Death on the Hill

Simon killed Alfred. That’s the truth of the matter. He picked up a rock and hit him over the head with it.

They had been arguing all day about Alfred’s unwillingness to cook. The only cooking that ever happened was when Simon did it. Alfred just had bread or a chunk of cheese if he got hungry. It was only ever Simon who actually put together something to eat.

Though it was a constant source of conflict, Simon had never thought that he would kill Alfred over the cooking. Their arguments always just ended with a deep sigh and a resigned shrug. It never ended with a beating. Though apparently it had.

Alfred and Simon had lived on the hill for a long time with their dog Nero. Well, he was really Simon’s dog. He liked Alfred all right, but it was always Simon that he listened to and curled up with.

The men went to the town occasionally to get food, but neither of them really liked the town much, so they would stock up. Then they wouldn’t have to go back down for a couple of months.

In the meantime, they kept track of a herd of sheep. There were lots of wolves and wild dogs in the woods around the hill, and they would often come and eat the sheep. The men shot the predators when they could. Even when they missed, Nero would bark at them and chase them away. The wolves and dogs knew that someone was protecting the sheep and that would serve to keep them at a distance for a little while.

In the spring, they hired some fellows from the town to come and shear the sheep. Since neither Alfred nor Simon were expert with the kind of cutting and manhandling that went on with shearing sheep, they brought in the men from the town.  Their wool was in high demand. All kinds of different wool were available on the market, but the wool from their herd was the best.

Even during shearing, it was a pretty calm life. But that said, Simon did have a temper. He had always had one and he knew that it was something that Alfred had learned to put up with. But maybe Alfred shouldn’t have put up with it.

It was just after the shearers left that Simon killed Alfred. Simon felt a great deal of guilt over what he’d done, and he also felt terribly alone. He would go and visit Alfred’s grave up on top of the hill and apologize. Then he would just talk to the grave for hours about predators, wind… whatever came up. Sometimes he even just sat there in silence. He and Alfred had often just sat in silence with each other. It wasn’t as good as actually having company, but it was better than just wandering around the hillside by himself. When he realized what he’d done, he didn’t think about how lonely he’d be without Alfred.

A few months after the killing, another man showed up. They had never had many visitors, so his appearance was a bit of a mystery. Simon watched him struggling up the hill with Nero growling and barking at him tentatively.

Simon kept thinking that he should probably kill the new man as well. But he wasn’t angry, and so he didn’t have any motivation. He was just going to have to listen to whatever questions the man had.

When the man had finally made it to the top, he came right over. “I’m not police,” he said immediately. “I’m a census taker. I just write things down,” he added.

Simon couldn’t decide if that was reassuring or sinister.

“I just need to know about Alfred,” said the census taker.

Simon quickly started trying to think of a story he could tell the census taker. Then the man reassured him again that he wasn’t police. Simon had never been a fast thinker, so, try as he might, he couldn’t think of a story. Since he wasn’t going to be arrested or anything, he decided to just come clean.

Simon told him what he knew, which admittedly, wasn’t really that much. He remembered coming back to himself with Alfred at his feet, a bloody rock in his hand and a knowledge that things were his fault. At first, he broke down a little in disgust with himself and his own actions. But then he recovered and hauled Alfred up to the top of the hill to bury him. Alfred had liked it up there. Simon buried the bloody stone along with him.

The census taker pulled out a notebook and wrote everything down. Then he asked if he could see the grave. Simon didn’t see why not, so he took the man up to the top of the hill where he’d buried Alfred. When they got there, the census taker pulled out a camera and took a picture of the cairn built over it. When he’d done that, he pulled out his notebook and wrote some more.

They went back down the hill and finally Simon just asked him what was going on.

“I’m just here to make sure there’s a complete record of things,” he said. “We wanted to make sure Alfred was dead. We aren’t worried about how he got that way, we just wanted to see the grave and make sure our records are correct. The fact that you killed him makes no difference to us.”

It was starting to get dark, and the man asked if he could stay over night. Simon thought there was no problem with that, so they went back to the hut and settled in for the night. The man fell asleep not long after the sun went down, but Simon was still awake long into the darkness. Nero was at his feet and gave him dirty looks every time he shifted around. Finally, he just gave up and went outside. He told Nero to stay behind, and the dog jumped back on the bed and nestled into the blankets.

When the census taker woke up in the morning, Simon was nowhere to be found. He fed Nero, and then took the dog with him outside. Not knowing what else to do, he went back up the hill to Alfred’s grave. It was about a twenty-minute hike up to the gravesite.

When he got there, he found Simon sprawled on the ground beside the cairn. He quickly went over to check for a pulse but found none. There were no signs of struggle or even injury. It looked like Simon had just collapsed on the ground beside the grave.

It was clear that he was too late to actually do anything, so he found a spot under one of the trees to sit down. Nero gave up the pathetic nuzzling at Simon and came over to sit beside the census taker where he was seated. He ran his hand over his scalp and wondered what he ought to do. Eventually he decided that he would just bury Simon beside Alfred. There wasn’t anything else to do. He’d update his records, but burying Simon was the only other thing he could think to do.