Foliage

The raindrops pitter-pattered overhead and the perfume of copper percolated throughout the tent.

Jill wasn’t sleepy at all. This doesn’t feel right, she thought. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked over at Tommy, who appeared to be in a very deep sleep. He snored.

“Tommy,” she whispered in the gloom. “Hey. Tommy.”

The quiet, heavy breaths continued.

“Tommy?”

There was no answer.

Jill reached over and gave him a gentle shake.

Mmmph?” came the response.

“You awake?” she asked him.

“Am now,” slurred Tommy. “Whassit?”

Jill hadn’t thought this far ahead. She couldn’t quite articulate what was wrong, only that something was wrong.

“I-I don’t know,” she said at last.

Aight.” Tommy had already begun the descent back into his slumber.

She furrowed her brow and thought. “We shouldn’t have left him,” she blurted out, at last. “Shouldn’t we have helped him, Tommy?”

Tommy’s sleeping bag rustled in the darkness. “Mmh? Nah.” He cleared his throat and tried to enunciate. “No. Just a crazy homeless dude.”

“But he was bleeding. He looked hurt. We should have helped him, Tommy.” Jill sat upright in the darkness as the shower overhead grew heavier.

Shhhh, said the rainfall against the material of the tent, Shhhhhh.

“What should we have done? He could have hurt us, Jill.” After a heartbeat, Tommy added, “He could have been dangerous.”

“We don’t know that!”

Exactly. We don’t know that. It’d have been a gamble, and I’m not risking your life, or my own, to help someone who could kill us… He only had a few scratches on him, anyway.”

A silence fell between them. The storm overhead continued to hush their quarrel. Shhhh. Shhhhhh.

Tree people,” Jill said. “That was what he was saying, wasn’t it? Tree people.”

“Oh, don’t pay any attention to that, Jill,” he said, not unkindly. She could make out his smile in the dusk. “Like I said, he was crazy. Crazy. He was probably on something or had something wrong with him. Anyway,” Tommy said after a pause, “he was going past us, right? That means he was running out of the woods. Someone’s bound to find him on the road. Either they’ll help him, or they’ll call the police or someone and then they’ll help. Either way, he’ll be fine.”

The way Tommy spoke did soothe her disquieted mind. A little.

She couldn’t stop her thoughts. They drifted to Tommy’s earlier remarks that the forest seemed bigger and denser than last time.

“Get some sleep, Jill,” said Tommy, and he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “We’ve got some beautiful hiking trails to see tomorrow. You’ll need your energy.”

Tommy lay back down and rolled over.

Soon after, he snored again.


Thirty-seven minutes later, when Jill had been dead for almost half an hour, Tommy ran for his life through the thicket. He prayed for an opening in the canopy above.

He gripped the little plastic device as the rain pelted him.

Tommy ran blindly through the trees.

He was right, his mind screamed, the crazy old dude was right. Sweet Jesus, he was RIGHT. Tommy wished — oh, God, how he wished — he could go back in time and listen to the guy. And if not to him, then at least to Jill. Poor, sweet Jill whom he had loved. Jill, who had recognised something was off.

He ran — he knew not in which direction. Tommy only knew he had to run.

All around him, things moved. He couldn’t see them, oh no. He could feel the disruptions and disturbances as they woke and shifted and stirred in the night. Tommy could hear them, too. Great groaning, grousing sounds. There were also cries and shrieks. He had never heard anything like it.

Tommy ran. Faster than he ever had in his life. He had to break out of the treeline at some point, right?

Or you’ll just delve deeper into the woods, whispered a voice in his head.

He ran and he ran. Branches reached for him, tore at him, but he burst through them at a sprint. A painful stitch throbbed in his side.

Tommy dashed until an above-ground root caught his foot. There was a hollow snap in the nocturn and his ankle twisted. Tommy cried out, tumbled, and caught a mouthful of mud.

Tommy lay there as his foot throbbed in agony. He sensed movement writhe around him, at the periphery of his vision. He rolled onto his back.

A small patch of clear sky above him. The stars twinkled overhead.

Tommy lifted the flare gun — surprised he had not lost it — and aimed the orange pistol at the heavens. He squeezed the trigger.

