The River, Part 3 (Read Part 1 and Part 2)
She sprinted along the bank, wishing she’d taken the time to put her boots on at the house when she helped Brian tie his. Deadfall and rocks cut into her bare feet and she slowed, searching the wild water for a sign of her pole. She found it several yards down from where Brian waited with the fish, the reel handle caught on a broken reed. The twisting river widened here, slow enough that she could wade into the current. The cold water seeped up to her chest by the time she reached the pole, and her teeth chattered when she climbed out onto the bank.
A breeze blew through her thin tee shirt and tickled gooseflesh along her arms and belly. Glancing over her shoulder, she caught the sun touching the top of the mountain.
At least I found the pole. She shivered and picked her way as quickly as she could back up the river. She kept her eyes and mind focused on each footstep, trying to ignore the feeling of foreboding that crept up on her with the twilight.
Halfway back to the fishing spot, she glanced up and saw Devon searching the bank. He held something in his hand, something soft that fluttered as he walked.
Brian’s shirt. Tara’s heart stopped, then pounded so hard it drowned out the sound of the river. Devon saw her. Even from several feet away, Tara could see his face twisted with worry and anger.
“Where is he, Tara?” Devon shouted, one hand clenched into a fist and the other strangling Brian’s shirt.
Tara ran to close the distance. “He caught a fish. He should be right by the log. I lost my pole and he promised—” She slowed for the final few steps.
Tears steamed off Devon’s cheeks, his face flushed. This close, Tara could see his hands trembling as his search along the bank grew frantic. Her gut clenched and panic closed in around her throat. She swallowed and peered across the water under a fallen tree. Brian? But all she saw were shadows.
“You left him alone? By the river?” Devon glared at her. His hazel eyes were glossy with fever, and the trembling crept into his words.
“He promised to wait with his fish.” Tara’s voice was weak, like the fading light. He promised. The thought came with tears, hot and accusing. She turned and ran down the bank ahead of Devon. “Brian!” her shout came out as a croak. “Brian!” This time the call echoed through the valley, but the trees stood silently and watched.
The water bubbled and flowed, washing white over a few ragged boulders that split the current. Tara scanned the bank on both sides for freckles and red hair. Please, Bri, her heart begged, please be okay.
“Tara.” Devon’s voice broke on her name.
She looked to where he pointed. No.
A shock of red hair caught the final dregs of twilight, bobbing in the reeds on the other side of the bank from where Tara had found her pole. Brian. Before she even moved, Devon was halfway across the river. He didn’t look at Brian as he gathered the small body and fought his way back to the bank by Tara.
He laid the boy at her feet. Brian’s skin was clammy and gray, the ashen color drowning out his freckles.
Tara dropped to her knees next to her little brother and shook his shoulders. “Brian,” she pleaded, then scolded. “Brian, wake up.” She pressed on his chest and tasted bile when a steam of river water trickled out of his mouth. “Brian!” she screamed and slapped his face.
Devon’s knuckles caught her on the cheek, cutting the inside on her teeth and knocking her into the mud. For a heartbeat, her twin’s anger hurt more than the sight of Brian’s limp form.
“He’s dead, Tara.” Instead of screaming at her, Devon’s voice was low, warning.
She sat up and swallowed blood. Steam drifted off of Devon’s body and mingled with the half-light left by the disappearing sun as he cradled Brian’s body in his arms and set a steady pace for the house.
Tara scrambled to her feet, her own tears burning her cheeks. The grass cut at her bare arms and her feet stung from hiking up and down the river bank. She stayed a few paces behind Devon, his anger radiating from him in an aura of fevered heat.
The approaching night chilled the valley. Tara felt the cold creeping on her skin, but her body seemed to belong to someone else. The scent of cut wood and sun-rotted vinyl siding filled the back porch, but Tara smelled it as if from a distance. She followed Devon through the dark kitchen and to the living room where her parents sat on the couch, pale in the final whispers of light that crept in through the windows.
They know. The thought made it through Tara’s numbness. They know I let him die.
None of them said a word as Devon laid Brian in their mother’s arms and she leaned over her child. Tara expected tears and accusations, but all the room offered was silence.
“Mom?” Tara whispered.
Her mother looked up, her eyes glassy and distant.
Tara crossed the room and put her hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mom, I’m so sorry.”
Her mother hung her head again, stringy blond hair slipping off of her neck and exposing a ring of rotted flesh.
Heat bloomed in Tara’s chest and her hands began to tremble.
Read The Plague Legacy: Acquisitions, my debut young adult dystopian novel released on Amazon December 6, 2013!