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The Ritual

The Ritual

Titel: The Ritual
Autoren: Adam Nevill
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    And on the second day things did not get better. The rain fell hard and cold, the white sun never broke through the low grey cloud, and they were lost. But it was the dead
thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition. All four of them saw it at the same time.
    Right after they clambered over another fallen tree to stumble into more of the scratching bracken, they came across it. Breathing hard, damp with sweat and rain, speechless with fatigue, they
came to a halt. Bent from the weight of the rucksacks, bedding and wet tents, they stood under it. Looked up.
    Above them, beyond the reach of a man standing upright, the dead thing sagged. Between the limbs of a spruce tree it was displayed, but in such a tattered state they could not tell what it had
once been.
    From the large rib cage drooped the gut, wet and blue in the light seeping through the canopy of leaves. The pelt was spread out across surrounding branches, holed but stretched taut in places.
A ragged hem about a crumpled centre suggested the skin had been torn from the back in one quick ripping motion. And at first no head could be seen in the mess of blood and flesh. Until, in the
violent red and yellow suddenness of hung meat, the bony grin of a jaw bone was picked out by them all. Just above it was an eye, big as a snooker ball but glazed and dull. Around it a long skull
in profile.
    Hutch turned to face the others. He always led the group as it staggered through the forest looking for the new trail. It was his idea to come through here. His face was pale and he did not
speak. Somehow the shock of this sight made him look younger. Vulnerable, because this mutilated statement up above their heads was the only thing on the camping holiday he did not have an answer
for. Didn’t have a clue about.
    Phil couldn’t keep the tremor from his voice. ‘What is it?’
    No one answered him.
    ‘Why?’ Dom said. ‘Why would you put it up there?’
    The sound of these voices reassured three of them enough to start talking over each other. Sometimes answering questions. Sometimes just voicing new ideas. Only Luke said nothing. But as the
others talked they moved away from the thing in the tree more quickly than they had approached it. And soon they were all silent again, but their feet made more noise than at any other time during
the hike of the last two days. Because there was no smell coming from the corpse. It was a fresh kill.

    At midday, Hutch stopped walking and turned to look back at the others; three colourful figures appearing insignificant upon the misty vastness of the rocky landscape they
meandered across. They were spread apart along a plain of flat grey rock, smoothed like a footpath by the retreating ice a few million years before. Every set of shoulders on his companions was
hunched, every head was bowed to observe the monotony of one foot before the other.
    In hindsight, only he and Luke were fit enough for the three-day hike. Phil and Dom were carrying too much weight and the blisters on the heels of Phil’s feet were now raw meat. Of more
concern, Dom had twisted his knee on the first day in a vast boulder field, and after walking on it for a day and a half he now limped and winced with every step.
    Through their discomforts Dom and Phil were missing everything of interest: the sudden strip marshes, the faces in the rock formations, the perfect lakes, the awesome
Måskoskårså valley grooved into the earth during the Ice Age, the golden eagle circling above it, and the views of a landscape it was impossible to believe existed in Europe. Even
in the rain and bad light the country could be astonishing. But by the afternoon of the very first day, Dom and Phil had their heads down and eyes half closed.
    ‘Take a load off, guys.’ Hutch called back to the other three. Luke looked up and Hutch beckoned with his head for Luke to catch up to him.
    Hutch eased his pack off his back, sat down, and pulled the map from the side pocket of his rucksack. His back was aching from walking so slowly at the pace set by Dom and Phil. He could feel
his irritation evolving into anger, manifesting as a tightening across his chest; it seemed to bustle behind his teeth too, as if his jaws were clamping down on a long hot monologue of curses he
wished to rain down upon the two men who were turning this trip into what now felt like a death march.
    ‘What’s up?’ Luke asked,
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