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Okay, on this chapter I'd like to know what y'all think of the new guy... he'll become clear as you read, but I mostly want to know whether or not you think I overdid him.
Thanks so much to y'all who are reading! It is really encouraging to check my e-mail and see that I have a critique. Helps keep me motivated and brightens bad days. Big thanks. =)
Someone grabbed Punk's shoulder, pulling her to the ground. She screamed and tried to pull away. Her arm went right through the attacker's hand, but when she tried to rise again, it pulled her back down. She couldn't see anything, except for the dull orange horizon. She struggled and cried out. The world tipped. She felt herself on the edge, about to fall over into something...
Punk's eyes flashed open. The hay covered ground stretched out beneath her. She let out a yell and jerked backwards, righting her hammock and returning herself to safety. She sat, panting and gasping, trying to calm herself. It had just been a dream. A nightmare. Nothing more.
“Punk?” Art sat up halfway in his hammock. “You okay?”
“Yes,” she whispered, running a hand over her face. She was drenched in sweat. “Just a bad dream. That's all.”
“You still have them?”
Punk didn't answer. She didn't need to.
“Want to share it?”
Art laid back down, probably not in the least surprised.
Punk eased herself back down into her hammock and watched the stars as a breeze brushed against her face, cooling skin. She snuggled deeper down into her hammock, tucking her blanket over her nose.
Just a dream.
Punk glanced up from her granola bar and nodded. “Yeah, why?”
“You look a little pale. And tired.” Art crumpled his granola bar wrapper into a ball.
Punk shrugged. “Didn't sleep too well last night.”
“That nightmare. Is that what kept you up?”
“A little.” She finished her granola bar and tossed the wrapper into the trash box. “It was nothing. Just a stupid dream. Don't know where it came from.”
Art shrugged. “Maybe we could go out around town to get your mind off of it. There's an awesome little nature walk by the lake. You'd love it. Grace and you both would. It goes through the woods a ways, then along next to the lake, and through some fields. It's awesome.”
“Sounds nice,” Punk mused. She would have to make it to the McDonalds around noon. Going somewhere might help keep her from being so jumpy until then. “Maybe.”
“Why don't we head off now? Grace can practice her painting later.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked over to Grace and whispered something. Her face lit up and she nodded. Punk smiled as he lifted her onto his shoulders. “Ready?” he asked, offering his arm.
“Ready.” She walked out of the alley beside him, but not taking his arm.
“Sure is nice today,” Art commented, glancing at the blue sky.
“Could be warmer.” Punk crossed her arms and snorted. The breath floated up in a cloud before her eyes. How nice. She pulled her hood up and shivered.
“Once we get moving we'll warm up,” Art encouraged. “Anyways, you'd be warmer if you didn't chop off all your hair.”
“Hair's a pain.” Punk excused the hair tickling her chin and the base of her neck with a wave of her hand. “I've thought about chopping it to my ears.”
“'Cause in the summer it is hot. That and it tangles something awful if it is too long.”
“What about shoulder length?”
Punk made a face. “Still tangles.”
“There's a brush you can use.”
“I don't like brushing my hair.” She ran a hand through her hair, pulling through the tangles that had popped up between then and last Sunday. “Takes time that is better spent elsewhere.”
“Like where? Taking care of yourself should be a priority.”
“I do take care of myself, just not by fussing over my looks.” Punk kicked a walnut.
Art followed the nut with his eyes as it skidded across the sidewalk. “Keeping your hair in order isn't fussing over your looks.”
“Why should I keep my hair in order? I'm a street girl, for cryin' out loud. People expect me to look nappy.”
“That doesn't mean you should look nappy though.” Art blinked at her. “Show them that a street girl can still be a lady and can still be worthy of respect.”
Punk snorted, shook her head, and turned with the sidewalk as it curved.
Not another word interrupted the birds' songs until they made it to the lake. Leaves, mostly dead and brown, but some yellow, red, and orange ones, drifted and spun in the water, eased along by the breeze. The water rippled and lapped at the bank.
They crossed a bridge. The quacking of ducks began. A flock waddled across the sidewalk at the end of the bridge and slid into the water, swiveling their heads and eying them.
“Sometime we'll have to bring some bread or something,” Art commented. “They're fun to feed.”
“We're fun to feed too.” Punk half frowned.
“This is a different town than yours,” Art murmured before continuing down the path.
Punk studied the ducks for a moment longer. Mallards. Beady black eyes both cautiously and curiously watched her. They muttered questioning quacks.
