“THE MOGS ARE HERE!”
My eyes shoot open as I jerk upright, hoping that sentence was just something from a bad dream.
But it’s not.
“They’re here,” Rey whispers again as he crosses over the floor of our little shack to where I’m sleeping on top of a pallet of blankets.
I’m off the floor in seconds. Rey’s solar-powered lantern swings in front of my face, and it blinds me. I flinch away and then he turns it off, leaving me in complete darkness. As he pushes me towards the back of our home, all I can make out is a sliver of silver light peeking through the window.
“Out the back.” His voice is full of urgency and fear. “I’ll hold them off. Go, go, go.”
I start grabbing at the air where he’d stood moments before but find nothing. I can’t see anything: My eyes still burn from the lantern.
“No.” He cuts me off from somewhere in the dark. “If you don’t go now, we’re both dead.”
There’s a clattering near the front of the shack, followed by the sound of something—or someone—slamming against the front door. Rey lets out a pained cry but the inside of the shack is still nothing but an abyss of black in my eyes. I know there’s a metal bar over the door that’s not going to hold up against much more than a little force. It’s for show more than anything else. If someone really wanted into our shack, they could just blow through the flimsy wooden walls. And if it’s the Mogs . . .
There’s no time to think, only to react. It’s me they’re after. I’ve got to get to safety.
I rip away the piece of cloth that serves as a makeshift curtain and throw myself through the little window. I land with a plop in a three-inch puddle of mud, slop, and things I don’t even want to imagine—I’m in the hog pen.
A single thought runs through my mind. I’m going to die a thirteen-year-old boy covered in pig shit on an island in the middle of nowhere.
Life is so unfair.
The hogs squeal—I’ve disturbed their sleep—and it snaps me back into the moment. Old training regimens and lectures from years before take over my brain and I’m moving again, checking my flanks to make sure there are no Mogs that have already made their way to the back of the hut. I start to think about what their plan of action might be. If the Mogs actually knew I was on the island, I’d be surrounded already. No, it must be a single scout that stumbled upon us by accident. Maybe he had time to report us to the others, maybe not. Whatever the case, I have to get out of the line of fire. Rey will take out the scout. He’ll be fine. At least that’s what I tell myself, choosing to ignore how frail Rey’s looked lately.
He has to be okay. He always is.
I head for the jungle behind our shack. My bare feet sink into the sand, as if the island itself is trying to slow me down. I’m dressed only in dark athletic shorts, and branches and shrubs around me scratch at my bare chest and stomach as I enter the cover of the trees. I’ve done this sort of thing before, once, in Canada. Then, coats and a few bags weighed me down. But we’d had a little more warning. Now, in the sticky-hot night of the Caribbean, I’m weighed down only by my lack of stamina.
As I hurl myself through the dense vegetation, I think of all the mornings I was supposed to spend jogging along the beach or hiking through the forest that I actually spent playing solitaire or simply lazing around. Doing what I really wanted to do, like drawing little cartoons in the sand. Coming up with short stories told by stick figures. Rey always said I shouldn’t actually write anything down—that any journal or notes I wrote could be found and used as proof of who I am. But writing and drawing in the sand was temporary. When the tide came in, my stories were gone. Even just doing that caused me to work up a sweat in this damned climate, and I’d return to Rey, pretending to be exhausted. He’d comment on the timing of my imaginary run and then treat me to a rich lunch as a reward. Rey is a taskmaster when it comes to doling out things to do, but his lungs are bad and he always trusted that I was doing the training he told me to do. He had no reason not to—no reason to think I wouldn’t take our situation seriously.
It wasn’t just the avoidance of having to work my ass off in the heat that kept me from training. It was the monotony of it all that I hated. Run, lift, stretch, aim, repeat—day in and day out. Plus, we’re living out in the middle of nowhere. Our island isn’t even on any maps. I never thought the Mogs would ever find us.
Now, I’m afraid that’s coming back to haunt me. I wheeze as I run. I’m totally unprepared for this attack. Those mornings lazing around the beach are going to get me killed.
It doesn’t take long before there’s a stitch in my side so sore that I think it’s possible I’ve burst some kind of internal organ. I’m out of breath, and the humid air feels like it’s trying to smother me. My hands grasp onto low-hanging branches as I half-pull my way through thick green foliage, the bottoms of my feet scraping against fallen limbs and razor-sharp shells. Within a few minutes the canopy above me is so dense that only pinpricks of the moonlight shine through. The jungle has given way to a full-blown rain forest.
I’m alone in the dark in a rain forest with alien monsters chasing after me.
I pause, panting and holding my side. Our island is small, but I’m only maybe a fifth of the way across it. On the other side of the island a small, hidden kayak is waiting for me, along with a pack of rations and first aid gear. The last-chance escape vessel, something that’ll let me slip into the dark of the night and disappear on the ocean. But that seems so far away now, with my lungs screaming at me and my bare feet bleeding. I lean against a tree, trying to catch my breath. Something skitters across the forest floor a few feet away from me and I jump, but it’s only one of the little green lizards that overrun the island. Still, my heart pounds. My head is dizzy.