“Apologies,” the land lady says. “We’re fully booked until tomorrow.”
I sigh. “Okay, do you know anywhere else we could go for the night?”
“Apart from the hotel in town,” she says. “No.”
“We’ve already tried there, thanks,” I mutter.
I turn away and approach Lenny and Cole. “No luck, sorry guys. I don’t know what we’re going to do now.”
Lenny and Cole nod grimly. Cole points to the opening of the forest opposite us. “Why don’t we camp in the woods tonight?”
“Are you serious?” I ask.
“Well, Thomas, do you have any other ideas where we could go?”
“No,” I stumble. “But, I, I--”
Cole looks to Lenny. “Are you scared to go into the woods?”
“No,” I declare. “That’s not true.”
“It’s okay if it is, Thomas. We can always find somewher--”
“For crying out loud, Matt. I told you I’m not scared. We can go, but it’s not like we’re going to get any sleep,” I snap.
Heat rushing through my face, I look to the two of them, who are eyeing me with concern. “Thomas, I’m sorry,” Cole utters. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I state. “We should go now and get a fire started before it gets dark. Call Lucy before we get going and ask her to bring some blankets. We won’t have service in the middle of the woods.”
Cole nods and draws his phone from his pocket. I step in front of him and stride ahead of him and Lenny on the wide stretch of country road we’re currently roaming.
I kneel before the fire and throw some twigs onto the flame. “Lenny and I will just go grab some more now.”
“Thanks,” I say as Cole turns his back. “Cole?”
He looks to me. “I’m sorry,” I tell him. “For snapping earlier. It was out of order.”
He nods. “It’s okay.”
I crack a faint smile and turn back to the fire as I hear his and Lenny’s footsteps traveling further and further away from me. Lucy plops down beside me. “I stopped by Tesco on the way here and picked some food to graze on throughout the night. It’s all in this back pack.”
She flings the bag from her shoulder and goes about emptying its contents in front of us. “You hungry?” she asks. I look to the trees opposite us and swallow. This is just like the woodland bordering Castlerock and Eventide. Right where we are bears a striking resemblance to the spot at which the Reaper knocked me out and then dragged me. I look to the grass before me and can’t help but relive that moment.
“Tommy?” Lucy whispers, snapping me out of my trance.
I face her. “Sorry,” I say. “Yeah, I guess I’m a little bit hungry.”
“Want to share this chicken sandwich?”
“Yeah,” I say. She rips open the box and offers it to me. I take half of the sandwich and begin to nibble on it. A bird flaps somewhere from above and I jerk slightly. “Tommy, do you want to talk?” Lucy asks. “You’re really on edge.”
I place the sandwich down. “Of course I’m on edge, Lucy. There’s a serial killer at large who’s stalking me and my friends, who are being complete idiots right now by insisting on joining me to catch him.”
“Thomas, what is wrong with you?” she demands. “We’re trying to help you and you keep shoving it back it in our faces. You snapped at Cole too earlier on for no good reason.”
Heat pulsing through my veins, I raise my voice. “Did you ever consider that I don’t want your help? Any of your help, okay. This is something I have to do by myself. What just happened to Matt is exactly the reason why. And you know, sometimes I think you only want to help me because you want to fulfill whatever feminist ideals are in your head. Like you’re just trying to prove something.”
She falls silent for a moment, and bows her head. “Wow,” she says. “Well, I guess that shows how lowly you think of me.” She swallows and steps away from me. “Don’t worry, Thomas. I’ll go home now, and I won’t bother you again if that’s what you want.”
My anger is fading. I don’t know why it even stirred within me to begin with. It’s rapidly being replaced by an intense feeling of self reproach. “Luc, look, I’m sor--”
“Save it Thomas,” she bites. “I’ll see you around the corridors in school after mid-term, if you don’t get killed somewhere along the way while you’re on your own. Just remember, that you are the one who pushed me away.”
“Look, Lucy, please,” I quiver. Her back still turned to me, she continues to march towards the opening of the woods.
I rush after her and grab her by the shoulder. I spin her around to face her. I lean in and plant a passionate kiss on her lips. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Please, just let me explain things to you.”
She swallows as I take her hand. She doesn’t resist as I guide her back towards the fire. Instead, she brings herself to kneel beside me on the blanket. “Luc, I’m sorry,” I say. “I was an asshole, and I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what’s happening to me. On top of what just happened to Matt, it’s like, with every day that passes, I’m becoming a worse person for it. Earlier, when I chased the Reaper down, I did catch up to him. I was about to kill him, but I started getting really really hot. To the point that I felt like I was on fire.”
