The fox didn’t turn and run until she was close enough to see the striations in the yellow haloes of its eyes. Even then its departure was unhurried, contemptuous even. It was strange behaviour in a wild animal, especially so far from civilisation. Had it been an urban fox she might have understood, but out here in the woods the animal would have had almost no contact with humans.
The cabin they were staying in was another two miles up the trail and by the winding gravel road it was a five-mile drive to the nearest blacktop highway. There were only two other habitations that led off the gravel road and mostly they were empty, used seasonally by vacationers and hunters. It was the remoteness and solitude that drew people, woods that stretched for mile after uninterrupted mile, trees that swayed and ruffled gently in the zephyrs that blew down off the mountains. It was a place of silence, save the cries of birds and whistle of wind. She and her husband came twice a year, renting the cabin for a month during which they would paint, hike and make love. They tried to talk as little as possible. Two of their kids were still at home and the house seemed filled with ceaseless talking and shouting.
Every third day they would take it in turns to hike the six miles down the trail to the nearest town to stock up on supplies before hiking back, and it was returning from such a trip that she had encountered the fox. It had been so still that she didn’t notice it until it twitched its tail. Surprised and a little alarmed, she stopped. There were plenty of dangerous creatures in the woods, bears, wolves, cougars, and it took her a moment to be sure that it was only a gray fox. They stood watching each another across the distance, the leaf-dappled golden light swaying on the mossy ground between them. In the new silence insects whined, excited by her perspiration. Everything was still, the loamy air unmoved by breeze. After a minute the fox lowered its head, sniffed the ground and then extended a strip of pink tongue, lapping at something on the ground, its unblinking eyes never leaving her.
The backpack was heavy and the straps were digging into her shoulders. She shifted uncomfortably. Seeing a wild animal was usually a pleasure, especially unexpectedly, just so long as it wasn’t a threat, and while the fox was plainly not a predatory threat, its behaviour was unusual and that was enough to put her on edge. It occurred to her that it might have rabies. Should she back away and find another way around? She didn’t fancy the long hike back into town and she was damned if she’d go off trail to get around it. Besides, she didn’t have a compass and didn’t like the idea of blundering around in the undergrowth. She’d heard of people who wandered off trails who were found a year later, usually when a hunter put a boot through their fleshless ribcage. And then there was the wildlife. The trail itself offered some sort of protection. Animals didn’t want to mess with humans but you had to let them know you were coming, make plenty of noise and stick to your part of the woods.
She peered closer. She couldn’t see anything wrong with the fox, its coat was shiny and its eyes alert. The animal was holding itself with perfect poise, motionless. No, she decided, the darn thing was just going to have to get out of her way. She raised her hiking poles and began to walk forward, waving her arms and whooping. At first the fox did nothing, just crouched slightly, narrowing its eyes. She kept on advancing, nervous at the creature’s lack of response, but after another six feet it turned as though bored and began to lope away down the trail. She stopped hollering and came to a halt, lowering her arms. The gray form picked up speed, scuttling away on swiftly moving legs. It stopped after ten feet or so, glanced back for a moment and then disappeared off the trail into the undergrowth.
She exhaled, relieved, and reached behind to feel for the bell that was attached to the strap of her backpack. It was still there. Surely the fox must have heard her coming. Her husband often joked that she didn’t need to make any extra noise, the sound of her footfall would be enough. She pretended to find it funny even though he’d said it so many times. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings or let him know that it irritated her.
Now that the animal had gone she felt calmer and realised how unnerved she had been. She stared at where the fox had been standing as she’d ascended the rise. What was it that had fascinated it so much? That had made it so reluctant to leave? It was a patch of ground next to the trunk of a redwood. As she drew closer she could see flecks of white scattered close to the trunk, some that had landed on the trail, and when she stepped off the path she realised they were feathers. She inhaled and recoiled slightly at the lingering stink of the animal.
The ground near the trunk was made darker by something and the trunk itself seemed spotted and streaked with the same substance. She took another step forward and saw that it was a thick glutinous liquid, iridescent red, its colour shifting under the branch-filtered light from glittering arterial brightness to a deep burgundy hue. There was enough of it to have pooled in a shallow coalescing puddle through which poked brightly chlorophylled stems of grass, streaked and splashed with the redness. The pool itself was small, no more than the size of a dinner plate, but beyond its perimeter splashes and drops extended for several feet, all the way to the edge of the trail itself.
