Haven Page 21


“What’s happening?” I asked, fear straining my voice.


“Your friends in the Glades are in trouble. The Miccosukees. You need to get down there and fast if you want to help.”


“How do you know that?” I nearly cried, freaking out about my friends and what Jackson’s words actually meant for them.


“Amazons got the message from the ‘hood near their place. Big old group-a kid-eaters are headin’ that way. You gotta move quick.”


He ran down the stairs and around the side of the house.


I stared at Bodo, searching for solace or something in his expression that would make me feel better. He looked as panicked as me, though and was no help at all with calming my racing heart.


“Good luck. I hope we see you again,” said Katy, all her vigor gone. She sounded sad.


“What about us?” asked Chantal, sitting up and wiping her eyes. “Can we go too?”


“No, you stay,” I said. “You’re too weak to help, and it’ll be too dangerous. We’ll come back for you, or we’ll send someone for you. They’ll ask for you by name, so you’ll know they’re good people. Don’t forget Dane on the side of the road. Maybe you could go get him, Katy?”


“Who in the sam hill is Dane?”


“He’s a friend of ours. I could show you where he is,” said Chantal.


“Fine. I got a four-wheeler with a trailer we can use if he ain’t far.”


I turned to walk down the stairs.


“Where are you going?” asked Katy.


I drew up short, turning around. “What do you mean? I’m going to the Everglades to help my friends.”


“Well, you gotta wait for your ride.” She frowned at me like I was stupid.


“You want us to drive that truck?” I asked, gesturing to the semi.


“Dat’s too loud. Dey will hear us coming from very far away.” Bodo was shaking his head no.


“No, I ain’t talkin’ about that truck.”


“Well, what then?!” I was losing my patience with her redneck accent and slow way of explaining herself.


The sounds of running came from the side of the house again. And it wasn’t the running of a person, either.


Katy smiled. “Your ride has arrived, my dear.”


***


My eyeballs nearly fell out of my head when I saw Jackson riding up on a horse. He stopped with a sliding of the animal’s hooves right in front of the porch, dropping down out of the saddle like a real cowboy.


“Here ya go,” he said, handing me the reins. “This ain’t my best horse, but she’s strong, and she’ll get you where you need to go. I just gotta ask you to get her back to me if you can. She’s special, like all our animals are.”


“Oh my god.” It was all I could think to say.


Bodo walked up without saying a word, taking the nearest stirrup and making an adjustment to it.


“What are you doing?” I asked as he walked around the front of the horse to the other side of the saddle. He made an adjustment over there too.


“I’m fixing da stirrups. Dey are too short for me.”


I looked at Jackson.


He just shrugged back at me before addressing Bodo. “Guess you know what you’re doin’. That’s good news.” Jackson moved to the side so Bodo could take the reins from me.


Putting his foot in the stirrup on the left side of the horse, Bodo hiked himself up, swinging his other leg over until he was straddling the beast. He sat up in that damn saddle like he’d done it every day of his life.


“Uhhhh …” I was so stunned, no words were coming. We were about to enter a battle on a massive scale, and the boy I loved, who was ignoring me and hurting me on purpose with his pettiness, was sitting up there like a friggin’ cowboy supermodel.


“Come closer, and I’ll give you a leg up,” said Jackson. “But first, put them shells in your pockets.”


I placed my shotgun on the ground and opened the box that was on the stairs. Pulling out the shotgun shells a handful at a time, I shoved them into my front pockets until they bulged. I brought the ones that wouldn’t fit over to Bodo and he put them in his pockets.


“Be right back!” said Katy, running back into the house as I was finishing up.


I walked back over to the horse, eying it with trepidation. It was so tall. Falling from that height would be more than painful.


“Bend your leg at the knee,” instructed Jackson.


I was looking up at Bodo, but he was just staring straight ahead, his shotgun lying perpendicular across the front of the saddle, muzzle pointing out towards the truck.


I bent my leg as instructed and Jackson put his hand on my shin.


“Use the pressure on your leg to get up.”


This was different then the laced-fingers technique I’d seen before, but it worked just as well. As I pushed down on my leg, trying to straighten it, he pushed up and hoisted me to a point that I could throw my other leg over the back of the horse. I wasn’t on the saddle, but I had a bit of blanket under me, just in front of the round part of the horse’s rump.


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I hurriedly wrapped my arms around Bodo’s waist. I’d been on a horse before, but they scared me; I wasn’t afraid to admit that. Now in addition to worrying about my friends being attacked, I was panicking that I was going to break my neck by falling off the back of a horse.


“You can run her full out for about a hour, maybe two. That’ll get you there. But please, when you’re done, point her home and smack her hard on the bum. Don’t let her stay there.”


“Why?” I asked totally mystified. “I mean, why smack her on the butt?”


“She’ll find her way back home. She just needs a little motivation to get going.”


“Like the birds?” How come I didn’t know all these animals had such a strong sense of home? Are they so different from us, really? Does everyone and every thing need a place to call home and feel safe in?


