1st Place Winner of Feb 2015 Official WDC "JOURNEY THROUGH GENRES" contest.
Free at last, free at last, was the thoughts racing through the minds of six adventurous teens as their faces were buffeted by the warm sweet smelling wind. They were opening new trails, exploring new territory, delving deep into uncharted wilderness on their new 4-wheelers.
Jeremy and Lily were at the forefront, their mouths gaping wide with screams of delight, their twisting, daredevil speed well past the danger point. Following close behind, Corey and Rachael were enthusiastically determined to pass them and take over the coveted lead.
Bringing up the far rear, Matt and Thomas abided their time, more in sync with the beauty of nature than the euphoric delights of the adrenalin rush enjoyed by the two other couples.
They were miles past the limit set by their parents, who admonished them to go no further than the nearest road junction, Just a few miles past their campsite. However, the annual camping trip was quickly coming to a close and the teens had yet to taste the forbidden fruits of unregimented freedom. In their opinion, their parents were overprotective, overbearing, and determined to spoil their fun.
They were following a narrow trail that twisted and turned and doubled back and finally ended near a large pond almost completely hidden by thick undergrowth and impenetrable blackberry vines. They spotted a small clearing on the far side of the pond where a gentle slope of sandy gravel hampered the wild growth of the blackberries. The water looked cool and inviting. The temperature was well into the mid 90’s and without the wind blowing in their faces, the heat was sweltering.
They forced their way through the brambles to the small clearing. Without a second thought, they quickly removed their outer clothing and waded into the dark tepid water. Matt and Thomas spotted an alternate clearing about forty yards away and decided to leave the – couples - to their own privacy. They were more into the addictive bliss of higher knowledge than the intimidating task of messing around with girls.
“Oh my God!” Lily suddenly exclaimed, pointing at the orange glare of the sun seeping through the thick trees and undergrowth. “The sun’s going down. We’re going to be in deep trouble if we don’t get back to the campsite, like now.” Her concerned gaze focused sharply on the other three. Her almond shaped eyes were in deep contrast to her pink freckled face and curly red locks. She was very slim and barely five feet tall.
“Reckon we better saddle up,” Corey blurted, using his John Wayne imitation. He was blessed with a dreamy dark complexion, dark almost black hair, and eyes that most girls literally swooned over. He and Jeremy were best friends and both serious jocks. Jeremy was endowed with an awesome athletic physique with broad shoulders, blond hair and bronzed skin. His generous mouth almost always sported a wide smile or grin.
Retrieving their clothing, they turned to head back to the 4-wheelers. “Where are Matt and Thomas?” Rachael asked, stopping to gaze out over the pond. Rachael was slim, with long curly dark hair, and a pixie face that often held a mischievous grin. She detested the name Rachael and demanded everyone call her Ray-Ray.
For several minutes they called out with no response. “This is BS!” Corey spat. “Come on, let’s go find those idiot nerds.”
As they made their way through the dense underbrush, the sun slowly began to sink behind the slight rise to their left. As soon as they reached the smaller clearing where the two friends were last seen, they were obviously not there.
“They were here,” Ray-Ray stated. “We saw them from the other clearing.
“Their tracks are all around us,” Corey noted, pointing at the indentations in the sandy mud. He had barely finished that observation when he suddenly stopped and pointed at something about ten feet away. “What the heck!” he stated, his eyes suddenly wide and frozen on the objects.
Draped along a slight incline were the clothes of both the missing boys. What was so unusual was the clothing and sneakers were arranged in such a way that it looked as if they had just lain down and their bodies disappeared. All the clothing was in the correct position.
“What’s going on?” Lily asked with a puzzled expression. “Are they playing a joke on us, or what?”
Corey picked up a stick and saundered over to the clothing. Where the exposed parts of their bodies would normally be; the hands, heads, and possibly ankles, there was a fine powder resembling ashes. The ashes outlined in the form of the missing body parts.
“This is crazy!” Jeremy spat. “It’s got to be a joke. Either that or some Aliens or such burned them to death leaving only their clothes. His eyes were beginning to expand with fright as he slowly glanced around. “What’s that over there?” he asked, pointing near the pond.
“Footprints,” Ray-Ray answered, moving closer to the area.
“Those aren’t any kind of footprints I’ve ever seen,” Lily replied, showing her own growing signs of panic. The prints were large, around ten inches wide and deep and at least a foot long with deep ridge patterns indented in the mud.
“No one I know has a foot that wide,” Corey casually stated.
Suddenly, a loud noise of breaking branches interrupted their thoughts. It sounded as if the creature, or whatever it might be, was slowly moving in their direction.
In panic mode, they quickly ran from the scene trailing screams and yells behind them. After several false turns, they emerged in the spot where they left their 4-wheelers. They could barely see each other in the deepening darkness, but it was obvious they were all scratched and bleeding with torn clothes and twigs and briars matted in their hair.
The 4-wheelers were gone. The deep tire tracks were there, proof that it was the spot where they had left them, but they were missing.
