Chapter eight – Confusion
Whew, that took a while. A long while. To make up for that, here’s a long one!
‘We are gathered here today to pay our tribute and our respect to Jamie Cossen, son of Edward and Alicia Cossen. Brother to Shannon and Lisa. Jamie’s death shocks and saddens us all. He was taken away from this world too quickly, too soon. But weep not, for all death is just the beginning. Jamie is now at the Maker’s side, where he shall know eternal happiness.’
The funeral service had ended. Guests started moving back towards their vehicles, to drive over to the Cossen house. There, the memorial service would take place.
I did not join the stream of people making their exit. Neither did my group. We gathered at our friend’s tombstone, looking down on the freshly dug grave. A heavy silence filled the air. No-one dared to look the others in the eyes.
Finally, Luke spoke.
‘They say the police arrested someone yesterday. An addict from Bridgeport.’
‘Not now, man,’ Tristan muttered.
‘They say he’s charged with both murders. That it’s over now, and he’s going behind bars for a very long time.’
‘Do you think he really did it? What if they’ve got the wrong guy? I think we should go over there and-‘
‘Shut up!’ Tristan suddenly snapped, violently turning around to face his friend. ‘Jamie is dead, man! We just buried him! Be a little more goddamn considerate to the dead!’
‘What the hell?!’ Luke snapped back. ‘I am! What part about wanting to throw the guy who did this to him in jail is inconsiderate?! Hell, just a jail sentence isn’t enough! He needs to pay! And I don’t see you running out there to avenge him!’
‘Both of you, stop it!’ Bobby yelled, getting in between the two of them. He tried to get eye contact with me, pleading with me to take over and pull them apart.
I avoided his gaze. There was a strange numbness in my chest, keeping me from caring about my surroundings. I merely looked down on Jamie’s gravestone. Death among friends was something that I had imagined would not happen yet for a very, very long time. Maybe in fifty years or so, when we were all old and grey. But not now. Not at sixteen. Jamie hadn’t even been an adult yet. And now, he would never become one. I pictured his body in that coffin, six feet underground, and shuddered.
‘FINE! I’ll go by myself, then! You can all stay here and weep until your eyes dry out! I don’t care!’
Luke had shoved Bobby out of the way- a rare occurrence, seeing his very little muscle mass- and stormed off. He didn’t look back even once. Within seconds, the brown-eyed boy had reached his bike and yanked it off the rack. He dragged it over to the side of the road, where he hopped on. Without casting a second glance at his group, Luke cycled away.
Tristan huffed. He glared at Luke’s back as his figure was growing smaller. His brow was set in an angry frown. I listened to him mumble for a couple of seconds, before Tristan too seemed to come to a descision in his head.
‘I’m outta here.’
The dark-skinned boy looked at me for a second, then let out another huff when I did not respond. Angrily, he turned his back to me and Bobby and stomped away through the graveyard.
Soon after, it was just the two of us left. Bobby looked at me curiously. His gaze drifted to Jamie’s gravestone for a moment, before trailing back to me. A questioning expression lay in his eyes. He had picked up on my lethargic behaviour, and wanted to know why.
‘Do you want to talk?’
‘No,’ I replied softly.
I hadn’t shed a single tear. I knew I was supposed to. One of my best friends had just passed away. He had been murdered, the news of which was supposed to have unlocked a storm of emotions inside of me. Sadness. Anger. Even rage or despair, which were so obviously present inside Luke and Tristan.
But I felt none of all that. No, that slight buzzing that I felt in my head, had nothing to do with sadness or anger. It was a different emotion entirely. I could not quite place my finger on it. But whenever I looked at Jamie’s grave, or thought about the news of his death, the feeling increased tenfold. The closest I could come to describing it, was… confusion. Unease.
Something about this was not right.
‘It helps to talk, Chase. You’ve helped me too, back then.’
‘Leave it alone, Bobby.’
My soft tone had vanished. The black-haired boy visibly deflated, backing off immediately. Bobby took a few steps backwards, towards the exit. He hesitated. Then, Bobby seemed to find some spark of courage inside. His shoulders straightened, making him look just a little bit taller.
‘All right. But if you need to talk, I’ll be there. Take all the time you need, okay?’
