Avery dropped to his knees beside his brother and looked Gil over, as best he could in the near-black woods, by putting his face within inches of Gil’s head. Because of the darkness, he gave over sight for touch, feeling the contours of Gil’s face, his head, his neck. He noted a lump on the back of Gil’s head that seemed to be growing. He performed a body check next, running his hands over every inch of Gil: torso, arms, legs. All appeared to be intact and at proper angles. He placed two fingers on Gil’s neck. His pulse was strong. Avery finished by putting his ear to Gil’s nose where he heard faint, but steady breathing. Gil was unconscious, but most definitely alive. “That’s good,” he sighed in relief.
Avery opened one of Gil’s eyes; they were rolled back so Avery could only see the whites. He released the lid and it flopped back into place like a dead fish. He had to get Gil back to the house. Avery looked around for something, anything, to do it with, but he couldn’t clear his addled brain; which seemed as dark and cloudy as the night sky.
Avery stood up, ran his hands through his hair and began to pace. Gradually, the world returned to him. He could hear the whir of the ATV’s motor and Max barking maniacally in the background, noises that had been emitting wavelengths of sound all along, but which his mind in its hyper-focused state had blocked out. For a moment Avery had a brief insight into how Gil’s mind worked during periods of intense concentration. He fumbled in the dark for the ATV’s ignition and turned the key. The motor went silent. He sat down, legs crossed, on the ground. What do I do? Tell me what to do. Lie flat. Stabilize the neck. Avery concentrated on slow breathing, in and out the way he was taught in meditation class, trying to focus the mind. How am I going to get him back to the house? He looked over at the ATV sitting on its side….
Max’s barking had reached such a fever pitch that he sounded like two dogs. What the hell is he barking about? The minute the thought crossed his mind, Avery’s blood cooled. He took a few steps in the direction of the barking, but was stopped by the sound of two successive pistol shots. Avery caught his breath. The barking resumed. On instinct, he grabbed the gun and took off running through the woods.
He used Max’s voice as a guide and immediately regretted not taking the trail. Small branches whipped at his face and clothes as he tripped his way through the dense underbrush. A branch broke open his cheek and a bit of blood oozed from the wound. He cursed and smeared it away. Max’s voice was growing hoarse, but he continued unabated. Avery was closer now and he could hear a man’s voice straining with effort, cursing the dog and brandishing the gun as if Max would understand. The man’s voice was muffled, drowned out by the consistency of Max’s barking and growling.
Avery broke through to the clearing to see the man draped over a tree branch, shining a pale green light at the ground and trying to catch Max in the circle of it. Max leapt in complete defiance of the laws of gravity, making contact with the man’s leg. The man yelped in pain and fired at Max. Avery fell, forced sideways and to the ground by shock and the wave of sound. Max yelped, then resumed with a bark so ferocious, wolves would run for cover. Max jumped and snapped again, inches from the man’s jacket, then spun back and forth beneath the tree, a whirling dervish. The man pulled his gun and aimed it.
Avery turned to see Gil’s shadowy figure stumbling toward him, paying little heed to the tree branches slashing at his clothes and face. At the sound of his master’s voice, Max halted, but did not leave his post beneath the bottom of the tree.
“Max! Come! Now!” After a moment’s hesitation, he ran over to Gil who fell to his knees. Max licked Gil’s face and rubbed his nose all over him, leaving a sticky residue. Gil dabbed at the gooey stuff. Blood. His hands flew to Max’s snout, searching, until they fell upon the spot. A bullet had grazed Max’s left ear. Blood dripped from the wound, caught in Max’s fur where it had coagulated.
The boys heard a thud as the man in the tree hit the ground. Max ran, his jaws wide, literally going for the jugular. Avery grabbed him by the collar just as Max tore the man’s ski mask away. Recognition lit on Avery’s face. That driver?! But….
The man fired a wild shot and rolled to his side. Propelled by adrenaline, Avery reached for him. His fingers grazed the man’s coat, but he eluded Avery’s grasp and fled into the woods. Avery raised his gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger. It clicked. He stood that way for several seconds, wheezing and studying the blackness that had consumed the driver. Gil teetered forward, gripping Max’s collar. Avery pushed back a wave of nausea and scooped them both into his arms. Gil’s breath was short and ragged, the life force weak, and he slouched against his brother. Avery corralled his own erratic breath, lassoing the fear singeing his throat. He might have killed a man if the gun had been loaded.
He ran his hands over Gil’s face and the back of his head, feeling for cuts and bruises. There were many.
“Are you alright?” he asked. Gil nodded and then proceeded to pass out. Avery caught him before he hit the ground. He tilted Gil’s head back and checked his eyes.
“He just passed out,” Avery said to Max. He rubbed Max’s head and Max returned the favor by licking his hand. “Thanks.” Avery touched Max’s ear. The dog winced. A scab was forming. “C’mon. We gotta get out of here.”
He draped Gil over his shoulder, his knees buckling under the weight. They headed for the trail with Max leading the way.
to be continued. . .
this is what happened before