As The Arrow Flies - by C.L. Stegall

4. Call It Even?

Apollo gave me an address off of Canyon Drive, up in the Hollywood hills. He said that Buck would be there just before sundown. I’m a cautious person when it comes to unknown situations. Most of the time. So, I got there early and parked my Jetta a mile away from the area where Buck was supposed to show. It was about two hundred yards past the second switchback, coming from Mulholland. I made my way quickly to the opposite side of the road from the turnout I found there, hid. And, waited.

Past the turnout, the brush and thicker bushes gave way to a copse of pine trees and a few oaks. Behind me the brush became even sparser down the hill. I scrambled down and lay behind the thickest bush I could find. I thought about what Apollo had told me about Buck. If what he said was true, and I had every reason to doubt him, then the man was hell-bent on a path of destruction. Part of that was his apparent desire to see me dead. Great.

Apollo considered him a very dangerous man. If an actual, supposed god thought that much of him, it was something to take under serious advisement.

That whole god thing was still bouncing around in my brain. I mean, he did pull a bullet from me without so much as a pair of tweezers. It certainly couldn’t have been my imagination that I healed myself. Right? It felt as if everything was different now. Yet, so little had changed. I was still homeless, jobless and had a homicidal maniac after my head.

Apollo had been kind enough to inform me that I would not likely survive the confrontation without utilizing my wits, maintaining my composure and relying on my inherent will to survive. Duh. All his speech did was make me more nervous about what I was walking into. I fingered my favored weapon, the only one with which I felt proficient: my knife.

It wasn’t long until I heard the smooth whine of the BMW and Buck’s car came into sight around the switchback. He pulled into the turnout and the car idled for a minute before switching off. I watched him exit the vehicle, his head as usual swiveling left and right, checking for traffic. This was not a super busy road to begin with but he seemed extra cautious. Made me curious what he might be up to. Apollo hadn’t mentioned the reason he would be here, only that he would. I watched and waited a while longer.

Buck checked his watch, glanced toward the west and then went around to the opposite side. My hand went to my mouth as he pulled another man from the car and shoved him toward the rear of the vehicle. Buck stopped him at the trunk and I saw that the new guy’s hands were bound behind his back by what looked like a long zip tie. He was a captive. It didn’t make sense at first but then I put two and two together and shuddered at the realization that Buck had brought this man out here to kill him.

Shit. What was I supposed to do now? I’d come out here to face Buck but, suddenly, it looked like I had another choice to make. After only a moment’s thought it didn’t seem like much of a choice at all. I couldn’t let Buck kill this guy. I didn’t care what the guy had done, Buck was a frigging loon. I just didn’t know crazy he was until he popped the trunk and pulled out the bow and a quiver of arrows. I strained to hear their voices when the captive began to freak out and stammer loudly.

“You can’t do this, man,” the guy said, starting to back away.

“You can run with your hands tied,” Buck stated. “’Course, where’s the sport in that, right?”

“You’re gonna let me go?”

“Sure. Well. I’ll give you a one minute head start. That’s about as fair as I can be in this particular situation,” Buck said, as he pulled out a pocketknife. “And, you know what? I’m good with that.” He turned the guy around with a shove and sliced the plastic tie from his hands. The man took off towards the trees like a greyhound after a rabbit. Or, rather, I thought, like a rabbit from a greyhound.

Buck whistled tunelessly for a few seconds, as he flung the quiver over his shoulder and then nocked an arrow. He glanced at his watch and then closed the trunk, holding the bow and readied arrow with one hand, just as zip tie guy entered the tree line. With a nonchalance that irked me to no end, Buck began to stroll toward the trees.

Okay, what was my plan? Plan? Right. No plan. I jumped up and, using my speed, darted into the trees east of where Buck and his target had entered. I figured to cut the target off and then try to determine how I could save us both. I stopped beside a thick pine and listened for any movement.

“Little girl,” Buck called out, to my amazement, “You are beginning to be a huge pain my ass. I warned you, didn’t I? Are you stupid? Or, do you just have a death wish?”

Dammit! How did he even know I was here? I looked left and right and then dashed to another good–sized pine tree. The arrow thunked into the trunk only inches from my head. Shite! This guy was good! And, dangerous.

“Why don’t we talk about this, Buck?” I yelled, trying to buy some time. I quickly slipped between several trees deeper into the copse. Where the hell was the zip tie guy?

“What is there to talk about?” Buck replied. “You stole from me, embarrassed me. Unacceptable.”

