Friday Fictioneers – Sunset, Nafplio

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - palettes 200722

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Sunset, Nafplio

I sit at peace, gazing over the sea to the mountains opposite, an ouzo on the table and my beloved beside me. Second by second the colours change, as the sun descends in golden fire behind the peaks. The valleys recede into grey, the foreground tinged with violet and sage.

The small boats moored near us cast shadows, darkening the water slapping against the quay. A waiter places an oil lamp on the table and my red sunhat glows in its warm light.

The palette of my life’s colours is nearly spent.

I sit at peace, my beloved beside me.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun

What Pegman Saw – Hunted

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s location is Polanczyk, Poland

WPS - Hunted - 200411

Hunted

It has been cold since sunrise, the morning hoar never melting. Now, as the short day draws to a close, I watch sulphur yellow clouds rolling in from the west. Oh, to be snug at home with Edyth! Alas, the message to the Voevoda will not wait.

Although the blade of my knife is dull it suffices to cut larch branches, and I interweave them to make a shelter. I gather logs, picking only the driest, and search out brittle twigs as kindling.

As the sun sets, the trees catch the first snowflakes, which are delicate like the sparks from my flint. I strike harder; my life depends on fire.

At last a serpent of flame creeps across the kindling. I nurture it, as carefully as I will nurture the child Edyth carries in her belly.

Howling!

Wolves!

I draw my sword and lay the naked blade across my lap.

What Pegman Saw – Peak Performance

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s location is Vanuatu.

WPS - Peak Performance 200218

Peak Performance

I woke up grumpy.

I tried not to show it, but as we finished breakfast Sarah said, “You’re bored, Michael, and it’s only the third morning of our holiday. You promised me a fortnight without moaning.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry.” Truth was, I’m not very keen on scuba diving – I mean when you’ve seen one coral reef, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Sarah laid one hand on mine.

“Why don’t you go climb Mount Tabwemasana?”

I gaped. How did she know the name of the highest peak on Vanuatu?

“Sure?”

“Sure. Go and enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you in a week.”

Enjoy myself?

I travelled by boat (I’m a poor sailor) and an old 4×4 with solid wooden seats. The vegetation cut back by the guides left a thousand scratches on my arms and legs. I had a dose of the trots.

We made the peak!

Yeah, I enjoyed myself.

What Pegman Saw – Informal Introduction

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is the Aosta Valley, Italy.

WPS - Informal Introduction 191229

Image by Claudio Romeo from Pixabay

Informal Introduction

“Oskar, no! Out!”

The huge Alsatian barged into the gondola of the ski-lift, tail wagging happily. The door of the gondola slid shut.

I face-palmed.

Oskar licked the hand of the girl opposite. She was tall and slender, and long, dark-brown hair cascaded from under her casquette. Her amber eyes were merry and she was smiling.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “He’s not mine – he’s my landlady’s. He follows me everywhere!”

She laughed.

“I don’t mind,” she replied. “I like dogs.”

It took twenty minutes to take Oskar back to base and return.

To my surprise, the girl was waiting at the upper station. “Why don’t we ski down together?” she suggested.

We paused at the mountain restaurant halfway down.

“Can I buy you lunch?” I asked.

“Yes, please. This is my favourite restaurant!”

We ate. We drank. We talked. We had dinner that evening.

We’ve been married twenty years now.

 

What Pegman Saw – Gratitude

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s location is Everest!

WPS - Gratitude 190223

Mount Everest base camp, Nepal | mkslalove Google Maps

Gratitude

Anne’s first impression as she came out of blackness was of complete surprise. Surely it wasn’t possible to survive a fall like that? The pain in her shattered limbs rapidly convinced her otherwise; she was definitely alive.

She looked up the mountain. The slope at the bottom of the sheer drop was ice-covered and very steep, and then gradually levelled to a plateau. She had hit obliquely and slithered.

There was no way back.

She struggled, painfully, to open her parka and reach her cell-phone. She fumbled it with frost-bitten fingers. Mike! She called him.

It seemed to take an eternity for him to answer.

“You’re alive! Thank God!”

“Mike – don’t try to rescue me. It’s hopeless. I love you! Goodbye!”

