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Leaving her Behind
I remember the day rather well. It was foggy, the moorlands smelling of heather, a cool breeze blowing in from the salty south by the bay. My eyes stung from the wind, fingers cold, ungloved. I held a torch in one hand, the other in the pocket of my woolen coat. Stella, my best friend, stood by my side, holding a lit candle in one hand, her other preventing it from going out in the cool morning breeze. This was the morning that we were going to set fire to the long straw grass above the brook in a desperate attempt to try and scare them away. Our previous attempts had failed us and our village, this was our last chance.
"Bloody wind's a pain in the neck, isn't it?" Stella calls over the wind. I nod my head before speaking.
"I hope it hasn't sent the Corpse's underground or we'll have to make a run for it." I reply loudly, yet truthfully. If it fails, we'll just anger them more, and worst case scenario, we'll have to leave for good. "But we'll get them; we've failed too many times for it to be possible again." Stella nods, beginning to walk forwards. I follow ever onwards as we make our way into the underbrush. But, we have a stream to cross yet. It could all hell could break loose before we even manage to reach them.
"Take the Cougar path, Stella! We'll never make it through the trees in time!" I yell. Stella doesn't turn her head but her quick change of speed and direction tells me that she definitely heard my request.
We sprint along the winding forest paths, ducking under outstretched branches reaching across the dirt, trampling flowers that are desperately seeking out the almost nonexistent sun.
"Hurry!" she calls out above the wind. "They're going to wake soon! We'll miss them if we don't hurry up!" Then she takes her hand from the candles flame and with a quick puff of the wind and a small spiral of smoke, it goes out. She curses, her hand quickly reaching into her pockets to pull out one of her lighters as we both keep going.
"Wait until we get there! If we're quick we'll have time to light it and run off before they wake!" I tell her. Stella nods her head before putting the candle into her jeans pocket. I take my hand from my pocket and shade my eyes as the branches get lower and our path harder.
Stella, who is now quite ahead of me, takes the next right along what we've come to know as the Cougar path. Obviously the cougars use it during these winter months to go down the brook and drink. They only use it during the dark of the night, though, because they are not brave enough to venture out in broad daylight. It's also the quickest way to get across the brook, one well used by the younger people in our village such as myself.
Stella knows this path as well as I do, maybe better, even though she hasn't been here for quite as long as I have. I was born here, she was found here. It's been years though, nobody talks about it anymore. She has as much right to be here as any of us, but she did bring the evil with her. Not that it matters, anyway. The evil was coming already.
We then managed to keep up with our pace until we reach the edge of the brook. A meter long stretch of icy water keeps us from our goal of the Corpse dens partway up the waterlogged hill. It is to be a slippery climb to reach our target. But first, I have to think that the brook is in our way. One step at a time, I have no need to think ahead so far. It could all turn black and blue between here and the den site.
Stella quickly scrambles across the slippery rocks before motioning for me to follow her. She makes it across with ease. She's done this many countless times before this day; I would be surprised if she hadn't found it such a simple task to accomplish.
"Come on Jen, it is just water." She gently persuades. She knows of my fear of falling into the cold water, she knows but doesn't question or tease. Most people like to tease me every chance they get, but Stella? She's just different to everybody else. Friends don't pick on one another, not true friends. Stella understands this concept, obviously. "Come on, we've got a few minutes before they wake up." She motions for me to follow her again.
Just water, Jen, its just water. My hands reach out for the second rock, my feet stepping onto the first. I slowly make my way across, cold water droplets teasing at my neck as they pull me in. Come with us, Jenna, come into the water and be free with us. My hands find the bank on the other side. I can barley here Stella sighing with relief over the pounding in my ears. I stand up on the other side of the brook, finally safe. Then Stella bolts without warning. Snake corpses emerge from holes in the bank. We're too late.
"Hurry! We can still make it if we're quick!" Stella yells, stopping at the top of the slope, reaching into her pocket to find one of her lighters again. I clamber clumsily up the slope after her, panic coursing through me as we reach the top.
"Stella, run! The grass is wet it won't light!" I reach out to grab her hand but she pushes me away.
"No, I've got to do it, Jen!" She replies. "I brought the evil here, and I'm going to get rid of it for our village." Stella fumbles with the lighter, every time the flame comes, it goes out soon after. "Come on Jen, come and help me, I can't do this alone!"
"I'm not getting you into more danger than you are already in, Stella, I'm going back to warn them! We can still get out of here if we hurry." I turn to make my way back down the slope, but Stella reaches out and grabs onto my shoe.