He did not wait for an answer. He knew that he was not going to get one. With a straight back, Bobby walked away from the fresh grave in front of me. I could hear his footsteps on the pavement, slowly distancing themselves from me.
Soon, I was alone. Everyone else had left. It was just me… and the freshly dug grave.
‘Take all the time you need, okay? We’ll leave when you’ve calmed down, sweetheart. It will be all right.’
It happened again. As I looked down on Jamie’s grave, a glimpse of a scene that was unfamiliar to me flashed before my eyes. The buzzing in my head increased. I growled slightly, pressing my fist up to the side of my head to get rid of the strange image.
It passed quickly. Within seconds, my vision returned to Jamie’s grave. A slight sense of dizziness now accompanied the buzzing in my head. I sighed, rubbing the base of my nose with my fingers. Tired. That was it. I was just tired. Jamie’s death had shaken everyone, and I hadn’t slept properly in a week. Of course you would start hearing things with not enough sleep. That was normal. Completely natural. Nothing to be worried about.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I could see my group slowly falling apart. Luke and Tristan had retained a grudge over the shouting match back at the graveyard. An icy silence filled the air whenever the two of them were in the same room. Bobby tried his hardest not to side with either Luke or Tristan. To keep the peace. In the end, all it did was turn the both of them against him.
It probably didn’t have to be that way. I’d ended their fights before. Multiple times. I realized that, with a show of force from my side, Luke and Tristan would probably make up right away. They always had. I think that they were expecting me to, waiting for that to happen.
But I just couldn’t be bothered. Maybe it had to do with me growing older. But I was slowly getting tired of always playing alpha male in our group, and keeping the others in line. Part of me wondered what would happen if I just… did nothing. Let things play out between Luke and Tristan on their own, without me interfering.
The results were less than desirable. Soon, our large group was reduced to just me and Bobby.
Another early morning. I was out on one of my jogs, though “jogging” really wasn’t the right term for this. A few meters ahead of me, the dark-haired woman ran. She was still ahead, but not by much. Finally, after what felt like a decade, I’d gained some ground on her. My lungs were burning, but I’d never gotten this close before. Today would be the day. I bit down and pumped my legs, leaving heavy footsteps as I picked up even more speed.
Slowly, very slowly, I closed the distance between us. She was only inches away. If I reached out, I could probably touch her back-
‘CHAAAAAAAASE! Wait up!’
Surprised, I turned my head. Liu was a few meters behind me. I hadn’t even noticed him. I involuntarily slowed down, and the dark-haired woman immediately made use of it. She shot into an alleyway between two houses, vanishing from sight within seconds. I cursed under my breath.
Aaaaand she was gone. Again. I’d gotten so close this time, too.
But Liu was my childhood friend, and ignoring him would just be bad manners. So I came to a halt, stopping at the side of the road, near a grassy meadow.
It took Liu a good few seconds to reach me. He seemed completely out of breath, huffing and wheezing as he finally arrived at my location.
‘Are you all right?’ I asked, looking down at his red face as he leaned on his knees to catch his breath. Liu let out a curse.
‘All right?! Bloody maker, Chase, you’re running faster than a damn horse! Are you sure you’re not a gold-star athlete or something?’
‘Of course not,’ I replied. ‘I’m not nearly fast enough yet. I can’t even catch up to her.’
‘Huh? Catch up to who?’
I looked in the direction that the woman had disappeared. Right… I still didn’t know her name. Yeah, Liu, I’ve been chasing some random woman around town every other day for the past year or so. No, I have no idea who she is.
I wonder if this made me qualify as a stalker?
‘No one. Never mind.’
I walked over to the grass. It was about time for a break, anyway. Liu quickly joined me, his eyes sparkling with curiosity.
‘Seriously, though. What do you mean, “not fast enough yet”? Have you seen yourself run?’ Liu insisted.
‘Well, no,’ I said, raising a single eyebrow.
‘It’s like looking at bloody Sonic the Hedgehog, man. When did you get so fast?’
At first I thought he was joking, but Liu’s look of awe convinced me otherwise. Maybe my training had been working better than I thought. I had been running faster and faster lately, and exhaustion came later and later. And apparently, it showed. Liu’s acknowledgement lifted my mood a little, and I sat up a little straighter.
