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In Anger Blooming

By Tray Ellis






Copyright 2017 Tray Ellis

Published by Tray Ellis at Smashwords


Cover Art and Design by R. J. Doland

Copyright 2017 R.J. Doland


License Notes

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"According to the information I received from the locals at the diner, the location should be just off the trail at the big rock." Dr. Gayle Fenwick reread the scribbled words. She'd jotted the directions down that morning from the recounting of several people she'd talked to in the town diner. She and her co-researcher, Dr. Lena Spinney, traveled to this small town expressly to follow up on an urban legend. Or not so urban, as the folklore-like tale led them into the woods and up a mountain trail.

"There. That looks like a giant rock to me," said Lena. She pointed at the hunkering gray stone sitting in the crook of the trail. "Now what?"

"Ninety-degree right hand turn off the trail, go a couple hundred paces, and it should be there." Gayle scouted to the side. "Here. There's a smaller trail. Well-traveled. There are tracks in the snow already."

"It's a curiosity. Everyone wants to see it."

"Let's hope they haven't trampled all over the site." Gayle pulled her wool hat from her pocket and put it back on her head. In the middle of February, with fresh snow over the ground, she and Lena strapped on snowshoes to make this trek, and while the exercise warmed up her hands and feet and caused heat to escape from her head, her ears still burned with the cold when she didn't wear the hat for even a few minutes. She'd spent the walk taking the hat on and off, and felt slightly cross about the whole thing.

Gayle and Lena trudged along the smaller trail for a short distance and then both gasped as the trail ended in a small open space. Snow covered the tree limbs and through the small glade, including a modest mound of earth in the center. At first, Gayle thought the snow to be continuous, but as she looked more attentively, she realized that was partly an illusion because the flowers bloomed pure white. In front of the mound, the snow had melted away. Instead, a lush patch of small white flowers flourished.

"Wow," said Lena.

"It's fantastic," Gayle agreed. "I can't believe it's here."

"And real."

Gayle took off her backpack where she'd stowed her camera and other note taking tools. "We need to get some soil samples," she said. "But photos first."

Lena leaned against a small tree and stared at the sight. "Flowers in winter," she said.

"And spring, summer, and fall. Supposedly," Gayle said. "Ever blooming. We'll have to come back a few more times to be sure. Do you recognize the plant?"

Lena crouched down. "Not yet. I need to get closer. Take your photos first." Lena shook her head. "It's incredible."

"Nature is wondrous strange," Gayle agreed.

"So do you think the story the locals told to explain the phenomena has any root in truth?" Lena asked. She brought out a sketch book and began to draw a diagram of the scene, and likenesses of the flowers.

"It's scientifically silly," Gayle said. "But who knows?" She pulled the paper with her scribbles out. "We have the names of the two men. They still live in the same house, even after twenty years. Perhaps after we interview them, we can put the rumors to rest."

"Or maybe, we'll find there's some truth in the fiction," said Lena. "Either way, it's gorgeous."

"Either way," Gayle echoed. She paused in taking the photos, and stretched out from her spot to touch a petal of the closest flower. "It is beautiful. A gift from the forest."



***


Twenty years ago…



"Fine! Go to hell! See if I care!" Hayden shouted from the threshold of the front door. He gave the screen door an extra push so it would slam particularly hard. When it crashed against the frame, a thrill of satisfaction coursed through Hayden's body, and he stomped away.

The late autumn day rustled with the fallen leaves underneath his boots and smelled of rain coming later. For the moment, it was brightly sunny and dry, but gloomy clouds off in the far horizon warned of a soaking rain on its way. Hayden didn't care. He vibrated with too much anger and energy to worry about getting wet. Being rained on would be the least of his concerns. At the moment, all he knew was that he was radiantly pissed at Russ. He backtracked over their morning's argument and huffed with indignation over each slight and accusation. Hayden pulled his fair share in the house. He worked just as many hours as Russ, and he stayed on top of chores as well as keeping their bills paid and accounts settled. Russ was power-tripping! Russ was out of his ever-lovin' mind!

Hayden stomped to the end of their driveway and looked back at the house. Damn it, Russ should have been the one to get out, not Hayden. But he couldn't go back now.

Hayden looked left. If he walked that way, he could go into town. A two-mile distance, it would take less than half an hour to get there, and Hayden could stop in at a dozen places where he knew people. Or go and see his parents, who lived just off Main Street. Or his older brother, who usually listened well and gave good advice.