Punk turned and jogged after Art. He had stopped, and was kneeling down, pointing something out to Grace. As she approached, he motioned for her to be quiet. She tiptoed up to him. “What is it?” she whispered.
“A Wood Duck.” He pointed. “See it? Down there, close to the bank.”
Punk looked. “I see a wooden duck...”
“That's it!” Art's eyes sparkled.
“It's fake.” Punk sighed, thinking Art had gone over the edge at last.
“No! Watch!” He thrust a finger out again.
The duck was still. Punk was about to get up and urge Art to continue, when it blinked. Punk stared. It slowly turned its head to them, then paddled at a snail's speed deeper into the water. Its beauty stunned Punk. Could it be possible something so amazing and intricate could be real?
“It's electronic,” she insisted. “It's too... too...”
“Perfect?” Art offered.
“Yes! Perfect! It is too perfect to be real!” She leaned down to get a better look.
The duck stopped and watched her. She reached down a hand.
It thrashed backwards, letting out a startled quack. Punk jerked back onto her bottom as it rushed back into the reeds. Art chuckled. “Yep, it's real.”
Punk stuck her tongue out at Art. “I see that.” She gazed at the stilling water. “It was pretty.”
“You can say that again.” Art stood and strolled away. “How about into the woods now?” he suggested. “The paths there aren't paved. A little more of an adventure.”
Punk nodded. “Let's.”
He guided her to a flight of stone steps leading down to a dirt path. “This way.”
Punk hopped down the steps, dry leaves crackling under her feet. Why didn't her town have something like this?
“There's a stream this way,” Art said, taking on his role as tour guide. “Sometimes there's deer. Not too often though. More often there's birds. And animal prints. Dogs, raccoon, possum.”
They came to a small dirt cliff that looked down on a stream. Bluebirds splashed in the shallows of the clear water as if they didn't have anything better to do in the world. As if they didn't have a single worry. Punk smiled.
“Deer.” Art breathed into her ear, nodded to their right. She turned her head to look at the big eyed doe. The creature nibbled at a twig, then saw them.
“Horsey!” Grace squealed.
The deer bolted away, white flag tail flashing. Punk chuckled as Grace stared after it.
“Where'd it go?” Grace asked.
“It was a deer, not a horse, Grace. And you scared it,” Punk said, blunt as ever but with a slight smile.
“I did?” Her bottom lip pooched out.
“Yeah,” Art took over the conversation, “But she had some friends to meet anyways. Maybe we'll see her again. If we do though, you have to be very quiet.”
Grace listened, bright blue eyes big. “Okay,” she whispered.
Art smiled and bounced her. “Shall we cross the creek? There's a little path down that way.”
Punk followed his directions and started down the path. It sloped down. Clumps of grass grew in the middle of it, showing how little it was used. As she emerged, the birds fluttered away in a colorful cloud of feathers and surprised squeaks. Punk leaned down to touch her finger to the water. Cold as ice. She cupped her hands and scooped some up. She brought it to her mouth and sipped it.
Art stepped across the stream. “There's a great big oak tree this way.”
Punk stepped out to follow him. She set her foot on a mossy rock in the middle of the stream and it slipped out from under her like a banana peel. She fell with a startled yell and a splash into the water.
“Punk!” Art dodged back, setting Grace down and taking Punk's arms. “Are you all right?!”
“Yes, yes, I'm fine!” Punk brushed him away and took a shaky step. Pain jolted up her leg from her ankle. She winced, almost falling over again.
Art caught her. “What hurts?! Sit down!”
For once, Punk obeyed, sitting on the grass next to the path. “My ankle.” She repressed a groan. “I... I think I might've twisted it.”
Grace crawled over. “Are you okay?” she wavered.
“Yes, I'm fine.” Punk patted the little girl's head and clenched her jaw as another spasm of pain charged through her ankle. “Just hurt my foot. It'll get better, don't worry.”
Art pulled her pant leg up to her knee. Punk squirmed, uncomfortable. “I can take care of it,” she stated, reaching to feel it for herself.
“No.” Art moved her hands away. “You don't know anything about sprains or breaks. No offense, of course.”
Punk rolled her eyes, trying to stay calm while he pressed her ankle with two fingers. She stifled a gasp and bit her lip.
“Can you move it at all?” he inquired.
“A little. I think.” She focused on the foot and managed to get it to wiggle back and forth.
“How much does it hurt?”
“Not too bad.”
“Tell the truth, this is very important. If it hurts a lot...”
“It doesn't!” Punk interrupted. “Really. It does hurt, but not so bad that I could scream.”
