Heather stepped out of the bushes and into the light of Danny’s headlamp. Both boys were wide-eyed, their faces struck with fear. They looked ridiculous and Heather couldn’t help it, so she burst out laughing, bent over, holding her stomach. Her dark curls fell over her face, tickling the leaves on the ground.
She finally took a deep breath. “Ooh, that hurt.” She looked straight at the boys again.
“Douche nozzles.” She stifled another giggle. “You should see your faces.”
“Oh, dag, what are you doing here?” Clint pushed his glasses up higher on his face. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
The light from the headlamp illuminated the path ahead. Heather was glad for it. Plus, now she could see the boys’ stupid reactions.
“Man, you guys should try this in the dark. Wicked hard.” She pulled a twig out of her hair. “Well, what’re we waiting for? Let’s go.” She reached into the bushes, pulled out her bike and set it on the path. Straddled it and kicked one foot at the pedal and then turned back to look at the boys. “Seriously, let’s go. Either start moving or gimme the headlamp. I feel like I’ll be picking leaves and twigs from my hair for days.” She reached up and untangled another twig from her tight curls. As she pulled it out, she felt a trickle of blood run down her palm. “That wasn’t a twig.” She licked the trail of blood and the metallic penny-like tang hit her tongue. The taste made her smile. It was one of those weird things she secretly loved. “Thorns got me.”
Danny shined his light at Heather. “You’re gross.” He shook his head and the light went flashing side to side. “You can’t come. Alex’ll kill us if you tag along.”
She groaned. “Way I see it, you got two choices. Either all three of us meet up with Reid and Alex, or I go home and narc you all out.”
“We’re not gonna win this one, Danny,” Clint said. “Let’s just go. We’re already late.”
The boys hopped on their bikes and pushed past Heather.
She thought the whole thing was a stupid idea, too. The difference with her was that she hadn’t been invited. If they’d have asked her, she would’ve said yes, but not before telling them what jackasses they were and that it wasn’t going to make them any cooler even if they pulled it off. Unlike most of the others, she wasn’t afraid.
Wasn’t afraid of most things. Growing up with two brothers saw to that. She was two years younger than Alex and about ten years more tomboy than all the boys combined, minus Reid.
They were always trying to get rid of her. Even though she was arguably the best all-around athlete of all of them, they didn’t give her enough credit. Besides, it wasn’t like there were any girls in the neighborhood to play with. Sure, there was Jessica Karsen, her mom’s best friend’s daughter, but all she wanted to do was play with Barbies, get into her mom’s makeup, and talk about boys. And there was Danny’s little sister, Rebecca, but she was only ten, and, well, a big, whiny baby. It ran in the family.
Heather thought back to the night before, overhearing Alex and Reid discussing their plan to invade the haunted house. She had sat patiently outside Alex’s bedroom door, ear pressed to it while the boys plotted. She’d had a plan of her own, and she knew they’d never see it coming.
So after Reid and Alex had hopped on their bikes and taken off, she’d hopped on her own and headed down to King Street to travel in the dark without a flashlight. It wasn’t quite as easy as she had imagined, but she’d never tell the boys that and she’d never in a million years back down. The farther out from town she got, the harder the ride had become, with hardly any light to guide her way, and the trees and grasses grew wilder and thicker. It was as if the trees were reaching out with hundreds of fingers, grabbing at her hair, getting her tangled and matted. Convinced it would take her too long to get to Alex alone, she tucked herself in the bushes, waiting for Danny and Clint. She knew she could convince them to let her follow.
The anger from getting shut out of the boys’ plans once again made her blood boil, as if it wasn’t hot enough out there already. The sweat dripped down her forehead, into her curls.
Pedaling behind Danny and Clint, she grumbled, “Those shit-for-brains think they can close me out like that. They got another thing coming.”
“What’d ya say?” Clint called back.
She frowned. She hadn’t meant to voice her thoughts out loud, and the constant buzz of the cicadas were driving her mad. The farther they got down the path, the more cicadas there were. Like they were shouting at her to go back. Even the cicadas didn’t want her to come.
“They think they’re so tricky,” she yelled to Clint. “Fucking morons, what they are!” She nodded, agreeing with herself. Then she lowered her voice so only she could hear. “I’ll show them.”
“Guys?” Danny shouted through labored breaths. “You notice it’s getting harder to ride the farther we get? I feel like the woods are closing in around us.”
He slammed his bike to a halt, and Clint and Heather almost ran into him.
“Dude, what was that all about?” Clint butted his bike into Danny’s rear tire.
Danny turned his head back toward the path they’d come, shedding some light. “Look, it’s like there’s no more path.” He gulped. “Like the night ate it all up.”
“Don’t be so stupid.” Heather turned to look at the way they’d come.
The path did seem smaller. It made her wonder how they’d gotten their bikes down it in the first place. The bushes and leaves reached across, locking with the branches on the opposite side of the so-called path. Like, no going back.
A chill ran up her spine. The salty copper taste of her blood still sat heavy in her mouth. She absently brought her hand up and sucked the wound on her finger again, then plucked it out of her mouth with a popping sound.
She sniffed the air. “I think we’re getting close. I can smell the Aqua Velva coming off Alex from here.”
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