Jim bent down and considered the stick before him, deciding whether or not it would be a good idea to add it to the bundle they had already gathered. He couldn’t tell what type of wood it was, so he picked it up and bent it until it cracked. The wood inside was bone white, but it had provided enough resistance to the force he had applied that it couldn’t have been dead too long. Neither too green or too rotted, he stood back up and walked over to where Mitch and Kevin were standing, and added it to the top of the bundle that Kevin was already carrying.
Kevin felt the bundle of sticks begin to slide, and quickly kneeled down to prevent them all from tumbling away from him. He still wasn’t sure what they were doing there. He had been half way done with a bowl of cereal when Ashley had interrupted breakfast by barging into the cabin, slamming the door behind her and demanding to know where Jim was. She had already gotten dressed for the day’s trainings and work outs, which meant she was really wearing little more than a halter top and a pair of shorts. He had been trying not to stare appreciatively, seeing as how she was Jim’s girlfriend and all that, when George had walked in to see what all the commotion was about.
Except that he had just been taking a shower, and had neglected to put on even a towel before stepping out of the bathroom. At that Kevin did find himself staring, even if Ashley didn’t seem to notice and George didn’t seem to care. He quickly decided that discretion was the better part of not knowing, and had turned back to his cereal when the screen door behind him opened, and Jim walked in carrying a sword of all things. That was when Kevin decided that maybe now was a good time to panic. He had no clue what was going on, but plenty of television had gotten it across to him that Naked Best Friend plus Scantily Clad Girlfriend plus Well Armed Boyfriend equaled Jealous Rage and Other Bad Things. Except…nothing had happened. George went back to his shower, and Ashley asked Jim where he had been. When he had said something about “Avoiding my fan club,” Ashley had just nodded and sat down at the counter. While Jim had set about making himself some breakfast she had asked is he could help them get ready for the Spirit Ceremony that the girls had been planning, and Jim had agreed, and the next thing he had known, Kevin was out in the woods besides Mitch trailing behind Jim, who would pause every few moments to add sticks to the piles of wood the two younger boys were carrying.
In a way, Kevin realized he had been lucky. So far Jim had been giving him relatively light stuff to carry. That was because Mitch had had the bright idea to snag a backpack before they had headed out on their little hike, and so Jim had filled that with kindling for the fire before stacking what could only be properly called logs into his brother’s arms. The biggest piece that Kevin had to carry was only about as thick as his wrist, and probably not by much. Finally satisfied that he wasn’t going to lose his load, he stood back up and looked around at the forest about them. Jim had wandered off a bit as he considered more wood to add to their burden, and Mitch had dropped his bundle next to tree and had sat down. Kevin thought that was a good idea, and followed suit.
“So why are we doing this?” Kevin asked as he allowed his tired arms to sag to the ground.
“Because it will make the girls happy,” Mitch replied. “And happy girls make for easier living all around.”
“Oh?” Kevin smiled mischievously, and Mitch merely shook his head.
“No, not like that. They just tend to break less things that way. If they break less we have to fix less, and that means we don’t have to work as often. Thus, life becomes easier.
“Now, that I can get behind!” Kevin exclaimed. As he looked about their surroundings he noticed an odd white pile off in the distance. “Hey, what’s that?”
Mitch looked towards what Kevin was pointing at and frowned. “I don’t know. Want to go check it out?”
“Beats carrying the load of wood,” Kevin answered as he stood up. He offered a hand to Mitch, and pulled the larger boy to his feet. “Come on, before your brother decides to add more wood to the lot we already have.”
Mitch chuckled. “If you think he’ll settle for just this, you’ve got another thing coming. Jim’s obsessed with fire, and you can bet your last dollar that he’ll be out here again tomorrow looking for more wood.”
Kevin shook his head as he picked his way across the forest floor. He had already made the mistake earlier of not paying attention to where he had been going, and his pants had two large brown streaks running down his shins from skidding down a small hill after he had tripped over a root cluster. Finally they reached the pile, and Kevin realized that they were actually looking at a massive skeleton. Here and there bones had been carried off by scavengers that had picked the carcass clean, but it was still clear that what ever had died had been rather large.
“Any idea what it was?” Kevin asked.
“I think so,” Mitch answered as he picked up the skull. It was oval in shape, with a short series of jagged teeth framed by two larger fangs. There were three large holes in the bone structure, two off to the side that Kevin decided must have been for the eyes, and one larger one in the center, just above the teeth, whose purpose he couldn’t figure out.
“Hey Jim, come here!” Mitch called out.
“What is it?” Jim yelled back.
“Something you might want to see,” Mitch answered.
Jim was scowling as he walked over to where Mitch and Kevin crouched next to the skeleton, and Kevin’s eyes went wide as he saw the log that Jim was carrying with him. It wasn’t all that wide, maybe eight inches or so, but it was easily eight or nine feet long, and there was no way that he could think for them to take it back with what they were already carrying.
“What do you make of this?” Mitch asked, handing the skull over to Jim. Jim frowned as he considered the skull, before swearing quietly.