But Hayden didn't want to talk to anyone. He liked being good and mad, and the righteous, persecuted emotions roiling around his bloodstream gave him a heady thrill of energy. He wasn't ready to calm down yet nor have anyone talk his ear off.

Hayden turned right.

Two blocks later, he passed the entrance to the trailhead for Bear Mountain and kept hiking. Even this late in the fall, there would be hours of daylight. He could make the summit and be back down well before sunset.

For the first ten minutes, Hayden still steamed. He thought about what Russ said and how he'd responded, and then he looped through the entire thing again and again. Hayden gravitated to the expression on Russ' face when he'd started the whole conversation and how it had just irked Hayden to his core.

Hayden thought about that. Why had Russ' expression been so damned annoying?

Most people thought Russ had the explosive temperament, since he sported dark auburn hair and that old stereotype never died, but Hayden harbored the hair-trigger personality. Blond and blue-eyed, Hayden looked like a bright sunny summer day, but darkness clouded his emotions. He plumbed the depths of petulance and irritation, and snapped in an instant. When he got a good snit going, it took a lot of effort to calm himself down.

Which he attempted to do now. Hayden rollicked with anger at Russ and his expectations of responsibility, but deep down, Hayden wanted to let off all that steam so he could go back home and have a civil conversation. He loved Russ too much to stay home and embroil them into a deeper fight, a more painful tirade. So, he'd left and would stay away until he'd released all this unmanageable outrage.

Hayden came to a series of stones in the path forming a natural, though uneven, staircase and the introspection drifted away. Hayden didn't want to think about any of that right now. He should focus on hiking and enjoying the fine autumn day.

Hayden hiked this path dozens and dozens of times. The nature path remained a constant through his life, a place of escape and a powerful source of tranquility when all else failed. He'd walked it with his parents as a kid, and he'd walked it in high school with guys he'd wanted to make time with. During the long days of summer, he and Russ could make it to the top and back after work with daylight to spare. Thinking of Russ again brought a heat to Hayden's face.

He was still pissed about that stupid argument.

Hayden quickened his pace. Lower, the path consisted of packed-in dirt surrounded by tall trees and brush, except for one length that traversed an open meadow, a remnant of an abandoned farm. It stayed that way nearly to the top, where more rocks jutted out and scrub overtook the trees. What trees survived the wind and harsher conditions were stunted and twisty, mostly evergreens with brittle needles.

A few interesting spots presented along the trail. The first was the stone staircase, which could be slippery when wet. The second, of which Hayden currently caught sight, was a hunk of rock known as a glacial erratic, a stone dropped off by the slow moving field of ice from thousands of years ago. A little bigger than a car, and a scrambling climb that provided a lot of fun, the boulder marked the halfway point. Higher up along the trail were two locations where hikers piled stones on top of each other into precariously balanced pyramids.

Hayden scowled as he neared the boulder. He'd liked it when he had the trail to himself. Another man lounged against the erratic, sipping water from a canteen. He smiled when he saw Hayden and waved.

"Hi there," he said. "Nice day for a walk."

"Hey," said Hayden. He didn't feel polite, but he forced himself to respond. "Sure is." He kept moving along, but the man pushed away from the rock and started walking just behind.

"Hike here often?" the man asked.

Hayden kicked a small stone on the path, and it skittered off into the undergrowth beside the trail. "Yeah. A lot."

"Oh, good. I hope you don't mind if I tag along. I'm unfamiliar with this trail, but it was highly recommended in a guide book. Is the summit much farther?"

"You're halfway there," Hayden said, and wondered if he should be blunt and tell the guy to get lost or if he should just ignore him and hope he left him alone.

The annoying hiker looked young and healthy. He wore a plain green sweatshirt and khaki shorts, and his muscled calves were on display. Under his baseball cap, also plain green, he had brown hair and eyes so dark they seemed to swallow up the meager light filtering in through the bare branches above. Hayden looked away.

Hayden slowed his pace, but the man didn't get the hint and slowed down to match Hayden's stride.

"Not a lot of hikers today. I was waiting for a while before you came along."

"Huh," Hayden said.

"Pardon my intrusion, but you seem bothered. Has something upset you?"

Hayden turned to glare, but the man's earnest expression curtailed the sharp words he'd planned. "Yeah," he said. "I got in a fight with my boyfriend."

"I'm so sorry," the guy said, his voice exactly the right shade of sympathy and understanding. "What were you fighting about?"

