Flash Fiction Fragment: RTFMap

I found this piece that I started a few weeks ago for one of Chuck Wendig’s prompts, and realized that I never posted it. I also didn’t bring it to much of a conclusion, but I think you might like it anyway. Enjoy.

***

“We’re lost.” Gerry looks from the hills around them to Ringo, hiking directly ahead of him.

Ringo shakes his head. “Not lost at all.”

Evening is falling. It’s not that late, but the valley they’re traveling through is already dark. The sky to their right is bright with the first colors of sunset.

“Ringo, we’re lost.” The valley is filled with scrub, covered in low growth, the hills around them raw with erosion. The hillside to their left, still lit by sunlight, is bright with hardy flowering bushes. There’s little shelter, and it’s getting cold.

“Gerry, we’re damned well headed south. Not even you can disagree with that.”

Gerry is silent for a few minutes, looking at the streamers of sunlight that limn the hill to their right, then at the course of the valley ahead of them.

“But—“

“Are you going to tell me that the sun sets in the east now?” Ringo is pure vinegar.

They trudge onward. Stars come out of hiding, peeking out through the purpling sky to their left.

They make camp in the growing twilight, tent resting on rocky dirt and gravel. Their tiny gas stove heats water from a canteen. Sitting in Crazy Creek chairs beside each other, Gerry tries again.

“Look, Ringo.” Ringo leans forward to add high calorie instant meal to the heating water. “I’m not saying that we’re not headed in the right direction. I’m saying,” Gerry runs a hand through his hair, “we don’t know where we are.”

Ringo stirs the gelatinous steaming mix. “There’s a difference between being lost and not knowing where you are.”

“Yes, I know. Okay? I’m sorry.” Gerry sighs. “I just want to look at the map again is all.”

Ringo is silent for a while. Gerry leans back in his chair, feeling the cables press into his sides.

“Fine. Knock yourself out.”

Gerry exhales the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He gets up and searches the outer pouch of Ringo’s pack, flashlight held in his mouth. He gingerly removes the heavy-duty plastic bag, thick with its contents, and cracks the seal.

It’s folded up, swaddled in a dry, greasy linen. The rubbery, leathery feel of the map on his fingers still makes him shiver. It’s not even really cured. He holds it up, unwilling to let the map or its cloth rest on the dusty pack.

Under the harsh light of his flashlight, he can see the tattooed line of hills reaching south from the stone pillar at the top down towards the river. The river runs east to west, easy enough to follow from the looks of it. The big X just before the shoreline is the promise that draws both Gerry and Ringo. It’s what makes them willing to hold this map. Gerry studies the lines of hills again, certain that they’ve missed something, that he saw something before and never quite placed it.

There. In the ink of the hills. It’s subtle, and whoever did the original work must have been exceptional with a needle; three valleys in from the easternmost edge of the hills, the regular lines used to draw that particular hill chain turns blobby, small shapes instead of lines. Gerry squints, looking closer.

“Ringo.” The flashlight makes Gerry hard to understand. He tries again. “It DOES natter where we are.”

Ringo doesn’t look up from the stove. “Why.”

“Look.” Gerry takes a step closer, flashlight centered on the particular hill chain. “We leht the stone hillar dis norning. Look dere, tree zhalleys in.”

Ringo stands up, dripping spoon in hand, and stares closely at the lit portion of the map. “The lines change into little shapes. So?”

Gerry stares at Ringo. “Ringo. Dere skulls.” He spits out the flashlight. “They’re fucking skulls, Ringo. Where we are could matter a whole fucking lot.”

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