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The Butcher of El Camino

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On an ancient pilgrimage route a serial killer has left beheaded corpses, but the earthly threat is dwarfed by what some pilgrims face when they get over to the middle ages through a dimensional gate.

Mystery / Adventure
Susanna Lehner
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

The Pyrenees

1 September, 2013

As always, in her life, she accomplished whatever she decided: she was here, on the thousand year old pilgrimage, moreover, she could outstrip the most difficult part of the day, but maybe of the whole route: she climbed up to top of the Pyrenees. The view of the Virgin Mary statue, standing on the rocks of Orisson peak, was just as picturesque as ever before, but Sarah Green did not even notice it. She kept going, her breath ragged and her head down against the howling wind. Soon after, she traversed from France to Spain, but she didn't pause to commemorate the occasion. She stopped when at last she reached the highest point of the road-section, the Lepoeder Pass. She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. She enjoyed the sun shining through her closed eyelids and warming her skin. Then it suddenly got dark, as if something had covered the sun in the sky. Sarah raised her head shocked, but did not notice anything strange. The sunbeams glancing through the leaves were caressing her face again, so she drove away the restlessness building up in her cells: it was probably just the shadow of a bird.

She flopped down a few meters away from the road exhausted and threw her backpack next to her on the green grass. She looked around, but did not see anybody. She was not surprised, since although others also set out at the same time as her, everybody advanced on the ascent at a different pace. Also, she knew that many people skipped this part of the route leading through the Pyrenees, and start the pilgrimage on the Spanish side, at the foot of the mountain, in Roncesvalles, or even from the closest larger city, Pamplona.

She brushed aside a matted tuft of hair on her forehead, and glanced relieved at her Patek Philippe watch, which was in powerful contrast with her sporty – albeit quality – hiking clothing, and her sixty-liter rucksack. Before she set out for Kennedy Airport, she had nearly unbuckled it from her wrist to leave it on the bedside table, but she changed her mind. She got it from David for their tenth wedding anniversary, when they were still happy. Festive dinner in the coolest restaurant of Manhattan, ten times ten red roses… She increasingly felt a lump in her throat. Only two months have passed since he had died, yet everything reminded her of him in the huge house on the Ocean shore. However some years ago they almost got divorced because it turned out that he had cheated on her. She blamed him for it for a long time, but finally she understood: her weekends spent at the banking center, and the board meetings strecthing far into the night, also contributed to them separating from each other so much. She was prepared to tell David, that she had blamed herself too, and was ready to forgive, but there was no time for that. That heart attack prevented her from confessing it to him.

She unclasped her flask from the backpack’s carbine swivel, and gulped from it. While leaning her head back, she realized that a figure was coming towards her from the forest, from among the trees. First, she only saw an enormous, broad-shouldered man and then, as he was approaching closer, she could make out his strange clothing, which did not resemble the usual costume of the pilgrims, at all. His helmet was pulled down into his eyes, he was wearing leather gloves and the sleeves of his black shirt were rolled up to the elbows. This made his muscular forearms visible, which were almost as thick as Sarah’s thighs. Though rough linen covered his upper arms, the material was so tight on his swelling biceps that it seemed like it could rip any moment. The broad, domed chest was covered by an almost knee-length, brown leather apron, and under his feet - wrapped in a pair of knee-high boots with turn-back bootlegs - the dry sprigs were cracking menacingly.

First, Sarah was staring at the strange phenomenon mesmerized, and thought about what a butcher could be doing on the mountaintop. However, as the dark figure came nearer, her interest gradually turned into stupefying horror. Finally, the two-meter high newcomer stopped in front of her, and Sarah was watching paralyzed, as the man slowly lifted a sizeable falchion glittering in his hand. His scarred face tightened, while he was focusing his ice-cold eyes, nestled under his bushy eyebrows, at the woman trembling at his feet. Then, his arm suddenly stopped in the air, and as someone who has changed their mind, he lowered the falchion and hung it on his belt.

“What…what do you want…from me?” stuttered Sarah, when she could finally push sounds out of her throat. “I have a lot of money! I’ll pay you as much as you want if you let me go now!” she heartened up, since the man did not move.

However, the newcomer kept a stiff upper lip while listening to the generous offer. He was staring at the woman’s neck, and then finally, he started to speak in a deep, hoarse voice in Spanish:

“Sarah Green, you were sentenced to death. I am the executioner.”

He knew that the woman did not understand any of his words, but when he saw that she was clasping her hands beseechingly, he added:

“Do not pray, there is no one who will listen anymore. It is too late. It is predestined!”

