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Following the Water

“Kenneth!” screamed my uncle filled with pure rage. I jumped up with a start. I did all my chores, so maybe I didn’t lock the van. No, it was something worse. Whatever it was, he wasn’t happy, so I decided not to keep him waiting as I dropped the clothes I was folding.
“Coming!” I called back. Racking my brain for an explanation to his anger I walked quickly to the kitchen, bracing myself for the worst. “That was pretty good.” I heard a familiar voice say as I was right outside the door. Oh, I thought, his friends are here. They were his gambling buddies, and I didn’t really like when they were over, especailly when they were drunk.
“Finally, you’re here!” shouted my uncle when I entered the room, “Now go get us some drinks from the basement, and don’t take so long this time!” I nodded and walked as fast as I could down the stairs without tripping as they started talking in their loud voices again. As I brought up the last six beers, from the chilly room, I tried to put on a calm face. All I have to do is give them they’re stuff and I can leave. I thought. Not as easy as I’d hoped.
“My god, I said go faster, not take your time! Now give ‘em here.” boomed my uncle. Just as I was walking over to place the drinks on the table, my foot caught on the leg of a chair and everything went crashing, including me. Suddenly there was a sharp bolt of pain through the palm of my hand. When I looked, I saw it was oozing with blood and some glass from the now broken bottles was shoved inside. It burned like crazy but the pain was slightly forgotten when I looked up and saw my uncles expression. He was furious, and covered in beer. He got up, grabbed me forcefully by the arm, and dragged me until we were out of sight of his guests, but I didn’t think that would help. I knew what was coming when he pulled back his hand and swung right across my left cheek.
“Go clean that up RIGHT NOW, and get us some new drinks.” He growled.
“B-but those were the last ones.” I stammered quietly. He pulled back his arm again, but before he could reach his target, I kneed him as hard as I could in the groin, picked up my shoes and ran out the door as he howled in pain. I was already half way down the road when my uncle came out and startde screaming at me.
“COME BACK HERE KENNETH!” He started to run after me down the street, but going much slower. “YOU’LL REGRET THIS! WHEN I FIND YOU, YOU’RE GOING TO WISH YOU HAD NEVER DID THAT!” and then he stopped obviously out of breath, but just in case, I kept running and after about 20 minutes, I stopped to walk. Then my hand started stinging again and my cheek tingling and I realized that I didn’t even know where I was.
Trees spread out infront of me and seemed to continue on forever. I looked around me and found out that it was all the same. I was lost, in a forest, with an injured hand, no food or water, and all alone. I sat on the closest rock trying to catch my breath. What was I going to do? I thought. My uncle was the only person I knew, and he’d made it pretty clear of what would happen if he saw me again. I looked at my hand again and decided to pull out the glass. Just as I was finding the right position to grasp it, someone called “Stop!” I yelped and looked up, startled. In the setting sun and the trees blocking the light, I could barely see the figure standing a little ways away from me to my left.
“Oh! Sorry, it’s just, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The voice of a young boy said and I saw him point to my hand. He looked about my age, his green eyes practically glowing in the darkness, and fiery red hair shining in the very little sunlight.
“Um… who are you?” I asked, kind of unsure about this boy. I had many more questions, like, what was he doing in the forest all alone? Where were his parents? Or was he here for the same reason as me? How did he know about glass and injuries? He must’ve been able to read my mind or something because he answered, “My name is Zeb, you probably have a lot of questions, but we’ve got to get your hand cleaned up so I’ll explain on the way.”
We walked to nearby river and he told me that he was just getting a bucket of water for his camp when he found me. Apparently he ran away from his orphanage two years ago, but this little girl had followed him, and some how they met up with this pair of a brother and sister afew months later. They’d managed to stay alive for two years without any parents or guidance, and barely any schooling. He said that their camp was only a 15 minute walk from the river. After my hand was mostly cleaned out, I introduced myself. I described life with my cruel uncle, and why I ran away.
“My dad died a few years after I was born and my mom was becoming very sick, and she couldn’t take care of me anymore. The only two left to leave me with were my aunt and uncle and it wasn’t really bad. My uncle was a bit nicer and my auntie wasn’t super mean. Once she left, everything went downhill.” I told him.
We stopped at an area where the trees were spread out in a way so that we were in a circle surrounded by them. “Hello?” called Zeb, “Is anyone here?” A figure started moving out of the very small beat-up tent . I couldn’t really see the person in the dark, but he looked like a boy probably about twelve. I thought he would be pleased to see me but when I looked over at Zeb, his usually radiant green eyes seemed to have a little worry in them, which didn’t make me so sure anymore.
I was proven correct when he finally spoke, “Who is this?” his voice indicated how irritated he was. Whether it was because of me or not I didn’t know.
