Monday, July 26, 2010

If You Go Out In The Woods Today... - FFF #37

Friday Flash Fiction time again and this week Cormac Brown, our fearless moderator and genuinely decent chap, offered up the following starter sentence: "As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don't look down." I stopped and started this piece three times, each time going in different directions, and I hope this one came out well. So, without further (insert French word here), here it is:

If You Go Out In The Woods Today...

As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don't look down. This is my motto and what I constantly tell the groups of snotty-nosed, private school kids who were regular visitors to these parts. School excursions had sure changed since I was a kid; no more museums, science fairs and historical monuments – no, now they came to me.

My name is Luke Lashner and I am the tour guide for the National Parks, usually in charge of leading these groups. I usually got dumped with old folks or bratty teenagers – god knows why, must be my charm.

This latest motley crew of adolescent misfits arrived at the assembling point – twenty minutes late. Their teacher – a mousy man with a roadmap of veins winding across his cheeks and a nose that Rudolph would be jealous of – introduced himself as Mr. Marshall (call me Reg) and apologised for the delay. His appearance gave me the distinct impression that he was scared stiff of the upcoming walk – not that I could blame him; it didn’t matter how many times I began this walk, I always found myself taking a deep breath (or three) before starting out.

After making sure that everyone was ready – water, food and good hiking shoes – we got on our way. It would be a long day for these kids and I took my time leading them down to the metal and stone steps that would eventually take us to the valley floor. On my own, I could do it in ninety minutes but allowing for teenage gossip, talks of girls and arguments about who had the better football team, it would take nearly four hours.

Mr. Marshall (call me Reg) gave some final instructions to the group – something about not fucking about and to pay attention to what they were told – and we started down. The first few steps were cut directly out of the mountain side (as were about half of the one thousand or so stairs we had to descend) and were slightly damp and therefore slippery. I told the kids to be careful coming down and I was quite surprised when they actually did as instructed.

Boys, at times, like to show off to their mates, but these kids were unusually quiet – I don’t know if it was fear or something else that made them hold their tongues. Maybe they had been threatened with school expulsion if they acted up but whatever the reason; I didn’t hear a word from any of them for the first hour or so of our descent.

About halfway down, we came upon a rest area and I told the boys to take off their packs and relax for ten minutes. The journey down is hard on inexperienced legs and some of the kids were huffing and puffing (would more than likely blow a house down) and they accepted my offer gratefully.

I could hear voices down below us, probably on one of the lower look-outs.
Sound travelled a long way out here – something to do with thinner air and atmospheric blah-blah-blah – and I turned to ask Mr. (I refuse to call you Reg) Marshall if he knew why it was so but he was nowhere to be found. I looked back up the stairs, scanning the zig-zag pattern of the walkway but to no avail – he had apparently disappeared.

“Boys, have any of you seen your teacher in the last few minutes?”
Heads turned my way slowly, sending a tremor of unease through me. Their silence did nothing to alleviate that. One of the boys – the tallest one in the group – sauntered toward me with a lopsided grin stretched unnaturally across his face.

“He had an...accident. He won’t be joining us for the rest of the day.”

I was amazed that I hadn’t been told and told the boy exactly that. “Where is he? Did he go back up the stairs? I had a look a few moments ago – he couldn’t have got far...”

I was cut off by the boy raising his hand, gesturing for silence. His apparent authority scared me; I could feel that little vein in my forehead pounding rapidly, keeping the beat in time with my heart. My hands were sweaty – like a boy, no older than these ones before me – awaiting the arrival of his very first date and hoping he didn’t screw it up.

“Mr. Marshall wanted to have a good look at the valley – and we accommodated him.”

I found myself slowly trying to back away from these kids (not that they acted like kids, no sir-ree.) The others began to draw in around me, creating a wall around me that I wouldn’t be able to physically break through. Talking was all I had left.

“What is it that you want? Why are you doing this?”

The tallest boy took a few long strides and was quickly standing nose-to-nose with me. I could smell the sourness of his breath and the fear in mine.

“No more questions or you shall have a guided tour as well – our style.”

“I was only asking about...”

I felt a hand grab me roughly by the collar and the boy shook his head, almost ruefully.

“I’m sorry, but I did say no more...”


Sugar said...

Holy Crap!! All the field trips that I have organized over the many years of teaching...I'm keeping all future trips on level ground and with plenty of chaperones!!! Thanks for the good read, Paul.

Sue H said...

Nice one, Paul!

....poor Luke! >:-o

The only consolation is that if it was a four-hour hike down then it would be a helluva lot longer going back up

(I used to do school trips, too - with the 5-7's - and they're almost as bad as this lot. I kid you not!)

I suppose you could 'up' the suspense ante if you added more sinister asides - in the story, Luke finds out the teacher is missing and almost straight away he's threatened. If there was a building hostility from the kids you could draw out more of a growing sense of hysteria in Luke....just an idea, if you ever planned to revisit this story.... ;-)

Karen from Mentor said...

*holds out cup while typing*

I liked this a lot. The pacing was perfection. The repetition of the call me Reg made me grin.

Thanks for sharing.
Karen :0)

Bukowski's Basement said...

oh damn ... Sucks to be THAT guy, huh, Paul? Nice write.

Crybbe666 said...

Sugar - thanks for coming round!! Holy crap is a goood thing, I take it? :)

Sue - Thought about a bigger build but I thought the sudden disappearence of the teacher would naturally lead the kids to want to dispatch the guide just as fast!

Karen - not sure why you are holding out the cup, but thanks for the laugh on Reg. I liked that a lot too!

Anthony - Thanks again for your continued reading. Appreciate it, buddy!

Coraline J. Thompson said...

Creepy! I loved the buildup and the little sarcastic thoughts throughout. It makes me think of something I would say when trying to write or tell someone else a similar story.

Flannery Alden said...

Yikes! Teenagers with authority are horrifying. Nicely done!

MRMacrum said...

Good flow, but I wonder if a little more dark atmosphere leading up to the final interchange between guide and kids would lend the tale a more fitting feel.

David Barber said...

Another great write, Paul. And to think that not so long ago you were on the verge of giving it a lengthy break. Thank you that you didn't bud. Thank you!