Caleb awoke to find the cause of his aching back was the lack of a mattress underneath, though a quick look around told him he had far more to worry about than just some back pain. He was absolutely certain he’d gone to sleep in his bed, and despite his good friend and roommate Taylor’s offer, he hadn’t partaken of any liquor… so how in the hell did he end up asleep on some worn forest path? He stared up at the rich, green pines and oak leaves. They stood higher than any he’d seen, stretching up as though they intended to pierce the cloudy sky itself. The occasional ray of sunlight beamed down like a flash light, trained at random points of the forest’s shady floor.
It had to be a prank, he concluded, by one of his asshole friends. It wasn’t unusual for them to pull stupid stunts, though this was taking things way too far. He sat up, holding himself as a cool burst of air rushed over him, and scowled.
“Very funny guys, now can one of you take me back home?” He called out, expecting one of them to come out snickering. Likely with camera in hand, which they’d used in filming his ‘hilarious’ reaction. But nobody appeared.
The first real twinge of nerves began setting in as the minutes ticked by, the only sound he heard was that of the birds singing in the distance. Their songs would normally have soothed him but considering the setting and circumstance, he found them eerie and perhaps a bit ominous instead.
He unconsciously began to run frigid hands over his exposed arms, seeking friction to warm the goose bumps away, as he rose. He cursed the t-shirt he’d fallen asleep in, while silently thanking his laziness for keeping him in his warmer blue jeans. His lack of shoes however, well his feet were already feeling the sting of the cold air and of course the ground beneath them.
“Guys?” Caleb eventually yelled again, as he cautiously advanced and stepped on a rock of some sort in the process. “Dammit!” He swept up the grey pebble and tossed it into the shrubs, it made a satisfying rustle as it plummeted through the leaves. This day really couldn’t have been off to a worse start.
Would they really have just left him there? He couldn’t imagine it under normal circumstances, but maybe if they were drunk enough they would. If that was the case, it wasn’t hard to imagine them blacking out and completely forgetting about their stupid little prank. He groaned, peering both ways down the path.
“Do I seriously have to walk this?” The question fell from his lips, an unintentional effort to end the silence. They couldn’t have taken him too far from home, the problem was figuring out which way would take him back.
For lack of a better idea, he set about spinning circles with one hand covering his eyes. In that moment, he was glad that nobody was around to see him, his friends could be rather merciless in their teasing. He stopped and staggered, another reason he regretted his childish means of deciding.
“Guys!?” He called out one last time before he begrudgingly began to walk, sure that his poor feet would be screaming long before he managed to make it back home. He was going to make them pay for this.
As Caleb walked he allowed his vindictive side to weave ideas inside his head, conjuring up plots for his revenge. James would be the easiest, if it was his doing, which Caleb thought likely considering how much the man loved his pranks. He considered sneaking onto his computer and running some searches that Chelsea, Jame’s wife, would not be pleased to find. She was a known snooper, he doubted it would take her more than a day to make the discovery. Then he thought it too harsh a punishment and decided to give their kids a sugar high instead, after Chelsea left for her spa trip. That woman scared the shit out of him.
Time passed by quickly thanks to his thoughts, he soon found himself within sight of a fork in the path. He was surprised to find that he wasn’t alone in the space, the familiar visage of Taylor stood in her favorite red blouse and tight black jeans. She tugged on her short, white locks, as she glanced back and forth between her options.
An annoyed growl erupted from her throat, before the sound of a twig cracking under his foot garnered her attention. She whirled around to face him. “Finally!” She threw her arms up in the air, a slew of emotions reverberating through her as she marched over. “This was not cool, Caleb, I can’t believe you’re the one who did this!”
“Me?” He raised his hands. “Wait a minute here, I just woke up on the path back that way.” He ended with a quick jerk of his head, indicating back toward the way he’d come.
“Why should I believe you?” Her eyes were alight with scrutiny as she’d spoke, words slow, measured and somehow sinister.
