The offer comes in and Jay takes drastic measures to ensure he is helped.
Indie washed his hands and pulled the coffee maker out from the wall. He filled the pot with water and poured it in the back. Then he put in a clean filter and several scoops of dark, smoky coffee. He flipped the switch on and pulled out two mugs. Then he leaned under the sink and dug around for a moment. Indie finally stood holding a half empty bottle of cheap whiskey, a bottle his parents didn’t know that the littlest one had informed him of months before. As the coffee began to percolate and fill the kitchen with amazing smells, the boy skipped in.
“I’m choppin’ onions but I ain’t eatin’ ‘em!” He said with a laugh and moved his stool to the counter near the onions. He and Indie sometimes cooked for their mother when she was tired or just for fun. They moved in synch, Indie merely pointing with the tip of his large knife or grunting a short sound to direct the boy.
In no time they had dinner going and their mother had a stout coffee with a healthy dose of whiskey in her hands. Indie made a second cup of coffee with no whiskey just as Jay got home. He motioned to the steaming cup with his chin as he flipped a porkchop.
“Momma said you got a call from Mr. Avery,” Indie said.
“Yeah, he said it didn’t take them no time at all to figure out what they wanted to offer us.” Jay’s eyes darted to little boy’s back. He was bent over a tomato, dicing it carefully with the sharp knife.
“You boys eat quick-like then get cleaned up. I want us to look like good folk.” Their mother stood and motioned for Jay to follow her. “You want me to cut your hair, Jay?”
Jay shrugged, an often-used gesture for him, and sipped his coffee.
“If you feel like it, Momma.”
Indie nodded at his little brother and smiled. “His too, Momma.”
“I’m growin’ my hair out like Indie.” The boy scowled at him and shook his short curls. The elder brother was touched and kept silent.
Indie watched the boy carefully before turning back to the pork chops on the stove. He hadn’t mentioned to the little boy that his days with the family were limited. He had a strong suspicion that Mr. Avery would offer them something that neither parent could refuse and then he would take his little brother away, forever. The panic in his chest shocked him. He knew he loved the boy, but losing him, even to a life that was probably better than he would ever have if he stayed home, seemed too painful to touch.
Mr. Avery showed up, again, exactly at nine o’clock. He carried a dark leather briefcase but was alone this time. He was ushered to their kitchen table to sit with their mother, father and the boy. The rest of the them stood awkwardly around, waiting to see what would happen.
“As I have communicated to your son James, this is all above-board. These contracts are legally binding. If you sign them, there is little you can do to break the contract.” He sounded businesslike. Indie’s parents both nodded in understanding.
“My part in all of this is simple. I am a broker for the Hierarchy. In fact, that is my official title: Broker Avery. It is my job to make sure that you do not break your part of the agreement. If you cannot deliver after signing, I pay a heavy price. If my faction cannot meet their end of this arrangement, the contract fails and you keep your son, forever. I cannot broker another deal for him, and he will be out of our hands. It is in my best interest to keep you happy and make sure that this transaction goes smoothly.” He looked to Indie’s parents again and they nodded slowly. Indie knew that they barely followed what the man had said, but he had assured them that he was on their side in this affair.
“Excellent.” He clicked open the briefcase and drew out a thick stack of papers, each thicker than normal paper. He laid them down and withdrew his pen from before and laid it across the papers.
“We gotta read this entire thing?” Indie’s father asked. He sounded annoyed and put out.
“It would be in your best interest to, yes. But I can summarize its contents if you would prefer. I must warn you, though, that a summarization does not include any clauses written into the contract, nor does it allow you to renege on the agreement after signing.” Mr. Avery explained. Indie’s parents exchanged glances and then their father nodded.
“Summarize for me.”
“Very well. This contract states that you allow us, hereby referred to as the Nightbound Hierarchy, to take your youngest son to train him in the Lux Initiative, a special program for people like him. He is very gifted and thus worth quite a lot to us. We offer you ten-thousand dollars cash and higher education scholarships for your remaining children to any school of their choice.” Mr. Avery was succinct in his summary. The contract he had just condensed was several pages thick.
The room was quiet, and Indie looked to each of his family member’s faces. His mother seemed sad, his father looked suspicious, the twins looked anxious and tense. It was Jay’s face that he stopped and studied. He looked first shocked, as though the offer was beyond his imagining. However, Indie then caught that familiar trace of annoyance run across his expression. Then a thoughtful, collapsed acceptance rested in his eyes. Indie looked to Mr. Avery again. He was looking to his parents, awaiting a reaction.
“I want them scholarships as cash. Ain’t none of my boys needin’ it. It serves us better as food on the table, or maybe a new car,” their father said finally.
“Cash? Surely, you would like to send your sons to school. Especially James, who has told me he has graduated with honors.” Mr. Avery’s confusion was justified.
