly into the camera for your retinal scan.” John moved closer, here went nothing. The computer scanned him and quickly located his profile, “John Henry Adams, you are cleared to open the door.” he stared at the screen, he didn’t expect it to actually work. So it was true, he really was the last one left. There was a loud, high pitched whine followed by a deep grinding noise, the ground around him trembled as the door opened. How long had it been sealed? Someone somewhere must have known but he didn’t. He knew what had been outside, before the bad things happened. He knew that there had been life, animals and trees and plants but now there was nothing left but great desolate plains, filled with nothing but ash and death. Still, he wanted to see it, before he died, feel wind on his face, see the world that they had come from. Besides, what did it matter now? He was dead already, he was just waiting for his body to get the message. The door revealed a large room, thirty feet by forty, it was brightly lit by intense flood lights, empty biohazard suits lined the walls. He stepped into the room and as soon as he crossed the threshold the door started to close again. The voice spoke, “Warning: Once you leave the city limits you may not be able to re-enter depending on your level of contamination.” John ignored the voice and shuffled across the room to the final door, it was as large as the first, there was another computer pad here, “please confirm retinal scan.” John moved closer to it. He was feeling weak now, he didn’t have much longer. He leaned against the wall as the computer scanned him, “Retinal scan confirmed. Door will open in five minutes.” John let out a surprised gasp that turned into a coughing fit. Did he even have five minutes? He shuffled to the edge of the door and leaned against the wall, letting it support his weight. Slowly he began to slide down it, he didn’t have the energy to stop himself.

As he waited he wondered what outside would be like, no one had been outside since the city had been officially opened all those years ago, when the doors had been sealed and humanity had been saved. He could be the first human to go back outside since then, all transport was done underground via railway and they had everything they needed in the cities. A siren started blaring, startling John from his thoughts, had it been five minutes already? There was a rush of cold air as the door opened and the air flooded into the room. He breathed deeply then started coughing. His vision swam, darkness crowded the edges of it as bright spots of black and red danced across everything. Finally the coughing slowed, then stopped. He felt light-headed and dizzy, but he wasn’t done yet. He tried to stand, but his legs quivered and shook before coming out from under him. He waited for a moment, getting his breath back, he rolled onto his stomach and started to crawl. His hand reached outside and hit something cold, but surprisingly soft and slightly wet. He peered out at the expanse of green in front of him, it was magnificent. He dragged himself from the doorway, feeling the wind on his face, flowers dotted the grass along with trees, reaching towards the heavens. The sun shone down, warm and comforting.

John rested against the tree trunk, he couldn’t go any further, this was it for him. He ran his hand through the grass again, how long had it been like this? How long had they been kept cooped up in the cities? He wondered if anyone else knew but that didn’t matter, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anyway. He closed his eyes, each breath coming with a wheeze and phlegmmy rumble. Nearby he could hear something moving towards him, he was too tired to feel fear, what did it matter now? A large creature appeared, walking on thin, almost delicate legs. It had brown and white fur, large eyes and slightly pointed ears that stuck up form the top of its head, it leaned down towards him, sniffing curiously. Slowly, gently he reached out and placed a hand on its side, feeling the warmth of it through its fur. He smiled, then closed his eyes for the last time. A second later his hand dropped from the creature sending it bounding off with a graceful leap. John’s chest fell still and with the sound of birdsong in his ears and the feel of wind across his skin he slipped away into the darkness.

Entering the Void. Short Story.

