Up in the Mountains. Short Story.

Jessica stopped running, her chest was burning and it felt like her legs would collapse any second. She leaned against a tree, gasping for breath. They were still out here somewhere, looking for her. She tried to slow her breathing, by taking long, slow breaths but it felt like she wasn’t getting enough air. Her mouth was dry, so very very dry, but there was nothing to drink. Somewhere to her left she could hear something moving, she couldn’t get going again, not now. She crouched down, trying to hide her body behind the thick trunk of the tree. Jessica managed to slow her breathing a little, but she couldn’t hear anything else.

When she had counted to three hundred without hearing anything she stood again, her legs felt stiff and cold, she stretched slowly, trying to get the blood back into them. She didn’t know if she could continue running, but she knew she needed to move. She scanned the trees around her and started walking. She didn’t know how far she would have to go, she just knew she couldn’t stop.

It had been a normal day before all this started. She had met up with Bobby and Rick and they had all decided to go up to the mountains. It was a sunny day out and they didn’t want to waste it. Originally there were supposed to be more coming, but Johnny was too hungover, Ashley had given herself food poisoning somehow and Joanne had decided it would be better for her to sit around the pool in her apartment. Everything was fine until Bobby had grabbed her arm tightly, she hadn’t noticed how they had been directing where to go, how they led her away from the paths. She had tried to laugh it off, make a joke of it, but his eyes were flat, dead. Rick was suddenly behind her, grabbing at her too. She couldn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, it was too fast. She had managed to get away somehow before they did anything. She heard them yelling after her, shouting that they were only messing, that it was a joke, that she should come back. Jessica kept running.

The only thing that reassured her out of the entire thing was that she knew they weren’t great outdoorsmen. She wasn’t exactly a pioneer woman herself, but she knew they’d have a hard time tracking her. For the moment she wasn’t concerned with thinking, just moving. The further she got from them the better off she would be. Besides, the mountains were usually swarming with people, she’d run into someone who could help sooner or later.

Jessica sat on an overturned log, she needed a break, she was more stumbling than walking. She knew she was probably a bit dehydrated, she had dropped the bottle of water she had brought in the struggle, and her phone was dead. That was the worst of it all, she had forgotten to charge it the night before and Bobby claimed his car charger was broken. She shook her head, she was such an idiot. She had always gotten a weird vibe off the two of them. She had thought that Rick had balanced Bobby out a bit, brought down his creep factor. Apparently he just got better at hiding it. When they were younger Bobby would always stare at her, she didn’t want to make a big deal of it though, so she just made sure they were never alone together for very long. She should have just pulled out when everyone else did, or gone to Joanne’s place to drink and splash around in the pool. She had felt a little trepidation when she found out it was just the three of them, but she had shaken it off, dismissing it as just a little anxiety from when Bobby was weird.

It was getting dark, clouds hard started rolling in and it looked like it was going to rain. She had found a stream a short while ago and started following it. Her throat and mouth were dry and the temptation of the stream was almost maddening, but she didn’t know how to make sure the water was clean, she couldn’t make a fire and even if she could she had no pot to boil it in. She was dehydrated, but if the water made her sick she knew it could kill her. For now the risk wasn’t worth it.

Darkness was falling and it was getting colder, it was still relatively warm but she was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. Jessica finally sat down on an over turned log. She couldn’t keep going in the dark like this, already her legs and arms had scratches and cuts, it would be far too easy for her to twist or break her ankle. She hadn’t heard any sounds of pursuit in a long, long time, but she hadn’t seen any signs of people either. She had spent a good hour of the day debating whether or not she should leave some kind of marker or signal behind her as she went, but the fear of Bobby and Rick finding it was too great. She had no idea if they were even still on the mountain, but it would be easy for them to tell someone that they decided to stay camping so they could keep looking for her. No one would question it, after all why would they?

She was so tired now, she kept dozing off slightly before her head would jerk up again. She needed to sleep but she was afraid that they would find her, if she was awake she’d have some fighting chance, but if they caught her unaware she was doomed.

