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Jacinda Cross
Topic Started: Oct 25 2014, 08:30 PM (510 Views)
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Age: 45
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 150 pounds
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Blonde
Build: Athletic

Jacinda was born Jacinda Nolan to Dorothy and Jack Nolan. They were normal parents though they did try to live off the grid mostly, due to the decline in America. While living in southern Colorado outside of South Fork, they were met by an Atharim hunter, Regan Cross. Regan was a pretty good hunter and spent most of his time in the south west, with rougarou and chupacbra being his primary prey, though he also stalked wolfkin where he could. He was an outdoors man who, when not hunting Atharim prey, stalked animals. He relished the hunt, the slow process of stalking and closing in prey and then finally trapping it and killing it. He preferred trapping and killing, the death by hand. Wolfkin were a particular challenge, given their abilities, but he relished that aspect, pitting himself against them. The contest and survival.

And sometime, occasionally, a girl hiking with her boyfriend would go missing. The boyfriend would be dead and the girl would disappear only for her body to be found days later in much worse shape. While they weren't as effective prey as the men might be, the payoff when caught was always worth it to him.

Regan cozied up to Jack and Dorothy, went with Jack and Jacinda on hunts, helped around the place, and seemed to be a good ally. But Regan had a thing for Jacinda. Already a loner and perhaps with a bit of anti-social tendencies, he found himself drawn to her even though she was only 12. While out hunting with Jacinda and her father, he saw his opportunity and killed Jack, making it look like he had been killed by a rougarou. Not his usual style, but he had a goal- Jacinda.

Coming home with her, he stayed to help Dorothy around the place and pick up the pieces. He also spent more and more time with Jacinda, still harboring his plans. He wanted her but she couldn't know that he'd killed her parents. He began taking Jacinda hunting with him. They would sometimes split up while stalking a creatures. On one such hunt, he left her alone and went back to Dorothy's cabin. He raped and brutally killed Dorothy. In order to tie Jacinda to him, he mutilated the body in the way a feeding rougarou might. When he and Jacinda returned home, they discovered the horror he'd planted. Jacinda, overwhelmed with loss and anger and hatred and grief, accepted his explanation of what had killed her. He revealed what he was- an Atharim hunter- and that they could track the creature.

With a desire for revenge and feelings of rage and powerlessness, Jacinda went with him until they came to a lone man living in the woods. The man was not a rougarou, though Regan told her he was. Together they stalked, tortured, and killed the man. Jacinda relished the feeling of revenge and power she felt.

That night, in an emotional rush and turmoil from the days activities, Regan raped her, though she didn't see it that way. She was 12 years old. She thought that she consented and the pleasure she felt from his manipulation of her emotions, from the release of the kill and the sense of revenge caused her to think that it was love. And it was the beginning of a strange sort of relationship. Regan viewed her as his daughter and also wife. He treated her as his partner though clearly he manipulated her. She depended on him, as the only family she had. That was when she took his last name.

They hunted other creatures over the years- the ones Regan had hunted before. Despite any appearance of humanity they might have- esp in the case of wolfkin and channelers or their family, she had no compassion. The truth was, the hole that had been left only was filled when she was hunting and killing. And she enjoyed it during those times. She never knew of Regan's occasional need to just kill someone. She at least needed the reason. Not always much of one. Being family of a monster was enough. Genetic heritage and all that. But really, she just enjoyed the killing. She could believe she was doing good while being able to feel powerful and in control. And usually, she was so aroused by her killing that she and Regan had frenzied sex afterwards.

Regan was killed while they were taking down a nest of rougarou. Jacinda was 20. And with that, she was alone. By then, Regan's reputation was pretty well known and as his partner, Jacinda was also becoming known. She continued the work, able to ferret out the smallest detail and latch on to rumor and whispers and then piece the clues together to take out any number of atharim targets. She stayed at a crime scene for hours, developing a sense of what the creatures had felt and seen. She got in their head. That allowed her to track them back to their lair.

Unlike some Atharim, she had no problem making sure the kin of those who died of the sickness also were put down. They weren't her favorite kills usually as they mostly required the deaths to look accidental. Occasionally, though, she got a hold of one or two that she could take her time with, those who she believed deserved it. If the Atharim wanted them alive for study, she was able to take them, though the takes weren't always clean.

But her reputation grew throughout the country and was well known amonf the American Atharim. She was a person who got the job done and wouldn't stop until it was that way.
Edited by Jacinda, Jan 15 2018, 11:27 PM.
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Southern Colorado

The air had a freezing bite to it despite the bright streaming sun. Course it was March. And the fact they had just left Pagosa Springs heading east toward Wolf Creek Pass on 160 meant they were climbing from 7100 feet to over 10,000. Old snow still bordered the highway, refrozen ice, sludge, gravel and dirt packed so tight it wouldn't disappear until April at least.

Regan had his music on. She absent mindedly listened. She'd heard it like a million times before. He always listened to the same it had gotten boring even though it was sort of comforting.
"So Into You" by the Atlanta Rhythm Section clipped along in time to the seams of the road against the tires.

Still, it had been a nice stay. The hunt around Durango had been good and on whim, Regan decided to head to the hot springs that had been another 50 miles up the road in Pagosa. A good night. Mostly. Jacinda wasn't sure what was different about Regan recently.

He had been.....subdued was the best word, if she had to think about it. She tried not to show her disappointment. The usual frenzy sex after the hunt had been....well, it wasn't the raw she used to remember.

Which was odd. She had just turned 20. She was starting to really learn herself, now that she was a woman. She'd steadily grown taller and taller until now she was about his height. Last night, playing and wrestling around, she'd actually pinned him, his soft belly against her tight one. She expected him to be mad and show it to her, the animal she remembered. But he'd stopped and looked at her strangely. And then....well. Just not a whole lot of fire was all.

"Hot Child in the City" by Nick Gilder came on next. Absently, she looked at him, studying. She noticed more grey than she'd remembered. And he seemed smaller. Huh. She'd been twelve when he'd taken her. Guess at twelve, any man looked big, though.

He sensed her look she guessed and turned to give her a weak smile. Odd. He was just being odd.

Well, the hunt hadn't been too hard. A couple rougs had taken a summer mansion up on one Durango's many hills. You know, all decorated and with a nice wall and wrought iron gate with initials or whatever. Isolated. Perfect place to hide most of the year. Periodically skiers or the occasional Fort Lewis student went missing. Easy prey for the rougs. But the rougs were older and they had barely broken a sweat taking them down.

So...that was probably it. She let the worry go and let the music wash over her. The air got cold in the shadowed parts of the road and Regan downshifted regularly to keep their upward momentum going. 300,.000 miles on this old 2014 Toyota Forerunner and it was still not bad.

Benny Mardones sang "She's just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say..." just as they hit the top of the continental divide and started their way down, this time with Regan's foot on the brakes so keep them from going too fast.

She always liked this part of the drive, the feel of the momentum. It reminded her of when she'd been a kid and her parents took her to some amusement part. She couldnt remember which now. But it was awesome, the slam from side to side, up and down, as the car went this way and that. She couldn't help but smile at Regan.

And the sun was stronger here, at least it seemed so. She closed her eyes and could feel the temperature changes as the sped along next to the river, trees and canyon walls flickering to block and then allow sunlight through.

They arrived in South Fork only 30 minutes later, the smell of the trees and mountains and of stove fires heavy just as "Eyes without a face" came on. She was home.

They stopped at the main restaurant that had changed names so many times she thought of it as the Grizzly place, cuz of the massive chainsaw carved Bear that stood out front.

Still, being home, having her usual- though no beer here. Not in public Regan said. She called him Uncle too. People wouldn't understand anyway. Anyway, being here, eating her usual comfort food, things still seemed off.

