Reads: 191

 

Tuhloon, Russia

March, 2005

Chapter 2: The Dark Woods


 

Pavlo's Bar was alive with loud music and neon lights. Serje could hear the tunes and patrons over the buzz of his motorcycle. He steered clear of the bar and the surrounding streets. He also made sure to stay a block away from the main drag to avoid being seen by the late night barflies and the authorities. Serje was too young to be out after curfew and could be arrested if he was spotted.

Using quiet back streets, Serje arrived at the Iyo bridge in less than twenty minutes, crossed the train tracks and rode into the community park. Cutting across the frozen soccer field, he continued north to an open gate and went over a dirt road into the forest. The dirt road led Serje ten miles into the Temo Forest to an open area where people usually parked their vehicles to hike down along the stream, in order to hunt or fish. North of this parking area was wild forest without any established trails. Serje hid the dirt bike in some brush and began to hike into wilderness with his rifle at the ready.

The woods were quiet and dark.

Serje stopped after a few miles and listened for anything in the dark woods that could be potentially dangerous. Vigilance was necessary because there were predators within the woods and also aggressive wildlife. Brown bear, gray wolves and wild boar inhabited this forest.

There was no sound, not even a breeze.

The Witching Hour was near.

Serje's breaths were white plumes of steam. His cellphone display showed -8 degrees Celsius and 11:56 pm. He had timed everything perfectly so far. Looking around, he saw that he was in a narrow clearing, flanked with trees with very little brush. It was a perfect spot to perform the ritual.

Serje knelt and propped his rifle against a tree trunk within arms reach. He took off his backpack and drew out a black towel which he spread out in front of him. Then he removed two stout candles, one purple and one brown. Serje lit them and placed each of them at the far corners of the towel. In the center of the towel, he stacked a few other items: the pieces of the torn letter he had written for Merte, a photo of himself, the teeth of a wolf, wolf testicles, a few of his own pubic hairs and a small jar of his own urine.

Serje checked the time. It was 11:59 pm.

He had hunted the wolf down the year before and shot it. The rest of the pack fled, allowing him to defile the wolf's dying body. According to the book, the teeth had to be removed and the castration had to be performed while the animal was still alive. Even though the wolf was barely breathing, the task was difficult but he had accomplished it without being bitten.

Serje opened the jar, and dumped the urine over the small pile of items. It stunk like battery acid. All that was left to do was to add his own blood and to chant the incantation he had memorized.

The book had not been specific at how much of his blood was required. Since all the other samples from Serje were so easily collected, he decided that he should offer a large amount of blood. His hands shook as he reached for his hunting knife.

Serje withdrew the six inch knife and placed his hand around the blade so that his meaty palm was against the sharp edge. He breathed in and out a few times, mentally preparing himself. He knew the cut was going to be deep and it was going to hurt a lot. After a few seconds, Serje quickly pulled the knife free of his grip, slicing deep into his left palm. He held in his grunt of pain. The cut was fiery and he felt the agony screaming all the way down to his elbow, but Serje was proud of himself for going through with it. Squeezing his hand into a tight fist, he dripped the blood over the pile of items while reciting the chant of summoning.

The woods were silent and serene.

Within seconds, the atmosphere changed.

Serje felt the eerie sensation of being watched but it was not like anything he had ever felt before. The entire forest seemed to come alive with cognition. His skin crawled as dozens of unseen eyes watched him from all around.

As peaceful as the woods had been a few seconds prior, it was now as hostile. Serje could feel a lump of fear in the pit of his stomach as if danger was seconds away. He could be killed at any moment, from any direction.

Panicked, he grabbed for his rifle aiming fleetingly at many different targets. He was trembling from head to toe but no matter what he aimed at, there was nothing there. He half expected a vicious beast to be stalking him, waiting for him to let his guard down so it could pounce. His killer could be hiding behind any tree or any brush. Serje had never felt so vulnerable and so threatened.

A loud deep groan erupted from the trees to the north.

Serje's hair stood on end and he felt shivers down his spine.

The awful groan was so loud that he could feel oscillations on his body from its deep rumbling.

