Forsaken 2

The truck lazily bounced along down the old dirt road, while I just sat there in silence. Not really lost in any particular thought so was more mind had gone 'blank' for a while. Shut down. Attempting to process the events of the last few days all at once, and feeling the ideas and images get clogged up in the small window of my realization. At age 14, I may not have been the most experienced person in the world...but I wasn't stupid, and this wasn't normal. So why did I continue to go along with all of this? Was it because it intrigued and excited me? Because the thrill of being in unbelievable trouble mixed with a feeling of invinceability around my new 'friends' here brought a heightened level of meaning to my somewhat typical life? I'd LIKE to tell myself that it was because I was 'trapped'. Because Cyrus 'tricked' me, forced me to stay, and made it impossible for me to leave. But that wasn't the case, was it? Not really. He wasn't dragging me behind him despite my kicking and screaming, desperately trying to claw my way back home. No. He simply lured me in with a smile, bribed my defiance with a boyish game of 'dare', and sat back...waiting for me to say yes. Like it or not, I could have walked away from them at any time, but I didn't. I remained at his side. It was like looking over a deep cliff at the ground down below. It's everybody's first instinct, standing right there with your foot only inches from the look down and have that brief thought of what it would be like to jump. How much it would hurt if you fell, and what would you think about in your last few moments as you plunged downward. We all think about it, and it gives us this feeling of control over our own life and death. Giving us the ability to stare the end of our own existence in the face, and contemplate just how easy it would be to take our lives in a completely different direction. It's funny...but Cyrus had that same feeling reflected in the darkened center of his hazel eyes. To connect your stare with his, you could clearly see that plunge, that mysterious freefall into something different from anything you've ever known. And while you were too scared to jump in with excited you to walk as close to the edge as you could...hoping that he didn't pull you over with him in the end.

It wasn't until I looked up to see Dex getting ready to move over towards me again that I stopped staring off into space. He got up on his knees to crawl over to me, and I scooted over a bit to give him some room. But this time, John Boy silently reached out a blind hand to stop Dex from getting anywhere near me. Instead, he lightly pushed Dex down to sit dutifully at his feet. Dex didn't say anything in protest, he just sulked with a heavy sigh as he stuck out his bottom lip and settled down quietly at his side. I watched his palm release its hold on his cross, and Dex let it dangle from its chain....just low enough to scrape the floor in back of the truck. The sound of the gentle drag across the metal surface was eerily soothing, and mesmerizing to watch. John Boy tenderly lowered his hand onto Dex's head, and began petting him slowly, his fingers sliding rhythmically in and out of his blond curls. Dex pouted stubbornly for a minute or two longer, and then hugged himself affectionately around John Boy's leg. Through all his ranting and threats to run away from home, Dex loved the others dearly, and they gave him that love back with just as much intensity from time to time. I have to admit, I kinda missed his warmth from being snuggled up so close to me. But I guess that it wasn't.....'allowed' anymore since that comment he made abut me being nice and what he wanted me to do to him.

I looked up at the sky above me, and saw the bright round shape of the full moon following alongside our truck. It appeared as though it were rushing through hordes of tree branches and darting around telephone poles in order to keep up with us. I stared at it for a while, and let my mind wander freely as Cyrus drove us back towards the nearest town. I thought briefly about what happened at the diner, and entertained all kinds of strange and twisted scenarios of Kristin and Kriegar possibly being 'hurt' by the old fat man and his daughter. With Cyrus being so protective of the others and them being so protective of just didn't make sense for him to 'leave' them there like that. But, then again, I suppose that if they've been able to make as much noise and cause as much trouble as they have since I've known them all...they must be aware of every consequence known to man in that area. Maybe Cyrus is right. Maybe I should just stop worrying and let the feeling take over. I mean, I'm already out here, I'm unable to really get home on my own, and even if I COULD manage to find my way back to Father Johnson's cabin...I'm already in the deepest trouble of my LIFE. So I might as well enjoy the freedom while I still can.

I saw the sky brighten a bit as we got closer to town, and Cyrus turned the truck to head for the outskirts of their little shopping district. We pulled into some large 24 hour supermarket with a gas station attached to it. It was blinding with its giant fluorescent light bulbs, surrounded with a billion flying insects each and glowing hot enough to melt the tires from the feel of it, their loud and obnoxious 'buzz' filling the air around us. It was one of those enormous small town places where you could buy groceries, clothes, furniture, electronics, video games, toilet paper, toys, greeting cards, school supplies...or anything else your average shopper could possibly want if they were to stroll in at 4 AM on a Tuesday. The parking lot was full of people walking back and forth with carts and bags full of miscellaneous knick knacks, and I watched as we looked for a parking spot. Cyrus stopped the truck to let us all out, leaning over to give Scout a little kiss on the top of his slightly chaotic blond mop. Then he opened the door to slide out of the driver's seat. Nobody ever really moved until his feet touched the ground. It's like...they were always waiting for him to 'position' himself firmly before any one of them made a move on their own. You'd think they were ALL willing hostages to his command...just like I was. I almost wanted to stay in the truck, but they all encouraged me to follow them simply by climbing out first and leaving me all alone back there. Persuasion through the fear of being 'outcast'....very clever. With a sigh and a roll of my eyes, I tossed myself over the side of the truck and started walking with them. They had better take me home after this.

The looks we got from the people around I could swear that some of those old ladies detoured their cart to a different side of the lot entirely when they saw us coming. But with most of us dressed in all black and marching with a confidence that seemed almost blasphemous around these parts, I suppose those shocked and offended looks were to be expected. Besides, I can't imagine Cyrus and his gang not already having a bad reputation around here. These kids are probably notorious around here for random devilment. I noticed something interesting about the twins this time around. As we were walking, with Kristin and Kriegar not in their selected positions, both Shank and Razor seemed much more...'protective' in their positions. They were more alert, and moved around a lot more. While they were perfectly in sync with one another, they were walking at different speeds from the rest of the group. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always in close proximity. I decided to try out a little I started to walk out to the right a bit more. Shank, however, who was guarding the right side of our cluster, came to a complete stop and kept me from wandering out of their circle.

"Is there a problem?" Shank asked me, using his arm to gently push me so as to keep in step with the others.

" No problem." I was right. It was like we were being 'herded' to stay in a certain position at all times. The others didn't seem to mind, or even notice for that matter. To 'them', I guess, it was just the natural order of things. To ME, however...I suddenly felt 'boxed in', claustrophobic even. And suddenly this little 'ditched camp' excursion didn't feel so voluntary anymore.

We all walked through the automatic doors of the megamart, and Cyrus sent the twins off to grab whatever it is they came for. I watched as Sebastian, Dex, and Scout, sorta began to wander off from Cyrus' gravitational center, and I finally felt free enough to actually move around a bit on my own for a change.

"I'm gonna...go look around for a bit. Ok?" I asked, a bit nervous that he might say no.

"Help yourself." Cyrus smiled.

"Where should I meet you guys?"

"Don't worry. I'll find you." Somehow, there was no doubt in my mind that Cyrus wasn't kidding about that, so there was absolutely no need to question it.

