The Chase. Short Story.

EDIT: This went up early on Sunday, my apologies for that, that was accidental. I do not think you will get another email when it goes live again today (Monday) however, if you do I apologise. Sorry about the mix up! As I’ve stated previously I’m writing this from the past and I must have accidentally clicked 2 on the scheduling thing rather than 3.

My weekend was pretty ok, went into town, twice. Which was a pain in the ass. There was loads of people too, I didn’t really expect that. People, everywhere. Couldn’t move any faster than a slow crawling walk. Groups of families being the tip of wedges, using their prams as battering rams while people crowded behind them. People just stopping in the middle of the street to listen to music/watch performers, to avoid being crushed by pianos (yes, people were dragging pianos through this, I’m like 99% sure they were buskers.)

Then there were the shops, people just milling around, stopping randomly, clogging up everything. Just pretty much felt as though I was constantly in people’s way, shifting back and forth every 3 seconds to let people past.

It seemed like some kind of shopping dam broke and everyone thought “Holy shit! It’s December!” and decided to go into town. Still, I got my stuff done with little enough pain. Then I had to get the bus out of town, then back in again a few hours later. That was slightly annoying as it was a case of going home for an hour or two, then going back in again. Saw some interesting things on the bus though! There was a woman with down syndrome walking to the bus stop and she was still a fair distance away, so the bus driver stopped and asked if she was going to get the bus and let her on, which I thought was pretty awesome of him, especially as it was absolutely freezing outside. Later on, on my second trip in, a drunk women kept asking the driver where he was going, because he was going the wrong way, her friends eventually assured her that they were going the right route.

Hope everyone elses weekend went well,

On with the show!

———————————————————————————————

The Chase.

He ran, ducking and dodging branches as he went. He could hear nothing but the sound of his beating heart and the great gasping breaths that filled his lungs. There was no sound from his pursuers, but that meant little. He tore through the forest, leaping over small bushes, bursting through branches that snagged and grabbed at his clothes and still he continued onwards, running and running until he had to stop. Only for a moment though, no longer. He leaned against a tree, sweat ran down his face. He took deep breaths, trying to slow his beating heart, he needed to be quiet, to listen. His breathing slowed, he listened. The woods were silent, completely and utterly. There was no breeze to cavort through the trees, no birds sang, no animals moved. The entire forest had stopped, it was waiting. He started to walk, trying to hear if anyone was following him. He hoped he had lost them, but it was unlikely, he had never heard of someone getting away.

There. Noise. He froze. It was faint, so very faint. The low gurgle of water. His mouth was suddenly dry, he realised how thirsty he was. He had been running for what seemed like hours now. He made his way towards the sound slowly, carefully. The stream was small, but the water seemed clear, he splashed some on his face, it was blissfully cold, cleansing. After a seconds hesitation he scooped up some of the water and drank. It might not be safe, but he didn’t care, he had no way to clean the water, no way to ensure it was safe. After slating his thirst, he splashed his face again, then wet his hair. Standing, he crossed the water, he didn’t know if there were dogs tracking him, but it might help throw them off the trail. He continued on. He couldn’t stop, not for long at least.

It had been a mistake really, not his fault at all. He was hungry, of course he was, there was no food. He needed something to eat, anything. That was what made him break into the orchard. It wasn’t his fault. The apples looked so good, so tasty. If the walls were higher he wouldn’t have been able to scale them, they would have blocked the sight of the apples. Really, it wasn’t his fault, they were practically flaunted. He had only eaten three. That was nothing. Nothing against the hundreds, perhaps thousands that were there. But that didn’t matter, not to them. Sport they called it. Sport. He was given a fair chance. No matter that he was practically starved. He wouldn’t get away, he knew it and so did they, but still he ran. There was nothing else to do. They would hunt him down, kill him and bring back his head as proof. They never mentioned what happened to the bodies, though he had some ideas. The hunters were well fed, they always had meat stored away. Everyone knew what it must be but no one said. He was lucky in a way, no family. That always made it worse. They’d bring the person back alive, make the family watch. Sometimes they would be punished too, even if they had no part in the crime. He had been driven mad by the sight of the apples. That’s what it was. It had to have been it. He was hungry, sure, but he wouldn’t have died, not for another few days at least and he would have found something by then, he always had. But they were so red, so juicy. It seemed like such a little thing. Of course he wouldn’t be caught. He was fast, he’d be in and out and they’d never know. At least, that was the plan. He had picked one and begun to eat, of course he needed something to keep his strength up while he worked. He’d have the one, grab a few others and be gone. Maybe sell the ones he didn’t eat. No one would question where he got them from, they didn’t want to know, they’d just want the apples. But that wasn’t how it worked out. He had eaten one, and another, standing there bold as anything in the middle of the orchard, munching away in the afternoon sun. He was midway through his third when they saw him. Or that’s what they said at least. They waited until he finished and went back for more. He had his fingers, long and dirty, wrapped around the fourth, about to pluck it when they yelled, he let go, turned to run and suddenly he was on the ground, breath driven from his body, some lump of a person on top of him. They laughed about it too, joked about what would happen to him. They didn’t care, why would they? They didn’t know what it was like to go hungry, to need something, anything to quell the gnawing sensation in their bellies. He was weak, that was all, a moment of weakness that would never happen again. They didn’t believe him, of course they didn’t. Someone had been stealing apples, they said, of course it must have been him all along. Everyone knew the apple theft would continue long after he was gone, but did they care? He picked up his pace, he had begun to lag, slow down. That was dangerous. A bird called out but none answered.

