It wasn’t the pain she noticed first. It was the blood. Wendy Wilson teetered on the edge of the hill, one hand paddling the air, the other clutching the back of her head, sticky red liquid oozing between her fingers. Wet soil crumbled beneath her feet as she struggled to regain her balance. Above her head, a sprawling charcoal sky stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Below her, crooked trees with spindly branches sprouted from the sloping ground, while sodden, muddy fields and clusters of villages lay in the distance.
On any other day, Wendy would have marvelled at the view. She would have whispered “spectacular” under her breath, a word she’d adopted from her father.
But not today. Not now.
Having regained her balance, she half staggered, half turned on her heels, warm blood already cooling on her skin. More trees swung into view, all gripped in late November’s decaying hand.
Just moments ago, she’d been taking pictures of burnt orange leaves with her camera phone, some still clinging to life while most covered the ground in a mass grave. She was going to upload the pictures to Instagram, maybe even without adding a filter.
Now the pain struck; at first dull and throbbing, then instantly white hot and unbearable.
“What—” she began, as she stared at the duo in front of her. One stared at Wendy with wide, uncertain eyes, mouth hanging open, a mobile phone pointing in her direction. The other still clutched the rock in his hand, so dull and inanimate only seconds ago, now slick and gleaming with Wendy’s blood.
“Wha—” she sputtered again, this time unable to complete the word. Something was happening to her brain. It felt as if it were fading. Along with her vision.
The two stared at her, then at each other. The girl with the phone sucked in a sharp, strangled breath, her eyes glistening in the dull light. Was it fear that made her pupils shine so darkly?
Wendy stared into them. Felt the world spin around her.
“What are you waiting for?” the teenager with the phone said. She was eighteen years old. Just like Wendy.
The boy with the rock blinked, as if waking from a dream. He stared at Wendy, whose vision had shifted from black to white, then red to yellow.
“Please,” Wendy said. Only it came out as, “Plnngth . . .”
She raised her free hand in front of her as she staggered towards the two. Her other hand was still clutched to the back of her head. The pain in her skull was unbearable now, the blood a thick sludge on her scalp and neck.
The girl with the phone stepped back, her eyes growing wide and panicked.
“Do it!” she hissed.
“Please stop,” Wendy begged. “Plnngth strmm . . .”
The boy with the rock lifted it high above his head. The girl with the phone watched, unblinking.
Wendy tried to scream. She peeled her hand from the back of her broken skull. Lifted both hands up with her fingers splayed.
The boy brought the rock down hard, hitting Wendy straight between the eyes with a sickening crunch.
The world went white. Then silent.
Wendy fell backwards, her feet slipping in the mud. The sky spun above her, grey and dirty, like cotton wool dragged through mud. Then she was falling; tumbling and flipping down the hill, arms and legs flapping. Rolling over and over.
The girl with the phone hurried towards the edge, pinched the screen and zoomed in, filming Wendy’s descent. Then her body was gone, swallowed up by the undergrowth.
The girl glanced up at the boy and let out an unsteady breath. The boy tossed his arm back and threw the rock far into the distance.
“Did you get it?” he asked, bending down to retrieve Wendy’s phone from the ground.
The girl slowly nodded. She turned away from him to stare at the vista, and shivered in the cold.