I had brought the coins, leaving them in the trunk of my Jetta. I figured I might as well have some bartering piece during this confrontation. Of course, now the game had changed considerably. I also still wore the necklace around my neck. “Why don’t I just return the items and we call it even?”

“What’s done is done, little girl. Your actions have consequences. Deal with it.”

Great. This guy was a philosopher as well as a psycho. Another arrow thunked into the tree and I dropped down and away as fast as I could. I zigzagged between the trees and damned near ran right over the zip tie guy. He nearly shit himself when I appeared right beside of him.

“Relax, dude. I’m on your side, okay?” I said, trying to catching my breath. He started to run off and I grabbed his arm. “Wait. What the hell did you do to this guy, anyway?”

The man was somewhere in his late twenties. He had a lip ring and tattoos down his arms. This close up he didn’t look like someone who would be scared of someone Buck’s size. I guess looks really can be deceiving.

“I cheated him on a deal,” he said, his eyes flitting down to his boots.

“Lovely. Buck don’t seem to take too kindly to such things, does he?”

“No. Definitely not.”

I peeked around the tree, keeping low. No sign of Buck. Not that this was good thing. Bastard could be anywhere. I turned to the zip tie guy. “What’s your name, dude?”

“Jim.”

“Well, Jim,” I said, “Let’s see if we can get out of this shit alive, okay?” He just nodded. I got a weird itch and pulled Jim down to the ground just as another arrow thwacked into the tree right where the guy’s head had been. I dragged him around the other side of the tree and looked for some kind of escape.

5. Little Doubt

It was strange. All of a sudden, I felt this eerie calm come over me. My eyesight seemed keener and my breathing slowed to a steadier pace. My thoughts seemed crystal clear and I saw a vision from my past, a memory.

I had just run away from my foster home. I was traipsing down the street, lost in my own misery, when I passed this homeless guy. After mom died, there were quite a few times when I just felt so out of control that I thought I would go insane. I would struggle with the weight of it all. My hands would tremble, the anger at my situation overpowering my grief of the same.

The old man was leaning up against a corner in Long Beach. He was all grimy and missing one front tooth, decked out in cargo shorts and a ragged Hawaiian shirt. His flip-flops might have been white at one time but you sure couldn’t tell. He caught my eye as I approached.

“Life ain’t never what you expect, is it, kid?” he said. I nodded in response to his remark. Without warning, the old dude just leaped up and started doing a jig, his flip-flops slapping against the concrete to make the rhythm. “You can dance through life, you can stumble, or you can soar. It’s always up to you, kid.”

“Yeah?” I said, stopping and placing my hands on my hips. I was in no mood for this bum’s weird advice. “So, what’re you doing? It don’t look like you’re soaring much.”

“Oh, that stings!” he said, through a toothy grin. “I made my choice. I dance a little. I soar a little. Wherever the day takes me. How about you, kid? You soaring through life? You dancing?” He winked at me with his ugly smile cracking the grime on his face. “Or, are you being dragged by the ponytail, outta control and lost?”

“Who the hell are you? You don’t know me.” Something about this guy made my bones itch.

“Nah,” he replied. “But, that’s okay. You don’t even know yourself. Yet. You figure that out, and you might have a shot at something bigger than petty thievery.”

I was taken aback. How did this guy, this street bum, know about my thieving tendencies? I started to inch away as he smiled his ugly smile and resumed his jig.

“Be strong, kid,” he said, “See ya later.” He jigged his way down the street in the opposite direction.

Something about that guy had always stuck with me and now, as I was locked in some sort of death match with a psycho wielding a bow and arrow, I remembered the bum’s words. I knew who I was, now. I was strong. Time to soar.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Buck sing-songed.

I took a deep breath, my decision made. It wasn’t an easy one. I had to give this loon one last chance before I could take the next steps.

“Hey, Buck!” I called out.

“Yes, dear?” he replied, much to my irritation.

“Let me ask you a question. And, please be honest.”

“No promises!”

“Will you ever stop trying to kill me?”

“No, ma’am!”

“Just on general principle, huh?”

“You got it,” he called out.

“Yeah,” I muttered, looking over at wide-eyed Jim. “I figured as much.” I shifted to get ready and looked Jim in the eyes. “You. Do. Not. Move. Got it?”

“What are you gonna do? You’re just a little girl. That guy’s gonna kill us both.”

“What did I just say?” I pointed my finger at him like a warning mother to an errant son. “Stay. Got it?” I emphasized the last word by poking my finger into his chest to make sure we understood each other. He nodded vigorously.