The further I got away from the rest of them, the more I began to feel like myself again. It was almost though the leash around my throat had been loosened significantly. I had some control in my life again. Even though I have always prided myself on being an independent thinker, and practically immune to peer pressure, I never once considered the idea that their seductive persuasion could be so....cleverly hidden before. Cyrus was quite possibly one of the most subtle bullies in existence, and he did it with very few, carefully calculated, displays of aggression. He was SO good at it, in fact, that I didn't even really know the pressure to blindly follow him was even there until it had been taken away. The funny thing is...and this really baffles me...but the second I broke free from his immediate control...I kinda found myself wanting it back again. There was almost a sick kind of comfort in having him run the show. He was confident, and dominant, and always seemed to have everything under control. He always knew exactly what to say, and he said it to your face...staring you directly in the eye, until you were too intimidated to question his intense gaze. He let you know who was boss at all times, daring any one of us to challenge him for the title. JUST so he could demonstrate how 'capable' he was of backing up his bullshit. And the more I laid back and let him lead me without question, the more untouchable I began to feel. Not because I wanted to be like him. But because I knew that I was tucked lovingly under his wing. And no other living thing could touch me there unless he, personally, granted it access.

I broke away from the rest of the tribe, feeling the air become a little bit more 'breathable' with every single step that I took in the other direction. My once 'guided' thoughts began to wander a bit more out of focus as I walked through the slightly less-than-crowded supermarket. Passing by magazines and cheap 'dollar store' toys, vitamins and weight loss miracle pills, picture frames and blank address books. It's sometimes disorienting to see how much stuff we buy and how little we really need it. But as I shuffled along the extended aisles of super saving, 'moolah' wasting, merchandise...I happened to catch a glimpse of true 'purity' amongst the rest of the mind numbing materialistic garbage in that place. I did a double take at first, my instincts reacting to what they thought might be a REALLY cute boy in the aisle that I had just walked past. It was a bad habit of mine, allowing my head to snap around and stare before my mind was able to remind me that I was SUPPOSED to be 'straight'. In APPEARANCE anyway. But this time, I couldn't have been more thankful for the mistake. I quietly backtracked a bit, and got a better look.

It wasn't just some random piece of eye candy that I saw standing there. Not a brief thrilling flash of some faceless cutie pie that I'd have to make an effort to remember so I could masturbate over him later. No...this boy had a name, and a face. He made 'contact'. And I found myself ducking around the end of the aisle nervously to watch him from a distance. There was no doubt about was Casey from the old gas station near the camp. Oh man...there he was...delicate midwestern features and all. How he could make me breathless from such a long distance is a complete mystery to me. He was just standing there, looking at their selection of DVDs. My very own 'pre-sexual celebrity'...his focus helping to hide my presence from him as I peeked eagerly around the corner. Any thoughts of Cyrus' hold on me or any of the others vanished instantly, and I cowered in Casey's graceful presence. Damn he was cute! SO CUTE! Omigod! He was making me so WEAK, and he didn't even know it! In profile, his medium length honey blond hair was gliding so softly back and forth over his baby smooth cheeks, only his nose and sweet lovable mouth visible from this angle. And his incredible lips parted slightly, setting his tongue free for a moment to lick them slowly, moistening the ruby flesh, and creating the most amazing natural gloss. I gasped silently as he used his long gentle fingers to brush his hair back for a brief moment, tucking it behind his ear in the lovliest way, and the sparkling wonder of his bright hazel eyes came into view. Completing the exquisite vision of beauty glowing brightly before me. I felt my guts twist up with a mixture of irresistable desire and uncontrollable fear, causing my heart to inflate to twice its normal size and float freely inside of my ribcage like a balloon ready to pop. His trim but sturdy frame looked so sleek and slim from the side, his flat chest sticking out just a half inch more than the smooth stomach beneath it. His clothes always fit him so perfectly. His shirt and slightly baggy jeans enticing you cheerfully with what they showed you...teasing you mercilessly with what they didn't. I swear, I could just sit here and stare at him all day without him saying a single word, and never once notice the time I had lost doing so. He was truly what God intended.

He looked up for a moment, and I suddenly felt an ice cold spike of bashful terror shoot through me like a bolt of lightning. Worried that he might see me, I swiftly jerked myself back behind the shelf again, and tried to catch my breath as I prayed that my dreamy stare had gone unnoticed. I put my hand to my chest, and attempted to get my breathing back to a normal speed to keep from getting dizzy. My courage was pretty much gone the second I laid eyes on him, and now what was left of my confidence was shriveling up so fast that I actually contemplated running back to the truck by myself...JUST to keep him from seeing me. Ok, Wes...get a grip. He's just a normal boy, just like you. No biggie. We can walk right up and say...'hi'. Or...'hey'. Or...'What's up?' Yeah...I think I like 'what's up?' the best. Yeah...I'll try that one. Deep breath. Wipe your palms off on your pants. Alright...let's do this. Ok....on the count of three...


Ok...make that the count of ten.

"Wesley?" I froze! Casey walked around the corner and saw me with my back to the shelf, hiding like a scared little bunny during a fox hunt. Dammit!

"Casey....hey...hi...I, what's up?" I mumbled, my hands now so awkward that I didn't know what to do with them.

"What are you doing over here?" He asked with a slight grin.

"Who me? Oh I was just looking at..." I looked at the shelf directly in front of me, hoping that it would give me a decent alibi. "...Extra large condoms." Argh!!! The shelves betrayed me!

"Hahaha! What???"

"'s just...umm...I what are YOU doing here?" Better to change the subject than to try to dig my way out of that one.

"My uncle is gonna do some fixing up around the shop. So he's in the home department getting some stuff. That old store is totally falling apart." I knew that I should probably be paying attention to his every word, but to be totally honest, it was impossible for me to do so. Just to look at his adorable face and hear the sweet song that was his voice...was to be instantly thrown into a daydream full of kisses and cuddles that tickle the senses and almost force you to lose balance from the sheer emotional impact. I had to lean back against the shelf just to keep myself standing. We were 'talking' again. Me...and him...together...talking. I could feel my chest begin to tremble as I tried to speak without giving away how crazy he was making me at the moment.

"The old place doesn't look THAT bad. At least...I don't think so." I said. Of course, the best decoration in the old place was him.

"Oh please! It's a dump. Hehehe! Everybody knows that. But I like it that way. It makes it kinda 'original', you know?"

"Yeah..." I said breathlessly, realizing too late that it came out more like a dreamy whine than an agreement. I cleared my throat and stood up straight again. "So..." I started, not knowing how to follow that up with actual 'conversation'.

"Sooo..." It seems he had the same problem. "...Say, it's gonna take a while to fix up everything that my uncle wants to fix...." He said, then paused for a second. " know, we'll probably be done with all the repairs and stuff by the end of the weekend. A little clean up, a couple of loose screws, and some paint here or there. Maybe you can swing by and see the finished product?" Was he...was he officially inviting me BACK to spend time with him? Oh wow! Oh God...I felt myself getting stiff from the mere mention of it, and had to lean back even deeper on the shelf next to me to sorta 'position' myself in a way where he wouldn't see the bulge. "Besides, it still gets lonely and boring in that place sometimes. I liked having you stop by the other day. It was fun."

