I rose from the box springs. If Martin and Baxter were being chased, that meant this was my chance. The mask kids aside, “It” could only be in one place at a time, or at least so I hoped. If so, that meant this was the time to move, while it was occupied.
Carefully lowering my feet to the ground, I perked my ears and listened carefully. The sounds of the chase had passed, and the only thing I could hear in the unnatural, windless silence was my own breathing.
Shuffling carefully to the edge of the nearby trash heap Martin and the others had run by, I peeked around the corner. I half expected to see that same nightmarish, stretched and pale face smirking back at me, with darkened, pitted eyes and a smile that touched its ear-holes. But all was silent and still.
I breathed a sigh of relief and turned back to the path. Just to be safe, I’d go in the opposite direction.
I hadn’t been running long when the announcement came again; Down to four of us already? Judging by the timing, it was likely Baxter or Martin, but it would be impossible to know which. Martin would make things easy, as I could take Baxter any day of the week, but I needed to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
I looked around. A junkyard was the perfect place for materials. Martin might be tough, but he’d be a lot less tough with some rusty nails in his feet.
Checking my immediate surroundings, the first thing I came across was a wooden signpost. One end was splintered in, but overall it looked like a decent weapon. Hefting it, I instantly felt a foot taller. Just let Bax or Yvonne show up now. Just for good measure, I wrapped some old barbed wire around it, trying unsuccessfully to avoid nicking myself. Then, something made me pause.
Were those footsteps?
I ducked behind a metal drum. Yup, those were footsteps.
Whoever it was, they were heavy on their feet, and not in much of a hurry. Well, this was my chance.
I waited until the steps had passed, then I peeked around the edge of the drum. If his obnoxious orange hoodie hadn’t been a dead giveaway, I could’ve told you it was Brodie Furlough by his girth alone.
I gripped my post. Big or not, one good whack to the noggin ought to fix him.
Edging out of my hiding spot, I approached my target, barely breathing. I was lucky the first kid I had to kill was Brodie. Baxter, Alexander, or Michael I might’ve hesitated with, but this was one grade 10 nobody would miss.
I swung hard,
Brodie cried out in pain as my strike clipped his head, cutting his ear open and knocking him to the ground.
Damn, a glancing blow.
Tightening my grip, I lifted the post and prepared to finish him off, but something made me freeze. Human pity you say? No, not for Brodie. What froze me in place was what was covering my target’s face;
Brodie was wearing a mask!
Carved of the same smooth wood as the rest, his depicted a large-cheeked demon with a furious scowl and jagged fangs.
“B-Brodie?” I asked in disbelief. Did I get the wrong kid?
Then, he lunged at me. Acting purely on reflex, I slammed the post home, knocking him to the ground, lifeless. Still, the panic didn’t leave. Over and over, I brought my weapon against his face, not stopping until blood leaked from beneath his mask.
I was raising the post for one final swing when a firm hand gripped my weapon, twisting it from my hands.
“Careful, that’s quite painful you know.” A calm, mature voice came from behind me.
Spinning around, I came face to face with another mask kid.
Although, calling him a mask kid would be inaccurate. Whoever was behind the mask carried himself with the bearings of an adult, to say nothing of his impressive height.
With an off-hand motion, the masked man chucked my weapon aside and advanced on me. His mask was white with gold accents, thin eyes, and pointed ears, calling to mind a fox or a wolf. I tried to back up as he approached, but found myself trapped against a chicken wire fence.
There was silence for a moment as we stared each other down. I grasped around for a weapon, but my hands found only air.
Then, he spoke again.
“Want to play a game, Ted?”
My blood froze. “Who…?”
Before I could finish, a figure leaped off a nearby mountain of trash, slamming into the masked man.
I blinked. It was Alexander!
For the first time that I’d seen him, he had taken off his sweater, and as I looked on he deftly shoved it over the man’s head, tying the sleeves tightly around it. Then, while the man struggled to undo the knots, Alexander pulled a split baseball bat from his belt and hit a homer against the man’s head, sending him crashing into the fence, quite still.