I darted to another tree, staying just high enough to get Buck’s attention. It wasn’t necessary. Another arrow followed me and I swung around a pine just in the nick of time. If Apollo knew as much as he did about Buck and Buck could shoot at me when I was at full speed, then it stood to reason that Buck was Progeny, too. This guy had some serious abilities. And, probably a few I wasn’t aware of. To not take that possibility into account could get me killed. Over a damned necklace and some old frigging coins. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief.

I searched the ground by my feet and found a rock about the size of a golf ball. Using my speed, I shot through the trees between me and Buck, tossing the rock full force toward his head. I watched as he casually slid to one side, taking better cover. It was almost… as if he had known where the rock was coming from. That wasn’t right. I retreated in the opposite direction.

Either this guy had some kind of super sight or he was a damned psychic. I stopped still. Shit. Prophecy. This bastard was Apollo’s son! I leaned back against the rough bark of the tree and let my breath out slowly. My new boss had sent me out here to kill his own frigging son. Could things get any worse?

“Heads up!” I heard Buck’s words in time with the arrow striking the tree so close to my head that when I jumped and moved, I left some of my fine red hair behind.

My survival instinct kicked in again and my breathing slowed. I steadied as my plan formulated in my mind. It was tricky but it might just work. Knife in hand, I retrieved two more rocks on the run, placing them both in my throwing hand in a way to control their release. I leaped and ran with my greatest speed, leaving cover, spotting Buck, weaving just enough to get two solid machine-gun shots off with the rocks. Buck managed to duck the first rock but the second ricocheted off of his temple, hazing his world. In the blink of an eye, I was on him. I struck out with the knife, slicing through his bowstring and his arm before I disappeared into the protection of the trees.

“Oh, you are good, little girl,” Buck called out. He did not seem any more disturbed than before I struck. I peered around my tree to see him healing his own wound. He glowered at the bow now lying useless on the ground. At least, that tweaked him off a bit. He reached down and retrieved one of the aluminum arrows from the quiver, prepared to use it as a hand-to-hand weapon.

“Why don’t you come out and face me one-on-one, honorably?” he called.

I watched how his fingers played over the shaft of the arrow, his grip tightening and loosening. If there was one thing I was certain of, it was the fact that the true definition of honor had never quite made it into this guy’s dictionary. Treachery shone from his eyes like halogen lamps in the dead of night.

I was both saddened and pissed that Apollo was right. Buck was on a path of pure destruction. I wasn’t sure how many people he might have killed in the past but I was damned certain he would kill in the future.

“I wish things could’ve been different, Buck,” I said.

“Come out and fight, you little bitch!” He had finally lost his cool. Good. Now was the time.

“What’d you call me?” I moved out into the open. I saw his eyes narrow and the arrow flipped around in his hand. Even as he raised his arm I was moving toward him. In one smooth movement, he let the arrow fly with all of his strength and fury. I stopped and began to run backwards, carefully and quickly.

I matched the arrow’s speed, snatched it from the air, and flipped it around. With every ounce of strength and speed I had left, I ran toward Buck, letting loose the projectile. Buck’s arm was back and readying a second arrow when mine embedded itself into his throat. He gurgled surprise, his eyes wide, as I arrived at his side. Before I could change my mind, I clasped both the ends of the arrow, in front and behind his neck, pushing one end and pulling the other with all of my might. The aluminum shaft bent as it tore through his windpipe and I heard a crack from the back of his neck. Buck coughed out a spew of blood and spit, terror in his eyes for what I would have bet was the first and last time. His legs gave way with the broken vertebrae. He fell almost soundlessly into the leaves and pine needles.

Jim, the zip tie guy, had watched the scene unfold and now I saw him running for the road, not looking back. I can’t say I blamed him.

I stared down at Buck, watching through my tears to ensure he was really dead. This was not what I wanted, but this man was a danger to anyone else he ever came in contact with. Even though it hurt like hell, I knew I had done the right thing. My heart pounded in my chest. My world had changed. Whether it was for the better or not… well, that remained to be seen.

“The world you live in is much more dangerous than this, Lily.” Apollo stood behind me, rested his huge hand on my shoulder. I felt that strange itch deep in my bones. “This is only preparation for what is to come,” he stated. “I apologize in advance and I hope upon hope that what I see in you is true, that you can handle the future coming speeding toward you.”

“I’ll do what I have to do. I’m a survivor.” I turned and walked away. Over the throbbing of my pulse, echoing behind my eyes, I heard his final words.

“Of that, my dear Lily, I have little doubt.”

Written by CL Stegall