Sasha was lost in the forest. They kept lighting cigarettes out of stress and smoking them to the filter. They checked their pack. They were running low–three smokes left. When they tossed their discarded cigs, they made sure to stomp them out and cover them with dirt so as not to start a fire. They were doing that right at least.
They didn’t know how they wound up like this. They were on a hike with their friends, only for their friends to disappear after Sasha stopped to take photos of an elk they spotted a little ways into the bush. When they followed, the deer stepped away. Sasha tried maneuvering around the side of the elk to get a shot of its body instead of its ass, but the elk only ventured deeper. So did Sasha, gradually losing track of the path between all the circling and following. They got a few good shots, but not the shot. Fucking animal, Sasha thought. Why couldn’t it hold still? They weren’t going to hurt it. They just wanted a picture.
Somewhere during the chase, Sasha heard another animal nearby. They turned and looked, but saw nothing. They could hear it still, slow and cautious, but heavy, not like a squirrel or rabbit. Another elk? A wolf? Bear? Cougar? Stalking the elk, or them?
Sasha decided to leave the elk alone. They began to whistle, to sing to themself, the way they were told to when hiking alone. But they weren’t alone–not originally. Where did their friends go?
They called their friends’ names. No response. Only slow, deliberate footsteps. They hurried away from the noise, not running (also a bad idea) but hurrying nonetheless. They fumbled for the bear spray hanging from their pack. How did it work again? They read the label, figured out the mechanism, and looked around for the noise. Still nothing. Should they spray it at the noise? Just as a warning? Or would that use the whole can? Were they good for one spray or several? They didn’t know. So they kept their trigger discipline and continued looking for the trail.
The sun was at the top of the sky, so there was no finding north. Not that they knew if the trail was north from their position or not. They kept trying to get the map on their phone to work, but there was no service. Fuck Google, they thought. Fuck satellites, the internet, 4G, cell phones, bears, cougars, friends, fuck ’em all. They were angry. They stuck another cigarette in their mouth, lighted it, dropped the lighter. Then spat out the cig in panic.
A bed of moss lit up, followed by a stack of fallen leaves and twigs. Then more. And more. They couldn’t stomp out the fire, it just kept building. And behind them, they could still hear those steps, the crunching leaves. They were caught between a fire and an animal they hadn’t identified. There was no trail. The world was a forest, now. A forest of fire and beast.
They were trapped.
292’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Unnecessary hatred and bitterness,” “Chainsmoking,” and, “A forest world.”
Writing a non-binary character really tested my English class instincts…