I tie the noose around Cain's neck, my hands vibrating viciously, and wrap the hanging end of the rope around the large, burly tree branch hanging right above me. We found this tree deeper in the forest — the same tree Cain made the 'hanging' joke about. The one with a tiny coffin drawing carved into it.
This is cruel. It's twisted. But for some reason, it's the only thing I can think of. Someone coincidentally left a rope here — I guess that also makes this extremely creepy, like a person actually expected this to happen — and I don't have a shovel to bury Cain, so this is all I can do for now. I'm out of ideas. At this point, I just want to get out of here. Maybe go drown myself in a river after this. It's a dark thought, but after what just happened, what can you expect me to think?
My hands quickly secure the knot around the branch, which sinks closer to the ground as it bears Cain's weight. Someone's going to find this knife, find this body, and call the police. And then I'll be caught.
For some reason, I'm not scared of jail. Mom is probably there, yeah, but I deserve it. Heck, I might get something even worse, considering how quickly the town laws change.
With shaky feet, I stumble away from my horrid creation and collapse to my knees. A sour stench permeates my nostrils as puke abruptly lurches through my mouth and spills out onto the grass. I gag and retch, over and over. I can't help it; I can't help my disgust.
When I'm finished, I lean back, then quickly scramble away from the greenish-white slime on the grass. Just the smell of it might make me gag again.
My heart's punching my chest as I stand up and then stumble forward, stars clouding my vision. For a minute, it's like someone's pushing something giant down my throat that's preventing any air from getting through. I gasp for air, blink three times, and the dizziness slowly subsides. The shakiness doesn't — now that I've emptied my stomach's contents onto Jallowan's grassy floor, I'm about ready to collapse again.
With wobbly legs, I slowly turn around…. and then drop to my knees for the second time.
Pure devastation wracks my soul. What do I even do now? Go to the cops? The punishments of my town are way too damn extreme. But… but I deserve it, don't I?
I look up at Cain's limp, lifeless body. Not that I want to, but there's not much else to look at, and, as disgusting as it is, my eyes keep going back to it. He's not moving. He's not screaming. Or growling. Or beating people to a pulp. Or trying to kill someone.
The only tiny, itty-bitty consoling fact… is that he's no longer acting so deranged.
"Damn, look at that tree. Seems kinda haunted, but kinda cool."
Cain and I stood by a thick tree with scratched-up bark — one that spiraled upwards, like it would touch the sky at some point.
My eyebrows knitted as I took a closer look. "There's this little… engraving. Why did someone draw a casket on this tree?"80Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9NH6Pwr74h
Cain chuckled. "Well, hey… maybe it's an alternative for when you can't afford an actual funeral. Like, when I die, there's no need to put me in a casket, just hang me by this tree."
A look of horror crossed my face as I turned to him. "Um, no, I am not gonna do that."
"Chill! I'm kidding; jeez."
"Yeah, but… that's kinda dark."
"You were the one who brought up a casket! And that''s what dark humor is — it's dark; it's literally in the name," he replied with a laugh.
"First off, the tree had the casket drawn on it. And second… well, I guess I'm just not a fan." I shrugged, turning around. We probably had to head out of the forest now; Cain wanted to wade through it one last time before leaving.
"Boys!" shouted Dad's voice from outside the trees. "You done?"
"Yeah, coming!" I called back, motioning for Cain to follow.
We trudged back through the forest together. My friend swung his arms as he walked — almost a little too vigorously — and my gaze lingered on his right hand for a moment. A tiny red bump sat there, but it was so tiny and noticeable that I didn't think much of it.
I glanced away, focusing on the path ahead.
80Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡn1GIp01AVv
80Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡr1xhaA08vv
It had been a week.
"Why do you keep scratching at your wrists?" I asked Cain at the lunch table at school, taking a bite into my ham and cheese sandwich.
