I don’t think this is the Boundary. I think someone’s been hiking ahead of me, painting random trees. Either this is a joke, or someone’s purposely trying to get me lost. The second I have that thought, I’m so scared my hands are shaking. Jesus, Cubby, calm down! You’re going to be fine! Except I have this really dark feeling that I’m not going to be fine.
There’s that smell again, that rotting smell. I wish I could stop breathing so I wouldn’t have to smell it. It’s filling my nose and my whole head, and it’s so full of death I want to throw up. Except maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it means I’m closer to where we started than I realize. It’s just a dead deer, it’s just a dead deer. It’s just nature, don’t be scared.
The darkness feels mean and merciless. The sky is dark blue now, and all the trees are all turning black. No fireflies or moon to guide me, only a scattering of dim stars. I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. I should turn back, but don’t know where I was in the first place. I don’t know if I should keep moving or stay put. What the fuck is happening.
I’m pretending not to notice that there’s someone following me.
I can hear the footsteps, completely in sync with my own. Not chasing me, just dogging me. At first I thought it was the echo of my own steps, but that’s not what echoes sound like. I’m trying not to speed up, even though all I want to do is run. Don’t run, don’t run, don’t run. It would be stupid to run, I tell myself. It would be inviting them to chase me, and I know I wouldn’t be fast enough. I have to keep walking, and make this last. Maybe it’s just some guy trying to scare me, and if I seem oblivious he’ll get bored and go away. Or maybe it’s Jason, but he’s too shy to speak up. I’m scared to look back. Please please please Jason if that’s you, say something before I lose it for god’s sake please…
There’s a sudden rustle, then I hear something rushing at me. It happens so fast I can’t tell what’s happening. I trip and fall on the ground and feel hot breath on my face. Followed by slobber. Oh my god it’s the dog.
“Barkster. Barkster, oh my god.” I’m trying to keep my voice low, but never in my life have I been so happy to see a fucking dog. He’s licking my face, and I throw my arms around him, pressing my face into his warm fur and just thanking god. I know I’m holding him too tight but I’m just so happy.
“Is Boone with you?” I whisper, and part of me is so insane at this point that I’m actually hoping he will answer me. Maybe it’s been Boone following me the whole freaking time! Please god please let it be Boone.
“Boone?” I say weakly, my voice barely audible. “Uncle Greg?”
Barkster is starting to squirm. I loosen my arms, and he jumps out. And then, as quickly as he appeared, he’s gone. I hear a rustle of leaves and the sound of him dashing off. I can’t see which way he went.
“Barkster, come back!” I hiss into the darkness. I feel my eyes filling with tears. “Barkster, please come back!” Tears are streaming down my face. I don’t know if I should scream for Barkster or stay quiet. I don’t know if whoever’s been following me is still there, or if it’s safe to just sit here in the darkness. Slow minutes pass. I’m frozen. I listen for sounds. For Barkster to come back to me, for the footsteps behind me to finally close in. But I don’t hear anything at all.
I’ve made myself as small as possible, hunched against a tree, wishing I could sink entirely into its shadow. I don’t know how much longer I can sit here silently. My neck and legs ache from being in such a weird position. But there’s no way I can move without making noise. I want to get up and run so badly. Anything would be better than sitting here frozen, too scared to move even to wipe the tears off my face.
I can feel someone out there, waiting…for what? For me to run? For me to scream? I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s Jason. Jason would never be this creepy. That’s just not like him. In fact none of this is like him. He’s not the type to just ask a girl out. I think about that email again, from the mysterious email address. Anyone can get a Gmail account. I’ve probably been led here to get killed by some stalker. Jesus, Cubby, stop scaring yourself! Be calm, for fuck’s sake. Be calm. Be calm. Except I don’t know if being calm even matters. If you’re going to die, what’s the difference if you’re calm or not.
Shallow breaths. Trying not to make a sound. I’m so scared I shut my eyes tight, but having them closed is even scarier, so I open them again. Not that it matters. It’s so dark I can’t see my own knee in front of my face. But actually that’s comforting; if I can’t see me, no one else can see me either. Whoever’s out there, he’s waiting for me to move so he can find me again. I’m terrified Boone’s phone is going to ring and give me away. Don’t ring, don’t ring, don’t ring.
I hear myself scream.
The entire forest lights up in a soft pink glow. Suddenly I can see everything, and everything can see me. For a second I’m frozen with terror in the brightness. Then I’m running. I don’t even remember standing up, but somehow I’m darting between the trees as they flash green, gold, pink and blue. It’s the fireworks, and their explosions are so loud I can’t hear anything else. I’m too scared to look back.
The explosive colors fill the sky. They’re meant to be beautiful, but tonight they’re going to kill me. I was safe in the darkness, but now I have to run. A tiny voice in my mind tells me to slow down or I’ll run straight off the cliff like Lieutenant Barrow and his horse. But I can’t stop. Running is all that’s left. My mind is gone and I can’t think of anything else. I just run, knowing that any second I could be tackled to the ground and this will be over.
I feel my right foot smack down against hard rock. My left foot hits air. Then I don’t know what’s happening but my eyes are filled with color. The sky glitters, and it’s so big, it’s the whole world, and I’m hurtling into it. The sound of wind in my ears, the whistle and crack of a thousand colorful blazes.
Then I feel a whoosh in my heart, and the colors are gone. ♦