This is another flash fiction piece that originally appeared at Tribe's excellent Flashing in the Gutters site.
Way out there, we couldn’t do anything but bury the girl and leave a marker for someone to find. With Ray already limping from his knee injury, we couldn’t carry her back, and if we just left her in the woods, half naked and cut up so bad, animals would come along and no one would ever find her, or even know who she was. So I dug with the camp shovel, doing what I could against the hard earth, while Ray gently rolled her into his sleeping bag, making sure the dirt couldn’t touch her in the grave.
He’d scouted around for her gear and searched the pockets of what was left of her shorts. Nothing.
“Either somebody did this then robbed her,” he said, “or whoever she was with did it. Her boyfriend.”
I dragged the sleeping bag into the shallow grave and covered it, smoothing the surface as best I could. We owed her that, at least.
Ray held his cap over his heart. “Say a few words.”
“This isn’t a funeral, man, we’re just keeping her safe till . . . ”
So I bowed my head. “We’re real sorry about this, miss, and we’re not just abandoning you out here. Someone will come back. And someone will make sure you get justice.”
“Amen,” Ray said.
We cut the trek short after that and plotted a course to the nearest station. I marked the grave on the map and stuck the shovel as deep as I could in the ground near her feet. I reckoned we had a day’s hike ahead of us, and Ray’s limp got worse as the hours passed. But he wouldn’t slow down.
We heard the stream before we saw it, water rushing quickly over worn gray rocks. When we reached it, I saw something on the far side of the water. Next to a smoldering fire, a shirtless guy in shorts stood stretching outside a two-person tent.
We crouched down and watched for awhile. The guy was young (about the girl’s age) and lean, with a mop of curly brown hair and several days worth of beard. After a few minutes, he started packing up his camp, handling the gear with practiced efficiency. We could just hear the tune he whistled over the water.
“He’s got an extra pack,” Ray whispered.
A small-framed bag sat at the edge of his campsite like it didn’t belong. We knew right then it was hers. Beside me, Ray tensed for action.
“We can’t bring him back,” I said.
“We won’t be able to send anyone back for her.”
He winced. “I guess not.”
The rest was easy. I marched down to the edge of the stream and called over to the guy, asking for help getting my injured buddy across. He didn’t think twice. You tend to trust people out here. He jumped over, moving from rock to rock, and when he was close I saw the scratches on his chest, deep furrows around the ribcage like she’d fought hard as he pinned her down.
Halfway across, Ray ran his clasp knife across the guy’s throat, then pushed him into the water. He gurgled for help and tried a few times to get his footing on the stream bed, but by then I could see a plume of blood in the fast-moving stream. About twenty yards down, he managed to grab hold of a rock and get his head above the surface. His skin was pale now, translucent as the girl he’d killed, and he watched us cross the rest of the stream with unblinking eyes.
“You know why,” Ray yelled. He started chucking the guy’s gear in after him, and he cried while he did it.
I like to think somebody found her, saw the shovel and dug her up. There hasn’t been anything in the paper, though, and I’m a realist. She’s still out there somewhere, at a spot marked on a map I’ve long since burned. We couldn’t keep our promise. But I hope she understands.