I've decided to start a new feature on my blog, posting short stories by some excellent writers I know. I think you're going to love this first one by my close friend, Myfanwy Collins, who writes about fear and nature better than anyone I know. Enjoy!
By Myfanwy Collins
It was natural bridges and not arches where they were. The difference is that one of them is formed by erosion and the other by water. Bridges were by water. Maybe? That would make sense. Bridges, water. Yes.
So they were hiking in amongst the natural bridges somewhere west--Utah, Arizona--one of those states to which people go. The way was tricky but not overly hard. They hiked down from the rim on a slender, dusty trail. Took barely half an hour. Not bad, not bad at all.
But the problem was that not many people visited this park and while that, at one time--maybe at the beginning of the trip when solitude was key and sought--had seemed essential, now just seemed sad.
"So, he was on his horse right there, eh?" Jenna said, pulling the guidebook and pointing to a picture of the jocular Teddy Roosevelt upon his steed in the very spot before them.
"Yes," Tony said and took off his hat, as if to wipe the sweat from his forehead but possibly for some other darker, more OCD reason. Jenna'd noticed that every fucking time she mentioned Teddy Roosevelt on this fucking tour of the National Parks and Monuments they had begun a few months before, he'd wiped his forehead. This time she thought she might have it in her to ask him about it but she found she couldn't. It was just too tedious.
"So what are the beasts this time?" Tony said and laughed. Jenna didn't join in. He was not sensitive to her peccadilloes, made fun of her obsessive need to remind him of the dangerous flora and fauna (really, mostly the fauna--poison ivy only lasts so long) in each National Park they visited. In Yellowstone--the wolves, the grizzlies. In Glacier, the grizzlies, the big cats. In Grand Canyon, the rattlers. And here in this obscure spot in Southern Utah she was grasping at straws but chose, for the sake of probability, the big cats as the predator.
"It's not funny," she said. "Yes it is."
"Whatever." She was pissed but now that they'd reached the bottom of the canyon, they walked. It was a dried riverbed, bushy, beige. Not all that interesting. Nor were the walls of the canyon, but for the bridges that every so often spanned from one side to the other. And each time, they would stop and he would say, "Isn't that amazing?" while she scanned the vegetation and canyon walls for cougars, for escaped convicts, for falling rock.
Up ahead, there was a standing pool--one of several they'd seen. She stopped and held his sleeve. "Do you see that?" she asked, pointing to the thick inch deep track at water's edge.
"Cool," he said. "Look at that thing! It must be huge."
"Yeah," she said, scanning the area, "must be."
"It's a cougar, obviously. But I don't know... looks kind of fresh."
"Cool," Tony said. He always wanted to see the actual animals and this made her angry. Wasn't he at all concerned for their safety?
"What the fuck, Tony?" Jenna turned and started back the way they'd come. She could make it to the path up in ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Must not run though.
"Hey, Babe," Tony called, plaintively. "Jenna. Baby! Come on, Baby!" He knew she hated it when he called her "Baby" as if they were some sort of Nick and Jessica.
"Fuck off, Tony," she called over her shoulder. She heard him sigh, settle the weight of his pack and jog to catch up with her. She turned. "Don't run," she hissed. He stopped. "Do not run." She held out her hand in the stop motion. "Have you not listened to anything I've said to you?"
"What?" Tony said, slapping his hands on his hairy thighs and then holding them up to the sky. "What, Jenna?"
"If you run," she said deliberately, "they will think you are prey. They will hunt you. They hunt prey."
"Oh right," Tony said and walked towards her, keeping eye contact. "But if I walk, I'm okay, right?"
"Yes," Jenna said. She could feel her skin ease from tension to relaxation, could feel the sweat slide from her armpits down her sides like cats' tongues.
Then a noise from above stopped her. Again, the heart beating fast, the breath coming slow and long, then fast and close. Tony seemed to hear the noise, too, and he stopped. They looked at each other. Tony mouthed, "What now?" Jenna wanted to run to him or run with him. Wanted to take his hand and go or just go. She wanted to just run. Just fucking run her ass off. Let the fucking thing get her. Just let it. Shitfuckshit.
She held her ground and looked at Tony but he gave her one of those soft "Baby" faces that let her know he knew she was scared.
"All right," he said out loud, voice cracking. "Okay, J. I'm just going to walk slowly toward you."
Then another noise. A cracking. A big cat making its way through the dry grass and brambles, looking for its meal and not even bothering to stalk them silently. Jenna felt like crying. She held her hand out to Tony.
Another and another noise. Fuck. Just get it over with.
Tony walked towards her, fast, purposeful as if on tightrope. He grabbed her around the waist and said into her hair, "It's all right, Baby." And she felt that maybe it was. Maybe it was all right.
But the noises were all around them then. Fast. Loud. Cracking. Snapping. What was this? What was it? Shit.
And then laughter. Echoing, cawing off the canyon walls. Echoing and echoing.
Jenna dug her head, furious, into Tony's chest. She peeked her eye to the left and saw an older couple on a path just above them, making their way slowly, deliberately into the canyon on a path they had not seen, stopping every once in a while to pick up rocks, or hold hands.
Above her the sky was a bright, high-altitude blue. Tony felt warm, safe. In the distance a bridge spanned the canyon.
* * *
This story first appeared in Pindeldyboz
To read more about Myfanwy, check out her blog or her website, myfanwycollins.com.