“What do we do now?” Ray-Ray asked, her voice quivering in panic.
They glanced at each other hoping someone else would make a decision. “We walk back,” Corey finally stated. “No choice.”
Another loud crashing sound came from behind them. It sounded like something large moving steadily through the thick foliage, tearing up trees and brush.
They ran and ran until they fell exhausted on the narrow trail, then got up and ran some more. The girls were whimpering and crying, the boys cursing and yelling to hide their fear. At last, when they could absolutely run no more, they bent over double trying to catch their breath. They begin to walk. After several hours of steady walking in the dark, they realized they had wandered off the trail. The moon had finally risen so they could see a little better, although a fog was beginning to develop.
As they reached the crest of a small rise, they spotted a structure in an open clearing, a shed or small barn or something similar. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a sturdy equipment shed with tools and various pieces of building material stacked neatly inside.
“I’ve got to rest for a while,” Ray-Ray stated in a voice barely over a whisper. “Anyway, we’re lost.”
“She’s right,” Lily wheezed. “We’re lost and tired and the more we keep going the more lost we’re going to be.”
“Hold on!” Corey yelled, raising his hand and glancing into the thickening fog. They could hear a heavy crunching sound heading in their direction, growing louder and louder. Suddenly, a monstrous shape took form at the limit of their vision, shrouded in thick billowing fog. The thing was huge and came to an abrupt stop.
“Good God!” Jeremy screamed, his voice breaking into a squeal. Although they could not see it clearly, the thing resembled a giant spider or ant with the tail of a scorpion. It was dark gray or black in color and had one huge eye at one end. It was not moving.
They stood frozen in terror. “In the shed!” Jeremy yelled. “Get in the shed, it looks pretty solid. Maybe that thing won’t see us and keep going.”
They crowded into the small shed and pulled the heavy door shut and huddled together in one empty corner. They heard the thing moving again. The shed vibrated from the heavy pounding of its legs. It suddenly stopped moving again, leaving a dreadful lingering silence.
“I don’t want to die,” Ray-Ray whimpered, holding Corey’s arm in a vice grip. She was shaking in fear and didn’t notice that Corey was shaking as bad as she was.
“It’ll move on,” Lily squeaked. “God, please God, let it move on.” She didn’t even realize that she had fouled herself until a cold damp and uncomfortable wetness caressed her crotch.
They sat huddled tightly for what seemed like hours; thirsty, sore, exhausted, bleeding from a myriad of cuts and scratches, but instantly alert to any possible sounds. However, despite their wretched condition, the adrenalin eventually wore off and they fell into a deep cold slumber.
Jeremy opened his eyes and quickly realized he could see the other side of the small shed. It was daylight, they were still alive. The thing hadn’t eaten them. Was it still out there, he thought, trying to see through a small crack in the ceiling? “Wake up,” he whispered, shaking each in turn. “It’s daylight out.”
The other three came awake instantly, startled by his quiet but forceful tone.
“Is it still out there?” Ray-Ray quietly asked. They all looked as if some giant dog had grabbed them and shaken them like some rag doll.
“Hold on!” Jeremy suddenly blurted. “Something’s coming.”
They heard what seemed to be footsteps approaching the shed. Fearful that the aliens were coming to take them away, Corey grabbed a pry bar from a stack of tools and held it ready. He passed a hammer to Jeremy.
The doors suddenly flew open, spewing blinding sunlight into the shed.
“Hold on!” a man yelled, throwing his arms up to protect his head and backing away from the door. He wore overalls and a baseball cap with a feed mill logo stitched on the front of it. “What in tarnation are you kids doing in my shed?”
Corey and Jeremy sheepishly laid their makeshift weapons down and slowly walked towards the man. “We were hiding from the aliens,” Lily stated, looking past the farmer towards the thick woods.
“Aliens!” What aliens?” the curious farmer asked, glancing around the side of the shed as if he expected to find one hiding there.
“They came in a big terrible machine that looked like a spider or scorpion,” Ray-Ray blurted. “It was horrible looking.”
The man suddenly smiled. “You mean that thing over there.” He pointed behind them. About thirty yards away they spotted a mechanical thing that resembled a huge insect. “That’s a walking harvester,” he continued. Some call it a Modern Robotic Reaper. The logging company is going to start harvesting the timber on my north field today.”
They glanced at each other and smiled.
“Come on kids, my farm’s just over that rise. I’ll take you to where you belong.”
In less than half an hour, they were back at the family campsite. Their parents were just starting to organize a search and rescue to look for them. Despite being angry, they were more relived at having their loved ones back safely.
Matt and Thomas were sulking near their parent’s camper. The bit about the empty clothing and hiding the 4-wheelers turned out to be a prank the two had engineered. They hid extra clothing and a can of ashes in their backpacks.
“Dummies got lost in the dark,” their father stated. “Found them about a mile from here crying like babies. They’ll get what’s coming to them for pulling that stupid and dangerous trick on you kids.”
Word Count: 1994