On top of a hill stood a singular birch tree. The hilltop stood alone; surrounded by a cold, grey sea of mist that concealed the lush valley beneath.
The tree was crooked and bent as though it had been manipulated through torture, its white bark cracking and peeling at the strain of each twist of its trunk. Against its deformed base, leant a bicycle. It was old with small amounts of blood red rust around the joins, its black paint began to peel and bubble in places revealing the metal that lay underneath. The seat however, had clearly just been replaced, tightly sewn and still jet factory black. There was no bell on the handlebars but there was a small light brown wicker basket that had started to come away from the front of the frame under the weight of the load it carried for its Master. Unlike your average cycling enthusiast, there were no reflective disk catching the light on the wheel spokes, no whirring light generated from the energy of the cyclist. No light glimmered anywhere from the frame.
The owner of the bike stood on the edge of the hillside looking down into the mist.
She cast quite a figure stood there on the edge of the world, legs apart and hand on her hips. For the owner of such a tattered bike, she was dressed head to toe in tight sports clothes. All in black. She wore black leggings, no markings or brand and a long-sleeved black top with a zip up the front and a hood at the back. She had on black gloves, leaving no section of her skin uncovered other than her pale, alabaster face. Her shoes were black cycling shoes, like those seen on professional cyclists, with three Velcro strips across the dorsal surface of her foot, but there was no reflective surface, no flash on the back of her heel like so many riders had to make them selves known. Her thick red hair was tied up in a tightly wound bun that sat snugly on the crown of her head, not a hair out of place. Across her front torso was a heavy duty material strap fastened with a metal grip that feel across her chest which led to a cylindrical shaped holder that ran diagonally across her back from her shoulder blades down to the base curve of her spine.
She turned back towards the bicycle, took out the contents of the basket and strapped them to the holder on her back.
She stood for a moment, looking towards the Eastern side of the world, the sun had begun to rise and was casting it’s burning light across the landscape. She had given herself an hour, more than enough time, before the mist had evaporated and the sun proclaimed that the day had begun to the inhabitants beneath it’s glare. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath into her lungs before holding it there, calmly, not breathing, not moving just listening. She heard the birds that had begun to sing in the trees and the gentle rustle of the leaves in the trees as a light morning breeze ran it’s fingers through their green branches. But no people. No cars. No more bikes. It was just her. She let the breath from her lungs steadily exhale through her nose and opened her eyes.
Time to move.
The mist was denser than it had appeared from the height of the peak. At that time of day she struggled to see more than a few centimetres in front of her, looking down into the valley she could barely see her feet in the darkness and the swirling mist. She kept to the concrete path that wove itself in a curving stream down the contours of the valley, the ground was to damp with dew and could not be trusted not to give her away later. She could envisage the path in her sleep, each descent, each distance in her natural step between each meander of concrete. The deeper she glided into the belly of the valley, the quieter it became. The only sound she could her was that of her footsteps which, even then, were delicate in her rubber-soled shoes.
She felt the slope begin to even out to a flatter surface; she was nearing the base of the valley now. The mist was starting to vanish from this dark park and as she continued to follow the path, she noticed that where lush, green grass should have grown either side of the concrete, there laid just brown mud. The odd patch of green attempting to sprout through its hardened core but failing to flourish. There were no flowers here, not even weeds attempted to cast their heads towards the sky. Everything around her was grey and brown.
The shadow of the house through the clearing mist came into view. It’s old pointed roof ripped into the air, a small circular portico window was framed at the front beneath the fascia. It was wide open, she could just make out two white lace curtains that flew out of the window, still attached to the inside like two souls desperately aching for the next life. There were three windows on the first floor, from her view of the house, each bordered up with closed brown wooden shutters that had clearly once been painted, but had been beaten by the weather over the years and never cared for. The main torso of the house followed a similar pattern, covered in wooden slats, which still had some of the original light blue paint in peeling patches. The exposed wood had begun to curl at the join of the slats; some were moments away from rotting off entirely. The smell of damp wood hit you before you had stepped foot through the door. It would have once been a beautiful country house, perhaps, the kind of house that fostered a family. But now, it was isolated and unkempt. This valley did not shelter its inhabitants from the wild winds; it funnelled and targeted them into a streamlined assault. The house had clearly taken the brunt of the beating.