"That's just it," Hayden said. "I'm not sure anymore. At first it was the usual stuff. I left a pile of dishes in the sink last night. I'd left wet laundry in the machine. But then we started arguing, and we seemed to keep fighting just for the sake of fighting." Hayden shook his head. "I think sometimes he likes to point out my mistakes."

"Sounds like he doesn't deserve you," the man said.

His words hung in the air for a long moment, and Hayden thought about them. He liked the way they sounded, they fed into his indignation and it felt good. "Thanks," he said.

"By the way, my name is Greige."

"Hayden."

"A real pleasure to meet you, Hayden." Greige smiled. "What say we get to the top of this and see the view."

"Yeah." Hayden turned his attention back to the path. The entire hike, from bottom to top and back again, usually took about four hours. They had a little less than an hour to go before they'd reach the top.

Greige stopped talking after that, and Hayden realized he missed the conversation. Greige sounded like he understood about arguments and having a bad day, or being in a lousy mood. Also, he was easy to hike with. He walked at Hayden's pace, never faster or slower, and stayed a respectful distance behind.

As they passed the two small towers of stones, Greige touched his fingertips to the top stones and murmured something Hayden couldn't hear. Greige didn't restart the conversation. Hayden couldn't think of anything to say, so he stayed silent. A smidgeon of anger from his argument with Russ still burned like an ember, and Hayden sank back into contemplation.

Finally, they crested the last portion of the path and reached the top. The surface consisted of thin patches of dirt and moss over rock painted with centuries of lichen. Bear Mountain was a pretentious title since the hill didn't quite make the stature of a mountain.

Hayden found a view not obscured by the scrubby trees, and he spent a few minutes enjoying the space and distance. The gray clouds loomed closer, but the entire view still put the world into perspective. Everything seemed smaller as part of the whole world, and the glory of nature spread out as far as he could see. A few roads twined across the landscape, and he could see a handful of houses, all tiny at this distance.

At the top, after the long walk, he felt a sense of ease and peace he hadn't earlier. His churlishness at Russ subsided, the last ember of resentment finally burning out. Hayden keyed up too much, and perhaps he'd been a bit of a jerk. A sense of gratitude at Russ for putting up with Hayden's baloney drifted into his mind, and he was a little embarrassed at his flare up.

"Feeling better?" Greige asked. He pulled out his water bottle and sipped at it as he also gazed out at the vista.

"Yeah. I am." Part of the reason Hayden dashed out of the house was to go for a long walk to calm down his fiery temperament. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was ready to head down and face Russ again, and make things right. "I'm going down."

"Okay." Greige stared out at the horizon. "Looks like the storm is coming in faster than expected. Feels like a cold one, too." Greige didn't look like he'd tag along again, but then at the last moment, he turned and trotted to catch up with Hayden. "Hope you don't mind if I accompany you."

"Nah," said Hayden.

The return trip started quietly. Neither Hayden nor Greige spoke. Only the sound of their footsteps in the crunching leaves filled the air as they made their way back down the path. A few minutes after leaving the summit, Hayden felt a splash of wetness on his face. He waited, paying attention to his skin, and felt another few drops.

"It's starting to rain," Hayden said. He'd left the house with regular sneakers on, not hiking boots, and only the jeans and flannel shirt he'd worn in the house. The sneakers were adequate for dry weather, but descending in wet conditions could be tricky. The path would get muddy, and the areas with rocks and stone would become slick. The flannel shirt and jeans had been enough protection against the brisk temperature while he kept moving, but if he got wet, he'd be bitterly cold very quickly. "We should hurry before it gets too slippery." He transitioned from his previous casual saunter to a trot. They had descended about halfway, and he expected to see the glacial erratic boulder at any moment.

"Not just rain," said Greige from behind him. "Hail."

Small pellets of ice sprinkled over Hayden. He held up his arm and watched the particles bounce off. "That's better than rain," he said. "We won't get wet." Then he realized the pelting hurt, and the wind kicked up into freezing gusts. Hayden's thin flannel shirt did little to protect him from the barrage. More stormed down, and the hail increased in size. The dust-sized specks ramped up in diameter to that of peas. Each one stung, and the ferocity of the storm still grew.

"They're getting bigger!" Greige covered his head with one arm. "I know where there's shelter. We can wait out the worst of it. Follow me!" He burst past Hayden and motioned forward, to the side of the trail.