She scrolled to her Mom and Dad, looking at their profile picture as her eyes dimmed.

“Thank you for letting me have my adventure,” she breathed as she died.

Friday Fictioneers – Light in the Darkness

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Light in the Darkness 180905

PHOTO PROMPT © GAH Learner

Light in the darkness

The moon had not yet risen and Dan was lost on the mountain. Despite slithering on scree made treacherous by frost he kept moving; he needed to reach Newtown, which nestled in the valley beyond the ridge.

In Newtown, Celia climbed into bed, snuggling under the deliciously warm duvet. Bliss!

The moon rose.

Celia stirred, muttered in her nightmare, then jerked awake. As she calmed her pounding heart, she realised the moon was shining directly on her face.

“Bother,” she muttered, shivering as she lowered the blind.

Meanwhile Dan strode on, giving thanks, his way now plain in the moonlight.

In the moment – The Mountain

Maybe happiness and joy don’t mix.  For happiness, you have to work hard and persistently. You have to learn how to find it in all sorts of humdrum situations. Joy is different. You have to step beyond the conventional; you have to take risks.What do you think? The story below is about joy, and the taking of risks – and the price that may be exacted.

In the moment - Mount Aspiring 170613

The picture is of Mount Aspiring, New Zealand, and is courtesy of Pixabay.

Of course, her parents had equipped her as well as they could for the challenge, but, even as she stood in the foothills of the mountain, Alys was aware that she was lacking both tools and technique. Never mind. She smiled as she looked at the trail in front of her. This was going to be one heck of an adventure!

She was well below the treeline and the going was easy. The track was broad, running between pleasant woods and close to a sparkling river. There were others following the same route. Alys smiled at everyone she met, and greeted them with a cheerful “Hi! How are you doing?”

Some of them were faster than Alys. She didn’t mind. If she thought about it at all, it was to remember the story of the hare and the tortoise.

The way climbed. Sometimes it went downhill for a short distance, before climbing higher and more steeply.

And then there was a rock face. At its foot was an opening from which the river, narrower now, bubbled and chattered.

There was a broad path leading to the left, away from the river. There were broken areas of rock going up the low cliff, that may, or may not have once been steps. Alys hesitated, and drew out her map. The path to the left led to a town; her route was shown going straight ahead.

As she was inspecting the cave that was the river’s source, she heard a voice.

“It’s up the cliff.”

It was a pleasant voice. Alys could imagine the man was a singer. She smiled.

“Thanks.”

“My dad told me to expect it,” explained the young man. “My name’s Robert. Would you like to walk along together? At least for a while.”

“I’m Alys. I don’t want to hold you back.”

“The route’s rough. We’ll be quicker together. Here, let me give you a hand.”

He clambered up, and stretched out his arm.

“I can manage, thank you,” said Alys, gripping a rather flaky rock edge to haul herself up. They climbed in company, but separately, to the top of the rock face. It wasn’t particularly difficult.

They were above the woods, and the mountain stood splendid before them. Alys turned around and looked back. She was surprised at how high she was, and how far she had travelled. The canopy of the forest stretched out for miles in all directions from the cliff. She could only just make out the town from which she had started. She took out her mobile and photographed the scene.

“Do you mind if I photograph you?” she asked Robert.

“Go ahead.” He smiled, looking relaxed against the mountains beyond.

“Now I’ll take one of you,” he said, taking out his own mobile. “And a selfie on both of our phones.”

Alys giggled as they snuggled up close for the selfies. The feel of Robert against her was comfortable, and just a little exciting. There was a moment when…but it passed.

“Time to move on,” exclaimed Alys. “I have a long way to go!”

Robert released her, and they walked on together. They scrambled up a scree slope. It was a long, dry ascent. They could taste dust from the stones. The scree gave way to bare rock, and still they climbed.

“Just a little further until we reach the top of this bit.” Robert took Alys’s hand, and they walked the last hundred metres together.

They crested the ridge, and stopped dead. To their right, the ground sloped down towards meadows, and beyond them, to a great plain. There were cities with spires and towers, set in fields of gold, brilliant yellow, purplish-blue, burgundy and green. There were rounded hills draped with gentle woodland, silver rivers winding into the hazy blue distance, where surely must lie the sea.

