9. Hide and Seek
Rain started to drizzle forcefully down on us. It had turned dark almost thirty minutes ago and we were almost at the cabin.
Ella was quiet the whole time. All of us were quiet as we tried to remember the path back to the house.
Austen supported most of my weight the whole time, keeping his arm under my elbow. I began to feel like an invalid.
The house came into view moments later. It looked the same and the lights were off.
I couldn't remember if it had been turned on or off before we fled.
We sneaked around the corners, ducking when passing the windows. We rounded the last corner and the porch lay in front of us.
Logan waved his hand low. It was a signal to stay here.
Austen followed him into the house quietly as Ella breathed slowly behind me. I took her hand in mine, suddenly needing the support of Ella Osborne more than ever.
Moments later, Austen opened the front door and beckoned his head into the house.
Ella and I ran around the porch, up the few steps and into the warmth of the house.
Logan was by the phone while Austen closed the door behind me. Ella ran to the room she had been sharing with Adrianna.
I realized then, with a start, that we hadn't given Adrianna or Oliver a second thought. I felt ashamed and horrified to where they could be.
I refused to think that they were somewhere near the monster.
Ella came into the kitchen as I filled bottles I found in a cupboard with water. She threw open the cupboards and filled the bag she was carrying with granola bars, different sorts of cookies and many more.
She handed me a sweater she had over her arm, threw one toward Austen and Logan.
''Yes, deputy Tyron please.'' Logan spoke into the phone.
There was a long pause. ''Deputy, this is Logan Fuller, you handled the case about our friend Rebecca Dunn's murder…'' he stopped.
The thunder beat down on earth outside as buckets of water cascaded from heaven.
''Listen deputy, you have the wrong guy. We've been attacked by the real killer.'' Logan's voice was urgent.
''Jack! Listen to me. Our friend was murdered. You need to come to the cabin right now. This is an emergency.'' He said.
There was another pause as deputy Tyron spoke.
''Please just come to the cabin. It's an emergency.''
Thunder rumbled outside and Logan held the phone away from his ear. At that same moment, the fridge groaned and Ella opened it, the light was gone.
The power tripped and I groaned.
Everyone scattered around the house. Ella went get some blankets and Logan said something about seeing something a few meters from the house and was going to see what it was.
He was gone for some time, Austen became agitated. ''I'm gonna see what's taking Logan so long. I'll be back soon.''
''I love you.'' He said and pulled me into the circle of his arms.
Austen kissed my lips yearningly before he left. It was a strange kiss, a soft yet sad kiss that left me mystified.
I stayed in the kitchen, waiting for either to come back. It was quiet suddenly, the thunder and rain as it fell onto the roof was the only sound.
Ella came down the stairs just as I was on my way to them and I gasped. ''You scared me.''
She smiled and threw me a granola bar; I tucked it in my jean pocket.
It was a few minutes that passed, Austen and Logan didn't come back. Ella's face was turned into fear as a knock came from the kitchen.
I followed the sound, Ella trailed behind.
A hand grabbed my neck and I was roughly pushed against a bumpy chest as something pressed into my side.
I gasped as the sting from the pressure made itself known. The blade was cold and the blood warm as it flowed from my left side.
Ella stood there on the threshold, her eyes wide and scared.
The pressure increased as the thickset man from before-wearing the same mask-stabbed me deeper.
''Ella,'' I breathed. ''Run.''
She shook her head. ''Riley, no.''
The man's eyes were on her I saw as I raised my eyes slightly.
''Ella, run.'' I repeated with a gasp.
She turned around and the man pressed harder, I cried out in pain and a tear rolled from my eye.
I thought of my parents sitting at home with no idea that their only child had been stabbed with a knife, with no idea with the turmoil I had to face in the past week.
I thought about Austen. The love of my life. Where was he now? Suddenly it dawned on me.
Was he dead? Did he lie outside in a pool of blood the way I'm about to? Did he think about me as I thought about him right now?
I found the courage. I found the courage from my thoughts, to keep fighting.
I leaned my head down and bit the man's arm around my neck as hard as I could. I tasted rain-strange enough, it moistened my dry mouth-I tasted leather and then the vile taste of skin.
It felt satisfying as my teeth cut through that skin and I released my mouth as soon as I tasted blood.
The man grunted and uttered a harsh string of profanities as he released me, pulling the blade from my side.
It tore through my ears, a screeching sound that was very close to someone scraping their fingernails on glass. Only this was different because it was direct in my ears.
My own incision.
I grabbed the nearest thing my hands could find; a glass vase standing atop a table and I smacked it over his head.
I knew that it would buy me some time. I knew that it wouldn't be much but it would let me get away.
I knew the moment I stumbled out of the house and fell down the porch steps, the rain drops plunging down on me; I knew that he was behind me.
I wanted to search for Austen and Logan but I couldn't. I had to get away; I had to catch up to Ella before he catched up to me.
I fell a lot as I headed into the woods-knowing that's where she would go. Back to the forest.
I was vaguely aware of the monster following behind. He was maybe two miles behind as I made my way through the slick path.