“Uh…this is Kenneth. I met him while I was fetching the water. He had an injured hand so I helped him and brought him here to patch it up… and, I don’t know… maybe even…”
“What, stay?” now he just sounded disgusted, “It’s bad enough that you want to give away some of our perfectly good bandages to a total stranger you just met, but letting him stay with us? We barely have any resources with the four of us! What good will-”
“Why are you complaining this time Eric?” a slightly annoyed, slightly sweet voice rang out, interupting Eric’s bickering, and two girls approached holding a lantern, one with dark skin and probably around seven years old. The other with long, chocolate brown hair and deep blue eyes, so intimidating it was kind of scary. When they saw me they kind of jumped and the little girl let out a frightened squeal.
“Who is that?” she asked pointing at me.
“Some kid that Zeb picked up on the way to get water.” he replied, irritated all over again. I could finally see him in the light, and he had the same chocolate hair and royal blue eyes, so I was sure they were siblings. They were similar with looks, but it ended there.
Before Zeb could introduce me, I decided to speak for myself, “My name is Kenneth. I ran away from home earlier this evening and had somehow landed myself in this forest where Zeb found me. He was really kind to help me and try to bring me back here even though he knew the results. But I know you probably don’t want me here, using up what little you have, so I guess I should leave.” Saying it outloud, I realized it was true and I was becoming nervous. Where would I go? Would I have to live in the forest with nothing? I probably wouldn’t meet anyone else willing to help me like Zeb had.
“Oh no! Of course not!” declared Eric’s sister, “You obviously have no where else to go, so you need to stay, and if you’re injured that’s all the more reason.”
“Melissa!” Eric gasped, “He can’t stay, he’s-”
“What?” she spat, “Too risky? Not trust worthy? A waste of space? Can’t you think about what he has? Nothing! He….”
They continued bickering on and on and I felt my face turning red. Maybe I should just leave now while they’re distracted. I thought.
Before I could figure out a plan, I heard rustling of branches, and faint voices. The others heard it as well and immediatley stopped talking.
“Hurry! Get into act!” whispered Eric urgently. I watched as they got into these costumes that helped hide themselves, but not completley. Eric quickly lit a fire and they sat around it pretending to talk. That’s when I realized I hadn’t done anything but stand and watch.
“Get in the tent, Kenneth! If anything happens, there’s a flap at the back too.” whispered Zeb. I didn’t hesitate. As I closed the flap, I could hear the voices getting closer and gasped as I recognized them immediately. It was my uncle and his companions!
“Shh!” someone hissed at me, probably Eric. I covered my mouth and listened as best I could.
“I have to go to the bathroom!” someone whined.
“Shut up and wait!” grunted my uncle, “Once we find the boy we can leave and you can do your buisness.” At that, I could feel the eyes of the others staring at me through the tent.
The two kept complaining to eachother and I heard a third voice say, “Look! There’s light! Someone must be having a fire!” seeming really excited to get this over with. I heard more crunching of leaves and Eric started up a pretend conversations with the others. Both moises stopped and I guessed that my uncle and them had approached.
“Hello,” he said as politley as he could manage, “I’m looking for a young boy, his name’s Kenneth? About eleven, blonde hair, blue eyes. Have you seen him?”
I could imagine all eyes turning to Eric. When he hesitated I started to get kind of nervous, and when he replied, “Actually yes, I have sir.” I started freaking out. But then he continued, “he came by here about an hour ago asking for a place to stay. We had to turn him down though. We’re just travelers from another province, and we’re leaving tomorrow, so there really isn’t anything we can do for him.” When he said that, I was both relieved and sad, but I started to panic all over again when my uncle replied, “An hour ago? He only left about an hour ago. And why are you couple ‘a kids like you doin’ out here anyways?”
“Uh… I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Where’s the kid?” demanded my uncle.
“I already told you, he left!” Eric countered just as forcefully. I sucked in a breath. They didn’t know my uncle like I did. He could tell Eric was hiding something…or someone. Unfortunatley, the others couldn’t tell, so when he went back to being all kind, they didn’t suspect anything.
“Forgive me…” he said waiting for Eric to introduce himself.”
“Brian.” He replied. Fake names, I thought, smart.
“And I’m Urie.” Hmm. Him too.
I listened as Eric/Brian itroduced the other three. I guessed that Corey was Zeb, and I recognized Melissa’s voice as she presented herself as Amy and then the little girl as Amelia. I noted to ask her what her real name was when these people left…if they even leave at all…or if they don’t find me first. I swear they could here my heart beating from outside the tent.
All of a sudden I heard this hissing noise really close to my ear. When I turned to look, I squealed in fright as I saw a giant black snake lying right beside me. The voices stopped and I could imagine all eyes turning this way. I covered my mouth with my hand like that would help.
“Who’s in the tent?” asked my uncle.
“Oh probably just a mouse, there’s quite a few of those out here.” Eric answered, and I mentally sighed in relief.
“Oh really? I need some mice to feed my cats. Could I just…” and I heard his steps coming my way.
“Wait no! I’ll get it!” said Eric worriedly and I could imagine him trying to stop my uncle, and when I heard a slam into the ground, I was certain he sad gotten pushed to the ground. Melissa gasped while Eric moaned and I tried my best not to pass out as I saw my uncle’s shadow through the tent.
When he started unzipping the flap, I got an idea. I picked up the snake and threw it right in his face just as he saw me.
“AGHH!” he screamed as it probably started to bite him.
“RUN!” I screamed, but before I exited the tent I picked up some water bottles and flashlights. The others didn’t hesitate.
“GET THIS OFF ME NOW!!!” howled my uncle and his companions came to help.
We ran like mad trying to escape the three intruders. After what felt like a very long time, we finally stopped at a collection of rocks.
“I think we lost them.” Zeb assured trying to catch his breath.
“And all our stuff.” grumbled Eric, and he was right. They had nothing now, and it was all my fault.
“I’m sorry guys. This is all my doing. If I’d never come to your camp, you wouldn’t have to be running from three strangers looking for someone you just met ten minutes earlier.”
“No Kenneth,” Zeb replied solemnly, “though I don’t regret meeting you, I probably should’ve asked first before I brought you. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”
“What? No!” Melissa blurted, and we turned to her, “You both have nothing to feel bad about. Zeb, you did the right thing, bringing Kenneth back. None of us could see a kid all alone and not try to help them. Well, I don’t know about Eric.” she stated, glaring at him as he returned the look with rolling his eyes. Then she continued, “Kenneth, you had no idea that people would be looking for you. But…who were they anyway?”
I sighed really not wanting to talk about it, but I did because they deserved to know. I explained everything that I had to Zeb earlier on that evening. No one interrupted, not even Eric, and when I finished describing why they had come, no oe seemed to know what to say.
“We should find a place to rest, it’s getting late.” Eric finally pointed out, like nothing even happened. Melissa sighed as she stood up, and took the little girl’s hand. I walked beside Zeb, and followed them as we looked around for an okay spot to sleep. Eric ambled behind us, looking really concentrated on something, or just distracted. I decided just to leave it, so I turned to Zeb who just looked bumbed out.
“I’m sorry Zeb.”
“It’s okay.” He responded simply, which surprised me because I was expecting a lecture about how it wasn’t my fault, or something.
“What’s wrong?” I questioned.
“Just tired I guess.” He said tiredly.
“Oh.” Was all I couldthink to say.
Everyone was silent for a while until the little girl shouted “How about there?”
We all looked to where she was pointing, and there was a formation of trees that looked just like the last one where I met these people.
“Good job Jo-Jo!” congradulated Melissa.
So her name is Jo-Jo… I thought, Eric, Melissa, Zeb, Jo-Jo, and Kenneth. How interesting.
“Okay,” approved Eric, “Gather up piles of leaves to sleep on. It’ll be chilly without blankets, but it will have to do. I’ll go find us some wood for a fire. If I can’t find my way back, I’ll make this noise,” he then placed his cupped hands to his mouth and made a noise something like and owl mixed mith a crow. Unless there was an ornithologist or something here, anyone would probably just think it was an exotic bird.
He started to leave when I called out, “Wait!” Everyone stopped to stare at me and Eric turned around.
“I’m coming with you.” I demanded, as I pulled out the water and flashlights from my pockets.
“No you’re not.” he immediatley rejected. I sighed knowing this wouldn’t be easy.
“Please, I’ve done enough to ruin this day for all of you. Let me make it up to you by helping.”
“Fine.” he huffed, after failing to think of a reason to deny. I picked up a flashlight for us and caught up with Eric. When I looked back, Melissa, Jo-Jo and Zeb were smiling at me and I waved before we were swallowed up by the shadows.
We walked silently for about twenty minutes until we found an abandoned hut that was a perfect source for firewood. The windows were shattered and the the door was completely gone.
“This is a little creepy.” I whispered.
“Yeah.” agreed Eric, “Let’s get our stuff and hurry back.”
We ripped off some of the fresher wood and Eric broke off some glass from the window for the both of us to use as a “weapon”.
We talked quietly to eachother about ourselves. Mostly about our interest and hopes. He never really said anything about his family or how he ended up in the forest, but I decided not to ruin this moment by asking.
Suddenly I scream ripped through the silence.
“Melissa!” Eric breathed. He dropped all his wood and bolted, and I followed suit.
We were only halfway there until there were screams from all three of them . We sprinted as fast as we could, and when we finally stopped, my lungs were burning. When I looked around, I found out that, that was the least of my problems.
“They’re gone.” Eric whimpered and crumpled to the ground.
I felt so guilty. This was all my fault! It was my uncle who took them!
“Melissa!” called Eric, though it was no use.
“Shh!” I warned, “Someone could still be near, we must be quiet.”
He nodded and just sat there. I walked a bit further just before the river, and saw tire tracks, which meant they took them in a vehicle.
“What do we do now?” asked Eric.
I was a little surprised that he was asking me, but realized this was too important to think about that.
“Pack everything up,” I answered, “We’ve got to find them.” And we followed the water into the night.

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