And finally, here, have a completed chapter four. I wrote extra to finish it out.
Chapter Four - The Calm and the Storm
Eric had to say, the last month had been something of a surprise to him. He had expected October to be as annoying, and as long as September had been. Yet, Colin had somehow pulled through, and dragged himself to some level of normalcy.
Which isn't to say that he was over the mystery woman. Not by a longshot. Although he had recovered far quicker than he had before. Maybe the encounter with her outside the theatre had scared him enough that he was beginning to distance his feelings from her.
Doubtful, thought Eric. Colin was a year younger than he, but he knew the attraction of 'bad girls' all too well, and this girl was pretty bad in his estimation.
If Eric didn't draw the line at being victimised and feeling threatened, he may well have been in the same boat as Colin.
Little did he realise that there was a reason that Colin had slipped back into his normal routine of just being mopey over school and life in general.
Over the past month, he had seen the woman several more times around town. The more he saw her, the more times they just ran into each other, the more Colin was certain that there was something between them, some sort of destiny waiting.
There had to be a reason that he kept seeing her, right?
He kept the encounters secret from Eric, for fear that he would be ridiculed. Better to just make his friend think that he was over the girl, until he did more than just see her in the distance.
If Eric had known, he would have pointed out that there was a reason behind their continued rendezvous. They lived in a small town, in the middle of nowhere, with only a half dozen or so major streets. Sit someplace long enough, and you will run into everyone you ever met.
Colin would have brushed it off that even coincidence has a place within fate, but there you go.
The first encounter he had with the girl after the theatre was only a few days later.
He had been walking past the park where they had first met, on his way to grab a few things at the convenience store his mom needed.
Colin had just so happened to glance up the street he was crossing, when he saw the now familiar red bike parked beside the police station. The blonde was leaning sitting on the bike sideways, her feet on the same side, resting on the sidewalk. Colin could not hear from where he was, but he watched for a moment as she talked to the police chief.
He didn't know what she could be talking with him about, not that it was any of his business. Nothing ever happened in Kraftsbury. The only excitement of late had been the series of animal attacks that kept happening. But even then, they weren't so surprising. Polar Mountain was teeming with wildlife, and he had even seen a few bears before.
Nothing unusual, save for the frequency of the attacks.
The boy was just about to continue on his way when the girl turned and looked straight at him.
He was so surprised, and felt like just the mere gaze from those stony eyes shot electricity through the entire core of his being, that he almost dropped the bag of groceries he was carrying.
There was no way he could talk himself into thinking she hadn't seen him. No way to believe she had not recognised him. Not in broad daylight, at least.
Instead, Colin tried (and failed, let's be honest) to play it cool. He waved, and hurried on his way. The girl just rolled her eyes as he ran off, looking like someone had set his shoes on fire.
They met again almost two weeks later. It was Saturday, October 13th, and Colin was spending some time in the local coffee shop. He often came there to relax, and hang out with Eric. His best friend was busy that day, but it was still a good place to come and get away from home.
Colin sat at the counter near the register. The only thing between him and there was a rounded glass top covering up various desserts on display. He traced a lazy finger around the small tiles that dotted the countertop, feeling the roughness of the grit between them, scraping at his fingertips.
The server came up and brought him a large green mug topped high with whipped cream, and drizzled in caramel in a spiraling pattern. The girl smiled at Colin, recognising the regular customer, and he even smiled back. The pair of them had even chatted a few times when it was quiet. Colin often wished he could find it as easy to talk to most girls as he did with her. Heck, with most people.
Colin bit off the top of the whipped cream mountain above his mug, as much as one can bite whipped cream, and felt the mixture of textures and flavours from it and the caramel mix in his mouth. This was almost more exciting to him than the coffee beneath. Almost, but not quite.
Just as he was enjoying the bliss firing off hin his brain, he was smashed back to reality by an unexpected, yet well-known voice. The girl he could talk to was talking to the girl he wanted to talk to the most.
Colin was not sure he was prepared for his worlds to collide like this.
