“Blue flare when you find him, so everyone knows to head back to the van!” I heard Eli shout after us. I didn’t answer. Asshole. Of course I know to use the blue flare.
I could see my breath as I charged out of the van and ran for the nursery’s yard. There was plenty of cover there, and through the back, where it was wooded as the lands ran toward the ice-covered river. If I went too far, I would get too close to the Church; once we heard the bells, we knew it wouldn’t be safe there, anymore. My breath burned in my lungs; I was bad at running, and even worse when the weather got cold, but I knew I’d warm up quickly, if only from moving fast.
I had to watch where I was going, so don’t know if Eli followed me, or if he stayed with Addie, but it didn’t take long to lose the sound of the engines in the roaring stillness. It was like some strange background noise of static filled up all the empty spaces where sound hadn’t been. The sunlight was almost lost; streetlights wouldn’t come on when it was full dark — the power had been cut nearly everywhere we went, two weeks ago.
My feet crushed through frozen grass, thinly iced puddles, hoared leaves — I felt like a giant, making a ridiculous racket as I plunged through the back yards. When I reached the back of the Bridgeside, I tripped as I rounded the propane tank, hit the ground, and felt pieces of flint slice through my jeans. I got up, pushed myself to my feet, and found myself staring at a pair of boots. I almost screamed, but lifted my eyes higher, until I was staring at Cole, who had his arms wrapped around himself, staring at me and looking worried.
“Eli?” he said not quite focused on me, and I resisted folding him against me, stopped myself from clapping him on the back, kept myself from pressing my mouth to his, held back in a way I felt like I had to, because of the expression on his face.
“Asshole,” I laughed, in spite of myself. “Don’t even pretend to confuse us; he’s dead to me right now,” I huffed. “C’mon, let’s go.” I said, grabbing for his hand to try to drag him with me, back toward the van. “Go ahead, I gotta fire off a–”
And just then, in the sky, I saw a black one go up, stark against the grey. Blue for rescued, Black for dead. I stopped in my tracks, feeling the cold winter air in my throat, burning, frost escaping my lips. When I turned around, Cole was staring up at the flare, looking pained. “Eli?” he said again, and looked down at himself, red and black under his arms, spreading, running down, soaking his jacket, his jeans.
“What are you–” I reached out to finish my gesture, to try to take his hand, to pull him with me. In that instant, for the briefest of moments, as my fingers passed through his, I was not behind the Grille, but was in the parking lot of the Town Hall. I held a knife dripping red black in one hand, and a smoking signalgun in the other. I could see my reflection in Cole’s eyes. My own reflection, but I was wearing Eli’s green winter vest, instead of my red one.
Then I was myself again, behind the Grille, and the apparition of Cole dropped to the ground and flickered out.
Black flare means dead. Blood on his hands, Eli had shot a black flare. We all should have run for the van, burning the last few minutes of daylight out, trying to get to safety. When I rounded the restaurant’s edge, I saw most of us running in the right direction, headed for the caravan, feet pounding, arms pumping.
Instead of running for the van, I ran for the source of the black flare, for Cole, Nothington’s chill displaced by the heat of hate I could feel moving through me, the last look on Cole’s face more than I could bear.
I ran for Eli, my brother, my twin.