“Nobody gonna tell me what I should be doin’ with my sons. Jay don’t need no more school, he’s a big enough smart ass as is.” Indie’s father glared up at his oldest son.
“Pops…” began Jay.
“Try me, boy.” His voice was so cold and hard that Jay drew in his breath deeply as though he had been punched again.
“I want the scholarship,” he insisted.
“I ain’t never went. Your momma never went. We don’t need you goin’ off and thinkin’ you’re suddenly smarter’n us just ‘cause some rich man paid for you to go to school.” His tone ended the conversation and he held out his hand to Mr. Avery. “I’ll sign it now if you agree to cash.”
“We can agree verbally to a revision of this contract now, if you wish. But I must strongly caution you: a verbal agreement is nearly tantamount to a written contract in these matters. There will be little you, or I, could do to extract ourselves from this type of arrangement. The Hierarchy are rather strict in these matters, I’m afraid.” Mr. Avery looked nervous and uncomfortable Indie noted.
His parents exchanged looks: his father was angry and impatient. His mother was sad, beaten and deflated. She shrugged her acceptance and Indie’s father motioned to the stack of papers.
“We’re gonna sign this. You agree to change it to all cash?”
“Yes, that revision will be made. I can approximate that each scholarship would be worth about fifty-thousand dollars, give or take ten-thousand.” Mr. Avery assured him. He removed the last page of the paper and picked up his own pen. He made some notes at the bottom of the page in a quick, neat hand. He showed his father who read it slowly and the nodded. He held his hand out for the pen.
When his father signed this time, Indie knew that it was different than the testing contract. The pen had nicked his parents’ fingers then, creating tiny cuts on their fingertips. This time, he watched in amazement as the pen glowed a dull reddish-gold and then bloody ink appeared on the page. It too held a subtle golden light that faded as it dried. His father dropped the pen in exhaustion. His mother signed after and she too looked paler than she had moments before.
“You are feeling the effects of an Unbreakable Contract.” Mr. Avery explained. “You have signed with your very life essence, allowing this contract to be altered only with your permission.” He put the contract away and tucked his pen in his breast pocket inside his jacket. “Please know that you are still under the protection of the Scouts posted around your house.”
“You have people around our home?” Indie’s mother asked, shocked.
“Yes, of course. Your son is very special, and we protect that which is deemed valuable.” Mr. Avery stood and straightened his tie. “Until next time, then.” He nodded to each of Indie’s parents and left their kitchen. Jay stormed out and slammed their bedroom door. Indie heard him wedge his bed against the door, something he had not done in a long time.
Silence fell on the room again and the twins were the first to break it.
“Pops, I know you don’t wanna hear it,” Toe began. “But Jay is gonna need to leave. If you take his school money as cash, you owe him some.” Indie saw his father standing, rage building in his face.
“Sit down,” Two suggested. “We ain’t never said nothin’ before but what you just did, shamin’ him like that in front of Mr. Avery…Pops, that shit ain’t right.”
“When Jay leaves, we’re goin’ too.” Toe looked to his twin who just nodded.
“Why you so afraid to let him go, Pops?” Two asked. “What has he ever done to you but be the best son he can be? Ain’t none of us do anything wrong.” The strangled look on Indie’s father’s face was incredible. He looked like a choking fish, oscillating between rage and shame.
“You ungrateful pieces of shit,” was all that he could choke out. “I will kill you both if you ever talk to me that way again.”
“Nah, Pops. Nah. You keep your hands off us now or we will give it back just as good as we get it. I ain’t takin’ no more of this.” Toe jerked his head at Two and they left through the back door. The kitchen somehow felt fuller without them. Indie did his best to keep his eyes to himself, but he couldn’t resist stealing a look at his little brother’s back. He was completely still, shrunk to half his size and silent.
“Indiana, you got somethin’ to say?” demanded his father.
“No, sir.” He looked down at his feet.
Indie, I’m scared. His brother’s voice echoed in his head and he responded with his own mind, as hard as he could.
Jay’s rage was nigh uncontrollable. His punched his pillow until it no longer felt satisfying. He looked at the window and felt the last vestiges of his hope slipping away, then pulled the window open and slipped out into the night.
He could make a run for it. Jay looked up into the night sky and felt the vastness of it weighing on him. He could just leave. But it wasn’t fair that he should be forced to run away like a dog with his tail between his legs. Of all the injustices he had to endure, to be obliged to give up with nothing to call his own but his name, was the most unbearable. He was owed more than this, from his father and from Mr. Avery.
“Mr. Avery,” Jay called calmly when he had caught the man.
“James.” The older man caught the look on his face and held a hand up. “My apologies, Jay.”
“I want either that money or the scholarship. Fuck what my father said.” The anger in his voice made his words sharp in the humid summer night.
“I understand your frustration given that this entire affair was built on the premise that you would be free of your familial obligations, but I cannot go against the wishes of the legal guardians of the child.” Mr. Avery looked genuinely sorry for him and Jay relented a little.