“Yes!” Punk scowled.
“Okay. But you have to admit it is hard for me to know what you believe. You...”
“Yes, yes.” Punk waved his words away. “I don't need a lecture right now. Is it broken?”
“No, I don't think so. Just sprained. We should get back to the nest. Can you walk?”
“Of course I can walk!” Punk exclaimed. She stood up and tested her foot with care. She winced as she put pressure on it.
“Here, let me get Grace on my shoulders then you can lean on me.”
Punk's face went red at the thought, but she knew there wasn't anything else to be done. Art held out his arm, and she took it, leaning heavily as they left the woods.
“Sure you can make it?”
“Yes, I'm sure.” Punk grunted and forced herself to keep moving. If she stopped, she knew that she wouldn't want to start going again. So she had to keep going. She had to. She clenched her jaw, berating herself for her carelessness. At least they weren't in her town, else she would fear Reaper coming out and pressing his advantage, and making fun of her too. Leaning on the arm of a boy indeed. Punk glared at the ground.
“Here, let's rest for a bit,” Art suggested, nodding his head at a grassy patch. “Sound okay?”
Punk noted his heavy breathing and sighed. She did have to stop after all. Oh well. If she couldn't get back up, it would be his fault.
She eased herself down to the ground.
“Wait here for a minute. Do you mind?” He glanced across the street at a boy who was watching them.
“A friend. He's wary of strangers though.”
“Even ones that can't walk?” Punk sighed. “I don't mind.”
“All right. I'll take Grace with me so you won't have to worry about anything happening while I'm gone. If you need something, just shout!” He trotted across the road.
Punk laid down on her back, crossing her arms behind her head. She shut her eyes and let the sun wash over her. At least it was a nice day besides her ankle. She pulled her lips downwards into a half frown. What a pain. Literally. How would she get into her hammock? How long would it take for it to heal?
She bolted up. How would she get to McDonalds? She needed to meet up with Fredrick! She leaned forward and felt her ankle. As she touched it, she knew it was swollen. She tugged her pant leg up. Yes. Swollen. No chance of walking all the way to her town or any other time in the near future. What would Slacks think about that? He'd be used to her being late by a few minutes by now, at least she figured he'd be. But whole days? She tangled her fingers into her hair.
“Why do I have to be so stupid?” she demanded of herself, drawing one leg up enough for her to press her forehead against. She sat for a moment in that position, then started banging her head against her knee.
“Punk! What are you doing?! Does it hurt that bad?” Art knelt down and touched her ankle.
Punk lifted her head and scowled at him. “No, I'm fine.”
Art seemed a little taken aback by her coolness. She let out a sigh and shook her head.
“Really, I'm fine. It just hurts a bit, that's all.” She struggled to her feet. Art took her arm and helped her the rest of the way up. Punk swayed, struggling to maintain balance on her one good leg. “What did that boy want?” Punk asked, hoping to get her mind off of her ankle.
“Oh not much.” Art steadied Grace on his shoulder. “He's just a friend.”
“Ah.” Punk frowned as they stepped off the curb. She jerked her head up, in search for cars. None were in view, but she was still relieved when they left the road and were once again on sidewalk.
“We're almost there now,” Art encouraged. “If you want I could go drop Grace off and come back for you.”
“What difference would that make?”
“I could carry you.”
Punk let out a snort. “No, I'm fine. I can walk on my own... ah...”
“Own foot?” Art grinned and guided her down the alley.
“Yes.” Punk hobbled and hopped alongside him.
She couldn't have been happier when she at last found herself sitting on the hay bale.
“Lay down,” Art instructed. Punk obeyed and he began stuffing folded blankets under her ankle until it sat a good ways over her head. She blinked at the sky. Grey clouds were beginning too whirl in. She shifted to look at Art.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm missing ice and compression," he fretted, digging through one of his boxes. "I don't have any ice, but I can have compression." He pulled out piece of fabric and turned to Punk. He set the fabric over her foot, then carefully began winding it around, keeping it taut. He half smiled. "So we have RCE..."
"What?" Punk raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
"RICE." He tied a knot in the fabric and patted it gently. "Feel better?"
"Sure. But we just ate! Why are you thinking about rice?"
Art chuckled. "Not that rice. Haven't you heard of RICE? For sprains and stuff?"
"Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. RICE."
"Oh. I knew those, I thought that was just common sense though."
"Yeah, well, an easy way for people to remember them is thinking RICE, since that's what the words spell."