It still wasn’t enough, though. I voiced those thoughts to Liu.
‘You want to get even faster?’ he replied. ‘For what purpose?’
I glanced at him. The reason was clear to me, but it did sound a bit strange if you said it out loud. Would he take me seriously?
‘Don’t laugh, okay? I mean it.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Just tell me.’
‘Okay. I want to be able to outrun a wolf.’
Tristan had denied me, calling it impossible. It had made me more determined to prove him wrong, but the logic behind his reasoning was scientifically sound. I expected Liu to come with the same argument, but to my surprise, he did not. Instead, Liu cocked his head a little and gave me a strange smile.
‘Aren’t you taking those folktales a bit too serious, mate?’
‘You know, the one about the wolf ritual. Come on, Nana tells them every year during our festivals. You’ve got to have heard that one at least once.’
Something about that did seem familiar. I frowned, a distant memory of a campfire rising up from the depths of my mind.
‘Refresh my memory, please. Which story are you talking about now?’
‘You want me to tell you the whole thing?! That’s going to take all day, man. Forget I said anything. Go back to your running.’
But by now, Liu had piqued my interest. I shook my head, plopping down on the nearest bench.
‘No, I think it’s the perfect time for a break. And you’re here now, anyway. Might as well tell me the story, Liu.’
‘All right, all right. You’ll get your bloody fairy tale.’
Liu lied down on the grass, his dark brown eyes looking up at the sky above them.
‘I’m just reciting what Nana told us, mind you. Hobey, this is going to take forever. I’m giving you the short version, got it?!’
‘Got it,’ I said, with an amused expression on my face. Liu huffed when he saw it.
‘Okay. Fine. You know the legend about the Gate of Life, right? Or do I have to refresh your memory on that one, too?’
‘I know that one.’
‘Good. Anyway. According to the tale, the wanderers were the first culture to come across the Gate of Life. We were the first to try and bring someone back into our world.’
‘A young gypsy girl named Nile Owen couldn’t cope with the loss of her mother and brother. With no-one else to turn to, she broke the taboo that Maker had set on life’s circle. Nile accessed the Gate from this world to try and bring her brother back.’
This tale I had heard of before. Because of this girl, Nile, the path was opened for corrupted souls to try and force their way back into this world. According to the legend, the Gate had tainted her, and she’d spent centuries trying to stop other children from doing the same thing before finally vanishing from history.
‘The folktale speaks of the rage of Maker, who did not forgive the wanderers for breaking the taboo that she had set. As retribution for their insolence, she forced them into giving up some of their own children. They were transformed into wolves, and tasked with hunting down every corrupted soul that clawed its way back into this world.’
‘According to the tale, there is a prophecy handed down throughout the generations. Every year, some children to the Wanderer community are born with physical abilities that outrank the others. Every ten years, a festival is held to honour the children that were taken as retribution, and a white wolf appears. It whisks away the strongest of the wanderers, and brings them to the Gate of Life. There, they are transformed into a new generation of wolves. They stay that way forever, gaining immortality and hunting down malicious spirits until the day they die.
You feel like growing a tail, Chase?’
I’d been so engrossed in the folktale that I had forgotten all about the guy that was actually telling it. Somewhere during his tale, he had moved from the ground and sat down on the bench next to me. Liu was looking at me with a serious expression on his tanned face. The intensity of his eyes made me uncomfortable, and I stared back with a frown.
‘You do know that outrunning a wolf is physically impossible for a human. Unless you’re one of those wolves-in-the-making, of course. Is that why you’re training? Do you want to be turned into a mutt?’
‘What? No!’ I yelled. ‘Of course not! I’m running because… because of something else! Okay?!’
For a moment, his intense look remained. Then a grin broke through on his face and Liu looked away, after which he burst out laughing.
‘What’s so funny?!’
‘You… actually… believe that stuff!’ Liu hiccupped, almost rolling over the ground in laughter. ‘Hobey, that’s priceless! You should have seen your face!’
Apparently he took my unwillingness to share the story of how I was training in order to meet my parents as fear of the wolves’ folk tale. I shrugged. Might as well. I wasn’t willing to share that one with anyone yet, anyway.
Liu slowly got back up, a grin still on his face.