The bombardment continued and Hayden sprinted to keep up with Greige. With his hands covering his head and face, he ran blindly, keeping his attention focused on the ground so he wouldn't trip on a root or a hole. Branches whipped at his body, and thorns tore at his sleeves and the hems of his pants. They left the well-worn trail and plunged off to the side, and Hayden lost his sense of direction.

"Here!" Greige shouted. "We can wait it out here."

Hayden couldn't quite see what Greige meant, but he dashed in behind him. The air changed from cold and damp to warm and smelling of dirt. Something slammed shut behind him and Hayden pulled up short.

"Where is this?" he asked. Greige had brought him to a small room of some sort, with earthen walls and ceiling. Roots dangled out, as if the area had been recently dug. Dimly lit from a few small holes poked into the sides of the earthen crypt, Hayden could see across the entire space. Uneasy, Hayden stepped back. He felt for the door but couldn't even find the seams. "Greige?"

In the scant light, Greige looked different. His arms stretched long and thin, and his fingers branched out, more root-like than finger-like. His skin turned mottled green and brown, and his eyes burned with an uncanny darkness. "Welcome to my home," Greige said, and even his voice had changed. Instead of the honey warm empathy Hayden expected, Greige's tone had grown cold. "This is my domain. My land! You came here to pollute it with your hate. You've always come here with your anger and your passions."

"What?" Hayden put his back against the wall of dirt and rubbed his hands behind him, seeking the entrance and hopefully his exit. "I don't understand!"

Greige shook his head, and his lank hair swished across his face. "So many come here to do the same. Take a walk through nature, you think. Release all that pent up dark energy into my lands, into my friends, the trees and rocks. The life that grows here, that thrives here. There is enough sunshine and warmth in the summer that your fury can be absorbed. And in the winter, we are all asleep, and your turmoil cannot sink in. But now? Now?" Greige barred his teeth, and they looked bleached white and sharp. "We are raw. We are tired from growing, and ready to sleep. And all you do is come here and sow discord and pain. No more. No more from you."

"I didn't mean to," Hayden said, attempting to placate the dangerous man. He couldn't quite make sense of the words, though he understood the precariousness of his situation. "I didn't know." He half turned, keeping a wary eye on Greige, and scrabbled at the wall. He'd come in through here. There had to be a way to get back out. Fear stabbed at him, and he pushed it away, holding it at bay. He couldn't let himself panic. He didn't know who or what Greige might be, but Hayden needed his wits. "I won't do it again. You just have to tell me. I'll never do it again, I promise."

"I know you'll never do it again," Greige said. He leaned back against the earthen wall and spread his arms and legs, sinking into the dirt. His arms and legs stretched out, growing in length and size, wrapping around the perimeter of the pit. The entire space became alive with the writhing of roots. "When you've stopped breathing, you'll stop leaching into my lands. Stop hurting my friends."

The space grew smaller, tighter, and Hayden realized Greige meant to suffocate him, to bury him alive. "Greige, stop, please! I apologized! I said I was sorry!" Hayden stumbled forward.

"It is not enough, and it's far too late." Greige closed his eyes and sank into the dirt, vanishing except for the tendrils of roots with which he'd encircled the room.

For a moment, fear threatened to overwhelm Hayden, but then the familiar spark of anger bloomed all through him. If he had to fight his way out, then he would.

Hayden rushed to the small holes in the wall through which light and cold air streamed, and he pushed his fingers through and dug at the wall. The earth moved against him, crushing him, burying him. The dampness of it pressed against his clothes, soaking through and chilling his skin and sinking deep into his muscles. Infinite coldness waited for him, buried beneath this sodden grave, and the fear of this fate spurred Hayden to scramble harder against it.

Desperation flooded through him, and Hayden gasped for air and clawed against the crumbling, shifting dirt. As soil built around him, he thought of Russ and felt incalculable sadness. He loved Russ. The anger and argument had been temporary and about the inconsequential drudgeries of life. Would Russ ever find him, his body? Know that he hadn't stormed off forever on purpose?

Hayden punched into the wall of dirt in front of him and felt his hand break through into air. Elation lasted a moment, and then fear flared as the dirt pulled him back in. He punched again, desperate and fighting against hopelessness, and this time felt his hand grabbed on the other side. Someone clutched at him and pulled, yanking him out. For a moment his shoulders strained and his joints ached at the pressure exerted, but then something released, and the dirt tumbled down as if it had always been soft, loose, sandy soil and not as thick and treacherous as clay. Hayden fell free.