Jutting from the main body of the house was a covered porch with the same pointed roof as it’s higher sibling. Seemingly holding the roof together were 7 wooden columns, which had a rotting wood balustrade running between each one. There were three steps that took her from the ground to the threshold of this decomposing welcome deck. She felt each damp step give slightly beneath her; so damp at least, it wouldn’t creak. She came to the top of the steps and closed her eyes again as she had done at the top of the hill. Once she was through the door there would not be much time, she had to cover her bases now. Tick the boxes. She inhaled deeply, almost silently, through her nose – taking in the stench of the dampening building around her – and held the breathe in her lungs once more. She listened; she could hear the gentle creaking of the house in the wind that had begun to breathe life into the valley and sweep it clear of it’s grey covering. She could hear her heart beat, calm and steady but hammering hard inside her chest, ready. She exhaled through her mouth and opened her cold blue eyes. She turned to look behind her, just mud and grey concrete.
She moved quickly across the porch, kneeling gracefully down to the doormat. She lifted it at the lower right edge, a woodlouse scurried out from underneath, and she picked up a brand new bright golden Yale key. She held the key in her hand and brought it up to her eye line for a moment. She studied it swiftly, the landings and projections were all just as she had memorised from his file. She held the key tightly in her gloved her and moved to the front door. The door was oak, out of mix with the rest of the house. The key hold was just beneath a round brass doorknob. She placed the key carefully into the lock and slowly turned it to the right, listening for every churn of the mechanism inside the door. She heard it click and felt the door slightly give to her and she turned the doorknob. Success.
She opened the door just enough for her to be able to enter and stepped through, closing it carefully behind her. Ahead of her lay a staircase with wooden bannisters. The steps had been covered in a blood red carpet that had been worn down in the centre to a dirty white. She approached them quickly; she only climbed by walking on the outer sides of the steps, less chances of creaks.
Once at the top she came to a long corridor, lined again with the carpet from the stairs. On the left side there were four doors and on the side that had faced out to the Valley there were three. There were no paintings on the walls, no family photos, no sign that any person lived there at all apart from the shiny new the key under the mat. She moved with feline agility, along the corridor and into the third room on the left hand side. She held, just outside the door, and listened. The sound of heavy snoring came from within. She pulled the shotgun that she had been carrying from the holder on her back and stretched out. Even with the sleeper’s heavy-handed breathing, she entered the room slowly and silently.
The smell was the first thing to hit her, the smell of a filthy man. She could smell faeces and piss, the undisguisable stench of clothes stained with body odour. The only item of furniture in the room was the bed. The rest of the space was filled with dirty clothes and moulding plates of food. As she looked around she noticed mugs littering the ground, filled with a bubbling oozing mould that looked as though it belonged in a laboratory. The bed had no sheets, she could see from the vacant spaces on the mattress clear stains and soiled patches of fabric, she didn’t want to think about what those stains might be. She looked across to the inhabitant of the bed and the source of what had now become almost deafening snoring. He lay flat on his back, covered only in a light patchwork blanket, his stomach was so rotund that from her view from the door she couldn’t see his face, so eclipsed was he by his own gluttony. She walked around the side of the bed. His face was older than she had seen before, but definitely still him, just fatter and with more age lines around his disgusting face. She didn’t like to dwell on them, that wasn’t really a healthy way to do the job.
She took the shotgun and snuggled it cosily into her shoulder, she took a step back. Clicked off the safety and with a quick deliberate movement, pulled her delicate index finger back towards her body.
The few birds that graced the valley flew from their homely perches at the earth shattering sound.
Within moments she was back at the front door, taking the key out of her pocket and the zip lock bag. She locks the door behind her and carefully returns the key to beneath the doormat, meticulously yet swiftly place in the exact same manner from which she had taken it but minutes before. She strides across the porch past the rotting columns holding the decaying house together. She glides down the dampened stairs and onto the concrete path. There is something in her face that wasn’t there before. A smirk. A satisfaction in her face. She moves up towards the top of the hill at pace, strong and willed. The mist has cleared for all but a light haze that gently coats the ground, it swirls around her feet as she moves like water, gliding around her and bending to her command.
She reaches the birch tree in little time and barely out of breath. She swings the shotgun from her back to her front and removes the strap from around her neck. She balances the weapon in the wicker basket which heaves under the weight of metal and wood. Placing her hand from within her pocket, she pulls out the cartridge, she can still feel the warmth of it through her glove. Gently tossing it in her right hand, playfully her smirk grows to a smile and she throws it into the wicker basket.
She raises herself back onto the rusting bicycle and prepares to push away. In these moments she is often tempted to look back, to dwell on the power that encompasses her whole body and ride on the adrenalin. She knows, she knows that to dwell on that blood lust would mean that she couldn’t carry on and she could never stop. She pushes away against the tree into the morning.