I saw her then, her shoulders hunched, as the weight of the backpack ate at her, as she sprinted tiredly forward. I waved my arm, stupidly so as I realized she wouldn't see me. ''Ella,'' my voice failed me.
''Ella!'' I tried again, she stopped and turned around.
''Riley!'' she rushed to me just as I collapsed to the ground, the whole way clutching my side with my hand.
The heavy shower still fell down as Ella threw my arm around her shoulders, supporting most of my weight as we continued unseeingly into the darkness.
It felt like hours passed, like gallons of blood dripped from my wound, it felt like I was dying a slow and painful death yet still I could keep fighting for what I loved.
I could face death and still keep going. I knew that much about myself.
I loved my parents, Austen and my friends too much to let them down without some sort of a fight.
I wasn't sure if monster was following us still, I didn't want to stop as daylight broke through the looming grey clouds.
The earth was wet from the night's rain; it smelled fragrantly, sweet and alluring. I wanted to stop.
I wanted to give Ella some rest as she was supporting a third of my weight. But I was too scared.
I was scared he would catch up to us, and I was scared that if he did, that we wouldn't be able to get away again.
I had a feeling that my good luck had run dry with the rain.
She breathed heavily and I assessed her for the first time.
Her hair, always silky blond and straight, was wet and clung to her scalp. It was messy and dirty and her green eyes were troubled and tired.
''We have to tend to that thing,'' she pointed toward my wound.
I snickered, grimaced then flinched back from the pain. ''Still an aversion to blood I see,''
She smiled. ''Gotta keep some of my personality in tact.''
I nodded and leaned my right hand on a tree trunk. My breathing was shallow, my body diluted as the loss of blood caught up with me.
''Ella,'' I whispered, fighting back the tears.
''Mmmh?'' she looked up, she was clearly distracted and I wondered idly if her thoughts were on the same page as mine.
''Do you think Austen and Logan are,'' I struggled to think the word, let alone say them.
She shook her head determined. ''No.''
I nodded as she took my arm around her shoulders again and we continued forward.
We continued south for another forty minutes until we reached a cliff.
It stared down for miles on end deepening until, very faintly; I could see the stream of a river running through the mountain ridges. Far out, maybe ten miles, I could see the start of another mountain and its trees peaking atop the elevations.
A few feet away, was another solid piece of straight rock ascending the air and Ella helped me to sit against it.
I stared up, the rock faced about five meters high and the start of another elevation began.
I shivered violently as a coldness washed over me.
The birds chirped around us, the trees whistled in the breeze and the clouds pulled away and forward as the wind blew them.
It created a peaceful serenity that I couldn't help but welcome. It soothed my body though it did little to soothe my heart and mind.
Ella pulled the black backpack off her shoulders and zipped it open. She pulled out a blue blanket, threw it over my shaking legs. She rummaged through the bag and pulled out a white box with a red cross on it. First Aid Kit stood beneath the cross.
She opened the box, pulled out gauze and a bottle of water in the bag.
She ripped my bloodstained shirt at the bottom where the wound was and nearly threw up.
I looked down and scoffed though I could feel the pain as it shoot through to my side again and again.
The worst was the pain as it pulled back again and again, only to return with a twigging ache that left me breathless each time. And it happened often enough that I felt like I didn't have any oxygen left in my lungs and as I gasped for it, the pain subsided and returned that much worse again.
''You don't,'' I breathed weakly. ''You don't have to do this,'' my voice broke on the last part.
Ella looked at me, her eyes shining with the nausea. ''I have to. It's getting worse and the blood won't stop unless I do something. You can die Riley.''
I shrugged my frail shoulders, forcing my voice to cooperate with my mind. ''Not so bad. I can face death and still keep fighting.''
She frowned. ''Don't try to be brave. Now keep still.''
She cleaned the gash-which was the size of a butcher's blade-with the wet gauze and went to work with an antiseptic lotion.
''How deep do you think this is?'' she asked to distract herself.
I kept my eyes shut. By the looks of it I'd say it was about one and a half inches long and five to six inches deep.
''Five to six inches.'' I murmured softly.
Ella did something to the red skin around the cut that stung. Momentarily she'd wipe away the blood that oozed from it.
It was numb then; I felt nothing but the tugging sensation as she stitched me together.
She took clean gauze and applied a toffee colored liquid onto it and held it over the cut; she then wrapped a bandage around my waist and tied it tightly together at the end.
''There,'' she said proudly and I opened my eyes. A small smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as she smiled.
''Proud of yourself huh?''
She nodded. ''It's not everyday I get to stitch my best friend together without causing more damage.''
I took the bottle water she handed me and the cookies. It was chocolate cookies and I hastily ate a few.
The water moistened my parched throat as I gulped it down.
''Best friend?'' I kept the conversation going.
''Yup.'' Her voice still held the fear she tried to hide.
''Since when?'' I looked at her.
She shrugged. ''You were my best friend since kindergarten Rils.''
I turned that over in my mind a few times.
''Of course, Rebecca was always your best friend and I was always second. I still am.'' She continued and I felt a twinge of guilt.
