Josh reached a large outcrop of rocks, feeling a little hungry and tired he sat on one and took his lunch from his bag. It was nothing fancy, just a sandwich, a thermos full of tea and a bag of crisps. He ate slowly, enjoying the view and the warm sun on his back. The trail he was walking was easy enough but he was still struggling a little, he wasn’t used to much exercise these days. He looked at the mountains and forest that stretched out before him, he snapped a quick photo with his phone maybe if he could show Melissa how beautiful it was out here she’d be more inclined to join him. Once he finished he tidied away his things and started walking again, the trail should take him another two or three hours depending on how often he had to stop for breaks.
He never realised how loud the city was until he was out here, it was so peaceful without the constant rumble of traffic, the screaming and shouting, the thick smell of car exhaust. Out here he could hear birds chirping to one another, the rustle of the wind through the trees. It really was beautiful, even though he was feeling a little tired he felt strangely invigorated. There was something about being out here, alone with nature, it felt, good, right.
Josh pulled his phone from his pocket, he opened the text from Melissa, “Looks beautiful! Hope you’re having fun xxx” he typed out a quick response and started to put his phone back into his pocket, it slipped from his fingers, landed on the ground then bounced into the bushes. Fuck. He chased after his phone, which had slid down a small hill. He could just see it’s screen glinting in the sunlight. Cursing to himself he made his way down the hill, it was steeper than he expected and he almost slipped twice. Finally he picked up his phone and started wiping it off. Somehow the screen wasn’t cracked and it seemed mostly unharmed with only a few scratches and dents. He looked up the hill, it really was much steeper than it looked coming down, he was lucky he didn’t fall and break his neck. He started to climb it, but a few feet up the soil became loose beneath his feet sending him sliding backwards, he wasn’t going to be able to climb the hill. He looked around for a moment, he knew where the trail was, he just had to walk parallel to it until the hill dipped a little and he could climb back up. He started walking, as he went he kept his head down to watch where he was going, the last thing he needed was a root or branch to snag his ankle. He was almost in the bushes when he noticed that they weren’t just bushes, they were thick brambles with sharp thorns. The hill was still too steep and he couldn’t see where the brambles stopped but they couldn’t last forever. He could go around them easily enough and circle back.
Josh wiped some sweat from his forehead, the brambles were blocking off more and more the further he went, they were growing up the small hill and blocking any path back to the trail. He knew he just had to keep going but he was starting to get frustrated. It had been such a nice day out until he dropped his damn phone and since then things were just getting worse and worse. He stood for a moment, debating his options, he could continue trying to skirt these brambles, or he could go deeper into the woods and have a clearer path. He turned and moved into the woods, it was the fastest way to get back to the path.
Josh paused, had he heard something? It sounded like something large falling into a bush. After a few seconds he started to walk again, it was probably just some animals looking for food. He moved back towards the direction of the path, he’d been walking through the woods for a good twenty minutes now, there was no way the brambles would extend this far. He was starting to feel a little better, after all this was just a short detour and the view, though limited, was still nice. A breeze blew through the trees bringing with it the scent of sweetness, Josh breathed deeply and smiled.
Had he gotten turned around? Josh spun slowly in a circle, he thought he was walking back to the path but he’d been walking for almost ten minutes and he should have come across the brambles or the path by now. He turned and started retracing his steps, it was this way, right? He stopped. No, it was the other way. “Fuck!” why had he spun around like that? He’d gotten himself all mixed up. Josh spotted a tree and smiled triumphantly, he recognised that tree, he’d seen it only a few minutes ago, it had a reddish moss growing on it. OK, good, great, that was the way he came, he could just go back that way and it would bring him to the path. He felt a faint thread of unease in his stomach as he started to walk.
Half an hour later Josh stopped walking, he had to admit it now, he was lost. He had managed to get himself turned around somewhere, feeling a pit of dread in his stomach he pulled out his phone. It was going to be so mortifying to call for a rescue, but at this point he didn’t see what his options were, he couldn’t just traipse around the forest and hope to run across someone after all. He unlocked his phone, well that was just great. He’d no signal, of course he didn’t have any god damned signal. He took a slow breath, he just had to think this through. He had been going downhill, there were trees and mountains around it had to be blocking his signal, he just had to get higher, that was all. To his left the land sloped gently upwards, Josh started walking.
Three hours later and he still had no signal, he had tried yelling for help about two hours back but all that got him was a hoarse and dry throat. He didn’t want to drink his water too quickly, he had brought two litres of it and some tea but he didn’t know how long he’d be out here. He had to start thinking properly, he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes again. To his right he heard a branch snap, Josh turned and saw a man standing in the trees. “Oh thank god. Hi, can you help me? I’ve gotten a bit lost out here.” The man nodded, Josh started walking towards him. “I’m so lucky I ran into you, god only knows how long I’d have been stuck out here, I’m not getting any signal on my phone. If you could just direct me back to the path that would be great.” Josh stopped, the man hadn’t moved at all since that first nod and now that Josh was looking at him properly something was off. He wasn’t dressed for hiking or exercise, he wore a pair of suit trousers and a grey shirt. He looked younger than Josh had first though too, he looked to be in his mid-twenties, with a round, wide face. The man smiled at Josh, “Don’t worry, I can help.” his voice sounded strange, like it was coming from far away. Josh smiled and started walking towards the man again, he was just being silly, besides he needed help and it wasn’t like he was going to run into anyone else out here. When Josh reached him he stuck out his hand, “I’m Josh.”
“Fred.” His grip was firm and warm, Josh noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“What trail were you on?”
“I was on the green one, starting in the west car park, it’s supposed to loop around.”
“Wow, you really have gotten yourself turned around, you’re practically on the other side of the park, how long have you been out here?”
“about three or four hours since I left the trail.”
Fred shook his head, “Rule number one man, don’t leave the trail.”
“I know, I know. I dropped my phone down a hill and went after it, then I couldn’t get back up because the soil was too loose. I tried to get back but brambles were blocking me then I managed to get myself turned around.”
“It happens, easy to do out here if you’re not used to it. You’re lucky you ran into me, there’s nothing in the direction your going for miles. Assuming you kept a straight line and didn’t end up going in circles you’d have been out here for five or six days before you reached another trail.”
“C’mon lets get going, we should reach the trail and get you home before dark.”
Josh took a swig from his water bottle, “can we take a break for a second, just so I can get my breath back?”
“Sure, no problem, we’re almost there.”
Josh drank another mouthful of water, Fred leaned against a nearby tree and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, “You want one?”
“Yeah I don’t blame you. I don’t smoke all that often though, hard to get them out here.”
“Do you live in the woods?”
Fred chuckled, “No, not quite. I don’t make trips into the city all that often though, try to avoid buying them when I do. I mostly go in for shopping, get some food.” he smiled at Josh, “sometimes I get lucky though and the food brings itself to me.” he lunged at Josh, Josh yelped and dropped his water bottle, before he could do anything else Fred slammed into him, dragging him to the ground. Josh felt something hot splash across his legs, there was a deep heat coming from his stomach a second later the pain came and he started screaming. Fred stood and tucked the knife back into the back of his trousers, “Scream all you like.” He bent over and grabbed Josh by the legs then he began to drag him through the woods.