Monday, 25 June 2012

Chapter Seventeen

Mark was pleased with the progress he was making. Halfway down the drive he was already starting to think ahead. He would return to the car, get it out of the bushes and drive it on the rims for as long as he could. Perhaps he would be able to get to civilisation before it scraped itself to death on the uneven road. If he didn't get that far he would have to walk the rest of the way. Walk to the nearest phone and call the police, then call home to let them know what was happening.

Then, once that was done, he could get a nice cold drink and an ice pack for his ankle. It was really throbbing now, each step sending a nauseating wave of pain up his leg like an electric shock.

He hobbled on, eyes fixed on what little of the path he could see in the moonlight. Ahead of him, emerging tree-framed from the darkness, the road hove into view. He stopped to rest for a moment, leaning against the ancient rotted wood fence.

His thoughts drifted to Jenny again. And that man, Garmondy. Worry had been replaced by anger now that he was free from immediate danger. How dare he drug them! How many other people had been victims of the old man without even knowing it? And what had he done with Winter and Christopher? What would he have done to him and Jenny if Mark hadn't been fortunate enough not drink the water?

Mark was so involved with his thoughts that when the fence post against which he was leaning exploded in a shower of hot wooden slivers, he was too shocked to do much more than stand there and blink. He heard the sound of the gunshot a second later, as though it had taken a while to reach his brain. And right after that he heard the sound of a gun being cocked again. That noise was what finally got him moving.

As the second shot cracked through the night Mark dropped to his belly. He didn't see it hit, since he was already crawling as fast as he could down the drive. He had no idea where the shots were coming from, whether he was in cover or out of it. Every nerve in his body was on fire, expecting any second to feel the sickening impact of a bullet in his leg, his shoulder, his head, his back.

"Stay where you are, boy," called a voice. It was a voice which Mark recognised, although it sounded much stronger now than it had done when last he heard it. Garmondy. Garmondy was out there in the dark, pointing a gun at him, trying to kill him.

And there he'd been thinking he couldn't like the old man any less.

Mark stopped crawling, froze where he lay in the dirt. His nose to the ground he could smell wet dirt, and the faint tang of gunpowder, sharp as vinegar on the night air. He strained his ears, trying to locate Garmondy by sound alone.

"Up you get now, boy. Come on and show yourself."

Mark frowned. "Show yourself"? Why was Garmondy asking him to stand? As it was he had him exactly where he wanted, lying in the dirt, defenceless. Perhaps he planned on marching Mark back to the hotel at gunpoint, like a prisoner on his way to execution. Or perhaps he didn't know exactly where Mark was.

If he was wrong, it could be the last mistake he would ever make. But Mark was damned if he was going to stand up and show himself to a man with a shotgun. With infinite slowness, wincing at every rustle of every leaf and every  snap of every twig, Mark began to crawl again.

"Come on out, boy. I know you're there." Garmondy's voice had a note of uncertainty in it now, and Mark smiled. Telling someone you knew where they were was a sure giveaway that you, in fact, had no idea where they were. He risked a glance up out of the ditch in which he crawled, and saw a flashlight beam probing the night with its yellow glow. Garmondy was close, no more than a hundred metres away, but he was moving in the wrong direction. Mark watched as the torchlight searched the bushes on the opposite side of the path.

Now was his chance. The man was old, weak, looking in the wrong direction. Mark could outrun him, lose him in the dark. All he had to do was get back to the car and then he'd be away. But he had to go now, this moment, before Garmondy changed his mind and started searching the other side of the narrow lane.

Now or never, thought Mark, and leapt to his feet.

He made it all of ten paces before the pain in his twisted ankle announced itself. In his excitement he had completely forgotten his injury, the pain overwhelmed by the wave of adrenaline that had accompanied the near-miss gunshot. Now that pain returned, vengeful and hungry for blood. Fire surged up Mark's leg and he collapsed back to the ground with an agonised squawk. In a second he was up again, favouring his good leg, hobbling, limping, dragging himself forward.

"I see you, lad," shouted Garmondy, and a second later there was another deafening explosion. Mark didn't see where it hit; he was too focussed on covering ground, putting distance between himself and the murderous lunatic that stalked him. He arrived at the road. Behind him Garmondy was shouting again, coming on as fast as his aged legs would move him.

Why doesn't he shoot again? Thought Mark. He could be out of shells, but there was no way to be sure of that. This wasn't a movie, where the shot was bound to hit him in the shoulder or the leg. This was real life, and it was all too easy to picture his head exploding outward like that wooden post, blood and bone spraying across the muddy ground.

Mark limped on. Up ahead he could see the gap the car had torn in the bushes as it left the road. It wasn't far, and he risked a glance behind him to see Garmondy just arriving at the point where the dirt track met the road. The man paused there and raised a heavy-looking wooden shotgun. Mark threw himself to the side, scraping his shoulder and side against the road as he landed. The gunshot boomed through the air, and he was sure that he heard something whistle by overhead.

With a swift roll, Mark was at the side of the road, clawing his way through the undergrowth, hauling himself halfway to his feet once more. There was the car ahead of him, sitting comfortably at angle as though it had been there forever. Mark plunged a hand into his pocket, found the keys, wrenched them free...

And dropped them.

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