Afflicted 09: Chapter 8

Bevan left the river and Rick saw him go, but didn’t really notice the absence of company. He stayed in the same spot for a considerable period of time, long after Bevan had gone. With his eyes closed, he took in his aural environment, trying to identify as many sounds as he possibly could, within different distances from him.

A sighing breeze pushed the phyllerous grass so that it slanted across the hill, rustling very gently. The sound increased in volume with an increase in the strength of the breeze. The same breath of air rustled through the trees all around, enclosing Rick’s head in a halo of sound. All the rustling happened at once, yet the split-second delay as the wind moved on could also be heard in the distant rustlings stalking up the hill one after the other. Sitting and striking up next to Rick were the evening insects, whose glorious sounds were stirring, halting, warming up for the full show. A few frogs were starting their throaty pulse from within the damp earth closer to the river, sounding much like the insects but deeper, richer, similar to the roll of a human tongue. Beside them, the river lapped the shoreline, tinkling on and around the rocks and debris that sat in and on the waterway, a third across in either direction. Further away were the sounds of cattle interacting in the paddocks adjacent to the public land. Further on still, if one strained one’s ears to listen to the most distant sounds possibly to be heard, was the shade of a traffic hum, emerging from a main road a long way from Rick’s bend in the river. The cry of a waterbird brought Rick back to where he was sitting.

The practice of distant and close listening gave Rick a greater appreciation of his environment. It helped him to see or feel how each part of it fitted together. He felt that it helped him to understand it better than he would otherwise. Of course, the fact that this sounded so pathetic was why he never spoke about it to anyone. The mysteries of one man’s universe are solo, singular, and are that way for a reason. There was no need to share them. Hell, he wasn’t a girl. Girls shared everything, even those things that are most personal, the things that are more likely to embarrass them or bite them on the arse later on.

Lighting a smoke, Rick set about clearing up his mess and any other rubbish that lay about the clearing. He was surprised at how long it took him; he hadn’t realised how much crap he’d left lying about. If he’d thought about this a bit longer, he would have realised that he thought that the crap was Bevan’s or Jack’s. By the time he’d started to do this arduous task, it was pretty dark and he had to haul out his small torch to make sure that he grabbed everything.

Each of them made a practice of taking out their own rubbish, adhering slavishly to the rule: ‘take it in, take it out’. They’d each seen too much distressed wildlife—tangled in fishing line or plastic, or ill from consuming human foods—for it to be any other way.

As Rick cleaned up, he pursued the conscious thought about what motivated his actions that afternoon. With a feeling of grave concern, he suddenly realised that he’d acted in a way that he considered was out of character, and a sense of overwhelming guilt and anxiety started to bore into his guts. He suddenly wanted to run screaming out of the valley and into the nearest police station and tell them everything, including his own unusual reaction. He’d really stood his ground, had stood up to Jack. He’d prevented the reporting of something that was potentially really serious, and could be seen as preventing the onward march of police justice, or whatever it was they liked to call what they did. That wasn’t like him. He was usually the first to that kind of thing, he’s usually the one talking Jack into telling whoever needed to be told something serious. This issue really didn’t concern him.

So why did he do it?

The question tormented him. He finished packing. The question nipped at his heels as he walked out of the clearing and made his way back through the spiky, spiny, tangled bushland. It followed him as he rode home, and sat on the kitchen bench next to him, keeping the necessary implements for cooking tea just out of his reach. He had to answer it, else he’d get no peace. It just wouldn’t let him rest.

Any conversation that his parents had just went over the top of him and eventually they left him alone.

So why did he do it?

He didn’t want to face the truth of it because the truth of it stung him to the core. The truth wasn’t so pretty when it was about yourself.

Why?

Eventually he gave in, and admitted it. It was because of Jack’s reaction to that corpse. Rick had seen the shock, the fear, the intensity of feeling in Jack as he’d never seen it before. And he was inveterately curious. Some sadistic part of Rick wanted to keep Jack in this situation and watch him. He wanted to see how this violent mate of his would react to this. Always the tough kid, Jack had never shown his vulnerability to either himself or Bevan in all their long history of friendship, and Rick was amused to see that this is what it took. A random corpse that was badly decomposed. It took a corpse in their lives to show him that Jack was actually human, that he didn’t just retain his eye-for-an-eye, blood-and-guts attitude in all situations. It didn’t occur to Rick that in doing so, he was being a complete arsehole.

As he thought about all of this during his preparation of dinner, a new, potentially more interesting idea was starting to hatch in his mind.

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