Brenda scowled as the cameramen moved around the room setting everything up. To her right a reporter was chatting with Johnny. The last time Brenda had seen Johnny he’d been full of excitement and ceaseless chattering, now he was pale, his eyes seemed slightly too wide and his shoulders were hunched. She smiled to herself as she passed them by, going out her way to do so, as she past him she leaned into Johnny and muttered “if you’re going to throw up get it in the bin, thanks.” and continued on before Johnny could reply. She felt immense satisfaction at the look on his face, the reporter either hadn’t noticed or chose to ignore her remark. Brenda may have had some of her power wrestled away from her but she could still kick out anyone she pleased. Anyone that was, except Johnny. She looked at the computer screens in front of her, her team were working steadily, checking and double checking everything. She wasn’t concerned with a malfunction or a mistake, the team knew this procedure by heart and could do it blindfolded if needed but still she felt a faint thread of unease winding its way through everything else. This Johnny character was a wild card, he hadn’t been chosen specifically, hadn’t been vetted as the best candidate for the job, no he was here because of a god damned internet contest. She shook her head in disgust feeling the old anger rising again. It should be her god damn it. She pressed a few buttons, fingers slamming into them. She turned from the computer and stepped over a few wires to check the two metal doorways, they were arched, looking almost like empty Gothic window frames. The metal on them was thin, only a an inch thick, but it was more than enough.

Across the room a reporter nudged a cameraman beside her and nodded towards Brenda, “What’s her problem?” The cameraman shook his head, “How the hell do you not know who that is?”
The reporter shrugged, “I don’t need to know, I just need to say the line and that’s it.”
“That’s Brenda O’Connell. The one who invented this machine? The reason why we’re all here.”
“Huh. I thought she’d be older.”
The cameraman shook his head, letting Karen’s inane ramblings wash over him. She was right, she didn’t need to know anything, she just needed to look pretty and say the lines. It didn’t stop her from being any less infuriating, at first Victor believed the whole stupid cute reporter thing had been a shtick, something to get her more fluff pieces but after working with her for two years he’d found that she was exactly who she presented herself as. A pretty woman with nothing between her ears and no desire to be anything else. He knew why they’d sent her here today, they expected failure and wanted a pretty face to soften the blow, to tell the audience they can’t get it right every time. No one here really expected it to work, he’d chatted to most of the other cameramen and reporters, standing around the large table filled with stale pastries and lukewarm coffee. He wasn’t so sure though, someone was backing this with an awful lot of money and a good deal of publicity, why would they bother if they didn’t think it’d be a successful test? He suspected that this wasn’t the real first test, they’d have to have done it before to iron out any kinks and make sure it wasn’t fatal. Johnny broke away from the reporter he’d been talking to and seeing her moment Karen went over, expecting Victor to just follow. He sighed and went after her.
“So, are you nervous?”
“Well, yeah I guess. I mean who wouldn’t be? The first person to be teleported anywhere! I just hope all the pieces come out right!”
Karen chuckled softly, “So, Johnny what made you enter the contest? Did you ever think you’d win?”
“That was the goal, after all it was a competition, but no never in a million years did I think it would be me. I thought they’d choose someone with a background in science, maybe someone in better shape than I am. When my name came up I could barely believe it.”
“You’re married right? How did you wife feel when you won?”
“She was thrilled but a little worried, Anna is always so supportive of everything I do…”
Victor tuned out again.

Brenda pressed a button and felt herself relax a little as a gentle rumble started beneath her feet, the machines in the depth of the building were running smoothly, she scanned the screen quickly, looking for anything out of the ordinary, but all systems were fully operational. She smiled again, this time it looked almost predatory. She went to Johnny and pulled him away from some blonde reporter, interrupting them babbling at each other. “I’ve just started the machines, it will be time soon, are you ready?” He nodded, “Good. Please stand in the staging area for now, it won’t be too much longer.”
Johnny went over to where she had pointed, a small area marked off with strips of tape. “We’re about to see the first attempt at teleporting a human being, if this is successful it will revolutionise the modern world.” Brenda ignored them, of course it would work, what kind of idiot would she be if it hadn’t been tested all ready. As far as anyone outside of the project was concerned Johnny would be the first human through the teleportation gates. They’d never hear of the men and women who had been paraded through it, one after another as they worked out kinks. All in all twelve men and three women had gone through, none of whom had been Brenda, much to her annoyance. She should be the first officially recorded person through the gate, all those cameras should be pointing at her, after all it was her invention, her discovery’s that allowed them to get this far. She knew she’d be remembered but that wasn’t enough, it burned that Johnny would be the first person through, his idiotic smiling face immortalised in textbooks and film for the rest of time.

