Authors: Jamie Bowers
Coughing from the dust as he awoke, Joe could feel the moonlight shining down on his face from the high window. He sat up and looked at his leg, the white shirt sleeves were dirty and stained with blood, but not as bad as he had imagined. He took the lighter from his pocket and lit it, the flame jumped in the air as he moved it around him. There was an oil lamp on the shelf next to him, he picked it up and gave it a shake. A small amount of oil was still inside, maybe just enough to light it. He took the lid off and put the lighter inside, it took a moment but eventually the lamp was lit, giving Joe more to see. The barn was cluttered with pieces of wood and farm equipment. Most of the space was taken up by something large underneath a tarpaulin and a pile of boxes.
Joe reached up to the shelves and pulled himself to his feet. Regaining his composure as he stood, he gently placed his left foot on the ground. It was able to hold his weight much better, but he knew that he still wasn’t able to run or even walk fast. He limped to the tarp and placed his hand on it. The layers of dirt and dust made it evident that it had been many years since it was moved. Joe looked inside the boxes on top; it was just three boxes with more vehicle parts and tools, nothing of use at this time. He picked up the boxes and carefully piled them up on the floor. He grabbed the edge of the tarp and pulled it, revealing some kind of vehicle underneath. He limped around to the side to get a better hold on the cover and gave a big pull. As the tarp started to fall, the weight carried the rest of it to the ground. Underneath revealed a pale green, 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline. Joe couldn’t help but smile as he was happy to see such a vehicle in the great condition it was. He looked inside and could see it was well looked after, the tarp protected the car even after the owners had left. He pushed some boxes away from the door and turned the handle on the passenger side door, it was locked, he had a feeling it wouldn’t be that easy. Looking around he could see so many boxes and shelves, it would take Joe weeks to try and find a key, that’s if it’s in there at all. He tried again to open the door from the handle and then the back door but it was no good, it was locked tight. He wasn’t able to try the other side as the car was too close to the wall. The light in the oil lamp started to dim as the oil ran out.
Joe stepped to the front of the car and placed his hands on the pristine, chrome grill. He bent his knees and with all the strength his legs would allow pushed the car backwards towards the doors. The sweat ran down his face like a mountain stream. He strained as he pushed, trying to get the momentum going. Eventually the car started to roll, it was slow but it was mobile. A slight drop in the floor by the doors meant that if he could get the car onto it then hopefully the weight will shift the car and break the doors open. Pushing it further, Joe needed to get the car just a few more inches. He managed to get the Fleetline onto the gradient and it slipped away from him as it rolled, hitting the doors it quickly ripped them from their hinges, flattening them against the dirt outside. The car continued to roll over the doors and down the sandy pathway besides the house. Gathering speed it quickly went past the house and carried on towards the road before mounting an embankment covered in weeds and shrubs. As it rolled up the ridge it hit a fence post that once had barbwire attached. The fence post stopped the car from going anywhere; it just sat with one wheel in the air spinning freely.
Cautious in case anyone had seen, Joe walked to the car as quickly as he could. Wearing his now sleeveless shirt and trousers with one leg rolled up, he hobbled down the driveway to assess the damage. He pulled himself up the mound of plants and could see that the rear of the car had a considerable dent, nothing so bad that you can’t drive it, but it could draw some unwanted attention. Joe paused for a moment and as he looked at the dent in Chevy and started to laugh out loud. It was a contagious laugh that would make you laugh, even if you didn’t know what was so funny. He projected his laugh up above him, stretching his neck as high as he could towards the night sky.
Under the light of the almost full moon, Joe could see a picturesque landscape, illuminated beautifully by the night sky. It was like another world to him, he saw no skyscrapers, traffic jams or people rushing about. He could hear the crickets in the fields and the faint sound of bats flying between the trees. He hobbled around to the driver’s door and turned the handle. With a piercing screech from the mechanism and the stiff hinges, the door opened. Joe was so relieved and quickly got into the car. He stretched his hand under the seat and checked the sun visors but there was no key to be found. Getting out of the car, Joe limped back to the barn and started to rummage through the boxes. He took a small hammer and screwdriver and went back to the car where he placed the screwdriver in the ignition and hit it hard with the hammer. He knocked the screwdriver a few times to make sure it was wedged in tight. He gripped the handle and turned it with force. Joe hoped that there would be enough fuel to get him away from here. He tried several times and eventually the engine started, blowing out clouds of black smoke as it kicked into life. Joe put it into gear and pulled back onto the driveway leading to the house. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and then down at his dirty, torn clothing. He couldn’t go anywhere looking like this; he doesn’t want anyone to notice him as he is now a fugitive on the run.
