31 Days of Art Day 1: Scar

So, I’ve decided to take on a 31 Day Art Challenge. Why? Well, because between releasing a new horror anthology, moving to a new house, trying to re-organize my writing space, taking a look at the work that I am doing to move towards my goals as an author and writing coach, and of course, finishing Winter Run so I can start a new project during NaNoWriMo, I just don’t have enough to fill my day! Ha… actually, I’m trying an experiment. Lynne Hansen, a terrific artist and cover designer, posted a #31DaysofArt2020 challenge, which basically lists a word a day as a prompt for either art, or design, or writing, whatever.

I’ve decided to go ahead and use it as a writing prompt. At the end of October, I may end up with 31 flash fiction stories. I may end up with some flash fiction and some scenes from Winter Run. I may end up giving up tomorrow. We’ll see. Anyway, I’m going to be posting what I come up with over here. I can’t promise it will be good (it’s a writing exercise more than publishing final projects) but if you’re doing the challenge feel free to follow along and share what you come up with!

October 1: Scars

The ground shook under my feet. Not a violent upheaval that threw me to the ground—more like the sensation of the packed-dirt-and-leaf debris sliding in opposite directions simultaneously. A harsh shiver rattled the branches around us, the last dry leaves and seedpods rattling an ominous death knell.

My aging mutt cowered behind me, wedging her graying body tight against the back of my calves. When I’d first adopted her, she’d been abused and displayed a similar stance every time one of our walks brought us within a few feet of a male passerby. She’d outgrown this behavior years ago, but now, she hid her face against me and shook uncontrollably.

An uncanny silence settled around us, broken only by my dog’s plaintive whining. She backed up, pulling against the leash. Distracted, I kept my gaze ahead on the woods, not noticing until she had slipped her collar and taken off back the way we came, her arthritic hips giving her a limp as she picked her slowly frantic way over the roots and rocks that littered the trail.

I didn’t worry—the few times she’d gotten away from the leash, I’d found her waiting for me at home, sometimes covered with muck and cuts from the brambles, but always panting at the back door, waiting to be let in.

A crashing sound from up ahead startled me. It sounded as if a tree had fallen and then just… kept falling. The crash stretched out and kept going, joined by another, then another. I looked over my shoulder. My dog was long gone. Briefly, I contemplated following her back.

On the other hand, whatever was going on ahead couldn’t have been planned or legal. Developers had been after this section of the trail for the longest time, attempting to clear and build right up to the edges of the national park property that barely protected the greenway. I had my phone—never hiked without it. I didn’t need to get too close. Just enough to snap photos of the construction equipment and bring it to the authorities. Maybe the Mayor and the town council. Some of them didn’t mind the fat gifts they got from time to time, but surely someone wouldn’t be able to ignore what was happening.

I held my phone out, camera screen at the ready, my thumb hovering over the screen so it wouldn’t automatically shut off at the wrong time and make me have to wait the couple of seconds for the camera to come back to life.

There was more light up ahead, filtering through the trees, than there should have been as I navigated down the short ravine and around the bend in the trail. Had they already started clear cutting? My hands behind to shake, sweat fogging up the phone screen. Some of these trees were over a century old, cleared by the original colonists in this area of north Jersey, then growing back steadily over the years of revolution, civil war, and then the desertion of agriculture for more lucrative industries in the area.

And then, the woods ended. What had been a dark tunnel of reaching tree branches across the trail yesterday afternoon was now an open clearing under a bright fall sky.

The first thing I saw was the large scar that ran the length of the clearing. It was about a half mile long, with about a third of that distance off to my right and the rest extending out to my left in a long, jagged hole. The edges were raw and bare and glinted with moisture that reminded me of blood. I lifted my cameraphone, scanning it back and forth, looking for the large construction equipment it would take to create this big of a trench in the middle of the woods.

A scratching sound came from the inside. Not a thin little scritch-scritch like a dog digging for fleas, but a massive, overlapping chorus of nails and teeth against dirt and roots and fur. I stood mere feet from the edge, the sound slicing at my nerves, my pulse a dull, heaving pounding through my nerveless fingers. Had it slipped through my grasp? No. I still clenched it, now raised it before me, stepping forward to peer into the chasm.

Sweat smeared the phone screen, but it had already gone blank and dead. I tucked it into my back pocket, safe. I did not know what I would find when I looked into the gash in the ground, but I knew it would not be anything so mundane as construction vehicles and men in hard hats.

A wave of vertigo hit me as I inched closer to the opening, and I slowly got down on my knees, crawling. When I reached the edge, I realized that it was not so deep, but the sight before more worsened the dizzy nausea that clawed at my stomach and my scalp.

Ten feet below, a pile of dirt and leaves. No. Now I could see it. Fur and dirt. But the glistening—that was blood. Claws. Eyes opened wide. Claw marks. Canines bared. The bottom of the trench was lined with animals, mostly raccoons and opposums and skunks, but the occasional rabbit and deer and large bear and snake interspersed broke up the gray monotony. They had been digging down, their front paws or hooves, whether designed for the task or not, breaking into the soil and throwing it up behind them.

The exertion had killed them all, dropping them in their tracks, paws splayed out for one, last scoop.

I couldn’t make any sense of it. The nausea overcame me as my vision struggled to take in the macabre corpseyard below, and I vomited everything I had until I could heave no more. I sat back on my heels, wiping my mouth with the shoulder of my T-shirt, when the ground began to move once more.

This time, I served as silent witness as the earth stretched, ripped, then parted in a similar long rip in the ground, parallel, just as long, if not as wide and deep. With the shaking came the sounds of feet and paws, more of the same small animals. At the same time, a curious compulsion gripped me.

I stood.

I followed the path of the flood of fur and teeth that led me to the new trench. Without stopping, I walked into it, losing my footing and landing on my knees beside the wildlife that teemed into the pit. As I reached out, sinking my hands into the dirt, ripping the soil as my fingers clawed and my nails tore from the task, I heard a sobbing.

A deep, heartfelt cry. It echoed through us and we shuddered with it as one.

Make it stop. Let me feel something again. Make it stop.

And I didn’t recognize the voice that filtered through the dirt, but I recognized the pain that broke through the numbness, as we clawed and scratched and cut at the scar on the skin of the earth.

Brandy, the inspiration for the beginning of the story. She’s smarter than my narrator…

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