“Anthony,” Randy called to him and Anthony’s heart climbed into his throat. They had never followed him before.
He stopped, and turned to face his tormentors. Randy, with Dave at his side, stood atop a small rise just inside the tree line.
“I don’t want to fight you,” Anthony said.
“You don’t seem to have a choice,” Randy said as he slammed his fist into his open palm and walked towards him. Anthony glanced to his right. The railroad tracks vanished into the heat waves in the distance. He so wished he could vanish like they did. Maybe then everyone would feel bad for the misery they had brought to his short life. But he doubted that. Most likely they would just forget him.
The thought stirred something deep within his psyche and he discovered a rage that flashed white-hot as it swelled within him. He let his backpack fall to the ground and quickly closed the distance between them.
Randy was taken back by this sudden turn of events and put up his hands as Anthony closed on him. “So the pussy wants to fight,” he said.
Neither of them were trained fighters, and though Randy outweighed him by a full fifty pounds, Anthony’s rage gave him exactly the edge he needed. He wasn’t out to torment as Randy was. He was defending himself, and as he closed with Randy he unleashed a barrage of hits that would have made any prizefighter proud.
Randy crumpled under the attack, his nose bloodied, his lip split, and he cried out as he backed away from Anthony’s assault.
Without hesitation Randy turned and ran across the railroad tracks, plunging into the dense brush that bordered the forest. Anthony looked at Dave, who held up his hands as he backed away.
“I don’t want any part of this,” Dave said.
He could have let it go right there and been done with it, but the years of torment fed his rage and Anthony turned to pursue Randy.
Randy jumped over the narrow ditch running parallel to the tracks, and plunged headlong into the thick underbrush, crashing through the forest as Anthony chased him down the hillside.
He ran through the trees, his feet kicking up the carpet of dead leaves that blanketed the floor as the ground became steeper beneath his feet. With a shout of surprise, his feet slipped out from under him and he slid through the trees on the carpet of leaves.
Tree trunks whizzed by him, narrowly missing his head, as he tried everything he could to grab one of the passing trunks. He snagged a sapling and was brought to a halt. Below him lay an opening in the trees that revealed the tops of trees much lower. Above him Anthony moved down through the forest towards him.
“I’m sorry,” Randy said as Anthony silently maneuvered through the trees towards him, his face a grim mask of determination
Randy let go of the tree and slid another twenty yards down the hill. The tree line below him was closer and he saw an outcropping of stone. He had no idea where he was, as he’d never come this way before, so he was unaware of the seventy-foot drop that waited just beyond the edge of the outcropping. He glanced behind him and saw that Anthony was less than twenty yards away, picking his way down the hill.
Randy released his grip and slid towards the edge of the outcropping. At the last moment, as his feet shot out over the edge, he grabbed a small tree and brought himself to a stop. His feet stuck out over the edge as he struggled to pull himself away from the cliff.
“Help me,” Randy pleaded, glancing over his shoulder at the sheer drop that awaited him.
Anthony’s face revealed little emotion as he slid the last few feet, and used the tree Randy was holding onto as a footrest. He ground his foot into Randy’s hand.
Randy cried out in pain. His hand slipped and he dropped another foot towards the waiting emptiness below. He kicked out with his feet, searching for any kind of footing, his legs pedaling in thin air.
“Don’t,” he begged, “I’ll do anything you want, anything, but please don’t hurt me.”
Anthony stomped on Randy’s hand.
“No,” Randy screamed, terrified. He found another handhold and Anthony shifted his attack to his other hand. He clung for life as Anthony savagely stomped on his fingers, the tread of his sneakers tearing at Randy’s knuckles.
Then Randy was falling. His foot hit the sheer wall and he spun crazily, the approaching ground and the sky trading places in a swirl of images.
He slammed into the ground, the wind rushing out of him as the sickening sound of bones crunching in his back came from under him. He struggled to catch his breath as the shock of his fall enveloped him in a numbing embrace. His consciousness dimmed and as the emptiness reached up to envelope him he heard whispering voices coming to him as if from a great distance away.
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