For several minutes they drove in silence. Jan sat behind the driver’s seat constantly watching the woods. Brian sat beside her drinking vodka from the bottle. In the back row Matt sobbed, head in hands. Rebecca sat beside him, her hand on his knees.
“Please,” Matt said. “You’re hurting her. Stop for a second. Let me get her.”
Jan touched Josh’s back. “Let them move the body, Josh. You can drive better if you’re the only body in the seat.” You can drive better if you’re the only body in that seat.”
It was difficult for Josh to drive with Tonia’s body in the driver’s seat. He had to twist his own body at awkward angles to reach the gas pedal. His instinct told him to keep driving. Eventually they would hit a town or something. Still, he gave in to the pleas from Matt and the others.
“I’ll stop up ahead at the cross roads,” he said. It was the safest place he’d seen so far. There was a hundred yards of clearing between the vehicle and the edge of the woods. Once he reached it, he hit the brakes. He put it in park but kept the motor running.
He got out as Brian and Matt moved Tonia’s body to the back seat. Jan went to him and they embraced.
“How are you so calm?” Jan pulled back and looked into his eyes.
Josh looked away. “I’m just in survival mode. We shouldn’t stay here long. They have vehicles.”
“We can’t be far from the cabin.” Jan took out her cell again and tapped the screen. “This is really weird. There are cell towers everywhere. I’ve never had service interruption up here.”
“They could be jamming it.”
“Are you serious? Is that possible?”
“We need to get going.” Josh put an arm around her and pushed her back toward the van. “We’ll call my dad from the cabin.”
“Your dad? Shouldn’t we call the police?”
Josh spat and smacked his head. “I’ll explain later.”
As soon as the front seat was clear he started driving again. He did not wait until Tonia’s body was secure. No one complained. From the wide-eyed expressions on their faces, Josh suspected his level of composure scared them as much as anything else. He wanted to explain to them why he was handling this so well but knew he couldn’t. His dad swore him to secrecy.
He was tempted to go as fast as the SUV could take him but the flat tires made steering unpredictable. The sound of rims scraping against the road was eerie and deafening. They needed to move quickly; no one would have a problem tracking them.
Brian came forward and spoke to Jan. “Can we switch spots?”
Jan looked at Brian curiously then slipped past him to sit beside Rebecca. He drank more vodka and stared openly at Josh.
The longer the stare continued, the more uncomfortable Josh became.
“What’s up Bri?”
“Did you catch a look at them?”
Josh nodded. “Just shadows. Three of them. They look big.”
“Did they look human?”
“What?” Josh glared at his friend. “Of course they looked human. What are you talking about?”
“I remember, Josh. We’ve never talked about it but I do. Remember, the bush party?”
“There were a lot of bush parties.” A series of images flashed through his mind, but Josh couldn’t place any of them.
“Not like this one.” Brian stared out the window. “Grade 10, after the football game. A gang crashed it and beat the hell out of Tommy Delonki. Remember? He died a few days later?”
Josh nodded slowly. “Sorta. What does that have to do with me?”
Brian let out a snort. He coughed a little and then let out a long slow breath. “Either you think I’m a moron or you honestly don’t remember. I’ve struggled for years with those memories. They can’t be real but I remember them. I guess if you found a way to block it all out you’re the lucky one.”
Josh shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He looked in the rear-view mirror to see if anyone else was listening. Matt was staring straight ahead; Jan still held his hand. Rebecca was draping a blanket over Tonia’s body.
“Bri, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. I barely knew Tommy Delonki. I think we had a few classes together but that’s it.”
“You really don’t remember?” Brian turned in his chair to face him. “Tommy was your next door neighbor. You were best friends until high school. Ring a bell? That night, at the party, you and I were doing shots when Tommy came racing out of the dark. He was all cut up and bruised wearing only a pair of jogging pants. No shoes or socks.”
“How drunk are you, man? Are you taking those pills again?” Josh was beyond uncomfortable now. None of this was even vaguely familiar. How could he forget someone who’d been his best friend?
Brian hit him in the arm. Hard. “No! I’m not drunk and I haven’t used those pills for years. I’ll have you know the only reason I was ever on those pills is because of that night. Ask Matt if you don’t believe me. He was there too. He can also vouch for Tommy being your neighbor. You’re the one with amnesia so don’t talk down to me!”
Everyone stared at them now. Brian’s voice became increasingly louder as he went on. Josh looked over at him. Brian’s face was red and his veins were bulging, but the redness had gone from his eyes. Whatever else he was, Brian was not drunk.
