Jacinda Cross

Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

October 26th, 2014, 1:30 am #1

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. America was in decline by this time, and it just seemed safer that way. 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. He also hunted wolfkin where he could.

He was an outdoors' man who, when not hunting Atharim prey, went after animals. He relished the hunt, the slow process of stalking and closing in prey, and then, finally, trapping and killing it. He preferred trapping and the slow death by hand, feeling the life leave the body as it twitched and fought. Wolfkin were a particular challenge, given their abilities. But he relished that part, pitting himself against them. The contest and survival. Life and death.

And sometimes, occasionally, a girl hiking with her boyfriend would go missing. The boyfriend would be killed quickly and the girl would disappear for days and weeks. A body might sometimes be found in a snowdrift that melted early, or when something disturbed the land, revealing a shallow grave, always in much worse shape. They weren't as challenging prey as the men might be, but the payoff was so much more fun.

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. Life off the grid took work and Jack seemed happy to have another man about.

Regan, though, had a thing for Jacinda. Already a loner with a touch 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. He wanted her but she couldn't know what he'd done. He began taking Jacinda hunting with him. They would sometimes split up while stalking. On one such hunt, he left her alone and went back to Dorothy's cabin. He raped and brutally murdered her.

In order to tie Jacinda to him completely, he mutilated the body in the way a feeding rougarou might. When he and Jacinda returned, 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 mother. He revealed what he was- an Atharim hunter- and that they could track the creature together.

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, but Regan lied to her. Together they stalked, tortured, and killed the man. Jacinda relished the feeling of revenge and power she felt in that moment, mingled with the horror and fear and sorrow and loss.

That night, in an emotional rush and turmoil from the day's activities, Regan raped her, though she didn't see it that way. She was only 12 years old. Consent was not something she'd even heard of. Nor did she realize how he'd manipulated her. In her loss and rage and power and satisfaction, it felt like love to her.

It was the beginning of a strange sort of relationship. Regan viewed her as his daughter and wife. He treated her as his partner, though he manipulated her, limiting how much she interacted with people, what she saw and read- everything in her entire life. She depended on him as the only family she had. He was her god and world and her life. That was when she took his last name.

They hunted other creatures over the years. Despite any appearance of humanity they might have- especially in the case of wolfkin and (later when they started cropping up) channelers and their families, she had no compassion. The truth was, the gaping sucking hole in her heart was only filled when she was hunting and killing. It was the only power she felt she had.

She never knew of, nor would she understand, Regan's occasional hungers for more. She needed a reason for her hunts. She was a soldier in a war, protecting humanity from darkness and enslavement. And usually, she was so aroused it all that she and Regan had frenzied sex afterwards.

Regan was killed after he'd been caught by a nest of rougarou. Jacinda was only 20, but in many ways, was still only a child. And with his death, she was completely and totally alone. It was a terrifying time for her, but eventually she found her way.

By then, Regan's reputation as an Atharim hunter was pretty well established and she had been known as his 'neice', a fierce hunter on her own. She continued the work and discovered her own skills.

She was able to ferret out the smallest details, to latch on to rumor and whispers and hints, and then piece the clues together to paint a complete picture of her prey and where they had gone. She stayed at a crime scene for hours, developing a sense of what the creatures had felt and seen. She got in their head. And she was very good.

Unlike some Atharim, she had no problem making sure the kin of those who died of 'the sickness' were also put down. They weren't her favorite kills. The creatures, chupecabras and rougs, wefuke and queztals, she had more fun with and took her time. If the Atharim wanted them alive for study, she was able to get them, though the takes weren't always clean.

As the years went by, her reputation grew throughout the country among the American Atharim.

She was the person who always got the job done.
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 14th, 2018, 2:53 am #2


2021
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 late May 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 feel of the seams of the road against the tires.

Still, it had been a nice trip. The hunt around Durango had been good and on whim, Regan decided to head to the hot springs another 50 miles up the road in Pagosa. A good night. Mostly. Regan was different.

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

Which was odd. She had just turned 20. She was starting to really learn herself, now that she was a woman, finally understand her body. She'd grown taller and taller until now she was about his height. Last night, playing and wrestling around, she'd actually pinned him, felt 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. Well, she had been twelve when he'd taken her. Guess at twelve, any man looked big.