‘It’s just a story, man. Someone probably made it up during a night at the campfire with too much booze to drink. Like Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny.’
‘No way, man. The Easter Bunny is real.’
‘Shut up, man,’ he said, playfully punching my shoulder. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘Yeah… I guess I do.’
Liu nodded. He looked at me for a few seconds, before opening his mouth again.
‘It’s good to see you’re getting a bit of your cheer back, Chase. You’re not nearly as good-looking when you’re down.’
Now it was my turn to punch him.
‘Oh, shut up.’
The Appaloosa Plains police station was situated in the middle of the village, in the left section of the Town Hall. It was one of the fanciest buildings in the whole village, and I liked passing by it on my usual morning route. When I wasn’t chasing a certain someone around, at least.
Normally, the area around Town Hall was silent, as the building officially did not open until 8 am. This time, however, I could hear voices coming from the open window. They didn’t sound very friendly, and I involuntarily slowed down to see what was going on.
Suddenly, I could make out Luke’s voice. He was too far inside to make out what he was saying, but my friend sounded quite agitated. Angered replies floated through the open window. Then a soft bang, as if someone had slammed his fist against something. My curiosity won out. I walked towards the entrance of Town Hall, opened the door and stepped inside.
It wasn’t hard to make out where Luke was. All I had to do was follow the sound of his voice- and he wasn’t exactly whispering. As I drew closer, I could slowly start to make out what he was saying.
‘…don’t care what the protocol is! I have rights. I demand that you let me in!’
‘Make demands all you want. I’d suggest you go back to school and learn a little something about what rights you actually have, boy. Now get lost already! I have better things to do than listening to your petty whining all day!’
Curiously, I turned the corner. The open door led straight to the town’s police station, which, unsurprisingly, was almost entirely empty at this early hour. In fact, there seemed only two people present. The first was Luke, his hands balled into fists and slightly shaking. The second was a very, very cranky-looking police officer. Even from way over here, I could feel the aura of annoyance radiating off of the man and instantly realized that he was coming very close to calling security. Luke seemed to be oblivious to this fact. He puffed out his chest, ready to get started on round two.
Quickly, I stepped into the room. The police officer turned his head towards the movement to his left, took one look at me and audibly groaned.
‘Not another one! By the Maker, it’s too early for this!’
‘Chase?’ Luke said, raising a single eyebrow. ‘What are you doing here?’
I joined my friend, cautiously nodding at the police officer to show that I came in peace.
‘I’m here every morning, Luke. Town Hall is on my jogging route. I heard your voice from outside.’
‘You have good timing, man,’ Luke nodded. His face turned into a frown when he looked back at the policeman. ‘I’m trying to get access to that tourist’s holding cell, but this guy won’t let me in. Just because I am a minor! It’s discrimination, I tell you!’
‘Why do you want to get into his holding cell?’ I asked, surprised. The question seemed to annoy Luke.
‘Because I want to interrogate him, of course! Why else do you think I’d want to?! Jamie deserves some justice, and that bastard is not confessing!’
His voice rose above normal volume again. The police officer shot me a threatening look; he still seemed to be moments away from calling security.
‘Calm down,’ I spoke, with a calm voice. ‘You’re not helping anyone by throwing a fit over here like a two-year old.’
‘Well if he would just-‘
‘I said shut up,’ I said sharply, pulling Luke a few steps away from the policeman. Of course he wasn’t going to let Luke near that man. It was only logical. But being logical did not seem to be a priority in Luke’s mind at the moment. Even if it involved getting his behind kicked by a security guard. In a hushed voice, I explained the situation to him.
‘Listen. Listen, damn it. The police haven’t got a confession of guilt out of that tourist guy yet, have they?’
‘No,’ Luke frowned.
‘Then this is still an ongoing investigation. They’re still gathering evidence, Luke. Of course they’re not going to let a random stranger see their suspect in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Haven’t you watched any detective shows?’
‘But then how do I find out anything?’ Luke mumbled back, ignoring my remark. ‘They’re not sharing any information. That berryhole behind the counter won’t even show me Jamie’s autopsy report.’
‘Why would he? For all he knows you could be the murderer.’
