Embers popped as the flames ate at the remains of the fatter logs in the camp fire.
“Perfect,” whispered Harry in a clouded breath, drawing back his marshmallow tipped branch from the fading heat. He blew on the sticky lump as the nearly charcoal mass slid with a few elastic strands. Bits of burnt sugar glowed then died.
He raised the stack of graham crackers sandwiching a peppermint tainted chocolate from his knee with a near frozen hand. Squishing the marshmallow between the top cracker and candy, he withdrew the branch and rested the moist, sugar stained stick against the rocks rimming the fire. He licked his lips free of sweat and crumbs as he took his countless dessert in his fingers.
A hollow-sounding whisper turned his head. He peered into the shadows sliced by rays of moonlight and swallowed down the feeling something terrible was about to happen.
“Did you hear that?” he asked the quiet camp.
Mark’s sleeping bag rustled like a bird taking flight as he rolled.
“What?” He sat up, hunching in the evergreen sack with his fleece cap pulled low around his ears.
Harry glanced between Mark’s weary face and then the darkness, before finally settling back on the silver pools of light.
“I heard something.”
“What?” Mark asked again.
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Mark snickered. “Either the sugar, or Paul’s ghost story are getting to you.”
Across the fire Paul jostled in his sleeping gear, gave a grunt then his snoring settled back into rhythm.
Harry sighed and stood. His bladder grumbled. Finishing his peppermint s’more in two clomping bites, he dusted his hands.
“I’ll be back.”
Mark shook his head and curled back up into his sleeping bag. Harry waited until Mark had settled into the groove his body had carved into the rocky ground before stepping away from the light and warmth of the fire. Pine needles snapped and the dry must of fallen leaves took to the air around his thick soled hiking boots as he headed for an appropriate bush.
Harry winced as he tried to quiet his stride. He guided himself past the nearest trees, bare fingers brushing rough bark. Cluttered branches swept passed his face, dampness clinging like cobwebs to his numbed cheeks.
The slope dropped down from their camp’s clearing and Harry swiveled his gaze, orienting in the moonlight. The trail from the afternoon trundled back up the hillside, granite boulders glittering like the stars between the trunks. The slight valley to the left pulled at his attention although the hollowed whispers failed to rebound once more out of the darkness.
He scratched at his temple beneath his cap, mussing greasy hair.
“You’re hearing things.”
The wind picked up and Harry stopped short. The putrid stench of rotting flesh poured out of the shadows and drowned his nose. The noisome odor mixed with excrement and seemed to saturate his sinuses, dive into his lungs and cling to his every stitch of his downy jacket and cargo pants.
His heartbeat throbbed between his muffed ears and his mouth turned dry while his stomach quivered. His eyes widened to drink in the light.
Angular shadows dove into bottomless pools dropping around roots and rocks, apparently empty except where his imagination stepped up to occupy the voids with toothy monsters and hungry beasts.
A second hollow whisper rippled into the night from further down the gully, striking Harry’s chilled face with a moist breath.
“Screw this,” muttered Harry, already backpedaling up the slope.
He stumbled into camp and sagged onto the lump of rock by the dwindling fire. He prodded the embers back to life with the sticky end of his roasting stick. The flames grew from scarlet dots into thin tongues of pale yellow. He tossed the stick into the flames, away from his wobbly touch.
Tucking his hands into his sleeves he burrowed them into his armpits and folded over, his eyes locked on the fire. The embers bit into the last of the wood and sent warmth toward his face. He shivered as the heat failed to warm his skin or find away to melt the ice in his bones. Hunching into himself like a frightened turtle, Harry tried not to count the hours until dawn.