Deric and Sym sat under the shade of the apple tree in the backyard of Derics home. The summer afternoon was almost unbearably hot. Syms tattered Michael Jordan T-shirt was soaked with sweat and his skin glistened in the sunlight. He looked longingly at his bicycle parked a few feet away. Deric leaned against the trees trunk tossing a apple from hand to hand. A pile of comic books rested on the grass beside him.
Is it really that fun? Deric asked nodding towards the bike. Sym was five years older than Deric and fit in much better with the other boys in the neighbourhood. His skin was tan from hours spent shooting hoops at the park and a sharp contrast to Derics almost deathly pale flesh.
I could teach you, Sym offered third time. In his way, he felt sorry for the younger boy. Deric rarely came outside his parents rich three floored home. He spent his time alone with books and could count all his friends on a single hand of fingers with room to spare.
No thanks, Deric said, picking up a comic book. Have you read this one yet? He offered the comic to Sym who waved it aside without looking at the cover.
Its great, Deric pressed, Revenger Robot gets stranded on Venus and has to survive until a rescue ship arrives. He...
Deric, Sym interrupted, nudging the boy roughly with his elbow. Look!
Down below their perch on the hilltop, Derics neighbour, Amy, had came outside with her older sister, Maxine. Both were clad in very revealing bathing suits and looked ready to soak up some rays.
Deric was a bit put off that Sym could find such a scene interesting enough to postpone a conversation about his books. He sat the comic down and watched Sym watch Amy.
You like her dont you? Deric asked. What? Sym laughed nervously, Youre losing it, Deric.
Deric grinned but kept silent. Sym noticed his friends knowing gaze. Okay. So maybe I do. One day youll understand. Im surprised you dont already, youre what about thirteen now?
Deric disregarded the question. So why dont we go down and talk to her? the younger boy suggested. Maybe shell even play war with us again.
Sym burst into laughter. You dont ask a girl like Amy to play war not when youre my age anyhow. You know, she just played last time to be nice to you.
She seemed to have a good time. She killed you even more than I usually do. She was rather good at it.
Whatever, Sym shrugged, his eyes still glued to the fawn-eyed girl of his dreams.
Deric jumped up from where he sat, yelling at the top of his lungs. Amy! Amy, do you want to come up for a while?
Syms composure shattered like glass. He mopped at the sweat on his face in vain, trying to hide behind the tree as realized just how bad he must look. What are you doing? he hissed at Deric.
You can thank me later, Deric whispered back, a devilish grin stretching across his lips.
Yeah, Ill be right up! Amy screamed excitedly. She snatched up her towel and darted into her house, leaving Maxine alone in the sun staring unhappily at the boys.
Dont you get my baby sister into trouble, Maxine shouted at Deric. The look in her eyes as she said it spoke volumes. Even the adults thought Deric was strange.
Oh, my God, Sym muttered over and over to himself, Shes coming.
Relax, Deric said squatting beside his friend, Shes only human.
Sym didnt seem to believe him.
In minutes, the trio had gathered in Derics room. The air conditioning was pleasantly cool and Derics Mom brought them iced tea, while they talked. Amy definitely wanted to play again and tonights game would be unlike any other. Amy and Deric talked about where to play as Sym nodded wildly with a blank look on his face whenever asked a question. The pair came up with a plan to of sneaking into Morning Star Forest which touched Rhodes Cove Drive on its eastern side. None of their parents would approve but only Deric, being younger, needed help getting around that. He and Amy worked on contriving an appropriate excuse to get him away from home for the night.
Sym felt incredibly stupid listening to the two of them. Sometimes, they used big words hed never heard before in his life as if they were just part of the normal conversation. He had known Deric was like that because the boy read all the time and did little else, however, this was a side of Amy he had never seen before. He was suddenly a bit jealous of his little loser friend.
As they left Deric obtained his parents permission to sleep over at Syms, and tagged along in their wake with a heavy backpack he couldnt quite manage to carry properly in his arms.
As night fell, the trio entered the forest. When they were far enough inside to avoid being seen from the road, Deric collapsed on a rotted stump and began to rummage through his backpack. He produced a small tin and opened its lid. It contained a black gooish substance which appeared to be shoe polish but stunk horribly like spoiled meat. He thrust the tin at Sym and Amy. Here, put this on. Its nighttime camouflage.
