In response to 1000 Words: Twelve
They had just passed the ancient town carved into the mountainside when the sun finally disappeared. Darkness made it difficult to navigate the rocky terrain, and they had only a vague idea where they were going. The valley seemed endless, and the mile-high slopes on either side seemed threatening; like frozen tsunamis about to come alive and crush down on them.
The tour bus was probably back at the hotel, and they cursed their tour guide (who couldn’t string two English sentences together) for not noticing their absence. Frank had decided to hike down to the bottom of the valley while his tour group explored the plateau, and lost track of time amongst the lush greenery.
He had taken his last sip of water hours ago, and dehydration was already starting to affect his judgement. The dull shafts of fresh moonlight shone through the tree branches above him, casting shapes on the terrain that made him wince at everything that moved. The guide had mentioned (in horribly broken English) that the valley was home to all sorts of life-threatening insects and reptiles, but the king of the valley was the black bear. They had to keep their wits about them if they were going to make it back to civilization, but if they came across a bear – it was tickets.
“Can you believe that guy?” Frank asked rhetorically.
He checked his phone for the fifth time in as many minutes.
Still no signal.
His survival partner kicked a stone and sighed. “That’s what you get for booking the cheapest tour package.” He said.
Frank chuckled morbidly. He too had booked the cheapest tour package he could find online and was regretting it dearly. He made a mental note that the next time he decided to travel alone, he was sure as heck booking a tour guide that spoke fluent English.
“What’s your name, friend?” Frank asked.
The man said nothing, which was strange. People normally answer that question immediately.
“You know my name.” he said after a moment of silence.
Frank turned to look at him, puzzled by the cryptic response. The man’s face was darkened by the hood of his jacket, and for a moment Frank couldn’t picture him. This confusing, because he’d seen the man in broad daylight less than an hour ago.
Frank had been walking west through thick shrubbery, following the setting sun towards where he hoped he’d find a town or settlement, when the man had appeared. His story was similar to Frank’s: He’d hiked down to the stream that ran along the valley floor, looking for scenic spots to snap a few photographs, and had gotten lost.
“You must be more dehydrated than you think, bud.” Frank said to the man.
The stranger said nothing.
They walked in silence for what felt like hours, climbing over downed trees and hacking through thick bush, until they came upon a clearing. A section of thinner trees had been removed to allow for a camp site. It was a large flat area of dirt with a carpet of countless pine needles. A ring of stones marked the center of the site, and in the middle lay three charred pieces of firewood.
“Looks like the campers are long gone. This wood has been here for a while.” Frank said, then checked his phone again.
He unclipped his hiking backpack and sat down on a log while his companion paced the perimeter of the camp. He did so slowly and without much enthusiasm, like a bored husband nonchalantly browsing a clothing store while waiting for his wife in the changing rooms.
“Don’t need to rest?” Frank asked. He was thirstier than he’d ever been, and the words were difficult to produce. The chords between his brain and his mouth needed lubricating.
“I am resting.” The stranger responded.
A rustling noise nearby the campsite made Frank jump to his feet. He pulled his folding knife from the pocket in his khaki trousers, whipped it open, and held it out in front of him.
“Did you hear that?” He asked the man, who was still dragging his feet through the stony dirt behind Frank.
“It’s a bear,” he said, “and it’s come for you.”
“What?” Frank shouted. He turned around, but couldn’t see the stranger. The man had gone silent, and in the stifling darkness Frank now couldn’t tell if he was there or not.
Then the stranger spoke again: “You’re bleeding Frank. Predators can smell you, and this one has been tracking you for a while now.”
Frank’s eyes opened wide, and a shiver trickled from his neck to his coccyx.
“Your leg, Frank. You cut it on a branch hours ago, and you’ve lost quite a lot of blood. I’m guessing that’s why you’re hallucinating.” The man said.
“I didn’t… cut my leg… did I?” Frank’s hand traveled down to his shin where he felt a tear in his pants, and when he dabbed his finger onto the skin through the slit a sharp pain shot up his leg.
Another rustling sound came from nearby, closer this time, followed by a low growl.
“You knew I was injured, but you didn’t tell me!?” Frank shouted, looking around frantically, trying to catch a glimpse of the man. “Who the hell are you!?”
All Frank heard was the echo of his own voice, and the sound of something big crunching leaves as it moved closer. Then the man spoke one final time; so close that it felt like he was inside Frank’s head.
“I am you.”
A cloud moved out of the moon’s way and white light shone down, illuminating the valley. Frank saw bushes moving to his left, and then a giant black bear stepped out; reflective eyes fixed on him.
He stumbled, then backed away from the approaching bear until his back hit the log. He frantically looked around for a sign of the stranger. If they were going to defend themselves against a bear attack, they would have to work together.
The man had vanished, and Frank’s last thought, as the monstrous black bear leapt towards him with outstretched claws and exposed teeth, was whether he had been alone the whole time.
© De Wet Ferreira
Meet the Author
De Wet Ferreira was born in Port Elizabeth, along the south-eastern coast of South Africa. Throughout Ferreira’s travels, he has worked as a waiter, quasi-manager of a coffee shop, a used car salesman, and a pizza delivery boy. He is a gigging musician who plays intimate shows on wine farms in the Cape Town area, digital freelance marketer, teacher at an international school in Jiangsu, China, and so much more!
His stories revolve around South Africa serving as vignette’s into the lives of those who live there regardless of their station and ambitions.
Use the contact form below or navigate to his website if you have questions regarding Ferreira’s stories and are interested in collaborating with him.