He sensed her look 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, one of those places all lavishly decorated and with a nice wall and wrought iron gate with initials in metal work. Isolated. Empty. 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. The smell of burned breakpads from semis was noticeable.

She always liked this part, 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, slamming from one side to the other, up and down, her stomach in her throat one moment, in her feet the next, as the car went this way and that. She couldn't help but smile at Regan.

And the sun was stronger here, or at least it seemed so. She closed her eyes and could feel the temperature changes on her skin as they 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 just thought of it as the Grizzly place, because 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. "This is my home. Always has been. My parents are buried here." That last was said weakly. It always made her sad to think of her mom and dad.

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 not together. 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, cut her to the heart, the way he'd stopped. He seemed to see her look because 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. That's all she wanted to hear. The fear and hurt faded. 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.

:)
]]
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 14th, 2018, 6:21 pm #3


2021
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 interference for it and that took time to whittle down.

But now...damn it! She felt this tearing in her heart she hadn't felt since....well since her father and her mother were killed. That image was burned into her brain. Regan had been honest with her. He didn't shield her from the sight, but treated her as an adult. Her momma ravaged and bitten and carved into, butchered.

She remembered the rage. It had always been there.
Too much of it, Pa used to say. "Quick kills. Whether a danger or for food, always make quick kills." But she had been fascinated by how things died. It mesmerized her. She was just trying to understand the difference, how it could be alive one moment, dead the next. 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. The feel of the metal on skin. Information. 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 separate it from the need to react? The sensation from the panicky need to act?

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. It wasn't the suffering that she wanted Pa had been wrong. Regan understood though. And he let her experiment, showed her how.

Well, especially on that roug pretending to be an old man. Because the rage DID come on her then, remembering 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, transferred 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. Where she had been born and had died and been reborn.

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. The air lost the smells of home. 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. Her eyes stung and then there were tears that she tried to hide from Regan. She was dying.

She felt adrift at sea...not that she'd ever seen anything bigger than a big lake safely bounded by mountains. She dashed the tears away and tried to push away the feel that she was lost. 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. Or maybe irritated.

Later, at one of the motels, the nausea remained and 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. Alternating between curling up on the bed and running for the bathroom.

Regan brought her some pepto and ginger ale and some saltines and she was able to keep something down. Some soup. It must have 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 in the hotel room and was very bad.

And for some reason she felt as if she had lost something. She cried and cried, She tried to hide it from Regan. She didn't want him to know how much moving away from home was tearing her up. She just wanted to die.

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. TV got boring and her tablet didn't do much for her. He didn't touch her either. Not that she wanted sex. She just wanted human contact, now more than ever. She wanted to be held. 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 all 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 one to talk to since he wasn't talking.

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. Haven't 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?"

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. After everything this past week, it was like seeing the sun for the first time. 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 wash over her. There was a lot of humidity and it was warm, but the smell of the fields and the asphalt mixed together were pungent. 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 with that word-" 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.

She took it. "Nice to meet you Julie. I'm Jacinda."

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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 15th, 2018, 10:15 pm #4


2021
The girl seemed to relax and went back to 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 everything 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 in control. 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 run. She felt all this pent up energy within her. A week in bed, weeping and sleeping. She guessed she had gotten enough rest and over the flu or whatever it was. 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 do this often. 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. Jacinda was surprised at how insistant he was being. "Yeah but why? Jacinda will take care of her." The man looked at Jacinda. She smiled at him, not sure what he saw when he looked at her. 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." He knew all about geo-locating phones.

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 niece 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 head back east with her dad. She had an older sister, 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 and hearing 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. 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 that tugged at Jacinda for some reason- before heading out with Regan to the auto store. Soon Jacinda was glad of the 2 beds. She could relax on one while Julie was on the other.

It was pretty peaceful.
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 16th, 2018, 10:53 pm #5


2021
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.

So many shows she didn't recognize. Or that she wasn't allowed to watch. One caught her eye for a moment- Law and Order:SVU- and she watched for a little while. But she was nervous, eyeing the door, putting the volume down. Regan hated that show. Told her how terrible it was. He was not joking around either. He was as deadly serious as she'd ever seen him. It made her curious but afraid.

Finally, her fear of being caught made her turn it off. They were just outside after all. The occasional sounds of them outside working could be heard easily.

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 cheerleading 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?"

