A SHORT STORY BY RICHARD E. ROCK
It’s a fact of life that dead bodies are pretty much always found by either joggers or dog walkers. I was doing both and yet I’d never found a single one. I was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong.
Every morning I’d harness up my Siberian husky Mayhem and do a five-mile run along the Pembrokeshire coast. But despite all those miles of treacherous cliff-tops and jagged rocks, my days remained frustratingly corpse-free.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if other people weren’t tripping over stiffs every other day. Barely a week would go by without some lucky so-and-so explaining to a local news reporter how they were out walking their dog, and there below them was a body washing about in the tide and what a shock it was and blah blah blah. Or they were out for their morning run in the woods and imagine their horror when they noticed something unusual in the bracken and yada yada yada.
They would pretend to be all upset and shaken but they couldn’t fool me. They were thoroughly enjoying their moments in the sun, I could tell. Yesterday, they were nobodies. Today, everyone wants a piece of them. When was it going to be my turn? That’s what I wanted to know.
It was my counsellor who had got me into running. She said it would be a good way to keep my…erm…problem under control. It would help me expel all that excess energy, she reckoned. Don’t get me wrong, it was horrendous at first. I’d come back feeling like crap. I’d have stitches, shin splints, the lot. But deep down inside I knew she was expecting me to fail and I wanted to prove her wrong, so I stuck at it.
“When you do something regularly,” she’d said, “you’ll be amazed at how quickly your body adjusts to it.”
Yeah, whatever, I’d thought. And what do you know? Turns out she was right. My stamina kept building and building and my distances were getting longer and longer, and pretty soon I was doing a five-miler every weekday and then a fifteen-miler on Saturday. Sunday was rest day. Gotta rest.
And boy was I shaping up fast? I’d heard it said that three months is all it takes to transform a body, and it’s true. I’d feel so good after a run that the last thing I’d want to do was eat any crap, so I started eating healthily. I stopped eating sugary things from Monday to Friday and instead would just have the occasional treat at the weekend. I dropped two and a half stone so quick it would make your head spin.
I was looking pretty damn good too. I was way leaner, and for the first time in my life I actually had muscle definition. My calves were like granite! That was thanks to all the hills. And it made a difference psychologically too. After a run my head felt clearer. I’d be calmer, able to think straight, and I was sleeping better.
The only downside? That it’s addictive. It got to a point where I’d have to go running. No choice. Had to. On the rare occasion that I couldn’t go for any reason, I’d feel agitated for the rest of the day. But better to be addicted to something that’s good for you than something that isn’t, right? Believe me, I should know.
The dog was her idea as well. She said it’d be beneficial for me to have something that I was responsible for. And it would mean company for me. If I was on my own I’d just end up lonely and bored and would eventually slip back into my old habits.
Mayhem came to me from my brother-in-law, who was a breeder. Or a dog pimp, if you want to be cynical about it. I named him after one of my favourite bands. I’m guessing you’ve never heard of them. They’re an extreme metal band. But then, there wasn’t a lot about me back then that wasn’t extreme.
Yeah, things seemed to be going really well; I was healthier than I’d been in years, probably the happiest I’d ever been, and I’d even started to forget about the imagined thrill of finding a cadaver washed up on the shore and having my moment in the sun.
But then, one day, it happened.
Mayhem and I were running along the coastal path just around the bay from Solva. We were probably about three-and-a-half miles into a five-miler and going strong. I looked down and saw, on the shingly beach far below, the body of a man lying face down with his head resting on a blood-spattered rock. My stomach lurched and my flesh writhed with a cold, clammy sweat. It was like a scene from one of those late-night crime shows. It was horrible.
This sense of shock was quickly – very quickly – replaced by one of excitement. Yes! Thank you, god! I thought. Swiftly followed by: Well, it’s about bloody time!
I looked around. There was no one else in the vicinity; no walkers, no runners, no dog walkers. In other words, no one who could get in there first and claim this trophy as their own. I resisted the urge to cheer.
He was wearing trainers, shorts and a stripy t-shirt. No sign of a leash in his hand or a frantic dog looking for its lost owner. He was probably just some bloke out for a stroll in the morning sunshine, and it wasn’t difficult for me to figure out what had happened. He had scrapes and cuts right up the backs of his legs and dirt all over his t-shirt. Also, there were bits of rock and clumps of earth all over the place. The path had given way under his feet and down he’d gone. It had happened right where I was standing. I took a step back.
I realised that my heart was pounding in my chest. Play it cool, I told myself. Play it cool.
I looked around for a safe way down. Well, safer than the way down he had taken, anyway. I followed the path around the curve of the bay and found somewhere where Mayhem and I could scramble down without too much bother. I was now on the shingly beach with the prone man and relishing every single moment. I lowered myself to my knees and prepared to turn the body over. Luckily, he was pretty scrawny so it wasn’t going to take too much effort.
Mayhem sniffed at him as I steeled myself. I gripped one of his arms and flinched. He was still warm!
Still fresh, I thought. Must have happened just before me and Mayhem got here.
I pulled myself together and prepared to try again. I grabbed hold of him and heaved, only to find myself looking into the eyes of a man who was, somewhat disappointingly, not entirely dead. I felt my entire world fall away.
I don’t know how lucid he was at that point, this unlucky chap who had happened to step in the wrong place at the wrong time, but if his wits were still with him the look on my face would have said everything: Damn him! It’s not fair! How could I be so unlucky? My moment in the sun, eclipsed!
The unfortunate fellow inhaled suddenly and jerked into life, grasping at me with his one good arm. The other one, having been shattered during the fall, merely flopped about lifelessly, unlike the rest of him. His eyes were blurry and bloodshot and his mouth was moving but no words were forthcoming. That’s when I realised how severe his injuries were.
I looked around. The beach was deserted and so was the path above. I thought quickly, and then I picked up the stone, the one covered in his blood, and held it high above my head. At that moment approximately one million thoughts crashed through my brain:
But there’ll be two wounds on his head. Won’t that be suspicious?
I’d better make sure my aim is dead on, in that case. Pun intended.
What if I end up covered in his blood?
What if I do? I came down here to help him and there was blood everywhere. It was unavoidable.
Won’t I leave DNA evidence on the stone?
I’ll just say I picked up the stone and moved it. Big deal.
There were a lot more questions but for each one I had an answer so I just batted them away. What’s more, I had waited a hell of a long time for this. When was I ever going to get another shot at it? And besides, there’s risk involved in every single thing we ever do, right, whether it’s driving to work in the morning or simply eating out in a restaurant that may have a less than stellar reputation for cleanliness.
So, mind made up. Let’s do this.
His bloodied eyes widened as he realised what was coming, and not wanting to be cruel by prolonging his shock any longer than necessary, I brought the rock crashing down onto his head, right on the sweet spot. I watched as his eyes rolled back and his one good arm fell still. Now he was dead.
“Sad, eh?” I said to Mayhem who had started whimpering pathetically.
Next there came the fun part. I pulled my phone out of my backpack, called 999, and prepared to give the performance of my lifetime. My moment in the sun had arrived.
© Richard E. Rock 2021