”Fen, wait for me! ” Boro said, as quietly as he could. The dog ripped up the leaves under his paws and gave an irritated bark. ”Shhhhhh! ”

The boy took another look at the distance between the ground he was standing on and the drop it would take to get where Fen was. The last time he was here, there was a sturdy rope buried in the dirt along the fall that one could use to get oneself up and down, but it had since then been cut.

The boy slowly tried to reach down to the base with his foot, but the movement pushed his balance to its limits, and as it crumbled, he tumbled down, rolling heavily into the leafy dirt underneath. He laid there, gasping urgently in silence. The impact had left him a little winded, but more than that, he hurriedly looked around to see if there was any sign of people who mightve heard the sound. Someone who had anticipated these exact circumstances for the child, and would finally make their way to capitalize on the fatal mistake.

His fears were met with silence— a brief solace in being wrong, an almost lovable feeling of loneliness. Fen ran a quick round and came back to Boro, his tail wagging carelessly like a lush tree in a strong autumn wind.

The hypnotic wave of the dogs dirty tail gave a sense that things would be okay. He wanted to believe that sense.

”Maybe those guys from yesterday didn think Id come back so soon. ” Boro told himself.

The trees were tall towers that swayed incessantly over grounds otherwise devoid of moving life. Their trunks had grown fat over uncountable years and burrowed deep underground like ugly brown snakes with thick, half-shed skin. Shadows set by their full foliage painted the ground a mosaic of different greens, almost making it seem as if the ground wasn covered with bits of forgotten concrete, glass, and metals.

With the self-assurance of aloneness, Boro walked deeper into the forest, and Fen followed. Things would be fine. As long as they weren found, theyd be fine. And even if they were found, theyd just have to run again. Just like last time. Worst case scenario, they would just have to tear their lungs to bits again and run and run and run.

As the ground grew rockier, next to a broken building barely holding its half-shape, Boro decreased his pace to aimlessly feel around the patch of broken fabric and thread on his right leg. He tried not to think about how he had lost his sharpest knife, the one he had found almost a year ago in the compartment of an abandoned studys table and went through great lengths to keep to himself all this time, and the one that saved his life just yesterday as one of the men in an outside group tried to choke the life out of him.

He told himself not to think about it. Again, then once again. He did it intermittently with increasingly frequency as he moved through the jagged rocks because it was also getting harder to tell himself that things would be fine.

Several trees behind, a man with wide shoulders grasped his guns barrel tightly in irritation. He used his other forearm to wipe his face, getting some muddy sweat caught onto some side strands of his short— almost non-existent— hair.

”Sid. Remind me again why I am not shooting him, because if you don , I am going to shoot him dead right now. ” clicked Dan.

The man looked like a pile of sticks wrapped in clothes behind his big companion. He irritatedly brushed his long black hair behind the side of his damp face and spoke in an audible whisper. ”Because, you damn idiot, someone mightve heard that gunshot yesterday. We have to be sure the kid is alone. That he didn bring anyone else. ”

Dan chuckled. ”Just look at that kid, boss. What, his little friends are gonna come and kick our ass? Little kiddie troupe? What
e you so worried about? ”

”No way you think a kid like that has been living alone this whole time. Look at him. Musta been in diapers not too long ago. There has to be some reason hes survived this long. And let me remind you, once again, that that kid has killed someon— ”

He stopped. He grabbed the side of Dans clothes gently but with sudden urgency.

”Get behind the tree. Cmon, quick. Tuck your leg in! ” he whispered viciously.

Grinding the leaves underneath his feet to dust one heavy step at a time, Jon lumbered through the path like a giant out of place. Although he was overall still slightly smaller than Dan, his darkened skull-like features and large white body made him look like a strange monster wandering amongst the trees compared to Sid and Dan who were camouflaged in a cover of leaves and tatters.

”Shit, that kid brought a **in guy with him this time. Rather big bastard, too. ” said Sid. ”Its a good thing we didn give away our position too early. ”

Dans expression wrinkled with vague worry as he noticed the unexpected figure, but he recomposed himself, pulling his gun into position. ”It doesn matter, we just have to kill him too! ”

”Wait! Hes still too clo— ” Sid tried to stop him, but it was too late. Something, either the wind or perhaps a case of rash aiming, caused the bullet to fly away from Jons neck and catch into the wood of a tree in front of him.