Somehow, he had gone unnoticed, or so he thought. Colin grabbed a nearby paper from that morning, and opened it up, hiding behind it. He was tempted to peak around the edges, or over the top, but that would only make him seem all the more suspicious.
Instead, he remained hidden from view, staring at the black and white words in front of him, but not seeing them. They remained little more than meaningles squiggles to his brain.
"Give me a large hazelnut coffee, with lots of sugar, and just a bit of cream," Colin could hear the blonde with ease.
As the server got the order ready, Colin turned behind him and looked out one of the large windows that dominated the front of the store. Sure enough, there was the bike, waiting for its owner to return. Not that Colin was surprised.
To keep up the charade, Colin turned the pages of the paper, to make it seem like he was looking for a new story. As he drew the two halves of the paper together, he saw that the blonde was staring right at him.
Colin was quick to bring the paper back up to hide his surprised, guilt-ridden face. Not to mention the increasing crimson shade pulsing into his cheeks for being caught.
"Here you go, miss!" the server chirped, far too happy to be serving coffee. Or maybe just because of the coffee. Coffee was involved somewhere in the equation.
Colin did his level best to not seem like he was paying attention, or had even noticed the blonde looking at him. Just keep your head down, look interested in the story in front of you, sip your coffee, he kept saying over and over again to himself.
From where he sat, his face buried in the paper, he could not see what was happening, not without making it look like he was looking. But he did hear the thump-thumping of the girl's heavy boots heading away from the cash register, and he began to breathe a sigh of relief, thinking he was safe.
But the tromping march of her boots did not travel far enough, not by half. Colin could feel the cold, wet droplets of sweat beading up on his brow. Even with his eyeline obscured, he knew the woman was looking at him.
Just remain calm, his mantra repeated, echoing in his head.
The following moments felt like an eternity as they passed by. Mere seconds passed in reality. Geological ages passed within his mind. The human race died out, and the dinosaurs returned. Reptilian archaeologists would dig up his fossils and wonder why this long-dead mammal was clutching a newspaper.
Why wasn't she moving on? Why wouldn't she just go? Colin never thought he'd want that from her, but at that moment, feeling like he had been caught with his hand in the biscotti jar, he just wished she would disappear.
No genie appeared in a puff of smoke to grant Colin's wish, though. Instead, he could only watch as a lone finger crept over the top of the paper and hook itself in the sharp crease.
The paper crinkled and crackled as it bent back in his hands, until the receding horizon line created by the paper revealed not just the glistening, golden hair Colin was oh so familiar with, but those twin granite orbs that had been inserted within her skull.
She stopped tugging at the paper just as it reached her nose, by Colin's way of seeing it. It looked like some crazed, angry version of Killroy glaring at him with disapproval.
"Weren't you going to say hello?" she asked. And it was more than a question. It was also an accusation. And she could see his guilt written all over his face, from the scarlet welts that had formed upon his cheeks, to the tide of sweat washing over his forehead.
"Um, uh," Colin stammered, trying to gather his wits, if not his cool. The former he at least had a chance of pulling off. Cool had walked out the door about ten minutes ago.
"Hi?" he squeaked out at last. How could the first conversation he had with this woman be the easiest one to have? Had a month and a half of obsession screwed his brain up that much? Colin was pretty certain that the answer was an emphatic yes.
The blonde smiled, like nothing was wrong. "Oh, so he does speak. I wasn't so sure after our last meeting."
Last meeting, Colin wondered? Did she not see him outside when she was talking to the cops? Could he be so lucky?
The universe answered him as fast as it could, and it answered no. No, he could not be that lucky.
"Or should I say our second to last meeting? You were pretty swiftly running away the last time I saw you. Hard to strike up a conversation under those circumstances. I was busy, anyways."
Colin's mind was racing. Thoughts flew so fast through his mind that he thought someone had called a sale on endorphins and the neurons were on a stampede. How much did she know? How much had she seen of him? He wasn't stalking her, but at that moment, with her rock-like eyes staring upon him, it sure felt like he was being accused of that exact thing.
And he wasn't being accused of anything, not with words, at least. But since stalking was the first thing to come to his mind, that was what his thoughts latched upon, and the act of seeking what he could be accused of created the accusation itself, and even provided evidence to support the claims.