Punk shrugged and laid her head back down on the hay hale. Now wasn't the time to try and figure out city peoples' strange ways.
"We'll be back in a bit! You stay off your feet!"
"Yeah, yeah." Punk didn't look up from her book.
"Don't yeah, yeah, me. Don't get up."
"Don't you think it is better by now?" She lowered her book.
"I don't know, but I want to be on the safe side."
She let out a sigh. "All right, I won't."
Art left, Grace on his shoulders, to go see Ms. Harrison. Punk buried herself in her book again, "Swiss Family Robinson". She would have traded with them any day. An island, full of things to survive on. They had it easy, exotic pets, food, shelter, water. Easy. She didn't know why she read the book, it only served to irritate her to no end.
She heard a footfall on the other side of the door covering.
"Wasn't she home?" she asked, wetting a finger and turning a page. No one answered. She frowned and sat up a little, letting her book rest in her lap. "Art?"
Still no one answered. She nibbled her lip. She knew she had heard someone. The distinctive footfall of a shoe on concrete. She stiffened. Art didn't wear shoes.
Punk pulled her legs off the blankets Art had stacked up. "Who's there?" she demanded. "Answer or I'll come and see for myself, and trust me, you don't want me to. I've been reading a really stupid book, and I'm irritated. If I have to come over there, I'm gonna be really irritated, and if I'm really irritated, you don't want me near you."
A hand slipped in and brushed the blanket aside. Punk goggled.
"Slacks? What're you doin' here?"
Fredrick rolled his eyes. "I thought you spoke in street slang."
Punk narrowed her eyes at him, scowling. "What's it gotta do with you? What're you doin' here? How'd you find me?"
"I came to find you because I have another job for you. I've been waiting a week for you to show up. I can't have people running loose that know my business."
"Well ain't that grand?" Punk sniffed, swinging her legs back onto the blanket mountain. "Just so happens, I know you've been expectin' me. But I've been laid up for the past week. No walkin', doctor's orders."
"You haven't been to a doctor," Fredrick scoffed.
"Have a friend that's as good as one of yer fancy slack doctors." Punk picked her book back up. "Thanks for the concern and condolences, but I'm in the middle of a book." She flipped it open and held it in front of her face to block out Fredrick.
Footsteps neared and the book jerked out of her hands. Punk reacted instantly. She catapulted herself towards Fredrick, kicked him in the gut, punched him in the jaw, then jumped away before he could do anything.
Fredrick raised a hand to his face, touched his jaw, then lowered his hand to his belt. Punk saw the pistol.
“Come with me,” he said. Punk's mouth went dry. He was kidnapping her?
“No! My ankle's hurt and... and I'm not going with you!” She limped backwards a couple steps, ankle aching from the sudden exertion.
“If you co-operate, you'll be back here soon enough. I need you and you alone for these missions. I can't have a lot of people knowing what you hear. These people are criminals.”
“You heard me. If the information you get leaks out, they will get word of it, and know someone is listening, and therefore be a lot more guarded in their meeting areas. Plus they'll want to find who was listening in on their meetings. Understand?”
Punk's head spun. She put a hand against the wall. “My ankle's hurt.”
“Not that bad I doubt. You're standing. Come on.”
“Not for the betterment of society? These are criminals, girl. You need to help.”
Punk hesitated. She had little doubt that the man was lying, but that didn't bother her much. What bothered her was the fact she may be forced to go somewhere. Finally, deciding that she may as well comply now instead of being forced, she nodded. “Fine.”
“Good.” Fredrick relaxed a little and motioned to the exit. “This way.”
Punk strode past him, ignoring the throbbing in her ankle. It had had enough rest, it was time for it to do some work. It didn't look like there was much of a choice anyways.
“The car is this way,” Fredrick said, turning down the sidewalk. Punk followed, keeping her chin up as they approached the car. Fredrick opened the back door, and before he could say anything, Punk plopped herself in. She knew it was what he wanted, so why not do it before he commanded it? As she pulled her seat belt into place, she glanced at the man in the passenger seat. He kept his face forward, looking out the front window. From the mirror, Punk could see his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.
“Who's yer chum?” Punk asked as Fredrick started the car.
“None of your business,” the new man growled, turning his head a bit to glare at her from the corner of his eye.
Fredrick let out a nervous chuckle. “He is right, his name is none of your concern.”
Punk shrugged. “He could give me a false name to use, like you did.”
Fredrick's ears reddened, but he made no reply. Punk studied the new guy. He seemed tense, ready to snap at any moment. She almost wanted to snap her fingers next to his head to see his reaction.
