Serena stared at the sunset, allowing her eyes to soak up the pinks and the purples and the oranges, beholding the sight of the sun sinking below the horizon and turning the cornfield in front of her to fire. She shut her eyes, letting the rays kiss her eyelids as she breathed deeply and shifted her focus onto what she planned to do next.
“Hey, you gonna take a picture of this before you miss it?” came a voice beside her followed by the sounds of a digital camera. Serena turned her head towards her companion and replied in the affirmative, although capturing the moment was not what she had had in mind. She slid her hand into her bag as Andrew marvelled at the scenery next to her. She was travelling light as she needed the space for something she was hoping to retrieve. Her hand moved past her purse, magazine, and past her gun. She reached her camera and pulled it out. She feigned interest in what her fellow photography student was saying, thoughts wandering to the small farm buildings off in the distance. More specifically, she thought about the barn, and the ten thousand dollars worth of Schedule 1 substances hidden inside its hayloft.
She hopped the fence, careful not to touch the barbed wire and entered the cornfield. Now Serena was no junkie, far from it; she kept herself healthy, never got drunk and despised the thought of an addiction taking control of her life. Instead, she was on the other side of the needle so to speak: she was a drug dealer. It had been a friend of a friend that had first recruited her into the shady business as a courier and a means of storage, the wisdom being that with her innocent appearance she would be inconspicuous. Perhaps the first lesson she learned was that it was detrimental to both health and business for a drug dealer to take the drugs they dealt; it was a simple matter of common sense, but a vital one else you incurred the wrath of customers and suppliers. Serena rarely dealt herself, as her small stature caused her to be intimidated by some of the clientele (hence the firearm she kept), but the money she got was good and she was skilled at what she did.
The day slowly shifted into night as she made her way towards the barn which until recently had been the most perfect of hiding places. Alas the once abandoned farm had received new owners. Serena’s heart had nearly burst from her chest when she overheard the news, and she had resolved to move her stash as quickly as possible before it was discovered. To this end she had recruited Andrew from her photography class to be an unknowing getaway driver, under the guise that trespassing on the farm would give the perfect photo opportunities for their current assignment. She would, of course, have felt better with someone more qualified, but a mixture of pride and fear kept her from asking her ‘employers’ for help. Plus, unlike her own, Andrew’s car didn’t have any connection to the cartel: if anything went awry the vehicle wouldn’t expose the whole operation. Serena planned to not reveal to Andrew the drugs, but had a plan to blackmail him if he did find out with proof of all the trespassing and breaking and entering he had done during his career as an over-zealous amateur photographer. A slightly flawed plan, she knew, but in her haste the benefits of not having to walk a mile cross-country in the dead of night seemed to outweigh the risks.
The wind picked up, blowing the towering corn stalks to and fro as the young woman advanced, which she was glad for as it masked her own movement. The night was quiet and pleasantly fragrant as the new owners had not yet bought any livestock, but Serena did not doubt that they would still be armed to teeth in order to defend their property. She thought of her own gun, but knew that it was only a token show of force; she had brought it only out of habit, and intended to choose flight over fight; she’d never used the weapon so was less than keen at the thought of a firefight. She grimaced at the thought of who might have bought the old farm. She pictured a clan of crazed interbred hillbillies guffawing around a table with serving of Ma’s secret recipe, an essential ingredient of which being unsuspecting trespassers. Or maybe they needed the space to hush up their child-smuggling operation, keeping their captives fit by forcing them to run at night when the isolated location went even more unnoticed. Perhaps they were completely ordinary and decent people with an unfortunate demonic possession that demanded they wander around in the evening with a rusty knife searching for blood to satiate their unholy passenger. She shook her head, allowing herself a half-smile.
Without warning a loud sound suddenly boomed from behind Serena, making her jump out of her skin and whip around to maybe make a run for it. But as she looked back she saw Andrew desperately trying to turn down the volume of a small black speaker as the warbling sound of country music destroyed the once quiet ambience of the night.
“You fucking idiot!” Serena hissed. She took a few furious steps toward him.
“I thought it would be funny!” he hissed back, now fumbling to turn the thing off altogether and stuff it back into his bag. Serena was beside herself:
“That was such a stupid thing to do, do have any idea wha¬—” she had to bite her tongue, knowing that if she went on a tirade she would give far more away than she wanted to. Composing herself somewhat she instead said: “I thought you were here for a ‘shoot’, not to get shot!”
“I am!” Andrew spat, “I jus—” they both stopped their squabbling as they heard a rustling amongst the overgrown crops. They both held their breath, hoping, praying that the new owners of the farm hadn’t heard them. A dog barked, but it was muffled by distance. The stalks swayed quietly. Content the rustle had been the breeze, the two relaxed their shoulders and looked at each other. If Serena didn’t need a lift home, she would have told Andrew to leave there and then. As it was, she gave him a death stare and wordlessly stalked off towards her destination. If truth be told, if Serena didn’t have about 15 years of potential jail-time stored on someone else’s property, she would have left there and then.
Mercifully, Andrew’s failed attempt at humour hadn’t alerted anyone to their presence. Serena remained on edge though, and savagely kicked to death a torn and tattered scarecrow that lay randomly in the field after nearly falling over it. But generally, the rest of their cautious trek to the barn was uneventful. Now, at last, the barn towered above them. Its paint was chipped and worn, the wood old and rotting in places from years of neglect and damp. Rusted nails jutted from the structure, like the minute feelers of an ancient crustacean searching the surroundings for something to kill. The darkened farmhouse mere metres away had fared a little better; its paint was similarly scarred.
