Short Story Exercise: Drawn Companion

(rolled a D12, picked that number of random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook them up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Liam was startled awake, gasping for air. He rolled onto his side and coughed, hugging the tattered sleeping bag tight around his shoulders. After a moment, he rubbed his face and wiped the crust from his eyes. He longed to go back to sleep, but there was already light inside his cave. Sleeping late was not a luxury he could afford.

Using his bare hands, Liam rubbed his throat, his arms, his hips, and his feet. The friction served two purposes: reviving his senses and bracing him for the coming cold. He kicked off the sleeping bag and skittered across the cave floor to his hastily folded clothes. Worn, threadbare, and now too big for him, the clothes still kept him relatively warm and protected him from the sun. He used an old strip of leather to clean his teeth, and then he pulled on his watch cap, grabbed his sunglasses and made his way out of the cramped cave.

After a brief visit to his pit latrine, Liam followed the trail down the rocky slope into the trees. In the light of dawn the forest was still blues and violets, but the early birds were already chirping and rustling the leaves in the trees, having caught their breakfast already. Liam tread carefully, listening to the sounds around him. It was still early, but anymore it was not uncommon for bobcats and bears to be on the prowl for their own food.

When he finally reached his tree, Liam leaped into the air and caught his dangling knotted rope. He pulled himself up into the old tree and climbed to the large branch collar where he kept a small supply of water and, most importantly, his sling shot. Liam pulled the rope around the abdomen and secured himself to the tree. He set his feet into conveniently placed knots on either side of the branch, set the stone in his sling shot, and leaned back against the sticky trunk. Now to wait. This was his second day without food, and he wasn’t being picky. A squirrel, a chipmunk, even a mouse, anything would be better than starving through another night.

The sun rose, bringing warmth and hope. He put on his sunglasses, closed his eyes and listened for the tell-tale sign of tiny feet. While he waited, he pictured the fire pit he’d dug near the entrance of his cave. There was a penknife in his pocket he would use to skin and clean the beast, which he could then skewer on a stick and cook over a flame. He would take his time cooking it for he could not risk getting sick again. And when it was ready, he would eat it slowly, savoring each juicy morsel.

A rhythmic rustling cut through his daydream. It was moving towards him. Liam opened his eyes and scanned the area. Whatever it was, wherever it was, he would see it soon enough.

His breath caught. It wasn’t an animal. It was another person.

Liam pressed himself against the trunk and held perfectly still, not even daring to breathe. The figure was taking long, sure-footed strides, keeping its head down. A hooded cloak covered the person’s face, masking their gender, but Liam recognized the shape of a revolver hanging from their waist. Another, longer handle was jutting from the left hip, but it didn’t look like the butt of a gun. With each step the cloak fanned out, proving to Liam that the object was a sword.

Liam squinted and blinked several times to clear his eyes. Finally out of frustration he pulled his sunglasses down. The stranger’s arms swung freely, black gloves to match the shiny black boots. A long red curl of hair dangled from under the hood.

She stopped and raised her head, a look of unease on her soft features. As Liam watched, she moved her right hand to another gun hanging from a shoulder holster hidden underneath her cloak. She crouched low to the ground, her head turning rapidly as though she was looking for something. Liam memorized every detail of her face, her clothing, the way she moved. He stared without blinking, fascinated and terrified.

A moment later, the woman stood, pulled her hood low over her eyes, and continued her march. Liam considered calling out to her, but felt sure she would shoot first and ask questions later. He had nothing to offer her anyway, and he couldn’t bring himself to beg her for help. She passed within ten feet of his tree, never once looking up.

Liam held still until he could no longer hear her movements. Eventually, the sounds of the elusive birds and critters of the forest returned. Liam clutched his slingshot. His hands shook and hunger burned his stomach, but he couldn’t hunt. He returned the slingshot to its knot and took a small sip of water from his canteen. Then he untied the rope and lowered himself down the tree. He ran back the way he came, halfheartedly looking for something he could eat, or anything that could eat him.

When he finally got back his cave, he grabbed a piece of charcoal from his fire pit and began to sketch on the rock wall. As always, he missed his oils and his brushes, but he made do. He traced her every detail, right down to the tree-like symbol he’d seen embroidered on her shirt. Stepping back from it, he knew he’d captured the woman’s likeness, that he would be able to gaze at her for years, or at least until it rained again. As a final touch, he adjusted her expression ever so slightly. A simple touch to the lips and the young woman was no longer afraid. She was smiling. And Liam was no longer alone.

Rory Drawn Companion