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|This story was origianally meant to be about the same length as The Stone, but as I began writing, it took on a life of its own, so I'm putting it up in sections. It's about two friends who go hiking in the woods, I let you go from there....||
Kyle readjusted his pack and continued up the hill. The ground was littered with leaves and twigs, hidden under dense ferns. There was a damp smell in the air. It smelled so fresh and clean. Kyle reflected on how nice it was compared to the city. In fact, just being away from the droning traffic was nice. It was so peaceful here, so quiet. He looked up to admire the trees that towered above him, reaching tirelessly for the sky it seemed. He smiled to himself as he watched a squirrel dart across the branches above him. Kyle gasped as his foot caught a root and he stumbled to the ground, landing on his hands and knees. He pushed himself into a sitting position facing the way he had come and wrinkled his nose as he began wiping mud and rotting pine needles off of his hands. He looked up when he heard laughter in front of him.
"Shut up, Scott!" Kyle laughed as he pushed himself to his feet and wiped off his jeans, which had soaked up some of the moisture from the ground. "Besides," he went on, smiling at his friend, "I saw you slipping around a little bit down there by the stream."
"Yeah, well," Scott shrugged, "that was Ďcause of the mud!"
"What do you think this is?" Kyle countered, kicking his toe into the soft forest floor. Scottís eyes flicked to where Kyle was indicating, and then looked back up at him with that sarcastic little smirk he always seemed to be wearing. He shrugged and climbed up to where Kyle was. He knelt down and picked up a small handful of dirt and began fingering it. His eyes looked up to the side thoughtfully and he bit his lip, trying to look as serious as he could.
"It would appear to me, that this is decomposing leaves and pine needles, forming a nice healthy layer of humus. The sedimentary rate is incredible! You can really feel the--" He was cut off as Kyle pushed him to the ground with his foot, laughing. "Hey!" Scott laughed.
"You would make a terrible teacher, Scott," Kyle said as he helped him to his feet.
"What? Thatís exactly how Professor Thuerbold talks when heís teaching!"
"Yeah, but he does it better. He sounds like he actually knows what heís talking about,"
"I know what Iím talking about!" Scott said with a smile as they continued their trek up the hillside.
"No, you donít, you never even went to that class!"
"I did sometimes." They walked on in silence for a moment before Scott continued. "Besides, even if I didnít itís because I need my beauty sleep."
Kyle looked over at him, eyebrows raised and his expression doubtful. "You didnít go Ďcause you had to sleep it off."
Scott rolled his eyes. "Not this again," he moaned.
"I just wish youíd cut back a little thatís all. I mean Iím all for a good time as you know perfectly well, but in moderation."
Kyle smiled at his friend, but didnít say anything. They continued their hike in silence.
Scott Mansfield and Kyle Lancart had been friends since freshmen year at the University of Oregon at Portland. They had met during orientation and had really hit it off. When they settled in, they found that neither one of them had really gotten along well with their roommates and they had begun seeking each otherís company. They found that they had a lot in common.
Both boys were tall, but Scott was the taller of the two. He stood at six feet two inches with sandy blonde hair that always fell in his gray eyes. His straight nose and angular features were a constant attraction to women. Scott had never had trouble getting a date. Kyle was more the classic tall dark and handsome. He was two inches shorter than Scott with dark brown hair. In the sun, auburn highlights could be identified. His dark brown eyes were warm and friendly and though his features were less defined than Scottís he also had little trouble getting a date.
Now they were about to start their senior year and were sharing an apartment in Portland. The hiking trip in Californiaís redwoods was an impromptu idea of Scottís. He was the wilder of the two and had a knack of coming up with an idea and before anyone could convince him to do otherwise, act it out. In this case, he had actually discussed it with Kyle, convincing him that a week in the forest would be just what they needed to get ready for another year at school.
They had enlisted the financial help of Kyleís dad, and purchased all the supplies they would need. When they had returned to Kyleís house from shopping for supplies, Mr. Lancart had guided them into his bedroom and produced a small pistol.