Finally, she couldn't keep quiet anymore. "Come on! You've hardly said two words to me today. Did I do something wrong? Why are you mad at me?"

He looked at her and suddenly his faced changed. It was like the old Regan was back. "Ah sweetie. Nah. I'm not mad at ya. Just thinkin is all. The future. Our plans. You think you might like moving somewhere else? East maybe?"

She frowned. East? They'd been all over the west, up as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Mexico. East was....different. This was....home. They always came back here. "I don't know. This is my home. Always has been. My parents are buried here."

He laughed and she saw that twinkle that had won her heart all those years ago. "Darlin, I don't mean New York or Washington. I'm thinkin like the Appalachians. Or the Ozarks. Catskills. All mountains. Good hunting up there. And....uh." He seemed to get quiet and look around. "Look sweetie. We been huntin these parts for 8 years. Lot's of unsolved stuff. This last...well we can't hope to avoid detection forever."

She still hated the idea...but it still made a kind of sense. Kinda. Still, they didn't do THAT much hunting around here. At least she and he didn't. Occasionally, he'd head off, maybe once a year and spend a few weeks out. Always came home with fresh meat too. Elk. Deer. Maybe he'd caught the ranger's attention.

He reached out, about to take her hand and then hesitated for a moment. Hers were still smaller than his but a lot less now. That hurt, the way he stopped. He seemed to see her look cuz he reached out and took them, gave her a look she'd never seen before. "Just think about it, ok sweetie? I can't leave without my girl."

She smiled. His girl. Thats all she wanted to hear. She nodded. She'd think about it at least. For him.

[[Ooc yes, 2 of those songs are messed up. The fact they received heavy airplay says things about the 70s and early 80s Id rather not think about.

Edited by Jacinda, Jan 15 2018, 11:22 PM.
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It was harder than she'd expected. Far harder. Packing for trips was easy. You just had to figure out how many days the hunt might take and double everything. You never knew. When you were out there camping in your tent and realized you only had enough bars and jerky and water- and more importantly bullets or, Regan's favorite, arrows, for maybe one day more....well, that wolfkin was likely gonna get away. The pack would run intereference and it took time to whittle it down.

But now...damn it! She felt this tearing in her she hadn't felt since....well since her father was killed. And then her mother. That image was burned into her brain. Regan had been honest with her. He didn't shield her. Her momma ravaged and bitten and carved on.

She remembered the rage. It had always been there.
Too much of it, Pa used to say. Quick kills. Whether monster or meal, always make quick kills. But she had been fascinated by how things died. It mesmerized her. She was just trying to understand. They just never got that.

Like what pain was. It was just a sensation right? You felt pressure with the point of a knife on your arm. Just a little and it was just a signal, just a wire or whatever going to your brain. But push a little more and the sensation changed. THAT was what fascinated her. The nerve was sending information....but it was the brain that got all panicky and freaked out and acted. But if it was just information or signal or whatever, couldn't you seperate it from the need to react?

She didn't know. And it was only recently that she could finally put it into words. But that was all it was. That was what interested her. It wasn't rage. Pa had been wrong. Regan understood though. He let her try out, a little.

Well, that roug especially. Cuz the rage DID come on her then, looking at her momma's mutilated and raped body. She'd felt red come over her eyes and she just hungered to inflict as much pain as possible. Maybe she could transfer it, the screams be hers, taken from her to it.

And Regan had helped her. Stalk and stake out the old disgisting roug. He made sure the man was helpless and then let her go. She couldn't remember the specifics, except that he watched over her. She could feel him behind her.

And then later that night, he took her. His wife. His girl. This was where Jacinda Nolan died. Where Jacinda Cross was born. Her momma was buried next to her pa. And this was her place.

And now, she wasn't figuring up how many days supplies they'd need. Regan had gotten a big trailer and they were packing everything. And each box and bag and pack that went in felt like a part of herself being uprooted.

But she'd look at Regan and remember. His girl. I'm his girl. That was her anchor. Home was with him. Home was him. And that would be enough.

Everything packed up, she got into the passenger seat and he started driving down the mountain. The weight of the trailer made the vehicle move more slowly and the engine revved a bit more. Almost, she hoped something would blow and they'd have to stay.

No luck though. Made it down to 160 and continued east. The land flattened out and she thought it ugly. Too open. The mountains didn't surround her comfortingly. They kept going until they hit Walsenberg and then headed north on 5. Pueblo and then Colorado Springs. It had been the furthest east they'd ever gone. Far too big and sprawling even with Cheyenne Mountain and Pikes Peak and the rockies looming over them.

Instead they turned and started east. Nebraska. Kansas. God it was so fucking flat and boring. She felt adrift at sea...not that she'd ever seen anything bigger than a big lake safely bounded by mountains. She chattered at Regan, trying to keep the conversation going, anything to stop her from shaking, the butterflies in her stomach just bounding about she thought she might be sick.

And then, wouldnt you know it, Regan had to pull over because she was sick and had to throw up. He was all concerned and stuff, but there was a tightness to his eyes as if he were afraid of something.

Later, at one of the motels, she'd gotten sick at breakfast. Just the smell alone of the bacon and eggs had set her off. They didn't leave that day. She stayed holed up in her room, cold and shiverring.

Regan brought her some pepto and ginger ale and some saltines and she was able to keep something down. Some soup. Musta been the stomach flu or something. Or maybe she had a heavy flow that month. It had been late. She wasn't much of a calendar person and it had been about a week or two before she even noticed. The move had occupied all her thoughts. Anyway, finally it came and was pretty bad.

She cried and cried, though tried to hide it from Regan. She didn't want him to know how much moving away from home was tearing her up.

They ended up staying there for about a week. Regan spent most nights at the bar down below. Brought her soups and hung out during the day..mostly. He also went for walks, he told her. TV was boring and her tablet didn't do much for her. He didn't really touch her either. Not that she wanted sex. She just wanted contact. But it was only when she awoke did she feel him next to her, smell of whisky still on his breath.

By weeks end she was ready to go. Cabin fever and alla that. This place just made her sick to stay here anymore. Something had broken, a log jam anyway. Just get outta here.

So finally back on the road and for a wonder it felt nice and warm. They drove for a few hours when they saw a jeep on the side of the road, hood up. A man flagged them down. Regan grumbled, but Jacinda pushed. She could use some new talking to others since he wasn't super talkative right now.

He pulled off on the large emergency shoulder and they got out and walked back toward the jeep. The man looked relieved. "Thanks for stopping. Havent seen a patrol come by and no one else would stop." He stuck out a hand. "Name's Adam. My jeep is overheated. Radiator is bone dry. You wouldn't happen to have any water or fluid you could spare do ya?"

Jacinda was about to speak when Regan spoke. "Think so Adam. I'm Regan. And this is my.....wife Jacinda." God how her heart soared at his words. Wife. Finally. He could admit it. The man didn't bat an eyelash, but Jacinda coulda hugged him right then and there. Kissed him too.

On cloud nine, she just kinda let the air around her wash over her. There was a lot of humidity and it was warm, but the smell of the fields and the asphalt mixed together. Forever after that, whenever that particular mixture hit her nose, she was always transported to this place, to her moment of perfect happiness.

Regan and the man talked and she just walked around. He'd call her if he needed her. Closer to the jeep, she could see beyond the hood. A young girl sat in the passenger seat. Maybe eleven or twelve. She was messing around with a tablet and drinking a soda. She had long dark hair tied back in a pony tail and a t shirt and jeans. Her bare feet were up on the dash and she seemed startled when she saw Jacinda.

Jacinda smiled at her. "Didn't mean to scare you. My....husband"- she tried to stifle the smile that came to her lips-" and I saw you guys and just wanted to help."

