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Minding Your Own Business
As we climbed up the side of the mountain on a slope that was narrow but not dangerous, again the warning words Mrs. Leary had told me echoed in my head.
“You two must stay behind with them while we go forward because whatever danger they face will be surmounted by you. Their destiny is set in stone. Try to change yours.”
I feared that this is the moment she was speaking of. Off around the next bend in the mountain path there was a large set off area from the mountain. It was up higher and the rocky path wound in order to reach it. At the top, there was a fire emitting the smoke which had drawn us there in the first place. With a deep breath, I smiled at Alex and together we marched forward. Earlier in the journey, we had been separated from our comrades. They, being stronger than Alex and I, had marched quickly ahead of us. They had a cockiness which we were scared to match. Deep down, I felt that being cocky here would be a very bad thing indeed. You never knew what was going to happen; it would be foolish to pretend that you did.
As we grew nearer to the smoky area, I was able to distinguish more and more of it. Surrounding the circular set off there were large sticks about five feet tall. Mounted on these sticks were demon-eyed dolls, a sacrificial symbol if I assumed correctly. Most shocking and disturbing however, was the line of people, about eight deep, who were awaiting entry to the set off area. Last in line were our two comrades who had ventured off ahead of us. With a grim smile, I tugged Alex’s arm and gestured to our friends. Her eyes were wide with confusion as I pulled her swiftly towards them.
“What is this place?” she asked me.
“It’s a place where people worship the gods.” My tone matched my grim attitude. Alex, being the smart girl she was, immediately changed her confusion to worry. She knew as well as I did that when people worshipped the gods, they gave sacrifices.
“Why are we heading there?”
I turned my head and smiled sadly.
“Because Andrew and Jess are up there and it’s the only way through. We’re going to have to wait in that line like everyone else. Alex, do you remember what Mrs. Leary told us before we set off here, when she found us in that swamp?”
“Yes, it was something about how those two’s lives will face danger that only we can defeat.”
“Yeah that’s the basic idea. But I’ve been thinking about that for a while, and I know originally we thought it meant that we would need to save them from danger, but now I think they’re going to protect us.”
“Protect us?” Her tone was full of disbelief. “They’re waiting in that line to die right now! I know you know that.”
It’s true. We both knew that everyone in that line was about to die, even though the evidence was hidden to us by the billows of smoke.
“What I mean is I think they’re sacrificing themselves for us.”
“Jess and Andy would never do that. They want to make it through this as much as anybody.”
“I don’t think they know they’re going to do it.”
Alex grew silent. The seriousness of the situation bore down on us as we walked up the winding incline. Before we reached the end of the line, I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. I had a plan in my head. But, it wasn’t very intricate. I only prayed to God that it would work. Because Alex and I needed to move on, to meet up with the Leary’s and stop everything once and for all.
I saw Alex stiffen out the corner of my eye as Jess and Andy silently moved into the small area. We were next in line and could see everything without the disability of a smoke cover. In the middle of the circle of demon-eyed dolls, there was a rectangular stone bench, only about twelve inches off the ground. But I knew that we didn’t have much time to observe, so I grabbed Alex’s arm and hissed an urgent “Now!” Before we sprinted across the arena and up the path on the side of the mountain across from it. We had not even glanced at Jess and Andy. I knew that if we did, we would be persuaded into staying to our deaths. That’s how everyone got to that point. That’s why no one else had run away. But now, having safely reached the other side, I turned to look downward to where everyone was. I saw the flash of a large ax as it swished down onto the necks of our dear comrades. Tears flooded my eyes as Alex pulled me higher still and away from this whole scene. And so we moved closer to our goal.
“Bloody polytheistic practices…” Tears had started travelling down my cheeks. Our original group of 10 was now down to eight: Alex and I, plus the five Leary cousins and their mom/ aunt who had left far ahead of us. We could only hope that once we reached our destination there would be others willing to fight against this and we could join them.
Next to me, Alex walked silently.
