Wrongly Accused

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Luke and his Dad are wrongly accused of murder they flee to the refuge of the forest. Both find different ways to deal with the stress of being wanted, and thus both become strangers to one another. And as neither know what truly happened, and who truly did the crime, their suspicions grow and grow.

Submitted: August 03, 2012

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Submitted: August 03, 2012

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A A A


Wrongly Accused

 

Dad finishes his seemingly erratic scribbling and throws the battered yet strangely handsome journal to the moss covered earth: it lands in a puddle of green light that filters from the slashes in the canopy of leafy guards that hide us from prying eyes.

“Don't touch the book, Luke,” he says, lying back onto the softest patch of scrubby grass he can find.

“I've never yet felt the need to,” I mutter under my breath, slightly vexed. Most people's first memories are of a great day out with their family or a brilliant birthday party they once had. Few people can search into their past and have their earliest memory be that of their father telling them 'not to touch the book'; why on earth would a two year old want to look at his stupid book anyway- what are they going to do, learn to read the moment they clap eyes on it?

 

I trail the fishing lines I've just made into the frothing creek running through the clearing. Hopefully ensuring that we have more than a handful of nuts and berries for... well you can hardly call it 'tea', but I suppose it's the equivalent, I pull myself to my feet and call over my shoulder,

“I'm going to find some firewood, we're running low again.”

“Fine,” Dad grunts, not even raising his head as I traipse into the forest, huffing at his manner of evident indifference.

 

Every day has been the same so far: me, unable to let my mind wonder, for fear of my own thoughts; him, unable to put his mind in gear, not wanting to let the past rest. The same every day… Every day since the murder. I keep firmly telling myself that I mustn't think of it, but I keep on mulling over the scene. Dad arguing with Mr Wood. Me rushing forward to help when Mr Wood struck Dad and cursing at the violent farmer. Mr Wood being found dead the day after in his own barn. Dad's fingerprints on our crowbar, lying bloodied beside the victim. My hair on Mr Wood's newly died red nightshirt. But it wasn't us: we've been framed: we've been wrongly accused. We've been forced to flee or let the knife suspended above our heads drop. Because the police would have executed us, and nobody would've stood to defend our cause; we were always outsiders, loners. I bend to collect the first good twig I see.

 

Panting, I drag the assortment of dry sticks and logs into our clearing. Again, Dad's writing in his notepad, in an even bigger frenzy than usual. Over the fourteen years of my life I've rather lost interest in that crinkled, leather-bound diary, knowing that if I ask what he writes in it he'll either ignore me or tell me it's 'none of my business'. As if I care, anyway... because I don't.

“What took you so long?” he sniffs. “You only needed to grab a couple of sticks.”

“How would you know?” I snap back, my anger, always so close to the surface in a valiant attempt to cover my gnawing worry, bubbling up again. “We've been here four days and all you've done is sit there. Have you even bothered to check the snares like I asked you to?”

“Why bother? You couldn't catch a snail, let alone a rabbit. I'm the one with real killing instinct.”

 

This seems like a strange thing to say, especially considering the circumstances. Frowning slightly I study his face with such intensity I'm amazed he doesn't feel my gaze pressing against his skin: he doesn't look like he does when he's just pulled the wool over my eyes. In fact, he looks more sincere than he has in a long while. My feeling of unease increases as I link his expression and his words, but I let it slide, knowing I'm paranoid in my new surroundings with only a persons biggest fears for company. A soft thump is the sound of that little book hitting the loosely packed soil.

“Don't touch the book, Luke.”

 

***

 

The sky is deep black, like an ink wash briskly slapped on canvas. It's a clear night with no clouds to act as my second blanket: I shiver and roll onto my side to face the fire, prodding it with a stick and causing an eruption of sparks to take flight into the vastness of the sky.

 

Late as it is, I can't seem to sleep. My eyes itch with tiredness and yet my brain keeps ticking over: it's as though something obvious is staring straight at me but happens to be in my blind spot. If I just took a step back, perhaps I could find it. Allowing myself to become hypnotised by the flickering flames I drift into a shallow and fitful sleep, plagued with nightmares of books, barns and brandished crowbars. But when I awake in the early morning light, I don't remember that night's cinematic dreams...

 

***

 

Having left the fishing lines out overnight, I shuffle to the creek to see whether a fish has been snagged. As I pull the small, silver fish off the bone hook and take it over to the flat rock I'm going to use to gut it on, I see Dad stir from his now flat cushion of grass. He immediately looks over, not to where I would be sleeping, but to his wood-smelling book: it's just his way, I guess, but it doesn't half get on my nerves.