Brenda looked over the screens again and seeing that everything was optimal pressed the final button. A hush fell over the room as the doorways either side filled with blackness, spreading from the top down, one of the cameramen gasped. The darkness didn’t shimmer or shine, it just was, Brenda looked away, it still made her eyes water a little, her brain trying to make sense of that impossibly black doorway. “Johnny, we’re ready when you are.”
He nodded to himself, then took a deep breath and approached the door.
“The teleportation should be practically instantaneous, it will take the same time no matter how far apart or how close together the gates are.”

Brenda felt a faint thrill of anticipation in her stomach, everyone else who’d gone through it had described it as a little disorientating but it truly was instant. Johnny paused in front of the gate, “Here goes nothing.” Brenda winced a little, that was what he wanted to say? Nothing about what a leap forward it was for mankind or the start of a new chapter? She shook her head slightly and looked down at the computer screens, trying to hide her disgust.

Johnny stepped forward, he expected to feel something as the darkness hit his skin, some kind of resistance, maybe even a wetness, but there was nothing. He strode forward and through the doorway. Johnny found himself surrounded by the darkness, a ripple seemed to spread through it, like water hitting a puddle. The darkness came alive, millions, no billions of things writhed over one another, glistening in the darkness as they reached upward with grasping hands, their heads turned up towards him. Their mouths opened wide as they moaned and screamed, one looked at him, two empty eyeholes staring up at him and then he started falling towards them. He hit the writhing pile of things without feeling anything at all and then he was through. Light, sudden and cleansing, the darkness around him began to break apart, it shattered instantly and he saw the wall of the lab. Around him people were shouting and cheering, Johnny raised his fists in the air and jumped, already the memory of the journey through was gone, leaving nothing behind but a sense of exhilaration, it had worked, it had really worked.

Survival. Short Story.

Vincent walked through the scattered corpses, around them dying fires were smouldering, a thick haze filled the air. He didn’t pause or look at their faces, it was better not to know. When it had began all those long months before he had seen his first dead body, it haunted his dreams, but these bodies were nothing now, just part of the backdrop. It had been a teenage boy who was running just ahead of him when one of the monsters grabbed him. Vincent hadn’t paused, hadn’t stopped, he just kept running, it was the only thing he could do. He made it another twenty steps before something sailed over his head and landed in front of him with a heavy thud. It was the body of the boy, his head ripped from his shoulders, a gaping hole where his stomach should have been. Vincent had been sure he was next, kept expecting something to grab him but nothing did. That night the scene played over and over again in his dreams, the boys body crashing in front of him. When Vincent finally woke from his nightmare he’d just enough time to turn and vomit onto the ground beside him rather than over himself. How many people had he seen killed since? How many bodies? It was an endless parade of death and destruction. He’d seen people torn limb from limb, screaming all the while, he’d seen people killed in the blink of an eye, a giant stone falling from above and crushing them. He’d seen buildings collapse and burst into flames and somehow he’d managed to survive it all.

