The drumbeat in my head grew til it was a whole marching band. The ground before me swayed like a rope bridge, and I could hear Colt’s voice, but not what he was saying. All I could see was the decrepit building before me. Ivy crawled up crumbling stone walls. The entry way was broken down and faded paint peeled off the door. I counted 3 cracked windows. Above the door, a sign read “Welcome to Stony reek Inn” in yellowed letters. The ‘C’ had clearly fallen off a long time ago.

My knees gave out.

“Whoa!” Colt jumped to hold me up. “Don’t freak out that much, man! I was just kidding about the whole ax murder thing. Your mom’s friend is probably a really nice person.”

My mom’s friend, I thought blearily, still staring at the building. What did she have to do with anything? Why was I here? Had I run, finally? If so, why the heck had I brought along Colt?

Suddenly, the peeling door burst open, and both of us jumped. Colt shifted anxiously, tightening his grip on my shoulders. “Who’s there?” he asked, his voice wavering a little. I almost smiled—cat calling the kettle black, or however that saying went, I thought—then another wave of pain hit me, and darkness touched the edges of my vision. “Stay with me, Matt,” he muttered, squeezing me hard. “If you pass out and leave me to defend you from what could be psychos, I will kill you when you wake up.”

“I’m not going to pass out,” I managed to eek out. “Just stop killing my shoulder, okay?”

“Oh. Sorry.” He loosened his hands. “Better?”

I grunted. "Better."

Two figures stepped into the half-light coming from inside the building. “Who’s that out there?”

A woman? Teenaged girl?

“We’re looking for a friend of ours,” Colt said politely, though his voice still shook a little. “You wouldn't happen to be…” He paused. “What’s your mom’s friends name again?”

Struggling to sit up, I untangled the knot my thoughts were making. “Jade Carpenter," I managed to eek out, just as a fresh wave of pain swept over me.

There was a loud silence. The shadowed figure didn't shift. I looked at Colt. He shrugged.

“Sammy, why aren’t we leaving?”

A kid. A little kid.

I took a deep breath, trying to clear the humming in my ears. None of this was making sense.

The first voice finally spoke again. “Don’t worry, Linds. We’re leaving right now.”

I saw her step down from the porch, then lift the younger one down after her and head our way. Everything about her was shadowed, but she moved jerkily, like a marionette on strings. The whole area around her seemed to be electric with frustration.

Colt leaped to his feet when she passed by. “Please could you help us—”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked. She wore a baseball cap, which shadowed her face just enough to keep us from seeing her expression. The little girl beside her looked between the two of us with anxious blue eyes, clutching the older girl’s hand tightly. Even as my head pounded, I quickly cataloged them. Backpacks--stuffed to the point of bursting. Heavy down coats, in late March. Threadbare jeans and ratty tennis shoes. A scowl poking its ugly face from under her cap.

We should run, while it's still safe, I thought.

Colt tried being friendly. “We’re visiting Perimont Village for a day—gotta get my quaint on, you know?” He chuckled at his own pathetic attempt for a joke.

The girl cocked her hip. I got the feeling she might be glaring at us. No, wait, she definitely was glaring at us.  “If you were smart, you’d find somewhere else to stay," she barked, her scowl degenerating into a glower.  "Or just leave here. Nothing good happens here. Nothing.”

Colt started to answer, but she walked by him without another word, pulling the other girl along after her.

The ringing in my ears paused as she tossed her hair over her shoulder, and it caught in the light.

Red. Bright red.

“Well!” Colt huffed, his breath clouding in the chilly air. “That was weird.” He turned back to me. “Do you need help getting up? Or are you going to spend the night out here?”

I got up on one knee. My ears still rang, but I don’t think it had anything to do with my headache now. That encounter…it made no sense. And it needed to make sense. It had to make sense.

I needed it to make sense.

 {excerpt from the great ones and the general, by ely s. gyrate}


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