So this is a quick piece I wrote in response to being tagged in a #twelvehourchallenge prompt. Here are the details: You are walking on a hiking trail and notice a camera laying in the leaves off the path. When you pick it up, you see it is a digital camera and the last picture taken is of you, walking along the trail. There is no one in sight. What happens next? The catch: 1500 words or less… can also be a poem if that’s how your ideas are coming out today… you have twelve hours from this post to complete the story/poem… that’s about it.
You’ll notice a few places where the story deviates from the prompt: that’s from me writing while watching The Two Towers with the kids and then writing again while supervising homework, so I hope you’ll forgive me. 🙂 Here is Room to Breathe…
Room to Breathe
Dyane Forde, October 2013
I had just finished some light stretching when Max’s voice jolted me, making me tense back up. It had been a mistake to ask him to join me for this hike.
“So, she let you out, did she?” he asked as he got out of the car—some new, foreign, super-fast, super fancy hell-raiser on wheels. Red. The thing probably drank as much gasoline as he drank European beer and aged whiskey on weekends. They were a perfect fit.
Max kicked the mud from the grooves of his spanking new hiking boots and with a shrug, let his backpack fall from his shoulders; it even did him the grace of falling elegantly to the ground in a folded heap. “Geez, Kev. Rarely have I seen a chick hold onto her worm so tight.”
“Ugh, I know,” I said, tensing further. I’d have to stretch again before I got anywhere near the trail. “We’ve only been living together a few weeks and already she’s leaving me little love notes in my lunches and on post-its stuck to the bathroom mirror.”
“Has she said the words, yet?”
She almost had, the other day after supper. Melissa had looked at me across the worn, second-hand table, twirling the stem of her wine glass between her fingers. I’d seen her thinking it over, trying to decide if she should say those three dangerous little words. She hadn’t, and I hadn’t minded. Not one bit.
Melissa hadn’t said the words, but she had jumped up from the table, scooted over and with her cell, snapped a picture. “There,” she said after kissing me on the cheek. “Together forever.” I’d choked on my spaghetti, washed it down with some wine. Tried to forget about the incriminating picture.
Forever. Geez that was a long time. Longer than listening to Max brag about his new 6-figure job, his business trips to this or that exotic place. Or about the women he met. Too many of them to name; that alone would probably take forever.
Hot damn, forever was a long time! I’d have to go home and erase that picture on Mel’s phone. ASAP.
Max and I clasped hands and set to warming up. It was good to be with Max. He could be a pain in the ass, always saying and doing the most irritating things, but he was a guy and that in itself was great. I started to relax and felt my muscles ease up. I decided the hike was saved.
“You know,” Max said, falling into step beside me, “she’s staking her claim. I warned you about that when you told me you were moving in together.”
“We made the decision because it made the most sense. We’re together all the time, and it’s just cheaper to have one place and one set of expenses. Besides, she keeps a clean apartment. And she cooks great.”
Max poked me in the gut. “Yeah, maybe a little too great.”
“All the more reason to stop talking and get to hiking The Beast.”
We found the beginning of the notoriously tough trail and started to climb. As soon as I stepped onto the path and felt the wind brush against my face and sensed the vastness of the outdoors, I totally relaxed. This was what I had come for, the serenity and openness of nature. Living in that tiny apartment with Melissa was squeezing me by the balls, each breath I took was torture. But outside, under the rustling canopies of the trees and surrounded by the rush of pine in the air—this was heaven.
“Does she know where you are?”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t hike. Not that I know of.”
“So no risk she’ll be popping up, then? I’ve seen it before. If that happens, you’re toast, dude. Toast. Soon you’ll be hearing wed–”
“Not gonna happen.”
“Uh huh. Heard that one before too.”
“Shut up!” I yelled, starting to regret—again—having invited him.
“Man, I’m just saying. These women are sneaky. They move in and before you know it, you’re trapped.”
I stopped a moment to breathe the air as it passed through the trees, carrying the scent of pine in its wake. I wanted to stay here forever, in the open space where I could walk, stride. And run.
“You using protection?”
“She takes care of that.”
“Ah, Kev! You’re screwed, man. I can hear the baby squawking already—“
“–kiddies gnawing on your ankles—“
“–and diapers needing to be changed. When that hits, your all-day excursions into the wild are over.”
That stopped me. No more trips to my mountains? Dammit, I really hadn’t thought this thing through.
Bent over with laughter–the knee-slapping, guffawing kind–Max fell back. “Kev, you’re pale! What, not feeling so good?”
I was tensing up again. Suddenly, the forest didn’t feel so open and inviting, but instead dark, the spaces between the trees deepening with shadow. I kept walking, leaving idiot Max behind.
“I’m just messing with you, Kev. Jeez, you’re such a sourpuss. Can’t even take a joke anymore.”
“You just told me my life is over, Max.”
“So move out.”
“My name’s on the lease.”
“Sublet, or something. No biggie. Unless you’re staying for some other reason. Maybe you really do like her. Maybe you want to stay, is that it?” More grinning, more dazzling me with those freshly bleached, perfectly capped teeth. How I wanted to slug him right then.
“Hey, what’s this?” Max pointed at something sticking out of the grass.
Relieved to get out from his toothpaste-commercial-white glare, I went over to pick it up. “It looks like a camera. What’s it doing out here?”
“It looks like the digital one I just got. Lemme see if it’s got anything on it.”
“Well?” I asked. “Anything?”
Max turned the thing on and started flipping through the images on the memory card. At one point, he stopped and stared. He glanced over at me, then back at the camera. And frowned.
“What is it?”
“You sure Melissa doesn’t hike?”
“What?” I took the camera from him. The screen was pretty small, but on it was a picture of me and Melissa. I was in a black suit and she in an expensive white gown. Both of us smiled. But she waved a gorgeous bouquet in the air like a trophy signalling her victory.
The air seemed to shoot out of the forest and the trees felt like they were crashing down on me.
I handed the camera back to Max. And promptly passed out.