“Just like when he held you in--”
“Yeah,” I swallow. “Anyway, I started squirming on the ground with the pain and he got away. But, before he did, he told me that he does live in me and that his soul is slowly taking me over. He says he’s in control of me now. It makes sense, because he caused that pain to stir from within me. And, I keep having all these dark thoughts about hurting the people I love. And that’s probably why I snapped at you and Cole. I just feel so much anger all the time and I don’t know how to control it. But, that’s the thing, Luc. I don’t think it’s my anger. I think it’s the Reaper’s anger and it’s manifesting in me. He’s trying to drive the ones I care about away from me. He was right. He’s starting to take me over. Luc.”
She takes in a deep breath and places her thumb just below my eye. She wipes a tear from my face. “That explains it,” she says. “Because you’ve never acted like that towards me before. You’re always so calm and collected and understanding. Don’t worry, I’m one person he’s never going to drive away from you, I promise.”
I nod. “But, Luc, what am I going to do? Every day, he grows within me. And eventually, I’m going to turn into him. That happened in one of my visions, and most of them so far have come true.”
She looks me in the eye. “Which is why we’re going to stop him before that can happen. We’re going to end him, so that will disappear from within you.”
“He said if I continued to involve anyone else, and didn’t do as he said, he’d kill them. Matt was his first victim, and if we carry on, I think Lenny’s next and then possibly you. I don’t want that for you, Luc or anybody else. I can’t let anybody else die because of me. How many times do I have to tell you this?”
She swallows. “How many times do I have to tell you that I love you and I want to help you fight this? Fight him.”
I bow my head. “I don’t deserve you.”
“What makes you say that?”
I bite my lip. “I’m such a horrible person, Luc.”
“No, you’re not,” she declares. “You’re struggling at the moment, and understandably so, but you are such a good--”
“No I’m not,” I cry. I pull away from her and pace around the fire. Tears welling in her eyes, she whips her head around to face me. “Thomas, you’re--”
“The great great grandson of a murderer,” I blurt. “A murderer that prompted all these killings. The original Grim Reaper’s father and my great grandfather were business partners. And he killed him so he could take all the profits. The Grim Reaper targeting Eventide is because of what he did and what all the generations of my family have continued to hide, including my dad. My family is the cause of all this. Please don’t hate me, Luc, but my dad’s side of the family are rotten to the core.”
She places her hands to my face and locks her lips with mine. “I don’t hate you, Thomas. I could never hate you. I love you. And yes, by what you’ve just told me, your family are repulsive, but you are not your family. Remember that.”
“Okay?” she says.
I nod. “Thank you, Luc. I love you.”
I bow my head and she frowns. “There’s something else,” she says. “Is it Matt?”
I nod painfully. “Yes,” I swallow. “I just can’t stop thinking about it and what happened to him.”
She swallows. “I understand. And I’m not saying forget it happened, but if we’re going to beat him, we can’t keep dwelling on what happened to Matt. I know it was horrible what happened to him, but it’s going to divert you if you keep fixating on it. I know it’s easier said than done, but you need to try move forward, Thomas.”
From a logical point of view, that makes sense. But, she’s right. It’s a lot harder said than done. “Yeah,” I gulp. “You’re right. I’ll try.”
She forces a smile and hugs into me. She narrows her eyes and whips her head around. “Where are Lenny and Cole? They left ages ago.”
My eyes widen as I realize she’s right. They only went to get some sticks for the fire. “Stay here,” I say. “I’ll go find them.”
“Cole? Lenny?” I call, as I venture deeper and deeper into the depths of the dark forest. “Are you nearby?”
Something doesn’t feel right. They left ages ago and should have arrived back by now. My gut churns. A twig snaps from somewhere ahead. “Cole?” I gulp. “Lenny?” I step further into the shadows of the night, the fire now a mere dot of flickering light in the distance. “Are you there?”
The gentle rustling of leaves to my left causes me to jump. The birds squawking above. This is exactly what happened before the Reaper assailed me. What if he’s here, and he’s planning on doing it again? What if he tracked us to this forest? What if Lenny and Cole met him on their way to get firewood and something terrible happened? “Who’s there?”
There’s no response. I whip my head around as a shrill, high-pitched scream vibrates through the air around me. It’s coming from the direction I came. Oh no. Lucy.
I bolt from the dark clearing and sprint back towards the fire, ready to dive at him. If the Reaper is here, I’m going to kill him, without hesitation this time. And if he lays one finger on her, I’ll tear his corpse apart with my bare hands.
“Lucy,” I shout. I stop dead in my tracks as I see her sighing with relief before the fire, Cole and Lenny standing opposite her. “You guys scared me. You shouldn’t have been sneaking up on us. We were worried about you and Thomas went looking for you and everything.”
“Sorry. We didn’t mean to scare you. Shit,” Cole says. “Which way did Thomas go?”
“I’m right here,” I say. I come to a standstill at Lucy’s side. I take in deep even breaths until my heart rate begins to decrease down to its normal rate.