Jack climbed up and pulled the body down. Toby’s arm snagged on the branches of the outgrowing tree and he had to tug hard before it teared loose with a rip of cloth. He looked down, conscious this wasn’t just any old hunk of flesh, it used to be a man, a father, a husband.
Blake, Madison and Neri stared up at him. Neri was the only one who showed any emotion in her wide eyes, breath intaking slightly with each movement. A hunk of meat broke away from the corpse and splattered onto the ground at their feet below. Jack wasn’t sure which part of the body it came from. Again, Neri was the only one who reacted, stepping back, while the mother and daughter remained still.
The stench was gagging, but Jack hoisted the remains of Toby onto his shoulders and tentatively climbed down the rocks. There was nothing ceremonious about it. He slipped on the final hurdle, landing with a thud and splatter onto the gully floor.
No-one said anything. Jack picked himself up and Neri put her arm around his back, both looking at Blake and Madison. What could they be thinking? The wife finding her husband, the daughter seeing what used to be her Dad, now a rotten, stinking pile of bone and rancid grue.
“He’s not wearing any shoes,” said Blake eventually. “And he hasn’t got his watch either.”
Was that really the first thing that went through her mind? thought Jack. There was sharpness in her ice. Jack looked up at the rock face. He pointed to a nook above the tree. “There’s one boot there,” he said.
They looked up and stared. There, above their heads, nestled a single leather Red Wing.
“It can stay there then,” said Blake. Jack wondered if this was the moment she would crack, overcome with grief and loss. No, nothing, no shake of the shoulder, Blake remained immobile, poised even. Was this shock? Was it possible for an ice maiden to melt only on the inside?
“Do you still want to take him back with you?” said Jack. It seemed ridiculous, unsure as they were of how they were going to get off the island, if they even could in one piece.
“No,” said Blake. “He’ll be buried here. This was the land he wanted so bad anyway.”
So the decision was made. Jack hauled the body to a grassy knoll on the edge of the jungle thicket away from the rock bed. Neri moved to help him, but Jack silently waved her back. This was no job for his island princess. It was his responsibility and he worked diligently to complete the task.
He wrenched a thick branch away from a tree and used it as a shovel, burrowing down into the dank soil. At first he was steady, but then passion inflamed him, fuelled by a mixture of fear, disgust, guilt and a base desire to get the liquefying carcass underground. He retched, but the nausea served a purpose. It made him dig faster, driving further down, giddy with desperation to destroy the evidence, as though doing so would somehow absolve the events that led to this. Get rid of the body and start again. There was always hope.
Reeling with sweat, heat and revulsion he dragged the remains into the meagre hole and stood panting. Blake and Madison joined him by the grave for one final gaze at the missing piece of their family unit. Passive, holding hands, upright, still, silent, bonded by their lack of conversation. This was not a family given to speeches.
Then the rain came, a few drops at first signalling a tropical flash. It lashed straight down, splattering the ground with thick pellets, drenching them within seconds and stinging their shoulders and backs. It was exhilarating, cleansing, the blood and mud washed from their scars. The lack of human tears substituted by nature’s fast flowing torrent.
The hole fast started to fill. Blake nodded to Jack, and he swiftly poured mud down onto the bloody bones, until Toby was gone from the light, compacted under the earth, where he’d eventually be broken down to join it.
It was the first time he’d ever buried someone he’d killed.