She woke sometime in the morning, the light streaming through the trees. Her body felt cold and stiff, her muscles ached. Slowly she started moving and stretching, warming up her muscles. She had a long day ahead of her, she needed to get moving. Ignoring her growling stomach she started to walk again, she would get out of this. She had to, there was no other option.

Jessica froze, up ahead she could hear voices, the stream was too loud to make them out properly, but she could definitely hear men. Could Bobby and Rick have gotten in front of her? Had she gotten all turned around? Slowly she moved closer. She could see them through the trees, a group of twenty something’s, laughing and joking around a small fire. Her heart started beating faster and tears starting flowing as she stumbled out of the bushes, she was finally safe.

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The Lake. Short Story.

The water was cold, at first it was kind of pleasant, but now it was sapping the heat and energy from his body. He was getting tired, but it was almost over, the entire thing had only taken a few minutes. He could hear the birds calling to one another, the gentle lap of the water against the shore. It really was his favourite place to visit. He stopped holding her down, she had stopped struggling and there were no more bubbles. He lifted her head slightly above the water and counted to ten. There were no gasps for air, no movements at all. Perfect.

He made his way back to the shore, only a distance of ten feet or so. He shivered slightly in the cold breeze and quickly started to dry himself, once dry he changed into fresh, warm clothes. He watched her body bobbing along the surface of the lake, already it was being dragged further out by the gentle currents. It wouldn’t be long until they became stronger, they acted as a sort of lazy vortex, once something made it to the middle it wasn’t getting out again. The lake itself was off limits to most people. It had been closed down officially about thirty years before after a series of drownings due to the currents. The shore itself had warnings every few hundred feet, signs that had mostly faded away in the sun. He and his family had owned the lake for generations, he suspected that decades of secrets were held beneath its surface.

There was no need to try and block off access to the lake, it had a reputation and the locals all knew to stay away, not even drunken teens dared come here. Tom always found it peaceful, he knew the lake and the lake knew him. When he was a child he used to think something lived there, besides the usual assortment of fish. Something bigger, something darker, something that was intelligent. Hiding in the dark depths, waiting, feeding on those unwary enough to be caught.

He watched until the sun was setting and the body was long gone. He exhaled slowly, and inhaled the cool air deeply. He always felt so calm after his visits to the lake, so peaceful. It reminded him in a way of his visits as a child, how he used to find small animals and feed them to the lake. He had always been a lucky person and in a small way he attributed the luck to the lake itself.

He turned on his car and sat for a moment, watching the light glitter on the lakes surface. He always did hate leaving, though he knew he would be back soon. He visited the lake once a week, though special visits like this were only every few months. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, he could feel it again. The heat of her skin, how it yielded to his firm grip, how she struggled, how she finally went limp. He shuddered and released the steering wheel. He would be forever grateful to that woman, who ever she had been. She had given him something greater than she ever could have imagined.

Tom let himself into his house, “I’m home!”
“Hey, did you have a nice day out there?”
“Yeah, it was nice and relaxing.”
Alice gave him a hug and they kissed for a moment, lips parting, tongues dancing across each other. Alice pulled back and smiled at him, “Dinner will be ready soon, go take a shower and get yourself cleaned up.”
Tom nodded and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before they let go of each other. Alice had a thing about the lake, she didn’t mind him going to it, but she never liked it. Said she could never relax there, like the air was heavy and pushing her down. She always said he had a smell to him when he went swimming out there. Tom himself could never detect an odour, nor did anyone else, but Alice always knew. He loved her deeply for she was his anchor, she kept him centred and in control. He knew that he needed her in his life as soon as he took her out to the lake for the first time.