He stepped out of the car and went to the back of the house where he had left the van. This time he felt that he had enough strength to try the back door again. Joe turned the handle and swiftly jumped at the door, shoulder first. It was giving way to him and on his third try it went through, his momentum throwing him face first onto the kitchen floor. As he scrambled to his feet, the first thing that Joe noticed was the smell. It reminded him of the smell on the docks on a warm day after the fishing boats had come back. Looking around he saw that the kitchen was still complete with everything a family would need. It had all the appliances on the counter as well as plates at the table. It looked like someone once lived here but they left in a hurry or not at all.
‘Hello?!’ he shouted to see if anyone was home. ‘Is there anybody in?’ he walked through the house to the dining room and then the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. Each room was complete with all the furnishings, curtains and even picture frames of loving family members.
‘Hello?!’ he shouted again, but still no response. Carefully he stepped up towards the next floor, the boards creaking with every movement. He could see a door at the top that was open, that room too looked like someone lived there. Slowly, Joe walked up the stairs, constantly keeping his wits and watching every angle. He covered his nose and mouth with his hands as the smell got worse, ‘What the fuck is that?’ he said as he stepped onto the top step. From where he was standing, Joe could see four doors, all ajar, but one was closed. He wanted to check the open doors first, because he didn’t want to touch anything more than he needed to.
Stepping to the closest door at the top of the stairs, Joe pushed it open with his foot. With his hand still over his mouth and nose he looked inside. It was a bathroom complete with everything, just like the rooms downstairs. Going to the next two rooms, they were filled with boxes of random items, things that only meant something to the people they belonged to with no value other than sentimental. Joe hadn’t found anyone yet but knew that he had to try the door that was shut. He stepped to the door and drew a deep breath. With one hand over his face, he turned the handle with the other. As soon as he turned the handle and started to open the door, the smell became almost too much to bear. He pushed the door open as far as it would go, ‘Hello?!’ he shouted once again, from behind his muffled hand, but there was still no answer. As he shouted he noticed a large amount of flies buzzing around his head, he knew what was coming, but had no idea what the extant of it would be.
Joe slowly stepped forward into the room; he turned to face the double bed behind the door. Instantly, he was thrown aback and shocked by the sight that greeted him. It appeared to be a man and woman in their elderly years, both dead and decomposing. The woman lay on the far side of the bed, still wearing her nightie. Her legs hanging over the end indicated that she was probably standing before being killed and knocked back onto the bed. It was clear that she was killed by a shotgun fire to the head, shredding her face and spattering her brain across the wall and pillows behind her. Her husband was sitting up in the bed next to her. The top of his head and contents were strewn up the wall above him. He still had the shotgun barrel wedged into his upper jaw, his finger still on the trigger. This was obviously a murder suicide, the man probably didn’t know what to do and this was his only option. The flies and larvae that had bedded down on the bodies showed that it had been days, maybe weeks since this happened and these people clearly didn’t have anyone else out there to care from them. Joe just stood and watched the grubs slowly eat away at the flesh. He started to cry, imagining what it would have been like at the funeral of his wife and daughter and that he now has nobody in his life to care for or who cares for him.
Joe sombrely walked down the stairs and out the back of the house. He sat on the back step and continued to cry. He didn’t know who these people were, or what actually happened to cause this, but he couldn’t stop his emotions from getting the better of him. Loud sobbing and gasps of air is all that Joe was able to do for several minutes; he had a pain in his gut for these people who obviously didn’t deserve this, just like his family.
