I shove my football helmet into my locker and run my hand through my hair as I think of how to get a ride home. I wish I had my license already-it would make getting to practice a whole lot easier. But it'll only be a few months now…
"Hey, Ryan!" someone calls. I turn around and see Jake coming toward me, his backpack slung over one shoulder.
"Jake," I breathe, pulling my shirt on. Once I get my head through the cotton, I begin sliding on my hoodie.
"You okay, man? You took a pretty hard fall out there…" he asks, concern on his face. I grimace at the mention of my slip-up. Of course, it was only one of many, but I try to ignore them all.
"Yeah," I mumble, grabbing my backpack and slamming my locker shut. I shrug the bag onto my shoulder and start making my way out of the locker room. Jake follows behind me. "Hey, do you think you would be able to give me a ride home?" I ask him.
He gives me a tired look. "My car's in the shop, got hit this morning."
"No, way," I say, looking over at him.
"Yeah, and they almost nocked my bumper off! I wasn't doing anything, I just had it parked out front and some lunatic comes down the street, tries to park on top of it, or something," he says, annoyed.
I laugh. "So you're walking?"
"Yeah, but it's not too far," he says. I nod, thinking of his house only a few blocks away. I've been over there plenty of times.
"Could I walk with you until you're house?" I ask, trying to remember if the weather is bad. I was just out there playing, and I wasn't cold or anything, so it shouldn't be too bad.
"Sure," he says, like it doesn't really matter. I guess it doesn't… but he's not the one that has to walk three miles to get home after that.
We walk back through the school hallway, empty at this time of day. It's only five, but just outside the windows the world is quickly fading away. It seems as if the earth has decided to turn in early this year, each day shorter than the last, and it's only October.
We turn a corner and run straight into Tanner, the tallest, meanest guy at our school. As I watch he tightens his jaw and inclines his head at us, a dark shadow falling across his eyes. I step back instantly, waiting for him to move on. But he doesn't. He stays there, glaring at us. There's something about the look in his eye… like we're some type of repulsive meal that's been placed in front of him. It's almost a look of disgust.
Finally, he drags his gaze away from us and continues on down the hall, allowing me to breathe again.
"What was that about?" Jake asks.
"I don't know," I whisper, still on edge.
"Hey," Jake says, a smirk on his face. "At least it wasn't Luna, or you would have had a heart attack."
I tighten my own jaw. "Shut up."
"I don't know why you're so crazy over that girl-I mean, I know she's pretty, but come on. They're so much work," Jake groans, spinning around and beginning to walk backward so he can face me.
"If you knew how I felt…" I say, thinking of her. She moved her last year, in the middle of freshman year. She wasn't in any of my classes, or near my locker, or even in my lunch period. That's what made that year bearable. But now, she's in all my classes but one. I can't concentrate at all, and the whole time I'm staring at the back of her head, wishing she would look back over at me. "Wall," I say blankly, just as Jake slams into a brick barrier. He groans, rubbing the back of his head.
"Well you can go on wasting your time and failing your classes, but I prefer to stay single," he says, smiling proudly.
I laugh at him. "It's not like you could get a girlfriend even if you tried!"
"Hey," he says defensively, sliding off the wall and following me down the hallway. "You should be nicer to the guy walking you home." This only makes me laugh harder, because, clearly, it's exactly the opposite.
A few minutes later, I watch Jake go into his warm house, leaving me standing alone on the sidewalk. I sigh and shove my hands in my pockets. It is actually pretty cold out here. Nothing I can't stand, though.
I begin walking down the street, to where the four way intersection is. When I reach it, I'll only have two more miles. And if I take a shortcut through the woods, I'll be home in no time.
I think back to what Jake said, about my fall today. It was pretty brutal, but I didn't really feel anything. Maybe I'm getting stronger. I sure hope so, I put enough of my time into lifting and football practice. You'd think by now I'd be the star player, but I actually spend most my time on the bench. I don't mind it usually, but last season, at our last game, I watched the crowed instead of the game. Every time someone got a touchdown, or tackled one of the other team's players, they would go wild. They would jump and scream and act as if it was the best thing in the world, just that that player did something well.