"I donít want my boy getting eaten by a bear in California, or anybody elseís boy for that matter," he had said gruffly, while fingering the pistol somewhat indecisively. "Donít tell Mrs. Lancart Iím giving you this or sheíd have my head, but I just want you boys to have some protectionÖyou never know whatíll happen out in the woods like that." He had eyed them warily before finally handing the gun over to Kyle, who held it as if it might go off any moment. "You boys be careful alright. Donít go shooting yourselves, you understand me?"
"Donít worry Mr. Lancart," Scott had said, trying to force back his excited smile and convince his friendís father that he was responsible, "We wonít even touch it unless a bear is eating one of us."
Mr. Lancart had raised one eyebrow, studying Scott intensely. Whatever hint of a smile that had been dancing around Scottís mouth faded and he grew serious.
"Weíll be careful, I promise."
Mr. Lancart had grunted his approval and sniffed. "You, ahÖyou boys know how to work it?"
"Yeah, dad," Kyle had replied.
"Good, then pack it away and donít loose it."
As they were climbing up the hill, Kyleís mind went to the gun in his pack. He didnít think they would have to use it, but since neither one of them had much in the way of camping experience, he was glad they had it.
The hill leveled out and the boys stopped. "Think we oughta call it quits for the night?" Scott said, looking up at the darkening sky.
"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "Before it gets too dark."
Scott threw down his pack and seated himself on a fallen tree. "Man, this hikiní stuff is harder that I thought." He said, pulling off his boot and holding it upside down to let some small rocks fall out. He looked up with a smile. "Kinda fun though, huh?"
Kyle nodded as he began unrolling their tent.
"Iíll get a fire going," Scott said, pulling his boot back on and walking off to forage for some wood. Kyle began putting the tent together and setting up camp. Ten minutes later Scott reappeared with a small armful of slightly damp wood.
"Best I could find," he said, dumping it in a pile on the ground. "I would have kept looking but itís too dark, even with the full moon."
"Are you serious?" Kyle asked, his face falling as he laid eyes on the sad supply. "We canít start a fire with that! Wet wood wonít burn."
Scott shrugged. "I donít know what else to do! I mean, thatís the driest stuff I could find!" He sighed and sat down next to Kyle. They sat together silently for a minute before Kyle turned to Scott.
"Do we have anything we can eat that doesnít need to be cooked?"
"Um," Scott began, opening his pack and rummaging through it. "We haveÖtrail mix, hot dogs, some apples, some beansÖ"
"Gimmie me an apple," Kyle said, holding out his hand. Scott plopped an apple in his Kyleís waiting palm and then grabbed one for himself. They ate in silence and then retired to their tent.
"So where to tomorrow?" Kyle asked rolling on his side to face his friend. Scott pulled out a map of the area and consulted it, scanning it with his flashlight.
"Ah, tomorrow we reach the Tall Tree grove, then we can either go back the way we came or call it quits."
Kyle grunted in reply and rolled over. "I guess we turn around and go back, huh?"
"Yeah, thatís my vote. I donít know about you but Iím having fun, fire or no."
Kyle smiled to himself. "Yeah, same here."
* * *
Groggily, Kyle opened his eyes, and peered sleepily around the tent. It was still dark, probably about three or four in the morning. He pushed himself up and stepped carefully over Scottís sleeping form. He lost his balance in the process and fell on Scottís legs. He winced as Scott stirred; he hadnít wanted to wake him up.
"Whatíre you doing?" Scott mumbled sleepily.
"I gotta go to the bathroom, go back to sleep." By the time Kyle had finished his sentence, Scott had fallen back asleep.
Kyle stumbled out of the tent and cursed when he remembered he had no shoes on. He poked his head back inside and grabbed a pair of shoes; he didnít care whose, and quickly pulled them on. Now fairly awake, he ambled off into the bushes, guided by the light of the full moon and relieved himself. He was beginning to head back when a rustle caused him to stop and look behind him. He scanned the dark forest around him, but didnít see anything. He licked his lips and continued on. He had only gone a few steps when he heard it again. He froze. His stomach tightened, and he swallowed hard. Something was in the bushes behind and to the right.