Jacinda smiled, her eyes twinkling. The girl seemed to want an audience and she felt good to be one. 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?"

Julie got up and started.

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 a beautiful fun energetic youth and silliness. She danced around with the remote as her microphone, sliding around the floors in her socks. And the songs....She had remembered Katy Perry's name but she had not remembered the music. 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 talking over the music. She knew that a lot of people mixed races 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. But 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."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 Facebook. 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. Too much. 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 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 protectively. Regan came back into the room. "Jacinda, can you come with me? I want 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. Every bad possibility 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."

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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 17th, 2018, 7:46 pm #6


2021
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. The absence of fear or shame. 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 then again, 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. 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.

Her voice was a whisper. "Are you sure? She seemed 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, Julie wasn't exactly her age. Julie was young. But in some ways- embarrassing ways, Jacinda admitted to herself- Julie seemed older. It would be nice to have her with them.

And yet...part of her hated the idea. Violently rejected it, refused to even consider it for a moment. She tried to put into the words the her reaction, for her intense revulsion at the idea. It just....something bothered her deeply. 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. And somehow, deep down, she knew she would lose Regan, was already losing him.

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 wood 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. She was trapped in her mind, like a maze or a never ending circle. Around and around, she chased the feeling and couldn't catch it except that she did.not.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, not 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 that as a mantra. But like a word that was repeated enough till it meant nothing, the mantra did nothing. Even Regan seemed fake, as if he didn't mean what he was saying about their future. As if he were lying.

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 didn't want to look at Regan. She took a drink and saw a man come in. There was something off about him, though she couldn't say what, exactly. He moved....funny, as if his clothes were too tight, even though they were typical cold weather nighttime wear.

He wore a wool cap with ear flaps 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 himself. 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 craved.

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. And 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, looked her up and down. "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- 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. And maybe a touch of sadness? Why was he sad? Maybe because his little girl was all grown up. She reached out her hand and took his, squeezed it.

"You can do this Jacinda." Then his voice became wistful. "My girl...you'll always be my girl." It felt like a goodbye. She was leaving a girl. She would come back a woman. His woman.

She smiled, kissed him on his cheek, looked at the man at the bar and then left by the back door. She went back to the truck and got her gun, as well as her big hunting knife. She glanced across the lot to their room. Julie might be in there with her dad. Or maybe in their own room. 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 the roug to howl, to scream, to acknowledge her. It had killed her mother. Raped, tortured, even chewed on her. 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 drag. 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. She went to the truck, a camper shell on the bed.

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 rags 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 hacking 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 at all. They were climbing. Another five minutes and the vehicle pulled to a stop. She could smell 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.
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 19th, 2018, 7:07 pm #7


2021
The back of Jacinda's head felt like it had been split open. Her head lolled to one side and it 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 everything was blury. She had trouble focusing. The room seemed shadowed in browns and black, though they moved about.

She heard voices but had trouble distinguishing words. Bits and pieces came to her, but made no sense. "....a gift...." "...enjoy..." "....not as 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 less 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 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 seize her breast disgustingly before moving 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 you..." it promised.

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 knew what they wanted. But not why. She didn't understand. She thought people were their 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, entering 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 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 crawl through. She tried to stand and was successful on the second try, though still wobbly on her feet. And she was unable to stand up straight. She tried to drag the cot and failed, jerking and bruising her wrist again against the cuffs. 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 was sure of it. Her heart leaped. He came! She waited for the sound of the door being unlocked. Waited.

Waited.

Waited.

Nothing. No movement. No sound. Of anyone out there. Had she imagined it? The longer nothing happened, the more sure of that she became. She would have to save herself. Regan's voice came back to her. "I think you could take him." She latched onto that. Except 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, one of them said. Whatever they thought to do with her. She looked at the cot, saw the metal slats peeking out. Grimly, she set her teeth. 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 at the palm. Not small enough. But close. So close.

She looked around the room. The fire. No. She wasn't going to burn her hand off, obviously. There were no other tools or implements in the room either. 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 be able to break those bonds either.

Still....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 to me every vile thing I can imagine. 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, rusted and sharp. 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, pressing down with her free hand. She felt more tearing. It fucking hurt but she tried that thing she remembered. Just nerve signals. Just information. Just a signal. 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 used 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, the terrible pain on her bones, everything, instead imagining she could hear them coming. Too late. Too late. She told her self and pushed and finally

finally

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 rip into a bandage.

