another writing prompt by Chuck Wendig of “Terrrible Minds”
(First paragraph must reference a dead body.)
Only a finger protruded from the matted line of wet leaves outlining the perimeter of the woods. The rest of the body was covered, buried in the decomposing brown forest carpet. Dismal winter had already staked its claim, pushing fall away with a hard shove. If not for the fact that it was an unusually sunny day, the boys might never have seen the brilliant sparkle from the ring on the corpse’s finger.
Cole balanced himself, arms outstretched, proceeding one foot before the other along the cold iron beam, while Billy hopped the wood planks between the railroad tracks, skipping every other board. Summer had come to an end too soon and now that they were back in school again, they spent their weekends searching for adventure in the woods.
“Hey, wassat?” Billy pointed at the flash of light reflected in the muck.
“What? Where?” asked Cole. He jumped down from the six inch beam to see what his friend was looking at.
Billy placed his dirty index finger alongside Cole’s head to aim his line of sight in the right direction.
“Oh, I see it! What do you think it is?”
“I dunno,” said Billy. “Let’s go look.”
The boys raced to the tree-line, laughing and wrestling along the way, each trying to get there first. Cole was faster and slightly ahead but Billy shot his foot out between Cole’s legs and tripped him. They landed on the ground a few feet away from the object of their attention. Slightly scuffed, but none the worse, their gruff giggles filled the air in a carefree way that only boys under the age of twelve can still dare to enjoy.
Childish laughter changed to squeals of terror when they saw the source of the sparkle. It was a diamond ring, on a dead grey finger crowned by a chipped red fingernail. The boys jumped away, shuffling backwards and watching to see if the hideous thing came after them.
“Holy shit Billy, did you see that?”
“Y…y…yeah. I saw it!”
“That was a freakin’ hand,” cried Cole.
“A lady’s hand,” said Billy, it had nail polish.”
The boys sat in the dirt, panting and staring at the macabre addition to the pristine forest.
“I think it moved,” said Cole. “Did you see it move?”
They watched for the slightest twitch from the finger or any movement from the area.
“Hey Cole, do you think there’s like, you know, a whole body under there?”
“Um, I dunno,” he swallowed hard.
“I never saw a real dead body before. Dead animals on the road and stuff, but never a person.”
“Me either,” said Cole. He read Billy’s mind as only best buds can. “Wanna go look?”
“I guess,” Billy agreed. “But if that thing moves I’m outa there.”
“Yeah, me too!”
Shoulder to shoulder they inched toward the hideous thing. It never moved.
Without a sound, Billy motioned to Cole, pointing two fingers at his eyes, watch. Then he made wide loops in the air, check the perimeter, of the mucky mound from which the hand protruded. Cole nodded and the boys circled the area like Sumo wrestlers, as they looked for a clue to the mystery.
For a while, they just stared at the lump before them. But soon, morbid curiosity got the best of them. Cole picked up a fallen branch, and told Billy. “We don’t know what’s under there, maybe rats or snakes.”
“Yeah.” Billy grabbed a bigger branch with a forked end.
“Okay. Um,” Cole gulped loudly. He wiped the cold beads of sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “Let’s use these branches to scrape away the leaves.”
Billy said, “I’m a little scared.”
“Me too!” agreed Cole. Let’s start at the other side and look for the feet.”
The boys brushed away mud and debris, until they saw the form of a shoe start to take shape. Undaunted, they continued to excavate the body for a better look at what they thought they wanted to see.
The deceased was a young woman, blonde, fully clothed and most definitely dead. A gentle prod by Cole evidenced that rigor mortis had set in. Lying prone, one arm was down at her side, the other one had frozen in a beckoning position. It seemed that her last act in life had been reaching out for help.
“What do you think happened to her Billy?”
“I can’t tell. Maybe we should try to roll her over, see if she was shot or something.”
“I don’t know, Bill. This is really creepy. We should go get the cops.”
“We came this far Cole, we owe it to her to find out how she died. Then we’ll go tell the cops. Come on, we’ll do it together.”
“Okay,” Cole replied in a shaky voice.
They dug their sticks into the soft mud beneath the dead woman’s body for leverage as they tried to lift her.
“On the count of three,” said Billy. “One…two…three.”
They lifted together and the body flopped over, landing with the flat sound of a plywood board. The victim’s forehead was smashed in where she’d landed on a sharp rock. The smell of her rotting flesh gagged them.
“Oh man,” Cole covered his face with his shirttail and leaned over for a closer look at the fatal wound. “It looks like she slipped and fell. An accident.”
“This is so gross, can we go now?” asked Billy.
“Yeah,” said Cole. Let’s get the hell outa here.”
“Should we cover her back up first?”
“Nah, it’ll be easier for the cops to find her now.”
The boys left the corpse and walked back in silence, side by side along the tracks, the way they came.
“Hey, Cole?” asked Billy.
“I’m not gonna hang out here anymore.”
“Me either, Billy. Me either.”