Race to Live

“Happy Tuesday, my friends. Holly and Sam have been on adventure. Let’s go and join them.”

I wrote this story in answer to the following prompts:
Pensitivity’s Three Things Challenge — Find – mind – Behind
FOWC with Fandango  — Oblivious
Your Daily Word — Cachet
AuthorWorld – Picture above – into the hills

Race to Live

It was race time on the most romantic event of the year in the Peak District. This was the fourth annual Couple’s Challenge run. A gruelling fifteen-mile course through the hills lay ahead of the runners. To compete each pair had to be in a relationship and they had to finish together.

“I’m glad we have a bit of cloud cover,” remarked Holly Ward in a breathy voice. Her face glowed with exertion and yet she was smiling. She was running smoothly beside her footballer boyfriend Samuel. The two looked every bit the loving couple in their matching burgundy and white running shorts and shell vests.

“Me too. It’s already hot without the direct sun,” Samuel smiled at her. He was enchanted by her shiny black ponytail bobbing behind her as she ran by his side. “That’s five miles behind us, how are you feeling?”

“I’m adoring this and loving running with you.” Holly cast her icy blue eyes over the rolling green hills. She took in ancient fence lines and valley’s rolling into the cloudy distance, “I wish somebody could steamroll the track a little flatter for us though.”

Samuel chuckled as they headed uphill beneath a stunning hen harrier soaring high in the clouds. “It is a little lumpy around here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s fun though,” Holly reached over and kissed him without breaking stride. “The stile should be up ahead, right?

The footballer nodded, “Yup, it’s on this fence.”

They followed a rickety fence line adorned with race flags dominated by pink hearts. Find those flags and you know you’re on track. Holly paused to sign hers and Samuel’s names on the last flag at the stile acting as a checkpoint. Fiona and Steve were still in the lead with Liath and Everard in second.

The stile held pride of place atop a mossy hill.

Samuel neatly vaulted into a sitting position on top and offered a hand. “Allow me, Milady.”

“Thank you, good sir,” Holly grinned as she took his hand and mantled the obstacle with a cachet of grace. On the other side, she unclicked her water bottle from her belt and drank thirstily as she fell into running stride again.

Almost at once path split. The right route descended into the valley. A left-hand fork rose into the heathery hillside. An arrow full of hearts indicated the latter was the right way to go.

Samuel immediately followed the direction of felt Holly slow beside him. “What’s up, precious?”

“The two pairs ahead of us went into the valley,” Holly indicated the footprints within the earthy track.

“Hmm, why didn’t they follow the sign?”

“Well, that way appears to be downhill. So, it’s an easier route at least,” Holly looked up the hill, her sleuthy mind told her something was wrong but they couldn’t stand here all day. “Come on, we should follow the sign and complete the course correctly,” she decided.

“Good call, maybe they’ll get disqualified.” Samuel set the pace again as they powered up the hill.

“We need to be careful now. If we run on oblivious, we might crash into danger?” Holly warned.

“I’m thinking the same thing, let’s stay vigilant. Victory means nothing if you get hurt,” Samuel gave her a look of conviction that said he’d protect her with his own life.

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Holly curled her fingers in his as they crested the hill within a narrow path between the heather. “We’ll finish this together.”

“You bet we —”

Holly felt Samuel’s hand tear away from hers, “Sam!” She turned in time to see him tumble into the heather.

“Gah! That was no fun!” Samuel groaned as he wrestled free of the low growing shrub.

“Are you, okay?” Holly took his hands and began to examine him for injuries. It was then she saw it.

“I’m fine, I snagged my foot in the heath —”

 “No, you didn’t!” Holly gulped back rising fear and revulsion as she pointed to the edge of the track. “You fell over a leg.”

“I’ve heard of giving an arm and a leg to win a race, but this is taking it too far!” Samuel said feeling repulsed.

Holly left his side and approached the limb. “He wasn’t racing!”

The leg was still attached to its owner who lay hidden in the heather. The man in his late twenties early thirties was wearing a khaki tracksuit.

“Is he still alive?” Samuel asked with his mobile phone to his ear.

Holly shook her head having knelt beside him, “No, he’s cold. I’d say he died sometime last night.”

“What do you reckon? Heart attack from running?”