ĎDonít look back,í he thought to himself. ĎItís probably just a bird or something.í But he didnít think there were any birds hopping around at night. He quickened his pace, but once again only got a few steps before coming to a halt. It had moved. He could swear it was in front of him now. He was starting to panic. He didnít know what to do. Whatever it was, it was following himÖor cornering him.
He stood there, unmoving, for almost five minutes before he got the nerve to try and make it back to the tent. He took a timid step forward. Nothing happened. Very slowly he started back towards the camp. After a few steps of nothing happening, he broke into a light jog. A wave of relief washed over him as the tent came into view. With one quick glance behind him, he lunged for his sanctuary.
He was unzipping the tent flaps when a low growl behind him made him freeze, the hair on his neck rising. He slowly turned to look behind him, his breathing ragged. About ten feet away stood a massive dog-like animal. It stood five feet tall at the shoulder with a chest like a barrel. Long muscular legs tapered down from the thick, wild hair on its torso and ended in large clawed paws. Its wide head sloped down into a long broad muzzle. Its yellowish teeth were bared and its glowing yellow cats-eyes were locked on Kyle.
Kyleís mouth hung open, and it seemed his throat had gone completely dry. He tried to say something, or shout out or something, anything, but his vocal cords just wouldnít work.
The beast slowly walked forward, its shackles rising, and a low rumbling growl boiling up from deep within its chest. Kyle suddenly found it within him to move. He slammed his fist into the side of the tent.
"Scott!" he choked, "Scott, wake up!" he managed to mumble, finally finding his voice. The beast continued forward, bearing down on him, its eyes gleaming. "Scott please! Please wake up!" he said a little louder as he stumbled back into the wall of the tent. He was panicking now. There was nowhere to go and this beast was going to kill him right here! "Scott, please!" he sobbed.
His heart leapt as he heard a stirring in the tent. He could hear Scott sitting up inside.
"Scott! Get the gun! Please hurry! Please!"
Kyle could hear Scott rummaging around, and he closed his eyes, praying that Scott got the gun before the monster got him. He heard Scott burst out of the tent.
"Shoot! Shoot!" Kyle cried.
"What?" Kyle opened his eyes and looked wildly around, searching for the monster, but it had vanished. He looked at Scott, eyes wide. Scott was staring back, completely white and wearing nothing but his boxers. The hand that held the gun was shaking. Kyle looked at his own hands and saw that they were shaking like mad, he couldnít hold them even remotely still.
"Kyle, what theÖwhat happened?" Scott cried, gesturing wildly with the gun.
"There was this monster! ItÖitÖitÖit, I, I donít know what it was, but it followed meÖScott it was gonna kill me I swear!"
Scott looked around and then back at Kyle. "Kyle," he breathed, dropping his hands to his sides exasperatedly. "Kyle you scared the hell out of me! I mean, I thought you were dying!"
"So did I! Scott you didnít see this thing! I swear it was here! I swear!"
"Well, itís gone now so--" Scott was cut off and fell back with a cry of surprise as a huge beast leapt from behind the tent and landed on Kyle, slamming him on his back. Kyle screamed as it sunk its teeth into his right shoulder and dug its long black claws into his chest and arm.
Scott swore and raised the gun. He fired three times. The first shot missed but the second two hit the animal in the chest, the force of the bullets knocking it off of Kyle. Scott fired again, this time catching it in the side. The beast yelped and leapt to its feet. Surprised that it was still alive, Scott fired the last two rounds in the gun. One grazed the monsterís hind leg, and the other missed and hit the tree behind it. Scott continued to pull the trigger with and unsatisfactory click as Kyle scrambled backwards away from the beast, using his heels to push himself along. It stood gasping for breath and hacking up blood. It brought its gaze up to meet Scottís and then staggered away into the forest as fast as it could.
