I stumbled upon author Chuck Wendig’s blog at some point last week and was so intrigued by his “Flash Fiction” contest I decided to give it the old college try. The challenge was to be inspired by an actual locale that appears so otherworldly as to not seem real. Enter Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.
“Elaine Gretchen! You best not be fixin’ on runnin’ out that door now! If you do, don’t ‘spect it to be open when you come a moseyin’ back.”
This stopped her in her tracks. If anything was to thwart her escape efforts, it would surely be her mother’s use of her middle name. They stood there for what seemed like an eternity, eyes locked in electrically charged fury. She knew leaving was a mistake, but the urge to flee was overwhelming. As she turned her back the electricity evaporated into the chilly night, and she was propelled out into the wilderness by what? She couldn’t be sure. Perhaps it was simply the peculiar defiance that resides deep within the soul of every sixteen-year-old girl. But it felt like something more, as if a force of destiny was beckoning.
Bobbing and weaving through the shiny metal maze that comprised the Yellowstone RV campsite, she ignored the “Park Closed After Dark” warnings and embarked upon the path she had explored with her family a mere 7 hours earlier, when both fawn and flora were still bathed in the sun’s comforting glow. Now the entire park was cloaked in blackness, and she blundered along with only the glow from her phone’s flashlight app to avert sprained ankles and scraped knees.
“Why in heaven’s name is there no moon tonight?” she wondered, surveying the starless expanse above.
After walking nearly an hour she saw it. Actually, she smelled it. Inhaling deeply, she recalled the tour guide’s explanation of mineral-rich water surrounded by a series of microbial mats. By the light of day the psychedelic rainbow of hues encircling Grand Prismatic Spring had entranced her like a hypnotist’s spiraling wheel. Dizzy and weak, she remembered nearly toppling over the canyon’s edge upon first sight.
And though she could not yet actually see the geyser, the aroma generated from the comingling of bacteria and boiling mineral water was wildly intoxicating, and nearly brought her to her knees once more. Doing her best to focus her spinning head, she continued across the basin. Sensing a looseness in her right sneaker she bent down to retie her flailing shoelaces.
“Eeeeeeoowwwoooooooo,” an otherworldly voice wailed in the distance.
“Coyote,” she reassured herself, although she had never encountered a coyote capable of such sonorous reverberations. She rose from the ground and resumed her advance.
“Eeeeeooowwwwwoooooooooeeeeeeeoooowwwww.” This time a chorus of supernatural beings howled, their voices echoing and multiplying across the canyon walls. A surge of chills rushed across her limbs, and she shivered, realizing the monstrous bellows were emanating from her destination.
All was quiet now, and she contemplated turning back, but there was something in those screeches that, while not exactly comforting, seemed somewhat familiar to her. She resolved to press on.
Alighting upon the edge of the spring she was overcome with disappointment; she was sure she would uncover the mystical source producing such immortal melodies. Even more discouraging was the complete lack of activity, visual or auditory. In fact, the night had descended into a banality that left no sign of any life whatsoever. The only indication that she had not stumbled upon some barren wasteland was the hissing presence of steam rising from the depths of the geothermal lake.
Determined to find something, anything, she began traversing the rim, keeping her eyes focused upon the center. Within 20 minutes she had completely encircled the spring and still nothing. She was exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that she lay down on the hard surface of basin floor not one foot from the edge and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“What’s that!” she awoke with a jolt. She had no idea how long she had been out, so she checked her phone. Not only was there no reception, the clock mechanism seemed to be out of whack, displaying 10:30 AM.
“That’s strange,” she thought. “I distinctly remember uploading snapshots in this exact location earlier today…” Her attempts to reboot the device proved useless.
Just then, the sound of a splash took her focus away from the phone. Whipping her head toward the sound, she peered out over the water. Again she was disappointed. Ever so slowly, she crawled toward the shore, attempting to silence the weight of her body against the gravely terrain. Gazing over the foggy surface, she thought she could make out the shape of a being- no a person- gliding through the boiling trench.
“Impossible,” she muttered. Then nothing.
Gathering all her strength she moved as close to the edge as she could. Slowly, something emerged from the surf a few yards away. All she could see was a mass of flowing black hair and two giant, crimson eyes that glowed like burning embers. Then, another emerged. And another, until there were four such sets of ruby irises glimmering across the scorching surface.
As they approached she knew she should run. But she felt bonded to the earth below, as if she had become an essential component of the landscape. They were speaking to her. Shrieking and clicking, they seemed to be communicating something very important as they advanced ever closer. Their torsos, now exposed, brandished bare breasts clothed in mud-colored scales.
Silently, one being reached out and grabbed her arm, grinning while dragging her into the water. She thrashed and kicked her legs, causing all manner of debris to launch into the air. All four scaled beings descended upon her, tugging her across the surface ever closer to the red-hot center of the pool.
Arriving at the centermost point, they began to shift their focus downward and pulled her under. Aware of the futility of her struggle, she gave in, and the burning liquid engulfed her. Unaware of time and space, she allowed herself to be pulled down, down, down. Ever downward into the abyss.