“Damn, they really did a number on her didn’t they?” he mumbled.
“So this was Kentai’s mother?” Mitch asked. Jim nodded as he continued to consider the skull.
“Who’s Kentai?” Kevin asked.
“Long, long story, and one not for me to tell,” Jim answered. “Let’s just sat this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this particular bear.” He glanced around the pile of disheveled bones, as if looking for something else, and then sighed. “But at least some one came and got him.”
“Got who?” Kevin pressed.
Jim shook his head, as if clearing his mind of some long ago memory. “Last time we were up here, George and I came out here on a hike. We found her,” he motioned to the skeleton, “and a guy she had killed. We let the cops know what we’d found, but no one had showed up before we left the camp, so I wasn’t sure they had planned on doing anything about it.” He looked up at Mitch. “Do we have any shovels back at camp?”
“Yeah, why?” Mitch answered.
“No reason to just let her lie here, I guess. It doesn’t seem right by Kentai,” Jim answered.
Mitch nodded in understanding. “There’s three of them. Shovels, I mean. You want me to fetch George as well?”
Jim smiled and nodded. “Yeah, that seems kind of fitting. Get him too.”
“I’ll do it,” Kevin volunteered. “I can go faster than Mitch can. We don’t want you guys out here after dark after all.”
“Thanks Kev, much appreciated,” Jim accepted.
Payden tucked herself against the tree she had been hiding under since the girls had gotten back from the morning’s training stint, her mind barely focusing on the book. She had actually been hiding from the rest of the girls for the past two days, ever since she had stumbled on Jim the morning before. The busses had honked the first departure warning before Ashley could really say anything to her, and she had been afraid to get anywhere near the older girls since then. It was plain to see that most of the older girls were at least friendly with Ashley, if not out right friends with her, and that most of the younger girls openly worshipped the older ones. It was bad enough already being the odd girl out that Payden didn’t want to get into a fight with the alpha of the pack.
She sighed mentally as she realized that this was going to make making friends even more difficult. But then, maybe that was a good thing. After all, the whole reason they had moved to Greenville had been to make sure that none of their friends or family got hurt. If she went and made friends now, that would just give the people who were after them fresh targets to go after. It was bad enough-
She chopped off the thought before she could finish it. Dwelling on the past wasn’t going to make living in the present any easier, and if anyone did manage to find her, she didn’t want to have to explain why she was crying. Sure she could simply admit that not fitting in was getting to her, and it wouldn’t even be a lie, but it wouldn’t be the truth either, and she didn’t want the others to think of her as being that weak willed. Before she could continue to let her thoughts drag her down that dark path, her brooding was interrupted by the sensation of cell phone vibrating against the tree, producing a horrible clacking noise as the plastic frame bounced off the wood.
“Oh, hey Daddy,” she answered as her father’s number flashed across the display. “Yes daddy, cheer camp is going fine. Our instructor got crushed by one of the girls, so we have the rest of the day off. Yes, daddy, I’m fine, I’ve even talked with some of the girls. No, I haven’t told them anything I’m not supposed to. I remember the rules we were told to follow. Don’t worry daddy, I’m not a little child anymore, I can keep a secret.” There was a moment as she listened to the voice on the other end of the line, and tears began to form at the corners of her eyes. “No daddy, I know, and I don’t want to lose you either. I- I miss her too, and it hurts so much. I wish this had never happened to us! It’s not fair!” There was another moment of silence, and this time the tears fell freely. “I- I know daddy. I will, I’ll stay safe, I promise. No one can find me up here, right? Ok, I love you too.” She closed the phone with a silent click, and slipped it back into its case even as the tears poured down her cheeks.
The pain of loss was still too fresh, too raw, and there was nothing she could do to fight it back, even if she had wanted to. She curled up, hugging her knees closer to her chest, letting her book fall to the dirt beneath her, allowing the grief to claim her.
Kevin wouldn’t have stopped to listen if he hadn’t heard the odd clacking sound the phone had made as it had been ringing. He had been curious though, and walked over quietly to find out who else had been out here, making sure that he moved quietly enough that they wouldn’t notice his presence. Who ever had come out here had probably done so to ensure their privacy, and he didn’t want to intrude on that, not to any significant degree at any rate. (Simply observing who it was though had to count as some form of intrusion.) Yet he hadn’t gotten close enough to see who had been there. He had, however, gotten close enough to hear the conversation, or at least one side of it, and he hadn’t hung out with enough people to make it difficult for him to isolate who the voice might have been. When you only know so many, recognition becomes easy, and as he headed back to the camp to retrieve George his mind replayed Payden’s conversation over and over, each time raising new questions to be asked.
It was fortunate that he had been headed in the direction towards camp. Had he been headed in the other direction he might have noticed the reflection of the sunlight off the binoculars that had been watching Payden. Given his overabundance of curiosity, it was a given that he would have gone to investigate. Yet the owner of the binoculars didn’t want anyone to know that he was there, and would have made sure that anyone who had discovered his presence would have been silenced. Permanently.