Vermillion and Musky: Day 3 of the Story A Day Challenge

Today’s prompt, by Mary Robinette Kowal, was to use the words “vermillion” and “musky” in the next 250 words of writing and to make this piece 640 words. I used this prompt to work through a section of the book I am writing that I had been avoiding, because I was not sure what I wanted to do with it. Now I have something with which to work!

The less traveled route was not so appealing anymore. Her feet blistered and ached. The grass she chewed was not keeping her hunger away. Low insistent rumbles demanded attention and added pain when she did not comply. She had to find food.

Setting a trap for an animal was 1) not something she was good at and 2) never a guarantee. Plus there was the whole cleaning and cooking part. Plants it was. The girl looked around the immediately area. Nothing here screamed, “I will not kill you if you eat me.” Why did she not pay attention on those hikes with her folks? They had been on so many, some knowledge had to have soaked into her stubborn skull.

She bent down to some vermillion berries growing on a vine sewn amongst the roots of the trees. Definitely not ripe, but probably not poison. Probably. The leaves around here were interesting and brilliant green shades, but when had she ever eaten leaf that grew off of a tree or a bush? Probably not a good idea to start now. Her stomach disagreed. Roots would need to be dug up and inspected. She did not have time (or the desire) to do that.

She was getting tired and impatient and really considering those berries. They would taste terrible if they weren’t good. No, they weren’t ripe, so they would taste terrible regardless. She took in a deep breath. A new smell mingled with the dirt and the trees, something musky. She stilled and listened to something padding over dried leaves. Something scratching the trees, maybe something growling.

Her heartbeat jumped and adrenaline shoved aside the concerns of her belly. She needed to be out of the way. Now. Her hands scraped the rough bark as she pulled herself up the nearest climbing tree. Six branches up would make her feel slightly safer. The leaves were thicker there and the boughs seemingly stronger.

The smell grew stronger and the sounds closer. No matter how slow she breathed her heartrate did not want to slow down. Palms sweating, she hooked her legs through some branches to make sure she was anchored. The animal finally came into sight. A buck. Not some predator. But that buck was definitely in rut. Looks like she could remember some things from the hikes.

She hadn’t lost enough of her city smell or her BO was unique in this woods, because the deer tensed and followed her scent from the berries through the leaves and up the tree. The buck saw her, reared back, and rammed its horns against the tree, piercing the bark and raking its hooves against the trunk. The bough shook but held. He did it again and then again. Leaves gave up and fell to the forest floor. She gripped the branch tighter and squeezed her eyes shut. Fear seeped out of her pores. If she was going to be mauled by an animal, at least it should be some badass carnivore. “How did she die?” “Bambi got her.”

The buck felt he had made his point and moved on with a last hind leg kick to her tree. The girl stayed stock still for a hundred breaths before she dared open her eyes. A spider crept across her fingers, and a butterfly fluttered against her ankle, flinching at both and sending them flying. She rubbed her face and looked around, decisions waiting to be made, but she just wanted to stay here, stay still, stay safe. The naiveté of taking this path too obvious now.

With the sun setting, the girl gave up on food. Maybe she could get to sleep before her stomach remembered to be hungry. She ripped a thick strand from her fraying skirt and tied herself securely to the tree. One quick prayer that the knot would hold, before she closed her eyes to fast forward to tomorrow.

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