It had been a hot summer day, they drove up to the lake to have a picnic. He hadn’t planned on giving her to the lake, but once they were there he could feel the need, pushing up from inside him, demanding that he sacrifice her. He had tried to pull her into the water but she wouldn’t go, finally she agreed to paddle her feet a little, she stood in the cold water with him and smiling, she pulled him into a kiss. In that moment he felt the need melt away and he knew she was immune to what ever it was that controlled him. She protected him now just as she had managed to save herself that day, with just that one action. It was her first, and last time at the lake. He had invited her many times and she always refused, but she encouraged him to go, telling him they both needed their own, special places.

 

The heat of the shower drove out a chill he didn’t know was there. He stepped out feeling refreshed and invigorated, he could feel the strength running through his body. He dried off and dressed in a loose t-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. When he entered the kitchen Alice was adding the finishing touches to their dinners. He moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her, gently kissing her neck, she giggled and turned in his arms, meeting his mouth with hers.

 

Later he lay in bed, Alice sleeping gently beside him. He felt too energised to sleep, even after the release of sex. He slipped from the bed quietly, letting her continue her deep slumber. He went to his office, there he turned on his computer and got to work. There had been some big decisions coming up and he hadn’t been sure what he should do, but now he knew.
When he finally slipped into bed he was tired but happy, the lake had given him the boost he needed. He rolled over and gently pulled Alice closer to him and smiling, he fell asleep.

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Watching Life Go By. Short Story.

Erica took a sip of her coffee and watched the woman sitting outside. Erica had seen her every day for the past two week and her curiosity was getting the better of her. She had already decided the woman looked like a Lucy. She had long red hair, almost impossibly red, the hung down the length of her back. Her hair was well groomed, clean and shiny, despite the state of her clothes. She always wore a heavy overcoat that had tears and stains on it and a pair of blue jeans with a few holes. Her shoes where black boots with thick soles. Lucy never did much, she just sat in the sun. Sometimes she would strike up a conversation with someone sitting outside. Erica had been tempted to find a nice table on a nice day and see what happened, but she didn’t want her own creation shattered by the truth. She preferred not knowing. She didn’t know how many children Lucy had, but she guessed two. A boy and a girl, the boy was a successful pasty chef, the girl was a free spirit, a little odd like her mother and with the same bright red hair. They didn’t talk to her that often, but when they did call it was like no time had passed. She had three husbands through her life, one died and the other two ended in divorce. The last two were possessive of her and the wealth that she had hidden away. She didn’t like to make it apparent that she was well off, she thought displays of wealth were vulgar.

Lucy took a sip of her drink, a mocha, coffee was too strong for her by itself, and she had never been a fan of tea, she thought it was too watery. Erica glanced at her watch then quickly finished off the rest of her coffee, she hadn’t realised the time and lunch was almost up. She gathered her things and left, passing Lucy by without a glance. As she walked back to work she tried to place the scent she had smelled. It was like a mix of vanilla and cinnamon, but with something more to it, something that made it a heady scent. She had never heard Lucy speak, but she knew what she sounded like. A light voice, with a faraway tinge to it, like she was thinking of something else, but could be whip sharp if people were not respecting her. She would seem soft to an outside observer, but beneath the softness was a tough core. A woman you really wouldn’t want to mess with.

When she arrived at work Erica pushed the thoughts of Lucy from her mind. The rest of the day passed by as it usually did, in bursts of boredom and frenzied activity. She wouldn’t think of Lucy until she saw her in the coffee shop again, but others filled her thoughts on her journey home. There was Frank and Joey on the bus, always sitting just a bit too close together and having muttered conversations. Erica couldn’t decide if they were scheming together, or just gay lovers who didn’t feel quite comfortable being open about it. There was also Denise, the bus driver, who took on the job when she was younger as a way to help out around the house with her ailing mother, but fell in love with it. There were a few others that sometimes occupied her bus, though today none of them were there. She liked it when one or two were missing, it allowed her time to focus more fully on the others. She would study them over the pages of her book or phone, trying to glean another titbit of information from them.

