Cringing, I entered the ice-cold water and splashed toward her, leaping sluggishly to keep up. My foot caught a rock and I fell in, drenching myself, and before I knew it, the current had me, too.
Panic rose up inside of me as soon as my head was submerged. But I was conscious, and even though I couldn’t swim, the water wasn’t deep. Unlike my nightmare, I managed to find my footing and push myself toward the surface. I struggled to reach Ava, and once I did, I grabbed her arm and yanked her toward me. My heart beat painfully fast, but I kept breathing as steadily as I could. I was going to kill Ava once she was awake, and if there was any justice in the world, she’d need stitches and permanently scar that pretty little face of hers.
I pulled Ava toward the shore and out of the freezing water, relieved to be on dry land. Even though she’d only been in for half a minute, her skin was beginning to turn blue, and I turned her on her side, hoping that would help if she’d swallowed any water.
“Ava?” I said, kneeling down next to her. My teeth chattered. “Ava—wake up.”
She was still. I leaned in closer, waiting for her to take a breath, but she didn’t. I swallowed the lump of dread in my throat. CPR. I could do that.
Roll her onto her back, palms against her diaphragm, one, two, three, four, five, six…
I looked at her and waited. Nothing.
“If this is some kind of joke…” I tried again. I wasn’t giving her mouth-to-mouth unless I absolutely had to.
It was then that I noticed the gash on her head. I don’t know how I’d missed it before—blood stained her hair scarlet, and I momentarily abandoned CPR to see how bad it was.
It wasn’t just a cut. My stomach twisted violently when I pulled her hair back to see the wound. Her skull wasn’t round on the top of her head—it was flat.
I shrieked and covered my mouth, seconds away from vomiting. Even in the dark, I could tell I wasn’t just looking at hair and blood. Her scalp was exposed and part of it flapped open, revealing a crushed skull and bits of—oh, God, I didn’t even want to think about it.
Quickly my fingers went to the side of her neck, searching in vain for a pulse. My breath was coming in rapid gasps now, and the world spun as I automatically resumed CPR. She couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. It was a joke, just some sick joke where I was supposed to drag my sorry ass to the front gate and walk home. She wasn’t supposed to be—
“Help!” I yelled as loudly as I could as hot tears streamed down my face. “Somebody help!”
Sobbing, I thrust my hands against Ava’s abdomen. She couldn’t be dead. Two minutes ago, she’d been telling me off for…for what? It didn’t matter. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, taking a deep, shuddering breath. No. Not possible. This wasn’t happening.
“Help!” I cried, looking around wildly, hoping for some sign of life. But all I saw on either side of us were trees, and the only sound I heard was the flowing river. If anyone lived on the property, they could’ve been miles away.
I looked back at Ava, her face swimming as my eyes filled with tears again. What was I supposed to do?
My shoulders shook, and my body was useless. I stumbled backward, falling into a sitting position as I stared at Ava. Her eyes were wide open, unblinking and lifeless, and she was still as blood trickled from her head. It was useless.
I drew my knees to my chest, unable to tear my eyes away. What would happen now? Who would find us? I couldn’t leave her. I had to stay here until someone found us. Oh, God, my poor mother—what would everyone say? Would they think I killed Ava? Hadn’t I, in a way? If I hadn’t agreed to go with her, then she would’ve never jumped headfirst into a river.
“May I help you?”
My heart skipped a beat. Standing beside me was a man—a boy? I couldn’t tell, as his face was partially obscured by the darkness. But what I could see of him made my breath hitch in my throat. His hair was dark, and the jacket he wore was long and black, flapping in the cold breeze.
I hadn’t imagined him after all.
“She’s—” I couldn’t finish.
He knelt next to Ava and examined her. He had to see the same things I saw—the bloody head, the too-still body, the angle of her neck. But instead of panicking, he looked up at me, and a jolt ran down my spine. His eyes were the color of moonlight.
I heard rustling a few feet away. Startled, I twisted around, only to see a black Great Dane approach us, tail wagging. The dog sat next to him, and he scratched the dog behind his ears.
“What’s your name?” he said evenly.
With trembling hands, I tucked my wet hair behind my ears. “K-Kate.”
“Hello, Kate.” There was a calming quality to his voice, almost melodic. “I’m Henry, and this is Cerberus.”
I could see his face clearly now that he was closer, and something about it looked off. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me, twenty-two at the most, but even that was pushing it. And he was too beautiful to be out in the middle of the woods like this. He should’ve been on magazine covers, not spending his time hidden away in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
But his eyes drew my attention. Even in the darkness, they shone brightly, and I had a hard time tearing myself away from his gaze.
“M-my friend,” I said, my voice trembling. “She’s—”