Colin's own mind had condemned him, and he didn't even realise he was on trial. If ever there was a time to find out the truth behind the saying that you are your own worst enemy...
The woman let go of the paper, and Colin set it down just in time to watch her trying to hold back a laugh. She just looked down at the coffee in her other hand, and shook her head, waves of hair floating back and forth as she took in Colin's expression of surprise, guilt, and nerves.
She knew the sort of kid Colin was, had seen enough of them in her life. Her life before. He wasn't great around girls, and she was close to breaking his poor brain. There was a good chance he had said more to her than he had said to anyone else besides his mother and the barista, who had long since stopped paying attention to either of them.
"Geeze, calm down, kid. You're gonna give me a heart attack."
She may have told him to be calm, but Colin was not finding it the most helpful advice. Might as well tell the sun to stop rising.
"Don't kill me kid," he managed to say. "I'm 16."
"Uh huh. Whatever you say, kid." She smirked at him once more. Colin knew there was no way he'd ever get her to stop calling him that, now. Oh happy day, he thought.
"Where's your friend? He might be more fun to talk to. Or at least, more talkative."
"Eric?" Colin asked. "He's probably still asleep. It's a miracle if he crawls out of bed before noon on Saturdays."
"Well then, I guess that means I have you all to myself, doesn't it?"
She leaned closer, setting aside her cup on the countertop, and resting her forearms against it as well. She manuevered a nearby stool with her foot, and scraped it along the carpet so she could sit.
The woman stared at Colin, leaning in, her eyes piercing into his. He could smell her, and she smelt like no woman he had ever encountered before. There was nothing flowery about her, not like the girls at school. She smelled...dirty. Greasy. He could smell tar, and smoke, and exhaust. Like she'd been on the road her whole life. So much so that it had become part of her being, mixed in with the smell of old leather from her jacket and gloves.
Colin grabbed his mug and took a large gulp of the coffee, trying to distract his brain from this girl he felt like he'd been chasing his whole life, and now sat face to face with him. As he returned the mug to its saucer, it clattered, echoing with such volume that he thought the mug had broken, or worse, the roof was crashing in.
This moment was everything he had wanted, but now that he had it, all he wanted was to run away and hide. This woman confused him, confounded every part of his brain. One minute she was yelling at him, the next she was flirting, and the next...he had no idea, and he dreaded finding out. It could go to either extreme, he feared.
If Colin could read her thoughts, well he'd discover many a thing he was not yet ready to learn, but he would find that she was just as nervous as he was, she was just better at hiding it.
"You uh," he gulped. "You seem a lot more, um, calm than you did outside the theatre."
Colin watched as she considered her answer, a lazy finger tracing the outline of one of the tiles on the counter, just as he had done earlier.
"Yeah, about that. I'm sorry. There are times when I'm not good at...good around people."
Colin was not great at reading people, but he didn't suck at it either. He could have smelled that lie coming a mile away, although he could tell there was a strange iota of truth to it as well.
He did his best to brush it off like it was nothing, unsure of just how he was coming across. Colin wished he could stop thinking of how to talk to this girl, and Just Plain Talk. "No problem. You were just being protective of your bike. It was just...a different side of you to see."
She tried to hide it, but Colin could see her stiffen up, bristle at his words, and wondered what he had said to make her so tense. This whole conversation was like walking a minefield.
"So," she said, trying to change the subject. "We seem to keep running into each other."
And just like that, the elephant in the room was addressed. And Colin just had to go and paint it bright, neon yellow.
"I'm not stalking you!" he shouted, before the words could be stopped.
He winced as his own words betrayed his fears, and he bit his lip. Colin cursed his mouth for choosing now as the time to speak free and open about all things. Timing is a bitch.
Colin was caught by surprise though, as all seriousness fell away from the girl's face. Any hard, stony glares were gone. The hard lines softened and disappeared back into her face, replaced by her face crinkling up into a wide smile, and even a laugh.
The boy could not decide if he should be relieved or embarassed by her reaction, so he just kept on in his state of confusion.