She glanced up, confused, but there was nothing in the branches overhead. Her attention went to the feathers, long and slightly curved, the size of flattened bananas. They were startlingly white. There was a density to the blankness, a depth of purity that was transfixing. It was like staring into eternity. A couple of the feathers had fallen into the pool and were either soaked dark at the edges or smeared with gore. Somehow it served only to emphasise the cleanliness and beauty of the untainted surface. Many of the feathers that had avoided the puddle were flecked and spotted with splashes of the red, but a few seemed to have escaped. She picked a couple and held them up. Their beauty was mesmerizing, the absence of pigment like snow, every light ray diffused to abstraction. Her mind sought to find better comparisons, but words and images seemed inadequate. Bleached bone was the final inadequate conclusion that she came to.
She lay the feathers on a clear piece of grass, wary in case her sweaty hands should adulterate them, and then slid her bag off her shoulders. Inside was a book on the history of the woods that she had bought in town. She opened it at a random page and slipped the feathers inside. She closed the book and returned it to the bag.
She rose to her feet and stared up into the branches. There was nothing that appeared aberrant, just a dense latticework of boughs and twigs. The sun shone through the opaque leaves in a golden-green glow. On the lowest branches she could even make out the midribs and veins, and on some, standing out in relief like tiny eclipses, black spots of blood. It had fallen from somewhere up in the tree, she knew that now, at least. Whatever it came from hadn’t bled on the ground.
Satisfied with her skills of deduction she took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders. Her sense of well-being did not last long. A creeping feeling rose within, a sense that something was behind her, that she was being observed. She turned, her heart speeding. There was nothing, just silent woods, but the sensation didn’t leave. She stared into the greenery, turning a full circle, but in all the chaos of lines and shade there was nothing she could see. A sense of urgency filled her, rising from a place deep in her belly. She wanted to be gone from this place, wanted more than anything else not to be alone. She began to walk, heading the few yards back to the trail. At the last moment she stopped, glanced around once more, and bending, picked up two more feathers. She checked briefly, making sure they were clean, and then pushed them carefully into the side pockets of her pants. With another glance about, she began to walk up the trail, not singing anymore, just humming, ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’.
She told him about the fox and the pool of blood when she got back to the cabin half an hour later. She was sweating and out of breath, having laboured up the incline of the trail that bisected the gravel road several hundred yards from the cabin. The straps of the bag were digging ever deeper into her shoulders.
He didn’t seem interested and was preoccupied with preparing his next project, having completed his last painting only an hour before. It was her feeling that you never completed a painting, you merely finished working on it. He was still riding high on the ebullience of realisation and the excitement of starting something new. The completed painting stood in the middle of the room, though due to the angle she couldn’t see it properly. She had consciously avoided looking at it during its composition. They enjoyed painting together, agreeing on what to play on the stereo, usually jazz or symphony music, or whether to have silence. They would paint without speaking for several hours until one finished and left the room. Only when they had both left the room would they communicate again.
As she had come through the front door she had found him making a pot of coffee, just about to head back into the studio. Despite his excitement she could tell he was irritated at having his concentration broken. Nevertheless, her need to explore her experience was too pressing and she ignored his hunched posture and monosyllabic responses.
He thought it was probably the aftermath of a mountain lion kill, probably a deer judging by the amount of blood. She told him about the feathers, reaching for them from her side pocket. “Swan then,” he said with a wave of his hand, “or maybe even a goose.” Mountain lions usually carried fresh kills up into trees, he added, leaving them in the crook of a branch for a few days to soften and putrefy before eating. It stopped scavengers getting at the corpse. She told him that there was no sign of anything in the branches above and that she’d had a clear view quite a ways up. He shrugged and suggested that maybe the lion had moved it or another animal had stolen the kill.
His focus broken, he wanted to show her the painting, waving away the feathers she held out for him to examine, telling her he’d look in a minute. His excitement was compelling and so she left the feathers on the breakfast bar and followed him through. Though his response to her story had been dismissive, she felt better for having spoken. She couldn’t think why but there had been something about the experience that she’d found profoundly unsettling. Being back in the cabin with her husband and seeing his eyes alive and his hands dancing as he tried to convey his enthusiasm reassured her that all was as it should be.