''You were just so dainty back then. You still are now. I feel like I can't keep up with you and your phases.'' I confessed gently.
She narrowed her eyes. ''I only went through a few of those.''
I nodded and scoffed. ''Yeah. A few of the worst. You were a gothic girl, then a witch, a friend, then a bitch. And then you turned yourself into Barbie. And now this,''
She frowned again. ''This?''
''Yes, this princess who can't live without her prince though you don't have a prince. Life isn't a fairy tale story book. It's a life with ups and downs, bumps and stop signs to warn you when you've reached the boundary.'' I whispered then paused.
''We can't keep pretending that when we wake up tomorrow morning that everything has fallen back into its beautiful self. That what has happened this past week hasn't really happened and that you're dreaming.'' I kept my voice gentle as I tried to pull her into reality. ''Sooner or later, you're going to have to shake yourself out of this phase because honestly, it's not attractive.''
She looked at me, the crease smoothed out on her forehead. ''You're right. I was a friend and a bitch. I wasn't a good friend and I'm not one now.''
I took her dirty hand and smiled. ''You stitched me together without causing more damage. That classifies as a great friend.''
She laughed. ''Yeah it does, doesn't it?''
''I'm in love with Logan,'' she said after a few moments of silence. I stared, wide-eyed, at her. Shock evident in my face.
She burst out in laughter, the sound booming through the endless sky.
''Are you serious?''
She nodded, her eyes shining with the happiness she felt toward thinking about Logan.
His name brought on a sense of loss. I shook it off. ''Have you told him that?''
She blushed. ''We're actually kinda together for a while now.''
My eyes widened. ''Trust Logan not to tell his best friend anything.''
She smiled and her happiness slowly conveyed onto me.
It was around one p.m. when we heard sounds in the bushes around us. I was instantly alert though my body was sleeping.
Ella looked at me through sleepy eyes and I looked back toward the bushes in the east.
Something stirred in it; something moved that made the leaves bristle. We were on our feet instantly, grabbing the backpack and the blanket and ran around the high rock.
We hid behind it, I peeked to see who was there and I gasped.
The thickset man, carrying a brown rifle-much like my father's-emerged from the trees. He looked around himself, looked down the cliff.
He turned around and I pulled back, afraid that he might see me.
He had light red hair, a chubby face with a red beard moving along the contours of his jaw line, and his eyes were narrow and dark.
Ella and I walked backwards as he took a few steps closer toward us; I looked back and noticed the end of the cliff becoming very close.
Something caught on Ella's foot and she tumbled down, I turned, gasped and reached for her arm just as a low scream echoed from her and her legs hung down the rock side.
My fingers closed on her wrist, she flailed helplessly beneath me and I grunted as the pain that hid from me before, returned with force.
Ella's right hand tried to grab onto the cliff but she failed. Her feet tried to hold find a spot to push herself up.
My left hand-which was on the ground to keep myself from sliding-reached out to take hold of her right hand.
I felt myself slipping as the sand underneath my feet gave way.
Ella's eyes locked on mine for an instant as she heard the same sound I did. The sound of footsteps slowly ambling toward us.
A tear escaped a brilliant green eye as she floundered some more.
''Let go,'' she whispered harshly.
I shook my head, concentrating very hard to keep myself from slipping as her hands slipped beneath my grasp.
''Riley, let go.'' She ordered sternly.
''No, I can pull you up. Just stop flailing yourself and work with me.'' I frowned.
Her wrist slipped farther down to the point where I could feel her thumb against my palm.
''Tell Logan I love him.'' She breathed and her hands slipped completely from my grip.
My heart stopped in my chest as I watched her fall down the ridge. I stared after her for a moment before my body warned me of the danger approaching. I got to my feet, dazed and disoriented, and took off on a run away from the cliff.
My heart wouldn't beat properly as I entered another set of trees. Why did she let go?
I could've pulled her up. I knew I could.
I felt like slumping as my knees trembled under my weight. I cried and the tears flowed freely now as no one was near to see me break to pieces.
I had a right to break at some point. Ella, falling to her death in front of my eyes pushed me over the periphery line. It was enough to rip the last bit of my courage to shreds.
I felt eyes on me. A feeling I was getting familiar with as time passed. I turned to look back and my heart restarted with the adrenaline that pulsed through my limp body.
The monster was following me, I could see him clearly behind me.
He was ten maybe fifteen feet behind me and I marched forward like I haven't run in a long time.
I tasted adrenaline in my mouth; it was so evident that I tasted it in the air. I could feel it as it pushed me farther.
My foot touched the body of a tree trunk that sprawled across the ground. I felt the impact as my feet raised and I stumbled to the ground with a force that left me winded.
I struggled to get my mind to send out the simple orders of getting to my feet and running again. I struggled to focus my eyes on something that loomed above me.
It took me a minute to be coherent enough to make out the white face above me, the top covered with a moss of red hair and the jaw line spread with a red beard.
The thick back piece of a rifle intruded my vision and a deafening blow as the rifle smacked into my face clouded my ears.
That was the last thing I saw and heard as the rifle connected with my forehead, knocking me into a pool of unconsciousness.