I want them to cheer like that for me.
Reaching the intersection, I dart across the street on a red light. About halfway through, however, the light turns green and about five cars all honk at once. I jump, my head spinning from the sudden noise. I blink a few times, willing it to wear off, but it doesn't. A car honks again, forcing me to stumble off the road.
I hold my hands to my ears as the world fades back into place. When they honked, my whole vision went white, and there was a horrible ringing noise left in my ears. Thankfully, those are both receding.
Once they fall to a bearable point, I continue, making sure not to step in the road.
I wonder what was up with Tanner today. He seemed pissed… at me. But I've never done anything to him. And who knows, maybe he was just taking some of his anger out on us. If he really had a problem with one of us, he would have said something.
Last week, someone had asked Tanner for drugs, because I guess they got the idea that he had them. Anyone who knows Tanner knows that since Middle School, Tanner hasn't done anything to do with drugs. Anyway, the kid ended up going to the emergency room. Two cracked ribs and a broken wrist.
My mom would have a fit if she saw me end up like that. Ever since my dad left she's been really protective over me. It was a few years ago, when I was only six. I didn't know why he left then, and I thought it was only for a little while. It didn't take me long to figure out he had left forever.
I'm an only child, which I guess is good. I mean, Jake is too, so it's not like I have someone to compare it with. Sometimes I get lonely, especially when my mom's at work. I guess if my dad was still here it wouldn't make any difference, though. He'd have a job too.
I round the corner and spot the woods, a good ways away. It stretches from behind the school to past my house, with a creek running right through the middle of it. When I was little I used to get lost in it. I would follow the creek for miles until, once, I ended up on the other side of town.
There was a dare once, from our neighbors that Jake and I took. It was to spend the night in there, with nothing other than two sleeping bags. We were stoked, and we even believed we could do it, at the time. Of course, when we actually got out there and it started getting dark we freaked, and ended up sleeping upstairs in my closet. I can't remember what it was that scared us up there. It must have been something pretty spooky, because I don't normally find myself huddling amongst my dirty clothes and old shoes.
I cross another street and find myself approaching Luna's house. It's huge-bigger than any of the other houses on this street. Like my own house, only a few blocks away, Luna's backyard is mostly woods, with a little porch so you can look at it all. My heart thumps, thinking of her. As I look through the window, it's almost as if I can see her big blue eyes staring back.
A chill runs down my spine, forcing me to look away. She would never look at me, even if I was the only kid left on the planet.
I keep walking down her street, trying to remember where the shortcut starts. Somewhere along here, there's a little path that leads into the woods and back to my own porch.
I look up at the sky, already dark. The sun is hardly showing, and I can see the moon rising up opposite from the giant star. It's almost a full moon, but still the light is hardly enough for me to see where I'm going. I do find the entrance, though, tucked behind some brush. I can't remember the last time I came through here. It must have been ages.
I make sure not to step in any mud while I duck under branches. The trail has become overgrown, with vines and plants sprouting all over it. I try to move silently, but I can hear all the twigs and leaves crunching under my weight. I wince as an especially loud stick breaks under my foot. I expect the overgrowth with clear up the further I get.
Ten minutes later I realize I was wrong. If anything, the vines have gown ten times longer, the twigs turning to branches, the mud turning t mini-swamps. I groan as my foot lands in one, completely submerged. Shaking it off I pull further, just trying to stay on the trail. It wouldn't be this hard if I had a light, or if it wasn't so freaking dark out. Man, where are the stars? The moon seems a million times heavier, looming uselessly above the trees. Almost no light at all seems to be coming from it.
"Come on," I grunt, pulling at a branch in my way. I keep trudging though, just trying to stay away from the creek. If I fell in, I'd freeze to death.
About fifteen minutes later I stop to take a break. I don't want to admit it, but I could be lost. I'm almost positive it's never taken this long before. I roll my eyes back and slide down the side of a tree, resting my legs. I just need to get my bearings.
