Each footstep pounding on the ground smashed the rotting leaves deeper into the trail. Her lungs heaved on toward the end of the run. Her face red and eyes bright. She knew to be wary of the strange trail, with its twists and turns, the drop to the left, boasting a stream that wasn’t deep enough to justify fear but dangerous enough to break a leg.
Her ponytail swung back and forth with every movement. The bright pink sports bra glowed against her tan skin, and the matching ribbons of color sashaying down the capris danced with every movement. Her shoes, dissonantly colored in a deep purple and shot through with lime green, screamed out against the greys and browns of the hiking trail. The agony of her divergence, sharp and bright, against the dark, soft woods left a trail following three steps behind her at any given point.
As she huffed and puffed along the four-mile trail, the leaves in the trees above her shuddered, thirsty. They could feel the winter chill a few months off and were already preparing to leave the world behind. Her music hummed beyond the glossy headphones, electronic beats vibrating against the burbling of a nearby stream. To block out the busy chatter, she increased the volume, further irritating the poor stream. Itching from the noise against its surface, the water rippled and tore its way across the rocks below it.
The bubbling current rubbed raw the tree roots leaning in for a drink. They, too, chaffed from her royal purple shoes with the green stripes, and the flowers were positively insulted by the bright clothing, contemptuous that their color was insufficient. This disapproval prompted them to close up early in aggravation, halting the pollinating bees in their final rounds of season. So the bees turned to the next brightest color.
They began to bumble behind her, trying to keep up with her practiced pace. Eventually, she tired and they drew closer, circling her body, landing anywhere with color in a last minute search for pollen. When their black and yellow bodies began to circle her head, moving all at once in a pattern reminiscent of a tornado, she reacted. She screamed and ran faster, jumping up and down, pounding against the unsuspecting trail, breaking the soft cushioning of mulch it had so carefully built up over the past few years.
At this point, the trees, raw and annoyed, grew angry. The rustling above her turned to shaking, going faster and faster, louder and louder until leaves came down in droves. Some hit the bees, which simply angered the swarm. In an attempt to finish her run in peace, she turned the music up yet again, further angering the stream, which began to flow over the banks, moving steadily up the two-foot gap between itself and the trail.
This increase in power hurt the trees’ roots even more and they rippled with pain. They shook in sheer agony as their bark slowly peeled off. Her feet hammering the ground felt like lemon juice in a stinging cut, and they quivered in pain. The vibrating turned to a roiling sky of branches wrenching against the discomfort. The drier branches, already having given up their nutrients to prepare for the winter, tumbled around her. She yelped and dodged the limbs that crashed into the trail, sending up puffs of the disturbed mulch, which clung to the ribbons of her pink pants, dimming the brightness, concealing it completely in some areas. A considerable number of bees were hit as well, angering the entire swarm. They swirled in a tighter formation around her chest and neck, landing incrementally on her face and stinging, stinging, stinging until she screamed.
The stream, upon hearing the screaming, transformed from a burbling brook to a roaring, ripping river, easily overtaking the trail. The mulch lifted and swirled around her ankles, then her calves, and her knees. The pink was encapsulated, and the purple deepened to black as she tried to continue running, her shoes soaking up water. Fish nibbled around the green stripes as she moved slower, slower, until she almost stopped completely.
This lapse in pace allowed the slower, angrier bees to catch up. Buzzing gruffly, they landed on the back of her neck and stung with all of their might, leaving lumps to match those that spread across her face and torso like a mountain range. Her face was almost unrecognizable, eyes nearly swollen shut and nose wrenched to the left with the force of the swelling. She had become so inhuman that her screams began to mirror the sounds of the woods. Her voice buzzed with hoarseness, and the snapping of the branches that splashed into the water surrounding her swallowed the sounds she made whole.
The combination of the swelling and the current brought her to a full stop next to an old oak tree. Its roots were exposed and seared in pain from the ripping of the water and harsh shifting of the dirt. When she came to a stop, she stood on one of the most pained roots, and with a twist of agony, a large branch fell squarely between her shoulders, knocking her into the river.
The music stopped. She weakly tried to move her dirt-covered, bruised arms to reach out and grab a branch, but a leaf flowed into her nose. While sputtering and spitting to get it out, she loosened her grip and stopped treading water. The angry current swept her down the two-foot drop. Roots ripped the dirty brown headphones from her ears. Her ponytail contained more dirt than hair. The color was all but gone, and as she slipped below surface of the water, her skin lumpy and torn.
Over the course of the next hour, the forest returned to its former state. Most of the mulch returned to the trail. The water receded. The remaining bees returned to their hive. The trees continued to prepare for winter, their roots now coated in a thin layer of fat and oil that gleamed in the sunlight, protecting them from the elements and the cold. A new beehive was built in the protection of a ribcage, and the brook happily bounced against the silt and rocks.
The clothes were never seen again, but a week later the flowers opened back up, unnaturally bright.