Wiping the tears from his cheeks, Joe knew that time was important so he needed to start making a move. Covering his nose and mouth with his hands he went back inside the house and up the stairs. The smell was still awful and he didn’t think he would become accustomed to it. He went into one of the spare bedrooms and rummaged through the boxes, looking for anything of interest. All he found in the first few boxes were sentimental items, mostly ornaments, keepsakes and photographs in frames, nothing of any use to him. As he continued to look, it was the same in every box; it appeared like they were ready to move when the man decided to take matters into his own hands. Maybe the cause of this was that they couldn’t run the farm anymore but he was too proud to let go. As Joe got to the fourth or fifth box he found a metal box, locked with a key that was nowhere to be found. Scrambling his hand around in one of the previous boxes he pulled out a letter opener, still clean and unused, it reminded Joe of something he once saw on television on a high-powered businessman’s desk. Putting the tip of the letter opener in the edge of the lid, Joe twisted the handle, forcing it open. He paused as he saw what was inside; it looked like thousands of dollars in cash, different denominations of notes wrapped in a paper band. As he picked up the cash to inspect it he saw a white piece of paper underneath with the words “For my darling Eleanor”. Joe placed the cash on top of another box and took the paper out. Unfolding it, he read the enclosed message:
To my dearest Eleanor,
I have always loved you from the day that we met and I will always be with you. I never want to make you sad, but I know that you will be crying when I’m gone. From the day I said ‘I do’ I said that I would provide for you, and I hope this helps for the future.
All my love, now, forever, always,
Joe wiped a single tear from his face and picked the money up. He ran his thumb through the bills and made a rough count of around eight thousand dollars. He placed the money in his pocket and continued to delve into every box, but found nothing else of interest. He went into the other room that had boxes and flipped open each one, taking a quick look inside, there was still nothing of use for him. Stepping out of the room he stopped and stared at the door that led to the main bedroom. He slowly pushed the door open, the same foul odour was emanating out and this made Joe feel sick. He walked into the bedroom and looked at the bodies still lying on the blood-soaked floral bed sheets, riddled with insects feeding on the decaying flesh. There was a large, wooden wardrobe in the corner of the room, made from a dark wood. It looked like it was as old as the house, maybe older. Joe walked around the bed, trying not to disturb either body. Opening the wardrobe he was greeted with a large array of clothes, both men’s and women’s. He ruffled through the men’s clothes and noticed a large variety of items for different situations. Making sure not to take anything that would make him stand out Joe grabbed a few items and draped them over his arm. Walking out of the room he stopped and took a long, hard glance at the two bodies on the bed. He reached into his pocket and took out the cash, neatly wrapped in an elastic band. Looking down at the bundle of green, he ruffled his finger across the edge, like a child would go through a flick book. Each number danced as the paper flipped over.
Going downstairs he threw the clothes onto the dining room table and limped out of the house and into the barn. As he stepped across the dirt driveway a pain shot through his body, stemming from his stomach. This brought Joe instantly down to his knees, clutching at his abdomen in agony. The throbbing became more powerful, making it hard for him to do anything other than lie on his back clutching his stomach. The pain got stronger, causing him to let out a scream, so piercing that it scared a flock birds from a nearby fields. As the birds flew above majestically, swooping in the sunlight, a loud gunshot alarmed Joe. The birds quickly dispersed and Joe rolled onto his side. He could see a man emerging from the long grass, with a rifle resting over his shoulder. The man was dressed in denim jeans and a white vest, topped off with tobacco stains down the front. He stepped out of the grass, and with one hand resting the gun on his shoulder, jumped off the grass embankment onto the driveway. Kicking up the dust as he landed, Joe couldn’t see much more than the man’s silhouette being cast over the ground. Joe rolled onto his stomach, the pain still unbearable; he started to push himself off the ground.
‘I don’t think so.’ said the man as he stamped his foot into Joe’s back, holding him against the dirt. ‘You aren’t going anywhere.’ The hit to his back and the dust caused Joe to cough into the dirt, making his eyes water and making it harder to see. As the coughing became violent, he felt the press of the gun barrel against the back of his neck, still warm from when it was fired previously.