Scott stood staring after it, gun still aimed where it had stood. Suddenly he remembered Kyle and looked down at where his friend lay, propped up on his good arm. His right shoulder was torn open, his tee shirt soaked in blood.
"Oh, Kyle!" he cried, falling to his knees by his side. He swore again and tried to inspect the wound. He swallowed hard as his eyes fell on what he was sure was Kyleís humerus.
Kyle yelped and pulled away, looking at his bleeding shoulder.
"Aw, man, you gotta get to a hospital or something!" Scott cried. He jumped up and darted into the tent, grabbed a tee shirt and was back at Kyleís side in a flash. He wrapped the shirt tightly over the wound, ignoring his friendís cries of pain.
"We gotta stop the bleeding, ok?"
Kyle nodded, and Scott noticed that his breathing was rapid and unsteady. He was getting pale and his skin was cold.
"Listen, Kyle, we gotta get you some help ok? We have to get you out of here!" Scott was saying urgently, trying to pull his friend to his feet. "We have to try and get to a road."
"No!" Kyle said turning to him, his eyes wide in fear, "No, no, I donít want to go out there! Itís still out there!"
"Kyle," Scott began patiently, but Kyle cut him off.
"Please, Scott, itís still out there, I donít want to go! Weíre out of bullets!" he was saying hysterically.
"Letís just stay here until morning, please! Letís just stay here!"
Kyle stopped and stared silently at Scott, his eyes moving over his face.
"Kyle, listen to me, youíre really bleeding. We canít stay out here the rest of the night waiting for the sun to come up! I shot that thing like, four times. Itís dead, and if it isnít, itís hurt bad enough not to be so much of a threat."
"But what if thereís more out there? Scott, Iím scared, I donít want to go out there."
"Look, we donít have a choice." He paused for a moment, thinking, and Kyle closed his eyes, trying to get himself under control. Scott was right, he needed help. Suddenly Scott jumped up and dodged into the tent.
"What are you doing?" Kyle asked weakly. He was beginning to feel faint.
"Getting your phone, maybe we can call for help." Kyle could hear Scott throwing things aside in the tent. A minute later he emerged holding Kyleís cell phone.
"Damn it!" He shouted at the phone. "No signal." He held the phone tightly and went back into the tent to grab a flashlight and a couple jackets. He came out and helped Kyle into one of the jackets before slipping on his own, dropping the phone into his pocket and flicking on the light.
"Come on," he said, hoisting his friend to his feet. He consulted his map that was stored in his jacket pocket. "Ok, thereís a road off this way. Weíll cut through the woods and try and hail a car or something. Kyle nodded weakly and then stopped.
"Isnít that the way that thing went?"
"We donít care. We have to go to the road, we donít have a choice. Come on."
The two boys headed off in the direction of the road. Scott kept darting his eyes around them, and trying to disguise how frightened he really was. Kyle was getting heavier and paler.
They had been walking about an hour when they stumbled into a small clearing. There in front of them lay the figure of a man. In his chest there were two bullet holes, his right leg was grazed and bloody, and there was another bullet hole in his side. Scott stopped and stared, not sure what to make of this. He heard Kyle moan softly, and decided he better keep moving.
The sky was beginning to turn pink when the road came into view. They reached the shoulder and Scott fell to his knees under Kyleís weight. He looked over and saw that the tee shirt he had wrapped around the injured shoulder was soaked in blood and was leaking through the down jacket. Kyle was in a state of semi consciousness.
"Kyle?" he said dropping to the ground and shaking him slightly. "Kyle, címon buddy, wake up!" He cursed under his breath and pulled out the phone again. He flipped it open and turned it on. His heart leapt when he saw the little green lights indicating a signal. "Yes!" he cried, quickly punching in 911.
He listened to the phone ring impatiently. Headlights gleamed in the distance and he leapt to his feet, still holding the phone to his ear. He darted into the middle of the road and began waving his arms frantically. A woman came on the line.
"911 emergency," she said wearily.
