The boy remained silent for miles, struggling to steer his horse while cuffed with his lank hair shielding his grubby face; the boy was barely eighteen and too young to remember, but Robbie, the older of the two guards, thought often about the old times when it was all about ‘incarceration’, ‘correction’, and ‘reform’—after The Great Collapse that all changed; Robbie, would never tell anyone, but he hated his job, it had no prospects or progression, and was a daily reminder of death; but it was a job, and a job meant being alive in this new world, and it was better this way, Robbie kept telling himself, punishment was more effective and swifter, with no chance of re-offending.
As they reached the edge of The New Forest, the cold autumn sun had disappeared behind the clouds, the woods seemed silent, and the only apparent sounds were the horses hooves over the crisp leaves, and their own cold breaths; Robbie understood the boy’s silence as a sign of guilt, but a part of him felt sorry for the young man, ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘this is where we leave you, kid, but because I like you—and I know it doesn’t mean much now—I know you probably didn’t mean to kill all them people the way you did, you were desperate and all, I get it…I mean we all gotta eat, right…anyway, one little tip: stick to the left path, most of these hunters, they like the elevation of the right, stick low and behind the trees you might live a little longer…for what it’s worth.’
The boy dismounted the horse, almost falling from it, and without thanking Robbie, ran unsteadily to the left; Robbie watched him and thought of the old days when, after a day at the office, he’d give his wife a quick text or call, or check-in online before passing the commute like the others staring at a screen denying the end was about to begin—but here, there was no denying, no end or beginning anymore, just now—and now he’d have to ride the fifty miles back in darkness before escorting another offender tomorrow; and as he turned, desiring the simple comforts of a warm bed or some hot soup, the low sun broke through the trees and tall shadows stretched along the forest floor as gunshots sent flocks of birds fluttering to the skies above.
Written for Three Line Tales, Week 95.
Image credit: Tobias Keller via Unsplash