I squirmed a bit inside, and felt my stiffness harden and tighten even more while I attempted to 'will' it to go away while immersing in idle chit chat. "Really? had fun too." Stop! Stop stop STOP! Go away! Don't get a boner NOW! Are you crazy??? He can SEE you! Knock it off! I grinned with a slight blush, trying to look somewhat comfortable with the way I was standing. I hope he can't see the tent forming in front of my pants. I couldn't even tell if my clever leg positioning was really 'hiding' anything at all. But I couldn't look down at it to check. Because if I did, he'd see where I was looking, and it would draw his eyes right to it. I just had to hope and pray that I was well concealed at the moment.

"Cool. So you think you'll come by?" His eyes sparkled with the growing intensity of his smile. It wasn't helping matters any.

"Um...I dunno. I'll try. The thing is, after today, I might be locked in a cage and guarded by wild hungry dogs for a while." Casey wrinkled his forehead a bit, but his smile remained, and it made his cute little nose wiggle in the sweetest way. Awww....I'm almost FULLY HARD now! "I mean...I camp today. Like, completely...and I didn't tell anybody where I was going. So..."

"Ohhhh...really? Hehehe, wow." He said, a bit surprised. The trouble I was in even reflected in HIS eyes. It was as if he was he were silently saying, 'Damn! Why'd you do THAT?' "OUCH.....hehehe! Pretty bold, there, Wes."

"Yeah, exactly. I'm definitely going to have to balance things out by paying with some sort of cruel and unusual punishment. So if you see me being 'crucified' in the middle of the woods somewhere, you'll know why."

"Shit, that sucks man. Ah well, if you can make it out, great. I'll save a seat for ya." Casey grinned. "But the next time you ditch camp, you'd better come spend some time with me, jerk off. K?" He grinned, and just as I was starting to go limp again, I think I saw his eyes glide innocently downward for a second. Not for any particular just happened, I guess. They widened ever so slightly for a second, and his eyes snapped back up to meet mine again. Shit! Did he see me? I mean, did he see my...awww shit! I tightened up a bit, pretending to play it off. And Casey did the same. But while his grin remained the same, and he tried to talk to me some more, I noticed a gentle shade of pink rush up into his baby smooth cheeks. Which made my blush kick into high gear, causing me to turn blood red, almost PURPLE, right in front of him. Does he know? I think he saw it. Or maybe not. I apologize? Or...I I ignore it and pretend it didn't happen? Maye he'll think he imagined it if I don't say anything. Or...maybe he'll think I was being a total pervert if I DON'T say anything. What am I supposed to DO here??? GO DOWN, DAMN YOU!!!

I looked off in another direction for a moment, and just hoped that his eyes would do the same. "I think that the...uh...painting and stuff...should be dry by Monday. I said....if you felt like dropping by, that would be the best time." Casey a slight shake in his voice as well, and could you blame him? The new kid is waving his cock around like a local media microphone.

"Ok." I was barely above a whisper, but I really didn't want to make this even more awkward than it already was. I was just glad that he wasn't teasing me about it outloud. "You know, if..." I looked at him, starting to speak again, and his gaze quickly snapped back up to look me in the eye again. Was he looking at it again? I watched the blush in his cheeks redden, and he seemed to get nervous all of the sudden. "....If...I'm not in trouble, that is."

"Ok. Good." Casey was looking at my eyes, but occassionally I could see them glance downward, swiftly passing over the embarrassing area that I wanted so badly to hide from him. But I got a slight rush as I saw Casey turn slightly to lean up against the shelf next to me. It might have been the sudden loss of blood from my brain, but I could have sworn that Casey's legs were beginning to adopt the same clumsy position that mine were in. "I'll keep some snacks handy for us, and...uh...I'll be sure to bring some cards....or something."

"Um...hehehe....ok..." I said with a boyish giggle, and he began to giggle along with me. Both of us standing in a self conscious and cumbersome position, blushing furiously, and trying not to look each other in the eye for more than a second or two. It was pleasantly humiliating moments like this that just feel like 'life'.

We both looked around for a bit, not knowing what to say, then our eyes connected briefly, making us giggle again. I was sooo tempted to just go for it. It was one of those perfect opportunities where you know that the outcome won't be that bad if you just give it a shot. And as I stared into those hazel eyes of his closely enough to see the green coloring outdo the brown, I felt my emotions wash over me, and whisper the words...'kiss him'. He was smiling at me in such an adorable fashion, and I could totally tell that he was ready for it. God knows that I was ready for it. Maybe....maybe if I just leaned forward....I could...

"Wesley." The voice was calm, but stern. It came from my left side, and Casey and I both turned our heads to see Cyrus standing before us. The way he said my was almost accusatory. The same way my father would say it when trying to pull me away from Freddy, or warning me not to get out of line. With the simple mention of my name, I felt Cyrus tighten that invisible leash on my throat again...and my moment of freedom began to rapidly fade to black in the comfort of his control.

Cyrus approached us, his eyes giving me a strong, almost envious, stare. Capturing me. Claiming me in front of this 'stranger'. And he then looked over at Casey, seeing the untouched beauty of his delicate features, and then back to me. "We were just talking. This is a friend of mine..." I started to introduce him, but Cyrus cut me off.

"We got what we needed. We're outta here. You coming?"

"Hi..." Casey said, attempting to be polite. But Cyrus had no such obligation. He let his eyes slowly roll towards Casey, but he didn't respond. He simply let his stare move back to connect with my own.

"Let's go." He told me. And began to walk away.

It was slightly insulting to have him treat Casey like that, and yet, I felt myself standing up straight anyway to follow him. "I guess I should go. They're my ride afterall."

"It's ok. My uncle is probably looking for me anyway. Another few minutes and he'll be shouting my name out down every aisle to embarrass me. Hehehe!" Casey had the cutest way of flipping his hair back out of his eyes, and for a brief moment, I wondered if I could still sneak in that kiss. If only I was bold enough. "So....Monday...maybe?"

"Yeah, maybe. I'll find a way to sneak out."

"Hehehe, well don't make it worse on my account."

"Hey, whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right?" I smiled. "Not that killing me is all that far fetched an idea after what I've done. Hehehe!"

"Wesley." Cyrus called from the end of the aisle, and I turned to see the others slowly move in to surround him. The whole pack waiting for me to join them again. "Let's go. Now.

"Sorry. I've gotta run. I'll see you soon, k?" I told him, and he nodded. It crossed my mind to just...hug him and give him a peck on the cheek before walking away. Just...SOMETHING. He was so damn cute standing there in front of me...I wanted some kind of intimate contact to last me until I got the chance to see him again. courage didn't hold, and I found myself bashfully giving him a wave as I turned away from him. I'm not sure that I know what love is all about, but I'm willing to bet that Casey is as close as I've ever gotten to the real thing. And in such a short amout of time too. I don't even know if he feels the same WAY about me or not. All I know is that he can thrill me with a smile and a wink just as much as Sebastian can with a whole sexual encounter. And that's saying something. Wow, that was incredible...bumping into Casey out of the blue like that. I almost kissed him! Can you believe that? Jesus! I want to kiss him so bad! Wow....he's so hot. I was literally grinning from ear to ear now.

