“Homework is a short story. It will be no more than 5000 words. It will be about nature. You will spend at least an hour outside before you even attempt the first draft. You will make no more than one revision and be prepared for peer reviews Monday. Some of you are under the impression that fine writing involves elaborate metaphors and fanciful adjectives. I invite you to experience nature so that you might begin to grasp the depth and complexity of simple truth. Experience is genuine. Amateur invention is always cliché.”
The air is thick like soup.
Mmmm. Not descriptive enough. Definitely too cliché.
The air is as thick as condensed cream of mushroom and garlic soup that has been frozen for two weeks and then set on the counter to thaw.
Bit too descriptive, innit? Why would anyone freeze canned soup? Makes the air sound thick and cold, which is definitely wrong.
The heat settles on my lungs like a wet
cat dog tiger is sitting on my chest, claws pricking my sides.
Better. Not sure about the tiger being wet, but that’s what revisions are for. May have to make the connection between the claws and this bloody stitch in my side a tad more apparent.
The jaws clamp down on my throat, making me gasp and wheeze. Powerful hind legs strake my thighs with tongues of fire. My eyes glaze, barely recognizing passing figures as other runners, brightly dressed pantomimes of movement like dancing fish. At my sides, I know I have arms that swing uselessly with my stride, the hands veiny and purple. I can’t feel my arms, but I can feel my hands, loose fists of pulsating
heat fir e…
OW! SH*T, THAT HURT! Who leaves rocks on a running path? Twisted my bloody ankle, that did. I think I can hop to that bench. Looking a right pillock the whole time. Stupid sodding homework.
The bench is green.
Rubbish. Focus on the words. Think passed the searing agony. Maybe it’s broken? Where the hell did all the runners go?
The bench was green once. Flecks of bright color still cling to the splintered wood, like spring leaves on an ancient tree.
He’ll ask what kind of tree, the daft old sod. I’ll have to look up trees when I get home. Maybe I can put my weight on it nooooOOOOW. BOLLOCKS! No way I’m hopping all the way back to my car. Where my phone is because HE said we shouldn’t allow distractions like music or anything ruin our creative processes.
After a few
minutes moments, the hard planks are uncomfortable. The sudden stop to my exercise makes my head spin me feel woozy blood pound in my limbs like a drummer improvising a solo.
Worst simile ever.
…makes the blood pound through my limbs like a pinball, erratically pinging with no regard for the rhythms of my frantic heart. It is unsettling, nauseating, and disorienting. My breathing stutters and I cough drily, hoping to expectorate the pain while clinging to my lungs.
Hmmm. Not sure if that makes much sense. At least my side doesn’t hurt any more. Where are those happy endorphins everyone’s always going on about? Shouldn’t I be so bloody euphoric that I don’t even notice a sprained ankle until I stop running? I knew it was all rubbish.
A breeze brushes my slick skin, somehow contriving to be warmer than the humid air. The sun is gone behind thick,
ebony broiling burnt black clouds that sit over my dark head. There is a sensation, pressure, like the last few strokes in the pool before you finally take a breath. The birds…
Huh. No birds. Piss poor excuse for a forest. You people think you can rope off two miles of woods in a suburb and you’ll have a convenient wilderness to push your prams through and show off your fancy trainers. At home, we have REAL forests, with no paths except what the animals make and you don’t go in there without a stout stick to beat off the goblins.
Thunder rumbles, as it is wont to do when one is secluded in the woods. Gradually, rain patters down on the slender trees and dead leaves, bringing with it a welcome coolness and a relief from the pressure. The drops sound vaguely like the footsteps of a distant giant or a heavy-booted stalker.
I wish I hadn’t thought that.
There is a stout stick leaning against the smooth bark of a tree…
Course, it’d be easier to look up trees if I could take pictures on my phone.
…just a few steps off the path. Deepening gloom makes it difficult to see, but it looks just the right length and strength to hold my weight. As chill water trickles over my scalp and down my spine, I resolve to ignore the gnawing sensation that the woods are watching me.
Right, because that would be another dumb cliché. Go grab the bloody stick so’s I can get back to the bloody car and go home. I’ve had enough of that daft teacher and his writing techniques. Got enough bloody experience from this romp to write a whole bloody novel.
My hands slip on wet bark as I wobble the few steps to the staff. The rain lessens under the close branches, but the pattering of footsteps doesn’t change. I grab the staff, observing no details but that it is sturdy and just tall enough to support my steps. I turn back to the running path…
It’s gone. That can’t be right. It’s just there. The bench is right…or was it over…
…but can’t seem find it in the
gloom dim light. The pattering on dead leaves is louder now, but I barely feel the raindrops any more. I turn bodily from my left to my right, cheap trainers sneakers sliding on the brown undergrowth, sounding like a crashing giant to my own ears.
They say sneakers here. Already used giant earlier. Being lost is no excuse for bad analogies. Just calm down. It’s a small park, barely two miles in any direction. Just go one way until you hit the path or walk into someone’s back yard.
I ignore the little whine of panic in the back of my throat. I close my eyes and breath deeply a few times, grateful for the cooling air. My senses feel sharp and clear for the first time since I stepped from my car into the suffocating heat. I open my eyes and begin limping resolutely toward where I think the path is.
Any minute now. It’s got to be here somewhere. Stop looking over your bloody shoulder. There’s nothing behind you. These aren’t old woods with old monsters like Granny used to scare you with. Nothing here is old enough for darkness to roost.
