Tracks, a short story : Parts 1-4

This is a repost. I decided to put the first four parts of my story together for easier access. Part 5 will be coming soon. I hope you emjoy.

Part 1

It was a joyous feeling, knowing that you were the first one to pass this way. There were no tracks to be seen. He had been walking for a while now, and even though the snow was fairly fresh he would have thought that somebody would have been this way by now.

He wasn’t an early bird, although he often wished he was, and it was already 10 am. Usually another walker or jogger would have been here before now. But, no, there were no prints of any kind, neither human nor animal.

The forest path ran straight off into the distance and he loved the feeling it gave him. It was as if he could see into the future and gain comfort that he knew that everything was going to be OK.

He wished that he could see so clearly into his own future. Then, perhaps, he would have known that Leah would leave him. He would not have allowed himself to dream, to have believed that things could ever have been so perfect. That was the hardest thing now, he had dreamt of a perfect life, but that dream had died.

Now wasn’t the time for these thoughts. This was his time for relaxation and calm. Everyone kept telling him that getting out into nature would help with his moods, but switching off his brain was still proving difficult.

The sound of the crunching snow was soothing, the rest of the world seemed to be pure silence. Occasionally he would stand and just listen, nothing. That changed when he rounded the one corner that he came to, after he had been walking for about thirty minutes. Suddenly there were birds in the sky. Flying in a clockwise circle about 100 metres ahead of him. There were maybe around one hundred of them, seemingly chasing each other. It certainly wasn’t normal group behaviour.

As he approached they were actually fairly silent, but the furious flapping of their wings, as well as the speed with which they were moving, created a rushing in the air which seemed deafening after the previous silence.

It made him nervous, and he stopped in his tracks to take it in. They were circling directly above the path in front of him. Another straight, snow covered track, surrounded on either side by dense pine forest. Snow decorated the trees, so it looked like a Christmas card, apart from the crazy birds that is.

As much as he wanted to turn around and get away, there was also a curiosity which was beseeching him to move forward and investigate. He simply had to get closer and see what was going on.

So, he moved long the track until he was only a few metres away from the circling birds. That is when he saw something in the snow, the first prints he had seen all morning. Getting closer he could see that they appeared to be manmade. But, strangely, they seemed to be in a circle too. A clockwise, perfect ring of footsteps. But with none outside, or within, the ring. It was as if a person had dropped from the sky, walked around, and then been transported away again.

The birds above him continued to wheel, either chasing each other, or somehow being drawn into the formation of a whirlpool. Looking up at them made him feel dizzy. Since he was staring up he didn’t notice that he was wandering closer to the circle of prints. Before he knew it he was standing dead in the centre of them, and that was when the birds seemed to change their formation. What was once a perfect circle was beginning to lose its form as the birds began to surge up and down in waves.

Then, they dove. All at once the whole flock was surging down towards him. He froze in panic, closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth. Then everything went black, blacker than the darkest night.

Part 2

Now everything is silent. My whole body feels as if it belongs to somebody else. I am disconnected, my senses feel short-circuited. As I open my eyes it seems to make no difference. There is still no vision, all is black.

The heaviest silence that I have ever experienced is also surrounding me, and I feel as if I am floating. The one sense that seems to be functioning is smell. There is a strong smell of, something. I am having trouble putting my finger on it. It is earthy, moist, dead.

I even appear to be breathing separately from my body, I can somehow sense the breathe passing through my lips, but my chest feels as if it is not moving a millimetre. I am actually grateful for that loss of feeling. I imagine the panic I would feel, rising within me as that shortness of breath would only multiply my feeling of loss of control.

I don’t know whether it is because I am becoming accustomed to the place, wherever I am, but I can now begin to hear something. A distant rumble or echo. Could that be the ocean? Or, is it just the blood in my ears that I am listening too?

Perhaps my senses are slowly beginning to return one by one, as now I seem able to feel something. I wish I couldn’t, as it seems to be cold and wet. Slowly, it is working its way up from my fingertips, to my wrist, then continues along my forearm.