”Shit! Did he hear my footstep just now? ” whispered Dan, not-so-quietly, ”He stopped moving forward! ”

Jon mustve seized up the situation pretty quickly, as he quickly raised his rough paw-like hands up. ” ey! Wait! Wait! M on yer side! M after at shit kid too! ”

With the gunpoint still fixed on his brow, Jon took a step forward. The pair scrutinized the grotesque man, and he, them. ”We ave

derstandin? ”

Jon was a mass of bloated muscle with a meaty, contorted head of rot and fur sitting on top of a monstrous body, but none of that would matter if a bullet tore through his flesh all the same. Ghastly as his appearance under the sun made him out to be, he was still but a human.

On the other side, Dan was a giant of a man, his thick frame clearly noticeable even under layers of grime. His head was messily shaven, and the mud and anger and almost child-like determination across his otherwise soft features gave him a look of handsome foolishness.

”I won miss next time, ugly. ” said Dan, taking aim. Jon took another half-step forward, trying to raise his hand to block the path of the gun head as if thatd stop a speeding bullet. The distance had been closed a bit, but no matter how fast the other guy moved, there was no way he could get to the two of them without getting at least two bullets ripped into him.

Sid, who had been standing next to Dan, stepped forward two large steps, just slightly out of the line of fire. ”Really? No shit? If you
e after the kid too, I suppose you
e with us. ” His voice was light, almost gentle, but dripped with malice all the same.

Arms wide by his side on his hips, he looked even thinner when compared to the giant to his left. His chin was sharp and came almost to a point, and contrary to his friend, was covered by a mop of long hair that covered the back of his neck and most of his eyes, although his bangs came together in a way that he would have no trouble seeing. Although they were hard to notice, he definitely had some dark bags under his eyes, which weighed down the contact point of his perspective and made him somewhat hard to gauge. On the left side of his belt was the intimidating body of a singular sheathed weapon, almost thicker than the limb that carried it. He smiled at Jon.

”Well, lets get going then. ”

”What was that? ” the stray gunshot looked almost as if it had torn through the kids shoulder itself as he swung his attention back in the direction they had come from.

Was it the guys from yesterday trying to ambush him? Had something gone wrong? Why did someone fire a gun? Maybe it was someone new entirely?

This cumulated into one question: where was he supposed to go now? He was going to circumvent the edge of the base to scout it out again, but if they were already so close, theyd definitely catch up. He could head directly in, but if those really were new people entirely, hed be surrounded if those two from the day before were still there. And heading back would be walking right into where the gunshot had come from.

He looked up. The surrounding trees were wide and the branches were high and unforgiving. It would be impossible to hold oneself up onto, much less climb.

Boro felt sweat form and fall in droves by his ear as he begged his mind for a solution. In the corner of his eye, however, he saw Fen bounding deeper into the forest.

He gave a futile command, but the dog ran without the slightest hesitation as if possessed. He clasped his mouth after shouting instinctively, but the damage was certainly already done. Without a moments thought, he chased after the dog and ran away from the thunderous gunshot as quickly as he could. Theyd surely be coming after him now. He just hoped there wasn anyone ahead who had heard his scream— at least, anyone brave, cruel, or desperate enough to investigate.

After chasing the dog for some time, much deeper than any land he had been familiarized with so far, the terrain was easing into that of a hill, and he felt his weak knees creak with every step. When he could no longer run, he used his walking stick as a makeshift leg, desperate to catch his breath as quickly as he could.

He couldn tell how close the pursuers were, or if they were still chasing him. All he could hear was the pounding of his own blood and the air flowing in and out of his small body.

Every gasp of air communicated his bodys unitary cry for oxygen, but something in his brain denied him one. Just one breath.

Even with Fen decreasing speed to a content trot right next to him, for that singular moment as he looked up, he forgot to notice even the dog following him in sync, its tail moving in a gentle wave.

The air stood still and vanished into the clear white sky.

”What is… that…? ”

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