The painting he had been working on was of a half-crushed deer skull that he had found in the woods a few days earlier. It had no antlers, an adolescent, he’d said. The skull was free of flesh, picked clean by scavengers and bleached by the sun, though some microbiological form had lightly dusted a grass green hue across much of its surface. When he’d brought the skull home that day he’d pointed to a semicircle in the top of the skull just above the orbit of the left eye, just above where the missing section of bone should have been. He’d told her that he thought it might be the puncture mark of an incisor; that the deer had most likely been brought down by a cougar. They’d never seen or heard one, but knew they were out there. One day when they’d been on the trail together he’d pointed out what he thought was cougar scat.
The completed painting was on the easel drying but there was something else he wanted to show her first. He had made a start on his next creation using the subject of the previous painting, the skull itself as his canvas and it was this that now held his fascination. He led her over to the window with its views across the tops of the trees in the direction of the town to which she’d walked that day. The skull was on the table where they kept their paints. He pointed to it, stepping back to let her admire the object without his interference. There reclining along the contours of the jaw bone on the intact side of the skull was the rough black outline of a naked woman. Her head, breasts and torso lay along the wide end while her legs stretched out as the jaw tapered to its end. On the cranium he’d sketched the outline of another woman curling around the orbit of the right eye. The women seemed somehow out of proportion, too long and thin here, or wide and prodigious elsewhere. She wasn’t sure whether he had been trying to make them conform to the dimensions of the skull or if it was just symptomatic of masculine fantasy.
She stared at the graffitied skull for a moment. She thought it was horrible, a travesty of nature and art. It was the worst sin of all, it was ugly. Though they were always blunt and honest in their appraisal of the other’s work she felt somehow unable to crush his enthusiasm, to damn the fruits of his labour as she knew she would if she were to speak. So rarely did their aesthetics disagree that one word of negative criticism could prove sufficient to prevent a work from progressing any further. Perhaps that was what this piece needed, but the thought of what his mood would become for the rest of the evening, maybe even the next few days, was enough to stop her tongue. It was such a short time they had left together before heading back to the humdrum chaos of their normal lives. She couldn’t allow them to waste it in acrimony.
She continued to stare at the skull, her hands on her hips. Eventually she turned to find him staring at her, his arms folded, an apprehensive, expectant expression on his face.
She shook her head.
“I’m not sure. Let me think.”
“You don’t like it,” he said, short, petulant.
“I didn’t say that, just let me think.”
“Show me your painting,” she said, pointing at the easel.
He showed her, grudgingly, and when she gave her genuine and unqualified praise he received it without pleasure. It was his intention, he said, to create a triptych, the painting of the skull before, the skull itself painted, and then a painting of the skull, painted. It was a good idea, she said, relieved to be able to say more positive things.
The idea was sound, she couldn’t deny that, she was just concerned about what he was putting on the side of the skull. What was the point? It just seemed tawdry. Why a naked woman? And why of such grotesque proportions? She would ask him later if she had the chance, if he calmed down. The painting of the skull was powerful though, blocks of colour and shading, whites and off-whites tinged with green, dark smears of shading combining to create a work that was beautiful and sinister. She talked him through the success of the work and he stood listening, expressionless but nodding. She could tell that her words were going some way to assuage his irritation at her reaction to the skull itself.
When she had finished talking she went through to the kitchen and returned with the feathers. As he took them in his paint-smeared hands she winced slightly. They had become a little ragged in her pockets, the barbs disordered here and there against the flow of the contour, and at the base they were now fluffed and billowing slightly. They could try some line drawing, she said, use them as quills. He nodded, examining the feathers, turning them in his hand.
“They’re certainly very white,” he said before discarding them on the table among the paint pots.
Brushing his hands together as though to clean them of dust, he turned his back on the feathers and walked out towards the kitchen. She glanced after him and then down to the table. Stooping slightly she smoothed first one and then the other of the feathers’ fronds.
He was outside on the porch smoking a cigarette when he first noticed the birds. He didn’t bother calling her outside, just carried on smoking and drinking his glass of Chianti, watching across the rail and the treetops beneath. The early evening was hot, sticky and still, the smoke from his cigarette curling lazily upwards. When he finished he went back inside to fetch his binoculars.