Serje had never heard anything like it. It was an awful, guttural groan that was too loud to be human and it contained an agony that seemed impossible to attain. The groan was alien, not belonging to anything or any creature that was found in the normal world.

Silence fell over the dark woods again.

Serje broke out into a cold sweat, his mouth went dry and he trembled with fear. His stomach was upset, twisting itself into knots from terror.

Thankfully, the feeling of imminent dread had gone.

Serje breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a slight breeze caressing the branches overhead. Other than the weak gust, the night was calm.

After a few minutes, Serje began to wonder whether he had actually heard the groan. He could have easily imagined it or had mistaken the awful noise with a natural sound. Perhaps it was the tree trunk groaning from the breeze. Maybe it was a distant Roe deer stag that bleated a warning or a wild boar snorting an angry challenge. Serje remained motionless, straining to hear the noise again.

The bellowing groan sounded again causing him to jump. He nearly ran out of the woods right then but instead, he calmed himself and stayed put. Serje's heart was pounding so hard that he could hear the beating of it in his ears.

Then Serje heard branches breaking and twigs snapping as if something large was moving closer. Although he was completely terrified, he didn't dare run. The Dark Man of the Wood would leave if the caster of the ritual showed any weakness or fear. Serje forced himself to remain seated, frightfully waiting for the arrival of his benefactor.

As Serje was trying not to panic, a shrill shriek rang out abruptly from the shadow drenched trees. Once again, Serje barely resisted the urge to run away in fear. The noises were ghastly and threatening from some massive unseen creature. He felt tears of terror running down his cheeks and he was trembling from head to toe. Hastily Serje wiped the cold tears away and forced himself to be brave, gritting his teeth with fearful determination.

The loud groans and shrieks were accompanied by heavy footfalls, snapping twigs and crushing of underbrush. These terrifying noises continued until Serje finally saw the shadow of a colossal man slowly emerge from the trees. He knew at once that it was the Dark Man of the Wood. The vile aura that was emanating from the shadow made his skin crawl and the air temperature dropped by at least twenty degrees. Serje averted his eyes from the thing, fighting every basic instinctive urge to escape. His vision narrowed as though he was going to faint but he shook himself out of it. He remained where he was, shaking like a leaf.

The shadow must have spotted Serje, because he heard it turn towards him, approaching with heavy footfalls. With his eyes still averted, he was afraid that the creature would simply crush him underfoot and vanish, thus ending the ritual. As his fear grew, the shadow stopped about ten feet from him.

The dark woods grew quiet again.

Serje realized the complete blasphemy that he was guilty of. This vile entity he summoned hadn't appeared to him out of pity or a sense of justice. It had arrived for selfishness, hate and vengeance. In order for him to strike a bargain with this unclean thing, Serje knew that he would have to kill those who were guilty. The Dark Man of the Wood had been promised the soul energy of every victim that Serje murdered.

“You are having doubts?” The shadow asked him. It's voice was deep and clear. Serje heard the voice loudly but not with his ears. The deep voice was coming to him telepathically.

Serje didn't respond with his mind, he spoke to it, “No. I'm sure of what I'm doing.”

The truth was, Serje had decided to turn his back on God several months before. His grandfather was very devout and had taught him to love and respect God. When he was younger, they used to read the bible together nearly everyday. As the years past, Serje wanted increased time alone and more privacy. He moved into the basement and started only investing dinner time with his grandfather. Even though his grandfather reminded him everyday to pray and read his bible, Serje had stopped both activities altogether. Eventually, Serje's faith waned as his hatred grew and he decided to follow a darker path.

Over the past few years, Serje had spent countless hours praying to God for help in making friends He would beg for God to bless his enemies so that they wouldn't be so cruel to him. Most importantly, he would pray for confidence so that he would not be so awkward around others, that he would be able to make friends and not be such an outcast. Years spent waiting on God without answers or solutions had slowly turned Serje cold. His patience had worn thin until he gave up trying. In stark comparison, he had only prayed to the forces of darkness this one time and his prayer was already being answered. This quick service convinced him that he making the right choice.

Still, he couldn't help but second guess his decision to renounce God.

