13 - The Dying Groves (V)

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V

Her shoes pounded against the pavement, each step propelling her forward, up the surprising hills. She remembered them from her childhood. Back then they seemed taller, but now they felt steeper, despite their shrunken height. She caught the rustle of leaves every time the wind blew and shuddered, wishing she'd grabbed a jacket as the air started to fill with the sting of salt and the sharp stench of rotting fruit. Her mother was right about the groves, wild and overgrown. But that didn't mean she was right about what was in them. Where her mother saw monsters, Mikie saw freedom.

She paused at the top of the hill. There was a split in one of the rails. She could slip through the fence. She should slip through the fence.

A look over her shoulder revealed their small little base, nestled in a little valley. And beyond the homes sat the labs, three large buildings spaced out to resemble the three stars in Orion's belt. On a map they framed the belt with the Kennedy Space Center buildings, forming the rest of the constellation. Hence their names. Now she simply saw them all as cages.

She turned and stepped over the rail and into the field.

The air cooled the second she slipped between the trees. She wasn't expecting the temperature to drop but goosebumps flared across her skin regardless. She should have been like Andy, grabbed a jacket. Stupid. There was one in her bag, packed away in the bed of Reem's truck. She shook her head, bouncing on the balls of her feet, and picked a direction. She simply needed to keep running north. If she stayed north she'd find the next road and Reem and Garrett and Andy with it. Life had ton go on like normal. It had to.

"Mikie!"

She caught the shriek a while after the road had disappeared behind her. She twisted, shocked at how close Andy sounded. And how scared.

"Mikie come back! Please!" her sister called.

She heard it through the trees, but still, she pushed herself north, forward. Reem was waiting and they were leaving and she'd be free again. Choosing a prison that wouldn't kill her over a home that would. It was all just part of the act—even if she didn't remember it in their conversations. It had to be.

"No!" Andy's scream pierced the air, followed by the echo from Garrett.

"Mikie run!"

And then she heard it. From all sides, the hissing.

Every hair on her body rose. She searched the trees, but nothing. There was nothing and she was nowhere, trapped the in middle of a peach grove. Was Reem waiting for her on the other side or not? What happened when she made it to the road? If she made it to the road?

The cicada hissing grew louder. And so she ran.

Her feet tore over the thick grasses that nestled around the roots of stretching trees. She threw herself between the trunks, clawing for a grip on the next one, the one after. A blink and there was more trees. Nothing but trees. She slipped, her shoe sliding through peach. It wasn't hard to regain her balance, but staying upright was another thing entirely. She bounced, foot to foot, more than ran, hopping from one grassy patch to the other hand hoping not to slip on peach guts. She didn't want to go down in these woods. She didn't like the closeness of the trees, how low branches reached like hands. She couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. Which cluster of bright orange in the branches was fruit or which was eyes.

So she ran. Despite the pain in her chest, despite the fear that made her want to curl into the earth and stay there, low in the grasses. Instead she ran. Because someone could be waiting on the other side of the trees and she needed to get there. If only she could spot the daylight again. But the further she ran the denser the trees got, pressing in around her until she was forced to slow, tiptoeing her way between the trunks just to find pockets large enough to allow her some breathing room.

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