Keep Away

Matt clicked the safety on and strapped the rifle over his shoulder. He jumped out of the tree and landed on a bumpy root hidden under a layer of crunchy leaves, sending a sharp pain through his knee. He tried running, then compromised on an accelerated walk.

Matt used his arms to shield his face from the blackberry bushes and the low tree branches pointy enough to poke an eye out. It wasn’t until making it through a dense part of the forest he realized he was almost at the bank of the river that ran through the back of the property, which, unbeknownst to him, meant he was close to a mile away from the house. Noble firs blocked his view, but, after a week of rain, he could hear the river’s current through the trees. Water crashing against the rocks echoed through the valley, so deafening that Matt could hardly hear himself panting.

To both his left and right, there was about one hundred yards of flat land between him and more brush similar to what he just came through, but, still, no Wilson.

Matt rested his hands atop his head so his lungs had room to expand, but the cold burning sensation attacking his chest wouldn’t go away.

All he wore was a camouflage crew neck his grandpa had given him, sweats from school, and waterproof hunting boots he found in the garage. All unsuitable for the conditions.

“Matt, over here! Hurry, over here!”

His cousin was a notch higher than the river.

Matt started towards him and nearly face-planted after slipping on some wet, jagged rocks hiding under the weeds. He stuck his arms out just before his entire body hit the ground, but not before both shins met a rock’s sharp edge. It cut open his sweats and left a couple gashes that sent blood trickling down his legs.

Uncomfortable, freezing, and in pain, Matt’s irritation with Wilson was only increasing.

“Put that down,” Matt said when he finally made it over to his younger cousin.

Wilson didn’t register what Matt was referring to until he said it more sternly a second time.

“Where is she?” Matt asked. He picked up the rifle and pointed it downwards.

Wilson led him along an unkempt trail that took them to the river, where Sally was inches from the water fighting to stay awake.

Or, better yet, alive.

“What should we do?” Wilson asked.

Matt crouched down and scratched the top of Sally’s head. The bullet had gone through her shoulder, so he took his crew neck off and gently covered her wound with it.

She whimpered at first, but then, relaxed and let him care for her.

“I—I—it was—it was an accident. I thought she was something else,” Wilson said.

“I’ll go get Grandpa,” Matt said.

“What?”

Matt repeated himself over the thunderous river.

“What are we going to tell him?”

“That the river took her.”

Matt tossed Sally in and said, “And that you went after her.”

“Wai—”

Matt threw his cousin in and watched the water carry them towards the waterfall.

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