She always sat across from, and behind, whoever she was most interested in. It was less likely they would spot her, which had happened before. A young man she named Tom, real name Jeffrey, a terrible name in Erica’s opinion, had hit on her. He had sat down beside her and started idle chit chat, destroying the image she had of him in her mind. He blathered on and on about his life, systematically dismantling her guesses and assumptions until finally her stop came and she could flee. Thankfully she hadn’t seen him on that bus again. She always figured her rejection had driven him away, but then she was sure she would find out what made him change busses if she ever saw him again. He was definitely one of those people who liked to over share.

When her stop came she stood from her seat, bid Denise farewell and got off. The walk home was a pleasant one, it was only a short walk but she enjoyed the fresh air. It gave her time to examine her thoughts and to decide if she was happy with the bits and pieces she had added to their lives.

She stood outside her front door for a second, breathing deeply and gathering courage. Her roommate, Becky, was a people person, Erica was not. She just wanted to unwind after her day of work, watch some TV, maybe read, Becky however would want to talk. She opened the door and fixed a smile firmly on her face.

Half an hour later and she had escaped to her room, Becky wasn’t as talkative tonight which suited Erica just fine. She changed out of her work clothes and went back into the kitchen for a cup of tea. Coffee at this time of night was too much for her. She sipped at her fruit tea and, deciding it was perfect, went back to her room. Becky was in the sitting room, watching some chat show at a volume that was just a smidge above normal, but not loud enough to complain about.

Erica turned on her own TV and flicked around until she found something mindless to enjoy. As it played in the background she dug out her journal and added a few notes about the people she had watched today. This notebook was about half full, there were several others that she had finished. Cramming them full of her tiny, neat writing. Occasionally she wondered why she bothered with it, she never reread anything in the journals but nor could she bear the thought of throwing them out. She finished off her entries for the night then closed the journal carefully. She turned her attention to the TV, one of her shows was starting soon. She turned it on and settled in, one hand resting on the journal and a small smile on her lips.

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Last Night Out. Flash Fiction.

Daniel opened his eyes and waited for the inevitable pain and nausea to hit. They didn’t. He rubbed his head gently, no throbbing headache, his mouth wasn’t dry and his tongue wasn’t thick, there was no aftertaste of booze or cigarettes. He sat up slowly, afraid that any wrong move would finally trigger his body into realising it was hungover. He looked around his room, nothing seemed to be broken. He checked his phone, which drunk-Daniel had thoughtfully charged for him during the night. There were no texts asking where he was, no drunken gibberish. Good. This was shaping up to be a good morning. He couldn’t remember much of the night before, but then that wasn’t wholly unusual. He knew he had gone out for drinks with the gang, but after a drink or two things just went kind of blank. He stood from bed and stretched, there were no mysterious aches or pains, no bruises. What ever had happened last night must have been fairly tame. It had been a long time since he had woken up feeling this good, never mind after a night of drinking.

He made his way downstairs and threw on some coffee for himself, he always felt like he was a bit slow until he had his first cup. While he waited he checked the fridge. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, normally at this point he would be too hungover for food and he usually ordered takeaway later on in the day. He grabbed out the ham and lettuce, there were some slices of stale bread left still. He made himself a sandwich then ate it with his coffee. He was feeling good, damn good. He looked at his phone again wondering if he should text someone, try to find out what happened the night before. He noticed the time, it was 10 A.M. no one else would be up yet, hell, he shouldn’t even be up yet. Waking up around midday was usually the earliest he could expect. Maybe something had happened on the night out, like he got roofied or something. Did you feel well rested after getting roofied? He shrugged, it was unlikely anyway. He would have gotten texts asking where he was at the least. What ever he had done he had done it with friends.

An hour later and still there were no memories. Normally he would get flashes, little snippets of conversation, or retching into a toilet, or on the street, friends jeering behind him. Finally he sent a quick text off to a few people, “Crazy night last night huh?” and waited. It wasn’t long before he got replies. “Man yeah, I don’t remember any of it, though I feel fine.” The story was the same from everyone. Everyone woke up feeling fine with barely any memory of the night before after a drink or two.

