Brian stood a little ways down the path, hand on his hip.
"I think we're about three or four miles from the campsite."
Harry wiped sweat from his forehead and checked his watch.
"Well fuck. It's already 4:30, what's another hour or so of walking?"
Brian shrugged, either missing the caustic notes of sarcasm in Harry's voice or simply choosing to ignore them. The pair continued down the trail, Brian moving with his casual, sure footed stride while Harry trudged along four or five feet behind. They had met in college as freshmen, roommates paired together by the archaic algorithm employed by the resident life department of the college. Harry had liked Brian immediately. It was hard not to. Brian had an easy way about him that people were drawn to. Brian took Harry under his wing, and soon the two were inseparable. Harry even went so far as to change his major so he could spend more time with Brian. If he was being honest with himself, Harry didn't even like nature. This was the way it always went. Brian would get excited about something and Harry would get infected. He had gotten a degree in British Literature for Christ's sake! Harry sighed and continued on. He was here now, and they were at least a day and a half's walk from where they parked the car, so he might as well make the best of it.
This resignation only served to make him more angry. He couldn't ever stay mad at Brian, and it ate away at him. How could he be so spineless? Brian walked on ahead, oblivious to his friend's inner turmoil. Harry spent the rest of the afternoon alternately hating himself and his friend. This was such a common mental pursuit for Harry that he could actually think of other things while he brooded. Graduation had come and gone and he still had no idea what he was doing with his life. Brian had gotten a scholarship to continue his passion for British Literature at Harvard. Part of Harry knew that he would merely follow Brian to Boston and take a desk job to help pay the bills. This vision of his probable future depressed Harry and he shoved it away, determined to at least try and appreciate the natural splendor around him. He managed this for awhile, but was dragged out of the moment by a sneeze. A few cottony spores floated lazily in the waning sunlight. Exasperated, Harry waved them out of this way.
Brian had stopped up ahead and was rummaging through his pack. He produced two foil wrapped packages, one of which he tossed to Harry as he approached. Unwrapping the peanut butter and jelly sandwich from its metallic outer layer, Harry sat down on a moss covered boulder. Brian munched on his as he stood, slowly surveying the small clearing.
"This seems like as good a place as any. I'm going to grab some wood. Mind making a fire pit and unpacking the sleeping bags?"
Taking another bite of the sandwich, Harry shook his head. Brian shrugged and walked off into the underbrush, disturbing some more of the cotton spores from a bush as he went. Harry sneezed and cursed. The next half hour was spent rolling out the sleeping bags and fashioning a serviceable fire pit. Harry enjoyed this task, it was simple but offerred him a little creativity in selecting and arranging the stones.
When Brian returned with an armful of wood, he found Harry lying on top of his sleeping bag. Brian quietly built a fire and soon had a decent blaze going. A warm breeze toyed with the ragged edges of the flames, and a few cotton spores blackened and disintegrated as they spun lazily over the fire. Harry remembered Brian talking to him, but couldn't really recall anything his friend actually said. At some point they both dozed off, lulled by the hissing of the fire and the uncharacteristically quiet forest around them. Harry awoke the next morning to find Brian devouring an apple while gazing intently at their map. Sitting up slowly, Harry ran a hand through his hair. He dislodged a small cloud of cottony spores that had taken up residence sometime during the night. He sneezed. Brian peered around the map at him.
"Oh! You're up!"
"I sure hope you're planning us a route that gets us away from these fucking cotton balls."
Brian didn't seem to hear.
"I'm trying to find this valley I saw yesterday when I was out looking for wood. It doesn't seem to be on this map though. Strange."
Harry stood and stretched.
"What was so special about this valley? Was it full of frolicking naked women?"
Brian waved a dismissive hand.
"No you Philistine. It had all of these beautiful blue flowers. And there was this stream. It looked like the perfect place to camp."
"Sounds pretty tame to me. I was really set on seeing some frolicking nymphs." Harry flashed a snide smile at Brian, but quickly changed his expression when he saw his friend's face.
"So how far off the trail do you figure this place is?"
Brian considered this for a moment.
"Maybe an hour or so, not too far."
Harry knew it was probably farther, but there was no use arguing. Brian had made up his mind. They broke camp and Harry followed Brian into the underbrush. They had been walking for about ten minutes when Brian stopped Harry and pointed to a gap in the trees. He had to agree with Brian, the valley was quite beautiful. The blue flowers created an azure ocean that lapped at the edges of the valley, interrupted only by a winding stream.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Brian's voice sounded fuzzy, far away.