"Of course you're not, kid. I never thought that at all, quite the opposite. Chill, breathe. We've just got a lot to do in a small town. Nothing more. In fact, it's been a relief to see a familiar face so much while I've been here."
She paused, and her stare drifted off to the rafters above them, but not to look at the dangling lights overhead. There was a wistful look upon her face, a sadness that she did her best to keep tamped down, but Colin caught just a glimpse of it.
"Almost makes it feel like home," she whispered, almost so quiet that Colin couldn't hear a word.
"So, uh, just what is your business?" Colin tried to nose in.
The girl coughed and shook, recomposing herself, and her small smile returning to her lips, but it was replaced with a stern look once more.
"Exactly that," she said. "My business. Let me worry about that."
Colin could sense that this was wise advice, and dropped the subject. Not that he had much choice in the matter, as the girl pushed back her chair and grabbed her now half-empty coffee cup.
"Well, this has been a ton of chuckles, kid. But I gotta run. That business of mine calls. I'm sure we'll see each other again. But next time you see me, howabout you don't run? Don't hide? Try saying a freaking hello, for a change. I don't bite."
Colin turned his stool as he replied, "Not even if I ask nicely?"
But by the time he had turned to look at the door, all he was in tim to see was it coming to a rest as it shut behind the girl. He finished off his coffee and watched as she hopped back on her bike and drove off into the distance once again.
And that had been the last time he had seen her, but it had been enough. Having the chance to have a normal conversation, or more normal than they had been having anyways, was a nice change of pace. The certainty that they would see each other again also helped buoy his spirits during the latter half of October.
Still, it had been almost two weeks, and he was finding that he was aching to see her once more, even just driving by on the road to who knew where.
What if she had finished with whatever she was in Kraftsbury to do? What if something had happened to her? What if she was just being polite to the awkward guy she just ran into on a random encounter?
Colin grabbed his head every time his head filled up with these countless thoughts of uncertainty, of which those were the barest scratching of the surface. He knew these concerns and fears were nothing more than that. There was no need to be paranoid, not yet.
Unless they are out to get you, that little voice of doubt cried out from the recesses of his mind.
Just as Colin was reaching the deepest ebb of his emotional roller coaster, was when she floated back into his life. Of course.
It was just after sunrise of the 29th. Colin did not have school that day, as there was a hurricane predicted to hit the east coast later that day.
A hurricane in the middle of October was quite unusual, but not unheard of. With the changing climate, the likelihood of one seemed to be increasing with every passing year. This was the latest one Colin could think of in his short life.
He had woken up early because of his routine with school now being set in, and the wind outside was keeping him up. He figured he may as well climb out of bed and have some coffee. The smell from the pot did not help him to try and stay asleep, either.
Colin thought that since he was conscious, he could get to work making sure everything was ready for Hurricane Sandy at home, and run into town if they needed anything.
The hurricane seemed like it would be quite minor if it did hit Vermont. It was just able to return to even being a category one storm by the that morning, and once it made landfall, much of its power would be lost. The storm had to travel up the entire eastern seaboard from New Jersey before it even reached Colin, and he thought by then, the storm would have lost much of its punch.
Sure, they may receive plenty of wind and rain, but it would be difficult to call it a hurricane if it made it to Vermont.
Still, after the state was ravaged and knocked almost out of commission in the previous year due to Hurricane Irene, the government was taking no chances. Colin figured he couldn't blame anyone for the precautions, but he still felt it was a lot of running around that would amount to nothing.
He shrugged and finished his coffee. While Colin thought the storm may well turn out to be little more than sound and fury signifying nothing, he supposed it was best to be ready for anything, so he set about putting away the last of the summer furniture in the shed, and getting any loose Halloween decorations put away.
The last thing anyone needed was to be killed by a foam tombstone going rogue in a windstorm.
Colin listened as the wind howled through the trees around his home. At first he thought it was the wolves that had crawled out of nowhere the last few months. He had been kept up longer than he had wanted to stay, more than a few times, by their increased howling that fall.