Vincent kept walking as the military moved in, this was the truly dangerous part. If they noticed him, noticed that he was broad shouldered, that he was still strong, he would face a seemingly simple choice, join the army or die. The truth of the matter was it would be a death sentence regardless of how he chose. The army had been throwing men at the things since it began and still they kept coming. It was all humanity could do to stay ahead of them. He ducked into a dark and half collapsed alleyway, two children, a boy and a girl, were picking through rubble, the girl glared at him as he past while the boy kept rummaging. Vincent kept them in sight until he rounded the corner, it was always better to have your guard up around the kids, they tended to move in packs and didn’t mind using the knives they liked to carry. He moved through an old apartment building, it was leaning drunkenly against its neighbour, looking as though it would collapse any moment. As he moved through what was once the lobby he could hear the noise of people above him, those too stupid or too poor to go anywhere else. Not him, so far the only thing keeping him alive was being on the move. He’d met plenty of people in the last city who told him it was safe, that he should stay, find somewhere and hunker down until it was all over. Three weeks ago it had been destroyed entirely, last he heard there was nothing left but a smoking crater. He picked his way over bits of concrete and rubbish, it looked like someone had attempted to move it all to the side but had given up partway through. Vincent paused at the front of the building, looking out at the rubble strewn street, people were already coming out to scavenge after the last attack, some were crying and shouting as they dug, but most worked silently, looking for food or anything valuable. At one end of the street stood a tall, gangly boy in a green, ill-fitting uniform, it looked as though he had borrowed the clothes from his father and the tightly gripped gun was almost comically oversized, he had wide, staring eyes that were starkly white against his grey, dust covered skin, Vincent guessed he couldn’t be older than thirteen. Vincent stepped from the building and headed off in the other direction keeping himself hunched over, the kid wasn’t exactly threatening but when dealing with someone that young, that untrained and that scared, you never really knew what you were getting into. Somewhere to his left there came a deep, throaty cry and Vincent froze, already people were beginning to scatter, someone ran past him, knocking him down as they went. Vincent scrambled to his feet and started running.

Vincent watched the city burn, people streamed past him in a steady flow, he could still make out people fleeing the city, dark shapes lit only by the leaping flames behind them. The gunfire had stopped, the army had abandoned they city around the time Vincent had made it to the outskirts. Vincent turned from the city and started walking again, he had lingered too long here, growing complacent, he needed to keep moving, needed to stay ahead of the things. Some people were talking, but most trudged forward with their heads down, many of them carried nothing having no time to grab any of their meagre belongings.

Vincent stopped and sat against some rocks. His feet were tired and sore, around him he could smell food cooking over the campfires that dotted the area, his stomach grumbled sullenly. He hadn’t eaten since the day before, but he had gone longer without food. He had been moving with the others from the city and they swarmed across the countryside, picking everything clean. He didn’t know where he was heading, he wasn’t sure if anyone really knew or if they were just following the signs to the next city. A small family huddled around a fire nearby, he watched as the mother passed food to her children, the mother looked up and caught his eye, he saw a flash of fear and she moved closer to her children, Vincent looked away. He wouldn’t take their food, he wasn’t a thief and he wasn’t that desperate, not yet. He stood from the rock and started walking again, ignoring the protesting pain in his feet. If he kept following like this he’d never get anywhere, he’d just be another desperate refugee, penned into a resettlement camp or conscripted. Besides, there was safety in numbers, but it could also attract the wrong kind of attention, all those people, weak and frightened, would make easy pickings for anyone or anything that decided to come along. Vincent spotted an apple on the ground, a glint of green that had mostly been buried in muck, he pulled it out of the mud and quickly wiped it down, the green skin was smooth and unbroken, though he knew he’d have eaten it even if it was half rotted. Vincent ate it quickly, trickles of juice running down the side of his mouth, already things were looking up.

The Ring. Flash Fiction.

Jenny held the ring in a beam of sunlight, watching as the afternoon light glinted across the diamonds. It really was a breath-taking ring and she wasn’t surprised she’d never seen her grandmother wearing it. Her grandmother seemed to favour subtle jewellery, nothing more than a pair of small, diamond stud earrings and little else. Jenny slid the ring onto her finger, marvelling at how perfectly it fit. She, unlike her grandmother, loved wearing jewellery the more it sparkled the better as far as she was concerned. She moved her hand about in the light, this ring would definitely be added to her rotation, only for special occasions of course, she didn’t want to lose something so beautiful and so precious. She considered the ring on her finger for a moment, it wasn’t a special day, not really, but the ring was just too perfect to take off.