"Hayden? Hayden? Can you speak?"

Hayden gasped in air and shook his head to clear the crumbles of dirt from his eyes. "Russ?" The ground beneath his body was cold, and past Russ he could see the branches of the trees coated in ice. The freezing rain and hardened hail had ceased, leaving icy traces of its destruction.

"Oh, man, Hayden, what happened?" Russ looked awful. His eyes were wild, patent panic mixed with relief and bewilderment obvious above the rest of it. "You've been gone for hours. The weather got bad, and no one knew where you were. Are you okay? Tell me you're okay. Hayden?"

"I'm okay," Hayden croaked out, and then wrapped his arms around Russ and kissed him. After a moment of surprise, Russ kissed him back, his lips warm, soft, and familiar. The scent of must and earth fled from Hayden to be replaced by the familiar smell of Russ. He tasted good and smelled of home and safety.

Hayden kissed more insistently. He was too cold, too nearly numb with distress and relief, to do anything more, but this kiss meant everything. They pressed into each other, as close as skin and wet clothing allowed, in the mire and muck of the glade they made for themselves with their bodies. The previous argument dissolved into nothing. There was only Russ, and Hayden's deep, burning, abiding love for this man. Passion flared through Hayden, a promise of lovemaking to come later and an assurance of a lifetime to be spent together, and the way Russ kissed back, Hayden knew both would be fulfilled.

The kiss faded until they were left gazing at each other. Russ looked pleased, with a sleepy, soft smile on his lips and heavily lidded eyes. Hayden felt as if he glowed with an inner fire of love that filled his body, pulsating out from his core and into his limbs and beyond. A sense of satisfaction and calmness flowed over Hayden.

Hayden said, "How did you find me?" and it meant more than just that. It contained "I love you" and "You came looking for me" and "I am not alone."

Russ answered, "I thought you'd come to the trail, and I saw a scrap of fabric off to the side." It contained "I love you" and "I've paid attention to who you are" and "You are worth everything to me."

"Thank you," Hayden said, and those words covered a multitude of reasons for being thankful.

"Let's go home," Russ said. "A hot shower, some hotter coffee, and you can tell me what's happened." He clasped Hayden in his arms, and Hayden hugged back. "And never do this again," Russ added.

They got to their feet, and walked a few yards away. Hayden looked back at the scene where he'd almost met a terrible fate. Amphitheater-like, trees ringed the perimeter around the mostly flat space. A mound rose in the center, covered in delicate ferns, with a spot of raw earth on the side, breaking the symmetry. Mud, crushed vegetation, and a scuffle of leaves indicated where they'd lain. The only thing left untouched and alive among the area of destruction was a single small flower, white and delicate. Hayden turned to go.

The walk back to the main trail took less than a minute and Hayden peered back again. Branches and bramble closed in quickly, obscuring all view of the previous location, and he couldn't fathom how Russ had managed to follow him there. Russ noticed him looking and reached for Hayden's hand.

"My intuition told me where you were," he said. "And this." He pulled a patch of flannel fabric from his pocket.

With his free hand, Hayden felt his shirt, and looked over his filthy, saturated clothing. He realized the piece of material had been his left breast pocket, ripped free from over his heart. "Of course," he said, and they continued on the trail, headed for home.


###

About the Author


Tray Ellis grew up across from an empty field where she spun a lot of imaginary adventures, helping to prepare her for a lifetime of writing. When she isn't writing, she keeps busy by hiking, cooking, baking, and being too busy to keep her home in any semblance of order. Currently she tries to find a balance between the logical way she thinks and the flights of fancy that she often daydreams about. Mostly, the daydreams are winning.


Come visit Tray at any of the following social media locations:

http://www.facebook.com/tray.ellis.54

http://trayellis.blogspot.com/

https://twitter.com/trayelliswrites

http://trayellis.dreamwidth.org/

Other stories by Tray Ellis


Thank you for reading! In addition to some free stories published at my on-line blogs and journals, here are some other stories available at your favorite ebook retailer that you may also enjoy::


How Sweetly the Whippoorwill Sings

Operation Wild Thumb, included in the Simmer Anthology

Never Waste a Good Left Turn, included in the Random Acts of Kindness Anthology

Pouring a Brick

The Way to a Fisherman's Heart, included in the Snow on the Roof Anthology



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