“How far do we have?” she finally spoke.
“It’s down there.” I replied. Far below us, there was a valley completely surrounded on all four sides by mountains. “That’s where we’re going.”
Alex and I were panting as we ran. My muscles felt like they were going to give out any second. However, there was no way for me to rest. Resting was a guarantee for being caught. And getting caught was not an option. Ahead of me, I saw a break in the trees. I ran swiftly towards it and I heard leaves crackling as Alex followed. Out of the trees, we would be safe, at least from our current predators.
Out in open, I collapsed onto the ground in exhaustion. The sky had turned dark, providing many places to hide. Once my eyes adjusted to my surroundings, I saw that I was on a street. The clearing that we had burst into was a small town like area. Around the borders of the town, there were trees and instinctively I ran towards those for cover.
Then I noticed we weren’t alone. Running the opposite direction from the trees a young man was coming. When he saw Alex and me, he grabbed our arms and pulled us into the leafy cover.
“Did you come from the forest?” He asked us.
“Yes.” I said. On his arm, I noticed a large, oval tattoo. The sight calmed me. “You’re part of the rebellion.” I stated gesturing towards the tattoo.
He nodded. “I know you guys think your safe here, but the city is so much worse. There are minders everywhere. Keep a clear head; you don’t know where they’re going to be. But if they catch you, well, you better find a way to get away before they get you inside.”
“Thanks for your help.”
He smiled grimly. “Good luck, comrades. Play the game. Stay alive as long as possible.” With those words, he vanished farther into the trees.
“We’ve got to move.” I said and Alex and I shot out of the trees. In the open, I felt exposed. The streets were clear, but that was not a comfort to me. Together, we ran down alleys, always checking for any sight of the minders. Finally, by one of the buildings down an alley, a deck shot out from the wall. Underneath the deck there was about three feet of darkness to shield us. We ran there.
Alex and I scrambled quickly underneath, knowing we would only be safe here for twenty minutes, tops. The minders were constantly patrolling and so just staying alive and out of sight was the hardest part. My eyes darted back and forth ahead of me. The deck was open on all sides. The only hope we’d have if a minder came anywhere near was that it would be dark enough they couldn’t see us.
Suddenly, I heard a scratching sound come from behind us. I whipped around to face the area where we had entered and saw two other girls scrambling to get under.
They’re being too loud, they’re being too loud. I kept thinking over and over. Much to my dismay, I knew I was right. I looked forward and saw a gathering of about five or so minders forming. They seemed to be talking nonchalantly, but that was only a cover. Even though they were about fifty yards away, I could still hear the voice of one of the male minders as it carried across the stagnant air.
“Under the deck.” He said quietly.
Thankfully, the girls had stopped moving, but they were not near far enough under the deck to be covered by darkness. Their bodies had frozen at the sound of the man’s words. Slowly, I watched as a second male minder turned until he faced us.
“I’ll go check it out.” He smiled broadly and began striding over.
“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” I whispered. “We got to go.” And I squirmed out from under the deck just as the minder appeared.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” His voice oozed confidence. Without even a thought going through my mind of where I would go next, I ran. Behind me, I heard the squeals of girls as the minder caught them. I could hear the dragging of body on dirt as he most likely pulled them out by their ankles. I wanted so badly to help them, but I knew it would do no good to get all of us caught, so I kept running and praying. It wasn’t until I was back in the cover of trees that I noticed Alex wasn’t with me.
With practiced silence, I stayed alert, even though tears ran down my cheeks at the loss of yet another companion.
When the leaves crinkled next to me, I was prepared to take off again.
“No, wait.” A voice said from my right. “It’s ok.” My breathing had become ragged from the rush of adrenaline and silent sobbing. Even in the darkness, I knew that the young man sitting next to me was not a minder. His voice carried a pleading tone that the minders were incapable of mimicking and his eyes bore into mine with intensity and not glazed boredom.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“My name’s Dallas and we can’t do this alone. I’m here to ask you for help.”