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My eyes flash open, cloudy sunlight dilating my flamed pupils. Three men lean over me, drifter dressed, and most importantly a possible threat. Eyes narrowing, I leap up and get into a fighting stance. Pain etches through me but survival first. I try to take a deep breath and instead puke up a gallon of lake water.
“Easy boy, easy.” The seemingly leader said patting my shoulder, I jerk away nerve racked. “We just pulled you out of the lake, so you should probably just sit down.” I relax a bit. My senses, through everything, telling me these were good guys … as in not-out-for-my-blood guys.
My legs practically collapse as I sit, not caring if the wet ground is what I just spat up. Panting I try to get my barring but it’s difficult. As water runs out of my ears, nose, and eyes information suffocates me. Closing my eyes and blocking it out, I unconsciously trace the scar on my right hand. Flashes of a car crashing from the back seat play in front of my closed eyelids, screeching metal and screams echo in my ear drums along with a distant drunk laughter. Sweat pops out on my skin and chills me more than the sharp wind, shuddering I open my eyes to block the past but that’s never stopped it before. Why would it now? Only the flood of information holds back the flood of painful emotions. My fingers unconsciously searched where my collarbones meet for my Misty tooth, pain stabbed my heart as I realized it probably was taken by the mob that came after me.
“There you go little buddy,” the leader says, wrapping a worn blanket around my hunched shoulders.
I shiver a thanks and wrap the blanket closer around my soaked frame, but I’m more focused on my surroundings now. We are up in the woods in a little out crop that looks out over the lake; the wind is mostly blocked off. The cloudy yet bright sky suggests it’s dawn, a little after the sun was fully risen. Looking down at my soaked cloths I’m glad the goggles washed off in the river, along with basically all the padding that was apparently not sewed on the best, but then it hits me. Worry coils in my gut, where’s Kit? He wouldn’t have given up in a couple of hours, especially not when this close to getting me. I look at the men; they were crowding around a small fire cooking something in a small pot. Thankfully they didn’t ask questions, probably because they didn’t want any asked about them. They had several ragged layers, each a large knapsack, and long greasy hair and beards. My eyes narrow as I watch them; they didn’t seem like the undercover type. You can’t fake not having showered for a year or more, at least not with my nose. A large whiff tells me the soup is road kill and local mice. I’ve eaten worse; I don’t want to think about it. Then the sharp sent of body odor, the individual’s unique scent, and underneath it all: good hearts. I smile, maybe a short break with these guys to recover before moving on is just what I need. Then an idea strikes, worrying me.
“You guys aren’t wet.” I wince as I croak out the words; I was in worse shape than I thought. The men turn, eyes slightly surprised at what I chose my first words to be. “How did you guys get me out of the lake if you didn’t get wet?”
“You almost washed up on shore,” no hesitation, no pulse increase, so far so good. “You were a few feet out so we used our fishing poles to pull you the rest of the way in.” They did have fishing poles, sticks with long strings with hooks on the end, and my shirt had a hole in it. Relaxing, I slump a bit, smile, and thank them. “You want some soup?” the leader said, offering me a sip from the ladle. After what I’d slogged through this past 24 hours, I didn’t mind sharing a ladle with dirty travelers. Wow, has it really been less than 24 hours since I was trapped in the alley at like one in the afternoon?
We ate in silence, though the other three kept glancing at me and trying not to stare. I frowned, eyebrows drawn in, what was so interesting about me that they could barely keep their eyes off. If I didn’t already know they weren’t after me, I’d have been long gone by now. At one point when we are finishing eating, all three of them look at each other, then at me. And I’ve had it.
“What!?!” I croak exasperatedly. Their eyes widen in surprise. “Why do you all keep looking at me like I’m a three headed toad? … Huh?”
“Well, I guess it’s because you’re a mighty weird kid.” For once someone other than the leader talks, this one has a scar running down his jugular vein. Weird … but who am I to be talking about weird scars? I give him a questioning look. “I mean, you got some weird fire eyes, a strange scar on your right hand, an’ you is bleedin’ all over the ground and don’t even seem to know it.” I look down, surprised, to see my dark red blood staining the blanket, clothes, and grass. I bit my lip to keep from swearing and telling of the pain of the reopened wound from yesterday along with the two bullets that clipped me in the bullet battle early this morning.
“You guys got any thread I can patch myself up with?” I sigh, eyes widen at my calm demeanor, they nod, give me what I need and watch.
While stitching up my side I deside- haha, see what I did there, sorry… continue on- that it’s probably best I don’t stay with these guys. They’ve seen too much … plus they are creepin’ me out a bit, watching me like starving hawks watching a cute little mouse. Yeah, I’m going to get a head start on disappearing.