Cyrus and the rest of us met up with the twins, who were already waiting outside the door with a large cart, and walked back to the truck. Shank and Razor started tossing the big sacks into the back of the truck, two by two, and everyone else waited patiently until they were through. It looked like...bags of lime. And four shovels. "What's this stuff for?" I asked.

"Get in the truck." Cyrus demanded. It was almost like he was 'mad' at me or something. Everyone else hopped in right away, but I was confused as to what I had done this time to suddenly get him to address me with so much anger. I waited, wondering if he was going to grab me by the ear and throw me in the back the same way he treated Dex earlier. I stood there next to him in silence, his stare softened a bit, and he moved towards me. His hand reached up to the back of my head, and he pulled me forward for a deep kiss on the lips. Right there in the parking lot. His tongue pushed its way inside my mouth as his breathing increased, and he Frenched me passionately for almost a full minute before letting me go. I stumbled back for a step or two, dizzy from the spontaneous contact, and searched his eyes for a reason why he would do that to me all of the sudden. To be honest, I think he was jealous. And that was his way of reminding me that I was his 'property' and no one elses. Before I could really say anything, he simply repeated, "Get in the truck, ok? We've got stuff to do." His voice was a lot more sympathetic this time. Almost....affectionate. So I did what I was told, and climbed into the back with the others without any further questions as Cyrus started up the truck again. I settled back down into the same spot as before, and we began to pull out of the parking spot with a jolt. I raised my neck a little to see if I could catch one last glimpse of Casey leaving the store with his uncle, and only caught a quick flash as I saw him and his uncle carrying a few things out to their car. They were quickly out of sight though, and I stored the wonderful memory of our conversation in the back of my mind...where, hopefully, Cyrus couldn't find it.

The sky was really turning black above us now, and I could see the stars begin their display for the evening. As the minutes whizzed by me, I began to think more and more about my father pacing a hole in the floor, possibly worrying my mother beyond belief. I tapped my foot gently on the floor of the truck, biting my nails a bit, feeling a nervous jitter inside that told me that I was really taking this too far. I felt guilty for putting my family through this. And while I might have been thankful for the burst of freedom and the amazing sex earlier in the day...I couldn't just 'erase' my sense of decency and abandon the values that make me who I am at the drop of a hat. I've always had a limit to the amount of rebellion that I allowed myself to have, and this trip had crossed that line HOURS ago.

My leg was propped up on one of the bags of lime and I looked at it curiously. I asked John Boy, "Is this stuff for the house or something?"

"Yes. For the house." He replied softly.

"You guys got an awful lot of it, don't ya think?"

"It's a bargain to buy it in bulk." I waited in silence for a moment, but John Boy offered no further details. He knew that I wanted more of an explanation, and I think he liked making me wait for one. A smile spread slowly across his lips, "There are some wild animals in these woods. Occassionally they hunt and drag their prey to a different location to feed on it later. Sometimes....that location is right outside of our house. The lime is to mask the smell of the dead...'animals'....they bring by."

"Yeah? Well, you've got enough for an Alfred Hitchcock body count." I said, not even knowing myself if I was really joking or not.

"Let us hope so." John Boy replied, and leaned back again in silence. They never went into detail about much of anything, and the more time I had to think about things, the more I realized how creepy this whole situation was. I went from being curious, to exhilirated, to spooked out by their very existence. There was nothing normal about this. Not at all. This is much more serious than simply 'falling in with a bad crowd'...and I was starting to think that they had no intention of ever letting me go home either.

I felt Dex reach out one of his feet to rub up against my leg, and John Boy gently pushed it away to break the contact. Shank and Razor sat on either side of the truck, their hair blowing back in the wind, but their eyes wide open. Scanning every inch of that road. Ready, protective, aware. And whenever I looked up at them, even for a moment...their hypnotic dark green eyes would zero in on me instantly. Both of them at once. They would stare right back at me until I turned away, and then they would go back to scanning the road again. John Boy, on the other hand, sat sideways and kept his masked eyes staring directly in front of him. However, if I looked at him for too long, he would know. The expression on his face would change. A smirk, or a slight raise of his eyebrows. He could feel my every movement whether I wanted him too or not, and it made me self conscious about moving at all. Dex was content to just play with the extended blond curls of his hair, looking at the strands as they stretched out between his fingertips, and then snapping back into place. Out of all the people in the back of that truck, it was the 'crazy' one who was the least frightening.

I sat up a bit more after feeling a few beads of sweat appear on my forehead. I was hoping that a bit of the breeze would cool me off a little bit. I don't know why I had gotten so heated all of the sudden, but it was just as well. I was getting uncomfortable sitting down there anyway. I dipped two fingers into the front of my shirt collar, and stretched it out a bit away from my chest, which was also damp with a sheen of sweat. I could feel the moisture on the back of my fingers, and my shirt felt clingy and uncomfortable and unnaturally warm...causing me to fidget around. The air on my face felt good, the motion of the truck pushing it across the back of my neck and rustling through my hair. I turned slightly to look into the cab of the truck, and saw Sebastian sitting in front, looking even more amazing than he did just a few moments ago. I can't believe how easy it is for him to excite me this way. Still...he was no Casey. Casey gave me more than just a pretty picture. He gave me a lovable personality, and that hidden possibility of possibly liking me back with some sort of depth and promise. Sebastian....he didn't offer me anything more than a hot body and a few mindblowing sexual experiences. Not that I was COMPLAINING! ecause for now, that was a thrillng and emotional act in itself. But I knew that there was no real future in it...and that kept me from connecting to it as wholeheartedly as I wanted to. Too bad...because I think I could enjoy him so much more if he were willing to let down the defensive brick wall and let me in. Sebastian knew that I was watching him through the window. I could see his chocolate brown marbles look back at me briefly out of the corner of his eye. But he didn't turn around...not fully. He didn't even turn his head. But he knew I was there. I could tell.

I wiggled a bit more as a drip of perspiration slid down my cheek, and tried to position myself to capture even more of the cool wind around me. I rubbed my eyes, as they felt red and full of sand, and my mouth went saliva only succeeding in making it sticky and pasty on the surface of my tongue. What's worse, the scratches on my back began to itch and burn with growing intensity. I had to rub my back on the cab of the truck behind me just to reach it, but it seemed to make the itching worse. Damnit...I hope I didn't catch something in these woods. If it's a mosquito bite or two, fine. But if it's poison Ivy or something, I'm screwed for the next few days.

"Are you feeling alright, Wesley?" John Boy asked, a calm smirk appearing ever so slightly on his thin lips.

"Yeah...I'm fine. Just a bit...'itchy', is all." I said, tugging a bit on the front of my shirt to let some of the cool evening air come between me and the fabric.

"Itchy?" He asked, and without much of a pause, John Boy moved closer to me and sat down at my side. "Turn around." I did as he asked, and he let one of his hands slide up the back of my shirt...slowly running his fingertips over the spot that was troubling me. "Here?"

"Yeah...that's it." I sighed, as his fingernails began to softly scrape back and forth over the raised texture of my scratch marks, sending chills all over my body from the relief. I sighed outloud, and felt John Boy reach his other hand around to rub small circles on my stomach. God it felt good. Just having him touch those scratches on my back was like an erotic experience. John Boy leaned close enough for me to feel his breath on the back of my neck, and he gently licked me behind the ear...turning me to jelly in his embrace.

