Just to let you know, the free promo for Two Cephalopods Walk Into a Bar is over now. Sorry if you missed, but there’ll be other freebie days soon if you just keep checking. (Or subscribe via the button on the left and WordPress.com’s high-tech robots will keep checking for you.)
We’re getting towards the end of another cycle of short stories. This is the seventh, just one more and I’ll start getting them ready for publication and they disappear from the blog completely. If you’d like to read some of the older stories, just nip over to Amazon and check them out.
In other news, Those Aren’t Biscuits hit a grand total of TEN episodes last week and we’re all very proud. Episode 11 records tomorrow night, so stick around for that. Now I’ll just leave you with the story.
Aaron ran until his chest ached, and when he could run no more he ducked down and braced himself against one of the ancient trees until he caught his breath. Fliss didn’t need to stop as often, and when Aaron stopped she didn’t wait, but slowed and kept an eye on him. They had been running together every night for nearly two weeks through the forest. There had been three at the start, and they weren’t about the lose each other again. Aaron felt the energy coming back to his legs, he couldn’t hear the creature just yet. If he heard nothing for a little longer, he would signal Fliss and they’d take a rest break. Ten, twenty minutes at most. Sometimes they would lose it for as long as an hour, but it would always pick up the scent in the end. It was best to stay ahead if you could.
He waved at her, she’d slowed to a jog now. When she looked back and saw him, she circled around, hurdling over a collapsed log. It was dark, the middle of the night. The moonlight barely broke through the treetops. Aaron guessed his eyesight had adjusted in the weeks since they entered, on the first few nights it had been as if they were entirely coated in darkness whenever the sun set. Now he could pick out more details. When they were close he could see the light glint in her eyes. She did not speak much, but he knew her desire to survive was as strong as his. After all, she ran. She never fell back like Carter had, and while he was sure she would not leave him willingly, he knew she would not hesitate to run if she had no choice. That had been their life for fifteen nights.
They had not seen the creature. Not in the light, and barely in the dark, but it was always stalking them. They knew nothing about it except that it was enormous, it ran fast and made its way through the trees like a ghost. They knew nothing about its intentions except that it killed. It had killed Carter. From that night on, they camped during the day and ran during the night.
The pain in Aaron’s lungs was started to subside. Fliss tossed him a water bottle and he drank, he thought about eating, but the rest didn’t last long. The creatures low whine started to travel through the trees and the slight shake of the earth began. Aaron didn’t know how many more nights he could run, but he knew he could not stop, and so they set off again through the trees.
As they ran, the creature came closer, Aaron didn’t dare look back but he could feel its size, he could feel the force of the air on his back as the massive thing made its way through the forest. As the sun finally broke through the treetops, he heard it scream and retreat. They had made it to another day.
The energy drained from him, he stumbled until he came to a hard stop of the forest’s mossy floor. Fliss stumbled through a couple more steps before heading back to him and they sat on the ground. They fell back, and like every morning they laughed and congratulated each other on surviving another night.
“I don’t know how long I can keep running,” she said. And he knew how she felt. Each night it became harder. They already slept most of the day, but before they made a bed from whatever they could find, they planned their route. Fliss kept the map she had been plotting in her back pocket. It was sketched out on the back page of an old textbook, in mud, pencil, and whatever else she could make stick. In the corner she had doodled a spiral, she traced over it in pencil every time, like it helped her think. He liked watching little details like that. She traced a line, the best estimate they had of the route they had taken through the forest so far. They guessed at its size, but there was only so much they could learn in the dark, and the creature could come from any side. Leading them off in any direction. It was hard, keeping the head clear on so little sleep, to plot it out, but they worked out the best direction to head. The way they would try to run the next night. Then, with a vicious sunlight burning their eyes, they tried to sleep.
It wasn’t easy. Aaron was starting to adjust to the night light, but Fliss found it harder. She would have bad dreams, shake herself awake and pull Aaron with her by her screams. He tried to comfort her, but he didn’t know how. They weren’t close before the forest, he didn’t know her that well still, and so he focused on trying to go back to sleep and leaving her in peace.
That night was different, his sleep started peaceful, but this time he had a dream. A dream of noise and blood, and he wanted wake up and escape it, but his mind couldn’t win the fight. His body was exhausted and even when he was semi-conscious, his legs wouldn’t move. Every muscle resisted until he fell back into a deep, enrapturing sleep.
When Aaron woke it was dark. He panicked, threw himself out of the bed with a shout. Then he remembered the creature, cursed himself for making so much noise. But there was so much to be afraid of, sleeping in was not a good sign, he was pushed as far as he could go. He could sleep no longer. If he slept in again, he would be dead. He didn’t hear the creature yet, but it could not be far off. He stood, and in the dark, he tried to find Fliss to wake her. He was sure he found the spot where she had made her bed, but he couldn’t see her. He kneeled, but his hands touched only grass. It felt wet but his bed was dry. He held his hands to the moonlight and saw blood.
Aaron ran. He ran before he could stop to think about why he was running and when he finally came to his senses he let the words travel across his mind. “Fliss is dead.” And he knew it was true. It had been the same with Carter, they had slept in the night. Not knowing that was when it hunted, and it had picked one of them off. Now it had done the same, and there was just him left. Panic took over, and he ran again, but Fliss’s voice rang in his head.
“I think we’re ok.” She had said after Carter died. “We haven’t heard it again, it might not hunt after it kills.” Carter’s death had bought them a day. The loss of Fliss might do the same. He might not have a day, but even if he didn’t, could he carry on running? All he had left was the hope that somehow it was sated. And he stopped running. He sat on the ground and really felt the pain in his muscles. He was sure the creature was nearby, even if it wasn’t hungry. He slept, and somewhere deep down, he hoped the thing would pick him off in the night too.
In the morning, Aaron felt better. He tried not to think of Fliss, hard as it was, but it had been twenty four hours since he really had to run. His body ached, but for the first time in two weeks it felt like it was mending. And he could travel during the day. They had talked about that, if they could just make good time in the daylight, maybe they could see signs of something beyond the forest. Find shelter, or even find where the thing slept and kill it. That was Fliss’s ambition, Aaron just wanted to go home, and he was sure they could. However big the forest was, they had run every night since they arrived. It couldn’t be much further.
He set off in the direction the had planned, and kept his eyes open for anything unusual. He found it around noon. A campsite. Signs of a fire, beds for three people. In his desperation he nearly cried. The hope of finally seeing someone else was too much. But there was something wrong, he recognised the site. The three had slept there the night Carter died. They had been travelling in circles. He was walking back the way they came, and it was much too far back to their starting point. He picked up Fliss’s map, rescued from the campsite. In the corner she had drawn the spiral, he’d taken it for a doodle. She had known all along. Everything, the map. The entire thing. A waste of time, a distraction just to keep them going. And she hadn’t said a thing. He sat in the camp, he was going in the shock. Time passed so fast it was becoming dark again. And he waited in the bed he had made weeks ago, and wondered if the creature was hungry yet.