Everyone had gotten home safely, no one was injured, so overall it seemed to have been a successful night out, despite the lack of memory. He was watching TV when he got a text from Samantha, “Omg. Why did you guys let me get a tattoo last night?” followed by a picture of her foot, there under her big toe was a small black 2.
“That’s a weird tattoo, least its not something crazy big though!” It wasn’t the first time someone in their friend group had gotten a drunken tattoo, though it was definitely the smallest and least embarrassing. Another text popped up on his screen, “Omg. I have one too. Did we all get it done?” Frowning Daniel checked his foot and there under his big toe was a small, black 2. He poked at it, expecting to feel pain, but there was nothing. Maybe it was marker? It looked like a tattoo, but one that was healed. No way had it only been done the night before. A few more texts came in, each one saying they had it as well. Must have been a group thing. He shook his head, in the group chat they were talking about another night out. The consensus seemed to be a small house party rather than going clubbing again. Everyone seemed to just want a quiet, relaxing evening. It was a little unusual, but Daniel agreed with them. Maybe their partying had gotten a little out of hand. They were all grown up now, they should be acting more responsible. He absentmindedly scratched at his toe, he looked down and saw the tattoo and smiled. At least he would have a constant reminder of his crazy days.

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Caught. Short Story.

Andrea stopped, was she making a mistake? She took a deep breath, no she wouldn’t do that to herself, she had already decided on this. She had thought it over for almost three days, she was as sure as she was going to be. There was no other options here. She had sent him texts and he ignored them, she had tried calling him and he hadn’t answered. She wasn’t going to get her answers unless she did something a little drastic and who knows? Perhaps in the future it would be a funny story to tell, if not about how they met then about how she went insane that one time. This was insane. She was being insane. Wasn’t she?

The elevator seemed to take forever to arrive. She stepped in and pressed the button to the fifth floor. The doors closed slowly and the elevator started to move. She wasn’t sure what his apartment number was, but she knew he had one of the corner places, so she wouldn’t have too far to look. She already had a little story practised to go along with it if she got it wrong.

Andrea knocked on the door and waited, her hands fidgeting, her stomach a ball of knots. What if he answered? What if he didn’t? What would she do? Oh god this was all a- The door opened, revealing a woman in her late twenties, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“Uh hi, is Darrel there?”
“No, I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name.”
“Oh no, it’s my fault. Sorry, my friend lives in the building and I wanted to surprise him cos I haven’t seen him in a while, but I can’t remember which apartment was his. It was one of the corner ones.”
“Sorry, I moved in not too long ago. I don’t really know anyone here yet. Best of luck though.” The woman closed the door. Andrea took a deep breath, see, that wasn’t so hard. Only three more places to try.

She had knocked on every other door, it had to be this place. It just had to be. Andrea knocked on the door, affixed a smile to her face and waited. Time dragged along, she knew he was on the other side of the door, she could sense it. She knocked again, it wasn’t rude really, maybe he just hadn’t heard her. She raised her hand to knock once more when the door swung open. “oh. I’m sorry. I must have the wrong place.” An old man peered up at her, squinting, “Who are you looking for darling?”
“My friend Darrel” She rattled of her prepared story with a smile and a ditzy little laugh at the end. The old man smiled at her, “I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you, it’s just me and my wife here though. Maybe one of the other apartments then?”
“Yeah, must be. Thanks, and sorry for bothering you.”
“No worries at all, good luck!”