Opening my eyes again, I try to look for any landmarks or something that might seem familiar. Sadly, I come up empty. I haven't been in here for so long, and even if I was here last week I probably wouldn't have recognized anything. It all looks the same. Tree here, tree there. The only real piece of direction I have is the creek, and I've lost that too!
To my left, I hear a branch break. Instantly, my nerves jump like they're on fire, my skin freezing over. I take shallow breaths, trying not to attract the attention of whatever it is. I wait, and when nothing happens I decide it's safe enough to get up and start moving again.
I stand up, but then hear something behind me again. I try to ignore the sound and keep moving, but then I hear it again. An uncomforting feeling rises in my chest as I realize I'm being watched. By what, I don't know.
I pick up my speed, glancing behind me at random to check for anything that might follow. I take the time to check again and watch as a shadow passes behind me, thick and deceiving. I shiver and walk faster, pulling my hoodie up around me. It's just my brain playing tricks on me.
But then something darts in front of me, causing me to slip on the wet leaves and fall backward. I watch in horror as a dark looming figure bounds for me, its fangs glaring. I gasp and grab at the roots and branches behind me, struggling to stand up. My numb fingers slip on the cold plants, so I try desperately to dig my fingers into the soil, but I can't get them deep enough to stick. I reach behind me and grab at a tree, dragging myself up. Instantly I dart, moving as far away from the figure as I can.
"Help!" I scream, trying to run up the wet hill. Twigs and vines grab at my legs as I make my way through the forest as fast as I can in a helpless attempt to escape from this thing.
Behind me, I hear the thing coming. It leaps over the brush and comes right up behind me, jumping at my ankles, trying to tear me down. I curse and try to run faster, but my legs come up short. I trip on a log and spin to the ground, my face slamming into the dirt. I quickly pull up, but it's already too late. The thing is on top of me, pinning me to the ground. I scream as it digs it's fangs into my side, terror flooding my veins. I'm sure the thing will kill me, tear me apart, but to my surprise, the monster lets go. It unhinges it jaw and steps back for half a second, but that's all I need. I dart up and race through the woods, hardly noticing it when the grass turns to tar and I run out onto the street.
I stumble to a halt, my breaths heavy and rapid. I glance behind me and see no trace of the beast. Wincing, I grab at my side. Carefully, I pull up my shirt to examine it.
I feel sick as I look at the bite, trying to remember if it's possible to die from something like this. My hands begin to shake as I watch the blood pour out, my breathing still hurried and raspy. Holy shit. What was that thing? A wolf?
"Hey!" someone yells, startling me. I drop my shirt and look over at my neighbor. At first I'm confused, and I can't figure out why Mr. Sanchez is here, but then I look at the house behind him and realize it's his. Spinning around, I look at the house across the street. My mouth drops open. It's mine.
"Are you okay?" he asks from behind me. I turn around and jump at his sudden closeness. He can't be more than a few inches from me.
"Yeah… yeah I'm fine," I say, backing away. Mr. Sanchez tilts his head, a strange expression on his face. Is that a smile?
"You gave me quite a scare… I thought something was wrong?" he asks. That's definitely a smile… but there's something crooked about it.
"No," I breathe, my eyes wide with fear. "I… I have to go," I say, spinning around and running up to my house. I must have darted right past it in my haste to get out of the woods. I slow down and edge around the side of my house and up the porch steps. I flinch at my view of the woods, but remind myself that the wolf is gone.
Carefully, I climb up and onto the roof, then into my window. The whole time my side is burning, but I try not to pay attention to it as I make my way into my room. Once I get inside I take off my shirt and patch it up, pouring alcohol and Neosporin and stuff like that all over it. Just in case. Then I take a huge bandage and wrap it around myself.
I take off my pants and slide into bed, wincing at the pain the movement delivers to my side. My eyes close and I'm already half way asleep. Just before I wink out, I have a thought.
I would feel a lot safer in my closet.