First published in Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers (2010) - read editor interview
Crouched, two hands on my weapon, I scurried across the gravel path to where Cory waited. I rushed past him to a spot on the opposite end of the brick wall and stumbled into position. "Ouch."
"Hey, new kid. Quiet. They'll find us." Cory retrieved a small boring tool from his pouch and quickly rotated the handle, drilling a spy hole in the mortar. "Idiot," he mumbled.
"Sorry," I said, speaking in a loud whisper. "Some asshole left pieces of a broken beer bottle." I didn't normally use words like asshole, but Cory wasn't normal, or so I was told--after I agreed to be his partner. I pulled the shard from my palm and used my tongue for a pressure bandage.
We sat in silence. Listening. An awning of thick branches dammed most of the sun's rays from reaching us. The humid air thick with the scents of pine and decay assaulted my nose. I looked at Cory. His face was cloaked in anger. I didn't know much about him. Only what my friend, Frankie, had learned from Cory's brother. And a few rumors.
"Didn't you and Zach used to be friends?"
"Yeah." Cory's body was hard, stiff. His breathing shallow. He swallowed, and his Adam's Apple bounced in response.
"Frankie told me you two used to do everything together," I said to break the silence. "That he taught you how to do this."
"I also heard he asked Becky out." I look at the ground. "Is that why you're pissed at him?"
"Hey. Either shut your mouth the fuck up, or I'll shut it the fuck up for you." He turned, and his eyes nailed me to the wall. "Clear?"
I began to understand why no one else would be his partner.
Snapping twigs and furtive voices sounded the alert. Cory waved. I took his position at the hole.
He lay prone, legs spread, and readied his gun. "Let me know when he's in range."
I watched Zach approach. He motioned to his left and right. His partners spread out. I thought we were supposed to work in pairs. Zach crept forward, bent over, moving his head from side to side. I couldn't see the others. I gripped my gun harder to stop my hands from shaking. It didn't help.
Three more paces, and he would be in range. I waited. Waited.
As Zach crossed the imaginary line, I tapped Cory on the leg. He sidled sideways until his gun and head emerged from behind the wall. He raised the barrel and sighted his target.
I jumped when the gun went off. Cory sneered and rose to his knees, unconcerned about the others. I peered through the hole and saw the blob of paint over Zach's heart. Yellow tentacles slithered down his shirt.
Cory raised his weapon over his head and laughed as paint exploded on his chest. Losing the game didn't matter to him. He'd accomplished his goal.
I pulled the gold cross from its hiding place under my shirt, rubbed it between my thumb and finger, and stared at Cory. What I saw frightened me. His clenched fist. The menacing black streaks across his cheeks. His smile, rigid, unforgiving. His eyes displayed a message--a message that said next time the gun would be real.