Sophia had been running since she was eighteen-months-old. The story goes that one-day Sophia pulled herself up, with the aid of the sofa, and set off out the back door and down the garden at a run.
Sophia loved running. School sports days were no hardship, running for the bus a thrill, her early morning runs before work a necessity if she was going to get through the tedium of the next eight hours.
Monday morning started at 05.30am with the usual inconsequential nonsense from the local radio station. Muscle memory allowed her to shower and dress in a somnambulant state. Trotting downstairs to the kitchen, Sophia grabbed a banana from the hook above the fruit bowl and opened the back door for Snoopy, her black Labrador.
Fifteen minutes later she and Snoopy were out on their usual route across the fields and into a small copse of trees. Headphones in, Manic Street Preachers playing, her feet moved in time to the beat. Mud splattered up her calves, cooling them as they tingled with the life supplied by her steady heartbeat.
Out here the air smelt of pine trees: clean and fresh. Flapping carrion birds in the canopy broke the peace as she pounded on. The bracken echoed with Pheasants cackling in disapproval. A shotgun punctuated the misty air. Someone was shooting rabbits. Occasionally a squirrel scampered up tree. Sophia had seen a weasel once, slinking its way across the path, like a gymnast’s ribbon.
A flash of white poking out of the bracken caught her eye, breaking her stride. Snoopy stopped to investigate. He was always a good few yards in front of her searching for something to snack on; a Labradors raison d’être. A sniff and a paw, followed by a curt bark cutting through the music in Sophia’s ears, made her slow down to a trot as she drew level with her dog.
It was a white pair of trainers. Further into the bracken there were sock clad feet. Pushing the undergrowth aside and following the feet up she saw they belonged to a guy she’d seen in the wood before; a fellow runner. No more than a nod had passed between the two of them. It was a shock to see him lying there pale, grey almost.
Sophia’s first thought was what was he doing lying down, trainers off, by the side of the path? And then she saw it: a dark pool spreading out into the grass from underneath him. She leant forward to feel his neck for a pulse. She’d seen it done on TV but never thought she would have to do it. Nothing. She started to panic. She needed to get help. She hadn’t brought her mobile. Sophia enjoyed the freedom running gave her, a mobile phone would interrupt that. Running for help was the only option but the runner couldn’t be left like this.
Sophie pushed him onto his side, Snoopy fretting around her as she did. Blood covered her hands as the large wound in his back was revealed, spreading out across the dark brown running top. Another shot rang out somewhere in the wood, much closer than the others. She jumped almost dropping the man before she had him balanced on his side. Pulling off her thin fluorescent running jacket she laid it over his cold body. The gun went off again. They were far too close. There shouldn’t be any shooting in this part of the wood, so close to the footpath. That must be it, Sophia reasoned. The runner had bent down to do something with his shoes and someone had thought he was a pheasant. With his brown running top it was just possible. She would have to be careful. Her bright red t-shirt meant at least she stood a chance of being seen without her jacket.
Standing up she looked around to see where the shots were coming from. If she was going to run for help, she didn’t fancy getting shot in the process. Through the trees about twenty-foot away she could see a figure dressed in khaki, shotgun cocked over their arm.
‘Hey’! Sophia waved her arms to attract their attention.
She got it. They turned to face her. She couldn’t see their expression but as they raised the gun and looked down the sites, their intention was clear.
‘What the hell?’ Ducking Sophie missed the first shot but she knew shotguns; there’d be another. She lurched forward back onto the path and started running. Looking back she saw Snoopy running in the opposite direction, towards her attacker.
‘Snoopy,’ she shouted, but she dare not stop. She heard the gun go off again and Snoopy barking. She ran on. The road was a quarter of a mile further; she just had to keep going. Her pulse thundered in her head as she stumbled on the uneven ground fighting hard to stay upright. She didn’t look back. Her brain struggled to process what had just happened. Why would someone want to kill her? Who was the runner in the bracken? Was it even an accident? If she could just reach the road …
She could hear the traffic in the distance getting louder and louder.
Bursting through the tree line she waved her arms frantically at a car as it entered a dip in the road on the way up to the hill where she was standing. Sophia looked back over her shoulder. The figure was almost on her and raised the gun again.
The car appeared out of the dip a few metres away and she ran, still waving, into the road. Another gunshot, too close and her khaki clad assailant stumbled into the road tripping over a dead log. Falling into the bonnet of the oncoming car, the screeching of rubber on the ground was the last thing he heard.
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