“I’m sorry,” Josh said as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t remember him being my neighbor, or my friend. What happened?”
“How can you not remember that party?” Rebecca slid forward and handed Brian a Diet Pepsi
s. “I wasn’t even there and I’ve heard about
it. Weren’t there, like, twenty or
thirty black guys in green tracksuits or something?”
“I heard they brought guns,” Matt said. Josh was surprised to hear him speak. His voice sounded far away, like he was talking in his sleep. “I remember seeing them. Sort of. They looked eight feet tall. And he was your friend, Josh. You used to skateboard with him until he had that knee surgery.”
Knee surgery. For some reason that rang a bell. A memory flashed through Josh’s mind: going to the hospital with a skateboard signed by everyone in his class. He could see himself giving it to a thin-boned pale boy he recognized as Tommy Delonki. His head started to hurt.
“How can I not remember him?”
“Good question.” Brian cleared his throat and sank back into the passenger seat, facing forward. “I’ll never forget. Tommy ran out of the woods. He bolted past everyone and went straight to you. You saw him and dropped your drink just as he collapsed. You put a hand on his cheek, like he was a lover or something, and Tommy just starts crying. ‘They came back for me,’ he said. And you? You’d didn’t ask him what he was talking about. You stood up and said ‘I warned them’. Then you grabbed a log off the bloody bonfire and started off into the woods.”
“I ran into the woods with a flaming log?”
“Nuh uh. You didn’t run. You walked. Gave me the damned creeps. Sobered me up too. That’s why I followed you. I saw what you did to them.”
“What did I do to them?” Josh stared at his hands on the steering wheel. They were shaking.
“You killed them.” Brian took a sip of his Pepsi.
Jan leaned forward. “What the hell are you talking about Brian?”
“I saw it. And so did a few others. Only nothing ever happened. And I mean there must have been like twenty people around. But we never talked about it. No one went to the police. How could we. See, those guy, they weren’t black guys. They had….”
Suddenly the image came back to Josh very clearly.
“They had wings.”
No one spoke for a while.
It was just as well. Josh had a lot to process. Although he couldn’t recall the events leading up to the deaths, he could clearly see himself at the party now. He heard the whirl of air and the crackle of burning embers as he swung the log. He could see his hands bashing heads, setting green wings on fire. He also remembered how expected it was. It didn’t seem strange to him at the time. He knew who they were, knew what Tommy meant by ‘They’ve come back for me.’ Now it was all a mystery.
Brian finally broke the silence.
“Is that what you were talking about?” Brian’s eyes glazed over. “Back there, after the crash, you said ‘I’ve got a few secrets’. Was that what you were talking about?”
Josh shook his head. “No. Not even close. I think we need to be clear about something. Those people in the woods back there were human. They didn’t have wings or tails and they weren’t eight feet tall. I didn’t see their faces but they were definitely human. Doesn’t make them any less dangerous. He looked in the rear-view mirror. Tonia’s body bounced limply beneath the blanket. Someone put a seatbelt across her chest to keep her upright. “Madmen are a different kind of monster. They’ll use tricks, guerrilla tactics. You just never know what to expect.”
“What if…” Rebecca stopped and cleared her throat. “I mean, when I think of wings, I think of angels.”
“What are you talking about?” Brian shot her a look his shoulder.
Josh felt blood rush to his face.
“I’m just saying,” Rebecca sank back into her seat, pushing herself as far away from Josh as she could. “What if those things you killed were angels? Maybe this is some sort of revenge. Maybe…”
Brian turned around. “Don’t!”
“I know he’s your friend but how can you not see this?”
“Rebecca, you’re trying in a not-so-subtle way to say this is all Josh’s fault. So enough of the angel crap. If it wasn’t for Josh we’d probably all be dead now.”
Matt sank back into his seat too. “Or we’d be at the cottage.”
Josh felt like she kicked him in the gut. His body went stiff, his eyes very focused on the road.
There was a long stretch of silence again before Brian continued the conversation.
“So what was it then? What was your big secret?”
Once again, Josh felt he could breathe.
“Damn. My dad’s going to kill me. If anyone deserves the truth though it’s you guys. You know how my dad owns that garage downtown?”
“Yeah,” Brian said. “I’ve picked you up there a few times. You worked there during the summer in high school.”
Josh nodded while Brian talked. “It’s a front. You ever heard of CSIS?
