“Blackwater” by Mark Cowling
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Mark Cowling is unable to find his way out of the woods.
by Mark Cowling
Maldon, Essex, England
Her message said eight and so I was there eight sharp like a good little lapdog. Marla had a way of reaching inside of me and ripping out my backbone, like a magician yanking away a tablecloth and leaving the table contents standing, except she sent my crockery and flowers tumbling to the floor. I had left my cozy London haunts for this place: Maldon. A dull drive through provincial Essex had taken me to the crotch of the Blackwater estuary. A thick fog crept in off the grimy river and the North Sea beyond. The dense fog and the early winter evening shrouded the town, like a felon hiding his face from the press.
It wasn’t the first time she’d stood me up, so I already had a firm backup plan in place. Two hours later and I left the White Horse with a heavy head and a light wallet. After relieving myself against the wall of a condemned Chinese takeaway, I somehow stumbled back to my car. I would sleep it out on the backseat. The evening was a bust.
I had only just got comfortable, folding my large frame into the confines of the backseat, when there was a metallic tap on the window. A little fella stood outside with a big-ass shotgun pointed in my general direction. I concluded that he was not there to wish me sweet dreams.
I rolled down the window. “I’m guessing you’re an associate of Marla’s husband.”
My new friend marched me at gunpoint along a thin gravel path. The path eventually made way for grass and dirt and then sand. We continued in silence. The small man occasionally jerking my arm, forcing me to change direction.
“You don’t need to do this,” I said.
“Shut up and keep moving,” he said.
It seems Hollywood is right—in this kind of situation, most conversations consist of nothing but clichés.
After another few minutes trudging through the fog, he ordered me to stop. The sand underfoot was now cloying mud. In my inebriated state it was becoming difficult to walk in a straight line, although the shotgun pointed at my back was a good incentive.
The man gave me a hard shove in the back. “On the ground. Now.”
I did as he asked. A pool of the freezing estuary water instantly chilling me to my core. I lay there, shaking, waiting for his next move. I tried to think of some logic that would dissuade him. Money, perhaps. The prospect of life in prison to solve another man’s problem. I ruled out basic human decency—after all, who was I to lecture on that?
Before I could formulate any kind of plan, I heard the man retreating. He chickened out. He must have stood with his shotgun pointed at my prone body, trying to summon the courage, shaking even more than me. And then he fled.
After a quick glance over my shoulder, I got out of the mud and clambered several feet forward. If he did return, he would not find me in the same spot. But another ten minutes passed and my would-be assassin was gone.
I walked for several minutes only to find the mud grow thicker. When the water level began to rise, I knew I must have been heading in the wrong direction. I turned and retraced my steps, stumbling as I quickened my pace. The water level would drop and then rise again as I moved over what must be sandbanks. But the frigid water was now up to my calf muscles.
Turning to my left, I increased my pace again. I now understood: Shotgun Man was no coward. He had carried out his instructions. A dead man with bullet holes raises questions. A dead drunk who wandered off a public path is nothing but a pathetic unfortunate, a cautionary tale to skim through on the way to the office.
My body was starting to shut down, hypothermia setting in. I took off my soaking jacket and shirt. I seemed to remember that’s what you should do, although I was no longer thinking straight.
The mud claimed my left shoe. I staggered on, each step a struggle. The icy water was now pouring into the estuary mud flats. One second knee high, the next inching towards my thighs.
I tried to cry out but the air wouldn’t leave my lungs. I fell forward into the water. My arms and legs numb, unresponsive. I was done.
MARK COWLING is originally from Merseyside, UK, but now lives in Essex. His work has appeared in several online and print publications, as well as on BBC Radio.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 2, 2017
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