James takes fate into his own hands when he chooses to ignore everyone's warnings about going out alone. This trip may be shorter than he anticipated.

Short Trip first appeared on taloria.com as a preview story, a taste of things to come, well over a year ago. Now it is back, retold, remastered, and better than ever.

 

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Short Trip

A tale of Taloria

 

by

Samuel J. Plum



Cover Illustration by

Marcie Norried

 

Copyright 2013 Samuel Plum

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. 

 


 

James Corely was twelve and should not have been on his own this far from home. They said it was dangerous. They said not to go into the woods alone. They also said that he would get a detention if he showed up at school without his uniform jacketagain, and that,at least, was a very real, very serious threat. And since he had accidentally left his jacket at the lake the day before, he was determined to get it back.

It wasn't actually the woods, though, that people worried about. It was the haze: an almost imperceptible mist that could only be seen at a distance, said to warp minds and breed beasts of nightmare. He didn't believe it, nor did hesee what allthe fuss was about. According to the markers, he had passed the haze border long ago and didn't see anything too unusual. There was a little fog in the distance, but the woods looked just as they had the day before: bright, vibrant, and full of life.

He knew the haze wasn't real. It was just a scare tactic used by adults to keep children in line, and apparently it was working, at least on his friends. When he had asked them to take the short trip back to the lake with him, they had refused. They were afraid there weren’t enough kids going today, and too small of a group meant it wasn't safe.

He'd only asked them for the fun of it anyway. He didn't really need them, but Janie didn't believe that. She said he asked them to come because he was scared and told everyone as much. She even went so far as to talk the others out of going whenever he would start to change their minds. He wasn’t surprised though. She was probably still mad at him about the frog he threw at her yesterday. But he would show her. He wasn't about to let some silly stories stop him.

He was letting his mind wander, something those silly stories had said not to do. He had heard about travelers passing through the haze alone, getting lost, and never finding their way again. People had supposedly found journals describing days, even weeks, of ambling in the woods that were once so familiar, never finding a recognizable tree or friendly landmark. These journals would be found just minutes away from town, usually covered in blood.

The blood told stories of its own, ones the journals’ owners would not have had time to write. They were the stories of their encounters with shades. The haze was a breeding ground for shades, terrible creatures that took the form of people’s worst fears, waiting to rip and tear and claw. They were relentless hunters, dangerous even for those few that were trained to face them and usually deadly for those that were not.

A rustle in the bushes startled him. With all of his thinking about the shades, he had managed to scare himself. He shook it off, but then he started to look around. He realized he hadn’t been paying any attention to where he was going but thought he should almost be there. Any minute now he would be coming up on the twisted tree that marked the last path to the lake. He was almost certain that he wouldn't have just passed it. It was starting to get dark as well, which seemed odd. He had left later than he should have, but surely not that late.

He heard another rustle in the bushes, louder, closer this time. He had to remind himself that there was nothing to fear. There could be anything in those bushes. It could be a rabbit or maybe a gopher or a wolf. He froze. A wolf. He had beenso caught up in proving everyone wrong that he hadn't even considered that there may be real dangers. He stared deep into the darkness between the leaves, the failing light giving him no help at all. His nerves shook him, but he saw nothing there. He needed to hurry. Haze or not, he no longer wanted to be in these woods, not in the dark. But when he turned back to the path behind him, it was gone. No matter which direction he turned, he saw only trees and grass, no path to mark where he had been going or where he had been. He could feel his heart trying to escape his chest as panic washed over him.

The thunder of snapping branches behind him drew his attention, and as he twirled around, a storm of teeth burst out from the darkness. It didn't move like a living thing. It came crashing at him like a wave, a torrent of darkness. Its fur shifted as it moved, shades of black on black like oil sliding over murky waters. He didn’t have time to see more; it was coming at him fast.

He managed to dodge the shade’s lunge and ran straightinto the woods that now surrounded him. He didn't know where he was running, only what he was running from. He knew he would never reach the lake, and even if he managed to lose the shade, he would never make it home. He had been wrong. The stories were true, every one of them. And even though he would never have time to write in it, he wished he had thought to bring a journal.


 

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