Chuck Wendig’s most recent flash fiction challenge is entitled “Photos of Impossible Places.” And while the photos he links to truly are otherworldly (but for some reason, the link no longer works), looking at them made me think of Enchanted Rock which, while less fantastic than the photos, always seems like another planet while I’m hiking there. So the story I wrote ended up being inspired by that place.
Once upon a time, Texas might as well have been a foreign planet. But Mia fell in love with it. Especially that big, pink rock that obviously wasn’t another planet, but if she went hiking on a Monday when nobody else was around, she could pretend she’d transported to a different world. The more time she spent there, the more time she began to feel that her true home wasn’t in a small town on a hill, but right here, among the red stone and the dark caves.
Of course, nobody was allowed to live there. There were job openings, though. Mia figured it was good enough. But she still felt sad when she had to go home at the end of the day. After a few months, being a park ranger no longer sated her lust for the place. Even the overnight shifts didn’t help. She kept picturing disappearing into the stone, staying forever.
Over time, the rock was in her blood. Over time, it’s roughness felt more like home than her own skin. Over time, she worked extra shifts, stayed as late as she could, came by on her days off to scope out territory.
Fortunately, the job left Mia with a lot of useful information. She knew where the guards patrolled, where she could hide, what she could eat. She cataloged every species of plant in the park, took note of every animal.
What Mia didn’t figure out on the job, she sought out in books. She learned how to draw water out of a cactus, and which plants could be used for healing.
Her disappearance was gradual. They would have noticed if a ranger had vanished outright. Colleagues would have been dispatched to save her. She would have had a harder time hiding if people were definitely seeking her.
Becoming part of the rock was an act of camouflage. Slowly, slowly, she faded to red. She missed shifts, ran late, took off early. She didn’t want them to miss her.
Gradually, her transformation was complete. Her shelters were rocks. Her food varied, but she found it. She was careful not too overharvest certain areas, for fear of drawing attention. She was careful not to build fires. She lived, and by the time her clothes had finally turned to useless rags, her skin had turned to leather that was nearly as tough as stone. She didn’t need it. She was an animal, as much as anything else living on that rock.
Mia slept during the day, hidden from the heat and from the visitors. The wild ones didn’t fare well with tourists. At night, she feasted, she ran, she spent hours communing with the sky. She had always loved the stars and moon, and when most of her waking hours were in the wilderness, at night, alone. The animals didn’t speak her language, so she spent time taking in and following the sky. The stars gave her stories. The moon gave her stability. She no longer needed words, but instead read the poetry of the sky.