Robert put his left arm around Alys’s waist and pointed to one of the cities.

“That’s where I’m bound. I’m joining my uncle in his business. Would you come with me?”

Alys felt a sting of disappointment. She pointed up the mountain.

“That’s my way, Robert. I hoped you might be going that way too. You look adventurous.”

Robert shook his head.

“This opportunity with my uncle won’t come again. I’d be a fool to squander it. But please come with me. I can offer you comfort and security, and later I hope to become wealthy and powerful, like my uncle.”

Alys hesitated a moment. Her parents were poor. Comfort and wealth sounded attractive; she could help her parents as they grew older. Nevertheless, “I’m going to climb the mountain, Robert. I have to accept the challenge; it’s part of my nature,” she said.

They kissed, on the lips, each hoping the other would be won over; then they parted, Robert striding downhill, and Alys labouring upwards.

The going was harsher now. A wind blew down the mountainside, bringing the chill of the heights with it. Alys put on a warm jacket from her backpack.

Another cliff face reared before her. This was no scramble; it was a climb, and not an easy one. Alys studied the route she would have to take. She could see handholds and footholds for about twenty metres and then the rock sloped away and the higher supports were hidden. She took a deep breath. She had no rope, and no companion. If she missed her footing she would be lucky if she only broke a leg.

She climbed strongly, making each move positive and precise, never thinking of the drop behind her. As she went higher, the next footholds were revealed. Up she went, steadily. Then she paused. Her fingers were becoming very chilled because the rocks were covered with a thin layer of ice.

The last ten metres of the ascent were a nightmare. No matter how carefully she placed her feet, she always slipped. Sometimes it was just a stutter in the climb, sometimes her foot slithered all over the perch until she found the exact point of balance. And, once, her foot slipped right off the rock, leaving her hanging by her arms with her left foot perched precariously on the tiniest of ledges.

At the top, she pulled herself over the rim of the cliff and lay gasping. It was cold. She was lying in snow, crusty snow left over from the winter. It only took a minute for her pulse to stop pounding, but that was long enough for her to become chilled. Fumbling with stiff fingers, she opened her pack and took out a pair of warm, windproof trousers. They hadn’t cost very much. She hoped they would be adequate as she climbed higher.

The wind strengthened. She struggled to keep moving forwards and upwards. She was on the last stage. A narrow track led along a ridge to the peak. But the wind. The wind seemed determined to blow her off the mountain. She hesitated. Did it matter so much whether or not she scaled the summit? Surely it was the adventure and the attempt that mattered?

“I’ll wait fifteen minutes and see whether the wind drops,” she said to herself – although she couldn’t hear her own words for the noise of the wind roaring.

She found a boulder which sheltered her from the worst of the storm, and waited. The tumult was abating, wasn’t it? Another great gust seemed to shake the heights, and then came calm. Hardly able to believe her good fortune, Alys rose, swiftly walked along the arete, and scaled the last slope to the peak.

She was on the summit! For a few seconds, she felt at one with the entire world. Her spirit soared. She could see so far! She looked at her hometown, dwarfed by distance. There were other towns, other cities, too. Between them, she could just make out motorways, spearing across the plain, and the narrow scars of railways, arrow-straight. The whole power of civilisation was spread out for her delight.

Finally, she turned and looked for the city to which Robert was headed. She hoped they might meet again in the future. She took half a dozen photographs, and then realised that little blusters of wind were buffeting her once again. It was thrilling to have reached her goal, but it was time to go.

Quickly but carefully she worked her way along the ridge path. The wind was treacherous, now blowing fiercely so she leaned into it, then suddenly dropping, unbalancing her.

She was paying so much attention to the wind, that she didn’t see the tell-tale brightness of ice. Her foot slipped. She gasped. Her body lurched to the side. She fought to stay on the ridge. As her body slid over the edge, she grabbed at the path, and, for a moment, she held on. She heaved with her arms, scrabbled with her feet against the rock, sobbing for breath. There was no fear, just a burning urge to survive. She focussed everything on the task of regaining safety. She was only feet away from the path.

