5 - The Skeptic Village (II)

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II

Mikie reappeared like the crack of a whip. It was dusk, Reem could see the threat of sunset clearly. But there she was, jogging down the block. Her hair swung from its ponytail, her collar popped against the cold. Her hands were gloved and in the late light she looked like nothing more than a silhouette against the world. Nothing but breath and power, a lethal shadow. And so he'd looked up from his spot beneath the Hawkins' lone tree.

She didn't see him as she ran past. Didn't hear his boots scrape against the too-dry earth. But it didn't matter. It didn't matter because the longer he watched her move and sway the more tension he could see. It was there, laced across her shoulders, threaded into her hair. It laid softly against her lips as she sucked down one breath to spit it out a stride and a half later. Her ears were jammed with old earbuds, the sound of her radio inaudible though he watched her footfall switch in rhythm as the song changed.

He stood, intrigued. It was the first time he'd seen her run through camp since he'd arrived. And based on the silhouette waiting on the porch of West's house, he guessed this wasn't a normal occurrence. So he did what anyone would do, he followed her.

He told himself it was to make sure she didn't end up going too far out of camp. That she didn't end up at Maria's little hideaway and get herself bit. But deep down he knew it was because he was curious. There was something intriguing in how Mikie moved, the masks she wore. There was a story there, and he wanted to find it. So he followed.

"Mike!" He only dared to shout it once he was close enough. He knew based on watching her in the field with Andy that sneaking up on Mikie was worse than just about anything. And he didn't want to end up flat on his back on the pavement.

Her hair whipped to the side, just long enough for her to get a glimpse of him. And to his surprised she slowed, pulling the buds from her ears. Music crackled, faint and distorted through the little speakers.

"What?"

Her walls were up, and they were up high. He could almost see the mask that made up her face, so apparent he wanted to reach out and tug it off.

"You late for an appointment or something?" He cracked a grin, hoping to watch a bit of the mask crumble. She didn't even blink.

"No. What do you want?" She took a shaky breath and started to walk. He noticed the subtle shake to her hands and followed—a body in motion and all. That's what he chalked it up to. A body in motion. Mikie was always in motion. If she wasn't walking she was running and if she wasn't running, well he guessed she'd probably be dead in a ditch then. So he walked with her.

"Everything okay? You seem tense."

"It's almost dark. Of course, I'm tense," she snapped, gazing out at the trees. But he knew that wasn't true. He'd seen her that night in the field, the night he blew the nest up. Her shoulders were loose and sure, she'd been scared, but she was also in her element. It was clear as daylight as she ran past his tiny bunker and drew him into the fray of it all. Because he hadn't liked the idea of blowing up a nest and also killing a survivor. There weren't many of them left out there from what he'd seen.

So he let the silence stretch between them.

"Is there something you want?" she fixed him with a cold stare, twisting her fingers together as she paced the shortest block in the neighborhood. Reem stood still, watching as she moved back and forth across the twelve blocks of concrete, nestled in the yellowish glow of one of the last solar street lamps that signaled the border of the camp's security.

He thought about it, what she was asking. "I want to know what's going on. I want to know if Maria is still out there." He pointed in the direction of the old house and its little garage a block and a half past the last lamp posts. "Were you going to visit her?"

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