I didn’t realize that I’d closed my eyes until I heard Chay shout, “Todd, open your eyes! Are you trying to make Henbane’s job easier?”
I opened them reluctantly.
And discovered that I wasn’t dreaming.
Chay was pulling me further into the forest as Henbane lifted himself from the ground, his face contorted with a type of anger that was more deadly than anything I’d ever seen.
Henbane had taken a fistful of dirt in his hands and thrown it onto ground as he rose, growling in frustration. “Chay, you realize how this is going to end–ready for some deja vu?”
Chay seemed to stiffen, but his quick gait didn’t falter as he turned to the right, pulling me along. I’d never been much of a runner, and I was nearly tripping over myself as Chay hurried through the forest, easily jumping and dodging every obstacle.
I didn’t know what I was trying to say, but he interrupted me, throwing me over a small ledge. It was only a few feet high, and it was created from an eroded hill and several dead trees. It looked very much like a rampart.
“Chay, I’ll make this easy for you!” Henbane’s voice was high and conniving. “Give me the boy, and I’ll let you keep that little disc; I won’t give you any more troubles over it, I promise!”
“What does he want me for?” I hissed, but Chay only shot me a cold stare, his tone as sharp as a whip.
“What do you think, Nostradamus?”
“Chay, you can consider it a… souvenir. A gift from Cyrus. Why don’t you return the favor with a little present of your own?”
“Stay down here.” Chay jumped forward, and I heard his voice next: “You know that isn’t going to happen, Henbane!”
“Aw? Are you playing the hero again, Chay? Does that make it all worth it?”
I heard footsteps, and pressed myself further against the earth.
“Come a step closer, Henbane, and you’re a dead man.”
“Right,” Henbane’s tone was suddenly sardonic. “Just like last time. And the time before that, and the time before that.” A high, mirthless laugh that made me cringe echoed through the forest. “What do you think you’re fighting, Chay? A ghost? ‘Cuz you ain’t killed me yet!”
Chay didn’t respond, but I could hear his heavy breathing. Immediately, my mind supplied his calculating expressions, eyes focused heavily upon Henbane. I could imagine his hands, raised as fists, poised readily in front of his chest.
“Ooh, you look ready for a fight, Chay? What’ve you got on you?”
I shook my head stubbornly, knowing that I had to be an idiot for wanting to see what was going on.
But I couldn’t resist the curiosity that was causing my pulse to quicken.
I clutched onto a large root, and heaved myself upward, watching the exchange in front of me.
Chay was standing exactly as I had envisioned, Henbane advancing toward him, slowly and stealthily–I thought he looked like a wolverine, with his severe grin and crazed eyes, which landed upon me almost instantly.
“Everett, right, kid?”
I wondered suddenly how he could possibly know my name. I must’ve paled because Henbane laughed more fiercely than ever. “I’ll be with you in a minute, kid. You and I have a long drive ahead of us.”
“Good luck with that, Henbane.”
Henbane turned back to Chay. “I enjoy a challenge.”
Henbane seemed to move in slow motion. I could see his raising hand, his feet running against leaves, which flew into the air. Chay was readying himself for a blow, his feet settling more firmly into the ground. They fought side by side, fists flying. Chay kicked his leg up, narrowly missing Henbane’s shoulder.
Henbane dodge, grabbing at Chay’s abdomen. They fell, rolling across the ground. The pair hit a tree, leaves falling around them.
I didn’t think I could move. I’d lost feeling in all parts of my body; I was still hoping this was a dream… some sort of very realistic dream–
My thoughts were broken by a loud shout, from Henbane.
“Stay still, Chay–I promise I’ll make it quick.”
Henbane grabbed Chay by the collar pinning him to ground. “Not painless,” he grinned. “But quick, I swear. I’d hate for the kid to witness a slow death–not a fun thing to see, is it Chay?” Henbane threw Chay into the air, and he fell, a few feet away, landing in a crumpled heap.
He didn’t move.
I prayed that he wasn’t unconscious. Henbane advanced, swaggering as though he’d just spent a night with Virgil. His nose was bleeding, the blood was black and falling into his mouth.
I turned to Chay, preparing to run as quickly as I could if he didn’t get up. He was lying face down, his back moving quickly up and down as he breathed. It was a silent sound, muffled by Henbane’s heavy steps.
“Nice knowin’ ya,’ Chay.” Henbane’s voice was low, mimicking the soft sound of parent’s voice before putting a child to bed.
Every part of me wanted to look away, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn from Henbane.
I’d spent so much time looking at Chay that I hadn’t realized what Henbane had suddenly withdrawn from within his coat: a knife. It caught the sunlight dangerously.
Henbane looked at the sudden noise, his eyes finding me immediately. “Hope you don’t mind the sight of blood, kid.”
Henbane lifted the knife into the air, and–as reflex overtook my mind–I tightly shut my eyes.
There was a scream, deep, guttural, and pained.
I fell to the ground, shaking my head and doubled over in disbelief.
It was several moments before I realized that I should run; I didn’t stand a chance against Henbane if Chay was… if he was–
“Hey, Henbane, long time no see!”
