Adventure Fiction Mystery

“Why don't you just read the instruction manual?” Clara insisted. “Perhaps if you won't be too busy with signal hunting, maybe we can find a way to pitch up this tent!” James and Clara had been in a relationship for almost 3 years and the arguments continued to occur over small disagreements.

It had been on Clara's 23rd birthday that her loving boyfriend, James, planned to take her out camping for the weekend as he numerously mentioned that she needed to take a holiday. Although, she insisted that she was not in the mood for a holiday, she couldn't resist going camping in the forests. James had a knack for survival in the wild but she was too nervous he might have been over exaggerating about his camping skills. She decided to go on a journey with him just to make sure he knew what he was doing.

“So where is this place that we are going to?” James didn’t want to tell her as he had a few tricks up his sleeve. Clara suspected there was more to the journey than what he told her. “It’s…um…in the forest. I don’t know which one exactly.” She knew that when he scratched his head, he was keeping something from her. She just left it and decided to enjoy the relaxing drive instead. The lush green trees stretched for miles on end and created the feeling that there was an infinite number of these giants. Soft music played from the radio, but Clara couldn’t help feeling that this holiday may not go down as well as she hoped.

“Darling. My Clara, we arrived, love.” She opened her eyes to a wooden cottage in the middle of towering trees. Smoke emerged from the chimney as a sign that there was some type of life in the cottage. “Where are we, Jamie?” He didn’t answer her, instead he took her gently by the hand and guided her to the cottage. As she looked at her surroundings, she noticed that there were a few white and black rabbits hopping about in a joyful manner. A few colourful mushrooms scattered the forest floor. She smiled as she seen the beauty and peace that this place incited in her.

When they arrived at the door, she noticed an untidy inscription placed next to the door knob. A warm welcome awaits you, my child. But be wary, not all guests experience a hearty welcome as the forces of nature aren’t tolerable to…humans. This warning scared her and she grabbed tightly onto James’ sleeve. “What’s wrong?” She couldn’t talk, instead she pointed to the warning. When he skimmed and read over the inscription, he became confused and shrugged the feeling aside. “It’s probably a joke or something. I read somewhere that people do things like that to the guests to scare them. I don’t think it really means anything. At least, I hope.”

When they entered the cottage, Clara smelled the delicious scent of freshly baked bread and home-brewed coffee. The aromas tickled her nose and she instantly felt hungry. An elderly lady sat by the fire in the living room, and as they entered further into the cottage she grew a wide smile with a warm greeting. Clara smiled at the woman, but her heart felt that there was something wrong. James didn’t notice his girlfriend's reaction but then again he wasn’t worried, it was Clara who sensed the uneasiness in the room not him. “Welcome my dears. I hope you had a pleasant drive?” James excitedly nodded but before he could verbally answer, Clara cut him off, “We did, thank you. Where are we, though?” The old woman directed her watchful eyes to her. Her eyes weren’t the intimidating part of this delicate old lady, rather her knitting needles made Clara’s senses on high alert. Clara felt nervous with every click of the needles, the way she held them made Clara picture daggers in her hand.

“You are in a beautiful world away from all the evil and busy times in the city. I’m sure you would enjoy your stay, my child.” Clara felt a sense of wickedness from the old woman’s voice. She sounded more sinister as she spoke to Clara than when she turned her attention to James. “What brings you, lovebirds, to this mysterious land?” James immediately replied, “It’s Clara’s birthday. I thought she needs a break from work and decided to bring here so we could spend her birthday in a peaceful area.” The old woman nodded with a smile. As they parted from the lady's house, Clara felt this old woman's eyes on her. The feeling was too harsh to bare.

