The words still echoed in my head. “We will follow your passion.” They battled in my head with the body I was passionate about as that body rushed through brown leaves that had fallen from a million trees.
We waded through an abundance of leaves. The sky should have been clear through the trees overhead, but the trees looked like they had shed none. Blood red branches covered us; the sky was bleeding red leaves.
“Concentrate on the male, Eoghan. I can sense he’s near, very near. There is a disturbance.”
Hurlee stopped, turned, slid his hand through my hair, and pulled hard. My head jerked back, and I’d have fallen on my ass if it wasn’t for Jeb holding on. Hurlee pulled me to his mouth and slid his tongue between my lips. His eyes opened, and the once clear grey brightened into blue. He pulled harder, and we fell to the ground, Jeb landing on top.
Bright blue light bathed us. I looked up into the face of Hurlee, who was sliding slowly across the trees. “I found him.”
Rising to my knees, I turned in his direction. It was clearly Ethan standing beneath the branches. His voice echoed, “I love you… always have.” With that he crumpled to the ground, like someone popped a balloon.
I couldn’t run to him fast enough. First Jeb, then Hurlee, tried to hold me back; Jeb with his arms wrapped around me, and Hurlee, who held out his arm to block me. His strength was considerable. “No, we go together. This feels wrong.”
Rising to my feet, I grasped Jeb’s hand as he rose. Striding before us, Hurlee led the way with his blue eyes blazing. We hurried, with Jeb holding me back when I would have run, but when we found Ethan lying in the bushes, his own blue eyes slowly fading to a dark cobalt, I knew there was nothing left to find. Ethan was gone from this place; even I felt it.
I fell to my knees. Pink and orange petals dusted his body, and, helplessly, I brushed them from him. “He was such an innocent in all of this,” I blurted. “All he wanted was to love me.”
Thinking back on all those times Ethan would pull me into a kiss as I walked in the door, the times he snuck down into the basement and would leave tiny kisses on my neck. Those stolen moments when we were alone or before Lucy woke up. Even that first Christmas together when we went out to chop down our own Christmas tree, arriving home exhausted, sweaty and a little sticky from more than just sap.
As I bent to kiss his lips, two strong hands grasped my shoulders. They were not the same grip, but the same strength pulled me away as Hurlee and Jeb shouted “No!” in one voice.
I wanted to say goodbye. How dare they deny me that? “I answer to no one!” I shouted back, my rage rising. Although I felt Jeb grab at me again, I ripped myself away and placed my hand on Ethan’s exposed chest.
The tremor beneath my fingertips was the last thing I expected. The flesh of his body moved, stretched, and formed itself around my hand, pulling me inward. It burned like fire, it hurt, oh, it hurt, it was acid; it was eating me…
I drew back from the horror, crying out, and the gap in his flesh knit itself back.
In the distance, the shrieking whine of a wounded animal made me shiver as I backed into Jeb and Hurlee’s arms. They clutched me and one another, all of us shuddering at the near miss. I stared at my hand–my miraculously unscarred and unhurt hand–and back at the body on the ground.
Then I had to turn away. I huddled in their arms, breathing in their scent, feeling the warmth of their bodies. My heart raced in my ears, and I had to work to steady my breath.
“That–that wasn’t really Ethan, was it?” I asked, a begging tone entering my voice. “This world is a hard place to understand. But, whatever that was, that was not Ethan, was it?.”
Hurlee shook his head and then nodded. “At one time, it surely was Ethan. But it is not now and probably has not been for a long time. The creature inside the body of your beloved Ethan has escaped into the woods, and will seek his other half. His… pull-apart, for want of a better word.”
I looked at Hurlee, and then Jeb, who was nodding. “Pull-apart? What is that, exactly?”