“Are you unhurt?” Alexander held out his hand to me, to which I could only nod in response, pulling myself up.
“That won’t keep them down for long.” Alexander nodded to the pair of motionless bodies. “Whatever voodoo or devilry keeps them going, it’s unnatural and inexhaustible. We should run.”
Nodding my agreement, I followed after him, my mind racing even faster than my legs.
I couldn’t say how long we ran for, but by the time we stopped to catch our breaths, I was exhausted. I threw myself against a pile of trash to rest, ignoring the bits of wire stabbing into me as I gasped for breath.
“We can’t stay here long.” Alexander warned, stretching and jogging in place as he warmed down. “I’ve spent the last…well, God knows what length of time jogging along the path, and it’s a loop, no two ways about it. Whichever path you choose, they all link up again, as if we’re in a giant sphere, a miniature trash planet if you will.”
He picked up a piece of rebar, using it to sketch a rough map in the sand. “When you get to one end, you find you’ve looped back to the start. If you take a turn and go straight in that direction, same thing.” He pointed to a crossroad in his sketch. “This appears to be the center, with one path going along the equator of this little world and one going along the meridian. The crossroad is where we started, and where you end up if you carry on in one direction long enough. Do you follow me so far?”
“So there’s no escape?” My spirits sunk looking at the map.
“Not that I’ve found, but I haven’t given up hope just yet.” He returned, pointing to an “S” curve in the path. “Here’s something I found. On the opposite end of the crossroads where we start is a second crossroad, naturally. Only, it isn’t exactly across. The paths swerve directly before the opposite point, leaving it diagonal of the start crossroad.” He explained.
“So, I think there may be something where the path swerves, probably hidden behind walls of trash.”
“You think it might be an exit?” My heart beat faster.
“I think it might be worth checking out. It’s better than trying to kill each other, like Brodie.”
“You mean he…?” I started.
“He came at me with this very bat.” He explained, pointing to the split wood baseball bat, the end of which he had tied together with a formerly white handkerchief. “I had no choice but to defend myself.” He paused, an inscrutable expression on his face.
“What?” I asked. He didn’t think I would judge him for offing a guy like Brodie, did he? Hell, I was tempted to thank him.
“When he attacked me,” Alexander started slowly, like he was choosing each word carefully before saying it. “His first hit was pretty weak, but I didn’t think about it then. My instincts told me I was in danger, and before I knew it, he was lying at my feet, his head bashed in.” He clenched his hand.
“Well, as you said, it was self defense.” I shrugged.
“That’s just it.” Alex looked at me, his eyes troubled. “He didn’t try to fight back, not after making that first swing. He just laid down and died. It’s like…” He shuddered. “It’s like he wanted me to kill him.”
“C’mon, you’re reading into things.” I argued. “Nobody would…” I paused. Nobody? Baxter’s description of his conversation with Brodie flashed through my mind.
Not nobody. Maybe, just maybe, Brodie would’ve.
“Maybe you’re right.” Alexander passed a hand over his face. “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never fought with anyone before, let alone…killed someone. I feel like if I sit down and come to terms with what I’ve done, I’ll break down completely.” He began jogging on the spot again. “Sorry, I have to move, keep my body working instead of my mind.”
“Suit yourself.” I shrugged. Catching my breath seemed more important to me.
Still, watching him jog like this, I was forced to realize I’d pegged him all wrong. I always took him for a nerdy, bookish type like Baxter and I, but with his sweater off, it was impossible to miss Alexander’s toned body beneath, showing through the sweat marks in his shirt. Whereas Martin had a bulky brawn to him, Alexander was lean and wiry, all bone and sinew without an ounce of fat.
Although, when he turned check the path again, I noticed more than that.
“Hey Alex…” I started. “How did you get those?”
Under his sweat-soaked shirt, a lattice of angry red gashes and scars were visible, from the base of his spine all the way to his shoulder blades.
Alexander spun around, red faced as he instinctively moved to cover the scars. “Are you being facetious?” He finally answered me, scowling. “Martin made it sound like the whole school was in on my life’s story.”