The girl studied her. She had brown eyes and light freckles dotted her nose and under her eyes. Her front two teeth peeked out. Kinda skinny and still more a kid's face. Jacinda smiled kindly. Just a girl and her dad, traveling. It made her happy to see. Well, she was already happy. This was just nice to see.

"I'm Julie." she said reaching out her hand.

Jacinda took it. "Nice to meet you Julie."

Edited by Jacinda, Jan 15 2018, 10:32 PM.
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The girl seemed to relax and went back to messing with her tablet. Jacinda was content to let her do so. Her feet crunched on the gravel of the shoulder and the breeze flowed through her hair, the vast expanse of corn fields seeming to sway in the same direction. As she walked past the jeep she could see the empty rows in between come into focus, then disappear, one then the other, on forever. It was hypnotic.

The breeze through the fields created a rustling that seemed to drown out all the sound around her. It seemed like her life had changed. Something had changed. In her. In the world. She wasn't really sure what it was, not in the slightest. She just felt....power. In herself, that is. A sense of control. Always before it had been her parents. And then Regan. And that was normal. She was young. But she now felt like she was ready. Filled with potential. She realized she had a smile on her face.

Finally, noises from the outside broke through to her. Honking. She turned around and realized she had walked at least three quarters of a mile west from where they had pulled off. She squinted against the sun that still blazed high and saw Regan in his red shirt waving with both arms. Jacinda laughed and turned around to head back.

But she didn't run. At first. And then she decided she wanted to. All this pent up energy in her. Two or three days in bed, weeping and sleeping. She guess she had gotten enough rest and over the flu. She ran, arms and legs and heart pumping, faster and faster, long legs taking great strides. Just ran and ran and ran. Other than a chase during a hunt, she didn't really run. This time, though, it was just for her. Because she felt like it. Because it was fun.

She arrived barely winded and feeling a rush through all her limbs. The light sheen of perspiration felt cool in the breeze. Regan looked at her- she still had to get used to the fact that she could meet his eyes now instead of looking up at him- with a look of concern. She thought she saw a question. After a moment's thought, "Oh. Just felt like a walk. Or a run." She giggled. He rolled his eyes which made her laugh more.

"Well Adam here has a leaky radiator. Right where the hose clamps in. Too big to tape off or anything."

The man, Adam, looked surprised. "So odd. We were doing so well. Figured I was just low. We left the previous town like an hour ago. If the leak was that bad, it shoulda overheated just a mile or two from there."

Regan mopped his face and forehead with his handkerchief. "Sometimes a small hole will suddenly widen out real quick. I've seen it happen." He looked from Jacinda to the girl. He seemed lost in thought for a moment. "Look, ifn you want, I can stay with you while you call a tow. My wife can take your daughter into the next town. It's just five miles down the road. Get some water and food. Small town mechanics are notoriously slow, if they are open at all today. But if they have an auto shop I can help you put on a new hose and all."

Jacinda raised her eyebrows, alarms going off. They never took strangers with them. What the hell was she supposed to do with some girl? She opened her mouth and Regan gave her that look. Her mouth clicked shut, but not without giving him a glare.

The man seemed to look at his daughter then Regan. "No, I couldn't impose like that. Julie can stay with me."

But Regan interrupted. "Yeah but why? Jacinda will take care of her." The man looked at Jacinda. She smiled at him, not sure what he saw. She and Julie were only 7 or 8 years apart. And Regan was gonna stay behind. "Your daughter have a phone? Have a locator on it? Those work even if the battery is dead. May not feel like it, but its gonna get hot out here."

Adam considered, looking at Jacinda. Then shook his head. "I'm sorry, Regan. I know you are just tryin to help, but I just wouldn't feel comfortable. No offense meant."

Relief flooded through Jacinda, though she wasn't really sure why. Watching the girl wouldn't have been that bad. Regan was pissed, but she figured only she could see it. The tightness to the eyes. It vanished quickly though. "Totally understand. And I can't say I blame you. Still, if you'd like some water and food we can keep you company. Jacinda, can you get something from the cooler?"

The man seemed relieved and also like he wanted to make up for his refusal. "That's kind of you Regan. Jacinda. We'd appreciate that." Jacinda went to forerunner and opened the door of the back passenger seat. The big red igloo was packed with ice and water bottles, some sodas, even a few beers. There was also a tray with store bought sandwiches wrapped in paper and plastic, keeping them out of the melting ice. She plunged her hand into the ice water and it burned as she got a few bottles- including one for Regan- and then a soda for Julie. She grabbed a few sandwiches too and headed back.

"Here you go," she said, handing the drinks around. Julie looked at the bottle and smiled.

"Hey Dr. Pepper. How'd you know?" Jacinda laughed.

"That's all we get. Regan doesn't like soda so it's all for me. Well, you, now, too." She cracked her bottle and saluted the girl. "Cheers."

They sat around or in the vehicle eating and chatting mostly. Regan told how they were moving east for work and fresh start. That still hurt to think about but she was with him- home- and that's all that mattered. The Atharim were everywhere, if you knew where to look. She'd met many with him. The neice working with her Uncle. Only now, she supposed, it'd be a husband wife team. Idly, she wondered what would happen of any of their previous acquaintances saw them. She'd have to ask Regan about that.

Adam and Julie were headed to Virginia. She lived with her mom in Colorado but it was spring break and Julie had gotten out early to go back east with her dad. She had an older sister, maybe 18, who lived with her mom too. The girl didn't talk too much, but she wasn't rude or bratty. Jacinda liked that.

Wasn't too long before the tow truck showed. Then it was luck they'd stayed behind with them. Adam and Julie couldn't have ridden in a towed car and the cab of the truck was cramped. They moved the cooler and soon Jacinda and Julie sat in the back seat while Regan and Adam sat up front, following the truck.

"Look, we're stayin at a motel up here. If you want, have the driver drop the vehicle in the parking lot of the motel and you and I can work on it while the girls hang out in the room."

It seemed so easy and offhand. And it was convenient. Julie would be within walking distance of her dad at all times. Jacinda wasn't surprised he agreed especially with Julie chiming in, "It IS hot dad. I would like to be in air conditioning for a little while."

And so, when all was said and done, they had checked into the motel, a ground floor room, and just outside the room, in front, the Jeep was unloaded, forerunner next to it. There were two twin beds, though Jacinda wasn't sure why at first. And AC and a TV. Adam asked Julie of she was ok and then told her to be good- and gave her an affectionate hug- before heading out with Regan to the store. Soon Jacinda was glad of the 2 beds. She could relax on one while Julie was on the other.

It was pretty peaceful.
Edited by Jacinda, Jan 15 2018, 10:33 PM.
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The room was typical for a motel. AC unit under window with cheap stiff curtain, now pulled open. The floors were the fake wood vynal that cleaned up easy and kept odors to a minimum, the bed surprisingly comfortable with full pillows. Jacinda was propped up on one, remote in her hand idly flipping channels. And of course, nothing was on.

The occasional sounds from the men outside working sometimes could be heard.

Julie had also propped herself up so her tablet rested against her legs as she did whatever she was doing. Jacinda had asked her if she wanted to watch anything and she had waved her off. Oh well. Only now, she seemed frustrated, muttering under her breath.

"You ok? What are you playing?" The girl's dark brown eyes to meet hers and she sighed.

"It's this dumb puzzle game I'm playing with a friend. There are matchsticks that make up the numbers of a math equation. Like this," she showed her. 5+9=9.

Jacinda smirked. "That's not true."

The girl rolled her eyes and smiled. "No duh. So you can only move one match from one place to another and make it true. So for this one..." Jacinda saw immediately.

"...Take the one match from the top first 9 and put it on the second 9. Then it is 5+3=8."

