…AFTER WORKING THE week, each day of the calendar raising my blood pressure, only Saturday could lower it, not Friday night, not Sunday, the day of rest overshadowed by the darkness of every Monday since the Gregorian calendar came into existence.
A sun drenched skyline greeted me, impersonal, it didn’t have time to say good morning to everyone individually, yet seemingly was able to as I hoisted the blind to it’s rightful place, pulling the cheap cord, fearful of breaking it. My other half, the Vanessa to my Vincent, sat up, wearing only the duvet, squinting through illegally long shadowed lashes, her skin browned after she’d stolen from the sun without prosecution, my fingers, my body, the parole officer who would let her get away with anything, if my heart or mind could be called that.
I didn’t have to say a word. My smile revealed all. “Do we have to?” she groaned.
We always went hiking on Saturday’s. “Picnic?” I said trying to incentivise her. Her face went expressionless for that split second, then she smiled, happy in an instant.
I smiled back at her, tumbling into bed, kissing the remnants of her lipstick off. “I bought some food yesterday, it’s in the fridge in the garage.” Her eyes, brown, so close, I saw myself in them, the same way she saw herself reflected in mine. “Time to get up!” I yelled disengaging.
Usually we went into the Grampians, but I figured we’d go somewhere different on the West coast somewhere we’d never been before. Where she’d never been.
Pulling the handbrake I closed the windows, killing the engine and removing my sunglasses, smiling at Vanessa, peering out the windscreen. “I guess we have company.”
We looked at the long rusty bus parked ahead, just before the corrugated iron gate leading into the trees. “Maybe it’s a school trip?” Vanessa mused. I shrugged, slightly disappointed we weren’t alone.
Closing our doors I went to the boot, extracting the hamper, clicking the fob making the orange sidelights flash. Taking Vanessa’s hand we walked along the rutted track, the mud dried out like cracked skin. We slowed down at the bus, observing the faded lettering on the side. “Thomson’s?” I said speculatively.
“Yeah, looks like it.” Vanessa clenched my hand tighter, looking up at me.
Brown stripes on the top half gave way to the white below, the bacterial rust spots branching outwards.
Pulling gently, we moved onwards, spotting footprints in the dirt. Vanessa clambered over the gate and I passed the hamper over, quickly following, the narrow path much like I remembered it, flanked by silver birch, their high tops bristling, stealing the warmth of the sun.
“It’s not far,” I said.
“Your not far, is always way further than you think.”
“Seriously, it’s only about two miles. It’ll be worth it.” She made a silly scrunched up face, neither approval nor contentment. My mind turned to the hamper, but not the food or drink. Acquired two days ago, it sparkled, an ethical diamond in a rose gold band begging to be worn. I took one of her many rings to the jewelers to ensure it was the right size.
“What are you smiling at?”
“Just a little something,” I said, kissing the side of her head.
The silver birch thinned out making way for a small lake circled by reeds, bouncing rays wildly, and without a breeze, the sky grounded on its surface.
Free of the shade I felt my skin warm, a feeling of happiness unique from any other. My arm across Vanessa’s shoulder we walked slowly admiring the scenery, taking it in, pictures that would never develop processed in our personal dark rooms.
The path wound up a gentle slope, through more birch populated by rabbits and squirrels, and as I remembered it, the clearing I’d been to once before as a child wasn’t far away.
Cooled again, as if swords being tempered by nature, I picked up the pace, excited for what lay ahead, Vanessa shooting me pretend evils. “It’s literally just around the corner, just over that hill.”
“Literally…” she echoed mockingly.
Nearing the top of the small hill, I turned, smiling uncontrollably, her eyes narrowing sensing something was up. Picking our way over exposed roots, we reached the crest. In unison we stopped. In shock our hands dropped to our sides, the hamper hitting the ground. I stared in disbelief at the clearing, at the long green grass dotted with daffodils and bodies. I felt Vanessa put her arms around me. “Holy shit!” was all I could utter.
Vanessa buried her head in my side. “Please tell me that isn’t what it looks like..” she said, her voice muffled.
Instead of running, I began counting. Twenty three bodies were lying down in a neat circle, seemingly dead. Stroking Vanessa’s hair I held her head tight. “I’m going down..stay here, ok.” Reluctantly she nodded, standing on the edge of the trees with the hamper.
I walked down, scarcely able to believe what I was seeing. Walking around the perimeter I looked at their faces, mostly adults, all dressed in yellow robes with a crest on them. Glancing back at Vanessa, I crouched down and tentatively put my hand on the neck of a middle aged woman, her lips turned upwards, and I half expected her to reach up and grab my wrist. Skin still warm, it was difficult to discern whether it was from the sun or recent death. There was no pulse. About to stand up and start punching in 999 I noticed a worn leather book fallen at her side. On closer observation, every body had a similar looking book nearby in various states. Curious, I picked it up, surprised by the weight, the leather barren of inscription, cold to the touch. Yellowed pages asked to be opened where a small black feather resided. Seven in bold black headed the chapter and I began to read. Engrossed, I turned over page after page, time non-existent, a faint familiar voice calling my name. Louder and louder she called, and I started to feel an overwhelming happiness with each word, followed by a dizziness, so I sat down, reading more and more until the end of the chapter.
Vanessa watched, arms crossed, shivering, as Vincent sat down, yelling at him. Then he fell backwards, lying on the grass.