Flash Fiction Friday: For Want of a Map

Our Chuck Wendig challenge this week was simply that the story must contain a map.  That fit nicely with a story I began writing (in my head) while on a hike a couple of years ago. You may draw whatever conclusions you like. 990 words.

For Want of a Map

“You said you knew the route. You said you didn’t need a map.” Rosa’s tone was deceptively calm, and Hal swallowed. After 27 years of marriage he knew when he was in trouble.

“I, ah, must have missed the junction. It can’t be far back, though.” He tried to picture it, but he’d been thinking about a problem at work, and had really no idea where the junction had been.

Rosa looked at her husband a moment, hands on hips, and let him squirm. Then she dropped her pack, opened the top pocket, and extracted a map. Unfolding it, she turned her back to the wind—and to her spouse. The effect was somewhat ruined when she had to dig in the pack again to extract her reading glasses. They never listed those in the “10 Essentials,” but after a certain age a hiker might as well leave the map and compass at home without the pesky things.

Hal watched, not sure if he should get closer or not, while she traced their route with a finger. After a minute Rosa looked up.

“I think we’re about here. That junction was at least two miles back.” She sounded like she’d forgotten she was angry, but Hal knew better than to believe it. He did come closer to peer at the map.

Rosa was correct. Not that there’d been any doubt. “We can double back and add 4 or 5 miles to that ‘easy 8-miler’ you promised, or we can go on to this trail,” her finger jabbed the map, “and follow that on back to here, then cut back over on this one, which will add…” She paused to calculate the distance.

“Four or 5 miles,” Hal said, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt.

“It is too early in the season for a 12-miler, let alone 13,” Rosa said.

There was no answer to make to that, so Hal made none. Twenty-seven years had taught him some wisdom, though obviously not enough. Both of them knew they had to walk it, so there was no point in saying so.

“Do you have any more chocolate?”

He knew the answer to that question. “Yes. Let me give it to you.” If they’d gotten lost together, she might have shared it with him. As it was, he was just glad he hadn’t eaten his share yet. When they talked about wilderness survival, they never mentioned dealing with a pissed-off wife with sore feet and an empty stomach, or the life-saving properties of chocolate, distributed in the right quarter. He dug a little deeper and found a bag of peanuts, which he also handed over to his wife.

Rosa took the offerings, knowing she was being hard on her husband, and needing the food to keep herself from still worse behaviors. Her mood was not improved by knowing that she could read a map, had been carrying a map, and had chosen instead to blindly follow Hal.

“Which way?” she asked when the food had been eaten. She hadn’t given Hal any of the chocolate, but had shared a small handful of the peanuts.

Hal studied the map. This was a trick question, as he well knew. If he made the decision and it turned out badly, or proved longer than they thought, it would be his fault. That was why she’d asked him.

“I really think it’s a crap-shoot for distance. Let’s keep going on this trail. That’s better than back-tracking.” Maybe they’d see something interesting enough or scenic enough to make up for the extra hiking, and Rosa’s sore feet.

Rosa nodded. She knew what he was thinking, and had to agree, though she’d still blame him for her pains. She stood up and slung her pack back into place, shoving the map and her glasses into the deep side pocket on her pants so they’d be handy.

For a mile or so, they even walked together, and Hal recognized a truce. By the third mile, though, Rosa’s feet were hurting worse than ever. She really did need to work up more slowly to these distances, and it had been no part of the plan to push like this.

As she often did when uncomfortable, Rosa picked up the pace. She didn’t wait when Hal stopped to take a photo, and he, feeling it might be safer to give her space, didn’t push to catch up. She’d long since stopped talking to him anyway.

Rosa was charging down the trail at her top speed, hungry and tired, with the pain from the feet working its way into her knees. The spousal truce was over, and she was grumbling with every step about idiot males who didn’t pay attention where they were going. Didn’t he have any consideration for her at all?

She came around the corner and halted.

A bear stood in the trail, looking as foolish and startled as Rosa felt. She scanned for cubs, found none, and fear was replaced by the irritation that was the only thing keeping her going.

“Get the freaking hell out of my way, you hulking idiot!” A part of her mind was surprised at what came out of her mouth. Another part wasn’t. When she had a full head of angry steam on, a bear was small stuff in comparison.

The bear reached the same conclusion. It took one look at the dirty, sweaty, and irate human charging down the trail, and turned tail. A loud crashing told where it had broken a new route through the underbrush in the effort to put distance between them.

Rosa watched for just a moment, hands on hips. “Right. Good plan, bear.” She set herself in motion again.

Hal, coming into sight just in time to see the last of the bear, nodded sympathetically. Rosa could be a force of nature.

He took care not to catch up.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

The best grumpy-hiker photo I could find. My husband is too smart to save the really bad ones!


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