Harry nodded. They set out through the trees towards the valley. They had gone another half hour or so when Harry was suddenly seized by a fit of sneezing. Harry hadn't noticed it until now, but there were definitely more of those cotton spores flying around in the air. He stopped for a second to blow his nose, but Brian didn't seem to notice, he just kept walking. Harry cursed and jogged to catch up to his friend. When he put a hand on Brian's shoulder, Brian started like an awoken sleepwalker. This strange reaction scared Harry badly. He jumped back, nearly tripping over a particularly knobby root.
"Jesus Christ Brian! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Brian rounded on him.
"Wrong with me? Why the hell did you sneak up on me like that?"
"Sneak up...Brian, I've been right behind you this whole time. Didn't you hear me sneezing my goddamn brains out a couple of minutes ago?"
Slowly, Brian shook his head.
"No...no I didn't."
Harry looked around.
"You have any idea where we are?"
Brian considered this for a minute. While he pondered, a cloud of cotton spores whirled over their heads and Harry was stricken with another fit of sneezing.
"Fuck! I hate those things!"
Brian looked at him. I didn't see any over the valley earlier. It can't be far. We'll camp there. I bet we can catch a fish in that stream."
Harry shook his friend, unable to believe his friend.
"Forget about the goddamn valley! We need to get back to the trail! We're out in the middle of the fucking woods and you have no idea where we are! Where is the map?"
Unslinging his pack, Brian rummaged through it. He patted his pockets. A feeling of exasperated dread began to do a hornpipe in the pit of Harry's stomach.
"It's gone, isn't it? Just tell me it's gone."
Brian hung his head, avoiding Harry's gaze.
Harry was unable to process what to do next as blind rage threatened to overtake him. Brian took the opportunity to walk off a ways and use the bathroom. When he came back, Harry seemed much more calm.
"All right, here's what we're going to do. We're going to that goddamned valley and maybe we'll be able to get out bearings better out in the open instead of in this goddamn maze of a forest."
"Great! It shouldn't be-"
"Just shut up and lead the way."
They walked on in silence for the next hour, the quiet only broken by the occasional but violent sneeze from Harry. He was too angry to notice the lack of birdsong, Brian too lost in his desire to see the valley. The cotton spores were everywhere now, and each step propelled tiny clouds of the things into the air. This bizarre snowstorm persisted for most of their walk, finally abating as they came to a place where the trees began to thin.
Five more minutes brought them to the rim of the valley and the sweeping waves of nodding blue flowers spread out below them. Harry gasped. He felt the anger drain out of him as the sheer natural beauty of the place overtook him. He felt it burn through him like some great invisible beam, threatening to reduce his consciousness to cinders. Never had he seen anything so beautiful. He longed to walk through the field, to lay by the stream. Brian was already half way down the hill when Harry was finally able to follow.
They made camp by the stream, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the valley. The two men were only slightly disappointed to find the stream devoid of not only fish, but apparently all other forms of life. This was not too distressing, as they still had more foil wrapped sandwiches. Brian made no fire that night, neither wanting to leave the valley to scavenge for wood. The night found them laid out in their sleeping bags, the great starry swirl of the Milky Way uncurling above them.
Harry woke the next morning to find he couldn't move. He had heard of sleep paralysis before and tried to fight the rising tide of panic. He felt something move beneath him, but he couldn't turn his head to see what was going on. He tried to call out for Brian, but his scream died in his throat, like he was trapped in a nightmare. Something crept up his legs and Harry struggled to look down. He could barely see, but it looked almost as if the grass was flowing up and over his ankles. Bewildered, he managed to catch a glimpse of a catatonic Brian, over on his right. Harry tried to reach out to his friend, to wake him up, but he still couldn't move. The moving blanket of grass reached his waist and suddenly it felt as if a thousand tiny needles were piercing him from the stomach down. The pain flared white hot, and he could taste blood in his mouth as the needles dug deeper. The pressure on his legs was enormous and still the legions of needles marched their way up his body. When they reached his throat, Harry finally lapsed into merciful blackness.
There was a legend so old that had been all but forgotten when the first settlers came to the area that told of a vengeful spirit that was imprisoned beneath the earth. He would lure in unsuspecting travelers, both human and animal alike, and consume them. Very few people actually believed the tale, but not many stayed long in the area once someone they knew disappeared.
No sign of the two boys was ever found, despite vigorous searches by the police and volunteers. One local man swears they were consumed by a valley with nodding blue flowers, a place that he says exists on no map, but has some strange sort of sentience. He'll tell anyone who'll listen to his theory about what he says his great granddad named "the fly trap valley". When questioned about his bizarre belief, the man always replies the same way:
"Got to be some truth to that old legend, else there'd never been no legend in the first place."
The boys' disappearance remains unsolved.