24 - Ravage

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"Run!" I shout and push at Késhaun, half knockin' him over. We move quick as we can through the woods but it's hard goin' with the slippery footin' and low hangin' branches.

His voice snakes after us.

"Once again you show just what a coward you are, Kayla! Leavin' your ol' friends all on their own! Ain't you learnt anything in all these years?"

I'm breathin' heavy andmy arm is burnin' up with pain. My head's slick with sweat despite the cold and I feel like I'm slippin' behind the others. Késhaun notices and comes back, grabbin' at my hand.

"Go baby, you go," I say but he just furrows his brow and holds on to my good arm and half pulls me along.

"This way!" says Jamie.

He starts movin' up the incline and I follow him, my heart poundin'. The trees thin out a little and we come stumblin' out into the backyard of some house. 'Cept the house ain't nothin but a burnt out shell. Any flames or embers left have been snuffed out by the snow but the smell of smoke remains. Along with somethin' else.

"We shouldn't be here," says Jamie nervously and he starts walkin' along the edge of the treeline.

It's gotten a little lighter and I glance up. Only a few stars remain and there's a smear of dark clouds up high, curvin' out and eastwards to where the dawn approaches.

"What are we gonna do?" asks Jamie.

I look around, tryin' to see if there's anythin' we can hide in, or a car.

"Come on!" I hiss to myself as I trudge through the snow.

I'm feelin' light headed but I force myself to look around the side of the house, hopin', prayin' there's a car.

There ain't and I almost feel like I might just fall to my knees in the snow.

"Come on, Kayla, let's go," says Késhaun.

He reaches out and puts his hand in mine and he feels so cold to touch.

"Kayla, look!" I hear Jamie cry and I turn to him.

He's standin' by a path that goes back into the woods, anglin' down and twistin' through the trees. I trudge over and see what he's spotted. Down far below, I can see the lake, glowin' in the early light. At the shore where the trees almost tumble in I see a buildin', long and low.

"A boathouse," he says.

I can only nod and I start walkin' when all of a sudden I feel somethin' whiz through the air and then the crack of a gunshot echoes.

It sends a few birds hootin' and flyin' up in the air and Késhaun shrieks in surprise.

"Go, go!" I shout.

But it's too late. I can see the flickerin' of a torch comin' through the woods.

"Don't you make a move, Kayla!" shouts Caleb and I pause, pushin' Késhaun away from me again although he reaches back after me. I swat at his hand and motion for him to stand back.

We hear 'em stampin' and crashin' their way through the woods. They're makin' a hell of a lot of noise and I wish we hadn't led them here. I wish I'd stayed back at the cabin. What was I thinkin' tryin' to play a fool out of Caleb? She always warned me about him, all the things he'd done. Some guys it's all just talk, big words about how they did this and that. With him it weren't just words.

Micah bursts out first, holdin' one of the rifles in his hand and a torch in the other. He throws the torch down to the ground and raises the gun to point at me.

"Why'd you run, Kayla?" he asks, breathin' heavy.

His eyes look dark and hollow, his skin pale and drawn.

Caleb steps out into the clearin', holdin' the handgun with one hand and another torch. I can see the rifle slung across his back.

He steps forward then pauses, wheezin' a little.

"Honestly, Micah, it's like history repeating its God damn self with her. Right?"

He stands up tall, then looks at the husk of the house.

"Seriously, Kayla, what is it with you? I mean, you think you can just up and go? Leave Micah and me out there all alone? Just like Trey, huh? It's easy to run, Kayla, when you don't have your cousin's brains all splattered on you."

Jamie shouts out, "What the hell do you guys want? Why do you even care if we leave?"

Caleb's eyes flash with anger and he stomps through the snow right up to Jamie and smacks him hard with the handgun. Jamie screams and falls to the ground, reachin' up to his head. Blood wells up through his hands.

"You keep your mouth shut, boy. It ain't you I care about. I'd shoot you here and now! In fact if you keep on talkin' maybe I will!"

I reach over to Késhaun, tryin' to put myself between him and Caleb.

Caleb smiles and shakes his head.

"Well, gee, ain't that touching, Kayla? See Jamie? That's what I want. Not you. Not even her. Especially not her-she's a thief, a coward and a liar. She's a waste of space, you know? Now, she might have you thinking she cares about you, she might have got you convinced she's got a good heart. But she don't. She don't. This woman right here, she's the type that would just up and leave not just her friends, but her soulmate too. Just leave her in a firefight and run off."

He glances over at Micah who holds his gun level at me then takes a step closer to me.

"No, she's not what I want."

He looks at Késhaun and cocks his head. "She ain't what I need."

I glare at Caleb, my eyes waterin' and burnin' up.

"You ain't looking so good, Kayla. I think you might be coming down with something. You should think about what's best for the boy. He should be with some folks who can keep him safe. Me and Micah are happy to take care of him, take him off your hands. Come on, don't tell me you ain't thought about leaving him before?"

Rage boils in me and I have to hold it in, 'fore I take a swing at him.

Then the wind rises and swirls in the trees.

And Micah starts screamin'.

I see it come up all around him, wrappin' its tendrils over his body. It's a big one, its face grizzled and tired lookin' but still full of malice. Its teeth chatter and it hisses as it lifts him off the ground. Micah's howls stop and then the whispers fade away. I see Micah standin' there, woozily. He looks down at his hands and then flicks his head up at us.

And his eyes.

His beautiful eyes are sharp and blue and they stare at us with hate.

BOOM

The gunshot shakes the air.

I see Micah's head snap back and he almost twists half over himself as he crashes to the ground.

Then the whispers start up again. One, then another, then another still, until the trees themselves shake and echo with memories.

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