The girl looked at her and smiled. "Yeah. This one was easy. But they get really hard because you keep seeing what's there instead of what might be. It's not the math. It's finding the pattern."

Jacinda got up and sat on the edge of the bed to look. "Yeah, what's not there is just as important. Ok. Show me the one you're working on." She'd always liked puzzles. You could just think and stare and after a while, you started to see things....things you hadn't noticed, things that were missing, things that shouldn't be there. Sometimes, she even had the sense that she saw things through someone else's eyes at those moments.

Anyway, the girl brought it up. 23+26=61. Jacinda looked at it for a moment. The move needed to be economical, which meant the answer had to be close. One move. And then she saw it and smiled.

"You see it, right?

The girl looked at her surprised. "What? Nuh uh!!! You didn't figure it out that fast."

Her smile became a grin. "You start simple and work out. The right side has fewer sticks. So start there. What could we remove that changes the number?....See? From the 6. Now it's 51. So...we have our stick....where can we put it to make a new number?"

Julie looked and then saw. "The 6 in 26. It's 28....Ha! So 23+28=51! Nice! Thank you" And then she put put her hand palm up to Jacinda. She stared at it absently? The girl looked at her, raising an eyebrow. "Uhhh....hello? High five?"

Jacinda smiled sheepishly and tried to laugh it off. "Oh yeah...sorry. Not thinking." She put her palm up and then waited. The girl looked at her and then laughed and slapped her palms against Jacinda's.

"You're funny." she said as she started on her tablet.

Jacinda watched. "So do you just do work and play on your tablet?" That was pretty much all she did. Regan was pretty strict with the thing. Said it was for her protection.

She didn't really look up. "Mostly. And music. Movies. Social media. The internet. Stuff like that." Jacinda thought about it.

"We listen to music. David Bowie. Supertramp. George Harrison." Julie wrinkled her nose.

"That's like ancient history. My grandpa listens to that stuff." Jacinda felt a little taken aback. Her temper started to rise. This little girl was making her feel like she was handicapped or something.

"I know modern stuff," she said irritatedly standing up and moving back to her bed. And then she had to cast her memory back, trying to think of something. A name. A tune. Something came back, from when she listened to the radio with her dad. "Katy.....Perry. She's big." Come to think of it, though, she wasn't sure, now. It had been like 8 years.

The girl lit up her face all smiling. "Oh my god, I love her! My sister used to play her all the time." And then she seemed to smile at the memory.

Jacinda felt a stab of.....she wasn't sure what. "Are you and your sister close?"

"Yeah. She always looks out for me. Helps me when mom gets too much. And when I was little she would let me hang out with her and practice putting makeup on me. She wants to be a cosmetologist. You wanna know something...?"

Jacinda sat down on her own bed and said "Sure." She really did wanna know.

"Laci, that's my sister, she wanted to try out for the cheerlead squad. And so she practiced and practiced a routine to Katy Perry. Over and over again. And I got to help. I even learned it. I wanna try out now that I'm older but mom still says I'm too young. You wanna see?"

Jacinds smiled, her eyes twinkling. The girl seemed to want an audience and Jacinda felt good to be that. She pulled up something on her tablet and cast it to the TV. It was some sporting event. "This is the halftime from the 2015 super bowl Katy Perry. You remember this, right?"

The video started and Jacinda was torn, watching the performance on the screen and Julie's. She seemed to do pretty well. Not as polished and certainly she was a child in comparison. But where Katy Perry was confident and relaxed, Julie just gave off beautiful fun energetic youth and silliness. She danced around with the remote acting as microphone, sliding around the floors in her socks. And the songs....She had remembered her name....but each song- and they seemed so short she wished they went on longer- was powerful and then fun and goofy. She liked the dancing sharks and trees, the candy canes.

She was surprised to see a black woman with her dancing around doing some odd music. She knew that a lot of people mixed like that, being friends and all. And she knew better than to say the N-word. Regan did all the time, but her parents had been clear on that. Still, it was odd, though she didn't say anything. She knew it would ruin the mood.

By the end she was clapping and tapping her foot, almost wanting to get up and join her. It ended. She clapped in applause like they did in some shows."Good job!!! Great job. Show that to your mom. Maybe she'll let you. Or your dad."

Julie got back on her bed, a little out of breath. "Maybe. She says I have to be at least 14. And I have to wait until I am 16 to date. Dad says that too."

Jacinda got quiet. She knew what dating was. But she never thought of there being a limit. Hesitantly she asked, "Are there any boys you like? Like right now?"

Julie smiled as if she had a secret. "There is one boy. Lee McDaniels. He's soooo cute. Here... " She took her tablet and brought up another app. All kinds of faces and pictures of people. "There....Isn't he dreamy? Her voice dropped low. "He's 13. Almost in high school. And he said he liked me. He even.....he kissed me. On the cheek once, by the racketball courts. Just a quick one. And then he ran away." She seemed lost in the memory.

Jacinda could only stare at the picture. It was just a boy. Cute, sure. He'd be handsome when he grew up. But he was just a boy. She didn't understand and so just smiled softly. Like before she didn't want to ruin things. She touched the tablet. "What is this anyway. Is this email?"

The girl opened her eyes wide and then narrowed them. "Are you making fun of me? This is social media. Hah! You are making fun of me," as Jacinda smiled as if it all had been a joke. She leaned back and started messing with the app. "Here. Give me your email so I can friend you."

Jacinda thought fast, figuring out quickly what she meant. "I don't have one. I mean I did but not anymore."

Julie shrugged. "That's no biggie. Sign up for another. Here, use this site." She said gesturing to Jacinda's tablet. Jacinda handed it to her, trying to figure out how to explain that it was restricted. "Huh!! Stupid child proofing always comes on. Let me see...." She fooled with it for a few minutes. "There. I backed your pics and stuff to my cloud and did a reset. You can get a new email and passcode too. Careful with your tablet though. Those locks are annoying."

Jacinda looked at her tablet in awe. That was it? Unlocked now? What would she do with it? She followed the directions and soon it was all set up. She declined the social media for now though. She wasn't sure what Regan was gonna say about all this anyway. She had a sinking feeling she knew.

"Since you don' t have a music app, here's one. And I'm gonna make you a playlist you like. Tell me those bands or songs again?"

The girl worked, all the while Jacinda starting to feel nervous or even scared. This was a lot. She knew she felt free earlier that day, with the run. But now....she could almost feel Regan looming behind her. And part of her was afraid. But there was a part of her that was angry. A little bit. Some of those lyrics she heard played through her mind. Still, she was mostly afraid.

Enough that she jumped when the door opened and Regan came in wiping greasy hands on a rag. He looked at her and then Julie, his eyes seeming to linger with anger on her before heading to the bathroom. Had he gotten an alert about the tablet? Had he heard them?

Jacinda whispered thank you and took the tablet, held it to her. Regan came back into the room.
"Jacinda, can you come with me? I wanted to get something eat at the restaurant next door."

She stood, legs like weights, stomach churning. He knew. All she could do was follow. He turned to Julie
"Sweetie, your daddy will be back in in a moment. Just you relax darlin." She heard the sweetie and darlin and they didn't register.

The door closed and they walked silently across the lot. Adam was no where to be seen. It was quiet, too quiet. Everything that was possibly bad was crossing her mind. When Regan spoke, she jumped. It was a whisper. "I need to tell you somethin, Jacinda. That girl Julie's in trouble. I think her daddys hurtin her.....I think....I think we should rescue her."

Edited by Jacinda, Jan 16 2018, 05:54 PM.
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Jacinda nearly tripped, the tip of her boots catching on an asphalt seam. She caught herself and looked at Regan disbelievingly. For some reason, he didn't meet her eye. Just kept looking ahead. It was silent and she thought about this.

