Michael rubbed his eyes, trying to forget everything. His deadbeat father and the way he’d loved to carve into Michael with anything sharp. His mother and all of her . . . B.S. Cheverly! School! He could go on, but he didn’t want too. The alcohol had almost worked, almost numbed him into oblivion. Then Venus had come along. Beautiful, glowering Venus. He hated her. Hated that she hadn’t put him out of his misery. He let out a harsh laugh, remembering the way she’d looked when he first saw her. Like an angel he’d seen in a book as a child.

The Angel of Death.  

Rising, he went to the red thermos and picked it up. A swig or two remained and he downed it rapidly. Not even the burn could soothe his angry soul. Tossing the container into the water, he watched it sink and then bob back to the surface. When it’d floated out of sight, he turned back to his dead, hollowed out log and sat.

Michael pulled the gun from where it’d been hidden in the waist of his pants, under his shirts. He’d found it in a dusty old box in the garage the other day. When he’d checked the chamber, he noticed a bullet remained. The gun must’ve been his fathers. Michael had taken it and tucked it between his mattresses. At the time, he hadn’t been sure why he kept it.

Holding it up, he put a finger on the trigger, turning it back and forth, watching it gleam in the morning rays of the sun. It was a .45; silver, except the handle, which was black. Solid. Heavy. Loaded.

Maybe now he knew.

Maybe he’d found the gun so that he could end his life.

He pressed the business end against the side of his head. And waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. A sign. When he’d seen Venus he’d believed she was his sign . . .

 I’m done. It’s over. He pushedthe gun harder against his head.

Coward!

The word zinged. Stung him. Punched him in the gut. An unfamiliar voice inside his head.    

Then came images of Venus, the softness of her lips, the way she’d felt in his arms. There was something different about her. He tapped the gun against his head, bugged he still thought about the arrogant girl.

Coward!

The word ripped through his mind again.

“I’m not a coward,” he shouted.

Immediately all sounds of the forest stopped. No birds, no rustling of animals in the underbrush. Only the snarling stream and the breeze whistling through the trees interrupted the silence. 

Breathing heavily, he stood and turned, sensing a presence.

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