 

I'm just pulling the innards out of the slit belly of the fish when Dad ambles over to see what I'm doing.

“That looks terrible,” he says with an unfortunately characteristic sneer.

“Oh, do it yourself then!” I rage, hurling fish guts into his face, leaving a bloody trail, and marching towards the trees. But I'm only three meters away when a hand ferociously snatches at my arm, holding it like a vice and bruising my skin. I yelp and look up, half expecting to see a demonic being in front of me. But it's Dad. His face is white with anger where the blood isn't splattered on it and his chest is raising up and down to such a degree that he could have run a marathon. But it's his free hand that holds my attention more effectively than any of this: because his free hand is gripping the knife I dejected to the ground with such strength that his knuckles have turned a startling white.

 

My heart pounds against my Adam's apple before I even contemplate the possibility of Dad pointing a knife at me.

“Dad?” I mew. “Are you okay, Dad? Is it the stress of everything? Look, I'm sorry about the fish guts. I was just... angry. Can you put that away? Please?”

I can't even bring myself to utter the word 'knife' because that would mean confirming its existence. He just stares at me, his eyes, usually a clear blue the same as mine, burning diamonds. Then, with a wordless yell that perfectly displays his fury, he throws me to the ground, releasing my numb arm as he does so. I scamper back on my rump, my vision blurred with tears of injustice, my thick, brown hair falling down to shield my face from view. I find that I'm shaking.

 

Stubbornly refusing to look up, I rely of my hearing to work out what Dad's doing. The clang of metal on rock tells me he's flung the knife to the ground. The rustling sound of clothes moves swiftly in front of me and from under my fringe I see him scoop up his book and storm off into the forest. For a while I stay where I am, breathing heavily, choking back shocked tears and letting my brain whiz through all the possibilities of why Dad just did that.

 

He's not a bad man, not deep down. Misunderstood that's all. But he's never been the same, either, not since Mam died. And yet I didn't have him down as violent: he was depressed and removed himself from the company of others until he slowly got better when mother left us. And after a year or so he seemed back to normal, especially when I was around, if a little more distant than he was before... So why on earth would he suddenly point a knife at me, even if I did lob slimy innards at him? How can anybody change so much, so quickly? I don't know the answer so I put it down to stress again, hoping for the first time that I'm right.

 

With shaking hands, I continue to gut the fish, keeping the knife out of my line of vision.

 

***

 

Dad doesn't return that day. I leave his share of the fish by the fire to keep it warm and eat mine ravenously. Slowly my shakes quiver their last but my nerves remain on edge, making me jump at the slightest movement or sound. The sun begins to dip beneath the tree tops, leaving a trail of pinkish light to scurry across our clearing. With the dark veil of night comes fear, sapping the warmth out of me and making my suspicions ever more pronounced. With one exhausted gesture I drag the horribly thin and scratchy blanket over my now silhouetted frame. Again, I fumble with the mossy stick I use to stoke the camp-fire and allow firefly-like ashes to float back to earth, glowing in a homely manner.

 

And it's now that I decide. When I get my chance, I'm going to read his book. Because I'm sure it must hold answers. People write their worries in diaries: he might have written all about his stress and anxiety: I might be able to help him sort everything out, that is if he doesn't kill me for looking in it. But there's something else: the way he's been acting since the murder, it hasn't been like him. He's been vicious and secretive, but he's always written in that book. I might get more answers than I bargained for. Slipping into a sort of doze, I worry about where Dad is, but just as the thought crosses my mind, a thunderous crashing in the undergrowth tells me that he's heading right back this way. Not wanting to answer his raging, I feign sleep, my last sight that of the flickering, winking stars in the vastness of the night, hovering above the fire's glow.

 

I hear a dull thud and Dad growls,

“Don't touch the book, Luke.”

 

***

 

The sun raises over us the next day and nothing changes. Dad still violently jots in that leather-bound secret-keeper and I do all the jobs I can find or make. The only difference is that I'm subconsciously peering out the corner of my eye to catch a glimpse of my goal: the book. I hope he doesn't notice my edginess, but, to be frank, he doesn't notice anything about me at the moment. Continuing to separate the kindling from the larger logs, I wipe the grief filled tears from my eyes: my Dad's died recently and has been replaced with this apathetic lump.

 

But then he says,

“I'm gonna go for a walk; I'll check the snares on my way, if it'll stop you harping on about them.”

