The tent flap opens, and Trevor comes in. Everyone’s here now. Everyone, that is, except Alan the group leader. He’ll be sorting out logistics with the mule team. Eating with them too. I give Trevor a bright smile from beneath my red baseball cap, holding out my plastic plate to Muhammed as he serves from a huge bowl of lamb and vegetable stew. A stack of some kind of flatbread lies on a large tin platter on the grass. Because of dysentery I caught in India, and that’s haunted me for years, I won’t use the metal plates they give us. I have my own utensils which I’ll wash in bottled water. The trek utensils will be washed in the nearest stream.
Edna looks at Trevor. The others are already eating, or else waiting in anticipation for their turn. She’s old and her face reminds me of a dried prune, but with the sunburn from the days of walking, her leathery old features are lined with red stripes, visible even in the lamplight.
Trevor sits in one of the two unoccupied seats on either side of the tent flap, seating himself next to Barbara. She’s quiet, but not unfriendly and I think her attractive, the most feminine of the group I suppose. She holds her bowl out to Mohammed. He begins to ladle the stew, and the smell of potatoes, rich gravy and lamb fills the air.
Edna wipes gravy from her chin. “I think we should set off at five tomorrow, it’ll be too hot by the time we reach the pass if we set off later.”
A couple of the others mumble assent with mouths full of food.
“Hold on a minute,” Trevor says, “I don’t want to get up at four-thirty. It’ll be windy up there, that’ll keep us cool.”
It looks like there is hardly any lamb left as Muhammed serves Trevor’s out. Unfortunate that everyone else had two pieces and he has just one, very small lump of meat.
Edna snorts. “We had to get up at two to see Machu Pichu!”
“Well, we’re not going to see an ancient city, we’re just going up a mountain path and down the other side!” says Trevor.
“That’s the problem with you young ‘uns, you want everything cushy, you even complained about having to put up a tent!”
Trevor looks annoyed. “That’s because in the brochure it said they’d be set up for us.”
Muhammed speaks calmly, “Let us see what Alan suggests.”
Just then, Barbara jerks forward and her plate falls to the floor, spattering gravy onto the grass. She makes a strange sound, a gurgling, gasping noise. Her face is red.
We all sit, shocked. I feel helpless. Is she choking? Yes, that’s it, maybe some lamb or something? Barbara collapses forwards onto her hands and knees. Her back is arched, and a strange moaning comes from somewhere deep within. Her fingers dig into the earth like pincers.
I shoot up, “Somebody do something, Babs is choking. Muhammed!”
But Muhammed just stands, mouth agape, dangling the near-empty serving bowl and looking at Barbara writhing on the ground as if he were watching a tortoise race.
Only a few seconds pass but it feels like time has stopped. Then the tent flap opens and Alan strides in. He bends down and lifts Barbara up. She looks like a lifeless doll in his big arms. He clasps both hands beneath her breasts and gives her a squeeze that would do a bear proud. Something small and white and hard flies out of Barbara’s mouth and she gasps for air like a floundering fish, then tears begin to streak her flushed cheeks.
“Oh my god!” Edna sits, rubbing her face. “Ow, that went right in my eye. I can’t see!”
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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