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. 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 that protected her, Mostly. She felt some stabs of glass. But that was livable. She reached her good hand- the pain was sharp, but at least wasn't her elbow wasn't broken, she hoped- to try for the locks. It was too far down. She had to get right against the door and put as much of her arm through as possible, ignoring the jutting broken pieces of glass digging into her armpit.

Her fingers brushed the look. She pressed herself closer against the door, stretched out her arm, 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 nostrils as she face pressed against the door as closely as possible.

Again, she tried, the latch now almost completely unlocked. It was nearly horizontal, needing one final turn, and she just.couldn't.reach.it. Fuck fuck fuck!!!! So close. One final click! She took a breath and jumped up, jamming her arm down as far as possible.

The move cut deep into her armpit and bruised her badly, but she barely noticed, feeling the last click into place. She pulled her arm in, trying to avoid cutting it on any more glass, and tried the handle. The door swung open, the cold air rushing at her. the smell of trees and freedom.

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

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. She wasn't as good with her left as her right, but it would have to do. She hunted around and found a length of wood about a foot and a half long 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 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 toward. After a moment, she heard movement and shifted around the tree as he approached the truck, looking at it curiously. He had taken the bait.

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. 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 lay to the side said it was broken.

She looked around. The night was lit up by the moon, 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 at a time.

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 big, but it was good enough. She'd be able move around.

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 made up a nest. Four seemed the number. Maybe. Hopefully. 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 his truck. She could escape.

Leave him and escape.

But 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.
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

January 21st, 2018, 2:42 am #8


2021
The sounds of the night seemed to grow louder as she stood, her feet rooted in the ground, 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 prey 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 as well as soft, the dragging of something heavy, the clink of metal. And other things.

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

What was he even doing here? When she watched him leave the restaurant he'd been stumbling about drunk. Was that how they caught him? Maybe he'd followed to watch after her and had been too drunk?

She remembered the drive. Once they had turned off the highway, there had been no following headlights reflected on the roof of the camper shell. He had to have been at a distance with the lights off.

But if he was here, why hadn't he gotten her free? Why hadn't her unlocked the door? It would have cost him nothing, just one turn. Just a pick for the cuffs. That would have been it. Why not? Why? It made no sense.

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

Just then a cry cut through night, a burst of birds high in the trees taking flight in an explosion of feathers, and she jumped. Her heart thundered, galloping in her ears. It seemed ripped from his soul, the sound slicing her from neck to groin and she felt her strength spill out, 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 him? 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 take turns.....she 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. Her blood, on her hand, the key to her having freed herself. She had gotten out. Escape first. Die second. Was she a rabbit? A pathetic little girl, who just got free, and 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. But it was her choice to act.

And she moved. 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 one 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 for good. But they'd go to the motel. And....then...She stopped, heart frozen, the puzzle pieces dropping into place without mercy. Julie. He'd let it go at her objection, but that didn't mean anything, she realized. When she disagreed, he either badgered her till she changed or just put his foot down. Instead, this time, he had changed the subject.

She started again, moving slower. 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 Appalachians.

She can see him. And he is looking over to the passenger seat- and it is Julie sitting there, little Julie, freckles on her nose, the little girl who sang into a remote and danced in her socks, whi thought a boy at her school was cute and was giddy 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 she understands. 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 in the night, 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 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. Like I was.

And the girl Jacinda dies because she knows she has to make a choice. A sacrifice. She has to decide. Regan with Julie crying. Or no Regan and Julie safe. Because she knows Regan is done with her. Even if Julie safely escapes, it will only be a matter of time. He will find 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 knows Regan was telling the truth about too many hunts. (She refuses to follow this thought, latches on to something safer.) And she will be completely 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, of being next to him even for just a little while longer. The shelter.

And Jacinda decides. Her heart is broken, but 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! The word ripped from the core of her. 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 the result would be the same.

It felt as if time had slowed. Everything slowed. Sounds deepened. Everything moved as though through molasses. 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 right shoulder where the arm joined, as if they had been carving on a hunk of meet. 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 in his eyes was plain, the same hope she'd felt when 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 and then rage. 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 in, 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 at that moment 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. The quiet pressed in around her. 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 though 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 quiet. They must be out. Or in 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 she saw Julie and her dad walking back from the restaurant. She was running around, poking him and laughing. He chased 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 had been an element of.....she wasn't sure what it was, but it wasn't what she saw here. Pure trust and joy.