"Yes, I need help!" Scott began urgently, "My friend, he was attacked by some kind of animal. Heís really bleeding and I think heís passed out!"
"Ok, let me put you on hold, and an officer will be right with you."
"No! Lady, I--" he heard the music for the hold line come on and swore out loud. He looked back up at the approaching car, lowered the phone and ran forward, waving his arms above his head. The car came to a halt in front of him and he ran around to the driverís side window.
A middle-aged man looked out at him, and a woman watched curiously from the passenger seat. Two children were sleeping in the back seat and the car was loaded with camping supplies.
"Whatís the problem, son?" the man asked, his eyebrows forming a V over the bridge of his nose. The womanís eyes darted to the blood on Scottís tee shirt and she looked at him with slight horror.
"An animal attacked my friend,í he said breathlessly, indicating Kyleís still form on the ground at the side of the road. "We need help! Please, I think heís dying!"
The man looked over where Kyle lay and got out of the car.
"What is it Daddy?" came the sleepy voice of one of the children in the back.
"Go back to sleep Sarah," the man said absently. He jogged over to Kyle and knelt down beside him, placing two fingers to his neck, checking for a pulse.
"His pulse is really weak. I think heís in shock."
Scott held the back of his arms and paced back and forth beside the man inspecting his friend. A lump was rising in his throat.
"Please, we have to get him to a hospital."
"How long ago did this happen?" the man asked, looking up at Scott as he began to lift Kyle so he could get him in the car.
Scott sniffed and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. "Early morning I think, Iím not too sure." He looked over at the car and saw the woman summoning the younger of the two children into her lap. The older one, a boy, was peering out of the window, excited that he might get to see some real live blood and gore.
The man hefted Kyle over his shoulder and carried him to the car, tailed closely by Scott.
"Here, get in," the man commanded, indicating that Scott should get in first and hold onto Kyle. Scott jumped in next to the boy and held out his arms for his friend. The man lay Kyle in next to Scott, who braced him, keeping him from falling onto the seat.
"What happened, mister?" the boy asked, looking on with mixed wonder and horror.
"Bradley," the mother reprimanded, "donít bother them."
"We can shoot for the hospital in the next town. I donít know that itís very good, but I figure anything will help this kid. Scott nodded silently and sniffed in reply. He looked down at Kyleís pallid face and blue lips as the car engine sprang to life and began moving forward. He looked up at the passing trees.
They had been driving for almost twenty minutes when the woman, who had been turned in her seat facing them, broke the tense silence.
"What, ah, what happened? Was it a bear?"
Scott looked over at her and shifted. "No," he said shakily. "I mean, I donít think so. It was this dog-like thing. It was huge. I was asleep and I heard him calling for help, so I grabbed the gun and ran outside and he was just standing there, with nothing around. But he was shaking like mad and really white. But there was nothing there. Then it jumped out from behind the tent and got him. I donít know what it was."
The woman nodded once in understanding, then thinking it might help to take his mind off of it, she tried a new approach.
"My nameís Linda. This is Mike," she said indicating her husband. "This is Sarah and Bradley."
Scott smiled weakly and held out his hand, "Scott." He looked at his hand and pulled it away, noticing it was bloody. "This is Kyle."
"Where are you from?"
"Oregon. We go to college in Portland." He gave a shallow laugh, "Thought a backpacking trip in California would be fun."
Linda smiled sympathetically and turned in her seat to face the front. Bradley shifted in his seat and then, finding impossible to contain himself any longer, burst out saying, "So it was a dog?"
"Bradley!" his mother snapped.
"No, itís fine," Scott said a little tensely. "But, yeah. I think so. Maybe a wolf or something. I shot it four times." He hesitated, not sure if he should mention the man in the woods. His train of thought was cut off as the car entered a small town. Mike slowed to talk to a man on the side of the road, asking for directions.
They found the hospital, and Kyle was rushed inside, leaving Scott to fill out the paper work and answer all of the questions. Mike and Linda did their part and then sped off in the direction of home.