The man looked at Joe as he was held to the ground. ‘Well, I know that you’re dressed as a prison guard and you have the van.’ He said as he scratched the stubble on his chin with his free hand, ‘But I don’t think that you work at the penitentiary. I think that you’re an escapee. Is that right?’ Still coughing, Joe didn’t respond. The man pressed the rifle firmer against Joe’s neck, trapping his head against the ground. ‘I asked you a question.’ He said shouting down at Joe, spitting with every aggressive word, ‘Are you an escaped prisoner?’ Joe, still trying to control his breathing made a small movement with his head, a nod of acknowledgement to the man’s question. As the dust settled, Joe could only see a large boot next to his face, something that may be popular on a building site, scuffed and dirtied from a lifetime of hard work.
With the gun still pressed firmly, the man removed his foot from Joe’s back, leaving a dusty print on his white shirt. ‘I want you to stand up, do you hear me? And if you try anything, I will shoot you. Do you understand?’ Joe nodded again as the man dribbled tobacco down his vest.
The man reached down and grabbed Joe on the back of his collar, the large hand felt strong and the roughness of his skin like that of well-worn leather. Lifting him to his feet, the man didn’t speak, just actively chewed on his tobacco. Still in pain, Joe couldn’t stand and quickly dropped to his knees once again, clutching his stomach with his hands. With a firm grip on his collar, the man tried to pull Joe up, but couldn’t do it as Joe’s limp body had become a dead weight, almost impossible to move.
‘Get up!’ the man shouted as he nudged the back of Joe’s skull with the shotgun. ‘Get up!’ he shouted again as Joe sat still, crippled in pain. ‘I’m not afraid to shoot your brains out of your nostrils. Now get up!’ Joe slowly lifted his head and shuffled his foot forward. Leaning on his leg for support, he softly stood, trying not to put too much weight on his already damaged limb.
The man stepped backwards away from Joe. ‘Turn around.’ he demanded. Joe slowly turned around, his front dirty from the ground. He stared along the barrel of the rifle pointing at him, seeing the middle aged man still chewing tobacco and spitting it onto the ground.
‘What now?’ Joe asked, trying to keep is balance and subdue the pain, ‘You have me with a gun to my face, but what do we do now?’ He said as he lifted his hands slowly above his head.
‘Get in the back.’ The man said as he gestured his head towards the van. Joe turned and faced the van and walked slowly around the vehicle. Stopping at the back door, the man pushed Joe’s shoulder with the rifle barrel, ‘Open it slowly and get in.’ Joe put his hand on the handle but it didn’t move.
‘It’s locked.’ he said as he turned and faced the man.
‘Where are the keys?’ asked the man as he spat once again on the ground.
‘In the ignition, I left them in there.’
Lifting the gun higher to his face, the man looked down the sight, pointing it straight at Joe. ‘Get them,’ he said, ‘and don’t try anything stupid.’
Turning slowly, Joe walked around the side of the van, turned the handle and opened the door.
‘I’m still watching.’ The man shouted from behind the van still pointing the gun. Joe grabbed the edge of the seat and started to pull himself up.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ the man shouted.
‘I can’t reach the keys so I need to get inside.’ He pulled himself into the driver’s seat, gathering his breath he quietly put the gear into reverse and started the engine. The man pulled the trigger and fired a shot, breaking the glass on the driver’s door.
‘Get out, now!’ he shouted, trying to reload another bullet into the rifle. With the door still open, Joe quickly pressed the accelerator and the van shot backwards. The man stepped out of the way as it sped up but he couldn’t avoid the door approaching him. The door hit him with a thud and he quickly fell to the floor, dropping the rifle under the wheels of the van. As quickly as the man went down, Joe stopped the van. Looking down at the stranger, clutching his chest in pain where the door had hit him, he turned off the engine and took a deep breath.
Sliding himself carefully out of the van and onto the dirt, Joe reached under the van and grabbed the rifle. Checking it, he could see the man had a chance to load it before it was knocked clean out of his hands. Joe pressed the gun against the man’s throat, emulating the same stance he had over Joe just moments earlier.
‘Get up!’ Joe shouted. ‘Get up and get in the van!’ The man gathered his breath and stood up slowly.
‘Please, sir.’ He started to plea as a tear ran down his cheek, ‘Please let me go. I won’t tell anyone, I swear.’ Derivative of any emotion, Joe pressed the barrel hard against his throat, causing him to get choked from the lack of air.