The tall shadow stood before him quietly. After a few seconds, the uncomfortable silence made Serje very nervous. Frantically, he went over the ritual steps in his head hoping that he hadn't overlooked or forgotten anything.

The shadow's voice boomed in his skull, “Do you know the price for my gift?”

“Yes I do,” Serje confirmed.

“Do you renounce your God?”

The Dark Man of the Woods spit out the word God, as if it were a rotten piece of fruit. Serje hesitated, knowing full well what it meant. He was at the point of no return. Once he renounced God, there was no turning back. Serje set his mind to it, knowing that he had already come too far to turn back. He said forcibly, “Yes, I do.”

“Say it.”

Serje felt more tears running down his face, “I renounce God.”

“Now stand.”

As Serje stood, he realized that the shadow was much bigger than he thought, easily as tall as a two-story building. He lost control of his bladder in fear. Serje was thankful that the thing was a shadow because he doubted he could handle seeing any details of the monster's visage or horrendous body. The silhouette of the monstrous misshapen thing was freakish enough.

The shadow pointed at him and Serje felt a hot rush of energy filling him, like a jolt of electricity. All of the terror that was holding Serje firmly within its grip vanished instantly. He felt the energy surging through him and he could barely contain his elation. This power would render him nearly invincible.

He felt stronger, more confident and fearless.

“Thank you!” Serje exclaimed.

“Do not forget your debt to me,” The Dark Man of the Wood dropped something onto the ground and then vanished.

Serje quickly removed his jacket to inspect his arms. They appeared as thin and pale as before. He was crestfallen. He had hoped with the newly bestowed strength, he would receive a more muscular build along with it.

A cold breeze blew through the trees, extinguishing both candles. Serje noticed right away that his exposed skin wasn't cold in the frigid air. He checked the display on his smart phone and it showed 12:18 am and -10 degrees Celsius. He cackled like a madman. It worked. The ritual was a success!

Serje performed a handstand effortlessly and walked around on his hands upside down without once losing his balance. Recovering, he found that forward somersaults and back flips were also very easy to do. His agility, strength and speed were amazing.

He breathed in the night air. Serje could smell the game that were close by: a badger in it's burrow, several tree squirrels in their dens, an owl in the high branches and a fox that was watching him curiously. His sense of smell had drastically improved.

Serje's hearing was exceptional as well. Everything was as good as he expected, with his newly acquired blessings, he would be able to get his revenge. Merte would never humiliate him again.

I'm going to make you suffer, bitch!

Serje began to collect the candles and the objects on the towel when he saw something laying in a small patch of thin snow. It was the item that the Dark Man had dropped before disappearing. Looking at the item, he saw that it was a belt. The belt was fashioned out of an animal's skin. Wolf skin.

Serje was so overjoyed to see the belt that he stared at it for several moments in disbelief before attempting to pick it up. His face was hot with excitement and his palms were sweaty.

As he reached for the belt, Serje hesitated. He was suddenly overcome by an irrational sense of fear that perhaps this was all just a dream. In any other of his dreams, this would be the point of him waking up to his basement bedroom saturated in disappointment that he had been sleeping. The moment he picked up wolf fur belt, Serje was afraid that he would wake up in bed without superhuman powers, without the belt and without the possibility of vengeance.

Serje exhaled slowly, leaned over and plucked the belt from the ground. He felt an intense shot of pain in his hand, as though his left palm was being branded by red hot metal.

He hastily dropped the belt.

No! Serje was horrified that his fears were coming true. He was going to wake up any second! This was all just a dream!

The horrible pain burned through his hand. Serje looked at it and was frightened to see an angry red char on his palm in the shape of a pentagram. The wound was ugly, bleeding and still smoking. The odor of his burnt flesh made him gag.

He could barely believe his eyes. It was a dark hideous mark.

Serje was again pierced with a deep seated fear.

Was he a Werewolf forever now? Was he cursed to transform into a ravenous beast against his will? Was he destined to roam the moonlit countryside killing and devouring anyone hapless enough to cross his path?

The belt lay in the snow like a discarded piece of trash.

