Forever Scarred

By: Jackie Williams

To honour all the men and women

whose sacrifice keeps us safe.

I thank my beautiful daughter Natalie for her endless patience and her fabulous photographs.

And I thank my favourite Twerp for listening to all my endless waffling and still coming up with a brilliant title.

Chapter One

The sound was minute, barely there in the afternoon calm and he wondered if anyone else would have ever paid any attention to it, but to him it was as loud and as stark as gunfire.

He remained motionless, his breathing measured and calm, his legs placed wide, steady as a rock and his hands hanging loosely, ready to strike. He tuned out the sound of the water cascading past his legs and the whispering of the leaves on the trees above his head as he listened to the unnatural silence of the forest close around him.

For a moment he was distracted and his eyebrows contracted slightly as he thought he felt a second pair of eyes upon him but then the original sound was back loud and clear in the unnatural silence and he decided he had imagined the secondary sensation.

He concentrated on the first sound. It was barely a ripple in the atmosphere around him, but it was there none-the-less and he tried to hide a knowing smile as the water chilled his fingers and cooled his forearms.

He blew out of the side of his mouth to lift the hair that had fallen over his eye and he turned his head a fraction to gauge the distance of the sound just a little more accurately.

The wind danced through the treetops way above his head, letting the sunshine sparkle on the river flowing between his legs. The water reached just above his knees and he could feel the cold pressure on his thick waders as the water swirled around them.

He was about to move and confront the irritating intrusion that had caught his ear when he caught a shadow on the dappled bed of the river. He slipped his arms deeper into the water, his fingertips scraping the gravel on the river-bed. He forced himself to focus, keeping quietly calm, his breathing even, his stance aware yet relaxed while his whole body was ready and prepared to strike at the best possible moment.

His eyes opened wide as the sun glinted on the bottom of the river and he caught sight of the full length of the shadow between his hands. It would be a pity to let this one get away. He was rather fond of fresh trout and this one was a monster.

He waited, poised in readiness as he quickly worked out all the possible scenarios. And then, as the sound at his shoulder caught his attention once again, he dipped his fingers, curled them beneath his prey and gently caught the huge fish in his firm hands.

He launched himself out of the water and back up onto the riverbank, gripping the fish tightly now as it struggled and strained in his grasp. He tapped it across the back of its head and dropped it to the grass, then he spun like lightening towards the unnatural sound that had threatened to lose him his dinner.

He roared out loud as he scooped up the now squealing little boy from his crouched position behind some overhanging bushes. There was a huge laugh from further up the riverbank and Joe lifted his chin in acknowledgement of his friend David as he lumbered through the bushes making his way towards his neatly captured son.

Joe squeezed the squirming urchin in his arms as the boy laughed brightly in his ear.

“How Joe? How did you know I was there? I was real quiet this time, just like papa said I must be and you still knew I was hiding.” His tiny voice bubbled through the forest and Joe grinned down at the dark eyed boy.

“You were too quiet this time Robbie. You scared the birds away and if there are no birds it’s because there is something else around frightening them. Like you, you little rascal.” Joe declared as he gave Robbie a quick tickle below his ribs before he placed the child on the leaf strewn ground and showed him the monster trout that he had hauled from the water.

Robbie considered the fish with wide brown eyes.

“Cool, he’s a whopper. You going to eat him by yourself Joe? Or are you going to share?”

Joe looked down at the huge fish.

“I think it might be a little too big for just one person Robbie. You think your dad might fancy some fish tonight? I don’t think I’m going to be able to manage him alone.”

David reached them at last and opened his eyes wide at the size of the beautiful trout. He had heard Joe’s last words and he looked down at his son.