Jenny reached for her coffee, ring shining in the harsh lights of the coffee shop. A man nearby smiled, Jenny didn’t notice as she doctored her coffee, adding a splash of milk and a dash of sugar. Without looking she left the coffee shop, the man stood and followed, hardly able to believe his luck. He had been searching for that ring for years, decades and here it was, in some unremarkable coffee shop worn by an unremarkable girl. Sure, she was pretty enough if one noticed those kinds of things but as the years went on the man found himself noticing them less and less.

The man followed her through the day as Jenny wound her way through her errands. He was finding it frustrating how she never seemed to find herself alone, not even in the aisles of the grocery store. He just needed a moment that was all, just long enough to snatch it from her finger. Jenny exited the store, arms laden with shopping bags. She walked through the car park, she reached her car and put the bags down, seeing his chance the man lunged. He pulled her down and kept her close to the ground, “Don’t scream, don’t make a sound and I won’t hurt you.” His breath was hot against her face and carried with it a fetid stench that reminded her of spoiling meat. His hands scrabbled at hers as he stripped the ring from her finger. She realised what was happening and snatched her hand away, but the ring was already gone. She moved to hit him, before she could he struck her hard across the face, an open handed slap that disorientated her. “it isn’t worth your life. To you it’s just a thing.” With that his crushing weight left her body and he was gone. Shakily Jenny stood and looked around the car park, people were milling around but there was no sign of the man. Her hands were shaking and her heart was beating heavily in her chest as she scrabbled to open her car, once inside she locked the doors. After a moment she burst into tears, once she had calmed herself she turned on the engine and pulled out of the spot, not remembering the bags of groceries she left on the ground.

The man looked at the ring in front of him, he had actually found it after all these years. He slipped the ring on and felt a rush of anger through him. The man glanced down at the ring, “I’ve missed you too sweetheart.” with a small smile he stared at the ring, it was almost as beautiful as the soul of the woman he had made it from.

Settlers. Short Story.