Amy staying in the spirit of the game grabbed the tin and smeared the stuff onto her face. When she was done, she offered the tin to Sym.
No way, he said catching a whiff of its odor.
Come on, Sym. Dont be a chicken, Deric taunted.
Sym glared at the boy with a hatred as sharp as a razor. He took the tin and began smearing the crap onto his skin. He shoved the tin at Deric. Your turn, genius, he demanded.
I dont think so, Deric giggled.
Why not? Amy asked as Sym exploded. You little jerk! You got us to put this shit on. Youre going to, too!
Youll have to catch me first, Deric laughed, darting deeper into the forest, backpack and toy guns forgotten.
Amy and Sym chased after him. Syms taller, lanky legs covered a lot of ground with each stride but it seemed as if the forest itself was on Derics side. The boy disappeared into the growing darkness.
Sym stopped, panting, Amy at his side. The little bastards too quick, Sym gasped.
Watch your language! Amy snapped, Ill bet you were like that too when you were his age. Hes just playing.
I was never like that, Sym raged and instantly regretted it. The way Amys lip trembled tore at his heart. He could see the tears forming in her eyes.
Its just a game to him, Sym. He didnt mean any harm.
Yeah, I guess youre right, Sym offered in way of an apology. Amy, I...
Before Sym finish his sentence a sound howl pierced the night, inhuman and hungry. Somewhere in the trees, they heard a giggling voice. Hes coming for you now. Nobodys better than he is Amy. Youll never beat him.
Amy glanced at Sym, who appeared just as frightened and confused as she felt. What does he mean, Sym? Amy asked.
To their right, tree limbs snapped and the forest moved as something rushed towards them. Run! Sym screamed, and they did as fast as they could go. For a moment, the sound gained on them, then suddenly the forest fell silent. Amy and Sym scanned the trees for a sign of their pursuer but saw nothing.
My lord, Sym! What the hell was that? Amy shrieked.
I dont know... Sym stammered, I dont ...
Amy watched as realization dawned on Syms face. It cant be, Sym whispered in disbelief.
Once, almost a year ago, Sym and Deric had played war in this very forest. They gotten separated and Deric hadnt been found until the next day. It put the whole community in an uproar and was the reason why parents were so keen on not letting their children of any age wander into these woods. When Deric had been found, he had been in coma. He lay in a hospital bed for three weeks while Sym sat at his side guilt stricken before Deric pulled out of it. Hed never told anyone about what had happened in the trees. No one except Sym. Sym hadnt believed him then but he sure as hell was beginning to now.
What? What is it? Amy pleaded.
Trust me, you dont want to know, Sym answered. Weve got to make it back to the road as fast as we can.
Was it a bear? Amy begged desperate for an answer.
No! Sym bellowed. Run for the road!
He started to run but then realized he had no idea which way was which. Amy laughed a nervous laugh. You tell me where its at and Ill be happy to.
Deric swaggered out from the trees, his pale skin shining almost as brightly as his smile in the starlight. Hes found you, the boy giggled. A large creature over eight feet tall with muscles so powerful they bulged through its brown fur burst from the trees. It moved with the grace of an animal, loping towards Sym. Its yellow teeth gleamed. Sym snatched up a nearby branch swinging wildly at the creature. The thick branch struck the things head dead on snapping in two from the force of the blow but it didnt slow the creature at all. The thing knocked Sym to the ground, raking him with its claws. Blood flew as the creature tore his flesh in a mad frenzy.
Amy wailed helplessly, tears streaming down her cheeks. Deric walked towards her ignoring the monster gnawing on Syms exposed bones.
He would have found you even without the scent, Amy. Hes that good.
Amy fell to her knees, her face in her hands.
Nobody beats me at war, Amy. Nobody, because I have him.
The demon-thing turned its eyes on Amy as Syms blood trickled down it chin through its matted fur.
Its my dad, Amy. My real dad, Deric informed her, and hes still hungry.
Amy managed to stumble to her feet. She turned to run but her world went black. The last thing she saw was a massive paw swinging at her face. Soon, the night was silent except for Derics happy laughter.
Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown