I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees. He had eluded me for days but I was finally getting close. I followed the tracks to a small clearing in the woods where the buck stood grazing. Kneeling down, I forced myself to breath evenly as I pulled the arrow back and aimed. We needed this. Everyone at camp was starving. This could feed us for days. Pulling the arrow back against my cheek, I prepared for the release.
“ISABELLA!” The scream tore through the woods. I watched helplessly as the buck took off through the clearing and bounded into the forest on the other side.
“Goddammit,” I cursed under my breath. I turned as I heard him approaching from behind me. I prepared to rip him a new asshole for ruining our dinner until I saw his face.
Something was wrong.
“Jonathan, what happened?” I asked. His face was a mask of terror. I’d never seen my little brother so afraid.
“They found us,” he said, his voice cracking over his words as tears spilled down his cheeks. A chill ran down my spine as his words reached out to me through the cold evening air.
“It happened about an hour ago,” he continued. “I was checking the traps on the edge of camp when I first saw them. I must have been downwind as they walked right past me.”
My body went numb as the scenario played out in my mind. I didn’t need him to tell me what happened but I listened patiently.
“The screams were loud but ended quickly,” he said. “I don’t think any of them suffered too much.” I nodded at him and motioned him toward me. He ran into my arms so fast that we almost fell to the ground. I desperately tried not to panic. We didn’t have anything. All I had was my bow and a canteen. Jonathan didn’t appear to have anything on him.
“Jonathan,” I said, pushing him away to look in his eyes. “I need you to tell me what happened after the screams stopped. Did you see anything else?”
He nodded slowly and pulled farther away though he still hung on to me for dear life. “After I first saw them, I ran back to camp as quickly as I could but I was too late. It was already over. I didn’t even have a chance to warn them.” Jonathan burst into tears at this and I pulled him back into my arms.
“Jonathan, you couldn’t have done anything. You need to understand that, okay? I don’t even want to think about what could have happened to you if you had been at camp when they arrived.” I shuddered at the thought and pushed it out of my mind. He was safe for the moment.
“Please keep going, Jonathan. I need to know everything.”
“There were five of them; four females and one male. I think the male was the leader. He ordered all the bodies to be brought before him. He seemed to be looking for something but all he did was lift up the shirts of everyone. I don’t know if he found what he was looking for.”
My body went cold and I instinctively touched the tattoo on my left side.
How did they know?
Jonathan didn’t notice my reaction as he continued with his story.
“After they were done, they ventured back off into the woods. That’s when I came to find you.”
I nodded. If they knew I was here, they wouldn’t give up that easy.
“Jonathan, I know you’re scared but we have to get out of here. We have to find a new camp. It’ll just be me and you; like old times.” I gave him my best smile but it was forced and he knew it. Jonathan grabbed my shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“I trust you,” he said.
A howl pierced the peaceful woods. Other howls quickly followed and they seemed to be getting closer. Jonathan stiffened as he realized what it meant. He had been followed.
I looked into his eyes as I tried to figure out where to go. The howls seemed to come from everywhere.
“Jonathan,” I said, placing my hands on his face before kissing him on his cold cheek. He looked at me expectantly, awaiting the master plan.
Get Sloshed at the Speakeasy!