“That show on CBS?”
“No. That’s CSI. The one I’m talking about is kind of like the Canadian CIA. My dad works for them.”
“I take it he’s not a janitor.” Jan chewed on her thumbnail. “Christ, you’re just full of little secrets, aren’t you?”
Josh swallowed, a sour taste in his mouth. “I would have told you if I could, Jan. It’s kind of a hush-hush thing. Dad wasn’t even supposed to tell Mom and me. He’s not even a regular agent there. He belongs to this secret organization within the company. They go on special assignments and stuff, the type that creates a few enemies. Only reason we found out is we were attacked once.”
“See?” Rebecca’s voice was suddenly very shrill. “I told you this was his fault. Should have left him back there and we’d all be safe now.”
“Enough of the psycho drama,” Jan said. Her voice was little more than a whisper but the strange edge to it froze everyone. “Rebecca, take a pill and let him speak.”
Josh felt his heart skip a beat. He’d been thinking exactly the same thing ever since he saw the blade in the tire. What if this was another attack like Lebanon? Were they after him to get to his father? He shook the guilt away and tried to think of what his dad would do.
“I wish it was all my fault, Rebecca, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s all about luck in this case. Bad luck.”
“When were you attacked?” Brian finished his can of soda.
“When I was 16. Dad took us on a trip to Lebanon.”
“I remember. You brought back that stupid urn.”
“Hey! My mother loves that urn.”
“Josh, it’s ugly.”
“Hardly the most important thing right now. Anyway, while we were there, this guy took a shot at my dad. Bullet went right through an open window in our hotel room. Sliced through my mother’s arm. Long story short, my father felt he had to tell us what was going on so we’d be ready if it happened again. He taught me a few things after school and on weekends. I can handle myself really well. I’ll do everything I can to make sure we get out of this alive.”
Everyone looked to the back of the SUV without saying another word. Matt stared at his empty hands, tears falling freely down his face. His mouth moved but he made no sound.
“Last question.” Brian looked out his window, studying the woods. “Any connection between your father’s work and those things with wings?”
“I don’t know,” Josh said, his voice cracking. “Can’t see how. Just more bad luck or something. Can you look at the map and find the next town? We’ve been driving forever and we’ve only got a half tank of gas. If those guys are following us I’d rather not meet up with them while we’re still in the woods.”
“Sure.” Brian bent down to the pouch on the door where the maps were held. His hand stopped before reaching in. “What the hell?”
“What is it?” Rebecca leaned forward and put a hand on the back of Brian’s seat.
Brian sat back up. In his hand was a single piece of white paper.
“Where’s the map?” Josh took turns looking at Brian and the road.
“It’s gone. All the maps are gone. This was the only thing in there.”
Brian reached over and held the piece of paper out by the steering wheel. Josh looked down at it and hit the brakes.
It was a crude drawing, like something a grade school kid would do. A jet black peacock with glowing eyes. Beneath the drawing were two words written in red crayon.
“No escape.” Josh read the words aloud, icy prickles jabbing into his skin.
“How the hell did that get in here?” Jan reached forward and grabbed the paper away from Brian. “Is this someone’s idea of a joke? Brian did you do this?”
Josh turned around slowly. “If you keep up like this we’re all going to die. We need to stop the hysterics and focus.”
Jan crumpled the paper and threw it on the ground.
“I didn’t do this,” Brian said turning to look at Jan. “You know that. It was one of them. When was the last time anyone saw the map?”
“At the creepy gas station.”Jan crossed her arms across her chest. Tears formed in her eyes. “I put it away because Josh was having trouble folding it.”
“Right.” Josh tried to think beyond the fear he felt. Despite his father’s training, he realized he was out of his depth. “So we had the map then. That’s when they took the maps and put this little note in the here.”
Brian wiped sweat off his forehead, turned around and looked out the back window. “If they’ve been tracking us that far, they’re not going to stop now, are they?”
“Worse.” Jan laughed and bit her lip. Tears flowed faster down her face. “We didn’t see any cars pass us, right? They went ahead of us and set up a trap.”
“Either that or there’s more than one set of them.” Brian wiped the sweat away again. “Josh we need to get off this road. Fast.”
Josh clenched the steering wheel. Up the road, a white van appeared. Impossibly fast, it shot up the road. It’s engine roared, dirty and loud.
Before Josh could react, van slammed into them. He felt a sharp crack as his head hit the steering wheel.
Then there was nothing but blackness and pain.