The dark is formed of lifeless shades, coarse sketches scratched against a forest canvas of wooden corpses, trees of charcoal and ash with limbs contorted under shards of snow settling on their silent descent.
Other than his own shallow breath leaving lips curled tight against the cold, there is only one other sign of life. But closing time has long past and there shouldn’t be a living soul wandering the deep country roads past midnight. And yet here is this truck, its cabin light glaring through the dark; dim, harsh, a flicker now and then. But that’s not important. This truck should not still be here. Its light should not be on.
He paces half-moon around the frosted chassis, eyes fixed like steel rivets stalking the cold-metal body. If not for the glowing bulb, he might have guessed it left by someone local in a drunken state unfit for the wheel. But in such case it would be left lifeless as a stiff strung from the cedar trees; a frozen dead man. This was alive, waiting.
But not a shadow from the truck. No movement. The burn of a soft breeze stills as he settles slowly onto one knee, cheek reddening under sand-like stubble as he nears it to the snow. You can see the strangled-wire fence unobstructed from underneath the truck – no boots, no one standing behind in hidden wait.
No one outside.
His approach is slow, each step deliberate, cautious, controlled. You see droplets coat the inside glass, beads glinting like eyes struggling for air as they roll back into themselves to suffocate, drown. And yet still silence. Only the steady crunch of black gravel on white snow, the slow deep beating of a strong heart.
The cabin is empty. Which means if they are here he has already been ambushed. Another stalking half-circle made in deliberate cross-footed side-steps; closer still. There is a curtain drawn at the cabin’s rear but it does not give off any light. It must be walled-off from the front.
He slips the knuckle-duster on from inside the same pocket – second time in a single night – fist still bruised from the evening bar brawl. If not for his name it would have been guns instead of fists. A subtle crunch as he tests with a firm clench; must be at least a couple broken fingers. But he does not wince. Instead, he brings to bare the battering stone with its brass crown, his empty other reaching for the curtains edge to tear back in a single strike.
Despite his speed it was the force that took him first.
For his strength, rope fastened his wrists.
A second man took his throat from behind –
only in darkness could cowards have held and restrained him,
strung like a wild dog as the leash tightened, cut, tore.
No face, not even eyes; the dark would not give.
Only a flashing glint from behind and then
the dull piercing sound of tough skin torn,
a knife as cold as shards of sharp ice.
And then warm blood. They had let go but he was still choking, choking himself to save his own life, choking with his fists of broken fingers wet with warm blood. The fucking bastards; he had known they were there. The light. He had known. Just as he knew they would run like cowards even when they thought he was a dead man.
‘Was that nice you fucking country cock sucker? Drown in your own fucking blood, is that enough respect for you?’
And there was the mistake. The only one he needed: a voice. Because he wouldn’t drown. He wasn’t about to die from a cut throat. He would lie there and wait, wait and watch as the stars drew closer, closer until they filled his eyes as the ground grew cold underneath him.
It was already happening; before his eyes, the cabin light had finally begun to fade.