|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|THEME||A Strange Day/Night|
Kirsten looked at her leg. The wound was already turning a bright purple, the oozing blood had managed to attract a few flies. She stared at it. The scar would remain for a very long time.
She limped slowly, painfully, half dragging her injured leg which left little droplets of blood on the dried leaves. Grimacing, she continued to walk east. If her memory was to be believed, a fresh water stream ran somewhere a few meters ahead.
Although it was mid-day, the visibility was poor. The canopy formed by the thick foliage, prevented the sunshine from penetrating inside. A few silvery threads managed to escape through a gap from the thick leaves, a focused beam, marking the way ahead.
Soon the gurgling of water could be heard, and Kirsten felt a slight wave of relief. Soon she could see the dark water, black as coal, intermittently lit up as a ray of sunlight got trapped in between. Taking the support of a moss lined boulder, Kirsten gently lowered herself, groaning as a sharp pain shot through her leg once again.
She cupped the water and poured it on the wound. The blood had started to clot already. Perhaps it wasn’t that bad after all. Gently she washed the wound. Satisfied she rested her head against the boulder and closed her eyes. Before she knew, sleep took over.
A scream woke Kirsten up. She had no idea how long she had been asleep. For a second, she felt disoriented, unable to place herself and recognize the surroundings. The events of the day flashed in front of her eyes.
They were a group of four. Alex, with his pepper coloured beard and accented drawl. He had a furtive pair of eyes, and he had made Kirsten uneasy. She could sense him without actually seeing him, staring at her with an unsuitable hunger in those eyes. She had felt her flesh crawl every time, a strange sensation accompanying it. She had kept her distance from him.
The other was Martha, Alex’s partner, with a mouse like personality. She kept her eyes lowered all the time, afraid to make eye contact, scared that her life secrets could be read in those eyes. Kirsten didn’t think much of her. She was simply glad that there was another woman, even though she was nothing better than a weepy creeper. The third was her partner. Mike. Mike from the road.
Mike the hitchhiker. Even though he was her partner, she hardly knew him any better. He looked like a young man who had floundered and subsequently failed in shrugging off the boyishness in his personality. A mischievous smile always played on his lips, the length never altering, as if it had been stuck there with super glue.
Taking Mike as her partner was a last minute decision. A decision thrown on her face by fate after Patrick, her original partner had suddenly fallen ill and couldn’t participate in the competition any more. After much persuasion, Kirsten finally conceded to going it alone. They needed the money. But then she saw Mike on the freeway, with his baseball cap and stripped jersey, signaling with his thumb. He was a wanderer, with no clear goals, going wherever life took him. Kirsten felt jealous at the thought of this carefree life but she suppressed the thought and instead offered Mike to be her partner in the Wild Adventures contest.
Alex, Martha, Mike and Kirsten formed one group. The papers with their names written, was picked out from a black box and the decision was taken. And that’s how a random action connected them together. A helicopter took them right into the middle of the Equatorial jungle, and they slid down the ropes into no-man’s land.
They were given basic supplies – a bottle of water, a Swiss knife, a rope, a torch, a box of cookies and peanuts each and a map of the forest with a big red cross in the centre – the spot that marked their drop position. The drop had happened at nine and they were supposed to be out of the jungle by six.
Kirsten looked at her watch. It showed one. The hands were no longer moving and a big vertical crack on the glass re-enforced the fact. It had broken when she had fallen into the deep gorge. She had completely failed to notice the big black awning on the face of the earth and had fallen right inside. It was during her fall that a sharp edged rock that jutted from the wall had gouged her leg out. Quick reflex had made her lunge at a rock. Alex and Mike had hoisted her out from the hole using the ropes. Her knapsack with the supplies was lost in the process. All the three of them were exhausted and had finished a bottle of water and two packets of food before they realized their foolishness.
They resumed the trail, but her injury slowed them down. It was then they decided to take a break, recuperate, while Kirsten headed out towards the blue colored line on the map.
A loud scream jolted all of Kirsten’s senses to high alert. It was a chilling human cry, coming from the direction in which her group had parked. Her hair stood out on her neck and getting up she started walking cautiously back, hiding behind the trees, peering through the branches. But she saw nothing untoward.
She reached the clearing where the rest of the group was. Except, now only Martha stood rooted to her spot, her eyes wide with horror and her hair sticking to her face wet with sweat. There were bright red sharp marks on the exposed part of her hands. Scratches, some superficial while some looked deep, made by a sharp object. Kirsten hurried towards her.
