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None Too Many Mornings...

None Too Many Mornings...

By PeterHunter

None Too many Mornings…
Peter Hunter

The Exmoor night was running out of darkness, needing an hour to dawn - the moon was already dipping below the rim of the moor leaving a dusting of dim stars - a thin-pencilled sash of pink hinting daylight’s first efforts at prising the lid off the night.
Amanda shivered again, more than the pre-dawn chill justified, moving gently first one leg then the other to maintain circulation. Every few seconds she rubbed her hands, before sensuously caressing the smooth walnut stock of the Rigby - the richly figured grain warmly contrasting against the icy chill of the metal - long fingers sliding from wood to barrel touching the Mauser bolt before, searching, reassuringly towards its curved trigger.
Surely, not long now - not many minutes before her target would switch on the bedroom light, open the curtains and look searchingly across the valley - his valley - beyond the rocks towards the emerging day. His last day - if everything went well, and she made a clean accurate shot over the 125 yards.
The rifle was an old friend - her brother’s for culling fallow deer on their farm two miles below, hidden beyond the western ridge under the retreating night. Its ancient buildings were still folded in the velvet shadows of the deep valley carved by the river. Her family would be warm, secure in their beds in the old grey stone house. Only the animals - hens guarded by their old cockerel, the two sleepy sheepdogs - and of course, the horses - would be awake, eager to start the business of the day.

Beneath her, in the narrow valley with its tumbling, twisting, boulder strewn stream, he would, he must surely be wakening. He - Amanda could not bring herself to name him, as she shivered with cold, fear and tension in that early dawn. He, her lover - no, her ex-lover - maybe at this very moment was cuddling his wife, perhaps even initiating the first fingertip of foreplay to stimulate passion in the unfolding morning.
The chill texture of the Rigby’s steel against her own fingertips killed whatever sentimentality she felt. His wife was not her problem, a mere irrelevance. The problem was the growing life inside her and the guilt and shame from his cruel rejection - his refusal to accept responsibility. She couldn’t face the painful realisation she'd been merely a moment of fun - another impressionable teenage girl seduced by the glamour of the West Country hunting set, perhaps the charismatic power of a politician - now a junior minister in government.

The eastern sky was warming slowly, a pastel pink washing the underside of some wispy cumulo-stratus cloud.
It promised a good day…
She swung the rifle gently; finally pointing at the fattening dawn through the telescopic sight - fearful lest condensation had formed, fogging the lens. But the glass remained gin clear, the scope was expensive and high quality, its cross hairs sharp against the emerging light.
Soon it would be over…
Five hundred yards - high on the hillside above the girl it paused - muscles trembling - heartbeat accelerating…
Crouched an all together different hunter…
Bending at the knees, it lowered its body deeper into the bracken - instinctively reducing its profile in case an even greater predator might be watching - ears stretched erect and alert - scanning independently. With hearing eight times more sensitive than ours, easily registering the tiny click of her signet ring against the chamber bolt of the rifle.
Pausing - decision made, the animal straightened - changed direction ten degrees right.
And resumed it’s silent stalking…
Amanda’s thoughts were confused scrutinising the farmhouse for signs of activity - a light, perhaps the bark of a dog. He was scheduled in London by lunchtime, so surely it meant rising in that chill pre-dawn - riding perhaps for half an hour, enjoying the clean sweet air of the moors - or walking his two retrieves Sam and Sally by the trout stream. Surely, he couldn’t contemplate six days in Westminster, without first paying homage to his gods of the western moors…
The animal edged another fifty yards. It hadn’t fed for four days - not because food was scarce, the moors were abundant in sheep and deer. It had chosen not to eat - leisurely digesting its last meal, a lamb, an Exmoor straggler - lying replete in the dark density of a band of conifers - dreamily slumbering, safe and hidden - at peace with its world.
Eighty three inches - from black whiskered nostrils to the tip of its upward curving thirty-two inch tail - it stood twenty-six inches at the shoulders and weighed one hundred and sixty seven pounds - all solid muscle.
Anyone watching would have thought it coloured black. Careful examination - by anyone daring to be that close - would have seen a dull vertical stripes giving a texture to its coat.
In those lingering shadows, it was almost invisible…
Silently, one foot in front of the other, it left distinct round five-inch paw prints on ground soft from recent showers. A zoologist would, unhesitatingly, pronounce the genus panthera, but hesitate before finally classifying.
Fifty more yards - steady breathing, silent - condensation from its nostrils etching the chill moorland air - edging lower, lean belly stealthily scraping the wild flowers - a silent, deadly hunter…
Whatever Amanda, still caressing her loaded rifle, was thinking, she was focused on the house below, not the bracken above and behind.
The creatures eyes - dilated jet pupils centred in pools of liquid gold - already resolving her still form, her waxed green jacket blending with the bracken and coarse grass in those gunmetal-washed shadows.
One hundred yards further - the creature’s breath shortened, inhaling more oxygen, pulse accelerating - primeval instincts surging…
Again it lowered its body, furrowing the grass, inching so slowly.... so very slowly the last few yards. Its ears were flattened back along its feline skull - sight and smell replacing hearing - poised, tensing - atavistic reflexes sharp and fast…
Not long now, Amanda thought. Doubt troubled her - was this really the best way to act? Was it rational or just romantic heroics - revenge of a pregnant schoolgirl - murdering her lover in the chill dawn, only yards from his wife? Leaving her unborn child fatherless - murdering it too - as she would turn the gun on herself.

