I’ve never held much stock in writing exercises for a writer’s group, but I’m in a writer’s group and there was a task. A short on the theme of lost and found. How short is short? I asked. In response I got a meme with a cartoon character prancing about in very short shorts. Funny. But not helpful.
So, I wrote a short, and read it to the group. Five hundred words, and a very formative experience. They enjoyed it, and I hope you do too. It was a nice warm up that morning as I worked on my novel—I’d say I’m ¾ through my science fiction story, MisStep. I know I’m getting near the end when I’m starting to sketch out the next book in the adventure.
The ship was nearly destroyed by a collision on their return to the convoy. Jens suspects it was not an asteroid but another ship. But at the moment they are limping back, trying to keep the ship in one piece. Once they take the final Step in their cargo run even more goes wrong, and they end up way off course.
But that’s later. For now, I hope you enjoy a small walk down memory lane.
Gold Rush Days
His foot was a short distance away. I tapped it with my hand. He stopped crawling.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
That’s the first time I felt it. A flutter, butterfly wings, a rapid beating in the middle of my chest. Leo always knew which way was north. He always knew where he was. Where we were. He was my compass.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Maybe we can try again,” he said. That was uncertainty in his voice. As if he was asking me what to do.
I shuffled backwards until I reached the branch in the tunnel that we followed. It was big enough to sit upright. Just. In the Gold Rush a miner had dug this looking for that vein of quartz that held all the treasure. He dug burrows into the hills, hunting, always hunting. Gold Fever. He had it bad. We had a fever, one hundred and fifty years later, exploring his diggings, deep in the hills under our homes. This one was a treasure, a true find. Wide caverns slumped down into crouching tunnels, which branched into crawl spaces just high enough and wide enough to work the elbows and the knees—if you didn’t raise your back too much.
Only now we were lost.
We had a simple rule. Right turns to explore. Take the first right. Then the next right. Then the next. An easy system. To get out, simply take lefts. Only today it failed us.
So, we tried again. Left, left, left. I tap Leo’s foot. Translation: what’s up?
“Dead end,” he says.
So, we try again. Left, left, left. I tap Leo’s foot. No need for translation.
“Try again,” he says. But I hear it in his voice. He is not only my compass, but my confidence. And that was not confident. It was afraid.
Scenarios flash by. Not my life, not the past, but the future. Months in the future, when decomposing corpses are found in a caved in, shut off section of an old mine, hidden in the foothills. And I feel it, that flutter, only it is not a butterfly any longer, but something bigger. Much bigger. I feel it rise from my heart, crawl its way up my chest, its talons digging in and pulling itself higher. I know that if it reaches my throat it will escape. It will rush out of my mouth, as a scream. A terror filled scream.
In the dark, deep under the earth, I grab it. I stop it. I push it down, back where it came from and back to where it can keep hiding. I know that if it comes out, I will not.
So, I tuck it away, hidden even from myself.
I breathe, slowly. Lying on my belly, on damp dark earth and stone, my elbows sore, my back scratched, and the soles of Leo’s dirty boots immediately in front of me. I tap his foot.
“Ok,” I say, starting to shuffle backwards. “One more time.”