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. Honestly, she was terrified. 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. She already missed him.

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, so thankful for 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. She had to.

As she drove off, Katy Perry sang Part of Me

[[Story resolved in Time to Breathe]]
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

March 1st, 2018, 12:21 am #9


2031
She was cold. No question about that. People always thought the desert meant you'd die of heat exhaustion or something. Well, this was about as desert as desert could be, the air seriously dry and already she could feel her lips were probably gonna be chapped bad. But without her thermals under her clothes, her heavy coat, scarf, gloves, and beanie she'd be seriously suffering from a case of being dead.
Ahh, but damn Monument Valley was beautiful. Massive redstone formations jutting out from the desert floor, fingers and hands and tables, arising out of the red and orange sands. The Three Sisters. The Mittens. Yei Bi Chei. Others. Being January, snow blanketed the ground, the shock of white against red rock and sand as sharp a contrast as one could imagine. It made everything more spectacular.

Her engine was off. The quiet pressed in around her. Not even the air stirred. Her eyes swept over the landscape, just letting it all soak in, to seep into her, letting the peace and stillness linger until she was one with it all. She needed that.

Her heart beat hard inside her chest. She was only a few hundred miles from South Fork. This was the closest she'd come in ten years. 10 Fucking years! Jump down highway 163 and head 20 miles to Kayenta, then east on 160, north at Teez Nez Iah, through Four Cornors. Just a Straight run on 160, past Shiprock, Farmington, Durango, over the Wolf Creek Pass, and there she'd be. And that damn carved Grizzly Bear monument just outside the same old restaurant would be there smiling at her. Welcome home.

She felt like she wanted to throw up. Instead she shoved it down. She wasn't a girl anymore. But still, this was harder than expected. Way harder.

The smell of woodsmoke caught her and she breathed it deeply. There was a hint of something blacker too, bitter, in the smell. Her nose twitched. Coal. Black Mesa still had massive deposits of coal, even after the Navajo Nation revoked Peabody Coal Mine's charter. The Navajo (the name still on the treaties despite Dineh being the proper term now) still had rights to all local minerals. Coal was nasty, but when it was cold and wood scarce, people didn't get caught up in worrying about the environment or their lungs.

But at least coal was the worst they'd use. There were uranium deposits around here too. She'd seen the remnants of the old pit outside Tuba City, all covered over now with rock and concrete, the houses next to it stripped down to nothing but a collection of foundation pads, occasional pieces of the framing sticking out like old bones. Yeah, the federal government hadn't had much concern about having families live and work next to those mines- or all the birth defects it would cause. 15 year old kids with the bodies of 80 year olds, frail and shakey and small. Fucked up.

Yeah, she knew this place. And was as close as she was willing to going home. Close enough. And already it hurt. She missed him. Badly. Felt guilt for having left him like that. She tried to honor all that was good about him. But it was a lonely life all the same. Empty save for the hunt. She had a hard time getting close to people. It was easier keeping things casual- everyone at arm's length.

Her tablet sat in the passenger seat. Still working. Of course she never applied the updates. There were a shit load of them now. Damn Apple. Only a matter of time one of those bricked it for good. But she wanted this one. This exact one. It brought back good memories and she wasn't willing to lose it yet.

But there was something here. And she had someone to meet. No addresses in these parts. Or at least none like most places had. 'First right after the wash, left along the skeleton mesa ridge, between the two peaks, first hogan on the left next to the rock outcropping.' Not easy. But puzzles were always her thing.

The teepee would be a giveaway too. Not a Navajo thing.The Native American Church (NAC) would be holding a ceremony, with their peyote and mix of first people traditions and Christianity. Not her concern of course. She was bilagaana, so she'd stay away until they welcomed her. Nizhoni- or Jill- would be there, she was sure. When the teepee was rolled up. When the wool blankets were taken off the doors.

Then she'd show. They'd get started.