This wolf belt was suppose to give Serje the power to transform into a Werewolf while worn. According to the book, he should be able to take the belt off whenever he wished and he would instantly be returned to his human form. This shape shifting ability was not supposed to be a curse. Serje should be able to maintain control of himself at all times even while in Werewolf form.

Hesitantly, he picked the belt up again but this time it didn't burn him. Serje turned the belt over in his hands, surprised by how plain it was. It was basically a thin brown leather strap with silver wolf fur sewn along the length of it. There was no clasp or buckle. The ends of the long thin leather strap would have to be tied to hold the belt in place.

Serje wanted to attempt to shape shift but was reluctant to try. He worried that he would lose control while in Werewolf form and not be able to maintain cognizance. The most horrible thing he could imagine was putting on the belt, blacking out then waking up the next morning to find out an innocent person had been killed and eaten. Serje wouldn't be able to live with himself if something like that were to happen. Only the guilty should be made to suffer.

He decided then and there that Merte and her cohorts would be his only victims.

The Temo Forest was silent around him.

Serje stared at the belt then made a promise to himself: he would never tell his grandfather about any of this. It would break the old man's heart. He couldn't imagine the disappointment and heartache that his grandfather would feel, if he knew Serje had the book, and even worse, used it. Tonja could never find out either. Her reaction would probably be just as bad.

Serje slipped the belt around his waist, held it in place for a few seconds then removed it. He didn't notice any change. Maybe the belt needed to be securely tied in order for it to work.

He broke out in a nervous sweat.

If he was too chickenshit to shape shift now, then how would he ever have the nerve to exact his revenge? Serje had to go through with this. He had come too far to be scared. His newly begotten confidence fueled his courage.

Serje wrapped the belt around his waist and tied the ends in a knot at his navel. As soon as he cinched the knot, the pain was immediate. His entire body was hurting but not in a bad way. The pain was gratifying, like a good morning stretch complete with popping joints. The ground seemed to drop from under his feet and he felt his back hunching forward. Serje looked at his hands and marveled at how large and powerful they looked. His hands had long fingers, vicious yellowish claws at the end of the fingertips and thick knuckles. The fur on his hands and arms was silver.

Serje was so glad that he wasn't a boring brown or gray color. As a silver Werewolf, he was unique.

There was a sudden menacing growl that caused Serje to start in alarm until he realized that the sound was coming from him. His growl was fierce, his claws were bad ass and his fur was a wicked silver. He couldn't wait to see his terrifying face.

Although Serje was anxious to explore the world in Werewolf form, he had to make sure the belt was working properly. He reached down with his long fingered hands and deftly untied the belt. Immediately, he was a human again.

Perfect!

Miraculously, his clothes had been undamaged by the transformation. The clothes must vanish during the change magically and then reappear upon his return to human form. More importantly, he had retained his cognizance over his actions the entire time. The belt worked better than he could imagine.

A musky scent filled his nostrils. There was a brown bear nearby.

This brown bear was an alpha predator and would be a perfect sparring partner for him. Serje was excited to try out his newly transformed body. If he could overpower a brown bear, there wasn't much else to fear. Serje tied the belt around his waist, felt the gratifying pain then hastily headed in the direction of his opponent.

Serje could tell that the bear was in full retreat. As easily as he detected the bear, it had also detected him. The evil aura that was no doubt radiating from Serje was probably enough to spook any normal woodland creature, even such a large predator. He hurried after the bear, happily surprised at how fast he could run. Without thinking about it, Serje dropped to all fours and found himself running even faster.

The bear had sprinted into a draw and was running along the small stream that emptied into the Temo River which flowed along the length of town. The animal was headed northwest, away from civilization and deeper into the Temo Forest.

Serje could hear the bear's panting and smell its musky scent but he couldn't see it yet. The brown bear was keeping a good pace and staying ahead of him. Trees flew by and the wind felt good as he streaked after his prey. His ability to see clearly in the darkness amazed Serje.

The trail was rocky, leaf-strewn and ran upstream. The bear's speed was impressive but Serje was more impressed by his own. Up ahead, he saw that the trail abruptly ended at a twenty foot cliff. There was a narrow trail in the rocks to his right that led up and around to a switchback then the trail continued up to the top. Instead of taking the side route, Serje didn't slow his pace as he approached the cliff. At the last second, he leaped as high as he could. He didn't make the twenty foot jump but he came close enough to grab roots and rocks along the edge and pull himself up onto the overhang of the cliff.

