This short story was written in response to Sue Vincent’s weekly photoprompt. This week the prompt is honour. You can join in here: https://scvincent.com/2019/01/10/thursday-photo-prompt-honour-writephoto
A death without honour
The man stood, silhouetted against the moon. The large knife in his hands glinted in the pale moonlight. He contemplated the tent containing the sleeping forms of the young couple. His dark eyes took on a distant look as if he were thinking or maybe deciding.
Jane was thrilled to be in the mountains at last. She had literally begged David to take her camping. He didn’t want to. He thought she was to girly and soft to camp in such a remote spot but Jane was determined. She argued convincingly.
“Fine,” he said. “We’ll go camping but I don’t want to hear any complains about the lack of facilities. My tent is plain and simple and so is the camping site you have chosen. There won’t be any toilets, showers or electricity.”
“I can managed,” Jane said, her heart singing with joy. The view would more than make up for the lack of amenities.
David smiled at her. “Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you. “We can pitch our tent near where the track ends so we don’t have to carry it far. I will take my small gas stove so that we can make tea, cook and have some light at night.”
The tent was soon assembled and the blow up mattress installed. Jane stood in the early evening twilight, gazing at the crisp outline of the peaks against the purplish sky. Happiness filled her heart until if felt ready to burst. Here she was with the man she adored in this outstandingly beautiful setting.
The man ran through the dense foliage. Fallen leaves, creepers and young plant life lay crushed beneath his undiscerning feet. The sound of the wailing alarm and barking dogs spurring him on.
Thick branches covered in pungent green moss hung from the trees. Occasionally, one slapped him across his face or arms as he plunged on. Small spots of blood oozed from the resultant scratches and scrapes on his forehead and the exposed parts of his arms.
A narrow stream of fast moving water appeared in front of him and he leapt into it, splashing his way along its churning course. The water felt cool on his overheated skin. The day was intensely hot and it was cloying and humid in the bush.
That will help confuse the dogs. They’ll lose my scent.
The man had nothing except the clothes he stood in and a large butcher knife he had managed to steal as he skulked through a tiny village near the prison. Despite his fatigue, he kept moving. Freedom was an enticing incentive. The chirping of the crickets in the trees and undergrowth was so loud he ears physically hurt. He carried on, climbing higher and higher into the mountains.
Jane rinsed the metal plates and cups in the nearby stream. The water was flowing swiftly so she was comfortable to use it for this purpose. She didn’t want to contract bilharzia or any other nasty parasite or bacteria regardless of how gorgeous the scenery was.
David was standing in front of the fire, adding sticks and watching the cheerful flames crackling. He couldn’t know what Jane was thinking about the water. It was a relief, Jane didn’t want to suffer through his teasing about her being a soft, city-girl.
The temperature dropped when full darkness crept across the land. David banked the fire and they climbed into their sleeping bag. Jane’s blue tracksuit was warm as she cuddled up next to David. Within moments, their eyes had closed and they both slept deeply.
The man crouched in his hiding place in the clump of bushes alongside the stream. He peered through the darkness at the darker shape of the tent. There were no clouds and the bright stars made his visibility quite good. He had been surprised to come across campers this far into the mountains.
It’s to my advantage. I can grab some of their food and drink before I carry on.
No sound came from the tent. The couple were asleep.
He crept forward carefully. Their cooler box and bags were stacked under a tarpaulin next to their tent. He had seen the pretty woman with the short slick hair putting food back into the cooler box after they had finished eating.
His stomach clenched with tension as he drew closer. It had been an extraordinary day and his nerves were on edge. He’d been on the run since he’d smashed the guard over the head with a convenient boulder while urinating in the bushes. Prison policy was that a guard had to accompany any prisoner who needed to relieve himself. Billy hadn’t planned to escape that particular day. He had the outline of a plan ready for if the opportunity ever arose but there was no set timing. Today, the opportunity had arose when he had seen the loose, fair-sized boulder under the bush while he was peeing. The guard hadn’t been paying him any attention and he had been able to seize the boulder and bring it down on the man’s head as hard as he could. Much to Billy surprise, the guard had dropped like a stone. Billy had turned and galloped off into the undergrowth.
