Kale could feel his endurance leaking out as steadily as the stream of blood that gushed from his right thigh. Every step shot a new burst of red-hot pain through his wound, yet he couldn’t slow down. He couldn’t rest. Hand pressed over the warm, sticky wetness, he half-limped, half-jogged through the thick trees and underbrush.
His mind burned from the heat of betrayal. How could he have done this? How is it possible?
Events of the past hour swirled through his head like so many rustling leaves ...
Sneaking the back way to Eric’s place. His buddy checking on him, making sure he was well-hidden in the secret closet in the back room. The phone conversation. The police sirens and screeching tires. The escape through the window ...
The deafening gunshot.
A tangle of underbrush caught on Kale’s right foot and his leg gave out, casting him face-first to the ground. A loud groan, almost shout, escaped his lips as he landed on his hands and chest. His leg turned to fire as it slammed against the moss-covered forest floor.
Kale moaned, his eyes watering. He glanced at his leg. The top half of his jeans was soaked in deep red.
The forest trees were beginning to spin in circles around him. His head felt light ... and heavy at the same time. All he wanted to do was rest it for a few moments on the cool, scratchy underbrush.
Kale jerked his dizzy, throbbing head upright and strained to listen for sounds from his pursuers. The treetops swayed, their leaves clapping against each other. Crickets sang. A few woodland birds squawked in the distance. But no footsteps. No dogs. No whacking of helicopter blades above the canopy of trees.
Kale wondered if he had lost too much blood and wasn’t thinking straight. They would have followed him wouldn’t they? A wounded man couldn’t be very hard for the cops to chase. He’d be easy prey. So why hadn’t they caught up to him?
He planted his elbows in front of him and pulled himself forward, army style. He tried his best to keep weight off his right leg. It wouldn’t be far now. He had to keep going. Even if he couldn’t hear anyone, he had to reach a haven.
The clearing was just ahead. And the house. The brick sidewalk. And there was Cara.
“Kale!” She ran to him and pulled at his arm, doing her best to help him to his feet. “I heard on the news they were looking for you. I thought you would have hid at Eric’s. What happened?” She helped him to the house as she talked, her petite frame weighed down from the weight of his shoulder on hers.
“He ... he sold me out, Cara.” Kale stared at the brick sidewalk going by and noticed that blood had flowed down to his shoe. “I couldn’t believe it, but he ... he did.” He gulped at the air, trying to catch a full breath.
“No! He wouldn’t. Not my Eric.”
“You’re the only ... other one I could trust, Cara.”
They were in the house now, and Cara stumbled slightly as she helped Kale lower onto a couch. “We’ve got to do something about that leg.”
He grabbed her hand. “Cara, I’m sorry about Eric.”
She looked down. “Yes, well, I guess this probably calls off our engagement. I won’t marry a traitor.”
“Now I know what the Bible means,” Kale coughed, “When it talked about brother turning against brother in the end times. Eric was like my brother.” Kale put pressure on his leg. “And when the American government places a law that convicts anyone who dares preach the Gospel, I think it’s safe to say we’re near the end times.”
Kale’s eyelids were turning to lead ... closing ... tighter ...
“Kale.” He awoke to a gentle touch on his shoulder. “Good news. I’ve captured him.”
“What?” He looked up to see Eric standing before him, hands cuffed behind his back. “What is ...”
“I’m sorry, Kale.” Eric’s eyes were downcast. “I should’ve known.”
“Should’ve known what? I heard you on the phone with the cops. Saying yes, I was there and you’d take care of me.”
Suddenly, police came from every corner of the room, crawling in like ants.
“It was her.” Eric looked at him with agony in his eyes. “I was on the phone with Cara.”
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