‘I’m not going to kill you,’ Joe said as he saw the man’s face turn red, ‘I want you to get in the back of van.’ Joe threw the keys onto the ground by the man’s feet and stepped back, still with him in his line of sight. The man slowly crouched down, towards the keys. He quickly scooped up dirt into his fist and tossed it into Joe’s face, distorting his vision. The man started to run and managed to scramble up the embankment before Joe could see him. As he regained his sight, Joe could see the man running as fast as his overweight, unfit body would allow. Joe ran up the embankment as fast as he could to see the man no more than thirty feet away. He held the stock of the rifle tight against his shoulder, looked down the sight and fired. The loud bang caused the birds in the field to once again scatter, looking like spots of ink on the beautiful orange and blue sunset sky.
A cry of pain from the man echoed across the fields, it gave Joe a sense of relief, knowing that he had not killed the man. Joe limped through the grass to find the man lying on his front with blood down the back of his leg. On closer inspection, Joe could see that the bullet had grazed the top of his leg, only a flesh wound, but painful nonetheless. Reaching down and grabbing the back of the man’s dirty vest, Joe dragged him back through the grass, screaming with every movement.
‘You son of a bitch,’ he said trying to hold his wound as he was being pulled, ‘you said you weren’t going to shoot me.’
Joe continued to drag him. ‘No. I said I wasn’t going to kill you. You tried to run and you gave me no choice but to do that. And now, you have to sit in the back of the van nursing your wound when you could have just sat there with your thoughts.’ As Joe got the man to the van, he pulled him to the back wheel and sat him up, ‘I suppose now you have something to do, you can stop yourself from passing out through blood loss and you can pick the gravel and dirt from your hands and arms because I’ve had to drag your sorry ass back her.’ The man had no energy to respond, he was busy getting his breath back and examining the cut through the hole in his denim jeans. Joe picked up the keys and tried a few of them before the back door eventually unlocked. He pulled the door open and could see nothing inside but two benches firmly fastened to the floor. Gripping the man by his arm and pulling him to his feet he pushed him onto the step on the back of the van.
‘Get in.’ Joe said as he tried to coerce the man, still holding the shotgun firmly under his arm.
‘I’m going,’ said the man as he slowly lifted his good leg up into the back of the vehicle, ‘might I remind you that I’m carrying an injury?’ Eventually he got himself into the small mobile cell, crawling on all arms and legs. He sat down on the floor, leant against one of the benches and lifted his bloody leg onto the opposite bench. Joe quickly slammed the door and locked it. Slipping the key into his pocket he could hear the man shouting from inside.
‘What are you going to do with me?’ he shouted, the fear apparent in his voice, ‘I can’t stay here forever.’ Joe knew that he couldn’t leave the man locked up, but also knew that he couldn’t let him out. Joe dropped the gun to the floor and leant against the back door to gather his breath and thoughts.
Going back to his original thought before they he was interrupted, Joe walked into the barn, rolled up the tarp that once covered the car and grabbed a shovel. Stepping around the back of the barn to where the wood pile was he started the dig as fast as he could; only stopping when his leg hurt and he couldn’t stand anymore. After what felt like hours, he stopped digging and took the tarpaulin into the house. Grabbing a knife from the kitchen, he cut the sheet down the middle and carried it upstairs. The smell was still as strong as he remembered and the flies reminded him that the bodies were still there. Grabbing one of the sheets, he walked around the bed and placed it over the lady. Carefully, he rolled her lifeless body inside the tarp and picked her up inside it. The smell was almost unbearable for Joe; it reminded him of an alley behind a butcher’s shop. As he picked her up, a large pool of blood escaped her head and dripped pieces of skull onto the already damaged, floral bedding. Joe took her downstairs, leaving a trail behind him and out the back of the house. He stepped into the hole he had dug and placed the body carefully inside, making sure that the tarp covered the best it could. Going back into the house and upstairs, Joe did the same with the man, first taking his gun away and laying it on the floor, wrapped the body in the cover and slowly picked him up. As he lifted the body up to his chest he felt the blood run down his arm and onto his leg, like thick oil from a car engine. Taking the body outside, he carefully placed the man next to his wife, tucking the sheet around them.