I jumped back to my original position, eyes wide:
Chay was alive, scraped and bruised, but perfectly capable of fighting: Henbane was pinned against a tree, one of Chay’s muscular arms held securely beneath Henbane’s throat.
“You honestly think I’d give up that easily?” Chay was whispering. “I wouldn’t give your ego that much attention.” Chay laughed wildly, pushing harder against Henbane’s body; he was struggling, eyes bulging, the knife still held in his hand.
Chay eyed the weapon, and reached a hand forward, a smirk crossing his face.
“You won’t be needing–ahhh!”
Chay released a loud yell, falling to the ground. I clutched the tree root more tightly, my fingernails aching as they dug into the wood.
Henbane was standing above Chay, his cackle restored. With a jolt of horror, I noticed that his knife was dripping crimson.
“What won’t I be needing, Chay? How about what you won’t need?”
Henbane delivered a harsh kick to Chay’s stomach, and I heard a loud groan as Chay rolled over onto his side. I scanned Chay as quickly as I could, looking for where the knife had hit. He was very bruised and bloody already–
My eyes fell on his leg, where his pants were torn, showing a gash that spread past his knee.
I felt my heart clench in my chest, and looked to the ground. A feeling more intense than disbelief or fear had washed over me; I couldn’t look up–it was too…
I shuddered, trying to erase the thought from my mind. It wasn’t hard–Henbane had advanced once again, swinging the knife at his side.
“Well, you provided yourself a few extra minutes, Chay. Hope they were with it.”
Again, Henbane pushed the knife toward Chay’s chest.
But I knew that he wouldn’t hit Chay.
And I was right:
Chay’s feet kicked around, tripping Henbane. Chay moved quickly, standing as best as he could, staring at the spot he’d occupied only moments ago: Henbane’s knife was planted firmly in the ground.
Henbane rose quickly, pulling the knife from the ground, a new ferocity mounting his features.
Chay moved quickly, Henbane stumbling over himself as he pursued.
Before I even realized what had happened, Chay was beside me again. He’d jumped over the ledge, falling because his leg couldn’t support him. He’d shoved his hands in my pockets, his face contorted in concentration.
“What the heck are you–”
He pulled out the only thing I had with me–a fountain pen I’d received for my last birthday. He stared at it in disbelief, shouting, “No Swiss army knife? Lighter?”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I’d be in mortal combat!”
I fell backwards, and Chay stood straighter, yielding my pen like sword. Henbane had jumped in front of us, his steps becoming more and more demented the closer he came. He began to sway more, thrashing the air with his knife.
Chay used his foot to push me farther back, then took a step forward.
“How many lives do cats have, Chay?”
“Far more than you, Henbane. You sure you want to risk coming closer?”
Henbane released a loud bark–merciless and incoherent. “I’m terrified, Chay.”
Chay lunged forward, but Henbane was ready. The knife flew forward, hissing loudly.
I flinched as Chay moved to the side, barely missing the blade. Chay was behind Henbane, grabbing him around the neck. Henbane tried to turn, but Chay kneed him sharply in the back.
Chay turned to me, shouting, “Now would be the time to go!”
I didn’t move–couldn’t move.
“NOW!” Chay shouted, struggling to keep Henbane in one place. “Town! NOW, TODD!”
I didn’t hesitate any longer. I grappled on the ground, crawling until I could finally pick myself up.
I heard another loud shout, and noticed that Chay had been flung back over the ledge, and was again on level ground. He had landed flat on his back, and was standing as quickly as he could. Henbane was on top of him, the knife in hand.
“Chay!” I shouted.
Henbane noticed, and mimicked, his voice several octaves higher than was natural. “Chay, Chay–help me, Chay! I wouldn’t rely on that, kid!”
“I wouldn’t talk like that so soon, Henbane.” Chay was standing again, though struggling to remain upright. “I said run, Todd!”
I took a few steps backward, Henbane coming closer to me, his yellow teeth grinning crookedly.
“I can make this a lot simpler for you–” Henbane fell to the ground, Chay on to of him, the pen held dangerously in his hand.
“This’ll keep you busy,” Chay muttered, and before I even realized what he was doing, it had happened:
A long shout of pain echoed through the forest, and Chay was running toward me, leaving Henbane sprawled on the ground, convulsing in pain.
I stared at him, my stomach suddenly turning so quickly I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.
Henbane stood, twitching as he clutched at his eye, where my pen was sticking upward like a sewing needle in pin cushion.
I felt my legs give out as I hit the ground again.
Chay gave an exasperated shout, and threw me to my knees. “Huh, so the pen really is mightier than the sword,” he spat, as he pulled me toward the road.
I felt dizzy, and I was positive that the world was spinning. I felt suddenly sicker at the note of humor in Chay’s voice.
“Todd, stand–I can’t carry you.”
I realized that we had reached the road, the bridge directly to our right.
“Todd, let’s go. That’s not going to stop him for long.”
I shakily stood, no coherent thoughts forming in my mind at all. I nearly fell back to the ground.
“That was my favorite pen,” I muttered, holding my arms outward to try and keep my balance.