Sandra pulled the door open, she ignored the squawking voice of the secretary to her left as she barged into the office, President Grayson was sitting behind his large desk, framed by a larger window that looked out over the valley, the green lie framing him perfectly. He looked up from his work, startled from thought, his pen freezing mid-stroke. “Sandra, what’s-” before he could finish his question she slammed down the basket of vegetables, the top of it was covered by strands of wheat, their golden colour was spotted with dark red and black spots. “It’s spreading. It’s still spreading and you’re doing nothing about it.”
His receptionist was standing near the door, “I’m so sorry President Grayson, I tried to tell Minister Williams that you were busy.”
“That’s OK Amanda, I have some time to meet with her, thank you.”
Amanda left the room, closing the door quietly behind herself.
She grabbed the wheat and slammed it onto the table, then she started pulling fruits from the basket, apples, pears, carrots one after the other and each had those same red black spots. “We’ve been trying everything to keep this stuff under control and nothing works.”
Grayson sighed and put the pen down, “I know. We’re looking into it and working as fast as we can but we’re not set up for this kind of research or development, not yet. There will be an announcement about it today. I am well aware of how bad the problem is, look.”
He gestured at the window behind him, they were standing at the highest point in the valley, Sandra stepped around the desk and looked out, she felt her stomach drop, first at the height then at what she saw. She put her hand to her mouth, she could see the infection from up here, the dark stains against the green of the trees and the gold of the wheat.
“It isn’t just you and your farm, it’s the whole valley. Hell, probably the whole planet.”
She turned to him, face pale, “How? I thought this kind of thing was tested for”
he shrugged, “The planet was seeded about twenty years ago, since then everything has been growing without problem. All the tests showed it as perfect. We don’t know what this is or why it’s spreading. It isn’t like any fungal or bacterial infection we know of on Earth. They may have similar colourings but they act in a completely alien manner, its spreading pattern is unlike anything we’ve seen before, it spreads against prevailing winds, it spreads to fields miles away. Tonight we are introducing a new measure, any crops found to be infected will need to be destroyed, it’s the only chance we have for stopping its spread, conventional methods just aren’t working.”
Sandra stumbled from the window and sat down heavily, “How fast does it spread? It only started appearing in the last week or so.”
President Grayson shook his head,, “It was first discovered two and a half weeks ago, Elena Jacobson found it in her strawberries and it has spread like wildfire since.”
“What if we can’t stop this?”
“Well, we’ll still have the animals so that should keep us going until we can get to the bottom of this. I’ve sent a distress call to Earth, it should arrive in a year. We just need to survive two years and we’ll have a solution.”
“I don’t know if we’ve got that long. I’ve heard rumours that Jensen’s cattle showed some signs of the infection. I went to go check but he denied it, I just thought it was rumours but what if it isn’t?”
“Jesus.”
“If this has spread to the animals then we don’t have two years.”
President Grayson shook his head, “Tonight I’ll announce the introduction of rationing. I’m also calling for people to can and store any fruit, vegetables or meat they can. The more we can stockpile before the rot gets to it the better.”
Sandra looked at him for a moment, “Do you think we can survive this?”
“What choice do we have?”
“How did something like this happen? Why didn’t it show up on any tests?”
The President laughed, “Do you know how expensive this mission was? Sending humans to a habitable planet? They sent out machines to test the atmosphere, to test the ground, they planted seeds and once they confirmed they were growing and growing well that was all they needed to know. Everything else would be learned on the fly. Those tests looked for anything that might immediately endanger human life, that was all. Hell, on the other side of this world there’s a species that look similar to wolves, only they’re the size of elephants. This was simply the safest spot for humans to build up a community and build up our defences. We weren’t given the supplies or equipment to deal with this kind of threat.”
“Well why not? Shouldn’t that be the first thing to be sent with us?”
“The more advanced equipment is to come with the second wave in ten years, once we’ve tamed this place a little, we’re just here to clean the house and turn the heating on.”
“How could they have missed this?”
“It could be a long life cycle, like the Cicada’s back home. Sure it’s poisonous to us, but maybe it isn’t poisonous to the local inhabitants. I’ve already been sending out foraging missions, we’re still testing to see if they’re edible but that’s a slow process, it wasn’t to start until the next wave and we won’t fully know if it’s safe or not until someone eats it. Even then what kind of problems could it bring down the road? Disease? Cancer?”
Sandra sat back in her chair, “What will we do? What the hell can we do?”
The president shook his head, “We can hope, we can try to survive. Nature has a way of balancing itself on earth, perhaps the same is true for here. Maybe the infection will stop on its own or we’ll stumble on a solution. We’re not out of options yet. I’ve already sent for help, it will take a while to arrive, but it will arrive. We have safe drinking water, we still have food supplies, there are still plenty of earth native plants in the area that are uninfected. We do have a fighting chance, no matter how hopeless it might seem.”
The buzz of the intercom startled them both, “President Grayson, you’re three o’clock has arrived.”
“Thank you Amanda, I’m just finishing up here.” he released the button, “I’m sorry Sandra, but I can’t miss this meeting, I should be done around four if you would like to wait. I’m going to announce this to the Ministers at five, then to the rest of the settlers at seven tonight.”
“No, I have some things I need to check on now. I’m going to go see where else it has spread to.”
President Grayson nodded, not bothering to point out he already had people do that. Sandra was stressed and when she was stressed she needed to keep herself busy.
Sandra stood, as did President Grayson, as she reached toward his hand her eyes moved past him to the valley below. It had only been a short while she had last looked out but it seemed as if the rot had spread even further. She felt a wave of nausea building at the back of her throat.
She left the office, already planning where she would go next. President Grayson glanced out the window, he tried to put a brave face on it for Sandra as he would for everyone else, but from what he’d been told so far it wasn’t looking good for anyone. He pulled his eyes from the large spots of blight in the green of the valley, he could feel the tightness in his chest and a small squirming snake of anxiety constantly moving inside his stomach. His next appointment walked in, “please for the love of God tell me you’ve good news.”
The man glanced down at the ground, “nothing particularly promising yet but we’re exploring some new avenues that we think could be effective in-” it would all be in the report later, he knew Kevin, knew by him that they had nothing. He nodded at all the right places, pretending that Kevin’s fake jocularity was working, that he truly believed they would be saved and still that snake writhed in his stomach.