Her numbed hands slipped on the ice. Inch by inch she slithered further from safety. And then she fell.

At first the drop was nearly sheer. She heard the air whistling about her, saw, with a sense of awe, the rocks passing her faster and faster. Her left leg struck a boulder. There was a searing pain, and her body began to tumble. Her right hip struck the slope. An intense, fiery sensation stunned her with its ferocity. She rolled. She tried to spreadeagle herself, still fighting, still thinking of how she might stop herself from falling further. And then she rolled into a ridge on the mountain, her left arm shattering. Everything went black.

When she regained consciousness, she felt cold. She hurt. Her eyes gradually focussed, and she saw, with astonishment, how far she had fallen. She couldn’t move her left arm, or either of her legs. Breathing was difficult; little bubbles of blood popped from her nostrils.

Her right arm was still functioning. With what felt like an enormous effort she pulled her mobile out of her pocket. With a flicker of hope she saw that the screen was still illuminated. There was no signal. She tried the emergency number anyway. No response. She tried again. No. She was beyond any chance of rescue.

She clicked on the icon for her photos. There was Robert, smiling, happy. She hoped he would do well, that he had made the right choice. She scrolled on. There were the pictures from the summit. Even in her distress she felt the surge of achievement. She’d set herself the challenge, and by golly she’d done it!

Her vision was dimming. This must be it. Feverishly, she scrolled back. Yes! There were her parents. How grateful she was for their support. They’d let her follow her dream, helped her, supported her, even when they didn’t understand.

“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mum.” Her last breath fluttered in her throat, and she was gone.

Cherry blossom, temples and a castle

I’m tired. We’ve walked miles, stood on tube trains, sat in taxis, stood and sat in buses, walked in warm sunshine and cool rain, sat on rudimentary benches, balanced on one leg while removing shoes to go into a temple. It’s all been well worth it, just exhausting, and I don’t have the energy to write anything intelligent.

Kyoto cherry blossom single 001 179496

Why did we visit at this time of year? To see cherry blossom. Did we see cherry blossom today? Yes, we did; lots of it. Single trees with exquisite blooms, groves of trees in drifts of pink, cherry trees on mountains, cherry trees beside lakes, cherry trees on islands. And, in addition, the Zen garden of Ryoanji, the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji, Nijo Castle, and the bamboo forest. Oh, we saw two herons as a bonus.

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Incidentally, what you see in the picture below is real gold. That Pavilion is covered in gold leaf, a total of 20 kilograms!

Kyoto Golden Pavilion 170406

Survivor

survivor-blog-170211When Diane set off in bright sunshine to camp in the mountains and experience the wildness of nature, she gave no thought to the wickedness of man. A happy, successful student, she meant to enjoy to the full her last week of freedom before starting a career. But the power of nature almost overwhelmed her; and the malice of man was worse…