“So where are we going?” she asked.
“You'll see.” Fredrick took a turn.
“You didn't blindfold her,” the other man muttered, casting both Punk and Fredrick a glare.
Punk raised an eyebrow. “Why would I need t'be blindfolded, Shades?”
The man's neck tensed even more. He opened the glove box and pulled out a strip of cloth. “Turn around,” he commanded, twisting in his seat to face her.
Punk leaned away from his hands, unclipping her seat belt and scooting as close to the door as possible. “No! Don't touch me!” She grabbed a hold of the door handle, ready to jerk it open and bail out if necessary. Fredrick braked and Punk almost hit her head on his seat. Shades took advantage of this and grabbed her arm. Punk opened her mouth to scream, but he slapped his hand over her mouth, toppling into the back seat and smashing her head against the back of the seat. She struck out, but he blocked the blow with his arm.
Fredrick went in to hysterics. “Calm down! Calm down! Please, girl, we're not going to hurt you! I promise, we just need to blindfold you for safety reasons.”
Punk tried to yell something smart at him, but was impeded by the hand over her mouth. She struggled and managed to hit Shades in the side with her free hand. His hand on her mouth slipped slightly, but instead of towards her chin and closer to freedom, it slipped up, blocking the breathing from her nose. Panicking, she squirmed and punched. She tried to bring her knee up to hit him in the back, but he only took advantage of her being off balance. He pulled her to the side, pressing her against the bottom of the seat. She still couldn't breath. Lights flashed in front of her eyes. She closed her eyes, but the lights remained. She felt her hand slip off of the man's shoulder. What had it been doing there? What man? It felt like she was flying.
She gasped, trying to sit up. Air flowed through her lungs, giving her both relief and pain. Something held her down, and she went limp, gasping in breath after breath. She opened her eyes and struggled to focus on the face in front of her. Her head was tilted up and a piece of fabric obstructed her view. She didn't try to move, even as Shades let go of her. Had she not been blindfolded, she would have glared at him. But as it was, she had to make do with frowning.
“Stay quiet and stay there, unless you want something unpleasant to happen.” She felt something cold press against her shoulder. She managed to keep back the multitude of things she wanted to say.
“We're almost there,” Fredrick said. Punk could detect a bit of nervousness in his voice. “Just relax. Nothing is going to happen to you if you co-operate.”
Shades shifted as he asked, “Understand?”
Punk clenched her jaw and shut her eyes under the blindfold. “Yes.”
The car stopped. The door popped open and Shades grabbed Punk's arm, pulling her out. “Let's go.”
Punk tripped. Trying to keep off of her ankle while still staying balanced when she couldn't see anything was a difficult thing to pull off. Shades tugged at her. “Come on, stop falling over.”
Punk muttered a couple of curses under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothin'.” Punk's feet scuffled across concrete, then grass and dirt. She tripped again as her ankle complained about the exercise.
Shades dragged her back up, giving her a shake. “Stop it.”
“She is hurt, Hugh,” Fredrick warned.
Hugh. So that was his name. Punk smirked to herself.
“Is she? How?”
“Hm.” He continued dragging her along beside him.
At last, they stopped. “Okay. Tell her.” Hugh let go of Punk's arm and undid her blindfold. They were standing in a partially wooded area. She could see a stone building off in the trees.
Fredrick stepped in front of her. “We blindfolded you so that there is no chance that you will run away without giving us the information. And though, I guess, it is still possible, I'm sure you know that we'll find you again.”
“And you won't enjoy it if you run and we catch you again,” Hugh added with a menacing glare. Punk scowled at him.
“Yes.” Fredrick glanced at Hugh. “Anyways, you are going to go to that house over there.” He waved a hand. “There is someone guarding outside. He makes regular rounds of the house and is armed. You need to listen in on the conversation going on, then report back to us here.”
“How'm I supposed to listen in on it if there's someone patrolling?”
“I was getting to that. There's a big tree next to the house. Climb onto it, then onto the roof. You can lower yourself into the chimney.”
Punk sighed. “Whatever. I'm getting paid for this?”
“Yes, of course.” Fredrick put his hands in his pockets.
“Fine.” She started walking towards the house. Hugh grabbed her by the shoulder and whirled her to face him. He pressed his pistol against her belly. “If you get caught and tell on us, I will come after you myself. And I won't just kill you either.”
Punk's stomach did a flip. She nodded, leaning away from the gun as much as possible. Hugh let go of her and turned away. Fredrick nodded to her, and she limped into the woods. What had she gotten herself into?
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