He lifted the edge of the tarpaulin and slowly dragged the cooler box out from beneath it. It scrapped softly on the rough ground. He opened the box and grabbed the packages of meat and a loaf of bread that were on top.
“Hey!” the shout rolled around in the clearing. “Thief!”
Billy sprang to his feet, fright unhinging his mind. He lunged towards the voice, his knife drawn. The sharp tip of the blade sank deeply into the man’s stomach. Blood gushed from the laceration and he let out a high pitched scream that turned into a horrible gurgling sound.
The strange scream wrenched Jane from sleep.
“David?” she called.
The gurgling scream abruptly ended as Billy drove his knife upwards and into David neck. His body fell heavily backwards onto his side of the blow up mattress. Blood sprayed over the blankets and Jane. She felt its wet stickiness on her skin and recoiled in horror.
Outside the tent, a dark cloud descended over Billy’s disturbed mind. He looked up at the sliver of the moon and howled at the sky.
The sound shocked Jane into action. She wrenched the tent pegs from their deep holes and forced her body through the gap and out of the tent. Her bare feet flew across the damp grass and into the surrounding trees. Panic filled her with energy and Jane raced through the trees. She had no plan other than to get as far away from the howl and the creature that produced it as possible.
In the clearing, Billy continued to howl for a few more minutes before the cloud over his mind started to lift. Gradual understanding of his situation returned to him as he determinedly gathered this thoughts. If anyone had been watching, it would have been like witnessing a machine starting up.
He gazed in the direction of the trees. He could hear the sounds of the woman crashing through the undergrowth in the dark.
She has to be dealt with. I can’t leave her alive as a witness. Anyhow, she will be so traumatised by the death of her lover she won’t want to live. Killing her is the honourable thing to do.
His decision made, he set off in the direction Jane had taken. His loping pace indicated his confidence that he would have no trouble catching her.
The two boys ran ahead along the hiking trail. As long as they stayed on the path and didn’t go too far, their parents were not concerned about the boys forging ahead.
Patrick saw an interesting twisted branch hanging from a tree and stopped suddenly. His younger brother, Simon, ran into the back of him and fell to his knees.
The splodge of red starred up at him.
Blood? Is that blood?
“Patrick,” Simon called querulously, “what’s this?”
Patrick turned back and looked at the dark patch of stickiness that Simon was pointing to. He knelt down and examined it more closely.
“It looks like blood.”
“Look, Patrick, there’s some more.” Simon pointed out a series of splashes along the path.
The two boys ventured forward cautiously. A few meters ahead, they saw a foot poking out of the trees on the side of the dirt pathway.
A few more steps revealed the body of a woman. A great pool of blood surrounded her torso and legs.
Simon opened his mouth and shrieked. The sound went on and on as the shock and horror pumped through him.
His mother suddenly appeared behind him. Grabbing him in a comforting hug. Simon’s screams tapered off into sobbing hiccups.
Patrick showed the body to his father, his small face white and strained with the effort of not following Simon’s lead and dissolving in a screaming mess.
His father bent over the woman and felt for a pulse.
“She’s dead,” he said softly.
Hours later, the police came across the crumpled body of a man at the bottom of a steep ravine. Through some strange act of divine retribution, Billy had fallen into the ravine in the darkness of the previous evening and landed on his own knife. It had driven deep into his body and he had bleed out on his own in the great blackness.
The man with the knife stood immobile in the clearing gazing at the tent. Hours later, the first rays of dawn danced across the grass of the clearing. The golden light blended with his transparent form and the ghost gradually dissipated. That night it returned, this agitated spirit, trapped between this world and the next. To late Billy had come to realise there is no honour in murder or the death of a murderer.