“I can’t see anybody. I think that we’ve finally given them the slip.” Al said.
“Wait a second.” Mark said. “Let me listen. Nah, I can’t hear anythin’ neither. Bloody hell, I thought that we’d never get away, once they got that chopper out. But I guess that it can’ see us in this wood.”
“Where the hell are we, anyway?”
“Not in prison, and that’s all that matters. Do you want to spend the next twenty odd years locked up in a prison cell? Because that was what we were facing. No way that a Home Secretary would let us out early. We would have had our lives over before they let us out – if they ever let us out.”
“All I can see is trees. It’s starting to get dark, as well.”
“Good. It will be even harder to find us in the dark.”
“What about if they get the dogs out?” Al asked. “They are bound to get the tracker dogs out.”
“Why do you think I had us run down that stream? Do you think I did it just so that we’d get our feet wet? Nah, it was so that any dogs which they got would lose our scent. I saw it in a movie, once. Trust me, there’s a good chance that the dogs won’t be able to track us. What we need to do is to get out of the prison togs and find some other clothes.”
“And somewhere to spend the night.” Al said. “I don’t fancy kipping in the open.”
“Come on, let’s keep on going. We’re bound to find something. Something will turn up.”
“Is that a hut?” Al asked. It was a lot later, and it was now almost entirely dark. The two escaped killers were deeper in the forest, and they were entirely lost. They could not see, through the thick branches of the trees overhead, the stars in the night sky. Not that either of these two convicts would have been able to find their way by the stars.
It was more than just a hut. It was a small cabin, built around the thick trunk of one of the trees. It looked a little ramshackle, as though it had been added to, or repaired, several times over the years. But the most important thing was the fact that there were no lights in the windows of the cabin.
“Yeah.” Mark said. “We can stay there. Nobody’s at home. We can hide out here tonight and carry on in the morning.”
The two men walked up to the door of the cabin. There was only one door, although they did not bother to walk all of the way around the cabin to confirm that fact.
“It’s locked.” Mark said. “Stand back.”
Two kicks were all that it took to break the lock on the door, the door slamming open inwards. The two men quickly entered the cabin, hoping that nobody had heard the sound of the door being broken open. But they had not seen another human being since they had entered this wood.
“Pull the curtains.” Mark ordered “I’ll see if I can find some sort of light.”
There was no light switch, not that Mark would have flicked it on, anyway. He did not want any light to give away their position. But a little light might be okay, once Al closed the curtains. Mark did not want to stumble around in the dark.
The room they were in was some kitchen cum living room, not that much in the way of details could be seen at the moment. Mark had found the sink, and he scrabbled around under the sink, and in the cupboard next to the sink, looking for something which could produce a little bit of light.
He found a box of matches. He rattled the box to confirm what he had found. He took out a match and struck it, bringing a little light to the interior of the cabin.
“Get those curtains shut!” Mark snarled. Al pulled the curtains closed. He had just been about to close them, anyway.
Using the matches Mark found some tallow candles. He lit one, and used its wax to stick it onto the edge of the sink. By the light of the candle he could get his first good look at the inside of the cabin.
The room was not big, but it was large enough for him and Al. The room was partly hemispherical, like a big slice cut of a birthday cake. There were two windows in the room, either side of the door which Mark had kicked open. Part of the far wall opposite the door was the trunk of the tree which the cabin had been built around.
There was a sink and a couple of cupboard in the room. In the centre of the room there was one of the most dog-eared sofas which Mark had ever seen. It had stuffing coming out of it, and one of its legs was broken, with a few books wedged underneath it to make sure that it didn’t rock. There was also an armchair in equally bad condition.
By the light of the candle Mark could now see that there were two bolts on the inside of the door. But that was not what had suddenly piqued his attention. No, he was far more interested in the shotgun hanging on one of the walls.
“Check the gun.” Mark said. He shot the bolts across on the door, just in case there was anybody about. Then he went over, as Al got the gun down off the wall and cracked it open.
