We grabbed what we could, stole a few pillows and duvets from the motel, we snatched up our suitcases and bolted out of the window. Alexander supported Phoenix, as she hobbled behind me. We scrambled down the fire escape and clambered into the van, flinging everything we were carrying into the back.
Alexander turned the key in the ignition and like an old man with the flu, the van spluttered to life, lurching forwards. We drove as fast as the old van could carry us through the back roads until we reached a main street, then our pace slowed and we cruised across the tarmac at a reasonable speed.
“What was that about?” I questioned Alexander. Each of us had learnt to act first and ask questions later.
“The guards at the store saw me take these stupid bagels!” He threw the packet at Phoenix’s head angrily.
“Aww, thanks cupcake!” She declared sarcastically.
“Head towards Texas, Alex. We’ll stop at a pit in a couple of hours, catch some shut-eye.” I suggested, to which everyone silently complied. We never argued, we always agreed. “I’ll take first watch.”
The night was going to be a long and uncomfortable one.
I woke up to the sound of tires rolling along tarmac and the grumble of an engine. I sat up, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and groaned, “What time is it?”
“Seven,” Alexander responded from the front seat, “I woke up before you two, I couldn’t sleep. I figured it would be a good idea to start driving.”
“I’ll take over soon if you like?” I offered, noticing that Phoenix was still flat-out, breathing heavily.
Alexander gave me an expression of gratitude, “Cheers, Izzy.”
“Where are we?” I examined the baron wasteland through the front window, scrambling into the front seat.
“Somewhere in Indiana, we passed the state line a few minutes ago,” He replied.
I rummaged through the dash-board, my hand landed on the packaging of the bagels from the night before. We had seven left. I pulled one out, “Do you want one?”
Alexander’s gleamed with delight, “Yes please. Although,” He paused, “You’ll have to baby feed me, can’t take my hands off the wheel.”
I ripped a bit of the soft dough off from the baked wheel and put it in front of Alexander’s mouth. He leaned forward slightly and took it with his teeth.
“Mmm,” He murmured, “It’s good. America do know how to make food, I’ll tell you that.”
We had been living of beans and canned soup for three days. “Did you get anything else?” I raised my eyebrows in hope.
“Erm,” Alexander swallowed, “In the carrier bag behind my seat, there’s a bar of chocolate.”
I grabbed it hungrily, we couldn’t afford luxuries like chocolate, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Happy Birthday,” He smiled at me, “You’re officially an adult.”
I’d lost track of dates and months, it was the thirteenth of May. It was my eighteenth birthday. I had forgotten all about it.
“Oh Alex,” Tears brewed in my eyes, “Thank you.”
“Sorry it’s not more,” He looked embarrassed.
“No,” I whispered, “It’s perfect. Thank you.” I reached over and kissed his cheek.
He slowly turned his face towards mine, our lips were centimeters apart.
I bit my lip, his breath was minty. I tilted my head upwards, my heart fluttering. I could feel the sparks of electricity running between us. My stomach soared in anticipation. He inched forward.
Our lips met briefly.
His eyes then concentrated on the road, he cleared his throat, “Sorry,” He muttered, his cheeks burning pink, “I didn’t –”
I stopped him by shoving the rest of the bagel in his jaws. “Shut up you moron, there’s nothing to be sorry for.”
He spat it back out into his lap, chuckling gingerly, “Wow, you’re such a lady!”
I giggled, “Screw you.”
Alexander suddenly turned serious, “I love you, Izzy.”
I gawked at him, my mouth wide open, words failing me.
Phoenix moaned in the background and Alexander and I both jumped round.
“’Nix?” I said, thankful for a change in topic, “Are you awake?”
“No.” Came the grumpy reply, “My leg is killing me though, can someone please check it?”
“I’m on it,” I took the first aid kit from the dash-board and wormed my way into the back of the van. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” She put her hands over her eyes, “Just tired, pass me my cigarettes?”
“Where are they?” Alexander asked, “I’ll get them.”
