Last Known Survivor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Sharing an early story I wrote about ten years ago. It stretches credibility slightly but I have a soft spot for it.





`There’s a killer on the loose,` Joe shouted.
He was standing at the top of the hill, addressing the ten strong crowd below. Behind him was the path leading into the woods. At the back of the group Lee dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it out with his foot. He looked around and saw that he was the only one who was not intently listening to Joe. He groaned to himself. This whole thing was totally stupid.
`And we’re going to go in there and find him,` Joe continued. He was a tall lad with slicked brown hair and a sharp toned voice that sounded good when he spoke loudly. `We’re going to do what the police haven’t done . We’re going to find that fucker and drive him down.`
The army of sixteen year olds cheered, with one exception. The boy at the back with spiky black hair took out another cigarette and wondered why he had come, even though deep down he knew why.
`Come on,` Joe shouted, `And remember, stick together.`
They set off. Behind them the sun was already lost in the horizon and evening was sinking into night. Lee saw that some of the boys were almost running in their eagerness to begin the adventure. Others hung back, obviously thinking about the trail of blood crawling through the wood.
Lee felt someone fall in beside him. `Got a light?`. It was Tommy, the closest thing he had to a friend. Lee lit Tommy’s cigarette. They were at the very back of the group. Three boys could be seen ahead of them but Joe and the others were already out of sight.
`You scared?` Tommy asked the question with a smile but Lee could tell he was probing to see if someone else felt like he did.
Lee decided not to give him the satisfaction. `No,` he replied. Tommy looked away.
`You coming Tommy?` one of the boys up ahead called. Lee noticed they did not invite him.
`Yeah,` Tommy replied. `See you Lee,` he said quickly before scurrying off to join the others ahead. Lee watched Tommy’s long nervous body as it wobbled up to the back of the group. Lee slowed his pace and let Tommy’s group fade out of sight. He was alone.
`So much for stick together,` he said aloud.
With nothing better to do Lee sat down on a nearby log and lit another cigarette. Blowing smoke into the night he looked around. He saw that he was on the edge of a small clearing. The ground was littered with twigs and dead leaves but at the same time it seemed strangely clean, as if someone had recently disturbed it. Then he noticed a piece of ragged blue and white tape dangling from a nearby tree. He made out the words T CROSS POLICE DO NOT CR. With a start Lee remembered that this was where the last body had been found.
In his mind he quickly ran through the history. The first body had been found just over six months ago. A student from the local college with a knife wound in his chest and his throat torn. The stabbing had killed him instantly but the killer had still mutilated the body.
Five months later, when the first killing had almost been forgotten, a second body was found. A woman on her way home from work, killed by a stab wound in her back and her body torn beyond recognition.
Again the killer had not been caught and for another month there was silence. Then the third killing had come. There were three victims this time, a teenage girl and two boys. The girl and one of the boys hadn’t had time to realise what was happening but the other boy had been chased for half a mile before the killer caught up with him. The corpse had then been dragged back to exactly where Lee was sitting now.
Five people dead and the killer still out there, Lee reflected. That person was somewhere at this very moment, but where? Sitting in front of the television with a glass of wine, a drop of red liquid spilling onto their trousers and reminding them of the blood stained clothes churning clean in the washing machine. Or were they resting peacefully in a tomb, waiting for the next evil summons. All things considered it had to be a possibility.
Or maybe the killer was in the woods right now, his nose twitching eagerly at the scent of fresh schoolboy prey. That brought Lee to a decision. He stood up and stubbed out his cigarette. He was going home. He was just about to step out on to the path when he heard the crack of a snapping twig. He froze and listened. At first there was nothing. Then he heard the slow rustle of footsteps coming towards him.
`Hello,` he called softly.
He waited. There was no reply.
`Hello,` Lee called again, louder this time. There was no response other than the rhythmic tramp of the footsteps coming closer.
`For God’s sake who the fuck is it?` Lee shouted desperately.
The footsteps were now agonisingly close and the shadow of their owner was sneaking through the trees. It was a short hunched shadow that moved in distorted jerks. Lee panicked. He sprinted out of the clearing and ran along the path at full speed, barely realising that instead of heading out of the woods to safety he was running deeper inside.
He finally came to a halt after five minutes of pure speed. After recovering his breath he fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette. The warm tarry blast revived him slightly and he began to take in the situation.
He was lost. Lost after running away from something that was probably nothing more than a squirrel or a fox, he tried to tell himself. But he knew that it was the killer he had seen and that the killer was now loose in the woods between himself and home.
Lee smashed his fist against the nearest tree. `Oh shit,` he shouted.
Then fear overcame him and he slumped against the tree. The bark shook with the vibration and from the branches above there was an annoyed twitter followed by a whirr of feathers. Lee screamed. The bird flew away and Lee collapsed against the trunk, his head in his arms. `Fuck,` he moaned, `Fuck, fuck, fuck.`
He didn’t know how long he stayed there, huddled against the tree. It could have been an hour, ten minutes or just sixty seconds. All he knew was that he eventually lifted his head to see that somebody was standing a few metres away.