Taking the unexpected shortcut paid off. He caught a glimpse of the bear as it rambled through the dark trees, it's heavy body moving fast, reflecting the moonlight on its glossy coat. The woods were heavier in this area and the overlapping tall trees limited his line of sight. The foliage blanketed the underbrush with deep shadows but Serje wasn't worried about darkness; his night vision was exceptional.

The bear was still heading northwest to higher elevation.

As the bear ran, it gave him a warning growl and a series of huffs. In response, Serje snarled viciously at the bear and took off after it in pursuit. The bear weaved in and out of the trees, desperately trying to outrun him but it was no use. Serje was gaining on it.

The bear stopped running when it reached a small clearing in the thick trees. It whipped around toward Serje, with it's head low, growling and roaring. There was a thick foam around the bear's mouth as it curled it's bottom lip down showing it's teeth and snapping it's jaws rapidly. Its eyes were wide, showing the whites. It swung it's head from side to side as it faced him, slowing backing away in a submissive manner.

This bear was either a small specimen or Serje was so large that he dwarfed it.

There was no doubt that the bear wanted nothing to do with him. All of it's threats, displays of aggression and movements were in a defensive posture. Perhaps Serje wouldn't kill the bear but he would definitely have fun with it.

Although smaller than him, the bear was still a powerful and dangerous animal. Serje tried not to underestimate his opponent but it was difficult even as the bear raked its claws along the dirt kicking up stones and roots in a display of aggression. The bear continued to slowly back away from him.

Serje stayed on all fours and charged at the bear full speed with the intent of tackling it and wrestling it to the ground. The bear swiped at him viciously with it's claws before their bodies collided. One of its claws tore into his shoulder as Serje launched himself into the bear's body and knocked it backward off its feet. As they fell, the bear tried to bite him but Serje twisted away, evading the powerful jaws. The pain from where the bear had clawed him was so intense that he lost his temper and threw a clawed hand at the beast's head trying to gouge it's eyes out. Deftly, the bear avoided the claw and swiped at Serje's extended arm. Serje withdrew his arm immediately and avoided getting wounded a second time.

The bear scrambled back to it's feet as Serje backed off. He figured out that the bear was fighting in a reactive fashion; it was counter attacking every time he attempted to harm it. Since the bear's timing and reaction were superb, he was going to have difficulties penetrating the beast's defenses.

Serje didn't hesitate to attack again, lunging forward with his wicked claws. The bear did the same and they spent several seconds trying to claw each other without success.

Serje was satisfied with the test of his abilities. He had blindly rushed a bear, tackled it to the ground and came away with only one claw wound.

The bear roared at him menacingly foam flying from it's jaws. He expected it to rear up on its hind legs to fight but the bear remained on all fours. It swung its head back and forth angrily.

Serje was temporarily distracted by a tickling and hot sensation that was coming from the claw wound on his shoulder. He looked at it closely and saw that it was healing at an alarming speed. The wound had stopped bleeding so he could see sinews of flesh and fibers of muscle knitting together. The damage was vanishing leaving only healthy, unblemished skin underneath the silver coat of fur.

The bear had continued backing away. It's eyes were wide with terror and it was making a lot of noise as it withdrew, grunting, growling and snapping its jaws together. Serje had been so preoccupied with his regenerative ability that he had allowed the beast to put twenty feet between them. Seizing it's chance to escape, the bear turned and fled into the woods.

Serje let the bear go. He had successfully pursued and caught up to a wild brown bear in it's own environment even though it had a head start. A person wouldn't stand a chance of escaping him.

His healing ability left him speechless. Serje removed the belt and studied both of his palms. One of his hands was bandaged from the cut he inflicted upon himself during the summoning ritual. The other had been burned by the mark. He removed the bandage from his cut hand and saw that the deep wound had disappeared. The brand on his left palm had healed as well but there was ugly red scar tissue in the shape of the pentagram left. He would have to keep the dark mark covered at all times lest his secret be revealed.

