In an effort to hit my 1,000 words/day goal, I’m trying something new: Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. (HT: Sheri Williams) The object is to post a 1,000 word story beginning. Each week, another writer will build on the story culminating in a four-part tale written by four different authors.
I have a definite theme for this piece, and a vague idea of where I’d take it. It will be interesting to see what others do with the story.
Sanctified (Part One)
Marina trudged up the trail. Beads of sweat trickled down her forehead, stinging her eyes. She stopped and leaned her hiking pole against a fat oak trunk. The damp handkerchief in her back pocket smelled of perspiration but was her only means of effectively wiping her brow.
The July heat intensified as the sun peeked out from behind a billowing white cloud. Its beams filtered through the scant canopy of leaves. Sighing, she shook out the handkerchief, grimaced at its icky dampness, and stuffed it back in her pocket.
Grabbing her pole, Marina continued toward the summit—the payoff of her grueling hike. Well, one of the payoffs anyway. She dropped her poles, and they clattered against a boulder on their way to the rocky ground. She stretched her shoulders back and let her day pack fall onto the large rock.
She shrugged and rolled her shoulders, swinging her arms to loosen her sore muscles before plopping on the cool boulder. A resting rock her dad called them.
Finally, she lifted her gaze to the spectacular view. The Susquehanna River, wide and shallow, filled the valley below. Small white caps formed around rocks jutting from the water. A lush green island rose from the middle of the river, a home for waterfowl and a lunch spot for fishermen.
Across the river valley, a rocky mountain jutted from the ground, rising twice as high as the peak on which she sat. The harsh gray stone prevented everyone but the most skilled climbers from reaching its apex. A large bird—a bald eagle?—circled above the mountaintop. It coasted on an air current, circling wider with each pass before disappearing on the opposite side of the mountain.
Marina closed her eyes, savoring the warm sunshine on her face. Up here, alone, everything appeared as it should. Simple. Ordered. Breathtakingly beautiful. Small birds twittered in the trees behind her, rustling the leaves.
A sob choked her throat, and she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and burying her head in her hands. She’d come up her seeking peace, craving solitude and healing. Her heart sunk and her stomach tightened. Peace was as elusive here as it was at sea level. With crushing disappointment, she realized she couldn’t escape the oppressive sadness that cloaked her day and night, week after agonizing week.
Her sins would follow her everywhere she went. The consequences of her choices tripped her up like deep and dangerous potholes, dragging her down no matter which direction she ran.
With a deep breath, she staved off more tears, wiping the salty streaks from her cheeks with the back of her hand. What was the difference? Tears, sweat, it was all the same. Thank God no one was here to see her anyway.
The ice water she’d stowed in the side pouch of her pack remained cool. Tilting the bottle to her lips, she guzzled half its contents. Staring over the outcropping, she scanned the sky for the eagle. Gone.
She turned in either direction, studying the three paths that led back down the mountain. Having made this trek several times, she ticked through her options—the most direct path with its boulder screes and copperhead nests, the long but lazy trail of least resistance, and the only path she’d never taken—a big, fat unknown.
Marina stood and swung the pack onto her back. She adjusted the shoulder straps and jerked the pack into place. More rustling came from behind her as she snapped the pack clips into place. With her poles in hand, she turned and headed for the lazy trail. The climb had been rigorous enough. She deserved an easy return along wide, smooth switchbacks.
A figure emerged from beneath the brush at the entrance to the unknown trail. A man ducked beneath the prickly branches, cursing as he extracted one from his hair. He emerged into the clearing, spotting her in his path.
“Oh. Sorry—about the language. Didn’t expect to see anyone here on a weekday.” He gestured to the scraggly bush that had left a scrape on his temple. A line of blood swelled and beaded.
“No problem.” She pointed to her own temple. “You’re cut.”
He cursed again. “Sorry. Again.” He wiped his fingers over the cut and stared at the blood on his hand. He dropped his small pack and unzipped the top. He crouched and removed a water bottle, rain jacket, camp towel, and bag of trail mix. For a few seconds, he rooted through the bottom of the before locating a small first aid kit replete with a red cross in the center.
“I can’t seem to come out here without some kind of injury.” He smiled. Another drop of blood beaded and trickled down his face. “Could be worse though. I almost stepped on a timber rattler on the way up here. Tucked right on the side of a log crossing the trail.”
He removed a Band-Aid from the container and stripped away the wrapper. Dabbing blindly at the cut again with his fingers, he streaked blood across his cheek.
“Here. Let me.” Marina took the first aid kit, found an antibacterial wipe, and ripped it open with her teeth. She shook open the towelette and reached for his forehead, realizing how tall he was. “Can you, um, crouch a little? I can’t quite—”
“Oh, sure.” He bent his knees, lowering himself a few inches.
She swabbed the cut.
He winced and bit his lower lip.
“Sorry. I’m trying to be gentle.”
“It’s okay. Just stings a bit.”
She nodded and finished wiping. “The Band-Aid?”
He slipped the fabric bandage into her hand, and she pressed it over the open cut, which had turned red again.
“There.” She pressed it softly against his temple and stepped back.
He grinned. “Thanks . . . uh . . .”
Oh. He was searching for a name. “Marina,” she offered, extending her right hand.
He shook her hand. “Thanks, Marina. I’m Chares, by the way. I’m also accident-prone.” He grinned, and his self-deprecating smile lit his light brown eyes.