“What is it?” Brandon was intrigued and nauseous. It covered the ground and appeared to recent. Blood oozed out of the white flesh covering the forest floor. The one-foot section made Brandon think an animal might have torn off a piece of tissue. “What do you think, Nate?”
Nathan felt repulsed at the scene next to their walking shoes. “I think it’s disgusting.”
Both boys stood there contemplating what they were seeing. It was Nathan’s imagination that took hold first. “I think it’s part of a deer. I bet a mountain lion left it here when it dragged it off.”
Brandon stood there considering Nathan’s proposition. He looked over at his friend. “Why do you think it’s a deer, Nate?”
Nathan looked down, considered his reasons, and then turned back to Brandon. “Well, I suppose because it just seems the most logical. It’s a big piece of flesh, and the only thing I can think of that size is a deer. There are mountain lions here, so I guess it just makes sense.”
Brandon’s imagination jumped ahead. “Hey, Nate. I was thinking, why couldn’t it be a person?”
“You mean a person killed a deer? I suppose so.”
Brandon shook his head. “I mean, what if this bloody mess is a person.”
Nathan took a step back, and Brandon followed suit. “You mean like a mountain lion killed a hiker?”
Brandon looked Nathan in the eye, “Or maybe a serial killer killed a hiker and cut him up to eat him!”
Both boys swallowed hard. They began looking around the forest. A thick grove of trees only allowed them to see a few feet beyond their trail. The afternoon sun casts a dark shadow under the forest canopy. A squirrel ran between two trees and startled the boys. They stepped closer together, so their shoulders pressed firmly against one another.
The distinct sound of distant footsteps slowly made their way from the dark path beyond. The boys turned back to back. They were not going to let the other be hurt. A bird took off overhead, and they pushed their backs hard against each other so that if one were to move the other would tumble to the ground. The steps in the distance drew near. They sounded heavy, like a giant man in boots was taking his time. Nathan’s breath grew shallow, and Brandon held his.
A shadowy figure slowly came into view. The boys screamed. The shadow stopped. “Is that you boys!? Are you in trouble?!” The distinctive voice of Brandon’s dad broke the silence. Brandon ran towards the shadow and into the arms of his father.
“Dad, you have to see this. We found a piece of a body.” His father ran beyond Brandon to the white bleeding flesh on the ground. Brandon’s dad began to laugh. “Dad! This is serious! We should call the police!”
His father regained his composure. “No, son. You boys have discovered “Strawberries and cream.”
“Dad, that’s gross. That is not strawberries and cream.”
His dad shook his head. “No, you boys have discovered a fungus. Some people also call it the bleeding tooth fungus. Its scientific name is Hydnellum pecki.”
Both boys’ eyes filled with wonder. “Oh! Well, that’s still gross.”
Brandon’s father laughed. “I agree. Let’s get going boys. We have another two miles to go.”
The boy’s shoulders dropped at the news. They turned and continued their hike. Nathan leaned towards Brandon as they pushed ahead. “I liked our version better than your dad’s.”
“Me too,” replied Brandon.
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