Serje felt invincible.

Through a break in the trees, he could see the lights of Tuhloon in the valley below him. There were the various lights of multiple colors directly south which was downtown. Higher on the horizon were the greenish lights of the brown coal mines which illuminated the towers and the conveyors.

Looking down at the town, Serje felt as though it's future and the future of several people dwelling within lay in his hands. He alone had the power to steer the progress of these townsfolk to their destinies. Serje felt like a God.

He was going to save Merte for his last victim. Serje would systematically take from her, torture her through personal loss, mentally cripple her with fear. Then, after she could endure no more, when Merte was nearly insane with terror, he would finally steal her away to torture and murder her as well.

Serje trembled with anticipation. Soon, he would have his revenge.


 

* * *


 

The following morning, Serje's school day started off like any other day except for all the talk. He couldn't hear the conversations but he could tell by the way the other students were buzzing with conversation around him, that he was the subject. Serje was probably being mocked over the beating he had taken the day before. He didn't really care about all the gossip anymore because he had received the dark gift. He could punish anyone foolish enough to cross him. He had even brought the wolf belt with him to school, stowing it away at the bottom of his backpack just in case.

Serje wore black finger-less gloves to hide the dark mark.

When Serje walked into his first class, a few students said good morning to him. He was confused by their behavior. Normally, everyone just ignored him. His first class ended and by the time Serje had walked halfway to his second class, several people hailed him, a couple of students clapped him on the back and a few girls actually smiled at him. He figured out why he was getting so much attention when he got to the main hall.

The recent placement test scores had been posted on the bulletin board and Serje had placed Fifth in his senior class. He couldn't believe it. He just stared at the board while more of his peers congratulated him. He had been studying extra hard over the last few months and it paid off.

So unaccustomed to the attention was Serje, that all he could do was grin and wave to his peers like a goofball. He couldn't believe this abrupt change in fortune. To go from a nobody to an admired student in High School overnight seemed next to impossible. Somehow, he had managed to pull it off.

When Serje got to his second class, his teacher announced the test scores and the entire class applauded him. He couldn't believe what was happening. He smiled and thanked everyone, feeling a sense of bliss for the first time in several years. Serje wished his could attribute this sudden turn in popularity to the blessings he had received from the Dark Man of the Woods but couldn't. He had taken the tests several days before and earned the high scores through his own merit.

By the end of class, Serje's face was hurting from smiling so much.

During a short recess between classes, Tonja came over and enthusiastically bumped her hip against his. As usual, she looked great: beautiful, well-dressed, exceptionally groomed and smiling brightly. “Congratulations on your test scores, Weirdo!”

“Thanks, Tonja.”

Tonja stared at him for a few seconds, then asked, “Have you gotten taller?”

Serje frowned at her. He had always been a few inches taller than Tonja. They stopped walking and straightened themselves, comparing height. He was definitely at least two inches taller than before. He was pleased, “Wow. I guess I grew a bit.”

Tonja grinned. She had a lovely smile, “You tower over me now.”

He chuckled, “Hardly.”

“What's with the gloves?”

Serje said, “My hands were cold this morning.”

Tonja didn't miss a beat, “So, back to the test scores. Who knew you were hiding a big brain in that tiny head?”

Serje was sarcastic, “Ha ha. Very funny!”

Tuhloon High School was a four story building with grade 11 on the top floor, grade 10 on the third floor on down to the first floor. Tonja's classes were all two floors below. She hardly ventured up to the Senior's level but he figured she had done so because this was a special occasion.

Serje's next class was all the way on the other side of the building so he began to walk in that direction. Tonja fell in stride beside him, “So when are we going to hang out again? You could come over to my house for dinner tonight. My mom is making her famous Pelmeni.”

Serje found himself suspicious again that Tonja was keeping their friendship a secret from her folks. Clearly her family had money because she wore the best clothing, always had cash to spend and wore expensive jewelry. She had invited him to her house, expecting him to decline and so far, he had done so. Tonja never acted like she was better than him, always treated him like an equal which was why they were such good friends.

Serje didn't care as long as she never changed. “I don't know if I'm going to have time to hang out any time soon,” he told her honestly.

