The words were a garbly mess of gibberish. Everything felt heavy and dark. Steff had no idea what clotted cream actually was but he was pretty sure it felt like this. Thick and lumpy. And cold. So cold. There was a strange pressure on some part of him, something pushing at his chest or maybe his back. He wished it would stop. The words were unceasing and his brain started to unscramble them though it hurt behind his eyes to do so.

“Please don’t die, please please please don’t die. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.”

He blinked a number of times in quick succession, and the brightness of the moon overwhelmed. No, it was too close to be the moon. It was a flashlight, the beam flickering from him to away and back to him again. The fog receded enough that he could see it was


“Oh god you’re alive. Oh Herb, you’re alive. Can you get up? We have to go. I don’t know where your brother is, I heard him screaming and then crashing through the woods. I don’t know where Casey is, we got separated and I got lost. I thought I was on my way to the van but I must have got turned around. Come on, we need to get out of here, we need to find Casey, we need to..” he lifted his hand to stop her. At least, he hoped he was lifting his hand.

“Cass, go. Leave me, I’m done. My only hope is that I took Blane with me. I should have-” he broke off as the pain filtered in just enough to cause his whole body to tense up. He waited for it to subside and drew as much breath as he could trust himself to. “Should have ended it years ago. I was stupid. So many lives…”

“So that’s it? You’re just going to lay there and die as some sort of penance for not standing up to your psycho brother sooner? You can’t just die on me, there have already been so many senseless deaths, I don’t want yours to be another.”

She had taken his hand in hers, the heat from it made him realize how cold he actually was.

“Cass, it will only be senseless if you don’t get away from here. I need you to survive this. Get out, get help. Find someone who will listen and make sure my brother is dead. I tried for femoral to be sure. I-” his voice faded to a wheeze. He lay still for a moment, so quiet that she started to think he was truly gone. Then his eyes flashed open and his gaze bored into her. When his words came, they were a whisper.

“Go. Live. Don’t hide like I did. Everything matters. Even the little things. Even this.” He squeezed her hand.
“Nothing is trivial.”
He attempted a smile but it twisted with the pain of exertion. His head dropped to the ground and the hand she held relaxed. He was slipping away from her and there was nothing she could do except let him go. Her chin dropped to her chest and she inhaled, feeling the sob rising from deep inside her. Suddenly there was a voice at her ear whispering, cry later, run now. She bit her lip to keep the pain inside and got to her feet. She gave Herb/Steff one last fond look, wiped the tears from her eyes and then turned toward the woods, the moonlight easily showing the trail she was fairly sure led back to the van.

And Cassandra started to run.

Photo by Robert Eklund on Unsplash