“Empty.” Al said.
They searched through the room until they found a box of shells. Mark grabbed the shotgun and put two shells inside it. He had not minded Al handling the gun when it was empty. But it was his, now.
“Any copper comes through that door and I’m letting him have it, both barrels in the chest.” Mark declared. Al didn’t say anything. He didn’t like coppers any more than Mark did. But he was hoping that they did not see any coppers. Even if they killed one, or two, there would be bound to be more if they found this place. Al just wanted to make a clean getaway.
Mark sat down on the sofa, the shotgun pointing towards the door. Al sat down in the armchair.
“Who do you think lives here?” Al asked, after a while.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Mark said. “If he comes back he’ll wish that he hadn’t, now that I’ve got his shotgun.”
Al didn’t reply. But he could not help wondering who lived here, in this strange cabin in the middle of the forest. It was a strange place to have this hut, especially this ramshackle building. Could it be some sort of hunter? But there weren’t really any hunters in this country, apart from those toffs who went after foxes. It wasn’t like there were still wolves or bears or anything like that. They had all been killed off years ago.
Maybe it was some sort of a hideout, All pondered. Maybe somebody like him and Mark his out here. It was certainly a long way away from the authorities. And the tree cover was so thick overhead that no helicopters would ever see this place.
Al hated helicopters. It had been because of a police helicopter that he had got caught and sent to prison in the first place. He would have liked some shoulder-mounted missile so that he could blast police helicopters out of the sky.
If it was a hideout maybe there was some loot. Maybe the guy had been caught by the fuzz, and was now at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but the money was still hidden somewhere in this place, just waiting to be found. Al would not mind starting his freedom with a nice little nest egg. That might allow him to get out of the country.
Yeah, he would see if he could find the money. Sod the bloody thief who had hidden it here.
There is no honour among thieves. Or murderers.
Al stood up.
“What is it?” Mark asked.
“I’m just gonna look around this place.” Al muttered.
“Just don’t show any light.” Mark said. He stayed where he was, sat on the couch, the barrel of the shotgun pointed towards the door. Mark was determined not to go back inside. After the screw who he had killed in the escape they would lock him up and throw away the key, if they ever caught him again. No, he was determined not to go back to prison. He would rather go out in a blaze of glory than let that happen.
Al got another candle out of the drawer and lit it from the one which was burning on the sink. He walked slowly to the door leading off the main room. The way that the main room curved around the central trunk of the tree suggested that the room took up around half of the hut. But Al had not yet seen the other half.
There was only one other room, curving around the other side of the tree which the hut had been constructed around. It was a bedroom, with a single bunk over the far side of the curved room. But there was a lot of junk in the room, as well – an old table, a trunk on the floor, and all manner of other stuff.
There was one window in the room, small and very dirty. Al used a bit of molten wax to secure the candle on top of a dirty table. The table must have been pretty old, as its top was Formica. You did not really see tables like that any more.
Once Al was sure that the candle wasn’t going to topple over he pulled the curtains shut across the window, remembering what Mark had said. Don’t let any light out, because the police could be out there somewhere. No, in fact the police had to be out there. They would not give up searching for two escaped convicts, not when both of them were convicted murderers.
Al searched the room, looking for money. He and Mark would need money if they were going to make a clean getaway. They had had no plans apart from getting out of the prison. But Al reckoned that, to be safe, they would have to get out of the country. In the past they might have headed out for somewhere like Spain, and spent their time getting a suntan on the Costa del Sol. But Al understood that there were things like extradition treaties with Spain these days. He and Mark would have to go further afield.
He didn’t find any money, though. If there was any in this place then it was too well hidden. He found some clothes, but they were dirty and too big for him – whoever lived in this place had to be well over six and a half feet tall, judging by the size of the clothing. He was some giant. But not a wealthy one.
He found some tins of food, but no tin opener. That was probably in the kitchen somewhere.
Al went back to sit in the other room with Mark.
“It’s pretty quiet out there.” Al said, after a while.