Mrs Reeves looked doubtfully at the computer screen where, courtesy of Skype, she could see her daughter, Diane.
“I’m still not happy with this idea of you hiking off into the woods on your own for a week. It’s bad enough you’re in America all those miles away without thinking of you unprotected and defenceless.”
Diane sighed. “Mum, it’s one of the reasons I came over here, remember? There’s no real wilderness left in England, and I want to go somewhere where it’s just me and nature. It’s not really dangerous, you know.”
“You’re an attractive young woman, Diane. I wish you’d let Howard go with you. He could take care of you.”
Diane covered a smile. Bookish musicologist Howard, six foot four and a scant ten stone, wouldn’t even be able to keep up with her, never mind look after her. She loved him for who he was, and she jolly well didn’t need a protector anyway. Besides, Howard was in LA at a conference.
“I’ll be fine, Mum.”
“Just phone me every night, Diane. I’ll be worried sick.”
“Okay, Mum. Provided my cell phone has a signal. You look after yourself, too. Love you!” Diane broke the connection. She shook out her wavy, auburn hair, and her face gradually cleared. Six years of university study had been fulfilled with the award of a PhD; in two weeks time she would start her career with a merchant bank in the City. For the next seven days she would be freer than she had ever been, probably freer than she would ever be again.
She hardly noticed the fifteen kilograms of her pack when she set off the next morning. The gentle air buoyed her up. The sun made the distant peaks seem close. She breathed deeply, and exulted in the sense of freedom as she set off from the hotel along the Storm Valley Trail. A man in the car park looked up from his pick-up, and grinned at her. He was wearing a camouflage jacket and trousers, and a hint of ginger hair showed under his military-style cap. Diane wondered whether he was a hunter; her guidebook had warned her to be cautious when she entered wooded areas.
She walked steadily, with no sense of haste. After an hour she paused to remove her jacket, and have a drink. The day was warming up. The river flowed broad and strong beside her. As she sat completely still and gazing at the water, she saw a flash of blue. A kingfisher dived and reappeared with a small shiny fish in its beak. “Oh, wow!” she exclaimed, under her breath, and watched as the bird flew upstream with its catch.
Diane walked on. She could smell the warm grass, the damp riverbank, and her own sweat. Sometimes she passed grazing cattle, and even at a distance she could detect their sharp, sweet scent. The riverbank was alive with the buzz of insects.
At midday she sat down in the shade of a tree. The knobbly bark massaged her back, and the grass was soft beneath her. The triple-decker club sandwich had looked intimidatingly large when the hotel had delivered her packed lunch; now it seemed an ideal size. Diane devoured buttered wholegrain bread stuffed with mayonnaise, salad, turkey and small crunchy pieces of salty, smoky bacon.
Satisfied, she sat quietly and thought of Howard. No good imagining him out here in the countryside; you would never catch him more than a hundred metres from civilization. So she thought of him instead in the Conference Centre in LA, arguing animatedly about the music of Geminiani and the significance of a recently discovered manuscript in Dublin. She loved his passionate enthusiasm; she loved to hear him perform. Mentally, she conjured up the sound of a recorder consort, with Howard playing a virtuoso sopranino part. She chuckled.
Still, there were miles to be covered before she could camp up for the evening. She smeared on more suncream, put on her hat and pack, and set off again.
By five o’clock she had arrived at her intended destination and pitched her tent. She sat late that night, and savoured the stars. There was no moon, and yet the sky was ablaze. Mingled with the familiar twinkling crystals were swirls of faint light like milt in a rock pool, the whole forming a great arch across the sky. Diane had never seen the Milky Way so clearly before, and she was filled with awe and delight.
She woke early, five o’clock. She was a little stiff from sleeping on the ground, but her sleeping bag felt luxurious.
“Oh, bother!” Suddenly she remembered that she hadn’t called her mother as she’d promised. She reached out of bed for her cell phone. Wait a minute. What time is it in London? One o’clock. That’s okay. She dialled, but there was no reply and she was transferred to voicemail.
“Hi, Mum! It’s only me. Just letting you know I’m alright – sorry I didn’t call yesterday. Bye!”
The second morning’s walking was harder. The path became rough, and climbed slowly but persistently. The river on her right was noisy and fast, the brown water breaking over boulders, churned to froth, a cappuccino river. A precipitous rocky slope rose on her left keeping her close to the water; she couldn’t avoid the tumultuous noise of the rapids. She looked wistfully across the river, at the grassy meadow on the other side and the woodland beyond. Could she somehow cross? No, the torrent would wash her away in a second. And what was that at the edge of the trees? It looked like a human figure; but when she looked again it had merged into the background as though camouflaged.
