Inside the four-wheel drive vehicle, Barry Groate was driving. He had turned off the dual carriageway and bounced along an uneven track. Clanking the gears, he looked over at his work colleague. Gronk smiled back, as if he had wet underpants. The two worked on the new industrial estate their employer had built. Rents were coming in from businesses in other units, but their firm needed more money. The latest project was to build houses on the meadows. At some point in the future, the indicative plan was to cut down the forest to make way for more housing. That was where real money could be made. But there were geographical issues because the land was hilly and a stream wound its way through the valley. They had been instructed to take a look at where the track dipped around a hill to a bridge over the stream.

Trees zipped past the vehicle on both sides until the track narrowed so Groate slowed down. They entered a clearing and an electricity sub-station came into view on the right-hand side. Their firm was in talks with the electricity company to move this installation somewhere else as it was on more level ground and prime for housebuilding. But the talks had stalled of late. The power plant was surrounded by metal fencing with prominent warning signs in large red lettering. They saw CCTV cameras as the vehicle drove past. Beyond the installation, the track was overgrown. Groate drove with caution. The trees encroached upon the driving space and branches hit the roof of their vehicle. Groate slowed further as the track became muddy and a line of grass grew where tyres had not churned up the ground. Turning a corner, the track widened and veered downhill toward the right. Sunlight streamed down from the other side, but the thick forest was darkened.

Pushing a hand into some mud, Steve smeared it around his eyes and bridge of his nose in different directions to break up the shape and prevent any shine. It reminded him of his brief time as a soldier. Swivelling his assault pack to the ground, he unzipped a compartment. Pulling out a combat jacket, he put it on and zipped up the front. It was softshell with woodland disruptive pattern material. He was already wearing fatigue trousers, as well as black and green trainers. Military gloves were slipped on. With the hood of his jacket up, he zipped it up to his chin. He tapped the pouch containing an improvised weapon, but left it there. Unzipping a front compartment of his assault pack, he reached in, took out the binoculars and slipped them into a jacket pocket. He closed all the compartments on his assault pack.

He could hear the vehicle closer now, over to the left, and ran along the hill in the same direction. As it drove on the track, Steve stopped to watch it go by. Two people were sitting in the front seats. No one was in the rear. It drove downhill, out of sight. The adrenaline kicked in and Steve sprinted across the wooded hillside. As the land dropped away, he knew the vehicle would soon be in view. The engine revved over to the left and Steve sped up, using forest cover to get into position. When he saw its roof moving by the edge of the hill, he dropped and crawled through undergrowth toward a highpoint overlooking the track. He inched forward and parted some fern to see the vehicle come to a halt, just short of the bridge below.

Copyright © 2023 Callum Stanford.  All rights reserved.

Author: C.Stanford

Writer, blogger, outsider, survivor.

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