“You were right.” Andrew breathed, “This was worth it.” He began taking photographs.
“Yeah…” Serena replied, only half listening. She had seen the building many times before: the novelty had long worn off and she was now keen to get into the barn, up to the hayloft, then away from the farm as quickly as possible. As she moved to enter someone grabbed her arm:
“What are you doing? There won’t be enough light inside, and we agreed using flash wouldn’t be a good idea.” Andrew asked, face quizzical.
“I’m…” she replied, irritably snatching her arm away as she searched for an excuse, “I’m going up to the top floor, going to take some pictures from that window.”
“Oh right, I’ll come up with you.”
“No! Look, you stay down here, the… the boards might be rotten and I don’t want to fall through them.” Andrew looked irritated and nearly opened his mouth to argue, then decided that from the look Serena was giving him and the noise he had already made, he had better do as she asked.
Serena opened the barn door, wincing as the rusted lock screeched in protest, and slipped inside. She didn’t need a light in the musky dark of the building’s interior as she knew the layout quite well from her frequent trips to the farm, and she quickly found herself up a ladder and on the barn’s top floor. She poked her head out of the little window to check that Andrew was still there. He was, but he didn’t notice her as he was staring transfixed at something in the distance. She withdrew her head, assuming him to just be zoning out. She got down on her knees and shifted through the piles of straw on the floor, till she finally found her narcotics. She sighed in relief as she picked up the little plastic bags each filled with a night’s worth of entertainment for lowlifes and rich rebellious types alike. Gathering them all, she straightened up with them in her arms. Before she could move to put them in her bag, however, something flew in through the window, nearly directly hitting her and she let out a silent gasp and instinctively raised her hands, spilling her little bags in the process. Amidst her cursing and scrabbling in the dark for her drugs, she failed to hear someone hurrying into the barn below her, failed to hear someone climbing the ladder.
She didn’t, however, fail to see Andrew’s head emerge from the top rung. Just as he, after he’d finished babbling something about a bat he’d just taken the perfect picture of mid-flight and had she seen it come through the window, didn’t fail to see what Serena was holding. He went to question her, an accusing look on his face. Before Serena could even attempt to talk her way out of the situation, the barn’s heavy wooden door, left ajar by Andrew, swung open in the wind. Then it slammed back into position, making a tremendous bang that echoed out into the night. For a moment, one of those terrible moments when time seems to slow to crawl, there was nothing apart from the offending bat shifting on its perch.
Then there came light, light from the farmhouse as the roused occupants rose to investigate. Andrew and Serena had already flown down the ladder at this point, but when they exited the barn and Serena had just finished hurriedly stuffing her illicit cargo into her bag, she looked up to one of the windows and saw a silhouette staring back at her. A man shouted, a dog barked and doors slammed open as the pair of frightened photography students made a beeline for the corn field. They entered at speed and began crashing through the thick, wild crops as the sound of pursuit came from behind them. Serena’s mind would have been filled with mildly sarcastic thoughts of a ‘mid-summer’s nightmare’, had it not been filled with the terror at the possibility of at any moment a dog tearing into her calf, a gunshot piercing her back, or worse, her being caught with the narcotics, and the game would be up, her life ruined. Her parents would disown her, her clients and suppliers furious with her, and the Lord only knew what any cellmates would think of the small, skinny middle-class girl they bunked with. Serena ran harder.
After what seemed an eternity of pushing aside stalk after stalk, hope was in sight: the fence. Surely, she thought, her pursuers would give up if she could just make it over that wooden barrier. With athleticism that surprised her in one fluid motion Serena vaulted the fence, rolled and made it back to her feet and took off running again, a sense of elation filling her.
Alas, behind her came the snapping of wood and a cry for help.
She stopped dead. She turned. Andrew lay there, looking up at her. His foot had gone through the panel of the fence as he’d attempted to climb over it, and had become tangled in the barbed wire.
“Quick, help me up!” he shouted. But to Serena, the sound seemed muted as if underwater. Her mind was racing. It was calculating there was no time to untangle his foot from the wire before they were caught. “Ser-Serena!” Her brain calculated the look of shock and disapproval he’d worn upon seeing her drugs. “Serena, help me up you BITCH!” Finally, she thought about the statement he’d give against her when questioned over trespassing. The noise of pursuit was becoming louder and louder.
In her panic and fear, it was Serena’s brain’s turn to freeze. It couldn’t stop her body as her hand slid into her bag, past her drugs, camera, purse, and magazine, till her fingers curled around the handle of her gun. Shaking only slightly, she pulled out the firearm and pointed it. Andrew’s face twitched in surprise, twisted in confusion then contorted in fear. There came a bang and a flash. Andrew’s murderer turned and fled.
About an hour later, Serena was sat on her bedroom floor, cradling herself and crying. She wasn’t sure whether it was from pain, relief or regret. Her moonlit flit had seemed so surreal, and she couldn’t recall any detail. Just what happened just before. Guilt hit her again and her entire body winced as she relived the moment she’d raised her gun. Probably the worst image was the last, the limp body hanging on that damned fence. Now she was in a pathetic little heap, already tortured by the memories which had burned themselves into her mind’s eye, endlessly looping. She needed an escape, a way to escape her guilt before it consumed her completely. She cast her gaze around her room.
Serena’s eyes fell upon the little plastic bags and the murder weapon. Even through her tears, she began to laugh.