In the Woods. Short Story.

Josh reached a large outcrop of rocks, feeling a little hungry and tired he sat on one and took his lunch from his bag. It was nothing fancy, just a sandwich, a thermos full of tea and a bag of crisps. He ate slowly, enjoying the view and the warm sun on his back. The trail he was walking was easy enough but he was still struggling a little, he wasn’t used to much exercise these days. He looked at the mountains and forest that stretched out before him, he snapped a quick photo with his phone maybe if he could show Melissa how beautiful it was out here she’d be more inclined to join him. Once he finished he tidied away his things and started walking again, the trail should take him another two or three hours depending on how often he had to stop for breaks.

He never realised how loud the city was until he was out here, it was so peaceful without the constant rumble of traffic, the screaming and shouting, the thick smell of car exhaust. Out here he could hear birds chirping to one another, the rustle of the wind through the trees. It really was beautiful, even though he was feeling a little tired he felt strangely invigorated. There was something about being out here, alone with nature, it felt, good, right.

Josh pulled his phone from his pocket, he opened the text from Melissa, “Looks beautiful! Hope you’re having fun xxx” he typed out a quick response and started to put his phone back into his pocket, it slipped from his fingers, landed on the ground then bounced into the bushes. Fuck. He chased after his phone, which had slid down a small hill. He could just see it’s screen glinting in the sunlight. Cursing to himself he made his way down the hill, it was steeper than he expected and he almost slipped twice. Finally he picked up his phone and started wiping it off. Somehow the screen wasn’t cracked and it seemed mostly unharmed with only a few scratches and dents. He looked up the hill, it really was much steeper than it looked coming down, he was lucky he didn’t fall and break his neck. He started to climb it, but a few feet up the soil became loose beneath his feet sending him sliding backwards, he wasn’t going to be able to climb the hill. He looked around for a moment, he knew where the trail was, he just had to walk parallel to it until the hill dipped a little and he could climb back up. He started walking, as he went he kept his head down to watch where he was going, the last thing he needed was a root or branch to snag his ankle. He was almost in the bushes when he noticed that they weren’t just bushes, they were thick brambles with sharp thorns. The hill was still too steep and he couldn’t see where the brambles stopped but they couldn’t last forever. He could go around them easily enough and circle back.

Josh wiped some sweat from his forehead, the brambles were blocking off more and more the further he went, they were growing up the small hill and blocking any path back to the trail. He knew he just had to keep going but he was starting to get frustrated. It had been such a nice day out until he dropped his damn phone and since then things were just getting worse and worse. He stood for a moment, debating his options, he could continue trying to skirt these brambles, or he could go deeper into the woods and have a clearer path. He turned and moved into the woods, it was the fastest way to get back to the path.

Josh paused, had he heard something? It sounded like something large falling into a bush. After a few seconds he started to walk again, it was probably just some animals looking for food. He moved back towards the direction of the path, he’d been walking through the woods for a good twenty minutes now, there was no way the brambles would extend this far. He was starting to feel a little better, after all this was just a short detour and the view, though limited, was still nice. A breeze blew through the trees bringing with it the scent of sweetness, Josh breathed deeply and smiled.

Had he gotten turned around? Josh spun slowly in a circle, he thought he was walking back to the path but he’d been walking for almost ten minutes and he should have come across the brambles or the path by now. He turned and started retracing his steps, it was this way, right? He stopped. No, it was the other way. “Fuck!” why had he spun around like that? He’d gotten himself all mixed up. Josh spotted a tree and smiled triumphantly, he recognised that tree, he’d seen it only a few minutes ago, it had a reddish moss growing on it. OK, good, great, that was the way he came, he could just go back that way and it would bring him to the path. He felt a faint thread of unease in his stomach as he started to walk.