She was uncomfortable being here. It was too close. But she also....ahh....she didn't know. She was looking for something.
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Joined: October 25th, 2014, 4:48 pm

March 3rd, 2018, 10:44 pm #10


2031
She waited in the Forerunner with the windows down. She was a good mile from the homes. It would be intrustive to come any closer. The group of two houses and a hogan meant extended family lived here. The entire outside area was one big living room for them

Course right now there were around 10 other vehicles surrounding the place, all spiraled to focus on the teepee that seemed to spring out near one of the houses.

She wasn't sure how long the ceremony would last, but she wasn't exactly close to anywhere else. Not like she could just jet off real quick. It had take a couple hours of driving from Gouldings just to get here.

Nothing for it but to wait. She backed up a bit and found a place to park so the sun would shine through the driver side window and she could keep an eye on the place. She took off her coat and beanie and cracked the two front windows. As the sun got stronger it would start to warm up and she liked the weak breeze, its knife chill playing around her neck and face. She set her seat back and closed her eyes.

There was always time to nap- halfway, anyway. Her gun was sitting next to her and she had opened herself up to her surrroundings.

She let herself drift, focused on her breath in and out, and let her thoughts drift across her mind lazily like clouds across the sky, leaves on a river. Just observed them uncritically, unexamined, and gradually she drifted off into that non dreamy state of asleep and awake, her mind a swimmer dipping below and cresting the surface with ease.

She was aware of the shift of the sun by the change in warmth on her arm and cracked an eye. It was after 3, now. In the distance she saw the covering halfway unwound from the skeleton of sturdy poles, the teepee now a carcass being skinned to reveal the bones and muscle and sinew beneath it.

It took an hour for it to be loaded along with whatever else had been used in the ceremony, and for the first truck to rumble past her. She saw the faces of the passengers turn to watch her as they went by, some curious, some showing hostility. One truck stayed behind the longest before it too finally left.

In the distance she could see movement in the yard. It was time. She started her vehicle and moved forward. Between the sun and the other trucks, the ground had been churned to slush and mud. This mud-clay-whatever was dense and sticky, the kind that coated the bottom of any truck, filled up the treads of any tire, no matter how wide or deep. She'd be seeing muddy water flow from underneath her ride for the next month whenever she washed it. But momentum would keep her from getting stuck.

Finally, she arrived, somewhere in the center point between all three dwellings. This close she could also see a shade-house lean to and a sweat lodge. The teepee had been nearer one of the houses, while the furthest one had a Navajo rug the door. Two ceremonies, then, one NAC and one traditional.

She waited until she saw movement of the curtains in one of the windows and then got out and stood by her vehicle. A couple rez mutts- blue healers- wandered around, sniffing and peeing on her tires. She smiled at that. Regan used to joke that was their version of texting.

The door with the rug opened and it was pulled inside before a woman about her age, pretty with her tan skin, came out. She had long dark hair in two braids over each shoulder of her dark green wool coat. Beneath it were jeans tucked into boots.

She wasn't smiling but was not unfriendly either. The dogs moved closer and the woman hissed at them, sending them away. Jacinda breathed, not at the dogs, but that finally it was beginning. But you couldn't live life avoiding things that were hard.

She reached out her hand. "Jacinda Cross,"she said into the quiet. The woman took it but only squeezed softly. That's right. She had to remember. It was aggressive to squeeze, though not everyone remembered anymore. The old ways. Regan had always liked to squeeze unless he needed something. He wasn't exactly Martin Luther King when it came to race relations.

"Jill Benally." Her dark eyes didn't seem to say if she was glad or not that Jacinda had come. She turned her head indicating the house she'd come from. "My father is expecting you." She motioned for Jacinda to follow, which she did.

She was normally content to let there be quiet, but for some reason she felt like talking. Maybe it had been the long day of travel and then waiting, all without a word to anyone. She looked around as they walked. "I forgot how beautiful it was out here." Her words seemed to linger in the quiet of the afternoon.

The woman- Jill- answered, giving her a sidelong glance that seemed assessing. "Oah', father said you were from around here."

Jacinda smiled weakly. "A couple hundred miles actually. South Fork. But I've been here a few times." And then, with the words on her lips, for some reason, her desire to talk just kind of drained away.

They got to the door and kicked their shoes at the concrete steps, scraped the slush and mud against the mounted metal brushes and then went inside. Of course there was where footwear came off and was put by the door on the tiles.

She felt heat from the wood stove like a punch to her face, after having been out in the cold for so long. The coat and thermals now felt stifling. Jill helped her with her jacket and she did the same, and soon both hung on the pegs by the door. She was going to have to change, though. And soon, or she'd be soaked to her skin.

