I can remember how tight he held my hand.
How fast he pulled me along, the sound of the old leaves crushing under our feet, the panic in his breath as he yelled at me not to look back and just keep running. “Just like we talked about remember? You stare straight ahead, you run, keep your eye on what’s in front of you.” I knew we were in trouble.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve had to get somewhere in a hurry, and we’ve run from all kinds of things before. But this was different, whatever was behind us scared him, and the fear dripping from his every breath terrified me enough to do exactly as he said and not take even a moment to see whatever horrible thing is finding its way towards us.
I tripped, he pulled on my arm, I feel behind, he pulled on my arm, I ran out of breath, he pulled harder on my arm until it felt like it was going to come off. I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me, far from it, he was doing everything he could to stop what at this point felt like the inevitable. The more we ran, the more terrified he seemed to get, as if that that thing behind us wasn’t getting any further away, but instead minute by minute closing the gap as we stumbled our way through the thick.
The only time he looked back was to look in my eyes and try to reassure me we were going to make it, but each time it only made me realize that this was bad, we were in trouble.
One last time he looked back at me, with a face I will never forget, and said “Remember what we talked about?” My gut sank instantly. “You run, you don’t stop, even if your blood boils you run until you can’t run anymore. You do just like I told you.” His face changed “This is it..."
He let go of my hand screamed “Don’t you dare look back!” and let himself fall behind as I ran harder than I’ve ever run before. He didn’t need to say anything else, I knew exactly what he was going to do, and as much as it made me almost throw up as I ran for my life, he taught me right, and I knew what I had to do. So I ran, I ran and I listened to him fall behind enough until they were right on top of him, that’s when I heard the screaming, and that’s when I ran even faster, desperately trying to escape the sounds of him being picked off by that awful thing so I could have enough time to make it, maybe just far enough to lose them. He taught me well because he knew me well, he knew I had ‘the something’. That ember that never goes out despite how hard the world tries to snuff it from existence.
After running until I collapsed from exhaustion, I was far enough away, I lost them. I was so tired, I couldn’t even cry, I just laid on the ground and let tears stream down my face as I desperately tried to catch my breath. I was alone, but nothing had changed, the world was still just as awful as it was, it just had one less good guy fighting in it now. The only words that ran through my head over and over was “what am I going to do?”. What am I going to do? I’m alone, lost, and in some deep shit that I was no where near ready to cope with. “Ready or not, here I come!” says the world, and in that moment you have two choices, fight or die, get up or give up. He taught me well because he knew me well, he knew I could get up again, even if I didn’t believe it myself.
I could have laid in those woods forever, just waited for death to come and show me where it just took my friend, but that thing inside of us won’t settle for that, and so before nightfall, I found my way to a tree I could climb and set up my nest for the evening. Just like he taught me.