Catawampus

“We shouldn’t be moving.” Keller whispered. His nerves were tangled like a ball of Christmas lights ripped off the tree and thrown into a Rubbermaid container. His clammy hands clinched the inside of his short’s pockets. Fear flourished in his empty stomach. The things that wandered around during the day would strike fear in the strongest man. Only a fool would be out at night in this place. Surrounded by darkness uncertainty ate a hole in his shaken soul. Tall pine trees erupting from the ground in limitless supply. They were the pillars holding up the house of their fortress. These woods were their Abaddon. This is Tranquility, Tranquility Woods.

“If we don’t move, how will we get out?” John conjured forging ahead opening his eyes as wide as they could go trying to pick up any speck of light. Light was the enemy. They had the light. Seeing light meant death. Stay in the dark. The dark hid. The dark was safe.

Keller shoved John’s boney shoulder. “Lower your voice. Hell, we’re already out here. Don’t give away our location.”

They walked gingerly between the crocked trees. An owl’s hooting resonated in the clear humid night. Keller froze, chills shutter down his spine. Some animals in this place were their allies. They knew what was lurking. The animals hinted when they were near. A squirrel clawed up a tree scrapping away at its bark. Keller dropped to the ground nice and easy, quick and quiet. He watched John walk, walk; walk.

Keller sensed it. His senses were on fire, all of them. His ears heard the crushing of dead leaves that blanketed the forest’s floor. His nose smelt the mixture of dirt and sweat tainting the fresh still night air. He could taste tobacco that lingered in the midst. Keller’s shaky hand felt his reverberating heart violently pounding against his ribcage. His twenty/twenty vision outdid his ears. He saw one of them. Walking, tracking, hunting along the trail John left. It stalked John like a lion in the savannah.

Keller leaned against the rigid bark trying to disappear in the darkness. He pulled his long arms in closer to his muscular body making himself small. He wanted to be Casper, invisible. Fear pulsated through him, through every vein and artery as he eased his breathing. His breathing was key; his demeanor was key. If he breathed too fast, too loud, he would start to panic. Panicking causes a scene. He closed his eyes and let the shallow breath soothe him and he thought. He thought about before. Before this place he was just Keller James of Upsilon Psi juggling frat parties, community service hours and sustaining a 3.6 GPA. He bitched when four professors unknowingly assigned tests on the same day. Now, it was a hassle he’d quickly exchange for this nightmare.

Screams sounded like a house alarm ringing. Keller’s eyes sprung open pulling him from the serenity of his mind. It was John. Keller peeked around the tree like a little kid peeking through the slits of their fingers during a Freddy Kruger marathon. Like a camcorder his eyes viewed the sight. John sprawling on the ground screaming like a banshee tugging on a silver handle as a blade lay planted between bone and flesh. This was a view Keller was used too. His eyes viewed all of them, all of the friends that they got. It was just John, the bookworm that was only an Upsilon because he was a legacy. Not an all-state, jock wonder with steel biceps or a limitless supply of pretty cheerleaders at his disposal like the rest of them.

John’s bloodstained the ground like fresh rain during April. John was the last human around that he knew. Keller blinked, his eyes refocused and there it was. One of them standing over John like the bloodthirsty savage it was. It wasn’t a vampire although it was a monster. It wasn’t a werewolf although it was an animal. It was basic, it was predatory, the fiercest creature on land, the Homo sapiens.   He stood above John in all black as dark as his soul kicking him. With every kick John reacted with a dreadful screech.

Keller’s instant reaction was to rush to John, tend to his need. Rescue him. Unfortunately for John there’s one thing this place has taught Keller, hast reaps harrowing outcomes. Keller kept still. He feed on the fear that would cause most to stick their tail between their legs like a timid milk breath puppy. He used it; it was the fuel he needed to do something a little crazy. Hell, a lot crazy.

“You don’t have to do this. You can let me go. Please, let me go.” John pleaded. Marble sized beads of sweat streamed down his oblong face. He quivered from pain holding his arm like a lame duck.

The man, the hunter kneeled beside John. His red bandana stained with sweat, dirt, and blood. His cold eyes pierced into John’s coral green optics gleaming in the moonlight.

“Why would I do that?” The hunter placed his machete on the ground.

“Because. I’m a kid. I’m twenty. I want to live.” John frightfully answered.

“Why?” The hunter slid his hand around the knife’s handle protruding from John’s arm. He yanked it out.

John bellowed an earth-shattering yell scaring a nearby crow sending it flapping away. John heaved trying to relieve his agony. “I…I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I… I go to church…. Well not every Sunday but I try. I’m in college…. I want to do good.” Tears sprinkle down John’s cheek. John dropped his gaze. It was too powerful to hold. Would one stare into the eyes of Satan with the might of a fly?

“But you’re my catch. Once I catch I don’t let go.” A smile etched itself across the hunter’s scarred face. “Just take comfort in my process. I assure it won’t take long.” He placed his hand on the dry warm grass. He moved it rapidly along the ground. He whirled around.

“Its not there.” Keller twisted the machete handle in his hand. He was an all-star. He knew what to do. He bent his knees, squared his shoulders, line up his knuckles, planted his feet, loosen his muscles, took a small step forward, kept his eye on the target and watched the blade slice through the hunter’s chest as he followed through. The six-foot goliath sunk to the ground.

“What took you so long?” John groaned lying back on the furrowed terrain looking up at the vast empty sky.

“I wasn’t going to get killed. I had to wait for the right time.” Keller tore a long piece of cloth off his own shirt. He wrapped it around John’s arm. John grimaced at Keller’s touch.

“Let’s go! The sun’s coming up, we have to hide.” Keller grabbed John’s healthy arm and pulled him to his feet. Then like ghost they disappeared into the abyss.

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