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Flash Friday - The Hike

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Welcome to the first in the Flash Friday series. Every other Friday I intend to post a piece of flash fiction, normally under 1000 words long. If you have any story prompts for these flash pieces, please leave them in the comments and I'll be sure to thank you if/when I use them!

The Hike

 

Fae-Lin tilted her face towards the sun, basking in the warmth of the afternoon. Birds sang in the trees around the carpark and there were crickets somewhere in the undergrowth. This was exactly what she needed. Some down-time and fresh air would help get her head around the strange things that had been going on lately.

‘Are you ready?’ Simon asked, slamming the boot of the car.

Fae-Lin frowned, taking her backpack from him and securing it on her shoulders.

‘Sorry.’ Simon looked sheepish, ducking his head before holding out a bottle of water.

‘Thanks,’ Fae-Lin said, taking the water. ‘Which trail do you want to take today?’

Simon looked at his watch and then at the sky. ‘How about the six-mile loop? That should get us back before dark.’

‘OK. Want to hit Sam’s Grill for a steak on the way back?’ Fae-Lin set off towards the start of the six-mile loop.

‘Sure, but it’s my turn to pay this time.’

‘Well, in that case, I’ll be ordering dessert!’ Fae-Lin laughed and pulled her shoulder-length hair back into a pony tail. She knew the style made her look around twelve years old but she didn’t care – she would be more comfortable this way.

The two friends made their way along the trail, chatting a little, but mostly just enjoying the peace and fresh air. They had been hiking together for years and were accustomed to each other’s rhythms.

Just after they had passed the first mile marker, Fae-Lin noticed Simon looking at her intently.

‘What is it?’ she asked.

‘I was just wondering if you wanted to talk about it?’

‘What?’

‘Whatever it is that made you take a Friday off work and call me for a short-notice hike.’

Fae-Lin sighed and tugged at her ponytail.

‘It’s OK if you’d rather not.’

‘It’s just… It’s work, so I can’t say much.’

‘Isn’t the research going well?’

‘It is. I’m just getting some odd results.’

They continued along the trail in silence for a while and eventually the hike began to have the effect that Fae-Lin had hoped for. The tension gradually seeped out of her shoulders and back, leaving her feeling lighter than she had in days.

‘How’s Margaret?’ she asked, breaking the silence.

‘Upset.’ Simon kicked a stone along the trail, looking bashful. ‘I forgot our anniversary again.’

‘You know, somewhere, in some universe, you remember it every year,’ Fae-Lin chuckled.

‘I told her that but it didn’t help.’

‘What did she say?’

‘She’d like to swap with the other Margaret for a while.’

Fae-Lin burst into peals of laughter. ‘I’m sorry, Simon, but I’m not surprised. These things are important to women.’

‘Don’t you ever forget your anniversary? You’re as much the absent-minded scientist as I am!’

‘Ellie never lets me forget – she puts it in my diary every year and e-mails reminders to the lab.’

Simon snorted. ‘How come you got the understanding wife?’

‘Just lucky I guess,’ Fae-Lin smiled and wiped sweat from her forehead. ‘Want to have a break?’ she asked, gesturing to a fallen tree by the side of the path.

They both slipped out of their backpacks and sat down on the tree trunk, sipping water. Fae-Lin studiously tried to ignore the shimmering cloud in the air about three feet away from her head. She knew that, soon, she would have to decide if she had actually found something that her beloved science couldn’t explain, or if she was losing her mind.

Her shoulders began to inch their way towards her ears again and she closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths and trying to regain her sense of well-being.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it, Fae?’

Fae-Lin sighed. ‘I would, but it’s all new stuff, it’s confidential. You know how the University likes to protect its research.’

‘What if we spoke in hypotheticals?’ Simon asked, fishing a chocolate bar out of his backpack.

‘Hypothetically, if someone was doing research into the boundaries of the multiverse, and stumbled across an … opening, for want of a better word, would you believe them?’

Simon studied Fae Lin’s face for a long time before speaking. ‘How could this be?’

‘I have no idea. There’s nothing in the research that explains it, but ever since I did a new  experiment last week, a sort of shimmering window has been following me about.’

‘I know you don’t want to hear this but, have you had your eyes checked?’

Fae-Lin pushed Simon in the side. ‘Of course I did. I went to the optician on Monday.’

‘What makes you think this thing is a window?’

‘I’ve seen shadows moving on the other side of it.’

‘Is it here?’ Simon asked, looking around.

‘Just there,’ Fae-Lin said, pointing at the shimmer. ‘Looks like a heat-haze.’

Simon scrunched up his face. ‘I don’t see anything.’

Fae-Lin sighed. ‘I know. I think I might be losing my mind.’

‘There’s no way you’re losing your mind. You’re the steadiest person I know. You might want to get a second opinion on that eye test though.’ Simon patted Fae-Lin on the shoulder. ‘Let’s walk and talk or we won’t get back before dark.’

Fae-Lin paused, adjusting the straps on her backpack and watching Simon move ahead on the trail. She glanced to the side; the shimmer was still there. Enough is enough. I’m going to touch it. Nothing will happen and that’ll prove once and for all there’s nothing there.

            Fae-Lin marched towards the floating shimmer and reached out her hand. Nothing. Not even the faintest tingle. She turned back to follow Simon but the trail was gone. Before her stretched a plain of black sand, as far as the eye could see. She spun in a circle, seeking the shimmer that had accompanied her for the last week. There was no sign of it.

‘Simon!’ she shouted. ‘Simon can you hear me?’

The only response was a deep-throated growl from somewhere behind her. Fae-Lin screamed.

Thanks for reading, folks. I hope you enjoyed the story, please feel free to leave comments for me!