I unwrapped the bandage covering Phoenix’s wound, she sucked in air in pain as I did. “Sorry,” I didn’t want to hurt her. The wound was exposed, Phoenix squeezed her eyes shut. I quickly rummaged for the antiseptic cream because blood of the darkest colour came sputtering out of her like a woodland stream, I watched it ooze out of the deep flesh cut. The inflammation around the wound was still a soft pink, which was a good sign – I would be worrying if it was green or, worse, black.
“Here you go,” Alexander chucked the cigarettes over his shoulder and they landed in my lap. I passed them to Phoenix, she inclined her head at the packet, offering me one... I shook my head.
I quickly covered the slice on Phoenix’s leg with a fresh bandage, “There you go, good as new!”
“I wish,” She grumbled, “Where are we?”
“Indiana,” I said, “It’s about half seven.”
“Oh God,” She complained, “I can’t keep this up, I’m exhausted.”
“We all are,” I smiled sympathetically, climbing back into the front seat and the bright sun.
It was uncomfortably hot in the van. We had both the windows open but the only air that filtered in was thick and heavy. A bead of moisture tickled my skin as it rolled down my temple. I reached up to wipe it away and felt my hair, thick with sweat.
“Is there any chance you could put on the air conditioning?” Phoenix whined.
“Oh yes,” Alex chuckled, “The air conditioning definitely works in the van you bought for five hundred dollars.”
“There are prices to pay for being a cheapskate.” Alex continued to joke.
“I didn’t see you offering any of your university fund to pay for it.” She grumbled back.
“No no, I just paid for all of our scouting and patrol gear so we don’t die. You know, the unimportant stuff.” The corners of his mouth were playing around a smile.
Phoenix just blew air out of her mouth in response.
“Oh and don’t forget the phone we use... Never.”
“There could be an emergency!”
Alex scoffed, “Oh of course. I forgot about those people we could ring in an emergency.” He was being obviously sarcastic now, “I know they’d all believe us.”
Phoenix growled low in her throat.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the pair. “Stop it you two! I’ll buy you a packet of cigarettes when we stop for petrol, ’Nix. Don’t forget he did steal you those bagels!”
“Out of the goodness of my heart,” Alexander put his hand over his chest dramatically.
“It’s a good thing my leg hurts...” Phoenix’s tone was dry and threatening.
“Or what? You’d bite my knee caps?” Alex chortled.
“To be fair I don’t think she could even reach your knee caps,” I added. “Bagel?” I held the packet over my shoulder.
Her eyes lit up, “Ooo, yes!”
“Bloody should hope so too,” Alexander teased, “The trouble I went into to get those bastards!”
“Oh but they taste so good,” Phoenix muffled, with her mouth full, “Mmmm.”
“My parents taught me that it was bad manners to talk with my full,” Alexander joked.
“Well they’re not here are they?!” Phoenix snapped.
An uncomfortable silence fell upon us. Alexander kept his eyes on the road, lips pursed. Phoenix sat munching on her bagel. I didn’t do anything, I sat there with my knees held up against my chin and cuddled my legs tightly against me.
I didn’t know where my mum was, she could be dead. It was almost definite that she was. Alexander and Phoenix had both left notes for their parents, I couldn’t do that. There were no goodbyes for me to make, my mum and my brother were both already gone.
We settled down for the night. We had driven a mile or two off-road, just to make sure. We were halfway through Missouri, not much was said throughout the journey. I took over just after we joined Route 231, the van bucked and shuddered down the rutted road, nearly yanking my hands from the steering wheel. It was a long drive, but it took my mind of everything that was happening; forced me to concentrate on something other than demons and home.
I was on first watch again, Phoenix needed her rest and Alexander was napping already. I sat awake, my torch in my hands. I closed my eyes, I was really worn-down. Emotionally wrecked, I know I should be used to feeling like this by now, but being permanently on guard was wearing me out. I couldn’t take this much longer, I’d been trying to prolong my life but, lately, it wasn’t really a life worth living.