“Yeah, kinda. But different. Anyway, good luck. You’d better go.” Jackson bent down and picked up my shotgun.


Katy came bursting out of the front door, carrying some leather straps with her. “Put these on! So you don’t have to hold the guns!”


Jackson handed up two shotgun holsters. After a little bit of finagling I was finally able to attach it to my body and get the gun inside, over my back. I felt like a real cowboy outlaw now. Only one that didn’t know what the hell she was doing.


“You sure you know how to do this?” I asked Bodo as he adjusted his holster.


“Yes. I had many horses in my life.” He slapped the reins a little and kicked the horse in her sides, making a clicking noise with his tongue.


There was so much about my boyfriend I didn’t know - things he hadn’t told me. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out if it was because he’d withheld the information deliberately or because I just hadn’t bothered to ask.


I turned to watch the ranch fading behind me as we transitioned from a walk to a trot. Every face looking back at me had an expression of worry.


I had to turn back and hold onto Bodo tighter so I didn’t start thinking about all the ways I could die.


The jarring trot quickly turned into a gallop that threatened to throw me off the horse’s rear end. Bodo pointed the horse to the road that would take us to the highway, and in no time we were running down the shoulder of I-95, headed in the direction of Kahayatle.


I held on for dear life, praying to my father and any invisible gods who might be listening. Please don’t let us die, please don’t let us die, please don’t let us die…


Chapter Five


THE HORSE WAS FOAMING AT the mouth with white gooey stuff by the time we arrived at the small store that used to serve as a canoe rental place.


Bodo got down, reaching up without a word to help me off, taking me by the waist and lifting me down.


I had a hard time standing when I reached the ground, my butt and back were sore from the constant pounding they’d endured on our trip. I massaged my lower back through my shirt as I got my equilibrium back. I was so not in fighting shape right now.


Bodo didn’t seem bothered by the hard ride at all. He turned the horse around, tied the reins to the saddle horn and whacked her really hard on the butt.


The horse jumped and took off, running like a bat out of hell back towards home.


I sent out a silent prayer that she’d make it, because this place surely was hell compared to where she was from.


The store had been destroyed. Someone had set it on fire, and there wasn’t much left. Some of the nearby trees were also scorched.


“Wait here,” said Bodo, running in the direction I’d seen Rob go before. In less than a minute he was back. “Da bikes are still here. I think dey are still in da swamp.”


I walked over to the top of the bank that looked down to the docks. “There aren’t any canoes here. What are we going to do?”


Bodo shrugged. “Swim.”


“You’ve gotta be friggin kidding me. Swim? Are you serious?”


He got to the bank and took his gun off, putting it up on his head.


“The shells!” I yelled, just as he was stepping into the water.


He tugged out the few I’d given him and put them in his teeth.


“What are you doing?!” I screeched as he entered the water again.


He turned to me and just frowned for a few seconds before jerking his head and turning away. He went in deeper.


“Jesus flippin’ Christ,” I mumbled, whipping my holster off and dropping my weapon to the ground. I quickly took off my t-shirt and threw it at my feet. Next came all the shells out of my pockets, which I quickly tied up in the flimsy cotton. I put as tight a knot in it as I could and then grabbed it in my teeth. It was heavy, but manageable. I stood there staring at the river in my shorts and bra, pissed and scared to death. Several mosquitos feasted on my exposed skin as I debated entering the gator-infested water.


I made my decision, the only one I could make really, and snagged the shotgun still in the holster from the piles of rotten pine needles. I ran back to the edge of the bank, sliding down to the bottom and nearly biting the dust I got going so fast.


I stumbled down the short beach and into the water, taking long strides so I could catch up to Bodo. I held my gun up above my head and my chin back, doing everything I could to keep my weapon and my shells dry.


***


I couldn’t even imagine how we were going to do this. The water was getting deep quickly, and the current was strong enough that it was pushing me along, threatening a decent soaking if I lost my footing. I was pretty sure the gun wouldn’t work if it got wet.


Bodo took the few shells he had out of his mouth. “Come to da side,” he said, moving to walk near the banks of the river where it was much shallower but lined at the bottom with dead wood and tangled roots of nearby trees.


I pulled my t-shirt out of my mouth, holding it up with one hand while the other held the heavy gun. “That’s where the gators are,” I whispered, my tone obviously revealing my stress.


“Da gators are everywhere. Just ignore da fear. If dey attack, we haff da guns.”


“But … you can’t shoot a gator underwater!”


He didn’t say anything in response. He just shoved the shells back into his mouth.


This had to be the stupidest non-plan in the history of our new world. I was close to abandoning it completely and climbing out of the river when I saw the end of a canoe sticking out of some tree roots up ahead.


I was all set to shout with joy when Bodo threw his finger up to his face in a shushing gesture. He glared at me, making gestures with his hand to look around.


I stopped moving and went as silent as possible, searching for signs of enemies hiding in the trees around us. All I could hear was the water rushing past and the occasional screech of birds. They wouldn’t be doing that if there were canners here. I was sure of it.

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