Part Two of Chuck Wendig’s Challenge: Continuing the story (a.k.a. The Middle 500 words)

What I did to continue someone’s tale. Scroll down to PART II for my continuation of Dave’s story, which I included so it reads well (I hope!) Here’s the link to Dave’s original start to the story and his site:

Part I:

Zara woke up to a patch of light streaming through her tarp tent. There was a crispness to the air as she wiggled a little deeper into her sleeping bag. Tilting towards the opening she could see the lake she set up camp next to at dusk the night before. Closer to shore she spotted a tent she missed when scoping the area. It made her feel good knowing there would be someone to talk to today.

It had been days since she last saw someone. But that’s the point when backpacking through the backcountry. Only people that are really serious about experiencing the outdoors would be here.

Though late in the season, Zara was happy to still see snow on the tips of the mountains surrounding the bowl shed hiked down into the previous day.

Something scurried across her view, then back, stopping in the center. Just a marmot she thought. Curious, unafraid creatures. Part of the “chill” group of creatures encountered in the woods she always told anyone who’d listen.

Laying there for a moment, staring, waiting for the other to make a move before Zara gave in because nature was calling.

After relieving herself, she gave a big stretch while taking in the landscape. Shattering the silence, her stomach grumbled, reminding her it was time to eat.

Coffee and a package of Cinnamon Pop-Tarts, a hikers breakfast of champions. With her down bag wrapped around her for warmth, she scanned the area.

Besides the tent in front of her, no other sign of humans. Just the right amount she thought.

Out here in the wild, it’s a fine balancing act of solitude and company.

Biting another piece off of the cold, high calorie pastry, Zara’s more mind wandered to who was in the tent. A couple on a honeymoon trip, another solo hiker like herself but probably not a family. She would have heard them. As voices tend to carry when there’s nothing to silence them.

Crumpling the thin foil, Zara pushed it back into her food bag and continued sipping her coffee. The cold night air was finally being chased away by the sun and more forest creatures starting milling about her camp. The marmot was still rummaging around for food, glancing her direction every so often.

Letting out a huge sigh, she reveled in the simple life that happens only when she went backpacking. A hot mug of coffee, shelter and a little food. Not to mention an amazing view. If only it could be like this always.

As Zara finished the last of her coffee, she ran through the days plans. Get water from the lake, pack up, hike to the top of the ridge and camp in the trees. Simple day ahead she thought.

Making her way down to the lake, water bladder in hand, she eyed the tent off to her left, wondering if she’d have the pleasure of meeting the only other soul out here.

The lake was cold, filled by snow melt and crystal clear. Zara filtered it anyway but at this altitude, the water would have been fine to drink straight. A painless precaution she always told herself.

With a bladder full of water, she walked along the shore watching the wind blow gentle waves over the pebbles that crunched under her shoes. When she got in line with the other tent, she stared at it, listening. Backpackers weren’t known to sleep in late.

As she started heading back, she noticed deep red streaks that seemed to lead to the mystery persons tent. As she got closer, it crossed her mind that it was blood, maybe they were a hunter. That wasn’t uncommon in the backcountry.

At the door of the tent the blood was much more pronounced. Her heart leapt into her throat, feeling the pounding of increasing beats. She called out. Nothing.

With her shaking hands she tugged on the zipper a smell of death escaping its confines. A body, dead. She didn’t have to move in closer to see that. Stumbling backwards, she landed in a small bush, twisting her ankle on a rock. Grabbing it she looked around, panicked that there was a bear still lurking around. Looking towards the outsides of the bowl she didn’t see anything. Her breathing was still heavy as she locked onto her own tent. Someone was standing there. She made out the silhouette as it turned towards her.

Scrambling up, she started hobbling in the opposite direction.

Part II:

“Did you see?”

The silhouette spoke, voice breaking, thwarting Zara’s plan to flee. She stopped, turned, and took only a moment to recognize a woman’s shape. One whose hair formed a dark snarl on one side of her head.

“I didn’t see anything.” Zara replied, too hasty, knowing all the while that lying would do no good. As the only two people in the presence of a bloodied tent, upholding denial would be difficult. Moving forward in a shuffle-step, the woman held a limp hand toward the streaked nylon.

“Tracks. He’s in there. I don’t know what to do with him. You’re the first person I’ve seen since, since…” The woman made a sound then, almost a whimper, and when Zara could see her eyes, their red edges, and what looked like old blood or mud on her cheek, her own heart picked up tempo.

“What um, what happened?”

“I don’t know.” The woman shook her head back and forth. “It was dark and, and I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared.”

The woman had gotten near enough for Zara to smell stale blood and realize the clump at her temple was a mat of dried gore. The tree trunks and foliage seemed to draw close and Zara’s vision grew sharp.

What happened to Tracks?” she demanded, and took a step toward the tent, wishing now that she’d made herself look before. The woman was freaking her out. As Zara limped sideways, her ankle taut with heat and pain, the woman started to weep, her shoulders shaking, but Zara noticed no tears fell, and she didn’t react, even when Zara bent to slide open the zipper. Rancid sweetness billowed forth when the door flap fell, and covering nose and mouth with an elbow, she dipped to have a look.

Tracks had not passed in peace. Brown stains filled the tent, dried blood so thick in places Zara could see it breaking up in flakes. Short hairs in three colors were strewn everywhere and drifted up in the current from the open door. The devastation hadn’t reached Track’s pointed ears and lush tail though, and Zara imagined the fur would be soft and thick under her hand.

“I’m so sorry,” Zara said as she pulled back from the opening. Sadness and relief stirred her, an awkward mating that came of acknowledging that though the life in the tent was ended brutally, it was not a human one, nor had the end come from a two-legged predator. Zara had no time to explore those feelings or let them take root however, for when she straightened, ready to approach the grieved woman with understanding instead of fear, she found the clearing empty.

She spun, a pained, careful dance using the toes of her injured leg. A complete revolution served as confirmation she was alone with the body of a mutilated dog. Zara heard her throat move when she swallowed, but the ballsy croak of a distant crow was the only other sound.

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