I attempt to see what it is that appears to be moving closer and closer to my head, but my eyes can only stretch so far down and, I now realise, that my head is locked in position. Is something holding me? Am I paralysed?

The cold feeling is now on my neck, my cheek, then enters my mouth. A bitter taste, a sickening feeling, a flash before my eyes. Then, once more, everything goes black.

Part 3

Everything feels cold and wet. My jacket is soaked through. This is when I realise that I can feel again. The chill of the air as it enters my lungs. My body begins to shiver with the shock of the cold.

When I open my eyes I see that I am lying, flat on my back, on that same forest track where I first saw the birds. As I look up to the sky I see them, circling as before. But, this time, there is something different. They are further away from me and… I don’t know what, something is off. They appear to be moving much slower than normal, so slowly that you would think that they would fall from the sky. Yet, they continue to drift around in their formation.

Dragging myself to my feet, I realise that it is almost dark. Dusk or dawn, I do not know. I pray for the latter, it is bitterly cold now. So, I decide to start moving. The analysis, of what the hell just happened to me, can wait. I need to get safe and warm.

As I am walking along the track I begin to feel that the sun must be setting, the light is gradually dimming and it is getting colder. Although, that could just be my sopping jacket that is adding to that impression. I am a good hour from home and am beginning to panic.

I look up to check the sky, if it is really darkening. It is, but not only because the sun is setting, but those birds are still above me. Except now they seem to be closer. A slowly circling patch of black that is almost filling the sky. Now only 10 metres above my head, still drifting so slowly that they are defying all laws of physics. And they are silent, as if they are simply a simulation.

The closer I look at everything, the more I see and feel an inexplicable strangeness. The only thing that seems solid is the track that I am standing on. Even the trees appear, somehow, other. I decide I need to try something. As I walk to the side of the track, to where the tree line begins, the crunching of my shoes in the snow is a consolation, something true. When I get to stand right next to the first tree, I can see almost a blurriness to it. I reach my hand out to touch it, but terror is gripping me, my hand is shaking uncontrollably. Finally, I build up enough courage to reach out and touch it. As I do, solidity seems to return to the tree, at least the part that I am touching anyway. I can feel the roughness of the bark under my skin, and it appears more real, at least the part immediately surrounding my hand. About 10 centimetres from my palm it begins to blur again.

Part 4

I recoil from the tree, withdrawing my hand, and my breath begins to shorten. Now, I wish that I was back underground. At least there seemed less possibility of a heart attack there.

I don’t know where to go, what to do. The birds are still circling above the track, they didn’t follow me into the trees. Why?

As I walk back onto the track, and begin to walk along it, they follow. Still continuing their slow circle directly above me. I need to test something.

Again, I walk into the trees. Yes! The birds stay above the track and leave me be. Perhaps I should stay in the forest. But here there is more there that appears unreal, at least on the track there is just white snow. It’s a tough choice. Which place is creepier than the other?

Then I see it. Her. Leah. The one, or so I thought.

But, it is immediately clear that it is not really her. It is an image, a blur just like the trees. She is shimmering, and that only makes her more beautiful. As she glides between the trees, slowly coming nearer to me, her head is bowed. Her full attention seems to be on something which is invisible to me. I don’t know if it is a thing on the forest floor, or simply something that is within her mind.

My left foot feels like dashing back to the track, but my right is firmly planted, wanting so much to look into her eyes. It even occurs to me that if I could only touch her she would become real, just as the trees do.

As soon as I think it the decision is made and I begin to move towards her. She is close now, only a few metres away. Her fair, brown hair waving slightly as she moves, but in slow motion, as the birds do. Her head is still bowed, then I notice that her feet are bare. The cold doesn’t appear to be bothering her.

She now stands directly before me, and begins to raise her head slowly. When she looks at me she smiles, and my heart beats a thousand times faster, swelling within my chest.

I have no choice, it is not even a conscious decision. I reach out to touch her cheek and, as I do, her image gains stability. She is no longer shimmering, she is real. But as soon as I touch her I also realise that this person may look like Leah, but it is not her. It is something … other.

To be continued….

© Neil Hayes and neilhayeswrites

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