“Well, I’m walking barefoot in the woods, or do you really think that’s by choice? I’ve stepped on like ten rocks so far.” He half whined, as he shifted his weight from one aching foot to the other.
“Fair point.” Taylor conceded, having spared a glance at his dirt covered feet. “I shall choose too believe you, for now.”
“Well, thanks.” He said sarcastically, rolling his eyes at her fancy tone, then sneezed.
“Hey! Keep your germs away from me, man.” She shrieked and hurried to put distance between them, her pale green eyes wide with fear.
He snorted, honestly she could be such a germaphobe sometimes! “On to the actual issue, don’t suppose you have any clue where we are?”
“Not a single one.” She sighed. “I’ve been trying to decide which direction to go for at least a half hour now.”
“That long? I’d have just picked a random direction by now.” Much like he had earlier, but she didn’t need to know that. Still, her indecision never ceased to amaze him. Taylor was the most carefree person he knew, yet she always seemed to pick everything to death in her head. The combination often cause unexpected meltdowns, over the littlest things. Like the time she’d gone into a panic over which club to join in college, it had taken him and Simon all night to calm her down and in the end she’d chosen track over swimming.
“It was partially because I was hoping whatever idiot did this would come to their senses.” She defended, arms crossed tightly beneath her chest.
“I don’t think they remember, or at least that better be their excuse.” He replied, quite bitterly.
She smirked at him. “Don’t act so tough, we both know you suck at fighting.”
“Yeah, but I’m creatively vindictive.” Caleb frowned when she promptly burst into a fit of laughter, she even wound up hunched over.
“More like childishly. I mean last month your big ‘revenge’ on Simon, for that whole 4-chan thing, was to rig a door with a bucket full of water.” She then threw her arms up, amusement shining in her eyes, and she added. “I mean, come on!”
“Okay, now you’re just being mean.” He nearly pouted, but refused to give her the satisfaction. Instead, he decided to shoot her an only half serious question. “Why am I friends with you again?”
“Because I’m awesome, and you’re in love with me.” She said, so casually that Caleb covered his face with his hand.
“That was in like tenth grade, a whole twelve years ago. You can’t keep using it on me.” He informed, his tone more than a little annoyed. Why did she have to throw that in his face, every damn chance she got? It made him feel like an embarrassed teenager, like he had back in that dreary high school hallway the day she’d rejected him. It wasn’t something he wanted to keep reliving as a 26 year old man.
“Can and will.” She purred her response, giving his nose a playful tap before she turned back to the decision at hand. “So, left or right?”
“Uhh… well I guess let’s find out if right is named it for a reason.” He shrugged, then frowned at the face she made. The crinkled brown brows, a stand out against her otherwise white hair, and twisted lips seemed to ask if his IQ had dropped into double digits. “What?”
“That’s how you pick?”
“Hey, at least I picked.” Even he was shocked by his defensiveness, a light pink dusting his cheeks as he looked away.
“Fine, be that way!” She half shouted, then began stomping her way down his chosen path.
“Wait up!” He yelled and hurried after her.
They walked on in silence, the large tress giving no taste of the suns warmth. Caleb couldn’t help but notice the icicles hanging from the branches, occasionally dripping chilled water down to the ground. It seemed that the further they walked, the colder it got. Until the icicles no longer shed liquid, and soon soft snow flakes began to fall, blanketing the world around them.
“This is ridiculous.” Taylor whined, pale hands cupped to her mouth. “There’s no way that it should be snowing yet.” He could see a hint of fear in her gaze, the ticking of her mind as she worked out the worst possible outcomes. Caleb had known her well enough to take her words for what they were, a distraction from her thoughts.
“At least you’ve got long sleeves.” He replied, as he eyed the red cloth. Though he felt far more envious of her shoes, his feet like an icy fire had enveloped them. He wasn’t sure how much more he could take.