The fear, which had dulled down to an aching throb, slashed once more as Lee turned to confront the stranger.
He was a tall guy with browny blonde hair, wearing a faded black T shirt and a pair of torn jeans. A broad belt was wound around his waist and despite the dark Lee could make out several knives and a pistol tucked in it. He didn’t seem to be much over twenty but his blue eyes flickered in the night with a timeless eagerness.
For a moment they looked at each other, the stranger calm and patient, Lee staring and nervous. Then Lee turned and tried to run into the woods. His hurry confused him and his ankles tangled into each other, sending him sprawling into the dirt. He looked up and saw that the stranger was holding up two empty hands.
Then he stepped forward and stretched out his hand to Lee. Lee nervously reached out his arm and the stranger helped him to his feet.
`You okay?` the stranger asked.
Lee nodded.
`You don’t have to worry,` the stranger continued, `I’m not the killer.` He turned and Lee saw the travel weary back pack hung over his shoulders. The stranger sat down on a tree trunk, reached into his back pack and took out an apple. He began to eat, his eyes ignoring Lee. Lee read the message. The stranger wasn’t interested in him. He was free to leave or stay.
Lee stood there for a moment, taking in the stranger’s lean, alert body and his powerful shoulders. There was no way he could have been the short jerky shadow he had seen earlier. That meant that the first problem was still there, the problem of the killer between himself and home.
`Do you mind if I stay here for a while?` Lee asked nervously.
`Sure.` The stranger took a final crunch from his apple and tossed the core into the undergrowth.
Cautiously Lee crept forward and squatted down beside the stranger. `I’m Lee,` he introduced himself.
`Nice to meet you.` The stranger didn’t say anything else but simply stared into the shadowy trees. It was about ten minutes later when he said, `So what are you doing out here tonight, Lee?`
Lee laughed. `It’s a bit stupid really. Me and some mates were in the woods looking for something.`
`Or someone,` the stranger broke in, `The killer.`
`How did you know that?`
The stranger looked at Lee. `What other reason is there for coming to the woods? Everyone else has a good reason to stay away.`
`So what are you doing here then?` Lee asked with sudden sharpness.
`Same thing as you,` said the stranger, fingering the trigger of his gun. `But I’ve come a little better prepared.`
Lee took out another cigarette. `What’s your name?` he asked, `If you don’t mind me asking.`
The stranger looked up sharply. `I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that.`
`Why? What is it then?` said Lee, moving the lighter to his mouth, `Richey Edwards? Lord Lucan?`
The stranger laughed and Lee realised that he hadn’t seen him smile before. `No,` he said, `It’s not that. It’s just ..,` he paused, `Let’s just say I’ve not got a name.`
`The man with no name,` said Lee, `That figures.`
`I’ve had a name,` said the stranger, `In fact I’ve had several. When I need a name, I’ve got one. Right now I don’t need one.`
Lee smiled. `Don’t take offence,` he said, `But has anyone ever told you you’re weird?`
`Many people. But maybe they’re all weird and I’m the only person in the world who isn’t.`
Lee took a final drag of his cigarette and stubbed it out. `People say I’m weird.`
`And are you?`
`No. Or I’ve never thought so anyway.`
The stranger kicked his boots against the stump. `This is interesting,` he said, `Tell me more.`
`Well.` Lee extended the word while he looked for something to say. `I’m sixteen. I’ve never had any real friends. Not because I don’t like people or that people don’t like me. It’s just that there’s never really been anybody who I’ve totally clicked with.`
The cloudy black heavens of his mind opened and began to release their emotional downpour.
`I’ve never been good at school,` Lee continued, `I sit, I listen, I understand but when I try to work it just doesn’t come out. I know I’m not stupid and nobody’s ever said I am. I’m just not that way. I’ve got GCSEs this summer. I’m doing my best but I know I’m going to fail. It’s all a load of shit anyway, a few letters on a bit of paper. Why the fuck should that affect my life? But it will. No GCSEs means no A levels. No A levels means no decent job. My Dad says he can find me a job in the frozen fish factory he manages. But I don’t want to work in a fucking frozen fish factory.`
Lee’s breath ran out and he finished. His mouth was dry from talking at unusual length and heat.
`If I wanted to patronise,` said the stranger, `I’d tell you that it could be a lot worse.`
`It could,` replied Lee.
`You’ve got nothing to live for and nothing to complain about. What could be worse?` The stranger looked at him, his blue eyes sparking in the dark. `You know, Lee, a few years ago I was like you. I didn’t like what life was offering me. So I chose to live like men used to, before all this shit mattered. The world is my home, the sun is my guide and the moon is my God.` He stood up. `Let me show you something.`
The stranger looked around, his eyes stopping at each tree in turn. He selected one and began to pull his way up through the branches, beckoning Lee to follow. Cautiously, Lee walked over to the tree and began to climb, following the stranger’s footholds. Finally they were both balanced on top of the trunk, their hands clinging steadily to the branches and their eyes peering over the leaves.