The storm had a ways to go to hit the Jersey shore, but the winds were already reaching this far north. Maybe he was wrong on just how the storm would affect things, after all.
He brushed his long hair from his eyes so he could see what he was doing, but it did little good as the unending breeze undid every attempt he made. If he made it through this storm, Colin decided to get that long promised haircut.
Colin stood in the driveway and looked around the yard. He didn't see anything else that needed his immediate attention, and everything looked as secure as it was going to get.
He thought he would have some time to waste in front of the television, but before he could even walk up the front steps, he heard his mother call out.
One eye closed and his head gave an involuntary twitch at her sharp, shrill voice. She never sounded that way unless she was shouting as loud as she could. Which was whenever she couldn't find Colin anywhere. That voice could curdle milk. Or make dogs howl, Colin thought.
"I need you to run in to town and grab some stuff," she said in a normal voice, once she saw her son on the deck. He was unsurprised by this, and had expected it, even.
The surprise came when he heard a jingling sound and she tossed her overstuffed keychain through the air at Colin. He almost missed the large cluster of keys flying towards his head. The metallic, jagged things caught the light and distracted him, and it was just so unexpected.
He caught them, at least. After a fashion. He had thrown his hands up to block them from hitting his face, but he also flinched backwards several inches, so where his head would have been, the keys sailed through now-empty air. They instead arced onwards and hit his chest with an almost musical thump, where he cupped them against his sternum with his hands.
"But, but," Colin stammered in protest and surprise.
"You've got your learner's permit, right?" she asked.
Her son nodded, still clutching the keys like his mom might realise at a moment's notice just how bad of an idea this was.
"Well, just be careful and drive slow. I trust you. I need to finish things up here, and I don't want you getting caught in the storm, so you need to be quick."
Colin opened his mouth to protest and point out the possible lunacy of this, but the voice of the teenager in his mind was stronger. His mom had just given him the keys to the car. For the first time. He couldn't blow this. And so he remained silent.
"If your brother was here, I'd trust him to do it, but all I've got is you, Colin."
Colin winced. His brother was a sore spot to the family. "Mom, Merrick left us years ago. We still don't know what happened." He had spoken those words to her so many times, they had lost all meaning, but he said them again. And he didn't think they would be the last time. Colin had loved his brother, but when he disappeared like that, abandoning everyone, it ruined his mother.
She was heartbroken ever since, and it didn't help that he was the one person in the family able to work after their father had died. Their mother had been injured some time earlier, in the same car accident that killed their father, and was just now getting back to full recovery. A recovery that might have gone faster if Merrick had not disappeared. She may still have trusted his brother, but Colin didn't find that behaviour very trustworthy at all.
The remaining Hemmings had survived thanks to handouts from other family members, and government checks, but it was still difficult, as they were just scraping by as it was.
None of that mattered to Colin, not when he looked down at the keys in his hands. This was a big sign from his mother, even if it was also a reminder of just how reluctant she was to drive these days.
He did his best to hide the smile on his face, and keep his excitement nowhere near visible. Colin wasn't sure how well he succeeded in his attempts, but he was pretty sure he skipped down the stairs to the car waiting in the yard.
The old car was not in the best of condition. It was the spare car and already old when Colin's parents were in the accident, and since then Colin's mom was very lax in using it. As much out of fear as because of her injuries.
The heavy door creaked and made Colin wince almost as much as his mother's shrill voice. He thought he saw flecks of rust break off and fluttered to the dirt below like leaves ripped from the trees by the oncoming storm.
Colin paused and collected his thoughts. This was an important moment in a young man's life. He did not want to crash the car into a tree across the street. Or anywhere else, but so close to home would be extra embarrassing.
He went through the checklist he had been taught, ignoring the fact they had also taught him he was only legally allowed to drive with an adult in the car. The car may have been underused the last few years, but it at least started up with ease. Small miracles, indeed.
Colin drove the speed limit, and was very cautious of every little thing. He feared he might be too cautious and cause an accident that way, but he figured it was better to be wary than not.
The worst part was entering traffic, but Colin kept a cool head and made it to the grocery store in one piece. His heart was pounding in his chest like he had felt just a few times before.