She was lying on the sofa reading a magazine. As he passed her again on the way out to the porch she looked over the top of her magazine and asked what he was doing.
“Birds are doing something weird,” he said, and was gone.
She put down the magazine and followed. He was standing staring through the binoculars. Without lowering them he pointed. She followed the direction of his finger and saw, a couple of miles away, a flock of birds, a black cloud that whirled in lazy circles over a point in the tree tops. The closer the cloud was to the tree the denser the flock. The uppermost branches were blacker still where some of the birds had settled.
“What are they doing?” he whispered.
She knew without looking that the tree was the one under which she’d met the fox.
Eventually he gave up the binoculars, handing them over without glancing across, his eyes still fixed on the treetop.
“I think they’re eating something,” he muttered.
She looked through the binoculars, picked out the tree by finding the birds in the air and then zeroed in to the densest point, the treetop. There were a great many birds on the branches. They seemed mostly to be crows, though there were smaller birds in the throng, none of them settled, all desperately trying to push and jab their bony heads into a point in the middle of the feathered huddle. From time to time those in the air would attempt to swoop down and dislodge a bird from its spot, and then the vanquished would be forced to rise into the sky with an indignant squawk and a rattling of feathers, audible even across the distance. The uppermost branches of an adjacent tree rose in places, partially obscuring and confusing the frenzied spectacle.
“It’s the tree I was under earlier,” she said.
“You can’t know that.”
“It is. It is,” she said. “What is it they’re eating? Surely it’s too high for a cougar to have put it up there?”
She knew he’d shrugged even though her eyes were still fixed on the treetop. She carried on watching the crowd of birds, trying to glimpse whatever it was they were feasting on, but they never parted long enough for her to get a clear view. Besides, she realised, whatever the birds were clustered around, it was probably embedded too deeply in the foliage of the tree and would not reveal its secrets easily. Every so often she would get a glimpse of something white but never enough to be sure what it was she was looking at. It made sense, she thought, the whiteness, the feathers she had taken. Perhaps he was right, maybe it was a swan. She began to feel resentful of the circling birds, angered at the violence done to a corpse so beautifully adorned. At first he stood next to her smoking a cigarette but soon went inside without saying another word. She stayed watching and only removed the binoculars from her eyes when it became too dark to see.
That night they were woken by the rumble of thunder and flash of lightning. They rose and stood on the porch in the hot fuzzy air, holding one another in their nightwear and watching the storm as it rolled ever closer. The air crackled and hummed with potential. They could see the rain approach like a trailing veil and when it arrived it was as though an enormous shower head had been switched on, falling almost vertically, the force of the water drumming upon the roof of the cabin and the wooden floor of the porch. They stayed for a few minutes, laughing and holding each other, thrilled by the elemental force of the storm. The sticky oppressiveness of the night air was swept clean in the instant of the first fall. When the lightning flashed in concord with the blast of the thunder they retired inside to watch from behind the safety of the glass, thrilling at the forks that ran jagged from heaven to earth in blue-white explosions that shattered the purple sky.
Between the pages of the book within the pocket of her shorts, now folded on the chair beside her bed, and on the paint-splattered work surface of the studio the feathers, all four, began to vibrate, shaking so much with the force of the storm that they began to move, to shuffle between the pages and along the surface between the brushes and pots.
They stood holding one another before the window, gasping at the flashes, sometimes jumping back when one exploded too close, laughing at their fear. It did not occur to them to worry if the cabin was properly grounded, that their sense of security was an illusion. Before long they began to feel the chill of their wet clothes and so stripped off and returned to bed naked, making love with the anger of the storm raging outside, raging for so long that when eventually its chaos receded they lay, eyes closed and facing apart, breathing deeply through gentle dreams.
Their sleep was so deep that when lightning struck a tree not two miles from the cabin they stirred a little but did not wake. In the shadows of the forest, however, every creature for miles around flinched at the force of the explosion, cowered in the cacophony of its aftermath. The bone-white crooked finger struck the tree at its topmost vertical branch, an atrophied extension of the trunk. In the moment of the current passing the water in the sap had boiled, expanding under the bark with such pressure that the trunk exploded with a sound like the volley of cannon fire. The concentric rings ripped into a semicircle that tore down the length of main stem, a great screaming tear that peeled the tree back in two directions. For a moment it held, groaning like some colossal beast, back broken, until the weight of the great spreading branches cracked the tortured heartwood and the two great swathes buckled and crashed towards the ground. The two parts did not sunder entirely but hung suspended on splintered white wounds, the break like a throat cut back to broken spine.