He closed the door. Andrea could feel tears welling up. She wouldn’t cry. She had promised herself that before it all started. No matter what happened she wouldn’t cry. Not here. Not now. She released a breath slowly and felt some of the tension ease from her body. She had tried, she had made and honest, good faith effort. Then, a little voice. He had a lied to her. He didn’t live on the fifth floor in a corner apartment, did he even live in this building? She was sure it was this one, he had said so when they were chatting before. Anger started bubbling up, that was why he had just vanished like that. He had lied about where he lived, hell he probably lied about everything else too. How dare he lie to her like that? She had been nothing but honest with him, she had been open and true from the very start. What had he been playing at? He probably didn’t even have a job, hell, was his name even Darrel? He hadn’t looked like a Darrel to her, more like a Frank or maybe a Scott. Why did things like this always happen to her? She was normal, kind and loving. She had done nothing to warrant this guy taking her out on a date, with whirlwind romance and then just complete silence. There had been sparks when they kissed goodnight and she knew they both felt it. Maybe that was why he ghosted, because he knew she would reject him once the lies came out. And to think she had been so close to inviting him in afterwards for a coffee. Of course she probably wouldn’t have had sex with him, but at they very least there would have been more kissing, maybe some light, over the clothes exploration. Well, at least he had the decency to stop it at the front door. What a prick. And here she was ready to spill her guts to him. Well, some people just weren’t equipped to handle love.

She stepped outside the apartment building and into the fresh air. It made her feel a little better. Maybe he had good reasons for lying. Maybe he was afraid a catch like her wouldn’t go out with him if he told the truth. She wouldn’t hold out too much hope but she might always run into him again. Hell, if anything it would make an even better story to tell friends, or maybe even children down the line. Not that she was already thinking of children of course. That would be crazy. But he had been handsome and he seemed intelligent. If she was going to have children with someone she could do worse. And he had to have some money, he did pay for their meal together, and the meal hadn’t been cheap. She had made sure that she had enough to cover her own food and didn’t get anything too extravagant but he had ordered a starter, main and dessert, along with some expensive wine.

She stopped walking. Was she really sure that he said fifth floor? Hell, she might even just have the building wrong, after all it had been a little loud. What if he did live there though? With one of the women that answered the door? They could have been lying, it could have been a false name. She stood still for a moment, debating what to do, she started walking. There was no point going back, at least not tonight. Tonight he would already be home. But there was always tomorrow. She could clock off a little early, grab a coffee in that nice little coffee shop she saw across from his building. If she just happened to see him, well, then she knew she had the right place. If he was seeing someone else she had a right to know too. Andrea smiled, she wasn’t a quitter, either way she would see this through to the end.

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Forest Beyond the Shards. Short Story.

“Be careful of the edges”
“I know, I know, they’re poisonous. You’ve told me a million times.”
“Yeah, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m sure its sunk in.”
“It has.”
“Yeah, my last assistant thought that too. Know where he is now?”
“Dead?”
“Dead.”

Anthony sighed and continued walking, he knew what he was doing, besides everyone knew that Ted’s last assistant was an idiot. It was surprising that he had managed to survive so long out in the wilds. Anthony took out his water and took a sip. While he waited for Ted to catch up he decided to have a closer look at the shards. There were thousands of them, hundreds of thousands, all erupting from the earth. The tallest one he could see was about thirty or forty feet tall. Most of them were four or five feet in height. They grew out of the ground, sharp points getting steadily taller. The edges were razor sharp, Anthony had read once that a strand of hair would be cut in half by its weight alone. The edges themselves glistened in the sun, oozing a thick, clear gel that coated the entire shards. The gel was extremely poisonous, though useless for most things beyond assassination or experimentation. The early settlers tried using the poison to bring down game, but they found that any animals that had been killed by the poison had tainted meat. The shards themselves were multicoloured, bright blues and reds, greens and yellows, a sea of shining, glistening colour.

Animals were rare enough in the shards, a few insects fed on the poisonous gel, a few birds built their nests along the ground, nestled in clear spaces, safe from most predators. The shards grew slowly, but all too fast. Paths changed continuously, a clear section could be impassable in a month. No one really understood how the shards worked, it was too difficult to do any real testing on them. Most of the people who attempted it were killed, either by falling onto shards, or being poisoned.

