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by Anthony Watson

He picks up the stone, rubs a thumb across its smooth surface and drops it into his rucksack to click against those already piled within. He lifts the bag, gripping tightly the tops of its straps and hefts it a couple of times to judge its weight. Any more and it’ll be too heavy to carry, so he replaces it on the springy turf and pulls the drawstrings. Once more he lifts the bag, this time swinging it around onto his shoulders, grunting at the effort, steadying himself as its heavy momentum threatens to topple him to the ground.

Taking a moment for the weight to settle, he scans the landscape around him. Once upon a time the loneliness and isolation were things to be cherished but not now that they have become his whole life.

He begins to trudge down the hill, the weight on his shoulders a physical manifestation of that he carries within. The petit teton they’d called it, a jokey tribute to its shape and its “grand” relatives in America. Their favourite place in the world, affording views of sea, moorland and mountain. “If I die first,” she’d said, “scatter my ashes up here.”

He’d agreed of course, and made the same request.

And then “if” had become “when.”

The cairn he’d built sits at their favourite viewpoint, barely noticeable, insignificant to anyone but him. Just another pile of stones.

The ground at the foot of the hill becomes wet underfoot, water rising from each footfall to soak into his boots. Difficult terrain to navigate at the best of times, more so with such a weight on his back. The stones inside the rucksack shift and grind with every movement he makes.

The waters of the lake are as black as ever. Even on the brightest of days its colour never changed. Just a big peat bog really, so you’d described it the first time you’d both scrambled up the steep path from the carpark. Before it had become such a special place.

On a calm day, to look into the water would be to see your own reflection gazing back at you from the darkness.

He steps to the edge of the lough and looks down. They’d often wondered just how deep the water was — its darkness allowing no view of the bottom and the ground at its edge falling away too steeply to allow even a tentative exploration.

Across the water, a deer stands as if frozen, watching him.

He looks back up the hill, tears blurring his vision, and whispers a goodbye. Turning back to the water, he shuffles the rucksack around on his back one more time, its weight now a reassurance rather than an encumbrance.

He’s unable to say the three words out loud but thinking them is enough — he tells himself — and as he does, steps off the tufted edge and topples forwards.

The deer bolts at the splash.

The water is freezing, but only for a moment or so.

Anthony Watson is co-founder and co-editor of Dark Minds Press (http://www.darkmindspress.com/) alongside Ross Warren. Dark Minds Press have so far published three collections of dark fiction — Dark Minds, Darker Minds and, unsurprisingly, Darkest Minds. They have also published Hungry Celluloid, the new collection from Frank Duffy, and Ride the Dark Country, a collection of weird westerns by Benedict J Jones. They have also recently started a new line of novellas with four titles published already. Among the projects for 2017 is a new collection from Mark West. As well as this, he runs the horror review blog Dark Musings (http://anthony-watson.blogspot.co.uk/).

He also writes and has been published in State of Horror: Louisiana from Charon Coin Press with his story Indigo. He has also been published in Sanitarium Magazine, which featured his short story Elder’s End. His most recent publications are the war/horror novella Winter Storm in the six-author collection Darker Battlefields from The Exaggerated Press, Forlorn Hope in Far Horizons magazine and Stitches for Smiles in the new horror magazine Worlds of Strangeness. Forthcoming is Tainted, which will feature in Demonic Possession II from James Ward Kirk Fiction.

His weird western novella The Company of the Dead made up a double-header with Benedict J Jones’ Mulligan’s Idol in Volume 1 of Dark Frontiers. Work has begun on Volume 2.

2017 will see the publication of his novel, Witnesses, by Crowded Quarantine Publications.