Survival

He followed her into the woods. He was pretty sure she was going to overnight on the hill beyond. Why else would she set out in the late afternoon with such big pack? He’d spoken to her earlier in the car park.

“Hi there. It’s a lovely day.”

She had been happy to reply. “Yep. It’s another hot one.”

As he walked behind her on the trail, he played with the cigarette lighter in his pocket. It had fallen out her bag as she’d hoisted it onto her back. He wasn’t sure why he picked it up, but he thought it might be useful. She was moving fast, and he stayed a respectful distance behind. He had got a good look at her when she had focussed on changing out of flip-flops into hiking boots, so he already knew she was hot. Now, he also knew she was fit.

He upped his pace to pass her, and this allowed him to exchange further pleasantries.

“Hello again,” he smiled at her. He prided himself on his nice, reassuring smile. It had served him well.

“Hi there,” she smiled back at him. Why not? She probably thought of another solo hiker as a kindred spirit.

He checked her plans, just in case she was taking a different, more unusual route.

“You going up the Ben?”

“Yeah. I love this walk.”

“Me too. See ya.”

He knew he had to leave it at that. They couldn’t meet again for a while, or she would think him creepy.  This meant he had to stay ahead of her, and given the pace she set, this wasn’t easy. The day was hot, and he was wearing long trousers and sleeves. The girl, by contrast, was dressed in shorts and a vest top. He rolled up his sleeves as he didn’t have to worry about DNA evidence yet. In fact, all going well, he wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. He had his methods, and in general, managed to stage quite realistic looking accidents.

The question was, would he do it today? He took the cheap disposable lighter out of his pocket and rotated it in his fingers. He didn’t always kill them. Sometimes, just knowing that he could was enough. However, it had been a while since his last kill, and although it was fun to plot out the perfect crime, it was even more fun to do it. He ignited the lighter a few times. She might not miss it. She might have matches or a spare lighter. On the other hand, she might have no other way of lighting that tiny, lightweight stove stored in the mesh pocket of her bag. As he often did when undecided, he chose to make a game of it. If she managed to light her stove and make dinner, then she was safe. If he had to bail her out by offering her a light, then she was in trouble.

He stayed ahead of her and reached the summit first. That allowed him to drop over the other side of the hill and hide behind some boulders. If she did spot him, he would pretend that he planned to sleep under the stars. If she didn’t see him, then he could watch her set up camp. She didn’t see him.

She pitched the tent quickly and efficiently, then balanced her stove on a flat rock and emptied the contents of a Tupperware tub into the pot on top.

“That girl is pretty good at the camping game,” he thought.

She checked inside the side pocket on her bag and looked dismayed to find it already unzipped and empty.

“Shit,” she said as she looked through her bag. She searched with increasing urgency until, eventually, she’d emptied the entire contents of her bag. She sat back on her heels and, more slowly this time, she repeated “shit.”

“Whoops,” he thinks. “Looks like she’s stuffed.”

“Okay. I guess this is the emergency I’ve been waiting on.” She appeared to be talking to a tiny tool in her hand. She collected some heather, made a nest, and he heard the noise of metal striking metal. Surely, there was no way she was going to pull this off. But, eventually, there was a single spark which was followed by yet more sparks. She shouted, “yes,” as the heather caught fire.

He was disappointed, but he does not consider breaking the rules of his game.

6 thoughts on “Survival

  1. Very creepy! The stalker/serial killer is very well developed. I was really glad when she lit that fire! My only concrit would be to do a good read-through to match verb tenses and I think the ending could have used another sentence or two. Great story!

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  2. I really liked how you slowly develop your killer/stalker. He starts out as just a little off and we don’t find out how truly disturbed he is until later in the piece.

    If you consider expanding this, you might want to think about adding some depth to the female character. Of course the reader is relieved at the end that she doesn’t die, but if we feel more invested in her, then that sense of relief might be even more powerful.

    Very believable and creepy work!

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  3. You did a lovely job of revealing the main character to the reader in increments. It didn’t feel rushed or like we were supposed to take in too much information at once, and each new horror about him felt authentic and believable. The tension was well maintained through most of this piece. The denouement did feel a little hurried though — as if you were trying to get the reader to the resolution within the word limit (always so tricky with short word limits).

    You already know I’m going to say “verb tenses” so let’s just dispense with that. As MM said, a little more fleshing out of the woman would be a great way to keep the reader invested in her fortunes. If you do extend this piece, I hope you consider extending the ending — drawing it out with a little more detail so the reader sees her nervousness and eventual relief more vividly.

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