Half an hour later Josh stopped walking, he had to admit it now, he was lost. He had managed to get himself turned around somewhere, feeling a pit of dread in his stomach he pulled out his phone. It was going to be so mortifying to call for a rescue, but at this point he didn’t see what his options were, he couldn’t just traipse around the forest and hope to run across someone after all. He unlocked his phone, well that was just great. He’d no signal, of course he didn’t have any god damned signal. He took a slow breath, he just had to think this through. He had been going downhill, there were trees and mountains around it had to be blocking his signal, he just had to get higher, that was all. To his left the land sloped gently upwards, Josh started walking.

Three hours later and he still had no signal, he had tried yelling for help about two hours back but all that got him was a hoarse and dry throat. He didn’t want to drink his water too quickly, he had brought two litres of it and some tea but he didn’t know how long he’d be out here. He had to start thinking properly, he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes again. To his right he heard a branch snap, Josh turned and saw a man standing in the trees. “Oh thank god. Hi, can you help me? I’ve gotten a bit lost out here.” The man nodded, Josh started walking towards him. “I’m so lucky I ran into you, god only knows how long I’d have been stuck out here, I’m not getting any signal on my phone. If you could just direct me back to the path that would be great.” Josh stopped, the man hadn’t moved at all since that first nod and now that Josh was looking at him properly something was off. He wasn’t dressed for hiking or exercise, he wore a pair of suit trousers and a grey shirt. He looked younger than Josh had first though too, he looked to be in his mid-twenties, with a round, wide face. The man smiled at Josh, “Don’t worry, I can help.” his voice sounded strange, like it was coming from far away. Josh smiled and started walking towards the man again, he was just being silly, besides he needed help and it wasn’t like he was going to run into anyone else out here. When Josh reached him he stuck out his hand, “I’m Josh.”
“Fred.” His grip was firm and warm, Josh noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“What trail were you on?”
“I was on the green one, starting in the west car park, it’s supposed to loop around.”
“Wow, you really have gotten yourself turned around, you’re practically on the other side of the park, how long have you been out here?”
“about three or four hours since I left the trail.”
Fred shook his head, “Rule number one man, don’t leave the trail.”
“I know, I know. I dropped my phone down a hill and went after it, then I couldn’t get back up because the soil was too loose. I tried to get back but brambles were blocking me then I managed to get myself turned around.”
“It happens, easy to do out here if you’re not used to it. You’re lucky you ran into me, there’s nothing in the direction your going for miles. Assuming you kept a straight line and didn’t end up going in circles you’d have been out here for five or six days before you reached another trail.”
“Wow yeah.”
“C’mon lets get going, we should reach the trail and get you home before dark.”

Josh took a swig from his water bottle, “can we take a break for a second, just so I can get my breath back?”
“Sure, no problem, we’re almost there.”
Josh drank another mouthful of water, Fred leaned against a nearby tree and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, “You want one?”
“No thanks.”
“Yeah I don’t blame you. I don’t smoke all that often though, hard to get them out here.”
“Do you live in the woods?”
Fred chuckled, “No, not quite. I don’t make trips into the city all that often though, try to avoid buying them when I do. I mostly go in for shopping, get some food.” he smiled at Josh, “sometimes I get lucky though and the food brings itself to me.” he lunged at Josh, Josh yelped and dropped his water bottle, before he could do anything else Fred slammed into him, dragging him to the ground. Josh felt something hot splash across his legs, there was a deep heat coming from his stomach a second later the pain came and he started screaming. Fred stood and tucked the knife back into the back of his trousers, “Scream all you like.” He bent over and grabbed Josh by the legs then he began to drag him through the woods.