Chapter 7 - A Bloody Mess on an Old Country Road

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Half a second later, my shoes skid across the dry dirt road as my run sputters to a halt. I thought this morning's stop at the gas station was a fluke, but now it's clear something's wrong.

There's no time to figure it out. I've dropped Nina.

I whip my head around, scanning the area, and call out to her. My mouth drops when I spot her ten yards away. She lays immobile near the side of the road, a bloody streak drawn for several more yards back the direction of the warehouse. Not only did I drop her, I dragged her. I hurt her bad.

Please be okay, please be okay. I run to her and fall to my knees, horrified by what I've done. She lays in a pool of blood, the flesh scraped clear to the bone from her hip down to her thigh. Her body quivers from shock, and she wheezes.

I take off my t-shirt and wrap it around her leg, but it's a worthless bandage. My hand shakes as I stroke her arm and wonder what to do next.

Pete. My heart races as I fumble to take the phone Pete gave me out of my pocket, find his number, and call him.

Pete answers after one ring. "I'm nearly there."


"I tracked your phone after Oscar called and said you showed up at the warehouse."

Of course. I frown even though I'm glad he's on the way. As much trouble as I've caused, I'm lucky he's being so attentive.

To the east, a motor races. The Hummer comes into view followed by a trail of dust. But he's not all that's approaching. Off to the west, a fast-moving cluster of black birds, the size of eagles, approaches. Their squawking is deafening as they close in.

Not wanting to take any chances that the birds reach us first, I pick up Nina's limp body, careful not to slip on the pool of blood. I rush the direction of the approaching Hummer, panting and my arms aching.

The blackbirds swoop in, their wings flap like whips across my back and face, while their talons reach for Nina. A few days ago, these birds protected me from white warriors because I was a courier working for Margery. Now they're fighting to take Nina. It's like Margery wants Nina more than me, but why? Regardless, they won't win.

I stumble but manage to keep on my feet as they peck at me, ripping out hunks of flesh. Blood oozes from the wounds for only a second before they heal, but the stabbing pain lingers, making it difficult to hold her.

The Hummer plows through the murder of crows and skids to a stop. Pete opens his window half way and yells, "Get the girl in the vehicle."

I manage to put Nina into the back seat, but the birds knock me on my ass. When they try to get in the vehicle, I wave my arms to fight them off. Sparks shoot from my palms, forcing the birds to ascend and hover. I gasp, wide-eyed and examine my palms, but see nothing unusual.

One of the birds takes advantage of my pause and pushes past me. I manage to stand, yank him out by the neck, and choke him. My heart races and my hands glow orange. I jump as the thrush's eyes pop out and hang from the sockets. Disgusted, I throw the bird to the side, and with it, a cigarette falls to the ground. When I aim my palms to keep them at bay, more cigarettes shoot into the air. Hit birds explode into a cloud of red and black.

What the... ? I cover my head and think back to when I grabbed Margery's hands. Somehow, I stole her magic.

The birds back off, and I jump into the Hummer. Pete whips a U-turn and heads back east.

I wrap Nina in a blanket while the birds continue their pursuit. They fly upward to build up momentum then dive and smash against the vehicle. Pete swerves with each hit. "I can't hold it on the road," he says.

"Open the sunroof," I holler.

"Hell no."

"It's okay. I can get them off us, trust me."

"Trust you?" Pete shakes his head in disbelief, but leans forward and pushes a button on the dash. The sunroof slides open.

I twist and contort my upper-body to stick my head through the opening, quick to aim my palms, and shoot cigarettes at the birds before they can take more of my flesh. Again, the hit birds burst and pieces rain down onto the Hummer and my bare chest. When only a dozen remain, they get that I've won and circle back west.

I breathe a sigh of relief and climb back to Nina. Once I've pulled her onto my lap, I slump against the seat and look around at the bloody mess.

"How the hell did you get rid of the birds?" Pete asks.

"Cigarettes," I say. "Somehow, I absorbed Margery's magic."

"You what?"

"I'll show you later," I say, then shift the conversation to Nina. "Is she going to be okay?"

"She's a courier. As long as she has a head, she's alive." Pete peers over his shoulder. "Check her breathing. Is she getting enough oxygen?"

I lower my head to her face and feel her breath on my cheek. "Yes."

"Give her mouth-to-mouth if needed," he says. "Couriers who go too long without oxygen won't die, but they will go crazy. Once that happens, about all you can do is take their head off to stop their insanity."

My heart skips. Nina's gone through enough. I don't want to be responsible for her losing her mind too. I look at her bloody leg and reach for her hand. "Keep breathing," I whisper in her ear even though she's passed out.

"You still have your phone?" Pete asks.


"Candy's number's in the contacts. Call her and tell her we're on our way back to the boardinghouse. Have her tell Ulla and Inez what happened to Nina."

Shit. When Inez sees the mess I've made, she'll take a hunk of my flesh to fix Nina.

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