OXRO—Episode Ten

Kill or be Killed

Eric didn’t know what it was. That voice in his head that told him to jump through the living room window. Run straight through the glass, not even pull it open.

This wasn’t the first time Eric heard its strong, clear baritone. He heard it two years ago. Darkness cloaked his ’97 Chevy pickup as he barreled down the rain-soaked two-lane highway. He didn’t want to go. Every nerve in his gut told him to skip Sergeant Atkinson’s (his ROTC Commander) drill but it was a requirement. Eric could hear the Sergeant’s stern voice in his ear as he pulled himself out of bed that morning saying, “Weather doesn’t stop war. Soldiers fight until the battle is won.”

That Saturday he needed to get back home. He’d been training Ashlyn for a month helping her fulfill her goal of gaining more strength. He wanted to see if all their hard work paid off. Ashlyn’s race was at 6:45. His eyes darted to the dashboard clock looking over the glowing digits.

“6:23.” Eric read. He pressed his foot heavily on the gas pedal ignoring the fire burning in his calf muscle. He came to the intersection at the freshly turned green light, flicked on his turning signal and made a hard left.

Blinded by the headlights of an approaching car, Eric gripped the steering wheel and smashed down the brake. His white pickup did somersaults and backflips before sticking its landing in the middle of the lanes. Over the wailing of his horn, he heard the distinctive tone of the voice. It only said two words instructively in his ear, Wake Up! His subconscious jolted his body awake. He pulled his body through the shattered window before the eighteen-wheeler collided into his Chevy.

“Jump!” Eric yelled leaping over the fallen pine tree. He pulled up his knees and hurdled in the air. His feet sunk in the mud still sodden from past rainfall. He gripped the air feeling the emptiness of his hand, missing the warmth of her touch.

“Yasmin!” Eric shouted swiveling around. “What are you doing?”

“It’s stuck!” Yasmin cried tugging on her leg, ankle high in mud.

Eric’s hands clawed through the mud, painting his tan flesh with the swarthiness of the soil. “Lose the shoe.” He tugged on the stained laces.

“The dogs are coming!” Jordan zipped passed them. He stumbled over the tree smacking into the doused ground.

Eric yanked Yasmin’s foot out her shoe. “Let’s go!” He rose to his feet holding out his hand but she didn’t grab it. The musk, ripe aroma of wet canine eclipsed the fresh woodsy air.

“I can’t,” Yasmin muttered, her hand limply around the arrow protruding out her chest. Blood teemed down her torso staining her yellow tank top like she ran into a child with a cup of cherry Kool-Aid. “Leave me.” She gasped pushing him away. A tear slid from her eye the German shepherd’s paw landed by her head filling her ears with snarls. The dog leaped over the broken tree and latched onto Jordan’s neck like a Kong bone.

“I can’t.” Eric panicked with his hands at the base of the arrow, Yasmin’s blood seeping into his pores. He closed his eyes trying to cancel out the screams of Jordan as the dog made a meal out of him.

“Leave us.” Yasmin placed her weak hand on his heaving chest. Eric opened his scarlet eyes. “We’re dead already,” She wheezed and he broke.

Eric couldn’t hold the tears back. His world was falling apart. “I was going to ask you out.” He bit the inside of his lip. “I loved you since the day I saw you…at the basketball game.”

“I would’ve said yes.” Yasmin wiped his tears as he melted under her caress. “Open your eyes…. look at your arm.” Her hand dropped and her eyes closed.

That wasn’t her voice. Eric heard it again. Open your eyes! Look at your arm!

He didn’t feel it until he saw it, the canine grinding his molars into his forearm.

It was instinct. The voice he heard in his head. Eric knew that now as he looked in the dog’s brown eyes mixing its slobber with his A positive. Eric knew what he had to do. His heart pounded in his chest like a jackhammer. Death surrounded him, polluting the air like ammonia-lacquered halls. He knew what he had to do. So he did it. He didn’t think about it. He ripped the arrow out of Yasmin’s chest. Her lifeless body jerked up as the rod slid out of her body. Eric lodged the arrow into the dog’s cranium like a nail into a wall. The dog whimpered like a milk-breathed pup and slumped on the ground.

Hearing the faint whimper of his friend the other dog abandoned his feast on Jordan’s abdomen. The dog glided in the air like an eagle as Eric slithered down in the mud. Eric plucked the arrow out of the dog’s head and plunged it into its friend’s hearty neck.

Eric clawed at his face as every cell in his body erupted into a forest fire. Mud masked the blood that sprinkled on his skin as he sunk in the earth. His muscle tightened like vice grips around his bone. He howled out his despair as pain quaked through his body. The pain ran up his spine, journeyed to his brain steam, swirled around his cranium and jolted open his stinging eyes. The snap of a twig summoned his attention like the shattering of a glass vase at midnight.

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Eric slowly cocked his head, “You’re next.”

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