She was running on a trail when she found a large patch of blood on a part of the path. The blood is mixed with berries and she is initially unsure if it is blood or squashed berry juice. In her heart she knows it is blood and on her return trip, still pacing herself to the music in her headphones, she pulls out the ear buds and looks more closely.
Off in the grass, on the verge, is another bright red patch, smaller than the first but the same unnatural colour that had caught her eye on the way out. It had been very early in the morning and her breath was smokey in the cold air. More natural reds and oranges of fallen maple leaves and straw brown in needles have washed into the edge of the path from rain the night before; but this bright red trail leads into the trees and shows in the green of the remaining grass as though the sun was highlighting it. She is tempted to ignore it. It had been easy to ignore on the way out and now she feels chilled. It could be an injured raccoon or other animal, but the grass is undisturbed.
She follows the trail and down the back in more pine needles, the amount of blood seems to grow until there is a puddle, and then a man’s body. He is lying on his side with his right hand holding his stomach and blood covers his fingers, drying and no longer flowing. His face is contorted in pain and his eyes are partly open, glinting in the sun coming through the half-leaved branches. The faint beat on her headphones seems to intrude into the silence of the forest as they dangle from her neck. She bends over him and seeing that he is obviously dead, quickly turns away and clutches her own stomach as she lurches to one side, narrowly avoiding vomiting on the poor body.
Finally she stands up and fumbles with the cell phone in her jeans pocket. Her hands are not working to order, but she manages to phone for the police. It seems sad to say that she doesn’t think she needs an ambulance but the emergency operator must have had these calls before because they are calm at the other end of the scale where she is verging on hysterical. When she is asked to describe where she is, she looks around frantically for something to describe where she is.
It seems like years before the police arrive, but it is really only a few minutes. The young officer seems as shaken by the scene as she is and fusses with details that seem irrelevant to her. She is becoming impatient with his questions because all she wants to do is run away and pretend she hadn’t stopped.
Yes, she is aware that she might have thrown up a bagel and cream cheese on an important area of the crime scene.
No, she can’t give him a more accurate time when she first walked past.
No, she didn’t see anyone in the area.
No, she definitely didn’t touch the body. It had been obvious that he wasn’t alive and she had never seen a dead person before. And so much blood.
Her stomach lurched and rose again and she turned away. The officer also looked a bit under the weather.
More officers arrived with their flashing lights, blue on their vehicles. It seemed to fill the woods as they pulled off the road and got as close as they could among the trees. A woman police officer wrapped a blanket over her shoulders and walked her away from the scene a little to sit on a fallen tree. She notices the exchange of looks between the two but has lost the ability to speak. She feels so cold and lightheaded. She had dressed for a jog and was now wishing she had a warm jacket. The blanket smells new and is scratchy and not as comforting as her own jacket would be.
There is no mention of the body in the woods in the newspaper the next day and the police arrive at her house early to tell her that she is not to discuss this with anyone. They repeat this order in different phrases as though she was a dog needing a lot of training and reinforcement. She almost expects to get a biscuit when she agrees to comply. She doesn’t want to ask the detective with the unkempt greasy hair and greying bristly chin why it is so secret, but she would have liked to. The uniform police officers in the woods had been much more reassuring, but in the back of her mind she wonders if she is a suspect. They took her statement but it seemed to be more a matter of routine than for information. It was as though they has known the answer to the who and why of the death before she had even arrived on the scene. Now she was an inconvenience they needed to cover up.. to silence.
Who had she told about it?
Nobody, because she had gone mute and when they had taken her home she had downed the best part of a bottle of vodka and slept on the couch. The hangover that morning had not made dealing with the detective any easier and it had not helped her queasy stomach. But at least when she was hammered she had stopped seeing the blood. There had been so much blood!