“Wow, you get a few good test scores and suddenly you're too good to hang out with me?” She laughed.

Tonja had the best laugh. It was positively infectious. Anyone hearing Tonja laugh would involuntarily laugh along with her. “You know it's not like that,” He said dismissively.

“Then why?”

“Why what?”

Tonja pressed him, “Why have you been avoiding me?”

Serje sighed, “I haven't been avoiding you, Weirdo.”

Tonja was persistent, “Yes, you have. You've totally been avoiding me.”

Her tone changed ever so slightly. He had been friends with her long enough to notice the tiny deviation in her voice. She was trying to be casual but he could tell she was very concerned. Tonja was rarely serious. Even if she was bothered by something, she usually made a joke out of it.

“What are you, my girlfriend all of a sudden?”

She blushed, “No way, Weirdo!”

“Then why are you grilling me?”

Tonja paused then, “I'm your best friend. I have a right to grill you whenever I want to.”

“As if.”

They walked together in silence for a few brief moments then Tonja started up again, “So what's up? Why the sudden cold shoulder? You know you can be honest with me, Weirdo.”

Serje stopped walking and faced her, “I am being honest with you, Tonja. I really want to maintain my grades which means that I have to study very hard. I'm not going to have time to go riding during the week or to hang out very often, at least not until after I graduate.”

Tonja folded her arms across her chest and squinted her eyes at him with mock jealousy, “Have you found another friend to replace me or something?”

Serje paused.

His plans for revenge were going to take up most of his free time. Between punishing the guilty and studying, Tonja was going to be inevitably edged out of his schedule. Serje was distraught because he didn't want to hurt her feelings or lose her friendship over it.

At his hesitation, Tonja's eyes grew wide. She gasped at him, “Oh my God, you have a girlfriend?” She punched his arm hard.

“Ow! What? No!”

Tonja looked stunned and ready to hit him again. She demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don't have a girlfriend! Calm down!”

She glared at him for a few more seconds. Apparently, she believed him then exhaled in relief, “I thought I was going to have to kick your ass.”

Serje was surprised by her reaction. All she ever talked about lately was how he needed to find a girlfriend before he graduated. He was still rubbing his arm where Tonja hit him, “First you want me to find a girlfriend and when you think I found one, you hit me. What the hell is wrong with you?”

have to approve of her first.”

Serje laughed, “Says who?”

“Says me.”

By the way she was acting, he was suddenly stricken by the idea that Tonja had a secret crush on him. Surely he was mistaken though. She was just his friend. There was no way a rich, pretty girl like Tonja could ever love him, even if he was two years older than she. Still the idea was exciting to him.

Serje decided to prod her, “Why do you care who I choose as a girlfriend, Weirdo?”

Tonja's answer was immediate, “Because I'll have to deal with her whenever we hang out. What if she and I hate each other?”

Tonja was still very serious. Could it be that she liked him more than a friend? Could she be pining for him as he had Merte? Was it possible that their friendship had blossomed into something more?

Tonja smiled at him sweetly, “Besides, anyone who would go out with you, would have to be a troll. Wouldn't you want my honest opinion of her first?”

Serje scowled at her, “Ha ha. Very funny!”

She laughed and hugged him around the shoulders, “Just kidding, Weirdo!”

“I've suddenly become your favorite punching bag.”

Tonja laughed, “No, you're just my favorite. I have to get to class. I'll see you tonight.”

“Tonight?”

She nodded at him, “I'm coming over for dinner.”

Serje sighed, “I'll never get any studying done.”

Tonja laughed again, “Your grandfather invited me. At least, he wants to spend time with me.”

Serje scoffed, “I want to spend time with you too.”

“Liar.”

“No, I really do. You're my best friend, Weirdo.”

Tonja smiled, “And don't you ever forget it!”

Serje went to his next class, planning to study extra hard. He wanted to hold onto his newly acquired test scores above all else. If he could maintain them for the rest of the year, he might have a great graduation after all. Perhaps he could even manage to get a girlfriend. Only time would tell.


Submitted: November 25, 2017

© Copyright 2021 Cthulu45. All rights reserved.

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