I racked my brains, but nothing came to mind. He was in my class, but always tended to be in his own little world, studying by himself. As such, we didn’t talk about him much.
“I haven’t heard of anything, but I wouldn’t say I intentionally join in the gossip circles either.” I shook my head.
Alexander stared at me a moment, as if trying to verify the truth of my words. Finally, he sighed deeply and threw himself down next to me, wincing as the trash dug into his back. For a long moment we both just sat in silence. Then, eventually, he spoke up.
“My parents are…very invested in the future of my brother Victor and I.” He paused. “I wasn’t a planned child. Both my parents were in University when they found out I was on the way, my mom to become a nurse, my dad to become a virologist. My mom’s sudden pregnancy railroaded what seemed to be a bright future for the both of them, as they suddenly had to drop out and take low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Naturally, both of their families cut them off over me, so they moved west to this middle-of-nowhere hamlet to get away, my dad working in the mining camp north of here, my mom working as a cleaning lady and, naturally, raising us.”
Alex paused again, his face emotionless. “I rarely see my father, he’s always either working or sleeping, but when he and mom talk late at night, it’s usually about hypotheticals; what if they had spent less time partying, and earned some scholarships? What if I hadn’t been born, if they could’ve held off another couple years? I think that’s why mom’s always been so strict with Victor and my education. She doesn’t want us going down the same path they did.” He unconsciously rubbed his lattice-cut back.
Once again, I felt like my simple view of the world had been turned on its head, as I saw Alex in a new light. “I’m sorry.” I said, surprised that I genuinely meant it.
“Don’t be.” He waved it away stoically. “We all have out crosses. Besides, it ends once I graduate. Its Victor I worry about.” He looked at me grimly. “My birth cost my parents their dreams. I about deserve whatever I get. But Victor…he was born well after that, he’s guiltless.” He grit his teeth. “I swear I’ll find him, and we’ll go back home together, side by side like brothers should be.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if Victor had already been caught weeks ago, there wasn’t much we could do now. “Should we get going again?” I offered instead.
“Yes, lets.” He nodded, helping me up.
I still struggled to keep pace with Alex as we continued along the path, but whenever I started to fall behind, he’d slow down until I caught up again.
As I ran, I tried to formulate a plan in my mind. Not only did I not want to kill Alex, now I wasn’t even sure I could. One jock had been enough with a moron like Martin, but Alex had brains and brawn. My best bet was to stick with him and hope there really was an exit. If not, maybe he and Martin would kill each other for me.
I was so absorbed in my planning, I didn’t notice Alex had stopped running until I slammed into his back, causing him to grunt in pain.
“What’s up, Alex?” I asked. But before he could answer me, I saw the reason. The crossroad ahead of us was filled with mask kids, just under twenty of them lounging on or against the nearby trash heaps, waiting for us.
“I’m afraid I can’t let you go any further.” A boy in blue overalls and a bug-eyed snake mask addressed us, blocking the way.
“That’s as good a sign as any that I was right.” Alex whispered to me over his shoulder. “If it gets ugly, leave me and escape over the hill to our left, the one with all the hubcaps.”
“Don’t be a hero, Alex.” I whispered back, not meaning a word of it.
He smirked, then turned back to the kids. “Isn’t this the part where you’re supposed to ask me if I want to play a game?”
“Would you accept if we offered?”
“I’d consider it.” Alex shrugged, scanning over the assembled crowd. “After all…” He paused. Looking up, I was surprised to find his hands balled tight into fists, his knuckles white. Of course, I was even more surprised by what he said next.
“Victor?” He asked, his eyes on a kid in a navy hoodie with a brown toad-shaped mask over his face. “That’s you isn’t it, Victor?”
As one, the mask kids closed ranks, blocking off Alex.
“That may be Victor,” The snake-masked kid replied in a sly voice. “But he’s not your brother anymore.”
Alex didn’t even flinch. In the blink of an eye, he drew his baseball bat, smashing it into the head of the kid so hard, I head something crack.
Alex lifted the dripping bat again, leveling it at the remaining kids.
“Get the hell away from my brother, or you’re next.” He said in a low voice.ns18.104.22.168da2