Somewhat predictably it’s been impossible this week to set aside time to write any Flash Fiction however I did, by chance, notice that the opening sequence of The Woodsman was exactly 1000 words long [due to a last minute edit it is now shorter]. Clearly it was a sign.
And so here’s the opening of The Woodsman, as ever feedback is appreciated.
The Woodsman (a fragment)
By Neil Beynon
The soldiers chased the torn and bleeding girl across the hills. In spite of the wounds she ran swiftly and unerringly towards the forest. Behind her, drawing closer all the time, the men of war spat and cursed as they came.
When she first managed to free herself from the embrace of the latest of large group of soldiers that had used her the other men had whooped and cheered. They enjoyed her deception – she’d led a youngster in to believing she’d stopped resisting then, when he had let her hand slide free, she’d reached down with her jagged, bloody nails and ripped. They laughed at her spirit as he fell off her screaming. She saw her chance and took it. She ran, to the delight of the drunken men who stood watching but then, when they realised the girl had enough strength that she might get away, they followed.
She fell many times during the chase but always she picked herself up. The drunken, partially armoured, men struggled to keep up. Many had already peeled off back to camp, now only the more sober ones – aware of the danger she posed – continued to give chase. Sure in the knowledge that the human body can only run on adrenalin for so long. Retribution would be swift, brutal and more painful than this foolish girl would believe possible.
As the Kurah soldiers followed the ground became more barren until the grass turned a dull shade of brown the older men recognised from the stories their fathers told of the last war. Realising the growing dark smudge on the horizon was the forest they sped up until, coming down one side of the valley, they saw the girl run headlong into the forest, the older men drew to a wary halt. The few remaining youngsters turned, sensing their number had fallen again, and seeing the older men standing fearful they laughed.
The older ones did not move.
The remainder, there were three, followed the girl into the forest and the older, wiser men did not linger to see if they returned but instead went back to the camp to report the loss of the girl and the three men. In some respects they were right.
The girl crashed through the undergrowth without thought or reason, these had long since departed leaving only instinct. The trees and undergrowth whipped at her body adding sharp angry little cuts to the wounds the soldiers had given her. In any case, blood trickled from any number of wounds, muscles burned with an intensity that drew tears and her bones felt like lead. And she ran on. Even though the temptation to stop, to lie down, to let the wolves come, was overwhelming. Those yellow eyes, snapping jaws and tearing teeth would be heaven compared to the men’s pawing hands, stinging seed or stinking slobber.
Behind her, in the darkness of the trees, she could hear the men moving slowly as they tried to follow; whether it was the thickness of the undergrowth or poor woodsmanship on their part she could hear them moving in the wrong direction. Their cursing became more pronounced, edged with fear and tempered in unease.
A large tree-root she couldn’t recognise tripped her and she heard rather than felt her ankle snap. She lay still and died. Almost.
A voice, no that wasn’t right, a picture, a moving picture in her mind.
She was laid out on the back of the wagon looking down on herself, she watched the soldiers climb over her, it was ok – it wasn’t real after all, wasn’t her after all – how else could she watch? It was just a bad dream. She saw herself roll her head back, saw her noting the large wooden cage behind her, the terrible secret inside, the faint sound of weeping on her ears even over the grunts of the everlasting line of soldiers.
Her eyes fell open, she pushed the pain in her ankle away from her, planted a hand down either side of her chest to help. And she stood carefully, testing her ankle and finding that whilst it was swollen she could put weight on it. She limped on, slow but forwards. The soldiers seemed even further away now.
“Oy! There she is!”
The voice that brought her out of her thoughts of rescue made her realise she’d been spotted. She moved with a confused and limping gait as quickly as she could, off to the right she could hear one of them fumbling with his bow trying to get an arrow launched at her.
The undergrowth pulled at her, the branches tore at her – one whipped across her body, already exposed from her torn clothing and badly bruised it left her grasping. Then suddenly there were no more trees; the bright light of the sun blinded her as she skidded to a halt falling on her knees heavily.
Her eyes to adjusted gradually to the light; she was in a clearing, a wide clearing. This is it, she thought, this is where I die. Perfectly lit for the bowman to take his shot she waited for that piercing final hammer like penetration of her flesh.
Opening her eyes slowly she saw a single figure further down the clearing staring at her his arms holding an axe that was embedded in a log. Behind her, from behind the tree line, she thought she heard men screaming.
The woman tried to stand and found that her body would not obey. She was dimly aware the ground was sticky whilst her mouth tasted of copper, the sun started to fade in her eyes. I was right: I’m dying, she thought. She stretched her hand, pleading, towards the man but he just stood there as if carved of stone, maybe he was a statue. Or maybe he wasn’t really there at all?
Then she tumbled into darkness.