And right on cue, he saw a flash of red amongst the other cars, almost unique amongst the rest.
Colin had managed to just get the door of the car closed when he heard the familiar voice coming near.
"Well well, look what the storm dragged out! Sweet car, kid!" The sarcasm was quite palpable in her tone.
Colin tried to make excuses, even true ones. "It's my mom's," he said.
"Your mom has horrible taste in cars, then. No worries. My first car looked even worse. I'm pretty sure the rust was the only thing holding it together. Are you even old enough to drive this on your own?"
The blonde looked him over with that cold gaze of hers, that accusatory stare, yet Colin felt it was more playful this time than any of the others.
Still, it made Colin shrink in against himself like a turtle, and his feet shuffled against the already sprinkled with rain pavement.
The girl smiled, "You rebel, you!" She seemed very pleased with her friend, and gave him a gentle punch in the shoulder, that still made Colin stumble backwards. More out of surprise than any real force behind it.
"Picking up some shit before the rain comes, eh?" she asked.
Colin nodded. The woman held up twin bags clasped in her hand that wasn't busy punching young high school students, showing she was doing the same.
"Well, I think I'll let you get to it. I don't think this storm's gonna amount to anything myself, but I'd rather have some snacks if the power goes out."
Colin smiled at another voice of sanity. "Yeah, same here. And it makes my mom feel better, so I'm more than happy to help out."
"Wow, for a rebel, you sure are a momma's boy, kid." She paused for a moment to watch Colin's reaction before adding, "And there's nothing wrong with that. Family is very important. Never forget that."
Colin just rolled his eyes and nodded, giving the girl a wave which she returned with her free hand as she walked over to where her bike waited for her.
The moment had almost passed him by once more when Colin realised what was happening. He tore himself away from just watching the girl, and called out.
"Wait," he said. It was little more than a gasp, so he tried again. "Wait! Hey!"
The blonde paused, and stopped, turning on a heel, making a scraping sound against the ground. She said nothing but just waited for whatever Colin wanted.
"What the hell is your name?!" he called out across the distance. People were milling about and if they had not been paying attention to them, some of them were at least looking up at all the commotion.
"Halle-fuckin'-lujah!" she called out and raised her hands in the air in triumph. "It's about damned time kid!"
"WELL??" Colin demanded.
"The name is Nadia, but most people call me by my last name, Cole."
"Colin and Cole," the boy mused. "That might get confusing."
Nadia shrugged. "I know which one you are, and I think I can keep track of who I am. I'm pretty sure I'm the girl, right?"
Colin coughed, since that was one thing he was pretty sure she indeed was. He was glad he had an easy out from the uncomfortableness. "Um, like you said, I really oughtta get the things I came to town for, and hurry home."
Nadia nodded and smiled, resuming her walk to her bike. Colin wanted to pause and watch her leave, something that it seemed like he was always doing with her. But he decided to break the pattern today. It seemed like the kind of day for doing things a different way.
He had her name, and that was enough, for now.
Colin tended to his business and was in and out of the store in almost record time. The rain had picked up outside, and the wind was getting worse. By the time he reached the car, his hair was slicked down and blown around that it looked like a twisted, flatted doughnut atop his head. He shook his head back and forth like a dog, and straightened it out as much as he could be bothered with the weather the way it was.
As he was pulling near the turn off that would take him back home the quickest, he saw a number of vehicles backing up traffic on that road, and decided to take a more scenic route.
Rather than turn off where he should, he continued onwards, driving past the pizza place, and the school, until he was almost leaving the town.
He saw a road he was looking for, and turned off on that one instead. It would not lead him home in the most direct way, but it would get him there, after a few more turns and a few extra miles.
The best part of taking the route he had chosen was that the road was empty, for the most part. Many people were busy at home securing things, like he and his mother were doing earlier, but even then the back roads of Kraftsbury were little traveled unless you had business being there.
Or were an adventurous teenager like Colin wasn't.
As he rounded his first corner, entering into an area surrounded by deep forests, the sky broke and the rain poured forth onto the waiting planet.