‘Of course I’m not! I just want to help, damn it!’ Luke snapped, gaining another angry glare from the police officer. ‘Then what do you propose I should do?! Just sit at home and be a good kid until all the evidence is gone?!’
‘No, but you can shut up for a moment,’ I replied calmly. ‘Stay here and contain yourself for a moment, for berry’s sake. I’ll try and talk to him.’
I left Luke there. With confident steps, I walked over to the policeman, who was still eyeing me suspiciously. The target of his anger seemed to switch from Luke to myself.
‘Now listen up, you punk,’ the policeman snarled. ‘I do not appreciate being chewed out in my own department! Another outburst like that and I’ll have him arrested for officer assault. Am I clear?’
‘Very,’ I replied, in a calm voice. ‘I’d like to offer my apologies for my friend’s behaviour just now. He just lost his best friend. The shock is not making him think logically. If he were clear-headed, he would never mouth off against a protector of the state like that.’
It was blatant flattering. But it worked. The policeman huffed, dropping a little bit of his hostility.
‘Fine. I guess I can make an exception… given the circumstances. Now get him out of here before I change my mind.’
An angry shade of red flashed by on Luke’s face. I shot him a warning glance, and he stayed silent. In earlier years, I’d clashed with older people over a “lack of respect” multiple times. I’d learned to sweet-talk my way out of it, and over time that skill had turned into a subtle affinity for manipulation.
‘Thank you, sir. But if you don’t mind, could I ask for a favour?’
‘What is it now?’ The officer huffed crankily. It was like trying to catch a fish. If I pushed too hard, I would lose my chance. But if I came over as too weak, the man would just deny me, which would once again infuriate Luke and we would be right back where we started.
‘My friend here will need some time to come to terms with his loss. And as you can see, he is not very bright. I’d like to make sure that he does not bother you again, sir.’
‘And how do you intend to do that?’ the policeman asked. I leaned forward a bit, lowering my voice and pretending to cut Luke out of the conversation.
‘Luke needs to come to terms with his friend’s death. Of course we cannot allow him to interfere with an ongoing investigation. But if I leave with him now, I suspect that he will just come back tomorrow and ask the same questions, which would be a waste of your precious time.’
‘And incredibly annoying,’ the police officer nodded with a frown.
‘Exactly. So instead, I believe it would be a good idea to let Luke come to terms with what has happened. I’ve taken him to the funeral, but he still seems to have a hard time accepting that his friend is truly gone.’
‘What do you propose?’ the policeman asked. By plumbob, he was easy to manipulate. With a calm smile, I pointed at the lockers behind the counter.
‘Would we be allowed to see Jamie Cossen’s autopsy report? I’m aware that it is not the standard procedure. But perhaps by seeing an official confirmation of his death, Luke can come to terms with his passing… and stop pestering police officers about it.’
I had won. I could see it in the man’s eyes. He looked over from me to Luke, then back to me. The policeman seemed to ponder for a moment, after which he finally nodded with a frown on his face.
‘Fine, then. If that is what it will take to get him to leave me alone. But I’m holding you responsible if anything happens with it, you hear!’
‘Naturally,’ I smiled. With that, the policeman finally walked over to the lockers. In an infuriatingly slow motion, he reached for one of the doors, put a key in and opened the file cabinet. It took the man about a minute to find the file he was looking for.
‘You have five minutes,’ he said, after slowly walking back with the file and handing it over to me. I nodded once. Five minutes was all we needed. I quickly re-joined Luke and shoved the document in his hands.
‘Here you go.’
‘You’re golden, man,’ Luke said, with a grateful smile on his face. ‘I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own.’
‘No kidding. Just read the damn thing, we only have five minutes with it.’
Luke nodded and opened the file. A few seconds passed in which no-one spoke. Even the police officer. Cranky as he was, he did give us a moment of privacy. There was a total silence. I looked at Luke, as he was reading the document with a frown on his face. My friend seemed to be skimming over the content, looking for Maker knows what. I had no idea what he expected to find.
Then, suddenly, his eyes stopped reading. Luke’s frown intensified and he made a dissatisfied noise.
‘I knew it.’
‘What?’ I asked. Suddenly I was curious, too. Did he actually manage to find something in there?
‘Do you remember when they told us about Jamie’s death? The details?’
