He was almost there. The place. Serene, but once the site of chaos, and of a most significant kill. Nostalgia seemed to be in the crisp, cool morning air before the general populous would rouse themselves, defiling it again with their exhalations and with their pointless lives.
There had not been another living soul around in a few short minutes of driving. Maybe they had all gone. Wiped out by some overnight plague. A wicked half-smile formed. If only!
A peaceful euphoria flooded through him, adrenaline ready to gallop through his veins like a pack of spooked wild horses.
The sky was dressed in a light yellow and pale blue ensemble, promising to usher in a clear, warm day. The morning mist hugged every low-lying field with the occasional tall tree or building popping up through the haze like the hand of a newly minted zombie, stretching through the soil of his grave, reaching for the freedom of the roaming undead. In the distance the not-so-flat fields gave way to angular, dramatic hills, like some giant beast had torn and chewed up the edges of the landscape in a fit of rage.
Anyone of a duller but purer mind might stop the car and photograph the scene, suitable for the cover of a travel brochure and framed perfectly by the windscreen of the speeding vehicle. How many times would others have captured the valley on film, archiving the result in some cheap imitation leather photo album, destined to be forgotten?
Beauty in any of its forms was there to be appreciated, celebrated even, but life was filled with poor imitations. They failed to draw the attention of the eyes and thus left countless hearts and minds untouched. A photograph could only capture so much of the panoramic views. The scent of lavender would be lost. The views of Wild Angelica and Roseroot at ground level would be omitted.
Eighteen months into a new century, digital photography was starting to push its way to prominence, but the wave that threatened to sweep aside traditional photography was nowhere near ready to lap at the shores of reality. Its inevitable innovations would soon trade dusty albums for clogged up memory cards and computer hard drives.
He slowed the car and lowered the window, taking in a lungful of the sweet aroma emanating from the local flora and fauna.
Take in the beauty now. Live in the moment. The past and the future are irrelevant.
The road he traversed would soon snake around, descending from the hill’s midpoint. The sound surface stayed fairly level and smooth, nature’s efforts to reclaim it falling to do any more than crumble its edges. Purple, white and yellow flowers found impossible homes amid the near-sheer rock face to the right. Gravity defying trees blossomed in pale pinks and blues to his left, dotted along the very steep drop.
Drinking in the view, the smells, the peace and quiet would be enough for most. There was yet another reason to revel in it.
I could visit here more often, but what is the old adage? Never return to the scene of the crime?
Was it an unnecessary risk? He shook his head. Utterly absurd, especially after the passage of so much time. What could the police do? Install a roadblock and accuse every random traveller of involvement in a death, deemed an accident, from years prior? A preposterous postulation.
His foot pressed a little harder on the accelerator pedal as he approached a sweeping bend to the right. His second-hand Audi sports car represented the last of his meagre funds, his inheritance a depleted part of his past.
Realising that either the memories or the scenery had caused him to hold his breath, he exhaled and then filled his lungs with air again in a slow and deliberate manner. A smile spread across his face. The view, dead ahead, outshone everything else on the approach.
“This is the place where the direction of my life changed,” he said aloud to no one.
The road in front seemed to disappear behind his imagination for a moment. The resting state of his mind often flashed this scene again, sometimes at inopportune moments, teasing him to re-watch. He relented, indulging in scenes inherited from the years-old drama.
The scents of the hot rubber on the road, the spilled petrol and of burning oil reached his nostrils anew as if causation had only just occurred. The sounds of the crunching metal and the shattering of glass echoed in his ears once again.
The car in front swerved, veered and over-corrected. It flipped onto its side and then its roof, and then it summersaulted again. It was as if the vehicle was thrashing around, trying to free itself of an inner demon that possessed it.
An odour of rich copper-scented blood was carried by the breeze, almost overwhelmed by the stronger smells of fuel. Even so, the scent was detectable to those with a satisfactory olfactory sense.
The rough tarmac underfoot was scarred but intact as he crouched by the wreck. Life was draining from the eyes of two people in that overturned car. A husband and wife, together in death.
There was something fascinating in watching someone surrender their mortality. It was a moment comparable in beauty to the vista to his left. An omnipotence had threatened to overwhelm the occasion on that day, his own injuries incidental.
One fateful moment. Two new deaths. A lifetime ahead to indulge in his new passion. Everyone needed a hobby.
A void in his life that had grown until it had felt all-encompassing, had been filled by a new mission, a purpose. Before that moment in that place, his own life lacked direction and meaning. His mere continued existence had seemed untenable. In one moment he was transformed from suicidal to homicidal.
As he finished rounding that gentle bend in the road, the only survivor of that mid-afternoon crash was casually jogging in his direction. He sneered as his foot followed instinct and pressed the pedal to the floor. The young man from the back seat, the one that was missed first time around, all grown up. Right there in the crosshairs. What were the chances?
He and the lone survivor more or less shared a birthday, and only two years separated them. In another life, they could have been brothers. In his early twenties, he had a bright, diametrically opposed and promising future ahead of him. Let’s see what I can do about that.
With an alteration to his steering, the runner was in the centre of the windscreen. His right foot squeezed down harder, the toes of his right foot curling inward with tension. Maybe the car had more to give. Time to complete the task. Finish collecting the set.
The confused look on the young man’s face gave way to shock and then to full-blown fear. The whites of his eyes stood out in the last of the dim morning light like cat’s eyes at midnight. Eyes only widened that much, that quickly, when death was grinning at them, scythe in-hand. He stopped, head spinning around like a confused bird, looking for any means of escape. But desperation would breed disappointment.
To his left was nothing but a jagged, sheer wall of grey, miserable stone. There was no way he could climb that. There was not sufficient time for him to get high enough if he could. He would be crushed between a rock and the hard surface of twisted metal.
To his right on the other side of the road was a low steel barrier and a one-way trip to the valley below. Maybe he could survive a fall, maybe not. Terror was etched on his face as it dawned on him that there would be no refuge, no deliverance from his fate.
He turned back on himself and charged down the road, almost tripping himself up as his jog transformed in an instant into a breathless run for his life. The sprint in a pathetic zig-zag would do nothing to improve his chances. He was driving a car, not aiming a weapon at the man.
Hands gripped the wheel like they were wringing a neck. Attempts at escape are futile. I will get you.
The gap between the two grew shorter and shorter. The runner was about to be mown down, like roadkill. It had to be. How could anyone hope to outrun a sports car?
With no gap between his foot and the floor, he pressed his teeth together, eyes bulging out of his head. He was inches from the young man’s heels. Closer, closer until the moment of impact.
He had expected to hear a satisfying thud. Instead a clip of his heels sent the target tumbling off to the side, over the steel barrier and out of sight.
Deflated, he slammed on the brakes, tyres squealing and sliding across the road in complaint at the abuse. He sighed and then stuck out his bottom lip, letting his shoulders hunch. The tension immediately drained from his entire body. What an anti-climax. You get so close to taking a life, only for gravity to rob you at the last second.
Disappointment in the quest for a kill was not a new sensation. On this occasion, acting fast could still dispel his dismay.
Opening the door, he breathed in the rubber-scented air like it was a beef roast on a Sunday afternoon. Ah, the memories!
He stood at the edge, peering down at the figure. A gnarled tree, part of the way down had broken his fall. He lay in some kind of heap against it. He was probably thirty yards away.
He clapped his hands together and rubbed one palm against the other. Wasting no time he stepped over the low barrier, holding on until steady. He then started to make a more careful descent than that of his adversary. This might not be over yet. Time to recover the body and check for signs of life.