“Are you OK?” she asked, a hint of worry lacing her words.
Martha continued to stare ahead with a glazed eye. Kirsten followed her eyes towards the bushes. They looked ravaged and mutilated. As if something big had forced its way through. The most dreadful thoughts crossed Kirsten’s mind, the threat of the wild now seemed genuine and close at hand.
“What is it?” she whispered, unconsciously. As a response, Martha suddenly flopped down on the ground and covering her face with her hands started crying. Kirsten picked up a piece of rock that was lying on the ground and edged towards the bush.
She stopped short, shock causing her to reel. Lying in the bushes, a pair of feet faced her. Alex. Kirsten forgot how to breathe. She leaned forward to get a better look at Alex. His mouth lay open, eyes wide, his body still. Deep gashes on his neck screamed for attention. The reason for his stillness.
“What the F— happened?” Kirsten screamed. “And where is Mike?!” Mike’s absence finally registered.
“Mike’s gone” Martha whispered.
“Gone? Gone where!?”
A silence followed.
“He’s not Mike”
“What?” Kirsten couldn’t comprehend the statement or the change of track in the conversation.
Martha held out a small brown object. It was a passport.
Kirsten took it without a word and flipped it open. It showed a B&W photo of a bespectacled man with a French beard. The name on the passport was Albert Hill.
“How do you know it’s Mike? It looks nothing like him!” Kirsten exclaimed.
“It was in his knapsack”
“That doesn’t prove anything. Where is he anyway and what the hell happened here?” Kirsten shouted herself hoarse. It was difficult to make any sense in all the words exchanged.
“Do you know Mike?” Martha continued, as if she hadn’t heard Kirsten at all. The words were heavy with accusation.
“You don’t even know him and you brought him here! A psychotic killer!” Martha waived the passport in Kirsten’s face.
Kirsten wanted to retort back, protect Mike, and defend him. But she couldn’t because the truth was that she knew nothing about him and the facts on ground shouted out more loudly. She felt overwhelmed with guilt.
“There’s a stream over there, why don’t you go and wash yourself” was all that she could manage to say.
Martha looked at her, and then as if life itself was a futile exercise, she shrugged and gathering herself trudged away. Kirsten looked at the forlorn figure departing into the darkness. She surveyed the scene around her. Standing there alone, with a dead person a few feet away from her, a killer on the loose and the eerie forest all seemed to increase the feeling of dread. She looked at the passport fallen on her feet, face up with the spectacled person staring back at her. She stared back, hypnotized. Her face screwed up in consternation. She looked at the scar – a thin line that ran from the end of the left eye before fading away, like a crow’s feet. There was something singular about that scar. Kirsten had seen it before of that she was sure, yet the presence of the scar on the face in the photo disconcerted her.
She sat down puzzled. Mike’s knapsack was lying close by and she dragged it towards her, unzipped the chain and started fishing out the things one by one. There wasn’t anything of interest inside. Disappointed she threw it away. There were two other knapsacks – Alex and Martha’s. Kirsten pulled one of them towards her when the snapping of a twig warned her of incoming traffic. She grabbed the first thing that came in her hand. The Swiss knife. She gripped it. There was a sort of stickiness to the metal. Looking down she saw the surface painted red. Something spoke inside her head, a sixth sense, that told her that she was holding the weapon of murder.
Martha emerged from the bushes. The wash had brought color back to her face and she looked more alive. Kirsten relaxed visibly.
“I think we should keep moving. There’s nothing we can do here. And Mike may come…” Kirsten stopped. Something about Martha and the way she looked made her stop. What was it that nagged her about the girl’s appearance? And then without a warning it struck her. A chill passed through her bones.
Staring right at her, on Martha’s face was the scar that she had seen in the passport. Kirsten’s pulse raced, the blood rushed to her head and she felt dizzy. Alex was dead. Where was Mike? Was he dead too?
Martha was dangerously close to her. Inadvertently Kirsten’s eye fell on the passport and then back on Martha’s face. Yes the similarity was obvious. A spectacle, a beard and layers of clothes could transform Martha to Albert. She gulped. She would feign innocence and somehow at the earliest opportunity run away.
Martha caught Kirsten’s eyes darting from the passport to her face. Her eyes hardened, the cat it appeared was out of the bags. She noticed the knife that Kirsten was desperately clutching. As if that would protect Kirsten. It hadn’t saved the other two. Martha smiled inwardly. She had always enjoyed this game of cat and mouse. And this one was wounded. It was just a matter of time.