In the light of the new morning the damage was clear to see as soon as she looked out of the window. A whole tree that must have been at least sixty feet tall had disappeared, leaving a huge blank patch in the soft carpet of the treetops. It wasn’t the tree where the birds had been, the tree she had stood under when she saw the fox, the blood, the white feathers, but the one in front of it, the one that had partially obscured the view, she was sure of it.
She fetched the binoculars and walked out onto the porch. It was an air blue, perfect day, clean and clear, washed by the storm. Insects chirped and birds sang in the stillness. The view across the treetops and towards the hills and mountains was pristine and could have been prehistoric if it weren’t for the lazy vapour trails that angled across the blue of the sky. Where yesterday the birds had circled and settled, now the air and branches were clear. Instead, a smear of white was plainly visible in the green of the tree.
She raised the binoculars and began to scan, searching for whatever it was that had attracted the birds. It took time, there was no easy point of reference as there had been yesterday. As soon as she found it she gasped and lowered the binoculars. When she looked again it took a moment to find the point. She froze and stared through the lenses, motionless, her lips parted.
“My god,” she whispered. Without lowering the binoculars, without averting her eyes, she called his name. He did not come and after a minute she called again.
He emerged from the cabin towelling his hair, irritable at the summons.
“What?” he snapped.
She handed him the binoculars and pointed.
“The tree,” she said. “Where the birds were yesterday.”
It took him longer to find it but when he did his reaction was the same.
“Holy fuck,” he whispered. “What the fuck is that?”
Neither of them painted. They ate breakfast inside although the day was fine.
“How do you suppose he got there?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to figure it out. You hear about these guys who smuggle themselves aboard planes in the undercarriage. You know, they freeze and then when the wheels come down again, pffft.”
She made a gesture of falling with her hand, raising it above her head and letting it float to the table like a feather.
He shook his head.
“Nah, there’s no airport round here. Why would a plane be lowering its undercarriage? That’s not it.”
“I know, I know,” she snapped. “I was just going to say that. Let me finish.”
He shrugged and pulled a face.
“That was why I asked you how you thought he got there,” she said.
He put his knife and fork down and chewed.
“I guess it was a bird strike.”
“He was flying a, you know, a whaddaya call it, an ultralight, a powered hang glider, you know. And he must have hit a swan or something. That would account for the feathers and the, you know, the white around his arms.”
She stared at him, unblinking.
He shrugged again and resumed eating.
“What else could it be?”
She stared at her plate.
“I guess it explains why he looks like he’s got, you know…” Her voice trailed off.
She leaned forward, almost conspiratorial, and when she spoke it was a whisper.
“But why is he naked? And why doesn’t he look like the birds have been eating him. He didn’t look…pecked to me.”
“Maybe the birds tore off his clothes. You couldn’t see if they’d been eating him. Even with the binoculars. He’s a black guy, that’s why the blood doesn’t show up. Think of all the blood on the ground.”
“You think that’s from where he landed in the branches?”
“Okay.” She chewed for a moment and then continued, not looking up as she spoke. “And where do you suppose the birds have gone? Why aren’t they around him anymore?”
He glanced up from his plate, just for a moment, and was relieved to see that she wasn’t looking at him. He shook his head nonetheless.
“I don’t know. I have no clue.”
“Yes. Yes, it is. It is strange.”
They ate for a while in silence. When she finished she lay her cutlery gently on her plate.
“So,” she said. “What are we going to do?”
They hiked down the trail after lunch. In the morning they had both tried painting but had found themselves unable to focus, and after a couple of hours they gave up. Inspiration would not come. Both were too preoccupied with thoughts of the body in the tree. They had talked about informing the authorities but that would have meant either walking all the miles into town and back or getting into the car and driving to the nearest town, which would take at least an hour there and another back. There was no cell phone reception for miles around, that was part of the cabin’s appeal.
They decided that little would be gained from reporting the body immediately. He was dead and wouldn’t get any deader in the meantime. Also, they only had two more nights left and wanted to use them for the purpose for which they had come, painting and being alone together. As soon as they informed the authorities the woods would be crawling with rescue teams, not that there was anything to rescue. They agreed they would report it the minute they got into the nearest town on the day they left.