And when he heads into the forest, he leaves the book lying, abandoned, on the green-brown grass. This is my chance...

 

***

 

Hastily, I lurch towards the diary, knowing I must only have a handful of minutes at my disposal. Snatching it off the ground so quickly I have to bobble it in my hands to catch it, I flick through the pages with trembling fingers. Reading no more than a sentence or two on each page, I try to piece together this puzzle once and for all.

 

“She was asking for it...”

 

Flick: I turn the page. I get a paper cut but I can't feel it.

 

“The flirter...”

 

“I'll kill her and blame it on fever! Yeah, that's what I'll do...”

 

Who's her? And what a pointless threat. Next page.

 

“The boy needs to get a grip, the goody two-shoes...”

 

The boy? Could that be me? Turn again.

 

“That Wood was in on it for sure; I bet he was the one my wife wanted to leave me for...”

 

His wife? But Mam didn't have an affair... My doubt starts to choke me as I turn to the next page.

 

“I'll kill him, too...”

 

So he did kill that woman: but she wasn't Mam, she just can't have been.

 

“Frame the boy...”

 

He framed me? He killed Mr Wood and dragged me in on it?

 

“Toughen him up nicely...”

 

“And there's no point hiding it...”

 

“I'll just run off...”

 

“They'll never get me...”

 

I let the book fall through my numb fingers. It hits the floor with a dull thud, lying open at the last page I'd turned to: I hear it in the most detached way. Backing up, I hear barely more than my own heavy breathing as the thick forest seems to spiral into a blur of colour. I raise my hands to the side of my head, seizing fistfuls of my shaggy hair, as if trying to keep my thoughts from escaping my skull. My Dad's a murderer; he killed my Mam and Mr Wood; he tried to frame me, thinking I was too soft; all my terrifying suspicions for his change in character were correct.

 

He no longer has to act his lie of gentle father. He can be the psychopath he always has been, with only me as witness.

 

But twined amongst these petrifying thoughts are a series of unanswerable questions. What can I do now? How does knowing my Dad's a murderer actually help? What happens when he finds out that I know? The unearthly sound of  deep, raking gulps brings me back to the present at which point I realise that the noise is me hyperventilating.

 

Concentrating hard on halting my sobs, I consider all the options at my disposal. There aren't many and none of them look ideal: stay where I am and act as if nothing has happened or live my life as an outcast, never able to go near the people who branded me a killer.

 

But my bubbling thoughts come to an abrupt standstill as Dad bursts into the clearing with his usual recital of curses.

“Nothing! NOTHING was in those snares! Honestly, if the jury had only asked you to show you're hunting skills they'd never think you capable of...”

He stops at the sight of me but I know the word he was about to utter as it's the only one in the no man's land of my brain: murder.

 

“What's up with you?” he asks. “Have you been blubbering?”

“No,” I say, way too quickly to pass as casual. My voice cracks, betraying me. Turning away I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the creek: I look ghostly pale and I still seem to be shaking.

“Hey! I'm talking to you, runt.”

A set of thick fingers clutch at my forearm, spinning me around. I look at the floor, hoping my shallow breathing, pale complexion and virtually audible heartbeats don't give away my fear. On the other hand, he might think I'm afraid because the last time he was this close to me he held a knife.

 

We stand there in silence for the longest minute of my life. Him studying my face almost at ease and me unable to look at his, feeling at though the words you murderer are plastered across my forehead.

“What have you done Luke?” he says but in such a way that I don't feel the need to answer. “You haven't read the book, now, have you, Luke? Because I did tell you not to touch it.”

His voice is too calm. The smoothness is worst than if he were shouting. I start to feel another panic raise but I beat it back.

“I haven't read the book,” I say but there's no feeling in my voice; I sound like a monologue.

“Oh deary me, Luke. Do you really think I'm that stupid? My book's lying open three feet from where I left it and you look like death itself- and you now know I say that from experience, don't you?”

His voice is still terrifyingly soft but I think I sense a fire burning behind his words.

 

And again I feel a panic coming on: I'm stood here, my arm gripped by a murderer and my father, but only one person holds me. I start to feel faint and my vision blurs.

“How could you? Mr Wood? Mam?”

My lips are barely parting and I don't even realise that I'm saying it aloud.

“It was easy. They embarrassed me so I removed them from the equation. You haven't exactly been a success story neither, but I'm not the sort to quit unless the cause is lost: I'll persevere with you, don't worry Luke.”

I don't register what he says.

“Let me go,” I order but with calmness to rival his.

He doesn't.

