Max wordlessly handed me a flashlight and put his finger to his lips, he then turned and slowly crept out the door. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it and was sure it was loud enough that it could hear too, but I crept out behind Max.

In the shack, Max had told me as little as possible, I'm still not entirely sure if he was protecting me or himself but I walked out into the night, blind and scared. I felt Max wave his hand behind him groping for my hand, I gave it to him and let him guide me into the impossibly dark forest. We walked along what must have been a path for a few minutes until I could finally see the reflection of moonlight on water. We made it out in the open before he dropped my hand and stopped. "It's safer out here, less hiding places out in the open" he whispered to me. "You still haven't told me where you think Luke is" I was getting irritated with his evasion of the facts. My irritation must have been more prevalent in my voice than I intended, because he reeled like I slapped him in the face, he stared through me, the light was dim but I felt his intense eyes staring daggers through me and for the first time, I was scared of Max. I stared down at my feet, afraid to look at him in the face, afraid of what I might see. "I'm sorry" I muttered to the sand. "I didn't mean to sound bitchy, but you are freaking me out with this evasive information" it was my attempt at an apology, I still couldn't look up.

Finally, after what felt like hours, he broke his stare and walked right up next to me and with a finger under my chin, he lifted my face to his, which was so close to mine, our noses bumped, my heart was fluttering again, I didn't know what he was going to do. Then he kissed my forehead gently and whispered "I'm telling you as much as I know, I know you're scared but I'm not going to let anything happen to you, ever. I really hope you believe me, I know 20 years is a long time but it hasn't changed how I feel" he paused "Gabs, do you trust me?" He asked finally. He was wrapping his arms around me in one of his famous bear hugs, I put my head on his shoulder "of course I do" I answered. He perked up then and was smiling.

"Good. I think we should stay around here..." the words died in his throat as we heard a loud crash somewhere in the trees. I jumped "what the..." there was some rustling in the underbrush and another loud crash "what could possibly be making that sound?" I whispered and realized I was shaking. Max didn't answer, I looked over and his face was stone, but his eyes were huge as he just stared into the blackness that was the forest. "Hey!" I whispered sharply and he jumped and looked at me "shouldn't we be doing something? Like finding somewhere to hide? Or at least running?" I was talking faster and faster. He snapped out of his trance and grabbed my arm again "let's go! Follow me" and he started running to the other side of the beach. The crashing paused and seemed to change directions, although I couldn't be sure. Finally he calls out "in here!" And pulled me along to some sort of bunker in the sand, he jumped in first and holds his arms out to catch me "c'mon!" The crashing was getting louder and louder. I jumped, it wasn't a long way down and he did catch me then pulled a swing door closed and latched it. "What is this place?" I asked when we were secured in there. He flipped his flashlight on "it's a bunker to hide from, that thing, it was built 20 years ago..." he moved in front of me and waved at me to follow him down a corridor. "I dug up the towns secrets Gabby, they know I did it. I was ex communicated, kind of like you were, but they said if I came out here again I would be sentenced to death. This seemed like a strange thing to say as it is no longer the Wild West, we have a justice system and no death penalty in this state. They were threatening to kill me over their secrets and now I think they did the same to Becca and Luke." This was more information than he had given me all day and I needed to process what he was saying. This was huge.
"What you're saying is those warnings and legends we were told as kids were true, but this thing that lives out here does the town's bidding? They can control it?" I summarized and Max chuckled to himself "when you put it like that, it sounds crazy as hell!" He said amused. "But yes in a nutshell that's about it, and I can prove it" he added.
"Prove it? How?" "C'mon, I have more to show you" he motioned for me to follow him again. After a few minutes I could see the dim glow of a lantern up ahead, does that mean someone else is here? Who could possibly live like this? It was a dark cave and it smelled of dirt and rotting wood, we finally came to a little room, a bearded man in his thirties was sitting in a chair with a lantern strung up on a pole next to him. He smiled and stood up when we entered. "Gabby, it's so good to see you again!" He exclaimed. How did he know my name? I was getting scared again. I looked over at Max and he was smiling ear to ear. "What? Do I know you?" I asked.
The bearded man laughed "of course you do, you probably can't recognize my face hidden behind all this hair" he reached up and stroked his beard. I was studying his face and I kept looking over to Max's face for any telltale hints "oh my god!" I exclaimed when it hit me, I ran to Luke and hugged him tight "have you been here the whole time?" I asked.

"Well that's why we brought you here, to tell you the truth. We wanted to 20 years ago but when Gavin turned up dead in the park, mass hysteria broke out and you were gone"

"20 years ago? You mean Max knew where you were this whole time?" I asked, trying to understand. Max dropped his eyes and kicked at the dirt, for a second I saw the awkward 15 year old kid again, and I had to smile.
"The night Luke wandered off, we overheard some things we weren't supposed to hear.." Luke began "we snuck into the library when I noticed my dad had an invite to a secret town hall meeting held there that night. Max and I snuck in before the meeting and hid, that's how Max knew those things he told you earlier. They were planning our murders. When we got back to Max's that night, my dad was waiting in his car on the street. I knew right then that he knew I heard everything. He tried to blow it off but I wasn't stupid. I didn't know what to do so I ran, I ran straight to the forest and hid. Max ran to your house to make sure you were safe and Gavin heard the commotion and tried to follow me, someone saw him, thinking he was Max, he was tackled and stabbed." He paused for a moment, a single tear sliding down his cheek. Max chimed in "it was my dad, that was the most messed up part" my knees were shaky and I sat down on the dirt floor. "I knew right then I could never come back" Luke finished.
I was shaking my head "so there was no monster?" I was confused, I saw something that day at the beach and something was just chasing us. "Oh no, there is a monster, but the people in town are monsters too. They've been feeding it in return for protection from attack" Luke answered.

"This is so messed up" I said shaking my head. "How does a 15 year old boy survive in the woods for 20 years?" I asked. "Easy, I didn't. I realized that nobody was going to report me missing so I hiked as far as I could until I found a little town, claimed my parents were dead and got adopted by a nice couple, my name is now Kyle, I'm out here now because kids started disappearing again." I was rubbing my temples and looked up at Max "and what about you? How do you fit into this?" I asked. "When my parents packed up to leave, they wanted to drop me off at an institution like what happened to you, I figured it out and ran away from the car. I walked towards town and cut off into the trees. I found this island and this bunker with evidence someone had been staying there. I was hoping it was Luke, he came back one night to leave a note in case one of us came looking. He took me back to the town he found and another family took me in. We vowed on graduation day we would find you and get you out of there, it just took a bit longer than we wanted"
"So what about the monster?" I asked. "It's real, it's very real. We all saw it that day at the beach. It knows we are here now and why we are here, it's stalking us now." "Wait, WHY are we here?" I pushed. "To kill it, of course" Luke said matter of factly

"How do we kill it?" They looked at each other and stood up "c'mon we need to show you something" they moved to the other side of the little room where there was a small crawl space, Luke went first, I squeezed through after him with max behind me. When we were all in the room, Luke lit another lantern and illuminated an arsenal of weapons plastered on all walls. I was speechless.

"We are finishing the war it started 20 years ago. It ruined all our lives and now we are seeking retribution"

Published by Liz Zemlicka