“Good.” Mark said. “I hope it stays that way.”
“Yeah, but shouldn’t there be some noises out there? We’re in the middle of a forest. Shouldn’t we hear animals moving about?”
“What animals? We didn’t see any on the way here.”
“I don’t know, foxes or badgers or something. That’s what you have in forests, don’t you? And don’t you get owls in places like this?”
Al moved to one of the windows to pull the curtain side to look out. But he couldn’t really see anything at all. He could make out the trunk of some of the other trees. But he couldn’t see anybody out there. Not that he had really expected to. But he did not like the utter quiet of the forest. It was starting to get to him.
“Get away from that window!” Mark shouted, pointing the shotgun in the direction of Al. “I’m warning you, if you don’t get away from that window…”
Al let the curtain drop back down. He moved away from the window.
“You were letting the light out.” Mark said, in slightly softer tones.
“I couldn’t see anything out there, anyway.” Al said. “It’s all black.”
“What the fuck was that?” Mark shouted, suddenly jumping to his feet, waving the shotgun around as though some enemy might materialise in front of him.
“I sounded like somebody threw a stone at the hut.” Al said.
“Hell.” Mark said. This time it was he who temporarily moved the curtain out of the way, to have a look at the darkness outside of the hut. But he couldn’t see anything, either.
“I thought you said not to let the light out.” Al said.
“Shut up!” Mark shouted. His tone of voice suggested to Al that it was a very good idea to button it.
Mark went over to the door and unbolted it. Al watched him but didn’t say anything. But Mark caught himself in time. He calmed down, relaxed, and slid the bolts back across. Al breathed a sigh of relief.
Tunk! Another stone hit the wooden walls of the hut.
Al slid the bolts across and slammed the door open. Shotgun in hand he stood in the doorway.
“Show yourself or I will blow your head off!” Mark shouted. But nobody showed themselves – perhaps they thought that they could only have their heads blown off if they were actually seen. So, obviously, they chose not to be. Nobody came out of the dark.
Mark squinted into the darkness, but he couldn’t see anything but the trunks of the trees. The trunks of some of the trees were so thick, though, that a person could easily have hidden behind them. That hardly made Mark feel safer.
There was somebody out there. There had to be. Those noises had not occurred by themselves.
Mark had grown up in a big city. He did not like the woods. He liked them even less now. But come the morning he and Al would be on their way, and they would leave this wood behind.
Nothing came out of the darkness. Mark realised that he was showing light. He closed the door, and slid the bolts across. He went and sat down, training the shotgun on the door – not that anything was going to come through there in a hurry. The door was sturdy enough to keep out most things. Perhaps he should have kept the shotgun trained at the window. But he kept it pointed towards the door.
“I’m hungry.” Al said, after a while. He had another look in the cupboards and drawers in the room. He thought that he had seen something before, when he and Mark had first searched this room. Yeah, there were bars of Kendal mint cake, as well as what looked like strips of some sort of dried meat. The meat looked really tough, and Al was not going to eat it, not without knowing what sort of meat it was. He took a bar of Kendal mint cake, and passed one of the others to Mark.
“Thanks.” Mark muttered. He unwrapped the bar and wolfed it all down. It was the first thing which they had eaten since escaping from prison.
“Anything else?” Mark asked, after he had finished the Kendal mint cake.
“More mint cake, and some strips of some sort of dried meat.” Al said.
“What sort of dried meat?”
“Yeah, well, maybe we had better save that.” Mark did not want to eat anything, either, unless he knew what he was eating. Prison food had been bad enough. But he was not going to eat any old crap. He would rather just stick with the Kendal mint cake.
Nothing else happened that night. There were no more odd sounds. In the end Al and Mark kipped in that room, Mark in the seat with the shotgun across his legs, just in case somebody tried to get in during the night. But nobody tried to get into the cabin. The killers were safe, at least for the moment.
At first light Mark and Al set out from the cabin. Both of the killers had had enough of the place.
