Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Unfamiliar Country" by T.S. Sharp (Short Story)

Genre:  Supernatural Crime

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  A short story about the grisly work of a hired killer whose work finally catches up with him.

A contract killer's work is complicated by an unwelcome visitation from his most recent job. Boyd's task was simple. Kill the man and bury the body. That was the easy part. Now Boyd has to grapple with his conscience, driving him to extreme measures deep in the Welsh countryside.

Boyd walked the man up the sloping woodland ground to the pre-dug grave. His head was covered with a rough hessian sack, tied tightly around his neck, his arms bound behind his back. Propelled forward by Boyd, the man stumbled on the rotting leaf litter and exposed roots, trudging silently toward his fate. The walk was awkward and Boyd had to keep yanking him in the right direction like a dumb beast, but eventually they arrived at the deep hole cut into the moist earth of a remote wooded hillside.

He positioned the man where he wanted him alongside the grave, then kicked at the back of his knees to force him into a kneeling position. Mute and defeated he sat there, head bowed, looking like a man at prayer. Boyd pulled at the cords and untied the sacking covering his head, then yanked it off. The man blinked in the sudden light, saw the empty grave before him and looked up at Boyd. His face was swollen and bloodied from the beating he’d received to subdue him, his mouth covered with several layers of duct tape. He breathed heavily through his nose, blowing out small bubbles of snot and blood that inflated and burst every few seconds.

The man’s eyes bulged and widened as he saw Boyd raise his handgun. He flicked the safety catch off and levelled the gun at the man’s head. He could hear his strangulated cries through his gag, see him convulsing with terror. The man looked down at the dark earthy pit of the grave. Boyd pulled the trigger and shot him through the head. The sound crashed through the trees and foliage, down the wooded hillside and back again, washing over both of them and then receded to nothingness. The man toppled over to one side and lay there like nothing more than a pile of ragged discarded clothes.

Boyd breathed out heavily. He smelt the faint whiff of cordite in the air mixed with the sweet smell of oak and ash trees, bracken and holly bushes. He bent and picked up the spent shell casing from amongst the decaying leaves and put it in his pocket. He returned to the man and pulled his body out straight so that it was lying lengthwise alongside the grave. The man’s lifeless face turned to look upward through the gently swaying ceiling of tree cover, looking past Boyd with eyes half closed, glassy and dull. The right side of his head was shot away where Boyd’s bullet had made its exit, leaving a matted gore of blood and hair and bone fragments. He stood there for a moment, alone with his handiwork in the cool stillness of the trees. His work was all but complete now. With his foot he pushed the corpse into the grave where it landed with a dull thud, perhaps the last sound it would ever make.

He retrieved his spade from the undergrowth and moved alongside the heaped earth, thrust it into the mound and heaved his first spadeful into the hole and its new occupant. In the depths of the grave, perhaps five feet deep, Boyd could make out the man’s face tipped toward the sky, as if taking his last look at the realm above. Again Boyd paused in his work, regarding the dead man in his final indignity, having the cloying soil of a Welsh forest thrown on top of him, devoid of ceremony and ritual. Boyd swallowed hard. His mouth was dry and his lips were cracked and sore. He continued filling in the grave until it was level, then stamped down the earth, making sure to disguise his boot marks by brushing the ground with a leafy branch.

He patted the gun in his waistband for reassurance, feeling its solid weight against his side, then put the spade over his shoulder and retraced his steps through the tree-crowded pathways to his car. He found the whispering murmur of the trees all around him comforting. The seemingly infinite variations of green and the gnarled and twisted boughs spoke to him of an ancient and all but forgotten landscape, as if he was the first to rediscover it in a millennia. The rich, sweet smelling air helped to clear his head too, for which he was grateful.

Arriving back at his hire car parked on a lonely Forestry Commission track, Boyd opened the boot and threw in the spade, wiped his hands on some paper towels and climbed behind the wheel. He pulled his mobile from an inside jacket pocket and made a call to his employer.

“It’s done,” he said as soon as it was answered, then the line went dead.

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