Isolation

FictionIssue TenIssue Ten Fiction

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by Patrick Petraitis


Stopping for a moment, Samuel lay his trunk down on the only flat piece of earth he could find and sat upon it. He took in the bush around him, a stark serenity striking the hubbub of Bendigo from his memories. The washed-out green of the gum leaves draped down like curtains and blocked out the distant view of humankind that lay to the north. Taking a swig from the canteen that hung around his neck he watched the birds fly back and forth between trees, the murkiness of the late afternoon sun reflecting off the leaves turning them into winged fish swimming through swampy water. Their songs bounced around the passageway created by the track, joining into a discordant chorus of voices that fought for attention. On a nearby tree a message carved by a fellow traveller claimed responsibility:

Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. JOB 12:9-10’

Samuel let out a chuckle and took another swig of his canteen before reaching for the knife tucked away in his belt to carve his own message in his scrawly handwriting:

‘WHO NEEDS GOD WHEN YOU HAVE GOLD?’

Grinning, Samuel lifted his luggage and launched himself forward, setting out to chase the remains of sunlight.

Over a rise, the track flattened, and, looking at the downward slope ahead, it became apparent that he would not make it to a more suitable camp site. He dropped the trunk to the ground and began to unpack. Beginning the setup by tying a rope to two opposing trees, he noticed a small symbol carved into the trunk of the second. Samuel traced his fingers along the symbol, his eyes slowly scanning the trees and shrubs that could be hiding anything. Two incomplete triangles eclipsing each other, forming a diamond in the centre, and a single line striking through the centre. Samuel scanned the surrounding area, his eyes darting between rustles in the branches around him. His finger came into contact with a splinter, blood tracing where his finger had, filling the cuts in the tree with crimson. Cursing to himself, Samuel began to suck the blood from the tip of his finger. He heard the slippery call of a nearby stream and set his mind off the strange symbol and his stinging wound to search for it before finishing his tent.

The stream was much closer than the sound had made him assume, muffled slightly by the large trees that surrounded it. Samuel stepped into the stream and began to fill his canteen, using his other hand like a cup to swash water on his face. A twig snapped in the bushes. He jumped upright, brandishing the large knife from his belt. There was nothing there. Nothing but the quiet murmur of the clear stream at his feet. Another rustle behind him sent him spinning, slipping on the wet rocks. Samuel met the ground full force and was dragged underwater losing track of his knife before finding his feet again. Looking over himself, Samuel laughed. After a meagre attempt at finding his knife, he turned back towards camp, still chuckling at his carelessness.

The tent was a waterproof piece of canvas hung over the rope that Samuel had put up hours before. He sat on a log, stoking the fire with small branches he had collected. He held a metal rod with a fish impaled on it in his hand, slowly roasting it over the fire. His joints hurt from his fall in the stream and the clothes he had changed into were thin, letting the cold in to hurt his joints some more. He cursed under his breath and held his sore finger in his mouth; it was throbbing with a pain that sent jolts up his arm. The fish suddenly went up in flames and Samuel bounced from his log, swatting air in the way of the fish in an attempt to put out the fire. He began to pick off bits of his burnt fish to satiate himself but realised it was a fool’s errand, giving up and lying down in his tent.

Samuel lay his head down, staring up at the strange symbol on the tree that was barely lit by his dying fire. The crimson he had left behind had now turned a dark brown and almost absorbed all the light into it, making the symbol darker than the darkness around him. He traced it into the dirt beside him, his eyes fluttering before closing completely.

Before long, Samuel was asleep. In his mind, he saw the multitude of ways he would spend the gold nuggets he’d dug up in Bendigo. Outside his dreams, the fire had dwindled to a pile of hot coals, creating a small circle of light that barely lit the copy of the symbol Samuel had carved into the dirt. A gentle rain began to fall, reducing the light to a memory and replacing it with a creeping darkness threatening to consume Samuel’s campsite. In the darkness, Samuel’s knife reflected the dull burning of the coals, and the eyes of his killer reflected a desperate greed for gold.