`Look,` said the stranger.
Lee saw that the summer sky was clear and the night was dusted by a million flickering stars. The wood lay before him like a great leafy ocean and every clearing was visible to him. He could see the parting where the path led back towards home and beyond that were the distant lights of the town. He started to turn in order to look the other way and the stranger helped him into position. Now he saw the shades of the midnight pale fields stretching away into the shadows.
`Past the horizon there are a million sights like that,` said the stranger, `But no two are quite the same. Around every new corner there’s something new to discover. That’s how men used to think in the early days. New horizons. That was all we had. But now,` he paused, `Maybe I’m the last known survivor.`
Then he tensed and grabbed Lee’s arm. `The killer, he hunts.`
Lee followed the stranger’s eyes and saw Joe and three other boys walking slowly along the path. A few metres away, hidden from the hunted by the trees, was the shuffling killer. Lee had already seen his shadow but now for the first time he saw the man who had terrified an entire town. The killer was short with a grizzled grey beard. He was dressed like any other middle aged man taking a late night walk, with a red overcoat and light brown corduroy trousers. However his teeth were clenched, his eyes bulged and his hands were stretched out before him. Lee watched as he moved closer until he was within grasping distance of the unaware Joe.
`Joe, look out,` Lee shouted.
His voice shot through the night like an echoing bullet and he saw Joe jump. The killer was also startled and moved into Joe’s view. Joe yelled in horror and he and his companions sprinted to the path. Lee saw them quickly exit the woods and run on towards the town. For a moment the killer looked as if he might follow. Then he snarled, a bestial sound that reached Lee in his treetop perch and ambled off out of sight.
The stranger was already clambering down the tree. Lee followed, barely keeping his footing.
`Are there any more of your friends in the wood?` the stranger asked urgently.
`Yes,` Lee replied.
`Come on then.`
They started off into the trees. `I should have been ready,` said the stranger. `I thought he wouldn’t be hunting tonight.`
`I saw him earlier,` said Lee.
`Then why the fuck didn’t you tell me?` the stranger shouted. He stopped, sniffed the air for a few seconds and began to run, Lee struggling to keep pace.
After two minutes of twisting and turning the stranger halted and sniffed again. `He’s here somewhere,` he said, `But he’s been everywhere as well. I can’t get a grip on his trail.` He pointed west. `You go that way.`
`What if I find him?`
Without a word the stranger took a knife from his belt and tossed it to Lee. He put his hand on his gun and disappeared into the trees.
Lee cautiously set off, his knife hand coiled and trembling. He moved slowly so that the sound of his footsteps would not distort his hearing. For a long few minutes he heard nothing. Then there was a yell followed by terrified whimpering. Lee focused every sense on the sound, tracing its source. With a newly discovered stealth he moved towards it.
The yell belonged to Tommy who was cowering against a tree, his back pressed tightly against the trunk as he watched the slavering killer advance. Lee could see the fear consuming Tommy’s staring eyes and knew that he was too scared to move.
He gripped the knife tighter. `I’ve found him,` he shouted, hoping that the stranger was still within hearing. The killer heard him call and turned. `You,` he snarled.
Lee swallowed and stepped forward. `Yes,` he said, `It’s me.`
`You, you,` the killer spat insanely.
`I’m the one who got away from you earlier,` Lee continued, `And I’m the one who gave you away a few minutes ago.`
`I’m glad you remember me. Nobody’s made such an impression on you before, have they?`
`I’m here. So why don’t you come and take me.`
The killer lunged towards him with greater speed than Lee had imagined. Before he could react the killer’s hands were around his neck. Desperately he struck out with his knife. The killer howled and fell back.
Two gunshots broke the night and the killer collapsed dead.
Lee turned to see the stranger tucking his gun back into his belt. `Sorry I’m late,` he said dryly.
`You were rather,` said Lee, grinning with relief. He held out the knife.
`Keep it.` The stranger came forward and nudged the killer’s carcass with his foot. `When they find this guy they’ll probably think he’s another victim. Or maybe they’ll work out he’s the killer. Either way, there won’t be any more killings.`
`What will you do now?` asked Lee
`Move on,` the stranger shrugged, `I’ve been doing that since I was younger than you.`
`Will I see you again?`
`You want the honest answer? Probably not.` The stranger looked deeply ahead. `There are so many twisting paths in this world. But at some point they all have to meet.`
He paused. `I’ll remember you, Lee,` he said, `Most of my life’s been spent alone and that’s the way I like it. But sometimes it’s nice to have a friend.` He grasped Lee’s shoulder. `Take care.`
The stranger turned and was gone.
Lee saw that at some point Tommy had also discovered the courage to depart. He was alone, with only the body at his feet and the knife in his hand to remind him of what had happened.
But he knew that he would never be truly alone again. As long as he could still hear the roar of the wind he had a friend.
`The last known survivor,` he said aloud.
He put the knife in his pocket and started off on the path home.

Submitted: December 15, 2013

© Copyright 2020 Andrew Zigmond. All rights reserved.

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