‘Of course I remember,’ I replied, a bit offended. ‘The police said that they found him at 7 in the morning, and that blood loss was the cause of death. As if I’d forget that.’
‘Exactly,’ Luke nodded. ‘In the way that they explained it, I thought that he had been stabbed to death. That it was probably a mugging gone wrong, or something.’
‘Not according to this,’ Luke said, handing the file over to me. ‘Look at the details.’
I took the document from Luke. Quickly, my eyes skimmed over the dry, almost disinterested writing that was Jamie’s autopsy report. When I reached the details section, however, I instantly realized what Luke had been talking about. A frown appeared on my face.
The document specified the cause of death to be from blood loss. But what followed right underneath confused me greatly. According to the medical examiner, Jamie’s body had been covered in long, deep gashes on his arms, torso and abdomen. They were shallow, and the examiner noted that the wounds had to have been inflicted by something other than a knife.
‘That can’t be right,’ I mumbled. ‘The police said that he died from stab wounds.’
‘Not according to the autopsy report,’ Luke replied softly. ‘And those things don’t lie.’
I was about to answer him, when the silence around us was finally broken by the voice of the police officer.
‘Your five minutes are up. Now hand that over, boys.’
I saw luke’s jawline tighten. Quickly, I shook my head at him. Any more provocation from his side and we’d have a guard coming after both our asses. I walked over to the officer, nodded at him and handed over the file.
‘Thank you for letting us look. We’ll be going now.’
‘Don’t let me keep you. My condolences.’
Luke barely waited until we had exited the building.
‘I told you so! I told you that there was something fishy about all this!’ he said, looking at me defiantly. ‘Assaulted by a tourist, my foot! Something else happened here!’
‘Maybe,’ I replied, giving him a single nod. ‘But you can’t be sure. Don’t get too hasty, okay? They might have just misunderstood the cause of death themselves, when they told us.’
That idea seemed to anger him, but Luke composed himself. He glanced at the Town Hall behind us, where there was still an open window.
‘Whatever. I don’t know, man. I need time to think about this. I’ll see you at school, later.’
‘You’re welcome, by the way,’ I said sarcastically. Luke made a an irritated gesture with his hand and turned around, walking away from me across the pavement. I let him go. He always had been the emotional one out of us all. Out of every person in my group, if you could still call it that, Luke would probably need the longest to heal.
And he would cause the most problems.
I did not go home after that. Unlikely as it was, the strange circumstances around Jamie’s death kept me thinking. They floated around in the back of my mind, refusing to be dismissed. I kept thinking about it as I jogged, and eventually, my feet took another walking route on their own. Before I knew it, I’d left the village behind as I followed the dusty trail towards the beach, where they had found his body. The route took me through the outskirts, and as it was still early morning, I did not expect there to be anyone around but me.
But there was. I had ran into it twice before already, and had fully expected it not happening a third time. And yet it did. As I slowed down to a halt, squinting my eyes against the summer sun, I could make out the same white wolf from that night in the forest. It was still quite far away, standing between a group of trees near the river.
And it was looking right at me.
‘Now that is just not natural,’ I muttered, looking back at the wolf. I did not know what was going on, but this was not normal dog behaviour. Or wolf behaviour. Whichever applied more. Bottom line was that that animal was acting irregularly, and seeing it stare at me like that made me very uncomfortable. It creeped me out.Suddenly every urge of going to the beach was gone. I was done for the day.
It was time to go home.
‘Well… see ya, weirdo,’ I mumbled to the wolf, and took a single step backwards. The wolf immediately followed. It stepped forward, lowering its head to the ground.
But it would, and it did. As I stood there staring, dumbfounded, the wolf bared its fangs at me. Even from this distance I could hear the low, threatening growl. I blinked, confused and utterly unable to understand the sudden situation that had unfolded in front of me. Slowly, I took another step backwards.
And the wolf charged. With a menacing snarl, it launched itself from the ground and coursed straight at me, its paws kicked up clutters of grass and dirt. In a way, it almost looked comical.
Then, the situation finally registered in my brain. I was in danger. That beast was charging at me, and definitely not in order to give me a friendly hug. That wolf was in hunting mode. It was still far away, but with that speed, the beast would be on top of me in seconds.