If a person was careful it was safe enough to journey through them, at least it was easier than travelling around them. Going through cut weeks off of journey time and no one had invested in roads this far out. Not a lot of travellers needed to come this way. Anthony didn’t know why Ted was insisting they go out into the forest beyond the shards, it was a strange place, with twisted animals. Safe enough, but damned creepy. The shards themselves seemed to be a kind of line, and the further you moved passed it, the weirder things started to get. Anthony knew Ted had many theories about that, remnants from long dead civilisations, the aftermath of biological warfare. Anthony himself didn’t care too much, he had only taken the job because it paid reasonably well and it wasn’t too taxing. Ted like to think he was teaching his assistants, but he rarely explained anything he was doing. Really all he ever did was bark for instruments or warn Anthony that he’d die if he wasn’t careful.

They made it through the shard fields without any troubles, a journey that took them only two days. Anthony didn’t like sleeping amongst the shards, he had a constant fear that one would sprout out of the ground and impale him where he slept. Ted had told him it would be fine, that it took days for them to pierce the surface, but he still couldn’t get the thought out of his head. Now though the shards were behind them. It took another day through the grasslands to get to the forest. The grasslands made Anthony uneasy, the grass was almost too green and he had seen few animals. It felt like something was watching them, waiting to pounce.

He could see the trees ahead of them, great thick trunks, black and twisted, like they had been frozen while writhing in pain. The leaves on the trees were a dark green, so dark that Anthony thought they too were black until they had gotten closer. The forest itself was quiet, occasionally there would be the shriek or call of an animal, but they were few and far between. Ted had reassured him that it was normal, that most of the animals that lived in the forest were silent. The forest was the worst at night, not because it was dark, but because there were so many plants that gave off eerie glows. Light blues, sickly yellows, dark greens. The colours danced and moved as the breeze caressed the flowers. Anthony’s eyes played tricks on him, he could see shadows moving and writhing in the darkness, creeping ever closer.

The next day they paused by a river to have some lunch. “It doesn’t look like much now, but once a year, for about a week, this entire river goes red, as though it is filled with blood.”

“Why?”
“I’m not entirely sure yet. I think it’s to do with the trees. They have a red sap, and I’ve found a few unusually thick roots that go into the river. There’s also a species of insect that has red cocoons, which dissolve in water. I’ve yet to find their breeding grounds, only one or two by accident, so I can’t say for sure.”

“But don’t you want to know?”
“Yes, but it isn’t that important. Mostly I’ve only looked into it when I’ve had some free time out here, which isn’t a lot. I only found out because I happened to be here when it was red. It gave me a shock I can tell you that much.”

The fire had died down and Anthony was asleep, Ted sipped his cup of tea. Anthony wasn’t a bad assistant, but he wasn’t a great one either. He didn’t have that drive, that thirst for knowledge. No, it was better this way. Ted stood from the fire and moved from their camp. He had been in the forest many times and was used to navigating by the glow of the plants. Once he was a reasonable distance away he sat down to wait. It wouldn’t be long. There was a sudden, startled yelp of pain before silence fell again. Ted stood and sighed, it was all over for another year now at least, the forest would allow him to gather his data in peace. He went back to the campsite, Anthony’s corpse was impossibly thin, as though something had hollowed out his insides and left nothing but his skin. Ted grabbed a small bit of Anthony and pulled him to the river, the corpse was light and easy to manoeuvre. He pushed it into the water and watched it float away on the surface until the darkness swallowed it. He shook his head, at least the story way easy, poor man, fell into the river, loose soil at the bank. Ted extinguished the fire and settled into his sleeping bag, around him the flowers seemed to glow brighter than ever.

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All Things End. Short Story.