“I’m taking the shotgun.” Mark said. He wanted a weapon. He knew that the police had to be out there, somewhere, looking for the two escaped prisoners. And he was damned if he was going back to prison. This time, if he was caught, they would lock him up and throw away the key.
“No.” Al said. “If anybody sees you with that gun they’ll call the police straight away. Look, what we will do is nick somebody’s washing and change out of these prison togs. Once we get changed we’ll just look like a couple of ordinary people. But we can’t do that if you’re carrying a shotgun.”
Al wished that some of the clothes in the cabin fitted them. But they were all too big. The person who the cabin belonged to had to be some sort of a giant.
Mark looked down at the shotgun. At first Al thought that Mark was going to refuse to leave it behind.
“Okay.” Mark said, finally. He hung the shotgun back up on the wall. Then, finally, the two of them set out, through the forest.
It had been dark when they had reached the hut. Everything looked different by the light of day. Al had no real idea as to what direction they should go in. Every direction looked pretty much the same to him. The tree cover was so thick overhead that he could not see the sun. He had no idea which direction was east, or west, or north, or south.
They walked all day, through the wood. It was a lot bigger than either of them had thought that it would be. It seemed to go on forever. While they walked, they did not see another human being. A couple of times they heard a helicopter high overhead. When that happened, the two escaped convicts hid next to the trunk of a tree, not that they could be seen through the thick tree cover, anyway. But they presumed that the helicopters meant that the police had not given up the search for them.
They had no food, and they had not thought to bring any water with them from the cabin. They had thought that maybe they would have to walk for maybe a couple of hundred yards and they would emerge from the forest. But it just seemed to go on and on, as though the entire world had been taken over by the trees. They were tired, and hungry, and thirsty.
As the forest began to darken, the sun setting, they saw a cabin in the woods ahead of them. It was the same cabin which they had left that morning. Somehow they had walked around in a great circle.
“I don’t fuckin’ believe it.” Mark said, as he stared at the cabin. But he had to believe it, as it was true. They had spent all day walking in some great big circle.
Al didn’t say anything. He was too knackered. He went inside, and tried turning the tap on the sink. But nothing happened.
“There’s some sort of thing under the sink.” mark said, as he flopped down into a chair. Al opened up the area under the sink to see that there was some sort of pump there. The water had to be pumped up. Of course, because no water company would ever have come all of the way out here.
Al began operating the pump. After a while water began flowing into the sink. But when Al stopped pumping, it stopped. He went and got a chipped cup, and stuck it under the tap, pumping until it was filled with water.
“Get me some, as well.” Mark said. “I’m parched.”
Al thought about telling Mark to get it himself. But he decided not to, as Mark was not the sort of person who you ever wanted to get angry. The man had a very short fuse. So Al got another cup and pumped out some water for Mark.
Al drank the water. It was very cold, so cold that it made his head ache. But it tasted okay, and that was the main thing, he supposed.
“I’m hungry.” Mark said. “You said that there were some tins in the other room. Go and get them. Then see if you can find the tin opener. I’m not just going to eat that mint cake. I need some proper food.”
Grumbling under his breath, Al went into the other room. He had a look at the tins which were stored in there. None of them were past their use by dates, but some of them were getting close. Still, though, he guessed that they should be okay.
There were baked beans, meatballs, minced beef, marrowfat peas, potatoes, carrots, peaches, pears and a few other things. He grabbed some of the tins and took them into the other room.
“Found the tin opener.” Mark said. “Get cracking.”
The stove in there was a wood-burning stove. It was not something which Al had ever used before. It took him a long time to work out what to do, and get it working. By then Mark was complaining, asking why it was taking so long to get the food going. Al thought about saying something short back, but a glance at Mark showed that he had the shotgun across his knees again. You did not argue with a man with a loaded shotgun.
Al began to wonder whether he should have gone off by himself once he had managed to climb over the prison wall. He had known how unstable Mark was. But it had seemed sensible, at the time, for the two of them to go off together – just like it had seemed sensible to make their escape through the wood which was not that far from the prison. Al had not known that the wood was so bloody big.
