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Fiction: A nice relaxing hike in the mountains

I always write non-fiction stuff here so I figured, why not try fiction? I’ve grabbed a prompt from Reddit, and run with it. So, I present to you: my first attempt at fiction writing.

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I’d been hiking for a few hours when I noticed that something seemed off. As cliché as it sounds, the birds weren’t singing and the crickets weren’t chirping. My two dogs seemed oblivious to the sudden quiet that had settled over the mountainside, but I’d never considered them to be the brightest of creatures. I wasn’t really sure how to react. Yes this seemed strange, but my dogs didn’t care. In the stories I’d perhaps inappropriately chosen to read by torchlight after night had fallen, you always looked to the dogs to act as a barometer for supernatural happenings. The thought comforted me somewhat, and so I walked the dogs onwards in to the mountains.

The sounds of nature never returned, even as dusk descended. Once we reached the camp site I began to set up the tent. I unclipped Ladybird and Bobby (I have a soft spot for King of the Hill okay?) whilst I did so. There were no other campers at the site, and the pair of them know not to wander too far. I’d almost forgotten about the lack of background noise, so when I heard a snapping twig in the opposite direction to the dogs I jumped. Peering through the trees, I thought I saw a person lurking a couple hundred meters from the camp site. I yelled a salutation, mindful of the presence of trigger-happy hunters in the area. The possible-person neither responded nor moved. It seemed most likely that my mind was playing tricks on me, and that I was looking at a misshapen tree. It was probably just a twig falling from a tree. My brain had taken the eerie silence and run with the narrative that I was being watched. If it was a human, they would have responded to me- why wouldn’t they? If it was an animal, it was probably smaller than me and so I really didn’t need to worry.

Finishing setting up a 3 man tent (space for myself and the two furry idiots) alone whilst trying to watch a misshapen tree took some effort, but I valiantly persevered. The tree did not, as expected, move in the slightest. Beginning to feel a bit silly, I set up the campfire and yelled for the dogs. They bounded over to me, ready for dinner. I’d brought a range of ration packs, and began cooking up dinner as the dusk drifted in to the night. After a lengthy one-sided conversation on the merits of pork’n’beans with the dogs, we retreated in to the tent to sleep.

That night I dreamed of a strange man. He was accompanying me on the hike. Sometimes he walked beside me, sometimes he walked in the trees, but he was always within sight. He never said a word to me, and I found his presence to be troublesome. He walked like a human, but his movements seemed odd; his limbs disjointed, his steps seeming to jitter. We walked in dead silence for miles and miles through the mountainous dreamscape. At the start of the dream, I noticed that there were more animal carcasses by the side of the path than one would expect. The further we walked, the more carcasses we passed by. Eventually, the carcasses seemed to be becoming larger. Where we would once have seen a dead crow, we were now seeing dead deer. The trees fell away from us, and soon we were walking on a narrow track directly up the side of a mountain. The incline was huge, and yet it felt like an easy mountain to climb. The frequency of corpses was so huge that we were walking over them. The ground had disappeared to the sides of us, and I began to realise that we were climbing a mountain of death. The sky glowed red as we approached the apex, giving the appearance that the peak might have been on fire. I looked to my strange companion, his skin ashen grey with features hidden by a non-existent shadow. We reached the top of the mountain in silence, and stood to take in our surroundings. He turned to face me, I turned to face him. His expression was blank, but as he reached his arms out to grasp me I felt a wave of nausea course through me. I woke up sweltering from the heat of the sun of the dead.

Packing up the tent, I kept a wary eye on my surroundings. I tried to pick out the tree that had previously caused me so much concern, but found I could not. After a breakfast of leftover pork’n’beans with Ladybird and Bobby, I packed up camp and we continued walking. The natural world remained silent, and at this point I no longer questioned it. I reasoned the phenomena away as a quirk of the nature. All of the birds must have migrated away, or maybe it was just a season that they were normally quiet in. The day was uneventful, stopping by a small lake for lunch. The feeling of being watched only heightened as the day went on, and I decided to set up camp early. I set up the tent, let the dogs off their leashes to roam free, and read a book. One of the joys of my Kindle is that it gave me a selection of options. By this point I had had quite enough of spooky stories, and opted for a cheesy romance novella. As dusk came I set up the campfire, renewed by the relaxation that can only be brought about by reading a good book.

After a little more reading I noted that a full moon was rising, almost thankful that I would have a sort of nightlight. Long shadows were drawn by the trees as the night descended, and I felt that familiar fear bubbling inside me. My hackles began to rise as I heard a twig crack in the trees. This time the figure was much closer, perhaps twenty meters from my campsite. The lessened distance meant that there was no question in my mind: I was looking at the figure from my dreams. His emotionless face bore in to me. I knew that this was no trigger-happy hunter, but instead a hunter that knew how to bide his time. I broke his stare when I heard a thud near to myself. I glanced down, only to see a dead bird. In the split second I had looked away, the figure had moved towards me. As the full moon rose, the dogs snored in the tent and I stared at the strange man.

Despite the surreality of my dream, I knew that it was not an omen of his presence, but of mine. A beam of moonlight struck me, and I felt the familiar urge. I dropped to my knees, the strange man never taking his eyes off of me. My limbs began to elongate, and hair sprouted over my body. I never broke eye contact with the strange man. As the transformation took place I released a strangled howl, drawing Ladybird and Bobby to my sides. Casting their gazes on the man in the woods, they knew my intentions. Strange ashen creature of not, the hunt was on. As though he could read my mind, the man in the woods began to run.

Pursuing our quarry through the trees, I let the thrill of the hunt take me. No words needed to be spoken between myself and my pack, we three wolves worked in tandem to flank the strange man. He did not smell like a human, and we knew what needed to be done. We had heard tales of the speed of his kind, and of the tricks that they would play on the mind. It would appear that he had not anticipated there being repercussions to his actions. It is an unwritten law amongst the supernatural that you do not take so many humans that you may draw attention to yourself. If one of us is to be discovered, then the eye of the human society may be turned to each of us in turn. I knew these woods well, having been dispatched to deal with other creatures in the past.

As we closed the distance on the ashen man, I finally began to smell something recognisable: fear. My mind boggled that he could truly have thought that we were a human and two dogs hiking alone in the mountains on a full moon, in an area renowned for unexplained disappearances. As we caught up to him, Bobby pounced and tumbled the man. I followed the strike by leaping to pin him to the ground. The strange ashen man struggled, flitting between the forms that he knew in an attempt to escape. I saw the faces of people I recognised, and people I did not. He was unable to find a body strong enough to repel me, a face familiar enough to unnerve me. Bobby ripped out his throat.

We dragged the mangled man back to our camp, and began the wait for morning. Despite the incredible strength of my beast form, it did have one major drawback: a lack of opposable thumbs. As the sun rose, I shifted back to my human form. I rebuilt the pyre that had once acted as a warming campfire, and watched as Ladybird and Bobby dragged the man to it. As required by tradition, I spoke his name three times. As his mortal body convulsed, I rolled it in to the fire. He did not fight his end, instead jerking his limbs until he twitched no more. I collected up the ashes as best I could, placing them in a jar in my pack. I ate breakfast with my brother wolves, packed up my camp, and departed. It would take us three days to reach the other side of the mountain, and I wanted to make good time.

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