Note: Written for the Review Game forum's October Writing Challenge Contest. Tell me what you think, then check out the other entries and vote for your favorite October 8th-15th.
Oh, lone hiker, haven't you ever heard of the buddy system?
You don't go walking in the woods alone. Woods, or mountains, or deserts, or any of that shit.
Buddy system is a life-saver. Not because your buddy will save you if you get into some dangerous situation. I mean, chances are they'll be right there with you, just as fucked as you, right? Okay, maybe that's still a good reason to bring someone. Breaking your ankle sucks. Not a picnic or anything.
Mostly it's just a good way to keep yourself sane, having a buddy. It keeps away the wild.
What's 'the wild'? You're in the wilderness. Shouldn't you know?
But then... what is the wilderness, really? Places people haven't touched, couldn't or shouldn't touch. Big evil places that serve no purpose but to scare the ever-loving shit out of children. Places inhabited by animals and a chaotic spirit completely foreign to civilization.
Humans think they've stomped all that down. Tamed the mountains, destroyed the forests. Put up fields and houses and monuments in its place. Made the world fit into a box of useful and razed what could eat people alive.
And maybe they did win.
For a time.
It adapted. The trees, the hills, the desert and mountains... All of it, wild in a new way.
Wild like... rage over what used to be and what was almost destroyed. Only almost.
You can hear it when your hiking buddy doesn't speak to you. If you stand still, or walk quietly away, it's there. In the creaking of the trees when the wind blows. In the unsettling rustle of their leaves. In the way the soil erodes just so, so the rock you stepped on slips incrementally closer to the edge of a cliff. It doesn't want you there. The wilderness wants to reclaim itself, and to do that it needs you gone. Gone, completely. If you listen to it in those moments of silence, you might catch the whispers of aggression, or feel compelled to shiver as the wild brushes too close.
Talk. Sing. Argue with your damn walking buddy for all I care.
Do not, under any circumstances, continue to listen to the wild. If it knows you can hear it, can understand, it'll claim you too.
It'll drag you off the path. Not just the path you're hiking on, but off every path that ever was. Off into the oldest parts of the world, where the wild festers. It'll take you into a place where the light doesn't filter through the leaves and the understory claws to keep you out. The bushes will draw blood. You, you'll continue on, listening to the call of the wild. It will lead you to its heart, pulsing with unfettered beats.
It will show you the land through the eyes of a wolf, a panther, an alligator. A predator's eyes, viewing the place where your buddy wanders, lost, searching, calling for you.
You'll feel a twinge of something, some bit of civilization trying to call you back. Listen to it. Listen to it! Talk. Sing. Argue with yourself, in the absence of your damn walking buddy. Don't keep listening to the wild, or it will show you more.
The predator? You'll see it find your buddy. You'll see it circle them, prowling in the shadows, and your buddy will have no idea it's there. Your buddy is lucky, in their own way, that they can't hear the wild calling for the human's life. They're lucky that they won't take the wild's side, or become one with the predator, or leap out of the shadows and turn on the human who failed to keep them company.
You will. You will feel the thrill of the chase and smell the fear. Hear their heart stop at the same time as their pulse between your teeth. Feel the hunger that's only sated with those first bites. Taste human flesh slide down your throat. Fall asleep in the remains, and wake up wanting more. Wanting the chase to start over. The wild will nurture you, drive you mad with need, then release you again on unsuspecting humans until they kill you or reclaim you. But once you've gone to the wild, good luck getting out alive.
How do you think I know all this? Me, I came by the blood on my lips just so. I came by it honest from the start. Didn't let just any wolf taste my buddy. It's not so bad once you've tried it. Who would've thought, right? I went into the woods alone and saw the shadows swarming in, and everything went just as I've told you. I don't know whose blood this is, or when, or how I found them. I didn't have anyone to keep out the wild then.
And you're here now! You're here and... I still hear it, you know. I hear it now, but I'm ignoring it for your sake.
Do you hear that? No, don't listen! It sounds like... a chase.
Oh yes, a chase.
Walk fast or, better yet, start running. Maybe the sound of your rapid breathing and pounding heart will cover up the sound. Maybe it won't. Maybe it'll just be another way for me to find you when the wild reclaims me. I don't know yet. But soon-
Oh good, you're running.