Then he reached into the pocket of his apron and took out a roll of thin, silvery wire. When Sarah caught sight of the metal string, the adrenalin galloped through her haggard body at a frantic speed. She sprang up and broke into a run on the road while she was desperately crying for help at the top of her voice. However, she could hardly get more than a few meters when a steel grip grabbed her arm from behind, and another palm clung onto her mouth like a band. The man embraced her with his left arm so that she could not move, and the wire curled around her neck in a wink. The gloved hands did not hesitate; they were pulling the two ends of the wire with terrible strength, but before slow suffocation could have caused Sarah’s death, the thin, razor-edged metal separated her head from her body. The blood, spurting out from the carotid artery splashed on the man’s stubbly face, but he did not care. He calmly watched how the falling head rolled further away, and stopped in the undergrowth, crashing against a tree trunk, and the lifeless body spread out on the ground, while the gadget – glittering on the left wrist – loudly knocked on a rock.

He grabbed the bloody head from the grass by the hair, then easily lifted the body, and took it into the forest roughly twenty meters away from the road. There, he threw them down at the stem of a thick-foliage, old beech, where he clambered up the tree and fixed the wire onto one of the high-seated, massive, horizontal branches, on the hanging end of which he tied a loop. Finally, he went back to the path, where a weary wanderer was just ambling. The pilgrim passed by the giant so close that he almost scratched the enormous chest covered with the leather apron, though he went on with a motionless face – he did not see that someone was standing there. The giant followed him for a while, with his eyes only, and then he also set out to the nearest signpost, which was decorated with the symbol of the pilgrimage route: a yellow shell on a blue background.

Audrey was sitting on his bedside and she was deliberating if the phone’s camera was going to be enough, but she would like to take high-quality photos, so she sank her camera into the side-pocket of her rucksack. On the way out, she stopped at the bathroom and after putting her long black hair in a ponytail, she washed her face with cold water. When she straightened up, the well-known features were looking back at her from the mirror. The flawless skin, colored with mild blush, on which crystals of water drops were glittering now, the beautiful lips, a small birthmark above on the right side, the long, thick eyelashes, the elegantly curved brows, and yes, the marine blue eyes, which she surely did not inherit from her mother, since her glance was velvety chocolate brown. She knew that she was pretty, but it did not give her satisfaction at all. If she received a compliment, she usually rejected it, and bitterly thought what good did this damned great beauty bring her so far. Now, she was also staring daggers at herself, as if she was watching a picture.

While she was going along in the hall of the hostel, among rucksacks leaning against the wall, walking sticks and boots, she patted her face in order to dry the water drops up sooner, and then she stepped out to the medieval like street, covered with river gravel. She glanced at the arched St. Jacques Gate, and set out towards the Citadel across the old town. By the end of the steep slope, she was a bit out of breath and regretted that she stopped jogging last year. However, the gorgeous view of the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees and the old town, guarding the imprints of previous centuries, compensated her for the exhausting walk and the unpleasant thoughts. She took some photos of the cozy alleys as well, but since she grew up in the Rocky Mountains, the dizzying sight of the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees primarily caught her attention. The landscape was picturesque, but at the same time, slightly creepy. Tomorrow, I am going to march there in the forest, she murmured for herself. For several minutes, she did not think about anything, just stood there, mesmerized, looking at the scenery. Then her face turned grim: she remembered why she was here. Since one rarely devotes herself to walk five hundred miles in a month on an ancient, Spanish pilgrimage route far away from home, where all of her belongings can fit into a rucksack, and sleep some place different every evening.

I have no idea, what awaits me there, nor if I have the strength to carry on – it puzzled to her mind. But what shall I do, if I cannot find my place at home? However, at the age of twenty-six, it would be good to see at least what direction my life advances into. My four-year relationship ended in spring; my mother died at the beginning of summer. I have no siblings, and not only do I not know my father, but I don't even know who he is. Although I was surrounded by a lot of people every day, I still felt lonely, that nobody loves me, and to be honest, I do not love anybody either. Of course, I have two or three girlfriends who are close to me, but after all, it is rather different than having a family. I am successful in my work, but besides this, there are few things for which it is worth getting up in the morning. And if there were, whom could I share it with? I was only hand in glove with my mother, but she is not here anymore. I think I have lost my footing. That is why it happened that when I saw a movie about the El Camino on one of the documentary channels, it stuck in my mind that this is exactly what I needed. To get away from the everyday rat race, from the area where I grew up, and where everything reminds me of my mother and the lack of her. Just go, go and lie down where the evening finds me.

And now I am here. I would like to understand, to find out whether my life makes sense, and if it does, then what could it be. I have a less exalted reason too: my mother told me that her ancestors originated from this particular area of Spain, and if I could walk on the land of my ancestors, maybe I would not feel how lonely I am so much. Secretly, I also hope that maybe I could find traces of my relatives here. It is possible that I have too high expectations about the Road, but I must try.

