Quiction Exercise #1 – The Valley

A quick story composed for a challenge I set on Twitter. The prompt from @TheGhostGoat was for a 1,100 word story inspired by Rob Cantor’s “Shia LaBeouf” song.

“We aren’t lost.”

Your laugh returns in broken echoes from the cliffs beyond the trees. The valley itself seems to share in your amusement, chuckling along with you in a chorus that sends birds scattering from the treetops. You stop and she follows suit. She’s got her arms crossed, hips cocked, and a scowl that belies her pretty features.

“You’re full of shit, Carmen,” you say with the smile that’s failed to defuse every argument up to this point. “We’re nowhere near where we’re supposed to be.”

The scowl darkens. “Babe—” shit, you could make margaritas with the ice in her voice, “—you don’t know where we’re supposed to be in the first place. How would you know if we’re lost.”

She’s got you there: the trip, the location, the whole shebang was her idea. For all that you could remember after the drive to the ski area, you might as well have been blindfolded. Still, that wasn’t the point.

“The point, hon, is that you don’t know where we are. I’ve seen you check the GPS a dozen times since we came into this valley.”

“Damned thing can’t lock on a single fucking satellite down here. That’s all. I was checking to see if it picked up anything yet.”

“So we’re l—”

She runs her hands back through her hair and hisses through gritted teeth, “—not lost.”

Your hands go up, palms out. “Alright, Cari. Sorry. Which way from here?”

She wants to throw something back at you, but instead takes a couple of slow breaths. Her finger stabs toward the northeast—at least, you think it’s northeast. “That way. There’s a creek over there and we need water.”

* * *

Son of a bitch, there really is a creek. The trees fade out a few dozen strides from the banks. The grass thins out, too, leaving bare rock. Even with the opens space, it feels oppressive. The air is heavy, but cold. Your hand recoils from the water when it touches your skin. It’s cold, too. Carmen is already sipping from her cupped hands.

“Shouldn’t we filter it or something?” you wonder aloud.

Her blue irises flick in your direction, then roll. “Don’t be a pussy; just drink.”

You tell yourself she’s got more experience. She’s done this hundreds of times. She knows when it’s safe and when it isn’t. You swallow the anxiety and dip your hands into the water. The skin of your fingers feels like it wants to ravel itself all the way up your arms and hide in your pits. Cold as it is, it’s clean. There’s no trace of anything swirling in the eddies around your hands and no sediment on the bottom. The rocks of the bed are clean and barely distorted by the ripples on the surface. You raise your hands up and sniff the liquid cupped in them.

Nothing. No scent at all. You drink and cringe. The taste is like holding a handful of nails and pennies in your hand. You’d almost swear it was blood. The mouthful, though, has made you even more thirsty. Subsequent swallows taste better. Either the first taste was all in your head or you’re getting used to it. Thirst slaked, you turn back to Carmen.

“Still think I’m lost?” she smirks.

You offer a shrug. So she knew where the creek was. So what?

She chuckles, “Stubborn ass,” and stands up.

“You’re one to talk.”

You stand and stretch. Has the air gotten heavier again? Dropping your pack, you pull off your shirt. It’s not any easier to breathe, but for some reason it feels warmer. Carmen’s eyes regard you dispassionately. She’s seen it all a thousand times before. The hazel irises run back up to meet yours. They hold your gaze for a moment before the incongruity hits you.

“Babe, your eyes look weird.”

How did she say what you were thinking? Why did her voice sound different? Your mind is hazy and you shake your head. Something tickles your arms and you look down. Your hair is falling out in clumps. The locks that you’ve always been so proud of catch on your clammy skin on the way to the ground. Your hand reaches up and passes through close-cropped hairs. With the stuff falling out, you should be bald. What the—

“What the fuck is going on?” Carmen rasps.

She’s doubled over, holding her crotch like she’s been kicked. Her hair’s fallen out, too. What remains is short and dark brown. Her knees hit the ground and she screams. He screams. Whatever’s happened to her, it’s not Carmen anymore. You turn and run up an overgrown path.

As the trees close in around you, there’s a burning pain in your chest. You reach up and find your chest flat, like your breasts were never even there. The burning eases, but it’s still hard to breath. You stumble on something and turn to look. White shapes in the gloom, long and thin. Blinking your eyes, you stare at the bones. Human. No. Human…like. The proportions are weird in a way you can’t put your finger on.

There’s a glint, as sunlight pokes through the canopy. A knife sits on the ground between the ribs and the pelvis. Picking it up, you marvel at how right it feels in your hands. The skull grins at you from a few feet away.

Your stumbling gait gets steadier as you reach the cottage. Home. You step in. Home. You walk to the mirror above an altar of bones on the far wall. Your fingers tighten around the grip of the knife as you look upon your features. A shape appears in the doorway, familiar. He walks in and the light falling through the broken roof lights his face.

“Hello, Shia LaBeouf!” you call out with a laugh.

He smiles and embraces you with a grin. “Hello, Shia LaBeouf.”

A twig snaps in the forest up the valley. You and Shia LaBeouf silently slide out the door. Raising your noses to the breeze that carries down the valley floor, you both catch the scent. Someone has stumbled into your hunting ground again. Separating, you both vanish into the gloom of the trees. The valley has been at peace for fifty years. The soil hasn’t tasted blood in so long. The trees have not tasted fear in so long. The knife cries out in your hand, frenzied, excited.

A shape appears between the trees before you. Shia LaBeouf is there in the undergrowth on the other side of your quarry.

The time has finally come to feed.

1,100 words exactly!

Feedback encouraged, critique appreciated!

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