He was beginning to feel tired, but he couldn’t stop, not yet. A breeze had started to blow, it was cooling, but unnerving at first, the trees began to whisper to one another, their low rustling seeming to surround him at all times. The silence felt wrong, but it became useful too, he would be able to hear if they were close by, but now with all the noise, it became more difficult to hear if someone was approaching.

He wasn’t sure which way he was going at this point, the only thing he was sure of was that he was moving away from the town, beyond that he did not know. The woods were mostly empty of people. Some people did hunt, but they needed permission. Most people stayed away, it was easier. If the hunters came across you, there was no guarantee they would leave you alone, even if you had permission. Only a few people knew what was in the woods and even less knew what was on the other side. The trees stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction, there was no way around them that anyone knew of, anyone that left in search of a way around never returned. There had been whispers and rumours that there were plans to cut down the trees, raze the forest and extend the city, but they had been around as long as he could remember and not once had anything happened. He stopped again, just for a moment, to rest. That was all. He looked around the small clearing he had entered, there was nothing that was alarming here, it seemed safe. His stomach rumbled, but he had no food. He was hungry now, so very hungry. He started to walk again, looking for something to stop the hunger. He came across a bush, dotted with berries, they were a deep purple, they looked delicious, their dark skin shone in the light. He picked one and smelled it, its scent was sweet, its skin smooth to the touch. He squeeze it until it burst, the juice was dark, staining his fingers. He popped it into his mouth, it was sweet, but not overly so with a faint, pleasant tartness. He chewed it, then plucked another from the bush. He had never seen berries like this, but there were so few berries for sale in the markets anyway. Perhaps they only grew deep in forests. Perhaps they were rare, only served at the finest events. He started to strip them from the bush, tossing handfuls into his mouth. Once he was full he stopped eating them and put a few in his pockets, he might need them later. He felt better, stronger, now that he had eaten. He took one last handful and ate them as he walked. It was pleasant in the woods, far more pleasant than he expected, he thought they would be dark and filled with evil creatures. The hunters were no doubt still tracking him, but they didn’t seem so dangerous now. He had lasted almost a full day, most people lasted only an hour or two. The sun was beginning to set now, the shadows were growing deeper, darker, but he was not afraid. It seemed as though it would be a pleasant night. He would have to sleep, but he hoped it wouldn’t become cold. His clothes were light and tattered and he had no way to build a shelter. He couldn’t start a fire for fear of who the smoke might attract.

He had yet to come across the stream again, nor had he heard another one. He was thirsty but the berries were juicy and doing a good job of getting rid of the worst of the dryness. Though he wished he had stayed near the river he wondered if maybe it was smart, getting away from it, of course people would follow the river, it would make sense. He was feeling better, more confident about his chances. Perhaps he could outwit the hunters after all. There was no sign of them yet. Not since he had entered the woods. He was finding it harder and harder to see, he was moving slowly now, so slowly that there was little point in moving at all. He decided that he would rest soon, then he could wake up with the sun and continue on. There were still some berries left, they would make a good breakfast and he had felt fine so far. He continued on until he found a clear spot on the ground, that would be where he would sleep. He brushed away some of the leaves and sat down heavily. The ground was surprisingly soft, the air was warm, though not humid. It was perfect really. He lay back and looked at the canopy of trees above him, he wished he could see the sky, the stars, the moon. After all it could be his last night on the earth.

He woke slowly, he had slept quite well, he expected to spend the night waking up, fearful that someone was about to get him, but that didn’t happen, he slept the entire night through. He stood and stretched, yawning. The woods had once again fallen silent. He wished the breeze would return. He preferred the noise to the silence. It was reassuring. Now he felt as though he was the only creature left alive. He shook his head then dug into his pocket, taking out a handful of berries, he started to walk. Maybe he would make it out of this. He had lasted an entire day. That was almost unheard of. He smiled as he walked, soon he would start running, but for now he enjoyed his breakfast.

Crack.

He stopped, berries dropping from his slack fingers, he looked around wildly, where had it come from? He hadn’t been paying attention, he had been daydreaming. Stupid, stupid.

Crack.

Again. It was close by, he thought it came from the left.

Crack.

His heart started pounding, he knew where it came from. Impossible. His mouth went dry. Slowly, he looked up. As it fell on top of him, he screamed. It echoed for miles around, the only sound in the forest.
The hunter shivered, he hated them so much, they all did. He kept his eyes down, trying not to look at them. One of them flung the head at him, it landed with a slight squelch. They had let him wander for a long while this time. They enjoyed it, watching their prey wander the wood, oblivious to their presence. He bent and picked up the head by the hair. It was slimy. He tried not to gag. The eyes were wide and staring, the mouth open. At least they didn’t mutilate this one. The last head had its eyelids ripped off, the one before that had no lips. The creatures melted back into the woods, leaving as silently as they came. He frowned, they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They didn’t bring him his payment. Something came crashing through the woods, then landed near him heavily, he jumped. There it was, a doe carcass. The creatures were good hunters, it was easy for them. Quickly he cut away the hide and butchered it, wrapping the meat and putting it into his pack. He left the skin, head and entrails. He shouldered on his pack and picked up the head, feeling shivers of revulsion dance up and down his arm, he started the short walk back into town.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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