“LET ME GO!” I shriek so loudly that he jumps back in surprise.

 

Storming over to the fire, I seize a thick log and, without even looking, I hurl it at my dad. By sheer luck, I strikes his shoulder, sending him sprawled across the bare earth. I laugh mechanically.

“Me and Mam are embarrassments, are we? Oh, well I'll save you the trouble of putting up with me, shall I? I'm off!”

“Off where?” Dad says as he sits up with a laser-like glare. “In case you hadn't noticed, the whole point of framing you was to put hairs on your chest: to force you to be who others thought you where- a savage murderer.” He puts a hand to his shoulder and winces. “You won't be welcome anywhere now.”

“You're mad. What sort of parent wants their child to be a psychopath?” I growl, bundling a knife, some rope and my remaining clothes into a small cotton bag. “And who says I'm going to people? I know enough to live it rough in the forest.”

 

But as I hoist the pack onto my shoulder two things punch my mind in quick succession. Firstly, do I know enough to live alone? It would be a truly pointless and lonely existence even if I do. Secondly, if I can get that book I can go back to the others: all the answers are in it! Dad might just have freed me from the fate he dropped upon me... It takes me a moment to realise I've frozen, my left arm in mid-air.

I let it fall, inelegantly.

 

In a sudden surge I bring myself back to reality and the predicament I'm in.

“Are you going then?” Dad snaps from behind me. “Or are you too chicken even to save your own yellow skin?”

Thinking quickly I say,

“No, I'm going. And I won't be back, don't you worry.”

But the last bit was a lie. I will be back in the dead of night; I'll come back for the book...

 

***

 

An everlasting day of stress passes. Crouched in the undergrowth around what was, until recently, my makeshift home, I register the effect of the moonlight on the clearing; dust glitters almost beautifully as the silvery glow bathes the area so that it, too, is viewed only in various shades of grey. My dad's hair twinkles like dew covered cobwebs.

 

Held limply beneath Dad's sleeping fingers is my ticket to freedom: the book...

 

I turn my back to the scene whilst running one hand over my head with a shaky sign. Of course he's holding it; just typical. Any sane person would slink into the inky dark, I tell myself, but after the gnawing anxiety of today, if I waited until tomorrow I doubt I'd still be sane. So here goes...

 

On tip-toes I move stealthily towards the slumbering figure. Flinching at the slightest creak of a twig, I succeed only in noticing how loud my mere heartbeats are and how my breathing pattern is sure to betray me. After taking my third pace on the rusty earth, Dad rolls to one side and as his stray arm hits the floor a small plume of shimmering dust raises beneath it. I freeze. He does no more. I let out a ragged breath I didn't realise I was holding.

 

Squinting into the mingled darkness, a joyous balloon inflates within my chest. He's let go of the book! I restrain myself from rushing forwards- as I so wish to do- and continue on my cautious creep. After what feels like hours but, in reality, must only be seconds, I am stood above my mentally disturbed dad. My mouth curls into a sneer of disgust. Scooping the book into my trembling hands, I spend several dangerous moments staring at it, contemplating the fact that this thing holds all my answers. I back up a few paces before turning and scuttling towards the safety of the trees.

 

“Going somewhere, Luke?” says a calm voice behind me.

Petrified with terror I drop the book.

It lies open at the last page written on.

And what it says is this: that boy thinks he's dead clever. Well, he's half right.

“Oh, thieving as well are we? I thought I'd brought you up better than that.”

With painful gentleness, Dad spins me around.

 

As if embracing me, father to son, he pulls me towards him with one careful hand. He pulls me right onto his outstretched knife, piercing my chest. In my terror, I let him. An icy cold spreads from the knife but, I noticing with dull surprise, pain does not. Death welcomes me as an equal. Dad cradles me against him and he hugs me for what must be the last time.

 

“I'm sorry, Luke, but all my mistakes must be erased,” he whispers thickly into my neck.

 

He lies me on the ground in a fatherly manner, stroking my cheek with scolding fingers. As the cold consumes me, my last sight is that of my dad staring at me: his eyes filled with grievous tears that he put there, but a blank look on his face, as though I am on a rather uninteresting film, not actually in front of his very eyes. Before the fog engulfs my mind I bitterly think that the most fatherly thing he's ever done is that: hugging me with a knife between us, and placing me on the ground with hushed apologies. The kindest he's ever been towards me was when he murdered me.

 

 

And then I am no more than the blood on my shirt and the motionless shape of my body.

 

 

 

Then, I die.

 


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