“What do you mean we’re dying?”
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
“We’re immortal!”
“Nothing is immortal, you should know that by now.”
“We are!”
“And what would happen to us when the universe finally ends? When all the lights are snuffed out?”
“I don’t know, all I know is we’re supposed to live forever, forever! Not just a few hundred thousand years.”
“A few hundred thousand years? Do you know how childish you sound? We were given the gift of life and our lives have been a long one. I for one am happy with the things I’ve gotten done. I accept and welcome death as the start of a new adventure.”
“There is no new adventure! It’s all a big lie, you know that as well as anyone. I refuse. I’m not dying.”
“Unfortunately for you, you are. We all are. What part of that are you failing to understand? What ever this thing is it is killing us. One by one. Where do you think the others have gone? Hmm? Just popped out for a coffee? No, they’re dead! You saw the bodies like we all did. You know what is coming.”
“Something must be able to stop it.”
“No one recognises the thing, what ever it is. It is like nothing that has ever been seen before. It isn’t a virus, it isn’t a bacteria. Hell, it isn’t even alive.”
“Well, it came from somewhere.”
“You used to be so flippant about death. How many people have you killed? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Perhaps even millions.”
“That’s different.”
“how?”
“They had short lives, they were going to die sooner or later anyway.”
“Yes, but you made sure it was sooner. They could have lived for years more, done great things, discovered new and wondrous information.”
“They were born to die, it is the only definite thing in their lives. We were the opposite. They were guaranteed to die, we were guaranteed to live.”
“Yes, but who told us that?”
“No one. We just knew it for the moment we were.”
“Yes, but could we not have been mistaken in our own arrogance?”
“No. We came into existence with that one simple truth. We cannot die. I cannot die.”
He turned and stormed from the room. The remaining people sat in silence for a few seconds. “What if he’s right? What if we could do something to stop it?”
“You’re all welcome to look, I will not stop you. I accept my death, I will not fight it, but I will not stop others from doing the same. My one decree is that if any of you find a way, you must offer it to the others. They are free to take it or refuse as they wish, but they must know if it. If anyone finds this cure and does not share it, then it will curse them. They will be struck deaf, blind and dumb until existence itself is erased.”
He stood from his chair and left the room. People started talking to one another in hushed tones. One by one they left until there was only one. She sat with her drink in front of her. She was tired. Tired of fighting, tired of living. She had never really given it much thought, it didn’t matter how she felt, looking at the eternity that stretch before and behind her. But now there was a choice. Not everyone was affected yet, she could go into hiding, like some of the others and pray she was spared, or she could welcome death. Sooner or later it would find her, it always did. Death was stronger than all of them combined, amassing its power over the millennia, across the galaxies. She drained her glass and stood from the table.

Outside the world continued on, the people in it had no idea that immortals walked amongst them, had no idea of the worry and turmoil that was rippling through the world. If the immortals could die, well, everything else was in question too. Things once thought unthinkable were becoming possibilities again. It had been a long time since the world had been like that. A place where things could make themselves how they wished. She didn’t miss that world, it was a harsh, chaotic place. But then, it always was, wasn’t it? That was the nature of life, chaos. There couldn’t be one without the other. Maybe it was right that they die, that they step aside and allow something else to take their place. Perhaps it was just the natural order of things. If they couldn’t save themselves from this thing, perhaps they had no right to live. She had enough of living, she had known countless people, had countless children and lovers. All gone, their bones turned to dust and the dust blown away on the winds.

She could feel the wind on her face, but the joy of it had disappeared over time, the sun on her skin no longer brought the feeling of warmth, just the feeling of emptiness. She missed the touch of another person, a real person. Someone who knew her for who she was. Maybe death was better, a fresh start, something new. If they were supposed to live forever, surely something of them would remain after death. Perhaps they would be reborn, or sent to a new place to start again, stripped of the bodies they currently had. The idea of death itself had becoming fascinating to her since she found out it as a possibility. Before it was just something that happened to others, something of no concern to her, but now she found she shared another trait with the human race, the curiosity of what would happen next. Sure she had read texts about it, and talked to philosophers about it, but the answer didn’t really matter. After all, she could never experience it for herself, so why should she care?

She stood on the bridge, feeling the breeze on her skin, the tang of the salt air on her lips. She climbed over the railing and, after a brief hesitation, dove off. The cold water hit her hard, pulling the air from her lungs. She dove deeper into the water, feeling the dark depths pulling her closer. She had known the oceans so well once, but that too was a long time ago. For now, she didn’t want to think, didn’t want to decide, she just wanted to disappear into the welcoming darkness.

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