"It's natural for them to fluctuate from pleasure to pain...but only at first..." He whispered. "...These are probably going to trouble you for another day or two. It's just a part of the change. But'll come to worship this stigma as a divine birthmark. A new beginning. These are the scars that will set you free." He sucked my earlobe in between his lips, and wetly let it slip out as he moved down to kiss my neck. My head was spinning slightly, and I didn't even realize that I was grinding my teeth so hard until they became sore from it. I looked back out at the moon, and it seemed to be glaring so brightly that it almost burned my eyes to stare at it. John Boy's expert hands tickled there way up to my shoulders, and his kisses stopped as he just concntrated on scratching my back. But then, as his fingers passed over those supposedly 'sacred' marks again, I felt them burn painfully with a single the flaring up of a match! I cringed and had to jump a little from the shock of the sensation. Suddenly, John Boy's touch felt like shards of white hot metal being dragged across my skin, and I had to move away from him.

"Thanks. Thanks, really. I'm fine. I'm" I said, quickly scooting away from him. I got back up on my feet and faced the forward motion of the truck, trying to get the wind to cool me off again. I attempted to calm down from my knee jerk reaction, hoping that I won't find a giant infected rash or something back there when I got home. John Boy took no offense to my response. He merely smiled and moved back to where he was sitting with a nod. The itch was gone...but I didn't really feel good. It wasn't a 'sick' feeling so much as it was a 'strange' feeling. It was like...I didn't feel like myself at all. Like my body was all wrong somehow. Like it didn't 'fit' anymore. I can't say that I knew what was going on, but as long as nobody touches me, I think I'll be ok. I just...I just wanna go home. Things are easier to figure out when you're at home.

We had gotten back to the old house, and it looked even dirtier than it did before we left. As Cyrus slowed the truck down to park it on the side of the building, I noticed the lights in the living room were on, and the music was playing loudly inside. Everybody hopped out of the truck, and headed towards the front door, with me following not far behind. Dexter rushed past me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek with a giggle before skipping his way up to the front porch so fast that I almost expected him to fall. John Boy grinned at me. "It looks like he's developed quite the crush on you, Wesley."

"Gee, ya think?" I replied.

"You'd better be careful, playboy. There's a lot of trouble that goes along with that kid. Just warning you ahead of time." He told me, and walked in as well.

I felt a hand come down on my shoulder, and knew at once that it belonged to Cyrus. The firmness of his grip held a unique signature that belonged only to him, and it stopped you cold from your every other influence when he wanted your attention. "I understand that you were feeling some...'discomfort' on the ride home?"

His hand traveled further down my back, and I could feel the scars throb and pulse lewdly with his touch. But they didn't burn this time. It was a much more soothing feeling when Cyrus did it. Then WAS his scratch. "A little. I think I might be coming down with a cold or something too. All this 'mountain air' and a bunch of snot nosed kids to deal with everyday...I'm surprised I didn't catch something sooner."

"And how are you feeling now?"

"I'm still a bit 'feverish' I think."

"Yes, I can see that." He said, wiping my brow with his thumb. A few rivers of sweat dripped down my face once disturbed from their resting place, and he brought his thumb to his lips to taste the salty flavor with a smile. "Come inside. Sit down for a while and relax. You'll feel better." He said, and started walking towards the house.

"Um...actually..." I called after him. "...I've got some medicine and stuff at home that's pretty good for fevers and stuff. Um...I mom knows how to take care of it. It would probably be best if I just..."

"I'm sure we've got some kind of medicine upstairs in the house somewhere. Come on, we'll go seek it out together." He said.

"Cyrus..." I didn't move, and he stopped walking.


Despite the power of his presence, enough was enough. I was going to have to put my foot down a little bit harder. "You told me...that said that after you got your lime from town, that you'd take me home." I said, and he looked at me for a moment without saying anything. "I...I wanna go home now." I hoped that it sounded more firmly stated to him than it did to me. least I said something. So there it stands.

His eyes fixed their stare on me, his smile almost 'rewarding' me for even suggesting any action that went against his divine order. The moment of silence seemed to last for an eternity, and then he asked, "Are you really THAT anxious to go home and assume a punishment that you don't deserve, for an act that you don't feel guilty about?"

"Well...the punishment only gets worse the longer I stay out here with you guys." I attempted to put a halfway convincing smile on my face, but it must have come off as a half hearted smirk at best. "If I get in any MORE trouble, I won't be able to come back and see you guys tomorrow, you know?"

"'d come back eventually. I don't have any doubts about that whatsoever." He grinned. "Let's get you that medicine from upstairs. Come on." Cyrus walked right in through the front door, and left me standing outside by myself. He didn't wait for me to agree or disagree...just turned his back and walked into the house. Needless to say, he didn't answer my question. Nor did he seem to care much about my plea to go home. I tried to look around at the area surrounding me, wondering if I'd even be able to find the right road to lead me back home on my own. But I had no idea where I was. One dirt road looks like all the others. Same trees, same ditches, same full matter where I go. Shit. Ok...if I'm gonna get home, I'm going to have to find another way to do it.

I walked into the house to join the rest of them, and was surprised to see Kristin sitting on the couch with a wine cooler drink and no shirt on. Her firm breasts completely exposed, bright pink nipples and all, wearing only a pair of blue jeans. Her hair was wet, as though she had just stepped out of the shower, and she had one of her bare feet propped up beside her on the cushion. What really struck me as odd, however, was the fact that she was in the house at all. Thinking back to when we left her and Kriegar at the diner to hit the store on the outskirts of town, it might have taken us all of forty five minutes to drive there, get the stuff, and come back to the house. in the hell could she have beaten us back here, and have had enough time to take a shower and relax, without transportation? I think, in the back of my mind, I envisioned us swinging back to pick them up when we were finished. Or perhaps them showing up hours later after we arrived. But beating us back to the house? It didn't make sense.

I saw Kriegar walk in from the kitchen with a bottle of rum in each hand, wearing nothing but a towel. He put the bottles down and let the towel drop, reaching down to pick up some wrinkled clothes that were scattered about the floor...sniffing them to make sure that they were 'clean enough' to be worn again. While Kriegar had a fine covering of dark hair all over him, especially around his ass and legs, along with his arms, some on his shoulders, and a dark treasure trail in the front...he still wasn't as hairy in the nude as I expected him to be. He was well shaped, with a bubble butt and the tiny beginnings of love handles on his side that was probably more baby fat than anything else. The biggest concentration of 'fur' was under his arms and a thick bush over a rather large endowment in front. I dunno...looking at him naked as he started to get dressed right in front of us, it was kinda sexy. Maybe the next time we all decide to get...'intimate'...I can concentrate on him a bit more than I did before.

"Sit. Relax. I'll see what I can find." Cyrus told me, and gave me a gentle push to sit me down on the couch next to Kristin. She had absolutely no reservations about sitting topless in front of me. In fact, she did it with such ease that it hardly seemed like nudity at all. She reached her arm ous to drape it over my shoulder and scooted closer to me.

"You know, you've really gotta get rid of all that guilt and anguish, kid. You're not having anywhere NEAR as much fun as you should be having right now." She said. "You're spoiling our buzz."

