It all started with the backpack.
I had been hiking in the hills near the village of Cowell when I stumbled across it, not hard to do as it suddenly, and with no warning, fell out of the trees directly in front of me. Naturally I looked up, expecting to find some poor soul trapped in the branches of one of the tall forest trees but I saw no one. I was, as far as I could tell, alone. In fact, the forest was suddenly unnaturally quiet. Still, back then I was not a supernatural sort and merely told myself that the sudden impact of the backpack onto the bare earth track (and, to my shame, my rather loud use of a rather choice piece of Anglo Saxon) had rendered the forest wildlife mute with understandable apprehension.
I cupped my hands to my mouth and broke the silence with shouts of “Hello!” and “Anyone there? Are you alright?”. I heard nothing in reply. I circled the area, careful not to lose a centre point on the mysterious backpack, to see if I could find anyone rendered unconscious by injury... or worse. But again, I found nothing.
I returned to the pack and bent to examine it. The dust raised by its impact had settled on its brown leather form, but even through the dirt I could clearly see it was well-cared for. It was also rather obviously old; not for this backpack the reinforced tubular steel piping and skin of aerodynamically formed weather resistant materials who names invariably ended with ‘TEX’ that mark today's packs. No, this pack was a simple pouch with straps, a few side pockets and several useful looking implements strapped around it; rope, a compass and gleaming machete leaping out, but odd little pouches dotted here and there that were not immediately obvious. What to do? Should I leave it here? Take it with me? Should I look through for some clue as to the owner?
Again I called out. Again I received no answer. I waited, straining to listen to the forest, but it was as quiet as before, a fact that was scratching away at the more ‘nervy’ areas of my sub-conscious. But I convinced myself that having a backpack drop from above in an unoccupied forest and nearly knock me out cold was always going to get my imagination working overtime and that any touch of the jitters I was feeling was probably down to adrenaline. Probably.
There was nothing for it. I was going to have to open the backpack and see if I could discover more about the owner. Kneeling, I began to open it...