When the willow fell it swept to the surface of the engorged torrent in a graceful swoon. The roots wrenched from the ground flinging mud, pebbles, small boulders and the moss and grass of the bank skywards. The whipping branches flew across the water to be grabbed and hurled downstream till their anchorage on the great trunk stayed them. They streamed in the flood, tempestuous ribbons squirming and writhing in the wild water.
Dark water gushed into the hollow, washing away loose earth and debris and engulfing the tarpaulin and the body within. Recently loosened soil in the deep pit , dug just days before, disappeared into the flood. The package moved and shifted, floating now, knocking against the sides of the grave. This rain had been heavier than any for more than a century. Ground water from the hills and uplands gushed towards the coast raising the levels to beyond any in living memory. Eventually the ghastly parcel floated free of its berth, turned into the surge and bobbing and weaving on the currents it headed seaward with the rest of the debris. The cord that had been used to secure the ends began to unravel and the plastic sheet flapped against the wavelets.
It was noted on its journey three times. Spotted even though the night was black and the deluge obliterated the moon.
A farmer driving his beasts from the inundated fields flashed a torch beam over the banks and the running water. He was seeking stranded cattle and the passing shadow hardly registered, that wasn’t his concern, the threatened herd filled his mind.
A policeman stood watch on an ancient bridge. He noted the thing as it snagged on the substructure drawing his gaze. At another time he would have climbed down, poked and pulled at the strange flotsam. Tonight the passing vehicles, driving too fast for the conditions, flinging spray into the air and hurling yet more water at the buildings at risk of flooding were his concern and so he turned away, consigning the thing to the storm and the night.
An old tramp down on the harbour side saw it sweep past. By now the tarpaulin was mostly unwound, an arm had emerged to flop and slap, a useless stroke taking it nowhere. One leg gleamed intermittently when the roll turned it in the black water. The bundle pitched in the increased flow as the muddied, rubbish strewn river collided with the waves crashing and beating against the sea wall. The vagabond brain tried to make sense of the messages his eyes sent but, too many years at the end of a bottle and the need to find shelter overwhelmed any interest in the mystery. He turned away and shuffled along the flooding streets.
The corpse sailed onward, bloated with gases of putrefaction, out along the seafront, pushed by the dying force of the river into the crashing waves. It washed back and forth for a while, hurled against the harbour wall, free now of the covering, arms and legs flailing, the head lolling loosely on the ruined neck and so out with the tide. Out through the Bristol Channel and further into St George’s Channel until, days later, decayed, pecked by sea birds and nudged and nibbled by fish the remains sank to the peace of a watery grave joining the thousands of others, heroes and villains, who slumber forever in the depths.
He was missed briefly by his friends and even more fleetingly by the girls that he had run. Benny found the car, parked in the street outside his mother’s house, the key hidden under the carpet. He took it for safekeeping; it was after all in better condition than his own. They asked around in the clubs and bars but no-one had seen him. They called on his mum but she had nothing she could tell them, his room was undisturbed, his phone was missing, she didn’t know if he was coming back.
Occupied as she was with a new boyfriend and speculation that the shop where she worked was at risk of closure she had no room for concern regarding the eldest of her six children. He had gone bad and she felt his continued presence in her house to be an imposition and a risk. He was always at the edge of the law and she didn’t need the police calling or his unpleasant, untrustworthy friends visiting. She told them he had gone, she didn’t know where and didn’t care.
In truth no-one missed him, no-one wanted to speak to the police and so Benny and Jake shared his stash of drugs, divided up the girls, and their dark and dirty world washed its hands of yet another piece of filth.
Like the willow, his passing before the storm was unremarked and the rage and run of the river washed away the stain of his life and the violent meanness of his death.