Here’s another chapter which didn’t make the final manuscript of Village in the Woods. Again, I really liked this chapter, despite the rather distressing subject matter. As with the other chapter I cut, it slowed down the pace of the novel, even if the tone of it fitted with the pervading sense of unease which hangs over the village in the book.
Remember, always look both ways when crossing a road.
I saw my first dead body when I was eleven years old, here in the village, on the blind corner where the verge was eaten up by the road and the only place to step was into it. My father and I were on a walk to the woods, my pocket camera slung around my neck, shorts and sturdy shoes proudly worn. A knapsack of treats to stave off hunger was on my back for later in the journey.
The victim was hit in the road by a tractor going too fast and dragged twenty paces ahead of us, spread like pink paste down the tarmac for as far as the heavy vehicle had taken to stop. I remember feeling the impact from where we stood, the heavy dull thud of body on metal, the juddering thump of the victim turning under the vehicle, over and over like a spinning top. The screeching of hydraulics, a sharp cry from a nearby witness, the hiss of brakes releasing.
And then silence, save for the crows in the high trees beyond the road. As if time itself had been knocked out of kilter, as if everything had stopped, as surely as it had for the man lying under the wheels of the machine.
It intrigued me, seeing it lying there, a body, but not a body, just a mash of stuff, something that just moments ago was full of life and now, just like that, snuffed out, drained, like a torn sack of water, sagging and empty.
It was an old man, the person who had been hit. I could tell by his clothes and the short crop of grey hair, his straw hat lying a little away from the collision, thrown aside by the impact. What was left of the man’s body lay on the metalled road behind the tractor, all twisted and knotted together, as if the man had contorted himself into a fiendishly difficult position. I could see his limbs. They reminded me of the bendy play figures on my bedroom window sill, how the arms and legs all bent at impossible angles. His pale skin, peeking from shredded clothes, looked angry, ember reds and charcoal black, like scorched flesh appears in war films.
He looked like he was sleeping, as if it had all been too much for him and he had just laid down in the middle of the road and napped, surrounded by hunks of meat scattered around him. A slipstream of watery flesh, a thin residue of raw pulled pork, trailed along the route down which he had been dragged. A shoe sat to one side of oily line, twenty feet back, a walking cane further back still.
The driver fell out of his cab, ashen, his eyes sunk in his skull like dull pennies, staggering away the moment he saw what he had done, what he had hit, his hands to his head, a wrenching and a pleading in his throat.
I watched, and then I did what came naturally to me. I took up my pocket camera and took a picture.