An Evening Stroll

Cayden clutched at his arm, over the angular blue marks that were continually growing more uncomfortable. He knew scratching would just make them painful and inflamed, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that his arm felt like tiny bugs were crawling through his muscles.

He looked up at the sky as he walked. It must have been around 6 or 7, but the sun looked lower because of the mountains around him. He was on a dirt path somewhere in the woods, miles away from his house now. The path was all mud and dead leaves, and snow lined the edges before the treeline. He hadn’t passed a sign of civilization in hours. But he didn’t turn back. Because he couldn’t.

The day had begun normally enough. Cayden woke up at 6:57 am and shut off his alarm before it went off at 7. He showered and had two pieces of rye toast for breakfast. He poured his travel mug of coffee and was about to leave for work when his cell phone rang. He took it out of his pocket, opened his mouth to answer it, and threw the phone violently into his stove before the “hello” formed in his throat.

The phone shattered, spewing shrapnel across his kitchen. He blinked. Ten seconds passed before he realized he wasn’t breathing. He gasped and looked down at his hand in alarm. He hadn’t done that…why would he throw his phone at his stove? He wouldn’t…his mouth went dry as he noticed light blue lines jutting slowly up his wrist from his palm. They weren’t following his veins, that was for sure: they changed direction in sharp angles and looked more like a map through a maze than anything organic. Before he could try to start figuring out what was wrong with him, he started walking toward the door, without meaning to…he was following his arm, as he’d follow his leg into the car. Only that action would be done on purpose; this was a walk he had no intention of taking.

And now he was deep in the mountains, without a phone to call anyone or even to have called off work. His boss was going to have his head…though there probably wasn’t service here, now that he thought about it. Thinking about pointless things like cell phone service distracted him from the blisters that braceleted his ankles, and of course the itching marks that were now dark blue and lined three-quarters of his arm.
The sun fell behind the hills, and Cayden’s mind raced faster as his arm walked him farther. The lines inched toward his shoulder, as he began to babble to himself. He hadn’t had any food or water all day, and his legs had long been throbbing. He began to see jagged blue lines in the woods around him, dancing across his path and teasing closer to him. He smelled the ocean, and his mouth swam with blueberries.

It was around 1 am when he collapsed. His legs twitched, but his arm flailed violently. Cayden passed in and out of consciousness throughout the night, and his arm never stopped moving, eventually reducing itself to pawing trenches in the dirt. Hallucinations and dreams mixed with reality, but eventually Cayden saw only blue as the lines made their way up his head and behind his eyes.

A quarter-mile ahead, Joan was awoken at 6:57 am by a series of screams. Terrifying enough in itself, she was all the more alarmed by the fact that people almost never frequented her road, especially when it wasn’t hunting season. She bolted out of bed, threw on a jacket, and mounted her ATV. But she found nothing in hearing range of her house. After an hour of searching the woods, she concluded that it had only been a nightmare on the edge of sleep and started back up the road.

A small white object caught her attention, and she slowed to a stop to pick it up. It was a smooth rock, about the size of her palm, and jagged lines of blue patterned across the outside. She put it in her pocket; she’d never seen anything like it, and it would make a neat decoration in her sparse house. Restarting the ATV’s engine, she scratched her arm and pumped the throttle, spraying dead leaves and mud behind her as she headed home.

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