She felt a sense of relief as she crested a slope and saw that the land in front of her opened out. She lost no time in walking away from the river to a place where she was less battered by its sound. Lunch was a frugal meal. Bread, cheese and an apple. She filled a one litre water bottle from the stream and dosed it with a chlorine tablet.
Clouds were gathering, and the wind was rising. She checked the weather forecast on her cell phone. The storm that had been due to strike sixty miles south of her had changed course; she was going to have the worst of it. ‘Still,’ she thought, ‘provided I pitch up properly I shouldn’t have any problems. The tent’s advertised to stand up to Force 10 winds.’ She walked on.
That evening she stopped early. The sky was solid grey, and the air was gusty. She chose a small raised plateau well above the river as her campsite. There was just time to heat her meal before the storm broke. As she ate, she sat at the entrance to the tent looking through the lashing rain. This time she had no doubt. There was a man in camouflage on the far bank, and he had pitched camp about fifty metres from the river. Was it the man she’d seen in the car park? She shook her head. Whoever he was, and however irritating it was that he should encroach on her solitude, he was on the far side of a fast, deep stream. He was no threat. She was peacefully asleep in bed before nine o’clock.
The crash of thunder woke her abruptly. She lay still, heart pounding, not sure what had disturbed her. The rain was still hammering on the walls of the tent, which were bellying out to one side like sails. They flapped and clattered in the gale.
“Ouch!”
The tent was lit brighter than day for an instant, and within a heartbeat came the crash of thunder. Diane buried her head in her sleeping bag. It didn’t help. The flashes of lightning were so bright that she could see them with her head under cover and her eyes closed. It was like being on a battlefield.
The quilted sleeping bag muffled Diane’s laughter.
“I wanted adventure,” she said to herself, “and it looks like I’ve got my wish. Ow!” LA would have been more comfortable and definitely safer…
The electrical storm gradually receded, but the rain continued relentlessly. Diane dozed.
It was broad daylight when she woke and the rain had stopped. She looked at her watch. 06:15. Should she go on, or go back? She took a biscuit from her pack.
“Breakfast in bed!”
The sleeping bag was surprisingly comfortable, and after her disturbed night, Diane was tempted to go back to sleep. But the wind had dropped, and the light coming in through the wall of the tent was golden. It would be a shame to waste a beautiful morning. She levered herself up onto one elbow.
“That’s odd.” She could feel vibration through her elbow, vibration that was intensifying. She began to feel a pressure in her ears, which became a rumble, which became a roar. She scrambled out of the bag, unzipped the tent door, looked out and gasped.
The whole mountainside seemed to be moving, rocks, mud, trees, cascading helter-skelter.
A fir tree that had stood a hundred feet high drifted past her, canted at a ludicrous angle like the mast of a stricken sailing vessel. She looked uphill. The edge of the mudslide wasn’t approaching her any more closely, and the flow seemed to be slackening. Just to be on the safe side, though, she grabbed her protective jacket and boots and moved away from the avalanche. She glanced again up the slope, wondering uneasily whether the area directly above her was stable.
When all movement had stopped, Diane packed up her kit. Time to go home. She looked more closely at the mudslide, to see whether it would be possible to cross it. She shook her head. No. It would be far too hazardous. She looked up to the top of the landslip. There was solid rock up there, but it was at least a thousand feet higher than where she was standing. She could see new streamlets spurting out of the scar left by the landslide. It didn’t look like an easy passage; it might well be impassable.
It was starting to seem as though she would have to follow the original route, up to a point where she could cross the river and then hike down the far side. She glanced across to the far bank. The river, in spate from all the rain, had been dammed by the mud and debris. It was pooling, and rapidly spreading and deepening. She saw the man again. He wasn’t looking at the pool, or the landslip.
“He’s looking at me!” realised Diane. And the man made a lewd gesture.
Suddenly the route across the top of the landslip seemed a great deal more attractive.
As quickly as she could, Diane shouldered her pack and set off diagonally up the mountainside, away from the fallen hillside. The ground was very wet. Every careful step squeezed water out, little runnels that trickled downhill. Sometimes the soil slid backwards under her tread. Her boots became turgid with mud. She turned upstream, at an angle to the fall line, trying to find solid ground that would not be likely to slip. Reaching a line of rocks, she followed them up into the trees.
Once inside the woodland and out of sight of the stalker, she breathed more easily. She took out her map and identified the plateau where she’d camped. She estimated how far she’d come, and in what direction, and marked the place on the map. So, if she was right about the exact location of the apex of the mudslide, she needed to travel north-north-west and climb steeply.