It just....it just didn't feel right. Julie...the way she acted, the complete lack of concern. Somehow, she just couldn't see it. It was like one of those puzzles. Something was missing in the picture. Something that would make what Regan had said true.

But how would she know? She didn't have any friends Julie's age, not growing up. Definitely not now. What would a girl who's father was hurting her act like? And how was he hurting her? Was he hitting her? Beating her? She tried to remember the way the girl moved. Normal. No stiffness to the way she walked. No obvious bruising.

How did he know? You're still young, Jacinda. Regan knows. But in her gut, that was the scariest part of all. That Regan recognized the signs and she missed them. At least that's what she thought bothered her. He sees something. The thought of someone hurting Julie made her sick.

"Are you sure? She seems fine to me." There was more that bothered her, though she couldn't put her finger on it. Rescue her? She liked Julie. She did. It had felt....nice to hang out with someone else. Well, not her age. Julie was young. But in some ways- embarrassing ways, actually- Julie seemed older. It would be nice to have her with them.

And yet...part of her hated the idea. Violently rejected it, like it refused to even consider it for a moment. She tried to put into the words the reasons for her reaction, for her intense revulstion at the idea. It just....something bothered her. She and Regan were together. Family. They had a routine. It was them against everyone else. Adding a person to the mix...that would change all of that. Somehow, she knew she would lose Regan in the process.

All of this swirled around in her mind as they entered the restaurant. She didn't notice the smell of coffee and burned food in the air. She didn't notice the fake paneling with pictures of hunts and other memorabilia on the walls or the wooden bar top where a few men sat nursing a beer. She didn't notice the tears in the cheap booth covering as she slid in to to sit. It was like a maze or a never ending circle. Around and around, she chased the feeling and couldn't catch it except that she didn't want it.

Finally, "Are you sure Regan? She has a family. A mother and a sister. Even if her Father is...doing what you say he is, she still has family. We can't just take her." He looked her in the eye and she saw...she wasn't sure what, except that the fear that had been a weight in her stomach became lead and she wasn't hungry now.

Regan seemed to perk up as the waitress came and he ordered a beer and some chicken fried steak. She just got some ice tea. "I'm not feeling hungry. That sandwich from earlier was big. Maybe I still have a bit of the stomach flu," she answered when he raised an eyebrow.

He looked concerned. "You want some more crackers? Hun, can you get my wife some crackers with her tea?" Wife. For some reason she didn't get excited at the term, this time. There was something missing when he said it.

She nibbled on the crackers, all the while, feeling that lead in her stomach grow. She wanted to be sick. She wanted to run away. Something was wrong. Regan talked about where they were going. He tried to describe the Appalachian trail, the types of creatures- both natural and unnatural- that lived there.

She tried to show interest, but in truth she was faking it. She felt it deeply. She felt adrift. Gone from home. Regan was home. She kept repeating itself as a mantra. But like a word that was repeated enough till in meant nothing, the mantra started to feel like nothing. Even Regan seemed fake, as if he didn't mean what he was saying about their future in the mountains.

Something was tearing in her and she desperately wanted to do something about it. Powerlessness seemed to overwhelm her.

She glanced around the room, watching the patrons, salt from the crackers making her lips dry. She took a drink as she saw a man come in. There was something off about him, though she couldn't say what it was exactly. He moved....funny, as if his clothes were too tight, even though they were typical cold weather nighttime wear. He word a wool cap with ear covers pulled down, but what she could see of his forehead and face was pale white. Sickly pink. And there was a tightness to his eyes and mouth. The man went to the bar and sat down.

She nodded in the direction to Regan who then carefully called for the waitress so he could look without drawing attention to them. The waitress came over and he ordered another beer. When she left, Jacinda saw something in his eyes. A smile, definitely. And other things. Relief? Marvel? Awe?

He took a long drag on his first beer and then, licking the foam from his mustache, smiled and whispered. "My god, sweetie. You are a treasure." Despite how she felt, his words sent a thrill of pride and happiness through her. This was real. Genuine. What she wanted.

She leaned forward, avoiding looking at the man, whispered, "What is it?"

He held his small smile, knuckling his mustache, fighting a grin. "That's a roug, girl. Fresh and new. Barley turned. Or changed. Whatever. Still mostly human though I imagine the hunger has already started. You caught that from all the way over here."

A slow smile spread across her lips, the feeling of powerlessness fleeing. This was a thing she could do something about. "Yeah? So....we take him?"

He looked at her for a while, as if studying her. "You got some size on ya, last I noticed. Strong too. Good eye. Good instincts. I trained you well. I think you could take him. What do you think?" Her jaw dropped. Her? Alone? He believed in her?

Emotions warred inside her, now. All her doubts against this confidence that Regan- the man she'd loved since she was a girl, the man that had been Father as much as lover- that he believed in her. A test. This is a test. If I do this, then I prove myself. His equal. His wife.

She nodded, mouth set in determination. "Ok. I'll do it." He sat back, smiling at her, his eyes shining with....she hoped it was pride. Tears of pride. Why was he sad? Maybe because his little girl was all grown up. She reached out her hand and took his, squeezed it. "I can do this."

She looked at the man at the bar and then left by the back door. She went back to the truck and got the gun he had gotten her, as well as her big hunting knife. She glanced over at their room. Julie might be in there with her dad. The jeep was still there. Or they might be out.

She pushed all that aside for now. The hunt. She wanted that knife. She wanted it to howl, to scream, to acknowledge her. It had killed her mother. Raped, tortured, even chewed on her mother. The old roug had died. But she swore to all that existed in the universe. No fucking roug would ever escape from her alive. She was Jacinda Fucking Cross. Atharim. Avenger. Killer. Hunter. Pride filled her.

It flowed through her as she set up to watch the exit from a distance. And then she did as Regan taught her. Don't get cocky. Focus on the hunt. She let go of anger, of rage, of determination. There was the here and now. That was all. She absorbed the night, caught the rhythms as eventually, patrons started to leave. Regan came out, stumbling a little- how many had he had?- and headed to back toward the hotel. He didn't glance her way.

The roug came out, standing in the light of the doorway, smelling the air. Mist seemed to curl around its lips. It went to a truck and opened the cab, reaching in for something. After a moment, a cigarette lit up and it stood there taking a smoke. Time stretched out as it seemed to savor the flavor. And then, cig done, it stepped it out and headed toward one of the liquor stores still open. The hunger was still new, Regan had said. Maybe it was still dealing with that by drowning itself in drink. She went to the truck, a camper top on the back.

She looked around carefully and then tried the lock. It opened and she carefully slid in and laid down on the plywood that covered the bed. Nobody slept in this camper. It was purely for transport. The damp musty smell of iron and oil and moisture filled her nostrils and she inhaled. She tried to extend her senses- hearing, smell, the feel of the truck- tried to imagine she could feel the footsteps of the roug on its way back.

Her heart beat slow, another trick Regan had told her. A pounding heart could distract you, be too loud for you to know, to hear, what was going on. Deep breaths kept it even. She heard the shhhhhh of vehicles driving past the truck and still she waited.

Her ears perked up as finally, she sensed someone coming, the faint clomp of boots on the lot. The door opened and the vehicle shifted as it climbed in. Big. For a moment, that scared her. But she had been taught how to fight bigger stronger creatures. As long as she had surprise and a weapon, it made little difference.

She heard a wet phlegmy cough that seemed to go on for a while. Finally, the vehicle started and they began to move. No music came on. It drove in silence. She tried to follow the turns. Straight, then left. Straight for maybe a minute. Right, the rough feel of cattle guard, and they were on dirt road. Reflected on the roof she saw shadows and lights of passing and following vehicles but once they turned off the main road, darkness covered everything.