“Only if heart attacks result in severe head trauma,” Holly indicated the side of his head closest to the ground. “You can’t see it from where you’re standing but somebody beat him to death.”

“Bloody hell!” Samuel shook his head. “We have no signal either.”

“Then we’ve got to keep running until we get a signal or find a race attendant to report this to.” Holly stood up and took a GPS tracker from her belt. All racers were required to wear one in case they became lost in the hills. She placed a tracker under the deceased man. “This will make sure we can find him again.”

Samuel squeezed her shoulders affectionately, “I love it when you do smart things like that,” he said as they began running again.

“Thanks, sweetheart.” Holly pointed downhill. “Look there are some of the other runners, the two in the pink are Jess and Wes. They were behind us at the last checkpoint.”

“So, they didn’t follow the sign either. They’d have run past us if they did.”

“What if they did follow the sign?”

“What do you mean?” Samuel took her hand and lovingly guided her over a rocky section of the track as it began to descend in height.

“The first and second place runners go into the valley. We follow the sign and come up here. And then the runners behind us go into the valley as well.” Holly gave him a grave look, “I think we’re all following the sign, Sam!”

The footballer checked his phone and shook his head, “You think somebody altered the sign directing us alone up here to find the body?”

Reaching flatter ground, the couple increased their pace.

“That’s the only thing that makes sense.” Holly noticed the path splitting ahead of them. “We should go right. We’ll be heading toward the other runners then.”

“Good call!” Samuel led to some uneven scrub and fell into step beside her again. “I don’t get it, why would a murderer lead people to his victim?”

“I don’t think he did.”

“Then who?” Samuel had begun flicking his eyes from the path ahead to the valley wall.

“Somebody else either saw the murder or knew it happened up here. They wanted or needed the body to be discovered by us.”

“I hope the murderer doesn’t know we found the body.”

“Me too!” Holly felt the tension tightening the muscles as they ran on strongly.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” Samuel took her hand and veered off the track. “There’s a rabbit —”

Bang —

Holly saw foliage fly from the heather as a bullet burrowed through inches from her left calf. “Oh —”

“Just run, precious!” Samuel plunged down the hillside with her following a rabbit path he’d seen.

Holly glimpsed a man in army fatigues rising out of the heather.

Smoke issued from the barrel of his hunting rifle as he aimed again.

“Duck!” she yelled as they descended as fast as they could.

From then on, the bullets flew in volleys. The heather was peppered with a lethal barrage.

Only by zigzagging their way down the hillside was the couple able to avoid being shot. There was no cover out here, the only chance of survival was to keep running.

“This is crazy!” Samuel breathed through a mask of sweat.

“I – know. Keep going!” Holly replied flinching at the sound of another volley of bullets heading their way.

This time the runners in pink heard the shots. They stopped and looked directly at Holly and Samuel sprinting towards them.

“No! Keep running!” Samuel yelled waving them on.

“You followed the sign into the valley, right?” Holly asked as they reached the runners.

“Yes, how’d you get up there?” Jess replied. “Why are you getting shot at?”

Bang – bang!

“Too many questions! Just run!” Samuel urged.

Wes swore as the earth exploded before him.

“No time for swearing either!” Holly remarked as she and Samuel took the lead and again veered off the track.

“You two, stay on track call the police if you can!” Samuel ordered while scaring rabbits out of thick clumps of heather.

“Where are we going, Sam?” Holly cursed her feet catching the uneven ground leaving a stumbling.

Samuel grabbed and prevented her from falling. “There!”

For the first time she saw it, an old stone-walled miner’s hut, jutted from the ground. It reminded her of an old rotten tooth sticking out of the lower gum of an ancient man. There was something else to the side too.

“Nice! Get inside!” Holly panted as they drew near.

A fresh salvo of bullets flashed between them exploding against the wooden door in a shower of splinters.

Samuel slammed into the door and tore it open. He raced inside and turned only to realise Holly wasn’t with him. “Holly? Where are you?”

Silence answered him.

Putting his nose out of the door, he recoiled as bullets exploded into the wood and stone about his head. “Please, stop shooting!” he prayed. ‘Don’t shot my precious, Holly!’ he added to himself as he rolled into cover behind the stone wall.

