This piece has three alternative endings: 1, 2 and 3. Which to use?
On the Footpath
Clear blue sky. Shadows still long. A gentle breeze. A mid-week day off work and the footpaths to ourselves, Poochie the spaniel, Dimples the five-year-old, and myself. A day for living.
He came out of the bushes about a hundred yards ahead of us and started walking rapidly in our direction. Squinting into the sun, I thought he looked about thirty. A stranger. Just been for a pee, I thought. We locals really hate that, people using our little green patches of countryside as a toilet. I shall give him the cold shoulder, I thought. No cheery hellos, not this time.
He spoke first. “Is there a quick way to the river?” Breathing heavily.
I paused. “This path will get you to the main road. Turn left and the path will get you there. Just take the steps down at the bridge.” The three of us pointed, me with my chin, the dog with its nose, the five-year-old with its finger. “Or if you turn left off the footpath just beyond that stile,” – chin, nose, finger – “there’s a track you could use. It’s quicker but rather muddy at the moment though.”
“I’ll take the track,” he said. “Don’t want to bump into too many people. Or the police. Talk about red-handed, eh?” and showed me his hands, covered in wet blood. “And I’d rather you didn’t tell anyone about this. Not a word, eh, young ‘un,” he grinned as he smeared some blood on each of Dimples’s cheeks. And only then did I notice the large dark wet patches on the stranger’s t-shirt and jeans.
And with a smile and a jaunty farewell wave, he started off towards the stile.
Ending 1. Within seconds I had him pinned to the ground, my knee in his back and his hands in cuffs while the five-year-old punched the shortcut on my smartphone connecting us directly to the station. Three arrests so far this month, I thought to myself. Deserve a bleeding medal. And a day off.
Ending 2. We hadn’t gone more than a few yards when I heard the footsteps behind me just before I felt the burn of the blade on my throat and saw the five-year-old’s eyes widening in horror. The blue of the sky faded slowly into black.
Ending 3. Slowly we made our way towards the bushes from which the stranger had emerged. There, just visible from the footpath, next to a wolf with its insides ripped out, and holding a woodcutter’s axe in one hand and a basket in the other, stood a blood-soaked little girl wearing a red cloak. “I’m looking for my grandmother’s house. Can you help me please.”