* * *

Sam and Sally yelped excitedly as their master eased into the brogues he wore for his constitutionals to the moor.
He would make this morning’s outing a brief one, before his chauffeured Jaguar carried him smoothly over the long miles to Westminster. He disdained the ministerial Rover - private wealth allowed him his own, more prestigious transport.
The Right Honourable Charles Laarn-Massey - Prime Ministerial potential if he rejected bloodspots and kept his trousers on in the company of young women. He was careful to conceal such electoral liabilities from the gutter press.
His charismatic charm was irrefutable, with horses, dogs or young ladies, but now he laboured up the narrow track across the bracken-covered ridge, trying desperately to forget last night’s embarrassment.
He wasn’t the first - probably not the last, 40’ish Master of Staghounds taking advantage of the heady sexual atmosphere amongst the West Country hunting set - enjoying the bodies of the girls who rode with them.
Being an MP helped - his recent promotion to junior minister fuelling his potent aphrodisiac of power. No such thing, as an ugly rich man to women - but to be a good looking, rich and powerful member of Government and also a Master of Staghounds - was sexual wealth beyond tally…
Still, recalling the embarrassment at Fiona’s party, as Amanda drunk, losing control, became shrill and coarse in the force and substance of her accusations. Anyone would think she was the first eighteen year old impregnated by a married man. How could she be certain it was his and not someone else’s? Silly cow - thee months, shouldn’t happen these days with the pill and other contraceptives available.
It was something that could be rectified for a few hundred pounds - but to make such a fuss in public, that was unacceptable, not done.
Thank God Jessica his wife understood - at least enough not to add significantly to the problem. The understanding Jess long acknowledged his infidelities, although never condoning them. She was the perfect political wife, attractive without being too stunning - intelligent, exceptionally well informed and able to manipulate most people - including the PM…
She'd long sacrificed any wifely jealousy on the altar of his political career. Knowing he was incorrigible, her intelligence decreed she needed him, both financially and furthering her own expanding influence.
Still - as Laarn-Massey inhaled the sharp moorland air - he could do without such problems. For maybe the twenty thousandth time, he resolved to control his urges and avoid further embarrassment.
His bitch, Sally, was whining pitifully, returning to heel without command. The hairs on her neck were erect and her tail stayed low and still.
Something had frightened the animal…
‘What’s wrong, old girl? Easy... easy now… What’s the matter?’
His practised tones calmed the bitch... Something on the hill had obviously alarmed and frightened her. Now Sam became agitated - not frightened, but barking - his noisy excited yelping coming from amongst the bracken up the slope.
Stumbling over a knot of grey rock - Laarn-Massey’s first reaction was to be violently sick. Fortunately, he had not yet eaten breakfast, or he might have added to the malodorous mess on the ground. He knew instinctively, before even recognising the surprisingly unmarked face - that it was Amanda…
Or at least what remained of her…
The creature had covered the final yards - accelerating to a speed of thirty-six miles per hour - almost as fast as its cousin the cheetah - travelling in complete silence.
Amanda had first become aware when the heavy animal landed on her prone body, crushing nine of her ribs, forcing air from her lungs in a rasping scream. Instantly she felt searing pain as the claws pierced her back - spikes two and a half inches long preventing her throwing the animal off, even if she had strength left to do so.
But death had not come quickly… not from the creature's crushing leap - or from claws penetrating rib cage and thighs… Neither from the teeth severing neck muscles, crushing vertebrae and puncturing her windpipe…
No - humans are tenacious of life - even when the most appalling injuries are inflicted. Death was more gradual… slow strangulation from the animal’s vice like grip - suffocating, squeezing - stifling the last residue of life in a mess of spurting blood, pulped muscle and splintered bone.
Even that should have been enough - sufficient horror to set Laarn-Massey gagging. It didn’t need any more - not the open chest cavity, the defilement of a once beautiful young body where the abdomen had been opened by those razor claws - the heart, liver, kidneys and the rest of her intestines had formed the first course of the animals meal.
At least Laarn-Massey had the presence of mind to grab her rifle from alongside the mess of viscera before fleeing down the hill. He needed time to think before summoning the authorities. He owed his career and his future that - to conceal any evidence of her intentions…
It would be difficult enough avoiding involvement in this affair - without the added complication of a loaded gun a few yards from his lonely moorland home on this beautiful morning…

© Peter Hunter

* The above short story is extracted from a passage in Peter Hunter’s thriller Time Of The Spider published on Amazon Kindle.

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8 Mar, 2012
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