“Bluff Creek” by Kathleen McElligott
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Kathleen McElligott faces an unreal adversary in the woods of northern California.
My fiancé Jeff offered up his family’s hunting cabin in northern California so I could finish my novel. No phone, Internet, or TV—it was the perfect place to complete Hell Hath No Fury, the third book in the Penelope Peach mystery series.
The standing joke among Jeff’s family was that Bluff Creek was the site of a Bigfoot sighting in the late fifties. It was a hoax, of course, but the source of many a tale told around the campfire when he was a boy.
Jeff delivered me to the cabin with enough supplies to last a week. Before he drove off in his pickup, he laughed: “You’re not scared, are you?”
“Hell no.” One more kiss and he disappeared down the road. That was three days ago.
With no distractions I made progress, but the last chapter, the unveil, had me stumped. I needed a break. I laced my Nikes, donned a ball cap, and jogged down the gravel driveway. The afternoon sun blazed, and after a few minutes I was soaked with sweat. Flies and mosquitoes buzzed and bit mercilessly. Damn, I should have brought bug spray. I jogged past a break in the trees, an overgrown fire lane that promised relief from the sun. The temperature dropped immediately.
My breathing and footsteps were accompanied by cheerful birdsong. As the final chapter formed in my head, I heard movement behind me: rustling leaves and snapping branches. The birdsong stopped. Despite the heat, a chill raced up my spine. I wasn’t alone in the woods.
I ran faster. Suddenly, something grabbed me from behind. I smelled its putrid breath. Screaming was useless. Conserve energy. That’s what Penelope would do. I kicked and clawed blindly, breaking free when my foot connected. I stumbled and fell to my knees, then felt my hair tear from its roots as I was yanked upward. A primal instinct kicked in—survival. I fought viciously and escaped, running deeper into the woods.
Blood oozed into my eyes. I continued running. The path disappeared. I wiped my eyes with sticky red fingers. The quick thud of approaching footsteps warned me that it wasn’t done. My lungs were on fire; my heart thumped wildly. I knew I couldn’t outrun it. I felt its hot breath on my back. I remembered Jeff telling me that one of the fire lanes doubled back toward the cabin. I prayed this was the one.
The green canopy parted, revealing blue sky and a clearing ahead. Please let it be the cabin. I summoned my remaining strength and sprinted toward the door. My assailant cast a long shadow over me, but I didn’t dare turn around to look. I exploded into the cabin, bolted the door, and collapsed to my knees, my chest heaving. I listened for movement, but I couldn’t hear anything except my ragged breathing.
What would Penelope do? Screw that! I am Penelope Peach, and I’m getting the rifle from the cabinet and will hold up here until either Jeff returns or I blow a hole through whatever’s outside.
Thump, thump, thump. I opened my eyes, still clutching the rifle. Was it dusk or dawn? I had fallen asleep with my back against the door. There it was again! It wasn’t someone knocking—it was something searching for a way inside the cabin.
I stood slowly and walked to the center of the room. Thump, thump, thump. The sound came from below. The cabin was built on stilts three feet off the ground with dead space and junk beneath the floor. I lifted the braided rug and watched in horror as the wood creaked and bulged with each blow.
“Identify yourself,” I demanded. I waited . . . then fired three shots into the floor.
“You’re in shock,” the sheriff said in the police car, after I was found wandering along the road.
I remember shivering and drinking hot coffee from a paper cup at the station. People milled about. I answered questions. Someone put a blanket over my shoulders. Then it was quiet. When the sheriff returned, he pulled up a chair and sat down.
“He’s dead—the man under the cabin. I don’t know who he was, maybe one of those survivalists. He was wearing animal skins . . . nothing else.” He shook his head. “We get a lot of crazies up here ’cause of that Bigfoot scare years ago.” He stood and adjusted his holster. “The ambulance is on its way. Is there anyone you want to call?”
KATHLEEN McELLIGOTT was a nurse administrator in a previous life, with a master’s of health administration degree. Some people dread retirement, but she couldn’t wait to start her real life. In early 2015 she joined a group of intrepid women cyclists and journeyed cross-country from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida. It was an amazing adventure. Follow her exploits at www.kmcelligott.wordpress.com. Her debut novel, Mommy Machine (Heliotrope Press, 2008), was recognized by USA Best Books 2009 in the women’s lit category. Check it out at www.bn.com. She’s hard at work on the sequel. Akashic Books featured “The Playdate” as part of their Terrible Twosdays series in August 2014 and “Yoga Bitch” in their Thursdaze series in February 2015. Her work has appeared in the Star Newspaper and Real Simple’s web edition as well as many anthologies, including Embers and Flames (2015), The Mountain (2014), and Music in the Air (2013).
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions to Wilderness Wednesdays are typically posted 2–4 months after being accepted.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 12, 2015
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