The night is dark. The wind is strong. The leaves rattle on the trees and late seeds fall from creaking limbs. The activity of the inanimate liven the woods. The creatures are hiding. The plants are trembling. Rain is a long time coming, but it hasn’t come yet.
The sound of footsteps on summer fall fractures the air. It threads through the wind like finely spun thread, whipping between trees and bushes. Those with ears can hear the approach. Those with eyes can see the flickering light. “It’s bloody dark,” someone says irritably, voice muffled by a scarf and disinterest in the current events. He’s looking towards future events as he pulls his orange cap lower.
The companions of the complaining man are standing taller, straighter. They flank him with surer steps and preternatural grace. Trevor feels smaller and younger between them even if he matches Peter’s height and is older by two years than both. Ana finds his elbow, bent from his hands being buried in his pockets, and grips it strongly. He takes the comfort for what it is, trying to think it could be worse.
And it could be. It could be a lot worse than a late night romp in the Maine woods. They could be back where they were with the knocks crashing on their doors. They could be back in their beds with the warmth of domesticity drugging them. They could be anywhere but here and it would be worse.
Peter takes the lead as they breach the clearing, flicking off his flashlight. The trees darken as the light goes away. The wind makes one oak groan long and low. Trevor eyes the tree suspiciously before following Peter’s suit. Ana is the last to shut the light off, her red hair still visible in the darkness. They settle in an oblong circle and move uncertainly.
“This is ridiculous,” Ana chuffs after awhile. Green and blue eyes fix on her and Ana meets the boys’ gazes in turn. “I mean—I know that this has to happen, but it’s ridiculous.”
The silence that follows is silence and Trevor can’t think of any other word. He knows there are adjectives, like heavy or pregnant or tenuous, but it’s just silence. When he meets Peter’s down cast eyes, though, he realizes that maybe it’s a trembling silence. Or at least all of them are trembling and, since they’re creating the silence, that it must be trembling, too.
“They can’t find us.” Trevor reiterates past his scarf. He is looking at neither now, but rather at Ana’s hand as it pillages within her coat. The silence is stretching, elongating and the trembling is a fine murmur of movement. “We know that, that’s why we’re here.”
The silence snaps in two like a cable breaking from too much weight. “They will find us,” Peter says harshly, briefly. Ana’s hand pauses in its pursuit and Trevor can’t raise his head. The wind whips through again like a Banshee’s scream. It’s harsh and grating and unbelievably cold. “At least they always manage to,” Peter mollifies even if it doesn’t do any good.
Finally Ana finds what she’s looking for and maneuvers the six gun from her shoulder holster. Her other hand flicks into her pocket, pulling out three bullets. The two boys watch her as she snaps the bullets into the chamber as if in response to Peter. Sure they might find us, but they won’t find us alive.
They had agreed on a six gun a while ago. Trevor can’t remember precisely when a while ago was and Peter probably could, but he wouldn’t tell you. To them the gun represents old honor and old faith, which each of them lacks. Ana cradles the gun in her hands, the metal warm against her cold fingers. It catches starlight and Trevor is forced to blink.
Finally she grips it tightly and presses the muzzle to her temple. The flesh dimples around the kiss of the barrel.
“Ladies first?” Ana asks; both Peter and Trevor nod in return.
The sky is impossibly black overhead, only backlit by the stars. The clouds skate across the heavens, bellies scratched by the grasping limbs of trees. In the southern quarter of the woods a nest of sparrows wing at the first light of dawn. It’s a grey light that hardly reaches past the clouds, but the birds see it and suddenly the world is waking. Among the whisper of flapping wings and groaning trees, three shots sound and three bodies fall.
But they had already been found.
They had been found before they had even arrived.