My plane landed in Paris yesterday. I planned to spend a few days there, and I am starting the pilgrimage on the sixth of September, my mother’s birthday. I was twelve years old when, together with her and her older sister, Paloma, who is not alive any longer either, we spent two weeks there. I am guarding unforgettable moments, and I thought that I could worthily commemorate themin Paris. However, while walking lonely around those places where we loitered at that time, pain struck me. So today, I threw my pack in the locker at the railway station, and traveled down here, to the French-Spanish border. And tomorrow morning, I will set out on the road and climb the Pyrenees, even if it is the last thing I do in my life, walk five hundred miles and pay my respect in the Cathedral of Santiago. Not that I am religious, but this is an ancient tradition in which I believe. Just as that there is more than we can experience with our five sensory organs in the world. If I did not believe this, it would not have had any sense to come here either. Actually, for me, it is not a question of faith, because I know that it is more than that. My mother was a medium; she talked with bodiless beings. I inherited certain abilities from her, but to be honest, these were rather frightening for me, and since I did not use them, they wasted away slowly. But now, I would be glad if they returned for the period of time while I am here; maybe the Spirit of the Road or some guardian angel will tell me what I should do with my life.

In the afternoon, I took out my pilgrim passport, the credential in which I am going to collect the signets at the accommodations and sights. This pass is my entrance to the pilgrim hostels - the albergues - and, of course, I can obtain the certificate – the Compostela - on the basis of this at the end of the Road.

Just now, during dinner, I met the other pilgrims who are also departing tomorrow. Carmen is from Madrid, I estimate her to be in her late forties, but she conceals her age well. Anyway, she is still very pretty. I can talk with her in Spanish too, since this is my mother tongue after all. But I feel so stupid when she gives me a searching look. As if she cannot stand me… The straw blonde Helga came from Germany; she is a few years younger than me. She is a student of psychology. My mother always told me that psychologists want to solve their own inner problems, after all that is why they chose this profession. Of course, I do not know Helga even superficially, but there is definitely something strange in her behavior as well. It's too rousing and affected, as if it was not her real side. Jean-Pierre, who always seems a bit enraptured, is a dentist in Marseille; apart from this, he only told me, so far, that he had come here due to a crisis in his private life. And there is Brad, who is a compatriot of mine, though he seems to be the strangest. He is quite mysterious and distrustful. Also at the table, he rather listened to the others, and hardly said a word. I think he must be in the middle of his thirties, but actually, he is ageless.

Audrey’s thoughts were interrupted by Audrey elmélyült gondolatait a deep, metallic voice.

“Dreadful, isn’t it? As for me, I prefer the asphalt jungles.”

The voice arrived from behind her back, she didn’t have to turn, but knew immediately, that it was the clammed up American. The man was almost a head higher than her and the muscles, tracing out under his shirt, did not leave any doubt regarding the fact that he presumably will not have physical problems in the course of crossing the mountain. The buzz-cut chestnut-brown hair showed the already bleached scars, forming on his scalp, and seeing the bumps, she knew his nose was not broken only once either. With his narrow lips and the vertical wrinkles between his eyebrows, he was not handsome in the traditional sense, but Audrey had to admit to herself that there was something attractive about him. Maybe the inscrutable depth, hiding behind his look; the same which she felt while seeing the forest-covered mountain ridges.

“Actually I was born in the Big Apple, one of the biggest asphalt jungles. Though we moved to Denver with my mother when I was still a baby.” the girl broke into a smile politely, but in fact, not a single bit of her wanted to chit-chat with this strange man. “Do you happen to be from New York?”

“No, I’m not from New York.” answered Brad laconically, and rather stared off in the distance. Then he felt that he has to say something else, and added: “I come from Seattle.”

“Seattle? They say it rains all the time there,” said Audrey, but she regretted it right away because she found it deplorable that they were talking about the weather already.

However, it didn't even cross the man’s mind to have a conversation about the considerable amount of precipitation or the small number of sunny hours.

“I don’t know. We moved quite often. For example, to Miami when I was only a few years old.”

Audrey overpowered the urge to remark that the sun must be shining there all the time.

“What did you say during dinner, what do you do for a living?” she looked at the man inquiringly.

“I didn’t say anything.” Answered the other with a serious face.

“Oh!” Audrey was surprised at the short answer. “As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a junior lawyer at a big law firm, but I already have my own clients.” She continued ungainly to break the enrolling silence.

“That’s interesting, I also work with clients.” Brad broke into a faint smile, and he did not leave any doubt regarding the fact that he considers this information enough.

The girl did not know what to do with the man’s reticence, so she rather put an end to the conversation.

“If you don’t mind, I'll say good-bye know. I’d like to get some rest before the great journey.” she looked at the American. She felt odd with this grim stranger.

“I hope you brought earplugs, because some people will snore awfully loud in the dormitory!” Said Brad, and a faint smile was still lurking in the corner of his mouth.

“Of course I did!” said Audrey while she was receding.

She descended the steep stairs, which led to the river and the wooden footbridge arching over it. Along the riverbed, she went on even as far as the Roman bridge, and after crossing it, she returned to the hostel across the Rue d’Espagne. Most of the people had already gone to bed by the time she laid down. Sleeplessly, listening to the sounds of snoring, she vowed that she would inevitably obtain a pair of earplugs at the first pharmacy along her way.
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