"When I die, there's no need to put me in a casket; just hang me by this tree."
Back then, it was a light statement. A joke. 119Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡy4IAaZRoYu
A scream bursts through the air, holding for one, two, three, four… five moments.
It's my scream. My throat burns and aches, but I keep screeching at the horrible disaster I've caused. I have to rip my eyes away; I can't look. Not even for a single bit.
What did I just do?
My scream dies out, and I drop my head forward, panting and gasping for air as my gaze trails to the bloody young man lying on the ground. The stench of all the gore mixes with the earthy scent of the grass, and a few red stains litter the rope next to a nearby tree. The knife is plunged deep into the boy's chest, and I'd made about a dozen tears in his gray shirt and jeans.
This sight is making me so damn sick.
I can't even pick him up. I can't do this. I can't, I can't, I can't!
"What is wrong with me?" I shout, my voice echoing off into the depths of the woods.
The only replies I get are a few chirps from nearby birds.
One moment I'm shaking violently, and the next I'm collapsing onto the grass as my red-stained hands reach out to Cain. He used to be my best friend. My buddy.
…How did it even come to this? Why did it even come to this? It shouldn't have. I shouldn't have done this. Even if he was going crazy, going absolutely insane, there… there had to be a better way.
My face heats up as warm tears spill out and onto my face, rolling in giant waterfalls from my brown skin to the bloody grass below me. Choked sobs and whimpers escape my throat as I lean forward, placing my hands on Cain.
I'm a monster.
That's really what I am.
I regret this. Everything. Each minute that built up to this very moment… I want to take it all back. I wish I could. I wish I could rewind time, back to the good old days.
But right now, I'm stuck here, looking at the catastrophic mess I've made.
This can't be undone. This can't be rewinded.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Two pairs of sneakers smacked down on the leaves and grass poking out from the dirt.
"No one's ever gone this deep in Jallowan Woods before," I said.
A sixteen-year-old boy with short black hair, bright green eyes, and a relaxed posture rolled his eyes at me.
His name was Cain Hunter.
"Mallor, we started walking, like, two minutes ago," he replied. "This is nothing; chill."
"Okay, I know, but my dad's gonna freak if we go missing."
"Any parent would freak out if their kid went missing. Unless if they suck."
"Alright, let me word that better," I retorted. "He's gonna freak if we're gone for over five minutes. You saw him back at camp. He was all jittery and nervous."
"Well, isn't this a relatively safe place?" my friend pointed out. "There's barely any dangerous animals out here, and the area is small, so you can't really get lost. We're not in some big ol' forest with bears and dragons and hobbits or whatever."
"I'm not sure how dangerous hobbits would be, but I appreciate the reassurance," I muttered. "Still though, let's hurry up before my dad starts calling the cops because he thinks his son got mauled."
"Sons," Cain corrected with a smirk. "He calls me his kid too."
I folded my arms and frowned. "What a traitor."
We stopped right next to a cluster of twigs on the ground. "These look good for the campfire," I quipped, crouching down next to them.
"Mhm," Cain replied. "I'm gonna go look for more; don't think that's gonna be enough."
Before I could tell him how much that scared me, his footsteps indicated he'd turned around and was walking away, somewhere farther into the forest.
With only three thin branches in hand, I looked over my shoulder. "Hey, wait! Don't go off without me!"
He was only a few feet away. A frown was painted on his face when he turned around. "Dude, there's more branches that way. I'm not going too far. You'll still be able to see me."
"Okay; sorry, sorry, I get scared easily, alright?"
He laughed. "You carry your dad's nervousness too, you know."
"I hate the fact that you're right," I grumbled, turning back to gather more branches.
We wouldn't need too many, of course — it wasn't like we were building an entire house or anything — but I wanted to make sure we had enough. I got up holding a good amount of kindling wood; my hands were filled with wood shavings and strips of bark. I spun around to see Cain, still getting up and crouching down, picking up whatever he could find — twigs, rocks, whatever. He kept his left hand in his pocket, as his right was grabbing material.
"You know, to speed up the process, there's this thing called 'using both hands.'" I smirked. "You should try it."
"Don't get smart with me." Cain grinned in return, standing up and holding a good amount of twigs and branches in his hand. "Is this gonna be enough?"
"I mean, hey, if anything, I've always got a bit of crumpled-up receipts if we need it." I shrugged. "Paper makes for good tinder."
"Good to know," he replied. "Got some rocks too, in case we need that to light it. All we need now is just some fuel wood…" He glanced around. "Should be some thick branches up ahead."
"Well, let's go back to the site first, drop all of this off, maybe see how Dad's doing with the fire pit, and then get the fuel. Sound good?"
He nodded. "Good."
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119Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrHPnW8jQaD
Fast forward thirty minutes later. We'd done as planned — dropped off our tinder and kindling, got the fuel wood, and then came back to set the fire.
Now, Dad, Cain, and I sat, happy and content, around the small blazing, crackling flames that brightened the faint evening light. Our bright white marshmallows, slowly turning golden, were punctured onto sticks that hovered near the fire.
Dad exhaled, flicking a strand of his long brown hair away from his face. "This is nice. Some nice time out in the open, all together, huh? You kids barely get out, now that you're all wrapped up in school and your phones. It's nice to get away from the screen for a while, no?" He chuckled and nudged me with his elbow. "'Specially you over here. You have way too much screen time."
"Dad," I grumbled. "I have a lot of homework, and most of it is digital. I can't help it."
My eyes wandered to Cain, whose gaze was blank and aimed directly at the fire.
Why was he so awfully quiet?
"You good, man?" I asked him, poking his hoodie sleeve with a finger.
He flinched, looking up. "Huh? Yeah, good. I didn't get much sleep before coming here, and camp preparation tired me out." A weak chuckle escaped his throat, and you could just tell it was forced.
But I, buying into whatever he'd said — like an utter idiot — had nodded along.
That was mistake number one.ns188.8.131.52da2