Tom glanced over his shoulder at Cheryl. She just watched her feet as they trod the almost empty landscape.
He wasn’t the type to pry, and thought he did pretty well to only bring it up then, but it did bug him.
Where had she gone?
After dinner she had said that she needed a short walk to help digest. Fine. Alone. Not a problem, he’d go back to the room.
She showed up over two hours later.
Not a word was said.
In fact, very little was said at all since then. She was quiet, guarded, all through breakfast, only speaking in mono-syllables if spoken to.
They were there through an odd series of coincidences.
Tom thought back as they hiked across the open moorland.
“I Googled the name.”
Tom glanced over at Cheryl. Name?
She handed him her tablet.
There was a photo of a small village seeming in the middle of nowhere.
“Arrwold?” He read the word out loud.
Cheryl nodded. “Yes, it means something like ‘scarred-lands’. This is the place.”
He remembered. A few months earlier he had asked where she wanted to go for their next exploration. She had instantly said “Arrwold” but, when asked, she had no idea what it meant.
He had totally forgotten about it, thinking that their next adventure should be, perhaps, Sweden. Or maybe the Andes. Yeah, Patagonia seemed nice.
“There are hiking trails into the moors. It looks gorgeous. Maybe we should go…”
Was she serious?
But two days later his brother, Andy, sent him a family history. Andy had been working on the genealogy for years, something that Tom could care less about.
Could care less about, that is, until he saw that his dad’s side of the family came from a village named “Arrwold.” One Thomas Bradley had emigrated to Boston in 1832, leaving the village behind.
That did it, they knew where they were going.
“Let’s stop here for a while,” Tom said.
He pointed towards a large boulder that guarded the trail as it hit the peak of a very low ridge.
Cheryl nodded, and climbed up the back side of the outcropping.
Tom followed and sat on the edge, letting his feet dangle as he studied the valley and distant walls of some hill or tor in the distance.
“Do you know why your ancestors left Arrwold for America?” Cheryl asked as they chewed on trail-mix.
“No. Why did anyone leave two hundred years ago? I’m sure they all had their own story…”
She was staring off in silence, her face guarded. He’d known her for years, yet this was different. What was up?
After a minute, she nodded slowly.
“Why indeed. He had his reasons, this Thomas of yours. Nobody knew he’d done anything, but he did. Dead men tell no tales. Or dead women…”
“Do you believe in past lives?”
She nodded. “Yes, though that word has some of the wrong connotations. It’s just….”
She looked away.
He went back to studying the distant hill, but his mind was full of questions. What in the world was she talking about?
The sun went behind a cloud and their little perch was in the cold wind. Time to move on.
“Are you ready?” he asked. He scooted to the edge of the rock that was farthest from the path to climb down.
“Everyone thought it was an accident, you know?”
She hadn’t stirred yet, the contents of her day pack not yet stowed away.
“Nobody would think that Thomas would ever do such an awful thing. Ha!”
“OK, what’s up?” he asked. He sat cross-legged, his back to the far edge the stone.
Her face changed, became almost menacing.
“I think I’ve always known who I am and suspected who you were.”
“Who I was? You know who I am. Hello? Remember me? Tom Bradley, they guy you met when we were both in grad school?”
“Yes, Thomas Bradley, but we met long, long before grad school. Only I had an accident.”
She pushed him hard in the chest. Before he knew what had happened, he was falling backwards and headfirst off of the rock.
The light came back, but the pain stayed. Tom couldn’t move. Cheryl was standing above him.
“Yeah, an accident, as in, ‘ooops, looks like you had an accident. Wait here and I’ll get help,’ type of accident. Of course she was gone before the help came, before she could tell anyone. But, perhaps, she can still get revenge.”
For a moment a scene flashed through his mind, all jumbled and fragmented. Desire. Soft flesh. A scream. Arranging the clothes on the dying woman so nobody would guess.
Cheryl smiled for a second. “Off to get help now. Bye.”
And then she was gone.
He lay looking up at the large stone that hid him from anyone on the path.
What did happen all of those years ago?
If the wind knew, it guarded its secret, only whispering, “You’ll find out.”
This was written for Sue Vincent’s writephoto challenge. The photo at the top is hers, and she also provided the key word, Guarded. I wrote this out, stream of conscious style, but for some odd reason, I wrote the same story this week that I wrote last week! Oh well….
(After I wrote this, I almost went back and changed the woman from the 19th century to be named Mary, so at the end, the wind could cry Mary ;) )