Haven Page 26


Take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.


Ugh. Sometimes his wisdom was a serious pain in my butt.


I moved closer to the sound of the voices.


***


The light was dim. Sunset was coming and the canopy of branches and leaves made it even harder to see than it should have been. As I reached the edge of the hut, coming up near the most open side of it that had the least amount of trees in the way, I could just barely make out the rooms themselves.


My former home - two huts connected together - now had two occupants. Bodo sat on a mattress on the floor, and Coli stood in the area we had designated as the pantry.


I’d been considering a sneak attack, but quickly decided against it. Coli was the best silent-walker in the whole swamp, so there was very little chance I could get anywhere near her without her knowing. Bold and up front was the only way with her. At least if she was going to take a swipe at me with one of her lethal knives, I’d see it coming. As well as I could in the dimming light.


I walked up to the entrance, making as much noise as possible.


Her form tensed up immediately, before I’d even taken three steps.


“Who’s there?!” she shouted.


“Bryn! Run away! She’s got a knife! She’s crazy!”


“Shut up!” she spat at Bodo, never taking her eyes off me.


She walked a few steps forward, stopping at the entrance to the hut. “So, you’re still alive after all.”


“Yes. Alive and well. Unlike those canners you gutted back there. Thanks for that, by the way.”


“I didn’t do it for you.” Her tone had gone low. If she were a tiger, I’d say she was getting ready to pounce. I had to keep her off balance.


“So, we saw Kowi.”


She stopped and stood straighter. “What do you mean, you saw him?”


“We saw what you did to him.” It was a shot in the dark, but at the very least would keep her guessing long enough for me to get into position.


“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything to him. He’s fine.”


She sounded like she really meant that.


“Fine? I wouldn’t call Kowi fine. Not by a long shot.”


Her arms that had been bent by her sides dropped straight. “Kowi’s out at the ranch. Kowi is fine.”


“Well, if Kowi’s fine, why did you want Bodo to be your boyfriend?”


Her face scrunched up as emotion overtook her. “Kowi and I broke up. Didn’t you hear? Didn’t you have a big party when you found out?”


I knew she was crazy-talking to some degree, but there seemed to be an filament of truth woven through her mad ramblings. I had to figure out what was reality and what was Coli’s sickness.


“I didn’t hear. I’m sorry about that. I know you loved him. I thought he loved you too.”


“No. Nobody loves me. Not even my own family, my own tribe!” She screeched the last word.


I could feel her pain physically, as my heart spasmed for her. No one, no matter how much of an asshole she is, should feel this isolated. Even the canners had friends.


“That’s not true, Coli. He told me himself that he loved you. He wasn’t just with you for the tribes.”


“You’re a liar. You’re a liar and a slut.” She advanced towards me.


I took two steps back. “I’m not a liar or a slut. I never touched your boyfriend, and he never tried to touch me. He loved you. You, not me. Why was he here and not at the ranch?”


“He is at the ranch! He is at the ranch! Why don’t you understand that?!” She reached up and pulled her own hair out to the side. She didn’t stop until she’d removed half of what she held.


I watched in horror as she stood there like a statue, her hand full of torn-out hair and her face a mask of pain.


I took a few steps forward, closing the distance between us. She needed help. I couldn’t just punch her lights out and leave her here. I knew she didn’t share the same charitable feelings towards me, so I wasn’t going to open myself up to a stabbing, but I had to try and get through to her.


I held my hands out in a pacifying gesture. “Coli, if you want, I’ll take you to see him. But it might be a little hard, since we sent his body off in a canoe down river. Or up river, I’m not sure. Whatever … it went with the current. I spoke to him right before he died.”


“No you didn’t,” she whispered, staring intensely into my eyes. She was hanging on my every word.


“Yes, I did. He was here looking for you. He said so himself.”


“But we broke up,” she said, tears flowing down her face. She was sobbing now, trying to talk through her spasms. “But … but we broke up … but we … broke up! We broke up!”


“Was it you or him who broke up?” I asked gently. “Because I don’t think it mattered to him. He wanted to get you safe. He came for you.”


She dropped her head into her hands and screamed.


I rushed forward and put her in a bear hug, trapping her arms bent up against her chest. My goal was twofold: to console her and also keep her from stabbing me.


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She didn’t struggle. She just keened, sounding very much like a wounded animal.


“Shhhh, don’t cry. I said a prayer. He’s gone to the spirit world or heaven. He’s watching over you. He wants you to be safe. Shhhh.” I tried to pat her on the back a little, but I didn’t want to let her go.


“I didn’t know … I didn’t know …” Her words were muffled in her hands, but the meaning was clear. Like so many girls before her, she hadn’t been able to read the mind or heart of her boyfriend. Join the club.


“Listen, we have to get to the ranches with the other kids. Do you know how to get there?”


She said nothing. Her crying stopped in an instant and the animal cries disappeared. I felt her tensing up against my touch.


I let go and jumped back at the same time, falling into a fight-ready stance.


She dropped her arms immediately and put both of them behind her back.