Chay whirled around, annoyance evidence on his features. “You want me to go back and get it?” he snapped.
I shook my head numbly, and found that Chay was leading me again, limping heavily upon his wounded leg.
Henbane’s voice was stiff and shrill.
Chay stiffened. “Shoot, now I’ve really ticked him off.”
“What did you expect?”
Chay whirled around; I’d barely registered that we’d entered town. “Walk on your own, Todd! We don’t want to attract attention!”
“We’ve got an armed lunatic chasing us, and you’re worried about attracting attention?”
Chay frowned. “We need a car.”
Chay had grabbed my arm again, leading me towards the nearest vehicle–it was a black car, nice for a rural area.
“This isn’t your car,” I spat.
Chay looked up. He opened the door, muttering, “Small town, so trusting.”
My eyes widened. I looked around wildly; I couldn’t see Henbane, but I could hear his harbored footsteps and his infuriated breathing–he was getting closer.
Chay was inside the car, fiddling with wires beneath the driver’s seat.
“Chay, you can’t steal a car!”
“Todd, will you be quiet!”
I was still looking wildly for Henbane. I was hoping that his injuries were slowing him. I could no longer hear him, but that thought just made me more nervous. I scanned the area–
My eyes stopped at a window directly in front of me. The local grocery store, where I rarely shopped, seemed to be deserted this afternoon.
Except for one person–I realized that school must have been out.
Miss Carling was at the counter, completely oblivious to what was going on outside.
I grinned devilishly, looking from the car to my least favorite teacher. A pile of tests in the backseat confirmed my suspicions.
“I work for the government, Todd, its not stealing!”
“I agree, Chay, go right on ahead.”
Chay looked up suddenly, giving me a strange look.
I turned to go towards the front passenger’s seat, when Chay grabbed me by the shoulder. His touch was so harsh that I was paralyzed for a moment.
“Back seat!” he snapped, thrusting open the door, and pushing me inside. He closed the door harshly, and I saw him look ahead, mouthing a string of curses as he threw himself into the driver’s seat, closing the door with a loud bang.
The doors locked with a click, and I saw Chay putting the car in drive.
I obliged without argument, and leaned as far as I could into the seat.
The small, mundane town of Agenton was filled with a deafening squeal of tires as Chay pulled into the streets. Within moments, the speedometer had went from zero to sixty.
I groaned, my head spinning. Hesitantly, I looked behind me. A small dot in the background was Miss Carling, running around in frantic circles.
I was about to laugh until I saw who else was behind us–and much closer.
Henbane, his eye still bleeding, was riding a motorcycle, trailing us so closely that I could see each hair in his coarse beard.
I gulped, leaning back against the seat, shutting me eyes tightly.
“Todd, get down!”
I yelped, unfastening my seatbelt and hitting the floor. “He’s shooting at us!”
Chay kept his eyes on the road as he snapped, “What did you expect, water pistols?”
I saw Chay duck, moving as close to the floor as he could.
“Chay, he’s going to hurt someone!”
“I figured that out already, Todd!” Chay was looking frantically around the car.
“Don’t you have something with you–like a gun? A big gun?”
The back window broke, the glass falling over me. I put my arms across my head for protection. The bullet landed in the passenger’s seat, inches from Chay.
Chay dug in his pockets.
“You have something?”
“I was saving it for a real emergency, but–”
“You had a weapon and you stole my pen!”
“You can thank me for saving your life anytime, Todd!” Chay spat. He had withdrawn a small spheric object from his pocket. I thought it looked like a grenade.
“You’re not throwing that! You could kill someone!”
Chay tossed it back to me. “No, you’re going to throw it, Todd!”
“I can’t throw!”
Chay gave a low growl, snatching it back from me. “Apparently I have to do everything!”
He opened the window, a new round of bullets grazing the side-mirror. It flew off the car, landing and breaking on the road.
(I was suddenly very thankful for how deserted back roads could be.)
I kept my head low as I saw Chay throw the weapon directly at Henbane.
I dared to look back at Henbane as Chay continued to accelerate. (We had to be going eighty miles an hour now.)
Green gas had engulfed Henbane. He struggled with his motorbike, then drove off the rode, falling in a ditch. The green gas remained as he ran back to the road, tossing a rude gesture toward Chay.
Chay caught it in the rearview mirror and laughed. It was the first laugh I’d heard from him.
“So, Todd, that enough proof for you?” he asked, his voice downright jubilant.
I didn’t answer, but looked behind me, inhaling sharply. “Chay!”
He looked back. Where Henbane’s motorcycle had been was a plume of fire and smoke.
I heard Chay swallow. “Well, now he’s really mad at me.”
I fell back onto the seat, shaking.
“You okay, Todd?”
“Chay… what was–”
“It was filled with a gas–lethal if breathed directly, but once it meets the air, it dissipates. Harmless–mostly.”
I doubled over, clutching my stomach.
“You okay, Todd?”
“Chay, I think I’m gonna be sick.”
I felt Chay shrug. “Not my car kid, do what you want.”
Chay laughed again, speeding forward, Agenton falling farther and farther behind us.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020