Eventually the food was prepared – meatballs, peas and potatoes, as those were all easy to cook. All that you had to do was to plonk them in a saucepan and heat them up. Even somebody like Al had been able to manage that, once he had got the stove working. They ate off enamelled pewter plates. In places the enamel had come off, revealing the metal beneath. But neither Al nor Mark was worried about such things, as all that they had had in the past day was some Kendal mint cake.
After they had eaten the plates and the saucepans were slung into the sink. Neither ex-convict bothered to wash the things up. It was not their problem. Come the morning they would be gone – and this time they were determined not to end up back at this cabin again.
It was still very quiet, deep in the heart of the forest. Al did not think that he would get used to it being so quiet. It was almost like the wood was watching them, or listening to them. When he had been walking with Mark he had had the feeling, occasionally, that somebody was watching them. But whenever he had turned around nobody had been there. It had only been his imagination, after all.
Mark sat in the same chair as the evening before, watching the door, the shotgun on his lap. But Al did not think that the police were going to find them in this place. If the police had been going to turn up then they would have done so on the previous evening. The cops were probably searching the far side of the wood by now.
Al tried to relax. He was knackered – or, rather, his legs were. He had walked further than he had in years. He hoped that they would not have to walk too far on the next day to get out of this ruddy forest.
Tunk! It was the sound of a pebble hitting the side of the hut. It was the same sound as they had heard on the previous evening.
Mark jumped up, and ran top the door, flinging it open. He gazed out into the night again. But, once more, he could not see anybody out there. He waved the shotgun around. But he did not have anybody to shoot at.
“Who’s there?” he called out. “Show yourself, or I’ll blow your fucking head off!”
Hardly the sort of words which was going to get anybody to comply with his request. As might be imagined, nobody showed themselves.
Tunk! That was much fainter. It sounded like a small stone hitting the back of the cabin, away from where Mark was waving the shotgun around.
“He’s at the back!” Mark shouted. He ran to the bedroom at the back. He used the butt of the shotgun to smash glass in a pane of the window. He poked the barrel of the shotgun out, and swivelled it around. But there was nothing to shoot at.
“Is he there?” Al asked, although he did not know who this mysterious he might be.
Mark did not answer. He just stared out of the broken window, trying to see into the dark. But he couldn’t make out a thing in the darkness between the trunks of the trees.
“The door!” Mark suddenly shouted. He had left the door to the cabin wide open, as he had run to the back. He pushed past mark, into the main room.
The door was still open. But Mark halted, as there was somebody standing in the doorway, filling it. It was one of the biggest men who Mark had ever seen. He had to be almost seven feet tall, and he was as broad as a bear. He wore animal skins for clothing, and he had long, black hair and a bristly beard. He looked more like some great animal than a human being.
Mark did not say anything. He simply let loose with both barrels of the shotgun, intending to stop this man dead. Not even somebody who was this big could handle two shots from a shotgun in his chest.
Nothing happened. There were no blasts from out of the barrel of the shotgun. Mark saw the huge man raise one hand. In his fingers he was holding the firing pin of the shotgun. The giant of the man smiled, revealing cracked and yellowed teeth. Then he spoke, in a deep, booming voice.
“You come into my home and you steal my food. But I do not kill you. You sleep all night in my home, while I have to sleep out in the woods, and still I do not kill you. You leave in the morning, but you return to my home, and eat more of my food. You use my firewood. And still I was not going to kill you. But then you try to kill me. That is too much. Now I kill you.”
There was no way out. There was only the one door into the cabin, and there was no room for Mark and Al to get past the huge, rough man. The owner of the cabin moved inside, the door slowly swinging closed. Nobody came out of the hut. But anybody passing outside, through the dark centre of the forest near the prison, would have heard screaming and deep laughter coming out of the hut; the sound of breaking bones, followed by more screaming, of a higher pitch, finally followed only by silence.
There are killers… and, then, there are killers…