Colin muttered curses under his breath and turned on the windshield wipers. Like the rest of the car, they were in a sorry state of misuse, and the rusty gears and the old wipers combined into a shriek like a banshee's wail.
Rather wanting to listen to his mother's howling than that, Colin fumbled for the controls again, and tried not to take his eyes off the road thanks to the painful and distracting noise.
The new driver tried, but failed. Just as his hands reached the knob to turn off the wipers, they arced back across the window, shrieking out and making Colin close his eyes tight in a wince.
When he opened them again, after closing them for no more than a tiny fraction of a second, the car's direction had shifted and had pointed itself towards a rock wall a few feet off the road.
Colin was frantic as he grabbed the wheel and righted the car. On a normal day, that may have been the end of things, and a story to tell later. Instead, this was not a normal day, and a hurricane had begun to cut loose on this late afternoon in October.
As the boy got the car under control, it hit a puddle that had appeared out of nowhere. The shoddy treads of the car lost their grip long enough for Colin's control to disappear faster than he had regained it.
It was something of a miracle, and a testament to Colin's skill despite minimal actual experience, that he once again got the car back under control.
But it was a shame that just as he thought that even if he survived the accident he thought was inevitable, his mother would kill him, that Colin heard a loud bang.
He let out a loud yelp, fearing he had been shot. Knowing the likelihood of that was slim, he knew what must have happened, and it was arguable which was worse.
A rythmic flopping of loose tire against the road echoed the rapid beating of Colin's heart until he stopped his car on the side of the road and got out.
Colin walked around the car, inspecting each tire as best he could in the rain. His inspection was not helped by the dark cloud-covered skies, nor by the trees overhead making things just that much darker, even if it was around 4pm.
Still, he was able to easily spot which tire was popped. He just didn't want to deal with it in the rain. The worst of it was, he knew the storm would not be letting up any time soon.
Colin's choices were limited. He had a cellphone, but was unsurprised to discover that it had no signal out here. He could wait for someone to drive by and help him, which he knew was such a tiny chance, he would have an easier task of finding a leprechaun. He could start walking, but he didn't know how long that would take. He was several miles out of town, and that whole hurricane thing was not the best thing to be taking a stroll in.
That left but one option, and if there wasn't a spare tire in the trunk, then Colin was screwed.
When he popped open the trunk and indeed found a spare waiting for him, Colin let out an audible cheer. Now all he had to do was swap tires in the downpour and increasing darkness.
Colin steeled himself for the more annoying than difficult task, and gathered what he needed out of the trunk.
He crouched down on the wet pavement, one leg kneeling into the dirt on the side of the road, crunching the twigs that had gathered, hidden by the wet, fallen leaves from the season.
Just as he was getting the jack into place, and praying the wet ground didn't make things just that much harder, Colin heard something in the distance.
It was a sound he didn't believe he was hearing at first. He thought it was an auditory hallucination. A mental mirage of what he most wanted, most needed, at that moment. But once he heard it, and listened for it, focusing, Colin knew it was the girl's...it was Cole's bike.
He had trouble discerning just where it was coming from, having difficulty focusing with the way sound carried in the mountains. Still, once he shut out everything else, and closed his eyes, he thought he could tell it was coming from the diretion he had been heading in, and coming his way.
Colin stopped what he was doing, he stood up and got ready to flag down his friend, but was surprised when the sound of the bike cut out. There were plenty of roads to take, but none as nearby as he thought the motorcycle was.
Part of him new it was stupid, but Colin's curiosity got the better of him, and he sprinted further down the road. For all he knew, Cole had somehow had an accident of her own, and could be hurt. Those thoughts made him move that much faster, faster than he had ever run in gym class.
It was not long before his eyes were drawn to the flash of red, sparkling even in the overcast late afternoon light. But Colin did not see its rider anywhere nearby. He skidded to a stop by the bike and looked around as he caught his breath.
The exertion caught up with him fast, and Colin felt a brief buckling in his knees, his body's way of protesting what he had just put it through. He bent over at the waist and clutched his legs, his head spinning and grasping for oxygen.