I heard a noise outside the van. My senses flared, on high-alert. My ears prickled, waiting patiently for any sound. Phoenix was breathing deeply, Alexander was murmuring something in his slumber. I kicked him and he jolted awake.
I put my index to my lips and jerked my head towards the window of the van. He knew what I meant; his hand was on his torch in an instant.
A shuffle of footsteps, a stumble and then a muffled “Ow!”
I rolled my eyes, we weren’t in any danger. I got to my feet and opened the van. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
The boy was taken aback, he resembled a school child caught eating crayons. His eyes were broad and his skin was ashen. “I’m lost,” He whimpered, “I came looking for help.”
He was about thirteen, maybe a little older. I’d obviously scared him witless, jumping out at him like I had. “Sorry, we thought you were someone else.” I lowered my torch light.
I felt Alexander relax beside me, “What’s your name?”
“Ryan.” He said, twisting his fingers together anxiously.
I raised my eyebrows, “Are you in trouble?”
“I don’t know where I am,” He started to sob, “Please can you take me to the main road?”
“How did you get here?” Alexander demanded, annoyed his nap had been disturbed for such a reason like this.
“I-I, I walked,” He said simply, “I think I went the wrong way.”
“It’s okay,” I soothed, “We’ll take you back to the main road in the morning, you can stay with us and sleep for now.”
He just surveyed me nervously, his bottom lip trembling. He reminded me of Benjamin ten years ago; skinny and short with dark blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
“Come on,” I opened the van door a little wider as an invitation, “You’ll be safe with us.”
He cautiously stepped towards us, not taking his eyes away from me. I smiled kindly at him, “Come on... If you’re quick, I’ll even give you some chocolate.”
He grinned cheerfully.
I smiled back at him; he was a cute boy.
Without warning Ryan crumpled forwards, gore erupting out of his lips. A stab wound through his heart, the ruby red liquid seeped through the thin fabric of his shirt.
“No!” I dashed forwards to catch him before his body hit the ground, I didn’t make it in time.
I let out a blood curdling scream, “Alex!” I wailed, “Alex!”
Alexander turned his torch on at both ends, lighting the way forwards and backwards, he knelt beside me and checked Ryan’s pulse. He caught my gaze, and gravely shook his head.
That foul sodden aroma of death made my head snap up and scan the area.
“Where is it?” Alexander mouthed at me.
I shrugged stiffly, there was no sign of movement. Alexander and I stood together like statues, eyes darting from side to side.
A gust of wind blew from the right, enabling my sense of smell.
It could sense it. It danced around us in circles, taunting us, coming close and then backing away. It moved faster than my hand could flex, the rim of the beam just missing the edge of the Shadow.
“Ivy...” It sang, giving away its location.
The light of my torch landed on the Shadow. The beam paralyzed it right away, but no sound came from its mouth. I advanced furiously towards it, knowing it was unable to harm me, rage boiling throughout my whole existence. I lashed out with pocket knife I kept in the leg of my boot, piercing its grotesque face. “You didn’t have to kill him!”
“I know...” It clacked, “I did it because... I wanted to.” Its eyes dripped with evil humor, “I like the taste of blood... Little boy’s hearts always taste the best.”
I surged my knife forwards, driving it into the space where the demon’s heart should have been and wrenched sharply to the right, turning the blade in a full circle.
The demon was soon ablaze, the flames enlightening the surrounding sand, shrieking shrilly out into the night. “You deserve this. All of you!” I spat at it through gritted teeth, then the demon burnt to nothing but ash.
I pointed to Ryan’s body. He lay along the dust road, his limbs twisted in unnatural ways, his cheerful grin nowhere to be seen across his bloodied face. There was no life in his eyes, which were fixed upon the moon. I looked down to my feet where his blood drained between the stones in the dirt like a sickly crimson river, my heart tore itself apart. I watched as tears trickled from my face causing ripples in the red pools below me.
I bowed my head solemnly, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. I turned and I walked away from Ryan, while Alexander got to work with deposing of him. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I would never forget this.