The woods were dense, and there were no visible landmarks. There were many obstacles that stopped her from following a straight path. It was exhausting work. Almost, Diane turned round to follow her original route, but her fear of the stalker was too strong. She paused at midday. As she sat down on a rock, she remembered her mother and pulled out her cell phone. There was no signal. The battery was nearly spent, too. With a sigh, she zipped it up again in her pocket. She ate a few biscuits, and drank some water, pulling a face at the taste of chlorine.
Although the day was bright, under the canopy of the wood it was twilight. Diane felt tired. Surely she should be close to the mudslide? Or had she climbed too high? She wished she could see a landmark, or preferably two, and take compass bearings. Never mind. Moping wasn’t going to take her home. She slogged on.
After another hour the light ahead brightened.
“The trees must be thinning out, thank goodness,” she muttered.
Not knowing whether she was above the unstable ground or not, she went forward cautiously. She could see rock ahead; that was a good sign.
Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat. Surely that was a figure there, just outside the wooded area? She slipped behind the trunk of the closest tree and peeped round it. Not a hundred metres away stood a man in camouflage, looking into the wood. Hardly daring to breathe she backed away, keeping the tree between her and the stalker. When she had placed another hundred metres between herself and the man she paused. There was no sign of anything but trees, no sound of anything but the wind in the canopy and a single bird singing.
She trotted, at a measured pace she knew she could maintain for hours if necessary. The stalker must know the mountain very well, she reasoned, and he must be fit and fast to have overtaken her. She tried not to think of him. The rising sense of panic interfered with the rhythm of her running and her breathing. She reached the south-eastern edge of the wood. No sign of him. She looked over the valley. Was that a place where she could cross?
Now she ran like a sprinter, heedless of the risk of falling. If she could just cross the river and reach the woods opposite without being seen, she had a chance. She skidded on scree as she neared the stream, almost sliding into the torrent. She climbed onto a rock. It was wet and slippery. The water looked very close and fierce, a lion waiting to pounce and devour her. She stepped onto the next rock, and nearly slithered off. Another step, and another.
With a yell of defiance, she made it to the penultimate boulder. Even as she tensed to spring over the last gap she heard a shout from behind. Her legs weakened, the jump fell short and her feet slipped back off the rock. She hurled her upper body forward, winding herself, bruising her chest and gashing her face, but falling clear of the water.
Desperately, she hauled herself to her feet, struggling to breathe. Her vision flickered and greyed, and she fought to stay conscious. The stalker was close to the water’s edge, he was at the water’s edge, he was on the first rock. At last Diane forced some air into her lungs, and her sight cleared a little. Bending down, she grabbed a large stone.
“Stop!” she croaked. “Stop, or I’ll throw this at you!”
The man laughed, and took another pace. Diane hurled the rock. The man swayed to one side and the projectile missed. The man snarled. Diane bent down, grabbed another missile. The man was only metres away. She hurled it, fiercely, and it struck him full in the face. He wobbled, but advanced relentlessly. Diane bent to gather another stone as the man took the final pace over the torrent. Blood was streaming down his face as he lurched across.
Diane hit him in the face with the rock, as hard as she could. She pushed him, toppling him back into the stream. His head caught a boulder, and then he was whirled away in the spate.
Diane shrank back, horrified. She wondered whether to run downstream and try to help the man. But he couldn’t have survived the rapids? Could he? Perhaps it had been her final blow that had killed him. Certainly she had caused his death.
She sat down a little away from the stream, still gulping in air, still dizzy. She ached in every part. She rubbed her face where it stung, and was amazed at how much blood there was on her hand when she took it away. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked unsteadily down the path by the stream. She looked intently at the torrent, dreading that she would see the man’s corpse, and dreading that she wouldn’t see it, that he would be waiting for her downstream, waiting for revenge. She wept as she walked.
It was only a mile downstream to the site of the landslide. The pool had already overtopped the dam and was carving itself a new channel. Even as she watched, debris from the mudslide toppled into the water draining from the lake, and the flow speeded up. Floating face down in the lake, a figure in combat fatigues spun gently in an eddy.
Diane wondered about her cell phone. Would she have a signal here? With clumsy fingers she pulled it out. Thank goodness. There was a signal. She dialled the emergency services, described where she was.
“And there’s a man here,” she told them. “He’s in the river. I think he must be dead. He must have fallen in. He’s not moving.”
They were very quick.
Within an hour, Diane was seated in a helicopter. Beside her, on the floor, lay the corpse of the man in fatigues, a wisp of red hair, dark with mud, across his brow. Water trickled from his clothing and spread like a bloodstain across the floor.


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