"I'm having fun...I just..."

"You're worried about pissing off 'mommy' and 'daddy'. Yeah, I know. Look...what's done is done. They can be mad about it later. TOMORROW, even. Right now, you just worry about letting that overactive conscience of yours rest for a while. And in a couple of days, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about."

Fist it was just for a few hours, then it turned out to be all day, then Kristin mentioned 'tomorrow'...and now it's couple of DAYS? What is this? "He's not gonna let me go he?" I asked.

Kristin gave me a look, as though she were confused by my question. "Of course he will. You can do anything you want to long as you REALLY want to do it. That's the whole point. But I don't think you're ready to leave us just yet. There's a few things you're gonna want to know before you go trotting back to your Bible camp friends." She grinned, sipping her wine cooler. "Besides, why would you want to leave?"

"You don't get it. I don't WANT to leave. I HAVE to." Actually, that was a bit of a lie. The longer I stayed with them, the faster the walls felt like they closing in on me. "If I don't get home soon, my Dad is gonna..."

"See? You're not ready to leave."

"WHAT?" I asked, almost in frustration.

Kristin ran her fingers through my hair, "You may not realize it, but your 'need' to go home is fueled by the fear of consequences. Your duty...your obligation to do what you're told...that's what is making you want to run back to being miserable again. Do you know how many people would choose to spend the rest of their lives 'comfortably miserable' instead of blissfully happy...just because they're afraid to take a leap of faith every now and then?"

"This hardly counts as a leap of faith." I told her. "I didn't follow you guys just to escape my miserable life. I would have had fun anyway."

"Really now? So you would have enjoyed your day just as much, had you been singing sweet praises with the robotic children of your happy little program there in the woods?" She asked. I didn't answer right way, which was an answer in itself. "I didn't think so. Sometimes, an alternative to the 'horribly predictable' isn't such a bad way to go."

"Oh yeah, whoopee. And what happens when I get bored drinking liquor, and listening to loud music, and...shouting curse words off the back of a truck? What will my alternative be then?"

"It hasn't bored ME yet." She giggled. "What about you guys? Are any of you bored yet?" The others hardly looked up, but their grins showed a bit of amusement at my statement.

"Well then maybe I just find a different kind of excitement at home then." I said, bringing the conversation back to what it was supposed to be about anyway.

"Face it. You've trapped yourself, Wes. You've forced yourself to believe that you need whatever abusive bullshit your current life is feeding you at the moment, and you use what energy you have leftover to complain. You weren't happy in your current situation, and yet you willingly defend it instead of trying to break free from the routine."

"That's not it at all." I said.

"Really? Then why do you really want to go home? If there were no moral 'debts' to be paid to your family by showing up safe and sound on that front step...why would you want to leave?"

"Because..." I said. "...B-b-because..."

"Is the music too loud? Is it the free food? Are we making you laugh too hard? Is it that we're giving you too much sex?" She asked. "Hopefully it's not the company?"

Argh! This is stupid. "I don't have to explain it to you guys."

"Hehehe, of course you don't." She grinned. "I imagine it would be difficult to do so."

"Are we gonna do something tonight, or what? We're wasting a perfectly good moon." Sebastian said from he window sill, where he sat with one leg up, the window framing his beauty into another perfect photo of sensuality.

"Depends on what Cyrus has planned..." Kristin answered, and as my eyes wandered momentarily...I noticed something on the floor near the side of the couch. Among the scattered clothes across the room, were the same clothes that Kriegar was wearing earlier at the diner. Except...they looked like they had been...shredded or something. BADLY, I might add. I could clearly see tattered ribbons of fabric torn from the center of his shirt. And stains...deep red, almost purple...they looked kinda like splashes of...

Just then, I let my eyes look up and noticed that John Boy was staring directly at me through his sunglasses, his blind eye focused on me like a falcon hunting its prey. Then, without moving, he spoke softly, "Kriegar...what has Cyrus told you about picking up your clothes when company is around? Kindly remove them." Kriegar turned to see the rags on the floor and snatched them up into his arms, giving me a brief snarl before turning his back to me and crumpling the bundle up tighter. "Take them into the basement. You know what to do with them." John Boy told him, and he carried it off to go downstairs.

Finding a bit of an opportunity, while Cyrus was upstairs, I said, "Listen...I'm sure you guys have a whole night planned and all, and I really DID have fun today, ok? But...if one of you could just...maybe direct me to some way that I could get home..."

"Bitch, bitch, BITCH!!! Don't you ever shut up?" Scout said, his pre-adolescent voice ringing with all of the snottiness and insult of an ungrateful toddler. "You should be HONORED to be here with Cyrus right now. And all you ever do is whine. You're such a pussy."

"EXCUSE me???" I had taken about as much of a bratty tantrum as I could stand from this little gremlin. "Who do you think you're talking to?"

"Who do you think you're talking to?" He mimicked me with a childish wail, only making me angrier by the second. "You can't even sound threatening when you WANT to. I don't know why the hell Cyrus decied to bring you here, you're a fucking joke."

"Why don't you BITE me, you little dipshit!"

"Believe me, I'd LOVE to bite you! As a matter of fact, if it were up to me, I would have slashed your throat and left you on the side of the road HOURS ago!" He smirked, and I heard a few of the others chuckle a bit under their breath. Humiliation set in, and I refused to take shit from a little boy.

I shot up from the couch and stormed my way over to the kid, ready to grab him by the collar and shake the shit out of him until he begged me to stop. I'll be damned if I let some fucking pipsqueak mouth off at me like that. I stomped closer to where he was sitting, "You know what, kid? Somebody needs to teach you some manners!"

But Scout never flinched, and the twins swiftly shot up and closed in on me from both sides in an instant. Damn they were fast! I didn't even see them move. "Now hold on there, cowboy!" Shank said with a smile.

"You're getting a bit too big for your britches, aren't you, Wes?" Razor continued, and they began to physically push me backwards one step at a time, alternating their shoves and their speech from one twin to the other.

"You didn't think we were gonna just let you put your hands on our boy, now did you?"

"You haven't been here long enough for that, junior."

"We take care of our own here."

"Or haven't you learned that yet?"

"I don't think he has. Maybe we need to make him understand."

"Yeah...make him understand."

"Think you can just come in and 'invade' our pack?"

"Think you're somebody special? Like you can do whatever you want?"

"You know what you are, dude?"

Then, in unison, "Bottom of the food chain!" Their hands then shoved me hard on both shoulders, my back slamming up against the staircase. They stood their ground, waiting for me to do something about it, and the both of them were staring me down from so close they almost blurred in my field of vision.

"Is there a problem here?" Came a deep voice from the top of the steps. Everyone looked up to see Cyrus standing there, with a presence as powerful as the great Caesar himself. The room fell silent, and the twins slowly backed away from me, never once taking their cautious eyes off of their leader. Cyrus stoicly descended to the bottom of the staircase and stood in front of me, as I watched the others settle into softer positions, their heads bowed slightly under his command. "I believe I just asked you all a question." His eyes searched the room accusingly, and finally landed on Scout, who was pouting slightly in his chair and fidgeting with his fingernails while trying to avoid his stare. "Scout?"

