Chapter Ten

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Rachel gasped in air; it stung but the cold tempered the growing panic in the pit of her stomach.

Her mind was racing with thoughts of the poacher when she burst through the doors of the cabin and startled the others who were gathered around watching something on an old TV screen.

"Ray- take a look at this..." Simone looked up excitedly but trailed off upon taking in Rachel's horrified expression. "What's wrong?"

Out of the adjacent bedroom, Hector's head peeked out, his hands busy towel drying his curly, black hair. "Hey, everything okay?" He asked.

"I saw poachers- they-they were outside in the forest looking for survivors."

At this, Hector abandoned his towel and approached her in two long strides. His eyes surveyed her and his hands gripped her shoulders. "Are you okay? Did they hurt you?"

No, Rachel thought. A poacher with human eyes let me go. She wondered how that would sound to the others. Probably crazy. And she was shaking.

Jesus, Rachel. Get a hold of yourself.

"No--no he didn't hurt me. He caught me but then he let me go and told me to run."

"He let you go?" Hector said, tasting the words on his lips as if that would force them to make sense.

"Well now you've done it," Charles interrupted with a harrumph. She hadn't even noticed he was there until he rose up from a near-by recliner like a jack in the box. His scraggly frame approached her on lithe feet. "They musta let ya go so you could lead them to us, you foolish, little girly!" The old man snapped something from a string in the ceiling and his hand came back with a knife.

For a moment she was sure he meant to kill her but instead he went to his door and peered out.

Shaking her shoulders, Hector brought her attention back to him. "Tell me what happened. Are you sure they weren't using you as bait?"

"It's not like that," she tried to explain. "He told me to leave before the others came. He didn't want to hurt me." She knew she was grasping at straws but how could she make them see? A merciful poacher was not something you heard of everyday. Actually, it was something you never heard of at all.

The others began to argue.

"Hector, I don't trust people easily, but you gotta believe me when I say that this man saved my life. He didn't even look like one of them."

"Was he marked?"

Rachel stammered, "W-well yes. But his eyes weren't like the others."

Hector's skepticism was plain on his face but he nodded and gave her arms a light squeeze before releasing her. "It's okay now. But you won't be going outside alone anymore. None of us will."

"You bet yer butt you ain't. Not with that forehead." Charles was back and he was jabbing a skinny finger at Rachel's forehead.

"If those damned poachers are sneaking around here looking for yalls then we best be putting the mark on ya."

"But I thought you said your mark wasn't enough to fool them."

"It aint," He spat at Juan. "But you're darn tootin it'll make them bastards hesitate. Enough so you can shoot em like animals--which be reminding me," He pulled open a chest that was misshapen and looked like he had carved it out himself. Inside were an assortment of guns and maces and even an old bow, with a few bent arrows underneath it.

"You rascals had better begun learning how to defend yerselves 'cause I sure ain't gonna do it for ya."

"We know how to fight," Hector said, sounding a little offended.

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