The road went on for at least 10 or 20 minutes. It was hard to gauge exactly. The road was relatively smooth and then a left and it was much more rough and bumpy- rutted. They bottomed out a few times. Not well maintained. They were climbing. Another five minutes and the vehicle pulled to a stop. She thought she smelled wood smoke from a stove.

The door opened and it got out, the sound of it coughing getting fainter as it moved away. She waited another five minutes before readying herself. Despite her care, her heart started up again. This was it. And now, her heart was pounding, loud, thundering in her ears. Was she really going to do this? Regan will be so proud. The thought of his smile when she returned, the blood on her knife, helped her, calmed her.

Carefully, she wriggled close to the tailgate. She reached up to unlock the camper window she'd climbed into, carefully extended it out.

Suddenly, the tailgate dropped open and hands reached out, grabbing her legs and feet, dragging her out. Her head bounced off the bumper and black closed in around her.
Edited by Jacinda, Jan 17 2018, 02:48 PM.
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The back of Jacinda's head felt like it had been split open with a pick. Her head lolled to one side and was hard to move. She was on something only slightly softer than the bed of the truck. The room was hot and stuffy. She opened her eyes and had trouble focusing. The room seemed shadowed in browns and light, though they seemed to shift about.

She heard voices but had trouble distinguishing their words. Bits and pieces came to her, but made no sense. "....a gift...." "...enjoy..." "....not food, no..." "...breed..." laughter "...need food. Find..." She tried to focus on the shadows but they remained indistinct blurs.

She raised her right hand to her head and jerked with a start as she realized that it was cuffed and wouldn't rise more than a foot. The sound seemed to bring the shadows attention and they came closer, blocking out the surrounding light.

One came close enough that her eyes could focus. When it did, she screamed as terror cut through her to the core. The face was tight and split at the lips and around the eyes, the skin sickly dark red and yellow in the shadows. This was not a newly turning roug. The thing licked its lips disgustingly with a dead tongue and she saw the brown stained sharp teeth. She swung her free arm and tried to kick and it laughed as it caught her arm, brought its face close enough to speak in her ear.

She closed her eyes and turned her head as she felt its wet breath and spittle on her ear and cheek as it whispered in a voice of rustling leaves. "Shhh....You are safe with us. You are ours now." The sound of its voice caused her stomach to turn and she rolled away, tried to hunch down, bringing her legs up into the fetal position.

She felt a hand on the dip above her swelling hip and it moved down to press and seize her abdomen just above the groin possessively, lasciviously. The touch made her want to die. That and sound of its coughing coarse laughter in her ear made her retreat into herself. "Ours..." it whispered as if it enjoyed the whole situation.

This is a dream! This is not real. Oh god, please let this be a dream. Let Regan burst in through the door. She felt tears leaking from her eyes and her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth so tight she thought she might hear cracking.

She felt movement. If it touched her again, she would die. She had to die. She couldn't bear the thought. Regan, where are you? she prayed. Over and over again. More movement and suddenly she felt space. It had stood up but was still looking down at her, she knew. She heard chuckling. "Food first. Then..." it seemed to promise.

She kept her eyes squeezed shut and heard rustling. Heard the door open and shuffling boots. Despite herself, she turned her head and opened her eyes to see the last of them file out.

Relief flooded her but only for a moment. She was trapped with the rougs. She didn't know what they wanted with her but she had an idea. She didn't understand. She thought people were food. Better to be food. God, so much better. The thought of it, coming to her, one top of her or behind her, touching her, in her...she pushed the thoughts away. She couldn't think about that. She couldn't dwell on it.

She opened her eyes, ignored the pain in her head. You need to focus! It was Regan's voice in her head. Stop thinking about what might happen. Focus on the now! On what you have. She tried to gather herself and think. Her boots were gone but at least she still wore her shirt and jeans. That was something. She was laying on a pallet on a metal cot, the cuffs linking her to the side bar. She couldn't even slide it up or down the bar since metal slats crossed at regular intervals.

Still, she could sit up. Pain lanced through her head but she ignored it. Her wrist felt already bruised to the bone. The floor was rough wood and she knew she'd get splinters. A fire crackled in the hearth. She looked around, trying to figure out what to do. How to get out. The walls were all dressed logs, bark removed and glowing in the firelight. One single window was in the room, inset in the heavy door with a lock.

She looked at the window, studying it. Too small for her to break and crawl through. She tried to stand and on the second try was able, though unsteadily, unable to straighten fully. Her attempt to drag the cot failed, jerking and bruising her wrist again. It had been bolted down.

Movement caught her eye and she looked at the window. For a moment, she had seen a face. Regan? It had only been a moment, but she had been sure of it. Her heart leaped. He came! She waited for the sound of the door being unlocked. Waited.



Nothing. No movement. No sound. Of anyone out there. Had she imagined it? She would have to save herself. Regan's voice came back to her. "I think you could take him." She latched onto that. It wasn't just a him. Them.

But she was not gonna be food- no, worse then food. A fuck toy for them. A breeder. Whatever they thought to do with her. She looked at the cot, saw the metal slats peeking out. Grimly, she set her teeth. No. I die first.

From somewhere inside her, anger gathered, seemed to build up strength, to get stronger. Resolve hardened in her middle. No. I die second. I escape first.

She pulled on the cuff, ignored the pain, felt it tear at her skin where her hand widened. Not small enough. But close. So close.

She looked around the room. The fire. She wasn't going to burn her hand off, obviously. There were no other tools or implements in the room. She looked at the cot again. The other end of the cuffs clicked against where one slat was welded to the bar. She wasn't going to break those bonds either.

But....her stomach turned as she realized what she had to do. She breathed deeply. Either I die trying to escape or I am their prisoner, for them to do every ungodly thing I can imagine to me. There was no choice. Death was preferable.

She sat down, pushed the pallet back to expose enough of one of the slats. She tested with her finger. Not really all that sharp, but enough. It helped there were some imperfections, a few jutting pieces of metal. She looked at the door window again, hoping that she saw Regan's face. Nothing.

Stop Jacinda. You can do this. You can do this. You have to do this. It wasn't Regan's voice. But she listened all the same. She mentally prepared herself, then took her right wrist, stretched the cuff as far as it could go and dragged her wrist across the metal slat. The tear was shallow. Not hard enough. Her heart was beating quickly now. They would be back. She might not even hear them.

She had to force her body. It was resisting. She just had to. She did it again, dragged harder. She felt more tearing. It fucking hurt but she tried that thing she remembered. Just nerve signals. Just information. Maybe it helped. Maybe. Or not.

Again, she dragged, this time imagining that sick face against hers, the feel of its mouth on her, its grimy gross hands groping her. The anger and disgust fueled her, masked the pain. She dragged back and forth, again and again, just under the palm, again and again.

She felt wet spurting out. With her other hand she used her nails to try to tear the wound open, to smear the blood. She needed more fluid. At one point, she brought her mouth to it and tried to use her teeth. The taste of salty iron filled her mouth and she felt the wet on her chin.

She tore and dragged until her hand ran red, then pulled on the cuffs, pulled on them against her hand, let the lubrication get between the metal and skin. She felt movement and her heart leaped even though she also saw skin ripping as it tore against the metal. She pulled hard, ignoring all the pain, the skin, everything, instead imagining she could hear them coming. Too late. Too late. She told her self and pushed and finally



her hand came free. It burned. The pain of the slash, the tearing of the slash, the bruising, and the skin around her hand. She looked but found nothing she could use as bandage. Well, there was the bedding but her hand wouldn't work enough to use both hands to tear it smaller.