"Hm? Dunno, just itchy," he replied with a single-shouldered shrug. He took a giant, almost animalistic bite into his own sandwich — even when he ate, he didn't bother to remove his fingerless gloves. He'd started wearing them ever since we came back from our little camping trip.
I cocked a brow at the way he bit his food. Contrary to what most people would think, he was a stickler for dining etiquette and cleanliness while eating. Yet here he was, letting slices of salami fall out from behind his sandwich. Why was he acting up like this? It wasn't normal.
"You good?" I asked.
He didn't answer, just nodded and chewed. But his eyes were practically bloodshot, and the tight grip around his burger was making the tomato slices stick out. They were on the verge of falling back into his lunch tray.
"Are you sure?" I pressed.
Another nod, and then a swallow.
"Are you positive?"
"YES!" he screamed, practically alerting the other half of the lunch table. I practically fell off the bench. What in the world was going on with him?
Cain recoiled, clearing his throat, the boiling anger in his eyes softening. "I mean…. yes. I'm just… sleep-deprived."
"Are you sure?" I asked again, shakily pushing myself up onto my seat again. "Because you've been acting out of it all week!"
"I promise, dude, I'm fine."
"Then why are you acting like this?"
"... I dunno! I just am!" He shrugged. "I have no clue, man."
"Do you need to see a doctor?"
"What? No, I'm fine."
I bit my lip.
"... Okay. Okay, I'll accept that fact… for now."
Why on earth had I said that?
80Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡtz0k3NmvGf
80Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡzOW9IM7ZpB
Three more weeks passed, and Cain's oddness fluctuated. Sometimes he was moody and irritated, other days he was silent and solemn. And then there were the flighty days. The ones where he jumped or flinched or whipped his head around to look at you with his bloodshot eyes. Something was wrong, I felt it in my blood, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get him to seek help.
But then some days, he was perfectly calm. Perfectly composed, relaxed, almost to an eerie amount.
I asked him what was going on at home; he said nothing. Everything was fine. But I knew his dad was hardly present, his mom barely cared, and his three older brothers loved bullying him.
It might have not explained the whole story — it didn't explain all his 'symptoms,' but maybe it gave him crazy mood swings.
Today was Thursday, June 13th. I was walking through the white-tiled cafeteria, passing by blue tables and approaching the hall. Pulling off my noise-cancelling headphones, I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard someone shout four startling words:
"Cain Hunter is fighting?"
A billion shouts, squeals, and screams nearly drowned out the sounds of slamming and punching.
Pure dread thundered inside my entire body, rattling my bones.
A crowd of students were gathered in a cluster, right in the center of the hallway. My mind was running just as fast as my legs. I bolted towards the commotion, shoving people aside without a single "excuse me."
The noise exploded in my ears as I got closer. I wormed my way past a girl who was taking photos — seriously, was that the best thing she had to do right now? — and squeezed out of the crowd, stumbling forward.
A tiny brown-haired kid, probably a freshman, was lying on the floor, blood pouring from his noise and pooling onto the tiles.
My best friend, wide-eyed with a twitching lip, was sitting on top of the boy.
He was beating the ever-loving crap out of him.
I hadn't even registered that I'd screamed his name until a few moments later, when I was charging towards him absentmindedly.
Leaping forward, I tackled him onto the floor, pushing him off of his poor victim. His head slammed into the ground as I sat on top of his stomach. He wriggled and pushed, grunted and growled, his face twisting into a grimace.
"Cain! What the hell, man?" I screamed, each word making my throat burn. "Do you realize what you've just done?"
His head curled up; wide eyes surrounded by dark circles boring into my soul. His pupils were constricted to the max — they were practically thin lines at this point.
He panted and huffed, and then… it was like a switch turned on.
Or off, rather.
His pupils dilated as his head dropped back to the floor, letting out choked gasps. Slowly, I got off of him.
Breathing heavily, I said:
"Cain… what is going on with you?"ns18.104.22.168da2