I scream, a noise that seems to revitalize Linda enough to have her gurgle out a wet-sounding wail as well. I quickly move to the tree, jumping off of a low rock to grasp the thick branch from which she hangs. With strength even I doubted I possessed I swung about the branch from arm to arm, getting closer to where Linda hung, thrashing at the end of her own intestinal noose. Reaching her, I reach up and tug on the simple knot of greasy tissue, my fingers sliding along the veiny meat as I vainly try and untie her simple noose knot.
Using my fingernails, I dig into the tissue and instead begin tearing away at the flaps of muscle, peeling away the intestines from the branch like a peel from a banana. While far more gruesome, the chunks of veiny meat tear away easily, allowing me to sever the cord, dropping Linda to the forest floor with a dull thump.
Dropping down and rolling beside her, I quickly try and assess the injuries she has, to see if there’s anything I can do. Her stomach looks as if it were sliced with a razor, the sharpened utensil slipping through skin and fat like a hot knife through butter. The wound is roughly eight inches long and cut parallel with her hip bone, the cut even and unerring, as if done in a single stroke. Blood dribbles freely from her opened abdomen as she gurgles from her position on the forest floor, slowly choking on her own fluids.
“Who did this to you Linda?” I ask, gently cupping her chin to look into her blank eyes. I let go with a hissed curse as I recognize the shock overtaking her system.
Looking down, I stare at her wound in utter fascination; it’s precision is uncanny, and the cut flawless. No animal did this… this is the kind of wound you get from a knife, a very sharp knife.
My moments of tense silence with Linda are trampled upon as a number of men come stomping through the underbrush, glaring beams of light cutting through the darkness as they seek out a target to focus upon. All of the beams of light flash over my face and blood spattered clothes and down to Linda.
“Get help!” I cry to them, waving a hand in front of my face to keep the light from blinding me.
“We are the help,” A gruff voice replies as the click of a flashlight ends one of the blinding suns, revealing a police officer standing between two others, “Step aside so the paramedics can try and save her, that is if you don’t want to be an accessory to manslaughter.”
Two young men come rushing to Linda’s side, one carting a small box by his side as they quickly kneel down and begin checking her vitals. I move away, guided by a gentle hand from a female officer, a blanket going over my shoulders which I clutch to tightly. They take a look at her stomach wound and speak into a radio, stating that the hospital would need to ready room in the emergency care ward. The unfold a stretcher from their pack, and after counting to three lift Linda’s slack form from the blood-caked ground onto the pristine white cloth of the stretcher.
“You found her like this?” The same officer that spoke from before asks me, looking at me with a critical eye. His eyes crinkle from his advanced age as he squints, his skin pale and pasty from years of work in an office. A shining golden badge on the lapel of his beige coat is the only thing that signifies him as an officer of the law, his underclothes resembling more of a business casual type dress than the standard blue uniform of a patrolmen.
“Yes… I mean no, not like that… she was up, in the tree. Hanging.” I stutter out, my words barely intelligible as I stumble out my thoughts in short blurted sentences.
The flashlights scan up towards the branch, catching sight of the wrapped intestinal tubing around the bough of the tree. I hear a few grunts of disgust from the gathered officers, and a few muttered words of worry between the two paramedics as they continue to check her vitals, two police officers hoisting her slowly to be carted out of the woods.
“Her blood pressure is dangerously low… put some pressure over that cut.” One of the paramedics, a younger man with red hair, glasses and a goatee orders the other, who quickly slaps a large swath of bandages over the bleeding wound, pressing down on the cut hard enough to cause Linda to spasm beneath his touch.
“She was hanging… by what?” The officer asks me, pulling a cigarette from a small case, slipping the gold and silver box back into his coat. “That doesn’t look like rope.”
“That looks like the stuff I pull out of a deer after I go hunting.” One of the officers say, his voice heavy with thinly veiled horror. “The, y’know, guts and stuff.”
“Guts and stuff,” the older officer repeats as he lights his cigarette before taking a long drag from the cancer stick. “Real technical there Bert.”
The other officer (Bert apparently) merely grunts as he steadies the flashlight’s piercing beam deeper into the forest. The older officer coughs as he waves out his match, dropping it to beneath the heel of his boot as he blows out a cloud of acrid smog. Looking at me through a haze of his own smoke, he stares for a few moments before turning to the gathered officers.
“Spread out and look for tracks,” He loudly orders, motioning with his cigarette hand in the air around them. “I want a police line set up in a thirty foot radius from this tree here, and I want it now. Bert, get on the horn and have a forensics team dropped here so they can try and give me some good news. You,” he says while focusing on me, “Come with me for fingerprinting. I’m also going to need you to leave those clothes with my forensics team, so call your folks and have them swing by the station for something to wear.”
“The station?” I stutter, looking at him with surprise and confusion.
“Yeah, the police station. As of right now you’re the closest thing I have to as a witness, a suspect and an accomplice all rolled into one. So we’re going to spend the next few hours going over the facts to find out which one you are.”