Saturday, 13 August 2011

Flash Fiction: Hunted

Anya has been taking early morning runs in these woods for months. Today they feel different; as if somehow everything has changed around her in an invisible way. It rained in the early hours of the morning and now there is the metronomic drip of rain falling through the tree canopy. The path is a slimy way. Brambles snag at her ankles.

She can’t seem to get her heart into a steady rhythm. It is as if it knows of a fear that she is yet to discover. She pulls out the left bud of her iPod as if to listen out for threat. Somehow, it makes her feel slightly less vulnerable. She reasons with herself that she is entirely safe here. Nobody has travelled these paths for days: the spider webs mark the passage of undisturbed time. The track she runs today is not her usual way.

It would be easy to get lost in these woods. Even when they break onto a road, it looks the same as any other. It is remote here. Shuttered houses huddle together in little groups of four or five throughout the forest. This is the closest there comes to being a 'town' in at least thirty miles. Where Anya now lives is on the edge of one of the larger settlements. It has a bar, a bakery and a church - nothing else.

Last night she cycled to the bar - which is really more like someone's front room. She thought it would be nice to connect with the locals and had visions of sitting amongst her new neighbours eating a bowl of local pot-au-eau and exchanging local gossip. In the end, her spattering of French hadn’t been needed. The few residents in the bar, mainly farming men, had done their best to ignore her to her face, and had muttered deeply under their breath when they thought she wasn't looking. But at least the beer had been good. Crisp cold and perfectly pulled.

All of this had been her father’s dream – the French house on a hill, overlooking sweeping forests and vineyards. He had been happy here. The house was more like a small chateau: like something out of a fairytale, but Anya had never felt at ease in the place. To her it had the faint odour of decay clinging to its faded beauty. When her father had bought it, it had come furnished with the previous occupants’ belongings. It was a house haunted with somebody else’s memories.

It had never really been her intention to stay in France. She had come purely because her father had died and the estate needed ‘sorting’. Her brother was far too busy flying between London and New York and didn’t have the time - he'd never had the time for their father. When she'd arrived, she had found that the vineyards attached to the property were turning over a nice little profit and had somewhat of a reasonable reputation. It would have been foolish to let the opportunity pass, and the house held promise.

It is about all of this that Anya thinks on as she runs. But there are other thoughts at the back of her mind. It is as if a separate voice is trying to speak to her: one which she is doing her best to ignore. The voice comments on the strange things Anya is seeing in the woods. They are nothing alarming, just notable. Someone has been here – making things.

The things are nothing scary or strange. Anya reasons they are probably just part of the local hunting life: pens for sanglier, or traps for other game. They have been made from materials lying about on the woodland floor; sticks, stones and old random bits of discarded twine. Some of the structures have been suspended from the branches. She shivers despite the heat of running. Somewhere amongst the tapestry of leaves, little bells tinkle.

All at once, the voice is screaming danger at her. Her eyes have been looking hard, noticing that not all of the objects suspended from the branches are twigs: some are bones. She has reasoned with herself enough. It is time to turn around.

As soon as she does, she wishes she hadn’t. The path is blocked. Three men stand with rifles in hand, hunting dogs at their heels. They are nonchalant, relaxed – here for recreation: some are smoking. She makes the decision to turn back in the direction she'd been running. The men look unfit and she believes she could easily outrun them but knows the dogs will be fast. The small hope is short lived. The path is blocked in both directions and she is caught between a mirror image. The only choice left is to leave the path and make a run for it through the tangled mess of trees.

She bolts to the left. She can hear their laughter moving into the distance and for one small moment she dares to believe they were just sporting with her: that they meant no real harm. She stops for breath. Panic has made her lungs burn.

In the near distance a horn is blown and the dogs yap with excitement. The hunt begins and Anya takes flight. She knows she is running for her life

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