She did gather it up and blood dripping all over it, was able to manage to wrap it around her left elbow. She went to the door and tried to break the window with her elbow and the blow felt like it shattered her elbow. Maybe not. Hopefully. She was going to need at least one working arm. But she needed to get out first.

She grit her teeth and swung her elbow with all her strength. She felt it shatter, glad of the bedding. Even so, she felt jabs from the glass. But that was livable. She reached her good hand- the elbow still shot pain but at least wasn't broken, she hoped- and put hand through to try for the locks. It was down too far. She had to go right to the door and put as much of her arm through, felt the shards of glass against her armpit.

Her fingers brushed the look. She pressed herself closer against the door, stretched out her harm, slightly nudged the latch, turning it. Movement. She was breathing hard and sweating despite the cold air coming in from the window. The smell of wood filled her as she face pressed against the door.

Again, she tried, the latch almost completely unlocked. Now it was nearly horizontal, and she couldn't reach it. Fuck fuck fuck!!!! So close. All it needed was one final turn. She decided to jump and jam her arm down.

The move cut her armpit and bruised her, but she barely noticed, feeling it click into place. She pulled her arm in, trying to avoid cutting it on any more glass, and then tried the handle. The door swung open. The cold rushed at her. the most fragrant of air and trees. Freedom.

She stopped, tried to still herself to listen. Nothing. She hoped. She stepped outside, ignoring the cold rough ground. Where should she go? Part of her wanted to go off haring into the woods.

She wasn't a rabbit, though. Now, more than ever, she wanted them to die. All of them. Every fucking last one of them. They would do this to others. And worse.

She was Atharim. It was her job. No matter what.

She crept around to one of the other buildings. They wanted food. So they might be out hunting for someone. But they wouldn't leave her alone. So probably one or two stayed behind.

But she needed a weapon. Something. Her left wasn't as good as her right, but it would have to do. She hunted around and found a length of wood of about a foot and a half and maybe the width of her wrist. Roug were strong, but with surprise, it might do the job.

After a moment, she noticed the truck. The bed was still open. She carefully went to it, eyes wide and scanning everywhere- then closed it, holding the latch open until she could manually shut it, so that there was no click sound.

She waited. The roug from the restaurant came out and stood outside to light up a cigarette. She watched him, the smell of smoke drifting her direction. After a moment, she heard movement and shifted around the tree as he approached the truck, looking at it curiously.

In that moment, she struck, swinging her club as hard as she could. It hit him and his head thudded against the back of the truck- the bumper, she realized. Her head had a knot now where it had struck the very same. She smiled and then, used her right heel to stomp on the back of his neck with all of her weight. Two more times. She didn't hear a snap, but the way his head lolled said it was broken.

She looked around. The night seemed lit up with moon light, shining blue over everything. She tried to drag his body away from the truck and her bad hand hurt so bad she could only hold for a few seconds.

It seemed to take forever and she was sure the drag marks were a dead giveaway. After a moment, she pulled his boots off and pulled them on. A bit too big, but it was good enough. She'd be able move about.

One dead. She didn't know how many more. She tried to remember. There had been three in the room. Maybe four. And now down one. If that had been all of them. She tried to remember how many rougs stayed in a nest. Four seemed the number. Maybe. Still too many to take on her own.

She heard the rustle of movement and dropped and hid herself. Two men- rougs- were walking, dragging a body. The shirt seemed purple until the door of the house opened casting light on it. Red.

And then she realized. Regan. It was Regan. He was out cold.

Fear shot through her. But she didn't move. Her feet were frozen. They had Regan. And there were at least three of them. If he was here, so was the vehicle. She could escape.

Leave him and escape.

She couldn't leave him. She couldn't. The reason seemed obvious. And yet there was more to it. She didn't understand.

She couldn't leave. And she couldn't go forward. She was frozen.
Edited by Jacinda, Jan 19 2018, 07:29 PM.
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The sounds of the night seemed to grow as she stood rooted there, as if the volume of a radio were being turned up. The rustle of the chill wind through the pine leaves and branches above, the distant hoot of an owl or the cry of a creature hunting or being hunted. All of it comfortable, in its own way, the sounds of the forest and outdoors. Of home.

But along with those sounds, she could hear voices, loud and soft, the dragging of something heavy, the clink of metal. Other things.

Like a leather cord around her neck, it held her, kept her from running. Regan was in there. Her life was in there. Her father. Her only friend. Her lover. Her world. Leaving him was not possible. She couldn't conceive of a life without him.

How was he even here? When she watched him leave the restaurant he'd been stumbling about drunk. Is that how they caught him? Had he somehow followed, been caught because he was too drunk?

She remembered the drive. Turning off the highway, there had been no lights following reflected on the roof of the camper shell. If he had followed, it had been at a distance with the light off.

But if he was here, why hadn't he gotten her free? Why hadn't her unlocked the door? It would have been so easy, just turn. Just a pick for the cuffs. That would have been it. Why not? Why?

Her hand throbbed with the pain and the breeze felt cold on the unclotted blood. Just thinking about that made her woozy. How much blood had she lost? Her left arm under her armpit felt tacky inside her shirt, cut from the broken window.

Just then a cry cut through night, a burst of birds high in the trees taking flight, and she jumped. Her heart thundering, galloping in her ears. The cry seemed ripped from someone's soul, slicing through her from neck to groin and she felt strength spill out of her, through the large gash until she could almost imagine it puddling around her.

The scream modulated in intensity and froze her where she stood. Regan. What were they doing to Regan? Her heart tore. She knew. She fucking knew. His screams were her screams, the death of her world, of her life, of all that had kept her sane and safe and secure since her mom and dad were killed. He wasn't being kept for breeding. Food, they had said. He was food.

She had to get control. She tried to think. Likely, they would wonder where the one she killed had disappeared to. They would come out soon. They would see her. They would bind her. And then, they would each.....her mind refused to think beyond that point.

And still she stood there, frozen, heart thudding in her chest, felt the cold of the breeze on her blood fanning down around her fingers. Her blood. She had gotten free. She had gotten out. Escape first. Die second. Was she a pathetic little girl, free, who then waits for the killer to come?

Regan's screams came again.

Fuck that. She felt a fire burn in her chest, anger roiling. She had cut, torn herself to get free. She'd be damned if she just stood there waiting for them. No. Fuck no! It was her new mantra. I am Jacinda Cross. I will not die without a fight. Not now. Not ever.

That fire burned, hotter and hotter until it was a volcano. She did what she did for her. No one else. Not even Regan. She would save him because she refused to let him die. Could not let him die.

His vehicle had to be around here. She circled out quickly, wider and wider, mindful of the time, of how long she had before they came out to check on their missing companion. Quietly, she scouted. Finally, she found the Forerunner. She opened the back and got out a rife. It was going to be tough to pull the trigger with her ruined hand. But she had to try. She put some spare rounds in her pocket. After a moment, she also got the small gas can and a lighter from the glove box.

It was hard to carry. The rifle ended up clenched to her chest with her bad arm while her good hand carried the can. She quietly crept back to the house. The screams were constant but she refused to think about what they were doing. I am coming, Regan.

And then he'd be free. And they could....well not go home. They had left. They'd go to the motel. And....then? She stopped, heart frozen, the puzzle pieces clicking into place without mercy. Julie. He'd dropped it at her objection, but that didn't mean anything. When she disagreed, he either badgered her till she changed or just put his foot down. Instead, this time, he had changed the subject.

The closer she got the more the unease grew. No. The fear. She kept imagining Regan driving through the flatlands of Nebraska and Oklahoma on his way to the Appalacians, could see him. And he is looking over to the passenger seat- and she sees it is Julie sitting there, little Julie, freckles on her nose, the little girl who used a remote as a microphone and thought a boy at her school was cute and was giggly that he'd kissed her. Julie with her ponytail whipping in the wind, but she wouldn't be smiling. No, she wouldn't.

