I awoke on the table, but something felt different. I was alone. I sat up and stretched my arms, letting Poppy slip from my shirt and on to my lap. Poppy squeals before running off to burrow into my backpack. Hunter is nowhere in sight, no where to be heard. His bag is not to be seen either, so I slip on my backpack and walk outside.
I start to question whether it is morning yet. The woods are dark and ominous, but then again, the trees block out the sun. I look to the floor. The soil is soggy and leaves and twigs litter the ground. I started to feel lost -- I had never maneuvered these woods alone. Poppy climbs through the hole in my backpack and sits on my shoulder, waiting for a snack. I stop to sit on a log and rest, until a twig snaps.
I jerk my head around. The darkness swallowed up the trees, and no one could be seen. "Wh-who's there?" I stutter. No response. Footsteps crunch, walking towards me. "Hunter?"
"WHAT?!" a voice comes to me. It seems to be a man's -- a man who speaks in a very thick French-Italian accent. "Now don't you even think about calling me that horrid name! I ain't no Hunter." A shadowy figure begins to emerge from the trees. I can't make out who it is, or what their purpose is.
"Who are you?" I ask. "What are you doing here? Come out from the dark!" The person walks into sight. He looks caught between a boy and man, with short brown hair and a growing stubble.
"I could ask the same to you," he replies.
"I'm Stella," I say, my voice trailing off. I begin to realize how dangerous this man might be. What would he be doing out here? The only possible explanation was that he lived here, and we were intruders.
"Pretty name for such a pretty girl," he compliments. "I am Armentenoga, nice to meet you!"
"Your name is what?" I ask.
"Do you have like a nickname, or . . .?"
"Ah, yes! I go by Chug."
"I don't even want to know how you got that nickname."
"Ah, it's not what you think, I assure you. Armentenoga is a nickname for my real name! Catore Hermenicio Uquerro Gregory! Well, that and I am your average party-hard college student."
"I was thinking the latter. Wait, how do you get Armentenoga out of Cator . . . Hermisho . . . Ukwanda . . . whatever your real name is?"
"Looky here, are we here to chitty chat or are we here to do business?"
"I wasn't hoping for either. What are you doing here?"
"I am Chug! The animal activist! You see, my pretty, recently a big company has been trying to cut down our lovely forest to use for papers and such. However, we have such rarities in the forest that we cannot afford to -- young lady, are you aware that there is a ratty perched upon your shoulder?"
"Yes, Mr. Chug sir, he is my pet. You seem to get distracted easily . . ."
"Hush, child! I am trying to speak!"
"Listen, this is all very tragic and I understand, but I am not here to cut down your wilderness."
"Then what are you here for?"
"Nothing that can easily be told to strangers. Look, I just need help getting out. I am trying to find my friend, and --"
"I saw him, yes, yes! If he is the blonde haired boy with the very profane language then I can lead you right to him." Chug grabs my hand and helps me up, then leads me straight through the woods and to an opening to a highway.
"Thank you, Chug! If there's anything you ever need, don't hesitate to --" I say.
"I thought you'd never ask! I want to tag along with you." Chug yells.
"Well, I can't promise anything . . .my friend Hunter is very . . . well . . ."
"Not forever, girl! For the day. I want to see the life of a runaway!"
"Runaway? Pshh, I am not no . . . pshh . . ."
"Stop being so completely obvious, child! I have to write my college essay about life from another perspective. Please, I insist you let me follow you."
"Alright. But no mentioning any names! Hunter enters adulthood in a week and I'm not too far --"
"Hunters? Where? Well we ought to show em' . . ."
"No hunters! My friend's name is Hunter . . . and stop interrupting me!"
"Bad habit," he says with a smile, and starts to cross the street. "I am guessing you're new here! Well, let me inform you about Clementine, our sweet little town. Well, we have a very small population, and our town consists of a very small neighborhoods. There is one high school, one elementary school, and one middle school. We have a small college, no universities. We're pretty far away from any cities, and we don't have many newbies strut in here each years. You know what that means? You stick out like a sore thumb! How old are you, my pretty? You could pass for nineteen or twenty."
"I'm 16. Why must you know? Me and Hunter --"
"Hunter and I."
Chug shrugs. "It's 'Hunter and I', not 'me and Hunter'."
"Fine, fancy college boy. Hunter and I probably wont stay here any longer. If this is such a small town and we have no parents to claim us . . . well, you might as well be shouting our story to the cops."
"I asked your age because you could very well fit into society as newlyweds."
"I don't think so."
"Chew it over some."
"If that's the type of lingo you use here, then I'm already scared." We make it to a small park that surrounds a library. The grass is lush and green, and two children kick around a soccer ball. I began to long for my childhood, which I deliberately threw away.
"I saw your friend go into the library," Chug says softly. "Go on in, I see my old friend Vladimir and would like to catch up. Carry on, now!"
I walked up the steps to the library and open the door. What would Hunter be doing in here? He could barely read at a third grade level. Inside, Hunter is nowhere to be seen. I walk back out and towards Chug, who is talking to a tall man in all black. Vladimir. The man looks at Chug, who is laughing, with a straight face, and then pulls out a gun. I find myself running and I can't stop. Chug has fallen to the floor, and I'm too late.