Part Seven

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He hopped out of the truck, but stumbled and fell. He looked under the cab.

"You okay?" she asked, landing beside him.

He stood up, holding half a torn silver scarf in his left hand. And a boot in his right. "They were here," he said.

She snatched the scarf and shook it in anger.

"Where's your sister."

"I don't know."

"I think you do. Tell me."

"I don't have to tell you anything." She walked into the clearing.

"Let me help you," he called through the drizzle.

"I don't need your help," she assured him, quickening her pace.

A low hiss wound its way through the rain.

Ssssssss.

"Shhh," he cautioned. "Did you hear that?" He hurried to catch up.

"I heard you 'shhh' me-- that I heard!"

He lifted the loose end of the scarf and waved it at her. "Look," he said, "something doesn't add up. You said you found half your sister's scarf with your boyfriend?"

"I can't do this."

"Then you found another half in your father's garden."

"Let's walk home separately," she stomped off.

He followed, still holding the scarf. "And I just found another half under Make-out Point."

She stopped. "Three halves?"

Ssssssss! Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

"Get down!" he yelled, tackling her into the mud.

"Gahhh!" she screamed.

A field mouse scooted over them. A twig flew after it, smacking its rump. They lifted their faces out of the mud. They looked back over their shoulders.

Ssssssss!

A noxious reptile coiled out of the hydrilla. Its long, limbless, tapering body slithered past the firetruck.

Lightning struck the lake.

Only the monster's fangs and eyes were visible as its gleaming terror launched through the air.

Ssssssss!

They scrambled to rise, fell in the mud, fumbled over each other, fell again, and finally got to their feet. Neither could get above ground more than a jump or two. The rain was too thick.

"Run!" she cried.

They followed the mouse, thinking it knew the best course. They saw it hop over the lip of a hill. They hurried and misjudged the distance. They tumbled over the same crest, scampering down the slope, sliding through the mud. Unable to slow their descent, they skidded in opposite directions and landed apart at the bottom.

A shake of metal drew their attention. The mouse bounded into the back of a cast-iron livestock trailer, its gate stuck up and open on a rusty hinge.

The mouse was trapped.

Crack!

Ssssssss!

He and she lifted their heads to see the deadly fangs pop over the slope.

She ran to her right. He to his left. She hid in a cranberry bush. He in boysenberry.

She found a pebble and hurled it at the gate. "Get out of there!"

The mouse clanged around the trailer, digging its forepaws against the iron, pushing its nose through the ventilation.

The flash of fangs leapt into the trailer.

She hurried to the gate. "Get out of there!"

He watched. "I should help her. But. But--!" he thought. "But."

She jumped and caught the edge of the gate, struggling to pull it down. He heard her yell through the rain, "Jump out! I'll shut the gate! I have to save you! I must! I must!"

The monster's tail whipped the air. It knocked her aside and she fell in the mud.

The mouse leapt out of the trailer.

Squeak!

Thunder cracked, and a tree branch splintered. It fell on the gate, slamming it shut. The reptile racked the trailer with wild flips. The iron trap rattled, but the beast could not escape.

Sssssss!

He went to her and offered his hand.

"I don't need your help," she said. She stood up, massaging her temples.

Minutes later they were back in the clearing at the mouth of the road. He found an overly large frond and held it over them.

Patt patt patt.

They walked home in the rain.

She mumbled, breaking the silence. "You just watched."

"Well, I'm sure if--"

"Admit it, you were afraid."

"Of course I was," he said, affronted. "And I can trust my fear. It keeps me safe."

"I wasn't judging you," she said.

They reached the outskirts of the village and the fork in the road. He gave her the frond. They stood with nothing to say. Exhausted, they listened to the rain.

"So long," he said.

"Goodbye," she said.

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