‘You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’
The frosty current of air rolled over the desolate rounded foothills. Young deciduous trees clung with their immature roots, to the thin damp layer of soil beneath them. It was the first of those vindictive autumnal winds, which sought seek out trees whose roots had grown brittle and pathetic. Only strong supple trees would survive to feel the warmth of the spring sun on their bark; spring that was still months away. The blustery weather brought a deep shiver to the already chilled skin of Henry.
Sheltering beside a moss covered granite rock that towered over him. Henry began to fear the darkness that was rapidly approaching. The day had never been bright; a dull grey mist had hung across the sky since he found himself stranded on this rugged hillside. He thought, somewhere in the distance, he had heard the faint rumble of thunder. Rain could only worsen his predicament. He had no strategy for the circumstances in which he found himself. No risk assessment had ever prepared him for being cut off from the civilization where he excelled and grew up.
There had always been a phone, an emergency handle, notices that read: ‘do not pull unless in emergency, fine for improper use, £50'. Well this was an emergency. Where was the SOS telephone for roadside assistance? Where were those industries dedicated to bringing assistance to you? Civilization had these procedures in place, ready to swing into action. Your car breaks down, a mechanic arrives, greasy hands, a box of tools and a rolled up cigarette adhering to his mouth. He gets you moving again. A passenger plane crashes on take-off, rehearsed and skilled sanitary crews of men and women put into action a well drilled routine, which has been rehearsed time and time again with fake casualties.
Isolated Henry, cowering alongside a grey granite boulder could summon no assistance, no phones to speak into, no handles to pull, no flares to fire, no flags to frantically wave.
Henry could smell the rain drifting through the air. The few sheep, a dozen at most, sensed the changing weather. They started to amble in a well-ordered fashion towards the shelter of a tumbledown shepherd's stone hut, which had not seen a shepherd in decades. There they would be safe and dry. More importantly they were protected from the wind that was now gusting as a prelude to the storm that was arriving.
Henry was scared. He had never imagined fear could be such a strong emotion, such an all-consuming sensation that permeated every element of his body, infusing every facet of his soul. Henry had never felt comfortable wherever trees outnumbered people, that feeling were now exaggerated.
Now he had untainted fear. Fear of the rain, fear of the storm, fear of the night, fear of the cold, fear of his fear of dying. Death and dying, he had tried hard to blot out those thoughts, dispatch them far from his consciousness, all to no avail. The silhouette of death returned to haunt Henry. Maybe this lonesome location was to be his last vision of living. He looked around the fading landscape and the deep shadowy clouds rolled in bringing the darkness of night quicker than it need to have. At least he would not die here alone.
He looked again at the body sprawled beside him. Henry had tried to avoid looking at the lifeless form. Although it could not be easily ignored. It held a simple fascination for Henry. It lay alongside him. It had not moved. It was just there, lifeless and wasted. The limbs, bent in unnatural ways. The left leg was turned at right angles halfway along the shin, that was wrong. The pale skin of the right leg, pierced by the bone that protruded from it, that was incorrect. The head, face down in a bed of marjoram, was misshapen with fine lines of dried blood radiating from the skull. The exposed ear contained a small pool of blood, which looked to be half congealed.
Until today Henry had never seen a dead person. He wanted to gaze, take in the sight of a deceased human being, but he thought it rude and bad mannered to stare, so he glanced occasionally. He was the same with a person whose face might be scarred, as he passed them in the street’ he wanted to stare, compare the wrecked fragile body with his own well-formed body. A triumphant comparison. It was however, he judged, poor etiquette and he averted his stare towards the neutral pavement until the offending person had gone.
Even here, isolated and far from civilization, Henry thought it was impolite to rubberneck a person who was recently deceased. So he stole sideward glances and furtive looks, until he had a complete memorable picture in his mind of the person lying beside him.
Henry wanted to follow the sheep to their refuge and escape the storm. It was his best chance of surviving the torrid night that was descending upon the land. He looked at the body once more, the out stretched left arm, grazed and bruised, stiffening with rigour mortis.
Henry again looked at the pair of shiny handcuffs that shackled him to the deceased body alongside him. He tugged on them in a token gesture of defiance. They remained firmly locked; he remained firmly attached. Dragging the body along with him was impossible. Maybe this was the day he was going to die.
So if he was to die tonight, some might think it just, others might mourn. Henry tried to fathom it out the past few days. “Holly fell over and cut her leg on the….." He tried to recall the exact day, a recent Friday, after she had returned from school. He remembered it had been a hot day.
“Ironically,” he told the corpse, “if I have been less of a caring parent, I would never have taken her to hospital I would not have ended up shackled to you.” The corpse remained silent.