"We have to do this, Jen, it's our job. You and I both know they'll get rid of us if we fail again, they've done away with people before." Stella pleads.
"They're not going to get rid of us, I won't let them." Then I pull my shoe out of her grip and make a run for it. This time, I'm going around the brook instead of across it. Without Stella's support, I can't force myself into doing it.
I take the Cougar path again once I finish circling the cold brook. The smell of heather is long gone, now, replaced by the strong smell of the salty breeze from the south, down by the bay, a smell I was soon to forget and longed to remember.
Then the wind stops, no more breeze. The branches and underbrush seem to part for me, willing me onwards. They think I'm doing the right thing by running from my friend and back to the people who couldn't care less about me. I have no choice.
My fingers are raw, ungloved. I think I dropped the torch back on the Cougar path, not that I can tell, though, I can't feel anything; they're numb with the cold.
I meet Sam at the gate. I guess I can sort of call him a friend, maybe. He teases me too, like everybody else, but not as much. His grey eyes are grim, and it's clearly not the weather any longer.
"Where's Stella?" He asks cautiously.
"Still down by the dens," I reply, breathless.
"Does that mean you did it, Jen?" He questions.
"No," I say. "The grass was wet; Stella's over there trying to set it alight. We need to go, now." His grey eyes relax with understanding, and without another word, he opens the entrance for me and leads me through.
Mam and Pa are in the middle of a meeting when Sam and I burst into the gathering room of the house. They ask exactly the same thing as Sam did.
"So, did you do it?" Their eyes peer into my eyes. I shake my head.
"No. The grass was wet. We need to go, now." Before I hear their reply, Sam leans down and whispers something into my ear, breath hot.
"I'll go and get Stella; you help your parents here." He whispers, loud enough for my Mam and Pa to here.
"Nonsense, Sam." My Pa huffs, "both of you stay right here. If we leave Stella, the evil won't follow us. Got it?" I am utterly shell-shocked by the mere thought of leaving her behind. And why would my Pa even put forth the idea? Didn't he and Mam offer to take care of her when we first found her? Yes, it was them. But, they've always been trying to dump her off on somebody else. Great timing.
"I'm not leaving without her, Pa." I reply simply. Mam, Pa and Sam stare back at me with surprise. I've never doubted or said anything against their judgment before. Sam grabs my arm and pulls me aside.
"Are you crazy, Jen?" he whispers, not loud enough for Mam and Pa to here this time, "you're going to get yourself killed if you try to go and save Stella now! I know that it's unfair that your parents have said no, but really, Jen? Are you mad?"
"Life is madness for everybody, Sam; I'm not leaving without her. You know that Mam and Pa have been trying to get rid of her since they agreed to take care of her, and I will not let them succeed! Stella deserves a second chance as much any of us. She has proven herself over and over again. It's not her fault that the evil followed her here, you know that she's cursed! She can't help it, Sam and I'm not going to stand by while my best friend gets mutilated by some dead animals. If you come with me, then you understand what I'm going through. If you don't, that means you're too shallow and single-minded to gather your own opinion on this." My voice escalates towards the end of my rant. Sam grabs my arm again.
"Lucky for you, I'm coming too. Your parents don't own me, Jen. I have enough of a heart to know that you need my help."
Then, we leave.
Sam keeps a tight grip on my hand the whole way back to the den sights. My first thought? Oh my god! Sam is holding my hand! My second thought? Oh my god! Stella is so dead when we get back. It keeps cycling back and forth between the two. I guess I should be embarrassed about that. Really? I can't decide whether or not I'm more excited about the hand holding or more worried about what could have happened to Stella by now. What is wrong with me?
We trek back along the Cougar path, slower than I expected for us to go. I mean it's a life and death situation, Sam could at least try to care, even just a bit. But, we keep to a constant pace. I'm itching to run.
"Doesn't danger mean anything to you?" I hiss.
"Doesn't danger mean anything to you?" He replies, hissing also.
"Stella could be dead by now, Sam! And we're walking? Really?" I ask.
"Well if this leisurely pace isn't quite good enough for you, then let's get a move on, Jen." Then, we are running. I can feel the wind in my hair as the cold stings my fingers. Sam lets go of my hand and wills me onwards. My pace increases. I plunge into the underbrush.
Hold on Stel, we're coming for you. Just hold on for a little bit longer...
Little did I know it was already too late...