Scout frowned his face at me, and then grumbled, "I just don't see why we need him around. We were doing just fine by ourselves."

"That's not your decision to make, now is it?" Scout didn't answer at first, and Cyrus loudly demanded his attention. "SCOUT!"

"No, Cyrus. It's not." He said, and his eyes dropped down to the floor like the others.

Cyrus looked at everyone's faces for a moment, his appearance acting as a strong sedative to the previously 'hostile' environment. He then addressed the rest of the room. "Let me make something perfectly clear...Wesley is my guest. NOT yours. He is here because I have deemed it important. And I want him to be comfortable. I do not see the need to explain myself further on this matter. Do I make myself clear?" They all slowly nodded in unison. "Scout? Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Cyrus." He whimpered under his breath, his boyish appearance adopting its youthful innocence for the first time since I had seen him.

"Then I will have to assume that any further 'conflicts' from this point forward is a deliberate act of disobedience. And I will deal with the person responsible accordingly." When I looked back out across the room, I couldn't help but be taken aback by how instantly...'tame' everyone had suddenly become. Almost as if they were afraid or even ashamed to look Cyrus in the eye. From everything else that I've seen of this group of delinquents throughout the day, I hadn't expected this level of obedient behavior from them at all. They had abolutely no problem picking a fight or tossing up middle fingers in ANYBODY'S direction...until it came to Cyrus.

He waited with a long pause, the deafening silence sweeping over us all as he worked to make his point and waited for any objection. Then he said softly, "Come, Wesley...walk with me."

Cyrus moved towards the door and opened it to guide me outside. I never took my eyes off of the others. I almost expected them to rush me in a fury the second I turned my back. I almost didn't want to come back. They'd HATE me. They'd ALL totally hate me. What was I thinking? I knew that this 'family' bullshit was all too good to be true. Whatever. I'M not the wuss here! They're just jerks! It's not like I needed these freaks anyway. The second they kick me out of their little clubhouse, I'm outta here. At least I'll get to go home.

Cyrus closed the door behind us, and walked with me down the step of the front porch. Again, his warm smile returned to his lips without hesitation, and a brotherly arm reached up to gently ruffle my hair. I wasn't sure if I should take this as a good sign or not, so it didn't necessarily restore any confidence in the idea that I belonged in here. "Don't mind them, Wesley. It's common for new members to butt heads with the others from time to time. There is a period of adjustment that must be endured while everything begins to balance out evenly again. Give them time....they collectively have a whole new mindset to accomadate for." He grinned.

"I wasn't trying to start any trouble." I said.

"I know. It's not always about 'starting trouble'. We're all different people, and sometimes it takes a while for our auras to get in sync with one another. Nothing more." He said, walking slowly and guiding me further and further away from the house. "You have a strong, definitive, vibe about you, Wes. It's unique. It's specific. You're not one of those boys that easily blends into the constant blur of unoriginal personalities that I see day in and day out. That's why I chose you. That's why you continue to intrigue me."

"I...I do?"

"Yes. And while they may not admit it right away...the others feel the same way. Especially John Boy. It has been ages since I've seen him so fascinated." It almost sounded like a trick to me. Something to get me to feel good and let my guard down so that they could surprise me again with another sudden mood swing and knock me down even further than before. But a feeling of stupid accomplishment seemed to seep in anyway. It was such a strange power he had sometimes, to make you feel like you could do no wrong. Like he could 'guide' you better than anyone else ever could. Maybe it was the words he used or the way his eyes stared into yours with complete confidence as he spoke...but Cyrus had this eerie way of making you believe almost anything. There was this dark sense of charm that eased your mind and made your worries seem so small. It was alluring. Hypnotic. A demon's intellect hidden behind the face of a blond angel. And it was almost unsettling to realize how much you would do to please him.

I was lost in his eyes for a moment of silence, when I heard the music in the house start back up again, full blast. Cyrus' grin spread even wider. "You see? Already forgotten." He said. "Come....let's get away from some of this noise." He lightly took me by the arm, and we walked towards a dark patch of forest that began to go uphill. I followed him without thought, without question, and yet felt completely comfortable with his ability to sweep me along. No matter where he took me...I had no doubt that it would be a precise part of his divine plan. And that was a blueprint that I had quickly learned to trust and follow....but I couldn't even begin to tell you why.

We traveled up and up until we reached the top of a large hill, looking down into a valley of trees. And above us...a navy blue sky, with the full moon's silver light blazing down on us without a single cloud to hinder it. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Cyrus asked me, moving behind me and putting both of his hands on my shoulders. "It's almost like a second sun. But...I've always liked the moon better. It's not trying to illuminate the world, or change the color of the sky. merely stands out, all on its own, among the brightest stars in the darnkess. Bold, glorious...unapologetic in every possible way. I find it admirable."

"I suppose." I said. I didn't really share his sentiment, but I could feel him leaning closer, his warm breath on the back of my neck, raising a slight chill deep inside me.

"You know....when I first saw you at Rainbow's End...standing on the outside of that party, watching everyone make a predictable ass out of themselves...that's exactly how you looked to me. You were the brightest spectacle amongst an entire wasteland of dimly lit entities. And I wanted you with me."

"But why? You never once told me why, Cyrus. I'm nothing special." I said.

"Oh, but you are, Wesley. You hold within you the potential for something incredible. Much more incredible than your currently 'narrow' thoughts and dreams can offer you. My're one of the rare few that can see through the superficial bullshit that you see in front of you, and has the capability to understand it from a higher level. You just haven't been awakened yet." Cyrus walked around to stand beside me and look down into the valley. "Your inner conflict is growing stronger and stronger by the day. That tug of war between what you've learned and what you've been taught to believe about life...they don't quite add up. Do they? I can tell. It shows in your eyes." He looked up at me and smiled. "I understand, believe me. You're at an age where you are witnessing the death of your childhood, and the birth of adulthood. It can be hard to balance what you used to believe with what you've learned over time. You's easier when you're younger, because you have no extensive 'history', no wealth of life experience. A child has to compensate for that by having a vivid imagination to fill in the gaps. That imagination can make the world much more fantastic...or much scarier...than it really is. To a child, dreams of fairness and justice and compassion still exist. Right and wrong still apply. And their tucked away right beside thoughts of the boogie man and the Easter bunny in a perfectly logical fashion." Cyrus then looked at me with a spark in his eye. " we get older...we learn the true 'politics' of the world around us. And that faith begins to rapidly crumble under our feet. It darkens your very soul more and more with every disappointment, every heartbreak, every betrayal...until that once wonderful dream machine breaks down on us, and our imagination is no longer strong enough to cast a convincing illusion of what life should've been." I stood silent. It was as though his voice had bewitched me somehow. And I felt a shiver run throuh me as his words entered my mind without any defense on my part. I didn't have the ability to reason or was like he was talking directly to my spirit, and I couldn't block his everything.

"I..I don't think my life is so bad..." I mumbled.