The twig snap
behind me is expected by now, so I don’t even pause. My imagination has been peopling the forest behind me with nightmares. Red eyes. Inky teeth, jagged as pirhannas pirannas a shark’s. I won’t indulge my fantasies by turning around. Orpheus, I am not.
Either it’s getting lighter or my eyes are finally adjusting.
Another twig snap, a soft, wet sound that
echoes reverberates around the trees like a murmured curse in a chapel. I ignore it because there is no doubt now that the trees are thinning. I hear just above the incessant pattering…
Is that the second or third time I’ve used pattering? My thesaurus app would be…alright. Maybe he has a point about us relying too much on mobiles for our writing.
…the sound of bright, female voices. Unconsciously, my pace quickens.
Bet I look like a right nutter, coming out of the woods like this. Stupid bloody homework. Could have made something up, but no. I had to prance through the woods like a bleating Nancy just so’s I could sound more genuine. And, right, Justine may have mentioned how she likes to run here of a morning. Would have been a pleasant accident, us running into each other, all sweaty and…
Whatever has been tracking me gives up on stealth. It’s footfalls are like crashing waves but I can see the break in the trees and the low, white picket fence so favored in the suburbs. There are people on
a green an emerald lawn sipping pale yellow lemonade at a forest green, plastic table. Children bound into the air with excited shrieks on an azure cornflower blue-rimmed black trampoline. They wear colorful little swimsuits and their wet hair flies around their faces like…
I’m almost there. Nothing behind me. Almost fecking there. Just a few more bloody ARGH!
…halos. The staff sinks suddenly into the soft earth and snaps loudly. I don’t even have time to raise an arm to brace my fall, just careen into the rotting leaves face first. The mud tastes like…
LIKE MUD. WHAT ELSE WOULD IT TASTE LIKE?
Blindly, frantically, I dig my hands into the muck for purchase to regain my feet or even a weapon. A wracking cough clears my mouth and nose for a battle cry or scream of terror. Adrenaline pushes me forward on hands and knees like a…
STOP DESCRIBING AND GET TO THE BLOODY FENCE. ON YOUR FEET AND RUN.
Pain jags up my leg, like white-hot lightning but I resolve to feel it when the fence is between me and the darkness. My hands grasp the top of the fence, smearing brown and red stains on the pristine paint, and I lever myself over it to tumble on the grass on the other side. The children’s shrieks change from joy to fear. The adults are yelling. It is all background noise to my pain and panic. I spin to face my attacker, confident in my safety. Then I laugh, a burst of humorless disbelief.
That son of a b*tch! Scared the piss out of me for a sodding paper? Knew he was a loon. Did Justine set me up for this? Knew she was a teacher’s pet, but honestly!
“Oh, Dr. Gode,” says a voice behind me, one of the women. I am surprised that she recognizes my professor, but it is a small college town. His dark trench coat drips around his shadowy legs and his hands are clasped behind his back. I want him to be out of breath, for his coppery skin to be flushed and his long,
black raven hair to be snagged with twigs. Flushed with embarrassment and exertion, I note how he bears that maddening calm so familiar from his lectures about nature and truth and experience. Pain spikes up my leg again, but I stand resolutely.
I’m going to sue this crazy bastard. Mum was right. Should have stayed home and gone into business.
“Didn’t know you were hunting around here,” the woman continues.
“This one your’s?” says the woman. Dr. Gode nods solemnly.
Who hunts in a trench? In a park? Unless they’re being racist? American Indian in the woods must be hunting? Typical.
A manic fury bubbles in my chest. The woman continues, “Alright. Jim, Pete, toss him over. We’ll take the kids inside.” I turn just before two men grab me under each arm and drag me effortlessly over the green grass. My muddy
trainers sneakers leave brown scars behind me in the turf. A blonde woman in a cornflower sun dress leads pink-clad twin girls to the back door followed by a brunette carrying a ginger boy who stares at me through watery blue eyes in a blotchy red face.
Say something. Say anything. It’s all a laugh. Make me look like a burke, teach me a lesson. Stop giggling like a ninny. This isn’t funny.
All I can see is I focus on the shadowy figures watching from behind the sliding glass doors shaded by a plastic deck, not believing anything sinister could happen in the heat and sunshine.
Can’t they see I’m hurt? They can’t just toss me over like a bad bet. Blimey, these blokes are strong. I wonder if writing in American is making me think more British? Thinking bloody cockney, I am.
There are terra-cotta pots lined up just off the cement pad with leafy herbs cooking in the bright sun. Together, the men toss me bodily over the fence, back into the rain and damp darkness. I land awkwardly on my shoulder, which pops like a…
OW! Like a dislocated shoulder. F*ckin’ hell! Bloody stupid Yanks and their…when did it get so cold?
In agony, I crawl to a tree and hoist myself up roughly. My sprained ankle won’t support my weight. My whole leg is
shaking wobbling and my arm feels like a dead, throbbing sack branch…
Arm. Hurts. Cold, tired, burning. S’not funny. Stop laughing.
Twigs snap. A hushed
pattering spattering susurration of a thousand hurrying footfalls. Darkness swarms from under leaves and slick branches, tingling as it brushes the hairs on my bare legs. Blood pounds in my ears like primal drums. Millions of tiny needles pierce my wet skin with cold fire. I won’t look behind me. My gaze fixates on the little ginger boy watching morosely from his safe, warm house. Perched on the brunette’s hip, he raises a pudgy hand and waves.
hurts…all over…make it stop…stop…