A package of purple-tinted fire erupted from the barrel, propelled upwards in a spiral. Its beauty dazzled in the encroaching blackness.

Tommy watched. He smiled as the firework shot into the night.

And then something that looked like a branch lashed out of the canopy and intercepted it.

It whipped the flare downwards. Towards him. Tommy was too defeated to move, but the part of the brain concerned with preservation dumped a hefty dose of adrenaline into his veins. He rolled away and tore himself up in the undergrowth as he scrambled.

Had it been earlier in the summer, the flame may have ignited the underbrush. As it was, the flare hit the ground with a squelch and began to dim as it sizzled in the drenched vegetation.

Tommy stared at it, dumbstruck. The brightness burned his retinas. What now? What now?

All around him, he heard the rustle and crack of the trees.

The flare dimmed to a small glow. Tommy’s eyes were seared with the afterimage of what could have been his salvation.

A ripping, tearing sound erupted behind him.

Tree people, echoed the vagrant’s voice. Tree people.

Tommy clenched his fists and readied himself.

And waited.


Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Intercept” — 6th August 2019

23 thoughts on “Foliage

  1. Gary

    Top drawer Joshua. The first scene had me thinking about society as a whole. Too many just walk past vagrants because they “don’t have time” or an inclination. Fuelled be judgements rather than empathy. I think they say most people are only a few months away themselves….if things go bad. It was written at that point almost shouting out “Listen to the flipping Tramp!”

    Natural not to though and enter the consequences… part two was, as Rachael said, chilling. Can’t blame tree people mind, we’ve pretty much knocked up their habitats. Could even be called “Revenge of the Foliage” in some eco dystopia.

    Great read and looking forward to many more!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joshua Insole

      Thank you very much, Gary! I’m so glad you enjoyed the read! I’m also really happy that the story was able to spark thoughts regarding social and environmental issues 🙂

      I look forward to reading the other entries, and of course, I’m looking forward to next month’s prompt already! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gary

        My pleasure. One thing I do like about being part of the BB team is reading entries from old and new participants. Often they make me think deeper as part of my own writing progress too. That said, I’m not sure the one I’m doing myself makes any sense outside of me lol.

        The entry list goes live next week although you can catch most from the prompt post comments. I try and promote the actual entry post through social media too. We’re trying to reach out to new writers all the time 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joshua Insole

        I look forward to reading your piece, Gary — I’m intrigued to see if it will indeed make sense to me! You have piqued my interest!

        Yes, I’ve read a couple so far, and they’ve been excellent. I love how many different directions a group of writers can take a single word.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gary

        Ha, ha. I am suffering from “out of practice” at present. It’s almost done so hopefully I’ll put it up this weekend. It’s rather experimental and links to the Corona story from that prompt.

        I’ve read all of them to date…well to yesterday… I’m about to check the prompt post for new ones and add in any Rachael hasn’t. Split time zones help us keep it up to date more now.

        You’re so right though. Each take is unique. It makes it very entertaining. In fact by the end of the month the final entry post looks more like an online short story anthology!

        Like

    • Joshua Insole

      Thanks very much, Doug! It means a lot 🙂 I naturally lead my stories in a horror direction, but maybe I’ll try and buck that trend in the future! Do a bit of genre exploration!

      Like

  2. Chris Hewitt

    That was dark (literally and figuratively) as well as entertaining! Some great lines in here. Loved the “37 mins later … dead for almost half an hour” for some reason, probably the juxtaposition of the specific and the vague given the gravity of the latter. Great use of the flare gun, especially the after-image of his salvation. Really nice work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joy E. Rancatore

    You’re going to make a horror fan out of me, Joshua! Every morning, I look forward to my daily dose of chill in your “bite-size horror,” and I have loved your Blog Battle stories. Your writing is lovely and you know how to pace it in such a way to get the heart racing at just the right moment and keep it going. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. aebranson

    I think part of the success in this story is how you get the readers to visit the dark parts of their minds. You leave out just enough detail that we conjure up our own visions of horror, so everybody is equally terrified! Nice work and wonderful suspense!

    Liked by 1 person

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