There was blood in the sand and sand in his blood. Left from the dark night before. Being stabbed, rolling down a hill, falling over a short cliff into a gentle river, before washing up on shore should have been enough to kill Edmund Brunell. It should have been enough to kill any man. Now Edmund was stuck in the Colorado wilderness. Lost without a map. Betrayed by the partners he’d escaped with. Left behind to attract the hounds to his scent so his fellow inmates could flee for the freedom they’d all ached for in the preceding ten years. A fourth of Edmund’s life.

Why did he deserve to live? How had he? The shank wound alone should have killed him from blood loss in the night. Passing out in a river should have completed his death sentence as well. And yet there he was in an oasis of his own. It was a pond fed by a thin off shoot of the river that’d dragged him there. Centuries old pine trees surrounded him and scented the crisp morning air of summer. The air was like breathing in the freshness of newly cut pine trees with a hint of the freshness of cucumbers and mint leaves.

“I do not deserve such a sight,” Edmund said sliding himself fully out of the water and shaking some of the sand off of his orange prison uniform.

“No you don’t,” said a voice from the tree line. Tainting the air.

Edmund scrambled left, holding his right side to mitigate the damage done by hastily moving his cut flesh, “Who’s there?”

There was nothing. Only thin pine air and deafness. Pure absence of sound. A vacuum of pure perfect silence surrounded Edmund. Even the light breeze pushing his sandy hair across the wet pale skin of his forehead lacked the welcomed fullness of noise. He moved to the edge of the woodland. Still nothing. There was no identifiable source of the voice. No bugs, birds, or life either. Only trees.

Edmund fell. Too tired to stand. His body was worn from it’s journey. The skin of Edmund’s legs and feet felt like they’d been pierced with pine needles now, having been soaked all night in the cool water. The voice must have been his imagination.

Removing the thin blue laceless slip-on-shoes the government had issued Edmund was an exhausting effort. Indeed any movement in general had been exhausting. Maybe he just needed to get dry and sleep it off. If authorities hadn’t found him yet they likely were far past this area or he’d been lucky enough to float far enough away that no one would find him.

His socks, having been compressed tightly to his feet inside his shoes, took skin with them upon removal. Edmunds attempt at movement had torn the over saturated flesh of his feet. Now they were pale, red, and wrinkled. Looking like the feet of someone long since dead and left to decompose in a river. Edmund thought first of how painful the tiny gouges in his feet would be to walk on when the skin fully dried and then of how he’d resulted there in the first place. That simple thought was the spark of a forest fire in Edmunds mind.

The little bitch. She’d told. He’d let her live and she’d told. He could lie to himself and say it was an accident like he’d told the police. But they knew. Edmund’s wife had seen him lose his temper. Witnessed him shaking her in frustration. Why hadn’t she stopped crying and just let him sleep? Edmund never understood children or wanted any. Gina. It was her fault for wanting that hell child. Always crying and now he was here. Sent to die for killing, escaped, and now here bleeding out on a beach.

Maybe that was ok. Maybe, he thought in his last few moments, that was how it was meant to be. When he tried he could almost hear little Brittney’s cry. It sickened him still. Her laugh, and he almost smiled. All these years and he’d never asked for forgiveness or told himself he hadn’t done it but after all the proceedings with the defense lawyers and the police he’d let himself believe he really wasn’t at fault.

His shoulders and chest felt dragged down towards the red sand and his bleeding feet. But it had been his fault hadn’t it? Edmund had no self-control. He’d been in two fist fights that week over nothing. He had not escaped his first term being locked in a cage away from society. Why did he deserve to escape his second?

Maybe this was better. Edmund couldn’t tell if he’d shed a tear of regret or if his face had just pushed out some of the water it’d absorbed in the night. It didn’t really matter. Edmunds energy was drained and he was being pulled down by more than gravity. There were hands grasping his stomach and esophagus from the inside. His throat and gut squeezed to the point of gasping and he could only hope to see Little Brit once more before entering the sulfuric lakes and crucifixion he knew he deserved. But that was not the way of the world.

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