VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

DECEMBER 31, 1818

 

BLOOD OOZED between John’s fingers. The rapid beat of his heart as he ran through the dark bush wasn’t helping matters any. He paused for a moment, trying to listen for the baying of dogs over his own harsh breathing. He’d tossed his musket and opted for speed after being hit. He regretted that now, as he was alone and unarmed. He held his breath for as long as he could. His pulse pounded in his ears, blood pouring out of him like cheap moonshine.

Nothing.

Perhaps they were tending to McHugh, may he know no peace in death. He’d best be dead, or John would have to commit himself to doing some serious haunting. There was no chance he’d live to see dawn.

He peeled his hand away from his stomach. The blood was dark and thick in the starlight. The moon was barely a slice of silver. It had been the perfect night for revenge.

Satisfaction burned in him, but with each breath, the heat faded. The sting of the bullet in his gut was becoming more pressing. He leaned against a tree and lifted his shirt. A few inches to the right and it would’ve been a scratch. Damn redcoat had gotten a lucky shot. John tipped his head back.

He wanted to believe he could survive this. He’d survived worse and wore the scars, but a gut wound was a slow death for anyone. He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to die without seeing Banyn once more. To say sorry for getting shot and leaving him again.

They never had a chance. Should never have started. He doubted any fae magic would save him this time. Hopefully he’d bleed out before the rot started.

He gave a low laugh. According to many, the rot had started the day he was born.

Around him, insects hummed and animals moved, hunting or fleeing, crunching on the dry leaves of the scrub. It was wrong for Christmas and New Year’s to be so hot. He pressed his hand to the wound again. He needed to keep moving. He was sure the soldiers would send dogs after him.

If they caught him, he’d be flogged before being hanged. Escaped convicts turned bushrangers were never treated kindly. That he’d killed an officer only added to his long list of crimes.

John peeled himself off the tree and glanced at the stars to be sure he was moving in the right direction. He needed to get to the river, cross it, and lose any dogs.

He’d rather die alone in the bush than face the humiliation and torture of being captured.