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The Retreat – Part 2: Into the Darkness

Chris McDonald

Please note: this is the second part of a story featured in Noir from the Bar but it can be read alone.

For John, it had been a strange day so far.

Not twelve hours ago, he and his boss, Simon, had left New York in high spirits, excited for a team building weekend at Simon’s ranch. Only, the team that were supposed to have arrived by now hadn’t ever been invited and Simon had somehow found out about the million or so dollars John had been siphoning out of the company over the years… he hadn’t been happy.

John scrambled through the trees, his mind trying to make sense of the horror that had just unfolded. His thoughts drifted to the words his boss had uttered fifteen short minutes ago.

I’m going to give you an hour to disappear into the woods.

The appearance of a knife as long as John’s forearm had put paid to the idea that this whole trip had been organised as some sort of practical joke. Apparently, the area of trees contained within a tall, circular chain link fence that John was currently hurrying through was some sort of arena Simon used for enacting revenge on those who dared wrong him.

Their conversation earlier had hinted at three things. Firstly, that John was not the first person to have been brought here. Secondly, that his boss was pretty handy at finding his way around this forest and, finally, he didn’t greet his prey with a warm embrace upon finding them. 

John shuddered and picked up the pace, keen to put as much distance between Simon and him as possible.

The alarm clock on the folding table beeped to signal that John’s head start had come to an end. Simon smiled and stood up, twisting this way and that in order to stretch his back. He loved this bit – the anticipation of the hunt. It was almost better than the actual kill.

Almost.

He gazed into the tree line and was glad to see that John was not there, muttering apologies as some of the others had. He’d been disappointed with those guys. He’d taken his time with them, keen to make them pay for wasting his time.

John was different – he was an animal at work. He didn’t care who he upset or climbed over, as long as it pushed him up one more rung on the career ladder. Simon was pretty sure that John was going to give as good as he would get in this forest, and that excited him.

None of the others had.

He picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder and grabbed the knife. This was going to be fun.

At least it’s not raining, John thought.

He glanced down at the forest floor, content that he wasn’t making it easy for Simon to track him. The mossy carpet ensured that his footprints wouldn’t linger and he’d made sure not to break or bend any branches. If he was being forced to flee and fight for his life, he was going to make a good go of it.

He emerged from a dense patch of trees into a clearing. Tree stumps littered the ground and in the middle was a small log cabin.

Two steps led to a narrow porch upon which a camp chair, covered in bird dropping and insects, rested. John passed by the chair and tried the door, which was thankfully unlocked. Inside, the cabin was basic but clean. He supposed that Simon came regularly to keep the place in order. A camp bed sat in the middle of the room with a red blanket tossed over it. A chest of drawers rested against one of the walls and a wide window filled most of an other. Framed pictures of men who looked a lot like Simon adorned the walls, staring down at him with evil in their eyes.

John launched into action. He flung drawers open, searching for anything that could be used as a weapon, but came away empty-handed. He tossed the bed onto its side and felt around inside the canvas, but again, there was nothing to be found. Frustrated, he began kicking holes in the wooden walls. Once his anger had abated, he slid to the floor and let the tears flow.

What sort of punishment is this? Whatever happened to a good ol’ fashioned, not to mention legal, tribunal?

He sat there for longer than he meant to, before a sudden thought forced him to cut his wallowing short.

He imagined that the others who had been brought here had probably stumbled upon the cabin, just as he had. There hadn’t been a path, per se, but the vegetation had been cut back enough to hint at one.

Had he subconsciously been led here?

Just as that thought entered his mind, he heard a twig snap from outside.

He was trapped.

Simon walked through the woods, at ease in his surroundings. He reminisced on the justice that had been doled out under the watch of these ancient trees to those who had thought that taking advantage of him would be a good idea. Each corner of the forest held a bloody, special memory.

And right now, he was about to make more of them. He pushed the last branch out of the way and the cabin that his grandfather had built with his bare hands came into view. Every time he saw it, he imagined the man himself, sitting on the porch after a day’s work, sipping a beer or simply watching the world go by around him.

He slowed his approach to make sure that he had the element of surprise on his side. He realized that he was holding his breath. He could imagine John inside, trying to keep an eye on the front and back door; his breath catching in his throat at the hoot of an owl or the rustle of leaves.

A snigger caught in his throat as he picked up a branch and snapped it. To hell with surprise – psychological warfare was much more fun! With the wheels set in motion, he tossed aside the snapped branch and ran at the cabin, knife grasped tightly in his right hand.

He barged open the door with his shoulder and was met with disappointment when he realized that John was not cowering where he thought he would be.

John had been safely ensconced in the crook of a tree, about seven feet up, for about forty minutes. Pins and needles were taking over the lower half of his body, and he was about to jump down to have a stretch, when Simon entered the clearing.

He watched his psychopathic boss suppress a giggle as he bent down and picked up a thin stick before snapping it in two. He then ran at the cabin’s door and slammed into it, before disappearing inside. He emerged from the back door a minute later, swearing and casting his eyes around the forest.

At ground level.

John’s plan had arrived fully formed as he’d left the cabin. He reckoned that Simon would assume the role of hunter and that he would expect his visitor to become the prey.

So, what would happen if the prey became the predator?

John was about to find out.

He watched Simon stalk around the back of the cabin, peering into the falling darkness in the hope that John would reveal himself. A few minutes of fruitless searching later, Simon walked around the front of the cabin and as he passed under the tree that hid John, John leapt into action.

Or to be more precise, fell into action.

He dismounted from the tree, feet first, and made solid contact with Simon’s shoulders. He felt the bones under his boots crack. Both men fell to the floor, though, having initiated the contact, John was first to his feet, ready for the fight.

Pain shot up his elbow as he stood over his boss, who was attempting to crawl away. The forest seemed to have closed in around them, creating some sort of natural arena, though John was not in the notion of letting this become a fair fight.

Instead, he picked the knife up that had fallen to the floor when he had ambushed Simon, and held it aloft.

Simon turned on the floor and settled on his back, looking up at the man who had just attacked him. His eyes locked onto John’s before moving to the silver bladed knife.

Time seemed to slow. John considered his options.

‘You don’t have the balls,’ laughed Simon from the ground, disturbing John’s thoughts.

John barked a hollow laugh which seemed to knock some of the bluster from Simon. Gone was the look of certainty that John would not use the weapon, replaced with a sense of doubt.

Before Simon could say anything else, John pounced, plunging the knife through Simon’s thigh and deep into the ground.

John was surprised at how easily the blade passed through the fatty thigh muscle. And at how quickly the blood began to pour.

Simon’s howls filled the darkening sky, causing birds to flutter away en masse, like a black cloud passing overhead. Blood was pouring from the wound in earnest now – the sickly metallic smell flooding the air. Simon looked on in horror as the scarlet puddle spread and clutched at the handle, unsure of what to do.

‘You could try pulling it out,’ John said. ‘Though, judging by how much blood there is, I’m pretty sure I severed the artery. You’re going to die very soon one way or the other, I guess it’s up to you how painful your final moments are.’

Simon’s face was pale as he glared into John’s eyes.

‘Oh,’ said John, as he began to leave the clearing. ‘Like you told me at the start of the day, no one knows where this place is or that you own it and no one knows that we were going away together so I guess… I’m in the clear.’

John sauntered out of the forest, wondering what he would spend a million dollars on.