The walls were sparsely decorated: an American flag, a few faded pictures of men and women in uniform, family photos. There was carpet, for which she was glad. Her stockinged feet would get cold from the tiles, she was sure. Two girls maybe 6 or 7 sat on a couch watching TV. A table in the kitchen had four chairs around it. She could smell some sort of stew- the bite to it saying it was mutton.

But what drew her attention was the very old man at the table. She didn't know how old. Didn't know the age markers to look for. His hair was wispy and yellowish white, his tanned skin leathery and wrinkled. Bu his black eyes had laugh wrinkles around the corners and around the mouth. He work a checkered shirt, his sleeves rolled up. A silver bracelet studded with turquoise circled one wrist.

And there on his forarm was the snake, an old faded tattoo, the ink black-green. It was faded and the details were hard to make out. But still unmistakable.

She reached out her hand and took his hand in hers, squeezed softly with just the top half of her fingers. His skin was loose and smooth against her fingertips. "Jacinda, Mr...." She trailed off, not sure what to call him.

There was a hint of a smile and he gave a short nod. "Hosteen. Albert Hosteen." It wasn't really a clear answer. She'd play it safe. "I am glad you came. Normally, I'd ask another Dineh, but we had a need."

She had wondered at that herself. There were other Atharim among the Navajo, though how many, she wasn't sure. Still, she'd been on the boards and seen the request. She'd been in Utah then, near Dinosaur, Colorado. Before that Idaho, the Dakotas, before that....

In retrospect it was obvious she'd been working her way back to where it had begun for her, albeit in a roundabout way. He nodded to a chair and she sat. Jill asked "Would you like some coffee?" There was still reservation there, but a bit of friendless peeked through her black eyes.

Jacinda nodded. "Yes, thank you. Black." The woman nodded and starting fixing it. Jacinda looked at Hosteen with just the hint of interest. She had let the feel of the land sink into her and somehow she just knew that being pushy and in a hurry would be wrong.

Once the cups were out and the coffee steaming, thanks given, did Hosteen speak. He'd been watching her. His voice was thin. "You are different than Regan."

The name cut through to her heart and she choked, her eyes widening. "I'm sorry. What?" It had felt like a punch to her gut.

He smiled, his teeth yellowed, probably from chew. It was not an unfriendly smile, though. A chuckle could be heard coming from his chest. He had that way of old people about him. Everything amused him. Not ha-ha funny. Just that he'd seen all life had to offer and was surprised by very little. "Oh, just that he would be talking my ear off by now. You wait. You're quiet. Different."

She relaxed a little though she wasn't sure why- or why his words had hit her. "Ah. Well. Yeah, I guess he would have." At least the first few years anyway. That last year he had spoken less and less to her. But she shoved those memories away. Not something she wanted to think about.

She wanted to change the subject. Maybe it was rude, but she was starting to feel that discomfort that came from being reminded of him. "So....Mr. Hosteen, what do you need?"

He regarded her for a minute. Maybe she wasn't coming off so zen now. Well, what's done is done. He glanced at Jill. There was an air of sadness to him now, the amusement having slipped away. "A hunt. We need to hunt. Something has been killing us." He got quiet but this time she bit her tongue, forced herself to wait. The painful part had passed. He looked at the window, she realized, looking to where the teepee had been.

"My son in law was killed a few days ago. His family had a ceremony here for him today. And we honored him with our own ways too. His spirit needed to go to rest. It cannot return here." She looked at Jill. For a widow she seemed put together. Maybe it was shock.

"I am sorry for your loss." It always sounded weak and trite. But what else was there.

She nodded. "Thank you. But it wasn't my husband. It was my sister's. She is at her home there with her in-laws. " She nodded to the girls. "My nieces. They are young still. It hasn't hit them." Jacinda nodded.

She looked bacl at Hosteen and nodded. "Ok. A hunt. I mean no disrespect, Mr. Hosteen....but you seem a bit too old to hunt." A sharp laugh cut the air, though humor painted his face.

"Always so blunt. Yes, that is Regan. Don't be fooled, girl. This old wolf still has bite. But....I do not mean me." He nodded and Jill rolled up the denim sleeve of her shirt.

Jacinda nodded.
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