During the largely fruitless couple of hours they spent in the studio neither of them noticed that the two feathers that had been laid on the table of paints the night before were no longer there.
It did not take long to walk down the trail as far as the damaged tree. The air was cool and refreshing after the sticky oppressiveness of the previous day and a pleasant breeze passed through the whispering trees.
The trail came to an abrupt end in a wall of foliage and at first they both wondered if they’d taken a wrong turn. Only after a moment did they realise that they were looking at the branches of the fallen tree they had come to see.
It took some time to make their way around the obstruction, cutting off the trail and through the undergrowth, but once on the other side and back on the trail they were afforded a view that made the effort worthwhile. They were suddenly in light, a great blue rent in the canopy like an inverted swimming pool, the sun pouring in golden on the greens and browns of the trail. The trunk of the tree ran up for forty feet with branches coming off in the few places where they hadn’t been ripped off by the two falling halves of the upper trunk and the boughs attached. There at its top was the whiteness of the tree’s inner wood, sharp, jagged and splintered heavenward. On either side, still clinging to the whole, were the two split halves of the rest of the tree, now hanging, great swathes of bushy branches resting in the boughs of the surrounding trees and upon the ground.
On the mossy floor where the blood and the feathers had been there was nothing, not even the smallest trace.
“Are you sure this is the place?”
“This is the place. Rain must have washed it away.”
“The feathers as well?”
They paced around what little ground was navigable, looking up into the intact neighbouring tree, but however hard they looked, scanning through the binoculars, and from whichever viewpoint, they could see no sign at all of the man in the tree.
“Do you think you could climb it?” she asked.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he laughed.
They walked back up to the cabin, neither of them speaking, and when they went onto the porch and stared through the binoculars they saw that the figure in the tree had indeed disappeared. They decided that the branches must have given way and the body fallen. Once on the ground it would have been carried off by an animal. It was the best explanation they could come up with.
They went into the studio for the remainder of the afternoon and though both achieved more than in the morning it was still an unproductive period. Towards the end he remembered the feathers, thought they might be useful in his decoration of the skull, that they might look good fastened to the sides like the helmet of a Gaulish warrior. When he got to the table he saw they were no longer there and in their place was a light coating of dust, as white as bleached flour.
“Have you moved the feathers?” he asked without turning.
She came over and looked on the floor, thinking they must have fallen, but there was nothing there. He showed her the dust and she went into the bedroom, picked up her hiking trousers and took her book from the side pocket. There was no bulge between the pages and as she flicked through a fine white dust fell from the book and through the air to powder the black of her shoes.
When they left in their SUV two days later, they left early, neither having finished the paintings they had been working on. When they got to the bottom of the long winding track they turned left on the black top, heading for the interstate. They did not turn right. That would have taken them into the town where they always bought their supplies and from where they would have been able to inform the authorities of what had happened.
It was too late, they had decided. The body had been gone from the tree for two days and the chances of anyone doing anything meaningful about it had shrunk to close to nothing.
The thought of what people might say for not reporting it earlier was also an issue, and by doing so had they broken any laws? They didn’t think that anyone knew about a missing person anyway, and surely if someone had crashed an ultralight or something similar, then the area would already have been swarming with emergency services. That hadn’t happened so maybe he had fallen from undercarriage after all and no one had noticed. Either way, it was no concern of theirs anymore, and, he pointed out as the car accelerated down the tree lined road, there was no proof they had ever seen anything anyway. Even if they had reported it, he added, who was going to believe them? Maybe, he said, they hadn’t actually seen anything after all, maybe it was some huge Rorschach mindfuck, a collective hallucination. In fact, the more he thought about it the more likely that was.
She nodded without turning, though she could tell he was looking at her. She wanted to scream at him to watch the road but couldn’t bring herself to open her mouth. All she wanted was silence. She didn’t want to talk to him, she didn’t want to look at him. She kept her eyes on the white lines that separated the sides of the road, watched them sliding past, faster and faster beneath them.
Matthew Roy Davey has won the Dark Tales and The Observer short story competitions, has been longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Reflex Flash Fiction Competition, and was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Bristol, England, and has no hobbies. His website: https://matthewroydavey.wordpress.com.