“Well, she’s friendly.” Commented James, as he started pitching up the tent for them. Clara just stared into the fire they had lit. Her thoughts troubled her, ‘Perhaps that old woman is a maniac or some kind of unknown killer. Why else would she look at me so creepily?’ She was too deep in thought to notice that James was struggling to pitch up the tent. “Clara! Help, please!” Coming out of her stupor, she rushed to his aid only to see that he was buried under the drapes. “What happened?” She tried to pull the tent off him but to no avail. He tried to pull the drapes off him but it kept falling over him and muffled his speech slightly. “I…mmph…tried…mmph…to…pptt…pitch…*cough…this…*cough…tent!” She looked at the supplies laid out on the ground before the tent, and seen a ruffled through manual. James finally appeared from the blanketing drapes and seen her read through the manual. Clara, after some shuffling through, reached for her phone to Google: "How to pitch up a tent?". “Damn it! The signal is low here!” She dropped the manual as she reached her arm out to search for signal.

He fiddled with the tent again but it seemed that the tent had a mind of its own and didn’t remain rooted into the ground. She turned around and found James fighting with the tent…again. After a long sigh, she gave up and shoved the manual at him. “Why don't you just read the manual?” James looked at her with irritation. ‘Did she really just say that? Read the manual?’ “Perhaps if you weren't too busy with signal hunting, maybe we can find a way to pitch up this tent!” She became irritated at this and hurriedly snapped at him. “I am trying to look for signal in this place, so we can find out how to pitch it up on the internet so you won't get stabbed by your clumsiness and stubbornness aka the tent!” James rose to his feet, with scratches and small jab wounds from the pikes, and rushed for her phone. It happened again, their arguments always turned to one of them snatching something precious from the other person.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Clara became irritated with him and didn’t feel shy to show it. She tried to grab her phone from him, but James reached his arm too high for her to reach. She became mad and poked him in his stomach, knowing that he becomes irritated when she does that, he jabbed her phone in her chest and sat by the fire with irritation clearly marked on his face. “I booked this place to give you a wonderful birthday present and also to spend a romantic time with you. But if you didn’t want that, you could’ve just said so. That old lady was nice to us, I don’t see why you were so rude to her.” At first, Clara’s heart softened at his words, but when he mentioned the old woman she fumed. “That old bat is nothing but a witch! She gave me the creeps and as for her sign outside the front door…well I don’t suppose you think that was a warning either?” She stormed away from him. He took sides with the evil old lady and blamed Clara for her sinister mood and words. He had no right to do that. Since he was her boyfriend, he had to understand her and see right through that old witch’s body language.

James sat in front of the fire, his face burning from anger. Why did Clara call the old lady a witch? The sign could just be a prank played by kids. But when they arrived, there was no sign of children and the look on the old woman’s face when she spoke to Clara became dark and cruel. Could that be the reason Clara was on edge? After all, she seemed a bit off when they entered the room. Maybe it was his fault, maybe he didn’t understand why she was so crept out by the old woman.

He sat there with his head buried in his hands. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! If it wasn’t for your idiotic behaviour, maybe Clara wouldn’t feel so hurt by your tantrums all the time! Why won't she see that I love her deeply? That was the reason I did this for her special day.” Instantly, he imagined Clara’s intense brown eyes and midnight black hair. She looked so beautiful that just picturing her, he felt at ease. He laid down on his makeshift bed and smiled at her jumpy behaviour whenever they watched a horror movie together, or he told her a scary story in the dark and her freaked out reaction when something fell down with a loud bang.

“She was always scared of things that go bump in the night. But she always wanted to hear more and the interest in her eyes when I tell her a story...just makes me laugh.” And he did just that, he laughed. But his happy feelings were short-lived. It was his turn to jump when he heard a feminine scream that came from the direction of the trees. He shot up and was on high alert, only one person came to his mind. “Clara!”

January 14, 2021 10:53

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Claudio Murgia
15:41 Jan 21, 2021

The simplicity of the style serves the story well. Unfortunately, the reading, that mostly flows easily, stumbles on the use and coordination of verbs. As at the very beginning, for instance, "My Clara, we arrived," should be we have arrived. As said before, the story otherwise is quite readable. The unexpected ending is a fit conclusion for a story that in the end was focused on the characters. It would have been interesting also understand more why Clara is so on edge when entering the cottage. Her dislike for the old woman seems too sudde...


15:35 Jan 22, 2021

Thank you for your feedback. I edited this story in a hurry since it was close to the closing time. I appreciate your feedback. Please don't forget to comment on my other submission.


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