And I had nothing to fend him off with.
I was totally defenseless.
My body finally caught up with what my head already knew. I had to run. A jolt of adrenaline shot through my legs, setting my muscles on fire as I spun around on my heels and bolted from the place. My feet slammed against the ground heavily as I picked up speed. In the back of my head, I could suddenly hear Tristan.
‘The average running speed of a human is 15 kilometers an hour. Wolves have a speed of 35 kilometers or faster. You do the math. It’s not possible.’
I wished I’d never asked Tristan that question. My heart was throbbing and I forced myself forward, up the hillside. But I was already tired. I had just jogged all morning, and my muscles were worn out. I knew that you weren’t supposed to look behind you during a chase, but I did, and I immediately wished I hadn’t. The wolf was gaining on me fast. There was only a few meters left between us. I could see a cold, emotionless look in its eyes as it closed the distance… and caught up with me. The beast actually passed me and ran ahead a few inches, and for a second, I thought that it was just going to keep running. That it hadn’t been targeting me after all.
But a second later, that hope was shattered. I could see the wolf move its head towards me, look ahead and tilt back towards me again. I instantly realized what it was doing. It was coldly calculating the perfect distance from which to pounce. It wasn’t even trying to hurry. It knew that I was an easy target.
The next moment… the beast pounced. It twisted its body mid-step, kicking off with its hind legs and soaring directly at me. I could stare right into its opened mouth. Within moments, those fangs would tear me in half.
The sight of its open mouth, fangs blickering, did something to me. Suddenly I was back in that dark forest, staring down a pack of predators. Once again, I was staring death in the eye. And, just like that night in the forest, the same emotion took hold of me again. The same feeling of defiance welled up in my chest.
I was not going to lose.
It was as if a hidden reserve opened, one that I had not known about before. It burst open and suddenly, my whole body was buzzing with electricity. The pain in my legs was gone. The throbbing in my head was gone. With reflexes that I didn’t know I had, I slid to the right and dodged the incoming wolf fangs. The beast missed me by a hair, soaring just past me and missing its target.
It hadn’t been prepared for that. And did not wait around for it to regain itself. As the beast landed on the ground, I sped away in the direction of the village. My legs were on fire. I had never run this fast before. The landscape around me turned into a blur as I sped up more and more, driving my body to its limit.
I was not going to lose.
My lungs were burning. I started to get light-headed, and knew I could not keep up this speed for much longer. But I was so close. The village entrance was right there. I could make it. I could still make it. My sight started to blur, and I could see black spots in the edges of my vision. My legs slowed. But I could… I could still..!
With the last bit of strength that I had left, I sped up even more. My vision had gone almost completely black. But it was enough. Underneath my feet, the dusty road turned to stone and I knew that I had made it. I stormed through the village entrance, head pressed down like a charging bull.
In that split second, I glanced behind me to look at the wolf. Bad move. My steps were sluggish and I almost immediately tripped over my own feet, tumbling down to the ground. A sharp pain pierced through my shoulder as it crashed against the asphalt. The rest of my body kept going. It wasn’t elegant. I actually rolled over myself a few times before finally coming to a stop, sprawled out flat across the asphalt.
I saw stars. It took me a good few seconds to regain myself. My crashing against the asphalt had completely knocked the air out of me. It made a very bad combination with the adrenaline coursing through my veins and for a moment, I thought that I was going to pass out. Then the moment faded, and I could suddenly see the sky above my head again.
I had made it.
Gasping, I picked myself up from the ground. My shoulder felt like it was on fire, and my hands were shaking. The rest of my body didn’t feel too hot either. I would be left with some bruises, that was for sure.
Then my brain got back up to speed with the rest of my body, and I jolted upwards.
The wolf! Where was the wolf?!
But my reaction had been unnecessary. The road in front of me was empty. Completely deserted, as if I hadn’t just been chased all across three hills by a hungry wolf. As if I hadn’t been seconds away from being turned into the beast’s breakfast. There was absolutely no trace of it anywhere.
I slowly exhaled, my head still trying to wrap itself around what had just happened. No good. I couldn’t find a logical explanation.
It couldn’t have just vanished that fast- had that wolf really been here?
Was I going insane?