Colin recovered from his unexpected exercise without too much difficulty, and resumed looking around. There was few places Cole could have gone. Colin had not run into her, that much was clear.
There was no sign of her anywhere nearby, no blood. The sole thing that caught Colin's eyes were some broken branches behind the bike.
He stared at the branches and wondered.
It was the only solution that made much sense to the boy. The road back from where she had come was long, straight and flat, a rarity on these roads, but for once, it was a fortunate occurrence. He could not see her anywhere along that stretch, and it was not long enough for her to have disappeared around the nearest, very distant, corner before he had got there. At least, he thought so.
That left the forest.
But why would she go there? Why would she venture into the woods when she knew what was coming?
Why was Colin about to do the exact same thing?
That answer, at least, was easy. Curiosity. And a certain fondness for this girl who would not escape his orbit, no matter how hard he should have wanted her to. Colin may have denied any such fondness to anyone that asked, but he could not deny it to himself. It was more than a weird little obsession, at least to Colin.
So he pushed forward into the trees. Inside the trees, many people would have been at a loss for what to do next, but Colin had spent a few months as a Boy Scout, and there was one thing he excelled at, and was the sole merit badge he had won before quitting; tracking.
He followed the path that revealed itself once he was in the trees. Other people had walked through here before, and it seemed to be quite popular. The ground was worn away, leaving more dirt than grass, and a clear path to follow. It was helped by Colin spying boot prints in the softened, wet earth. The tracks were fresh, that much was clear, so he followed, trying to catch up with Cole.
As he stalked through the woods, Colin grew oblivious to the weather, and the darkening sky as night grew ever closer.
It was not until he heard a wolf cry that Colin was shaken back to himself and he blinked, looking around. The wolf was close, he thought, and he was stumbling through the woods after sunset. The days had gotten short, and the sun went down so early now, that Colin was in almost complete darkness.
His eyes had adjusted as the light faded, and if he was not wandering around on a mountain, delaying the actual fading of what little light the sun could push past the cloud cover, he may well have been blind.
But now Colin found himself in the deep woods, at night, with wolves. He feared the night could not get much worse, but he stopped caring as he saw something move not far from where he was. The shadowy shape seemed more human than animal, and it looked like it was traveling in the direction Cole had been going in, so Colin hoped this was it.
He also hoped Cole had a plan for what to do next, because the rain may have slowed, but the wind was still high. If she had led him out here and the storm picked back up, they may well be fucked.
Colin chased after the figure, but stayed far enough back in case it turned out to not be Cole. He soon lost the figure, but his attention was caught by a glint of light. Colin found it strange to see that in the middle of the forest, and headed towards that to investigate.
The light turned out to be a small lantern, its light amplified by the rock walls of the cave it was resting inside.
Colin was slow and cautious as he crept up on the cave, not sure if it was Cole or not, yet. He crouched behind some nearby bushes and watched until the figure stepped into the light. It was indeed Cole, stumbling around the confines of the cave, looking frantic and nervous.
When she cried out, a sound of true, tortourous pain, Colin burst from the bushes. He hurried to the side of his huddled over friend, who shoved him back against the cave wall.
She didn't look up, her face covered by her hair, and the length of it almost reaching the cave floor she was balled up in so much pain.
"What are you doing here?" she grunted out, demanding an answer.
Colin stammered, "I saw you...I thought... Are you okay?"
He came near again, trying to find out what was wrong with his friend. She threw back her head, blonde hair flying every which way, revealing a face that resembled Cole, and yet was not hers at the same time.
Her eyes were no longer the polished, sparkling riverbed pebbles they had been, but were large, and golden, more indicative of an animal than a human. Her nose had shifted, begun to look more upturned than it ever should, and hair had started to sprout from all over her face.
More shocking of all was the fangs that she revealed when her lips curled back in a growl before shouting at Colin, "GET OUT!"
Colin stumbled back out of the cave, and tripped over the very bush he had been hiding behind. His head collided with a rock, and as everything went black, Colin was left only with questions. Which he feared may never be answered, if the beast Cole was becoming didn't want them answered.