I cried out as my foot went down into the sinkhole. I felt the cold water rush in around my ankle as it twisted and I pitched forward. Cassidy’s hands gripped my arm as I went down and her nails left scratches on my forearm.
My left knee hit the ground, and old wound flaring as my kneecap struck a rock. My arms flailed around before finding the soft ground and catching me before I got a faceful of dirt.
“Oh,” Cassidy said, leaning down to me then scrambling back, “Is that a snake hole?”
“What?” I asked, pulling my foot free of the muck. Leaves were stuck to my hands and my legs. Pain flared up my leg from my ankle. I twisted it left and right and everything stopped for a moment so the universe could remind me that I was indeed alive by virtue of discomfort alone. A wiggle of my toes at least let me know nothing was broken.
“A snake hole,” she said.
I looked up at her hand she was looking around the area. Her eyes were darting from tree to rock to hole. The idea that even one snake might be in this area was scaring her beyond reason.
“No, I think it was just a regular old hole,” I said, “Can you give me a hand? I think I sprained my ankle.”
She held a hand down to me and pulled me up. I put weight on my leg and felt the pain wrap around me like a briar, the thorns digging in deep. I looked around but found nothing to use to support myself. Limping it was.
We started forward again, taking a more direct route back to town than I would have a moment earlier. My plan had been to loop around to the other side of downtown closer to the police station, but that was not gonna fly now that I could not move. Plus, Cassidy was about five minutes away from bolting if anything resembling a snake crossed our path.
We broke from the woods behind the Maplewood Apartments. A fence surrounded the property, but years of runoff and no maintenance had left at foot of clearance under the chain links for us to crawl under. Three buildings, two two-story with ten apartments each and one single story with the office and laundry stood. A few kids were standing over by the street waiting for the school bus to get there. One with a green Ben Ten backpack pack on waved. Cassidy waved back.
“Do you know anyone who lives here?” I asked.
Cassidy shrugged her shoulders, “Been here once or twice. Nobody I really want to run into, though.”
“Maybe. Mostly patrons, like that kid. Can’t let them see you with your bun down, you know? You gettin jealous?”
I let that hang and hobbled over to the building marked “Office.” The sign on the door said that the doors would open around eight. If the kids were any indication, we had about a half hour or so. I sat down on the small step created by the concrete porch.
“You wanna wait, see if we see somebody we know?” I asked.
“How’s your ankle?” she asked.
“Hurts like a sumbitch, but I can deal.”
“Tough guy,” Cassidy said.
“Yeah, I’m a badass. What do you want to do?”
“We aren’t very far from my place. We could go there if you’re up to it? Or I could run down there and get my car, come back for you?”
I looked up at her. She was looking at me. Expecting me to decide. How the hell was I supposed to know anything? The plan sounded solid. I felt my ankle and the swelling made my sock bulge and my shoe uncomfortable.. I nodded.
“Okay. How far are we from your place?” I asked.
“Bout a mile. I can make it and back in about fifteen minutes?”
“Sounds good. Take your time, though. If the guys in the truck are still around-”
“If they’re still around I’m gonna yell my damn fool head off and run like hell,” she said, “They aren’t getting a second chance, Evan.”
“Still, keep close to the houses and keep moving.”
She leaned down in front of me and kissed my forehead. On hand lingered around my jaw, nails scratching at the stubble I had not shaved off yet as her hand pulled away.
Then she was gone. Her long legs stretched and she ran around the side of the building. I hated that she was running off to rescue me. Down deep in the lizard part of my brain I felt something calling me weak and pitiful, sitting here nursing an ankle while she ran off to get help. I shoved those thoughts aside. They were not useful. Besides, I thought, she’s the one that kicked the crap outta that hoodie guy. I smiled thinking about it.
The squeal and hiss of air brakes made me look up. The bus was pulling in to pick up the kids. The kid with the backpack waved at me again as he got on the bus. I waved back.
“You make friends everywhere, don’t you?” Natalie said from behind me.