(And Jacinda's heart is breaking because she is not there. Because he is tired of her. Because he doesn't want her anymore. Because he goes on without her and where is she and what is she doing? And she is scared. So scared because she doesn't know how, because she is a child and she doesn't know the world and now she has to live in it alone.)

And Julie misses her mom and her sister, the sister who showed her how to dance and she cries for them, wakes up screaming their name and it will be Regan she is next to, and she won't know the rules, or what it means, and she will break. And Jacinda even knows she'll cry for her Dad because she knows what Regan will do to him.

To save her. To rescue her. His new girl. But she's only a girl.

And the girl Jacinda dies because she knows she has to make a choice. A sacrifice. She has to decide. Regan and Julie crying. No Regan and Julie safe. Because she knows Regan is done with her. Even if Julie escapes safe, it will only be a matter of time. There will be another.

And either way, her old life has ended. All of it. There's no going back to Colorado. Too many painful memories. Too many questions. Because she suspects Regan was telling the truth about too many hunts. And she will be alone. Alone and scared.

She thinks of Julie's laughter and her dancing and a boy who kissed her by the racketball courts and then ran away.

She thinks of the comfort that comes from feeling safe and taken care of by Regan, being next to him even for a little while longer. The shelter.

And she decides.

She crept back, planning, heart aching at what she needed to do, trying to find the strength.

Thankfully, the rougs were too busy to notice, or she had been too fast. She held the gun in her left and despite the pain, she quickly circled the perimeter of the house, ducking down at the windows, emptying the gas as she moved. There were only two and they were small. Windows let out too much heat to be large in a cabin in the country. Lastly, she was at the door, pouring out the final drops.

They would smell it soon, if they didn't already. Even as she lit the lighter and set the fire she heard clomping feet. She backed to the truck as fast as she could while the fire raced around the cabin, turned to get her rifle up. The dry logs and dead brush caught fire. The door burst open and the roug she remembered, its greedy slimey face that licked its lips, came out coughing, covering its eyes with its arm, and peering through the smoke. She calmed herself and forced her torn hand to squeeze the trigger.

The kick back against her shoulder was hard but she was used to it. Thank you Regan. It dropped and then two more came through. She fired again, clipping one's leg and the other in the chest. Leg wound tried to get away and she ignored it for now, waiting to see if there were any others.

None came out.

The cabin was on fire now and she felt the heat even at this distance. Her heart dropped. Could she do this? For a moment she said NO! With her whole self. Even for a few months, let him stay with me, let me be his girl a little longer. Let me have one last bit of home. Let me have my world. Let me be safe. I promise Julie will get away. I can't be without him!! Regan.

And her heart died. Because she knew. And she would have to be the one to go. Scared and alone. She walked slowly, knowing that every second meant less time for her to get him out, hoping maybe she was too late, that it had always been too late and it wasn't her who decided even though in the end it was the same result.

It felt as if time had slowed. Everything slowed. Sounds deepened. Everything moved in slow motion. Each step brought her more and more certainty. Danger. Danger. Danger.

The wounded roug was 10 yards away crawling for escape. Not him. She felt herself moving toward doom nonetheless.

The heat became nearly unbearable but she looked through the fiery door. She saw Regan strung up, hands and feet bound, blood dripping from cuts on his bare chest where the arm joined. His head lolled and she felt relief shoot through her. Too late. It is done.

And then his head moved, just enough. She could see his tired pained face. The hope was plain, the same hope she'd felt whem she thought she saw him. Happy. Joyful. Triumphant.

And she just stared, her future and her past and her universe in that fire. All here burning. The heat warped the air and his face distorted and seemed almost demonic. She looked at him, saw the hope turn to fear. The roars of the flames were too loud for her to hear his words but his mouth moved.

She would always wonder what he said. Because she never did go inside. She watched him, feeling the tears drying as they fell, felt her eyes drying out, felt her mouth move saying I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. She felt the heat burn against her cheeks, making the front of her clothes unbearably hot.

And then she could hear him. His screams. He pulled and struggled as flames licked around him. It was as if the screams freed her.

She tore herself away into the cold of night, wanting to fall to her knees and throw up, knowing everything had ended. The cabin burned hotter and hotter.

Finally, she stood, forced herself to stop. Grieving would come later.The fire department would be coming soon. One more thing. She followed the injured roug and put a bullet through its head.

It was cold when she got to the vehicle. She was numb. She got into it, fired it up and took off. She tried to backtrack and was on the main road when she passed the fire truck, its sirens wailing and lights flashing.

Something in her released and she pulled over and threw up, then sobbed and sobbed, her wails so hard and from so deep a place they made no sound. They shook her and she couldn't breath. It was like when mom and dad died only there was no one to comfort her, now, no one to blame, no one to vent on. Just her. Because it was her fault. Her face was covered in tears and it hurt, her face muscles hurt and she didn't even notice her injuries anymore.

And then after a while, she couldn't cry and it got quiet and all she could hear was her breathing and her quiet thoughts. And she felt nothing. Not numb. But the emotion was spent. And then she could drive again.

She went back to the hotel. It felt like a lifetime ago since she'd been there. Yet it was only a few hours. She pulled up to the room, next to the jeep. A sick dread came over her. Now that it was done, part of her didn't want to see Julie. Didn't want to see anyone. She was calm now but she knew it was temporary.

Still, she went to the door and tried the card that for some reason she still had. It opened to a quiet room. They must be out. Gotten their own room. She gathered her things including the precious tablet, the one Julie had freed. Outside she hooked up the trailer to the Forerunner.

She got into the car and started to back out, started to leave and got to the end of the lot and stopped. Something nagged at her. Julie's dad. What if Regan had been right? Suddenly, it made her sick. What if she had been wrong about everything? Fear seemed to overwhelm her as the magnitude of what she'd done- of Regan' death, of her loss, her guilt- was going to sweep her away.

She pulled back into the lot further back and waited, praying, hoping for a sign. If she'd been wrong....this was hell she could never get out of.

She waited, stomach churning, getting more and more anxious. At one point she felt so sick she wanted to find a bathroom and void herself completely, to feel empty. She waited and waited and waited.

Finally, walking back from the restaurant, she saw Julie and her dad. She was running around, poking him and laughing. He seemed to chase her but it seemed he was faking it, faking being unable to catch her. She was laughing and then stopped and so did he. She walked next to her dad talking animatedly, just like Jacinda remembered, carefree and unworried.

Jacinda found herself smiling at the scene. Never in all her life had she felt playful like that with Regan. Never had she felt that comfortable or unconcerned. Always, there was an element there of.....she wasn't sure what it was, but it wasn't here.

Her heart calmed and she felt a sense of relief. She watched Julie and her dad head to their room and then go inside, the door closing. She could imagine the relaxed scene inside. Her dad would turn on the tv, Julie would get on the tablet and then tomorrow, they would continue on their way, off into the future.

As she had to do. The future. She was scared. But she didn't have a choice. She already missed Regan. The guilt came up and threatened to take over, but she breathed through it. Still, she wanted him to be with her, at least a little while.

She connected the tablet to the vehicle and brought up the playlist Julie had created. Maybe one of the old songs. The first came on and it just hurt too much. She started crying again. Too much.

She clicked next and something else came on. Through the tears, she smiled gratefully and looked at Julie's room. Her gift. Live Julie. Be free. Live for both of us.

She pulled onto the highway heading....somewhere. She'd decide. She knew how to contact Atharim in case of emergency. She'd figure it out. She would.

As she drove off, Katy Perry sang Part of Me

[[Story resolved in Time to Breathe]]
Edited by Jacinda, Jan 22 2018, 08:47 PM.
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