“Oh yeah… That’s gotta suck.” The pitying look she gave him made Caleb regret having pointed it out.
“I’ll be fine.” He stated as firmly as possible, despite fearing that he would freeze to death if the snow kept up, let alone if it got worse. Though he doubted it would, snow in august was odd enough.
“I vote we build a fire.” She suddenly piped, her heavy gaze told him that she expected him to get right to it.
“I don’t think the snow out here would leave it lit for long.”
“I don’t care if it’s ten minutes of warmth, it’s still warmth!” She reasoned, jutting out her lower lip in a pout.
“Yeah, except we’d be burning daylight. I think we’re be better off getting as far as we can, hopefully to a town or something, because I’d rather not be out here at night.” There were probably bears, or wolves, or who knows what else lurking around. Well, there were probably only coyotes to worry about, but that was more than enough as far as he was concerned.
“You’re such a chicken.” She told him, hoping to egg him into it. While silently cursing the fact that she’d never bothered learning how to build a campfire herself.
Surprisingly, he didn’t take the bait. “If that’s what you call not having a death wish, than yes I am.” Caleb finished by stuffing his hands into his jean pockets, unable to stand the cold on his extremities any longer. At this point, they’d taken precedence over his arms.
After, what he guessed had been, an hour of walking and steadily worsening weather, Caleb was tempted to reconsider the fire. But somehow, he found freezing was preferable to the ‘I told you so’ crap he would surely take from Taylor. Whom hadn’t stopped pouting since he’d shot it down.
“Do you think we went the wrong way?” She asked, her voice thick with concern as she raised her hand to twirl a strand of her hair. Only to groan when she remembered how short she’d had it cut the day before, leaving her with little to play with for distraction. So much for coping mechanisms.
“Maybe, but it won’t do us any good to turn around now.” He paused for a sigh. “We’re stuck seeing this through ’til we hit civilization.”
“But what if it’s even further this way then it would be if we turned back?” The panic on her face left him feeling awkward, helpless, and uncomfortably responsible for her welfare. Which just sucked, especially considering he could barely take care of himself on the day-to-day. She’d even fronted him a hundred to cover his portion of the rent that month, but not once had he ever imagined protecting her in a wilderness situation would become part of the pay back.
“We’ll be fine, I’ll like… catch a fish with a flash light or something if need be.” He said, not sounding too sure of himself, but it was all he could think to say.
She came to a sudden halt, a question in her eyes as she looked at him. “You have a flash light on you?”
“Well, no.” He conceded, then hurried to add. “But that was just a random example!”
She tutted. “Well I hope I don’t have to find out what your next idea would be.”
“Well sorry I’m not a survival expert, but at least I’m trying.” Caleb quickly resumed walking.
The bitterness of his tone left her feeling guilty, he really was just trying to help her nerves. She hurried to catch up with him. “I’m sorry.” It was as though the words were some foreign language, and she wasn’t quite sure if she was saying them right.
“What?” His eyes were wide as saucers when he looked at her, unsure if he’d heard her right.
“I said I’m sorry, what’s the big deal!?” She huffed, her face skipping right over pink and straight into a deep crimson.
“I’ve never heard you apologize to anyone for anything before.” He was sure nobody would believe him about this when they got home- if they got home. He swept the thought away, he needed to be positive, to act like everything was okay. Taylor needed that.
“Well, I’m usually right.” Her words almost sounded like a question, rather than the statement it was intended to be. She pursed her lips as she thought it over, fairly certain that she was rarely wrong.
“You sound so sure of yourself.” He joked, but the smile quickly faded when she shot him an icy glare.
Looking away, he couldn’t help but notice that the now fairly heavy snow fall was less chilly. How was that possible? Was he getting hypothermia or something? He decided not to voice his thoughts on the matter, it would only make Taylor worry even more and panicking wouldn’t help their situation.
So they walked on in silence, the snow somehow heavier than the silence between them.