I frowned at her odd movements, wondering what the hell she was doing.


“Watch out, Bryn!” shouted Bodo. “She hass a knife back dare!”


Her hand flicked out so fast I barely saw it move. It was only instinct that had me leaning to the side in a jerking motion.


A burning pain sliced through my upper arm followed shortly after by the sensation of blood leaving my body.


I dropped down low and ducked the second knife that left her other hand just after the first.


Reaching up without even looking, I found the hilt of the knife that was sticking out of my upper arm. She had probably planned to get me in the heart, but lucky for me had only caught the outside edge of my muscle. That arm was useless now, but my left arm wasn’t. I slowly stood straighter, moving in closer to her, praying she didn’t have a third or fourth knife in her back pocket.


“You fucking stabbed me, you freak,” I growled. My fingers probed the area around my wound, trying to figure out how deep the blade had gone in and whether I should risk taking it out. I knew that leaving them in was better sometimes, but I couldn’t use the precious seconds I needed to look at it. Taking my eyes off the lunatic in front of me would be the last mistake I ever made.


“I missed. That’s just a flesh wound.” She backed up into the hut. “I was aiming somewhere else.”


“Listen, you crazy nutbag, I’m trying to be nice here. I’m trying to help you through your friggin’ grief and help you find a place to live. But if you keep trying to kill me, I’m going to have a really hard time convincing myself to do that!” Every time I took a step or moved it felt like the blade was cutting me more. I decided to take a chance on bleeding too much and pulled the blade out.


I screamed with the pain that sliced through me. Warm blood gushed down my arm. I breathed a small sigh of relief that it didn’t spurt out with every heartbeat, though. At least she hadn’t tagged an artery.


“You’re bleeding!” shouted Bodo. “You needt to stop the bleeding! Come ofer her and let me help you!”


I side-stepped to get around Coli and into the other hut. She backed up, putting the pantry between us.


I walked backwards, reaching Bodo’s mattress in a few steps. “Can you roll over in front of me? I can cut your ropes off with her knife.” I was lucky she’d decided to use knives instead of bullets.


Bodo rolled over, doing a backwards somersault off the mattress to land in front of me. I looked down for just a split second to find his wrists, using the knife to cut him free. It was so sharp it went through the fibers like they were made of butter.


“Hey! Leave him alone! He’s my boyfriend, not yours!” She took two steps toward us.


I frowned at her. “Shut up, Coli. Your bullshit isn’t funny anymore.”


She pointed a finger at me like a scolding grandmother, wagging it up and down for emphasis. “You’re going to be sorry, Bryn. Really sorry!”


“I already am, Coli!” I yelled, standing again. I heard the sounds of material ripping and then felt Bodo administering first aid to my arm. But all my attention was on my would-be murderer.


“Coli, you can come with us out of here, but you have to hand over all your weapons and promise you’ll go peacefully. Otherwise, we’ll have to leave you here.” Part of me hoped she’d take me up on the abandonment program.


“Good! Just leave me. I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”


“I think you do,” I said, not convinced that was true. But I had to think that even mentally ill people didn’t want to be alone. Isolation could not possibly be good for Coli, even though it was decidedly much better for me.


“You killed Kowi,” she said. “You were jealous of us. You were jealous of me!”


I rolled my eyes. “Jesus, Coli, give it a rest, would you?”


“Da only person who is jealous is you, Coli. Dat’s you. You are da problem, not Bryn. You were alwayss da problem here.” Bodo shook his head, tying a knot over the top of my wound.


I grimaced with the pain, but knew it was the best thing for me right now. I was fervently hoping that I’d be able to get back to Haven before infection set in. I had to believe Coli’s knife had been used on that canner first, and I knew he was diseased. He had to be. To think that I’d survive the apocalypse to die of some weird canner disease was almost laughable it was so awful.


My morbid thoughts flew out of my head when Coli suddenly looked like she was going to come for us. But then I calmed down when she walked out of the hut instead.


My pulse picked up briefly when I saw her marching over to retrieve the knife that had flown by, but she never even looked back after picking it up. She just shoved it into a holster at the back of her pants and trudged through the trees, making a huge amount of noise that included not only leaves crunching but some crazy shrieks and sobs too. It was so not like her to sound like a buffalo.


“Dat girl is very sick,” said Bodo as we watched her disappear into the darkness.


“Yes. And she’s very dangerous. We need to get the hell out of here.”


“Where are we going? To da Miccosukee ranch or back to Haven?”


“To the pool and the loom hut first. Then to the Miccosukee ranch. I need to see if there are any looms left that we can take.”


“What about Rob? And da rest of da kids?”


“I hope they made it to the ranch. But we’re running out of daylight, and I don’t want to be anywhere near that looney bird when it’s dark.”


“Me neider. You want to go clean your arm at da shower? Maybe dare is some soap dare.”


I nodded. “Good idea. Let’s do that first.”


We left the huts and followed the trail to the showers, both of us on high alert, expecting Coli to jump out from behind every tree.

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