"Of course not. You're in a prison with no walls, Wes. You've been given every imaginable freedom, but not the power to stretch that imagination beyond the walls they've built for you. You remain trapped because they've conditioned you to accept it. Willingly. Gracefully even. Without ever asking why. Have you ever just had a random urge to do something you wanted to do, that you had the freedom to do, but talked yourself out of it? Huh? That's not a mistake, you know. You're conditioned to create horrible and threatening circumstances for anything that goes beyond the underachieving path that your society has laid out for you. You wouldn't even want to try. And suddenly, it's the life that you want that gets put away with thoughts of the boogie man...and the Easter bunny. While you pretend to 'grow up' and force yourself into the same mindless set up as everybody else." Cyrus stepped back, and paced softly back and forth behind me again, speaking quietly over my shoulder. "I know how it feels, Wesley. I was there once myself. Struggling for an answer. Waiting for it to come to me in a bolt of lightning, so that I could finally figure out why I was left outside of the world's little country club. Why I couldn't just turn my thoughts off and sleepwalk through life like the rest of the sheep. Don't take it upon yourself to think that I didn't try. I waited. Waited for the heartless to be punished. Waited for the rude and the vulgar to get what they deserved. Waited for the people who built their castles on the betrayal and misery of others to witness their own destruction. And it never happened. Never. If anything, it was the wicked, the self centered, and the greedy, that prospered above all others. Without a moment of guilt for the people they've hurt, or the lives they've destroyed. How can you look at the world from the top of a mountain of gold...and truly feel a pinch of regret?" He said. "Yeah...I tried to understand. But being that warm hearted soul didn't get me the results that I was looking for. Breaking bread with those less fortunate, offering friendship, offering love...people leeched it off of me for their own selfish needs, and then took off to find a better source of 'entertainment'." He said, his fingers holding my shoulders firmly as his voice turned into a passionate whisper. "I got sooooo tired of being the martyr, Wesley. So tired of putting forth the effort it took to live a good life while the assholes get rewarded over and over again by stepping down on the rest of us. I refused to do it anymore. I refused to be the phoenix, rising from the ashes...only to be burned down again even worse than before." Cyrus turned me slightly to look him in the eye. "And that's when I was chosen."

"Chosen?" I asked.

"Yes...I had someone show me the way. The same way I'm doing for you." Cyrus grinned. "He taught me how to see things clearly. much of the world that I was desperately trying to be a part of was the lie. THAT'S the land of make-believe, Wesley...not you and me. A 60 year old honored war veteran being bossed around by a 17 year old pipsqueak with a job title at Wal-Mart...THAT'S make-believe. A housewife and her child being brutally battered on a daily basis by her drunken husband and not leaving because they don't think they have a choice...THAT'S make-believe. A celebrity spending one hundred thousand dollars a NIGHT on a temporary hotel room in a city with over 1000 homeless people starving in the street...THAT'S make-believe. None of that is REAL, it never has been. And God help the lonely son of a bitch who suddenly pierces through that mirage of 'fake importance' to see the truth."

"I still don't see what this has to do with you bringing me here."

"Because you SEE!" He told me, slightly excited. "Because, like the rest of us, you have the ability to break away from that false perception and join us. You can see the limitations of this world and can therefore help us to push past them. All of us...John Boy, Kristin, Sebastian...the whole group...we've all found our own unique way out of society's dungeon. And with you on board, we'll become stronger. With every new addition to our number, we gain strength, speed, insight...I'm willing to bet that you will bring a great amount of energy to the table."

"You're saying all of this like you're expecting me to stay for good." I said.

"Why not?" To be honest, I really didn't expect Cyrus to even suggest something so outlandish. I think I froze, and he returned his hands to my shoulders. "Don't you get tired of it, Wes? Being pushed around, doing what you're told, being punished for things you didn't even do? Don't you ever want to just stand up and do whatever you want to do, or say what you truly feel, without being scared of the consequences?" I looked down for a moment, and his hands moved to my face. "What about the boy in the store tonight?"

I looked up. "Huh?"

"Wouldn't you like to be able to 'have' him...the way you had the rest of us? To love him freely without ever having to hide? From him, from your friends, from your family? Wouldn't it be magic...if you could just go to bed for ONE night, and know that you spent the last 24 hours living the life you were meant to have. And not have a single regret about it." With his hands, Cyrus lowered my head and brought me into his chest. He hugged me close, his warmth surrounding me, and he kissed the top of my forehead. "Soon, won't have to be afraid of anything or anyone. You won't have to hold back anymore. No one will laugh at you, or use you, or boss you around ever again. I can bring you the truth. I can make time disappear completely. I can satisfy your every craving and more. And I can protect you from any and all harm, from now until the stars burn out." His hand traveled down my back, and my scratches pulsed with a warm and mellow throb. And yet, despite his comforting embrace, I could no more submerge myself in his illusion than I could the one he seemed to despised so much. It just...wasn't a sane option. I mean...was he crazy? He was acting like some kinda demonic hippie or something, and now he wants me to shack up in his little sex-filled teenage commune? It was hardly something I thought of as being credible.

It was then, hearing the faint pounding of the music coming from the old house in the distance, that I saw a cloud of dark smoke coming from the chimney. The scent was lightly lingering in the air, but getting stronger by the second as the wind brought it our way. I also looked towards the porch, and noticed Sebastian's slim shadow in the window. It stirred up an idea that might actually be able to help me get home. "You know...the moon is so bright, and it's not that late..." I said, "I think...maybe we could all have a little bit more fun tonight." I felt Cyrus slowly kiss me on the top of the head.

"I couldn't agree more." He smiled. "What's your pleasure?"

"I thought....maybe we could go back to Rainbow's End. Maybe see what's going on over there." I reached into my pocket, pulling out the small bottle of alcohol. "Maybe open 'this' and see what all the fuss is about."

I knew I was lying. I had no intention of drinking, or having fun, or even staying at the party for more than a few deceptive minutes or so. least if I could get them to drive me to Rainbow's End, I'd be close enough sneak off and find my way home. I remembered the path well enough to do it, and by the time they realized I was gone, I'd be out of their reach. Problem solved, at least for now. "Rainbow's End, huh? Interesting choice." He said, almost with a hint of sarcasm. Or did I imagine it.

"'s just like you said, there's a full moon out tonight." Then I repeated Sebastian's phrase, "We're wasting a perfectly good moon." Which garnered a smirk from him, as he tilted his head slightly to the side.

Then...Cyrus sorta 'ruined' my courage by asking, with a wide smile, "Are you sure you wanna do this, Wesley?" It was in his eyes. A spark of suspicion so strong that it nearly forced me to give up on the plan entirely. It was like he could peel back the layers of my spirit and discover the truth without any effort at all. And yet, I took the chance that it was a trick. Something he used to make me thinkhe knew more than he really did. Maybe I can still get away. Maybe he doesn't know anything at all. I kept my mouth shut, afraid that my voice would betray me if I spoke outloud, and I nodded in agreement. "Alright then, I'll gather the others." He then added, "You can go ahead and wait in the truck if you like. But don't go anywhere. It would be MUCH too easy to hunt you down." He grinned at me and gave me a wink, before heading back towards the house. As I followed him out of the wooded area, I began to wonder if all of this was a bit too obvious. And if he knew what I was up to...why is he taking me there? My mind was spinning in circles, but I didn't want to let him get to me. The plan is to just stay quiet, get to Rainbow's End, and then run off into the night before they can stop me. That's what I'm sticking to.

I just hope they fall for it. It might be my only way home.