Stepping Stone

Flash Fiction July, 18

I’m climbing down a cliff, rocks eroded to form a natural sort of ladder, each stepping stone jutting out too sharply to be considered a safe or easy place to land. I’ve been walking for hours trying to find my way back to civilization; you told me once that to wander aimlessly was a stupid thing to be considering, especially in a forest where I haven’t hiked before.

The beach is clear, empty of people and the ocean is still, eerily reflecting the sky – blue on blue on white. Above me there are birds flying in formation; following their path of flight, I see that they’re heading inland. If they’re flying inland, it means there’s a storm coming. Isn’t that what you always used to tell me?

No-one is here right now; there’s no need for me to put on a performance to be what everyone else wants me to be. Right now I don’t have to live up to expectations of who I am or what I can be. There’s rain in the air, I feel the sudden shift in the temperature and atmosphere. The skies sweep dark cloud over the horizon, and if I look down the sand no longer glitters under the sunlight. It’s noticably darker now, so I stay away from the water.

Remember, water conducts electricity. Stay out of the water if it’s storming. Your words drift back to me as I trail along the sand, hunting for an empty dry cave to hole up in. My backpack is heavy on my shoulders, but the promise of rain has turned into actual drizzle now and there’s no time to stop and readjust things to trick myself into thinking it’s become lighter than it is. Was there anything you ever told me about caves and storms? I don’t remember.

Shining my flashlight app around what appears to be some sort of lean-to, I find it looking fairly dry. Anyway, I have a tarpaulin and it’s not time-consuming to unfold it on the ground, fold myself into the smallest I can and hang a second sheet over the entrance to block the rain. It’s not a perfect solution but it works, sort of.

There’s a package of trail mix in my bag. Eat the lighter things first, you’d be surprised at how satisfying they can be when you’ve hiked miles. 

When did you tell me all this? How did you accumulate all this knowledge? I feel like I should know it all bearing in mind that your voice has spent hours telling me how to survive in the wild, but nothing of any kind of personal nature.

(Who are you again? Do I know you?)

I remain seated in my most comfortable position, moving as minimally as possible to conserve energy and retain the heat I’ve managed to gain from being in here. The space is small enough that my body heat is reflected into the same tiny space and I shift as a rock digs into my knee. Strange, I hadn’t noticed that before.

Pay attention. When you get too comfortable, that’s never good. You’ll get complacent when you need your wits about you, and the last thing you need is to get injured because you got lazy and tuned out.

Your presence is oddly comforting, but I wish I could assign a name to the face to the voice.

It’s dark, easy to lose track of all time in here. I can’t tell if I’ve been here twenty minutes or ten hours, and I’m tempted to use the battery on my phone – I don’t need your guidance though, to know that I need to refrain from it. I’ve powered it off hours ago, lack of buildings powered with Wi-Fi stopping me from being able to get any kind of signal to track where I am. At the moment my main use for it is in the flashlight, but even that isn’t necessary right now.

I think it must be evening. From what I can see of the beach from the tarp, it’s dark and the ocean is quiet. The tide must have gone out, I can’t hear a thing. For the first time in hours I switch on my phone, stand up and immediately several of my bones crack. I’m quick to add a jacket, a second pair of socks and use the flashlight to find dinner. It’s a flask of cold soup, but there’s a bag of bread which makes it a little more palatable.

I hook the spare jacket I brought over the tarpaulin, it does cut the chill just a little bit.

The temperature is dropping and I’m starting to doze off, losing the alertness battle with every degree that goes. Singing doesn’t help; nor does visualizing fire and candles and hot baths. There seems to be a faint clicking sound in the background, but I don’t understand what it is. It’s entirely the wrong time for cicadas, and anyway, it’s nighttime. Half the world is asleep.

Maybe I’ll close my eyes, just for a little while.

The darkness that engulfs me when I do is complete darkness, the kind that makes you question everything around you – if you’re still conscious to do so.

The clicking noise is getting louder, and there’s a humming in the background. There’s warmth again, and sudden bright light which makes me squint my eyes closed trying to block it out. Someone is calling my name, and I pull myself to something that might resemble alertness.

The cave is gone; the battered tarps, vanished.

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