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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flash Fiction: Chuck Wendig Challenge. (Pt 2, the middle bit)

Last week Chuck Wendig posed a challenge: write the first 500 words of a story. Terribly sad I missed that bit. Joining the game a bit late and whatnot, but have jumped on the train with the second part: snag one of the other writer's first 500 and write the middle bit. Hope I didn't go too far off the reservation with this one... I picked up where Chris over at left off. Dear Chris, I am terribly sorry if you are staring at this with abject horror and disbelief. On the other hand, if you are staring at it in abject horror, glee and/or satisfaction, mission accomplished?


Craig had been hiking for two hours when he saw the first carcass.  He stopped, his boots crunching on the hard packed trail, and put his hands on his hips, breathing heavy.

     "What? Bison?" He said out loud to the empty meadow, the grasses turning late summer yellow but still tall and delicate. Undisturbed, except for the matted down area just off the trail.

     Craig squinted.  "Shit.  What a mess."  He took a drink from his canteen.  "You should have got out with your pals."  He lifted the bottle towards the dead animal and drank again.

     The rest of the buffalo.  That was the real reason Craig was up there in no-man's-land Yellowstone, sweating through his shirt, the extra heavy pack rubbing his shoulders raw.  All the other bison were running down out of the hills.

     Minus one unlucky bastard.  Craig figured a grizzly got him.  Recent too, from the looks of things.

     Craig blinked.  He looked around, eyes taking in the meadow, the matchstick stands of spruce and logpole pine, and the snow dusted peaks beyond the ridgeline.  Nothing.

     "Hello bear!" He shouted, and put one hand to the bear spray canister hanging at his hip as he swiveled his head the other way.  "Hello bear!"  Nothing.

     "Good." Craig said, and adjusted his shoulder straps.  Time to get to the first transmitter.  It was pointless, in his mind.  With thousands of seismographs operational, a half dozen dead ones shouldn't matter.  But all those bison heading to lower ground, shuffling along the paved roads like scared cows, had geologists from Utah to Montana scratching their heads.

     So, Craig was half a day's ride and two hours into the Gallatin Range, lugging spare parts and batteries, hoping and praying he had all the tools he needed, on a repairman trip in the wilderness.  To make matters worse, it appeared the radio at the ranger station broke that morning.  No word since last night.

     He saluted the dead animal once more.  "Rest in peace, bud."

     Craig had only hiked ten more minutes when he saw the next two carcasses.  He stopped again, goose bumps breaking out from his neck to his knees.

     "What the hell?"  The shredded remains of two bison lined the trail on both sides.  Something cold turned over in Craig's stomach.  He swallowed, and forced himself to keep walking.

     When he crested the ridge his mouth went dry.  "What the fuck?"

     The transmitting station - the stiff wire fence, the steel casing, and the instruments within - was completely smashed.

     Craig tried the radio.  Only static.  With heart hammering and legs like stones he followed the ridge towards the ranger station.

     He smelled the station before he saw it.  He walked through a stand of logpole, and the fresh, sinus-clearing aroma of pine gave way to the oily, cloying scent of rot.  For the first time, he thought he should run.  

     Craig came out of the trees and his knees gave out.

     "Oh my god."
He felt like a fool for ever having thought the bison had been killed by a grizzly. A bear would have eaten some of the meat, even if it killed out of disease-driven madness. The bison had born no signs of disembowelment or bites.

And neither did any of the rangers.

The same ragged tears, uneven shredding of skin and tissue, was in evidence here. A sense of wildness in the placement, chaos in the scattering. Animalistic. Enraged.

Craig's hands ground into the shale and soil of the earth beside his knees. His fingers clenched into fists, an unconscious spasming that plunged shards of gray rock into the soft skin of his palms.

Coupled with the chaos, the random animal rage, was design. Thought. Intelligence.

A ranger hung cruciform on a support of splintered lodgepole pines. The man was flayed from neck to pelvis, the skin of his back stretched and pinned to glow translucent with the late afternoon sun; a bloody angel poised like a carrion hunter to leap down upon the pieces of the other rangers scattered below his feet.

Two more poles, ragged at the tops as though they had been broken over a giant's knee, had been driven into the hard-packed ground beside the flayed ranger. A female ranger's arms and legs were wrapped in desperation around one pole. Behind her, pulled from her body by impossible means, her skeleton hung askew on the second pole.

Craig's hands tightened, bits of shale bit into his fingers. His breathing was escalating and part of his mind whispered shock, hyperventilation, you are going to pass out.

The rest of his mind was screaming No, no, no, no...

As Craig knelt in the rocky scree, he felt it.

A tremor.

And as it penetrated the shock and panic that had suffused his mind, blanketing thought in a muffled buzz of senses overwhelmed, he realized that he had been feeling the tremor for seconds--minutes?--and it was growing in intensity.

It was not coming from the ground.

The air to the east of the ranger station was...vibrating. Pulsating. Waves radiated from a distortion that twisted Craig's view of the forest beyond. He knew what had blown the seismographs. And it had been no earthquake.

The repair equipment in his pack felt heavy, useless. Something in Craig's eyes, his ears, popped and thin trickles of blood squirmed down his cheek, his neck.

The air in the center of the distortion split, a jagged tearing that should not happen to ephemeral gases, but which mimicked the wounds on the uncountable (was it one? two? five?) rangers scattered across the verge leading to the remains of the station, a shredding of the world before him that looked very much like the torn hides of the bison he had passed on the way up the mountain.

The tremors increased. Craig felt a howl building in his throat as the tear widened and something stepped through.

"No," he whispered, unable to hear his own voice. "Not stepped...fell."