“Such a cute couple. Pity you have to die for putting your noses where they don’t belong!” said a cold, hard voice.

“We never saw you. There’s nothing we can tell the police that would convict you of murder. You can let us go, we’re harmless to you.”

“No, you know too much!”

Samuel saw the doorway darken; the man was right outside. A glance about revealed the cabin to be devoid of objects. No furnishings, nothing but a few dried-out leaves and twigs lay on the earthen floor.

“Want to hold your precious lady while I blow her pretty skull to bits first?” said the man entering with his gun leading the way. “I know, she’ll catch me if I… Damn! Where is she?”

“You evil scumbag! We only saw the body. If you’d have remained hidden, we’d never have seen you and nobody else had to die!” Samuel yelled as he raised his hands and looked down the barrel of the gun.

Beyond it, soulless dark eyes stared out from beneath a thick mane of salty, black hair and a beard to match. There was no wavering of the gun, this man would shoot him dead and have no remorse.

“Wrong, I was stupid. I left too much evidence!” The man cracked the barrel of his gun and loaded two more rounds into the chamber.

“We know the man was murdered. We knew nothing else. You’re killing us for no reason!” Samuel yelled desperate to make the man hear him.

“Where is she?” The man raised the gun.

Rusty metal swung through the door and clanged off his skull in an explosion of iron fragments and rocks.

“I’m here!” Holly said as she watched him crumple to the ground. She entered the hut holding an old metal miner’s bucket. It was half full of rock and dented from the impact.  “Hey, sweetheart. I thought you trusted my sleuthy brain?”

Samuel let out a sigh of relief. “Nice save!” He breathed as he hugged her, “I love you, Precious. I always trust you.”

Holly gave him a quick kiss, “Good! Then you know I’ve got more evidence.”

“But of course, Sleuth Holly Ward won’t stop until she has all the criminals in prison.” Samuel grinned as they left the cabin.

He and Holly dragged some heavy metal equipment from the second collapsed structure. They piled it in front of the door. With the man barricaded inside they set off running again.

Forty minutes later they arrived at the finish line.

Sam hugged Holly in delight. “Look, we survived the murderer and still made the sixth place!” he said as they kissed.

“Yay we did well, I’m proud of us!” Holly grinned and beckoned to police officers waiting with Jess and Wes. “Look Liath and Everard came in forth.”

“That’s weird they were second.”

Holly nodded with her water bottle in hand and led the way to the couple in question.

“Miss, Jess and Wes told us of a shooting on the hills. What’s going on?” Asked one of the officers.

Holly told everything that happened on the hills. “The man you’ll find in the miner’s cabin is responsible for the murder of the poor guy lying in the heather on the higher path. You must also arrest and question Laith and Everard.”

“What! Why?” Laith said looking shocked.

“Simple.” Holly looked to Samuel and acknowledged a loving wink. “You two changed the sign up there. You led us to the body and that means you knew he was killed. Not reporting the shooting to the police makes you at least accessory to murder.”

“Prove it!” Liath shouted.

“You two were in second place. Your footprints showed you went into the valley after changing the sign. You finished in fourth because you doubled back to reset the sign before running on.” Holly explained between sips of her water.

“No, that’s —” Everard began to argue only for the officers to handcuff and lead him away.

“We’ll take it from here, Miss Ward,” said the officer in charge.

“We’d appreciate it.” Holly smiled at him and walked away with Samuel. “Let’s grab a shower and go somewhere crime-free, shall we?”

Samuel smiled with an arm around her, “Where do you suggest? Somewhere like a deserted cave on a romantic hidden beach?”

Holly shook her ponytail at him, “Nope. A corpse will probably wash ashore there. Then we’ll get chased up and down the beach by pirates trying to abduct us.”

Samuel grinned and kissed her nose, “How could they resist. You’d be worth more to a pirate than any barrel of gold.”

“Aww, you think?” Holly kissed him back.

“Yup, you’re priceless to me.”  

The End

Did you enjoy this adventure with Holly and Samuel? Why not join Holly as she solves the mystery of the Steam Train:

Thanks for reading my friends.

There’s more in the Poetry CornerPoetry Nook, and the Short Story Collection

Have a great day!

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