“Is there anything I can do?” he pleaded.
“I would suggest talking to your parents and explaining your situation to them—” Jay cut him off with snarl.
“You’re sayin’ that like I ain’t tried to talk to my father yet. That man ain’t gonna be reasoned with no matter what I say. He has dollar signs in his eyes and that’s all that matters. He might buy Momma a washing machine or a new stove with that money but he ain’t really lookin’ to make anyone happy but himself.”
“I am truly sorry, Jay. I did not predict that your father would be so averse to your leaving.” Mr. Avery turned to go, and Jay grabbed his arm.
“I ain’t stayin’ here any longer, but I ain’t a coward to just run away with nothin’ to live off of.” The fear in his voice was blended with such animalistic ferocity that Mr. Avery looked at him in surprise.
“That is your choice to make. Unless you can have your parents sign your remediation as part of the contract, I simply cannot help you.”
“But you promised me—” he accused.
“I most certainly did not promise you a single thing, James. I’m sorry that this transaction will not benefit you as you had previously hoped, but I cannot do anything.” Mr. Avery gave him a short nod and turned again. Jay’s heart sped up until it was painful. He saw his father’s rage-filled face, felt the wind being knocked from him. He flexed his hands, still sore from fighting back. Jay knew his chances of getting away from his tyrannical father would leave with the man before him.
Suddenly Jay’s desperation to escape made him brash.
“You want my brother, right?” he asked.
Mr. Avery nodded. “Absolutely. He is singular in his talents.”
Jay paused before continuing.
“Get me out of here or…” His stomach felt like leaden ice. “Get me out or he won't be here when you come for him.” Mr. Avery could not cover up his shock with anything resembling politeness.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked for clarification.
“If you want Rat, get me out of this fuckin’ house by any means or when you come to get my brother, he will be gone. I'll blame them that are takin' people.” Jay’s cold words fell from his mouth before he could stop himself. Once said, he could not retract them. He let them fall around him like ashes from a firestorm.
“James…” Mr. Avery began. Jay felt him touching the insides of his head and help up a hand in protest.
“I ain’t kiddin’. You know I will do it. I can see that you want him, but I can also see that if I stay I ain’t gonna be nothin’ but a slave in my own fuckin’ home. Find a way to get me out or forget about getting Rat.”
Mr. Avery appeared to be considering his threat, his eyes steely. Finally, he nodded once.
“Yes, I will add something in the contract for you. Your ruthlessness is a trait that the Hierarchy could really benefit from. If you’re willing to strike a verbal agreement with me now, that you will accept the terms I put in the contract that your family signed, then I will help you.” He held out his white hand and a black gemmed ring flashed in the streetlights.
“Yeah, anything. Just get me the fuck outta here.” He gripped the offered hand and when he touched his palm to Mr. Avery’s he felt a sharp sting, like a splinter lodging in his hand. He pulled away and clenched his fist, determined not to show a single ounce of weakness in front the other man.
“Fantastic.” Mr. Avery’s eyes glinted in the light and he spun on his heel, got in his car, and was gone.
Jay watched the car turn the corner at the end of his street before he opened his hand and looked at his palm. Directly centered in the middle of his hand was a tiny pinprick of blood, as though he had been stuck by a pin. He flexed his hand and it ached as though the pin had been pushed into his flesh with force. Jay wiped his hand on his jeans and looked back down the street to where Mr. Avery had gone. He felt an odd mixture of apprehension and relief washing over him and immediately bent double and threw up in the grass.
As he climbed back into his room through the window, he braced himself for the waves of guilt that he knew would wash over him. He had threatened to do something so abominable and horrifying that he was ashamed the words even formed in his brain, let alone tumbled from his pathetic lips.
“He will want for nothing ever again.”
The words echoed in his thoughts, leaving no room for the guilt to take over. His brother was a freak, not a superhero. He had nearly killed Indie with his tricks. If he had not been born, Jay would be free by now. His mother would not have to be worried all the time. The facts were boundless as he listed his justifications.
His little brother was the direct cause of all of this, and Jay knew that he had only done what he had to do in order to survive. His father had said it himself: He would never get out of this house.
The boy sat on the edge of his bed and looked across the room at Jay. He averted his eyes when Jay caught him staring and pretended to be looking at his fingernails. The boy could not stop thinking about how different Jay looked.
At first, he told himself it was just his haircut that his momma had given his older brother. But the more he looked at him, the more he saw something else in his eyes. He had shadows in his face that weren’t usually there and the boy could not figure out what else was different. He reached his invisible hand out to touch his brother’s mind.
“Fuck off, Rat.” Jay murmured as he flipped the page of his book.
“I ain’t doin’ nothin’,” the boy lied. His eldest brother merely shook his head and sighed.
“Touch my head again and I will slap you.” Jay’s voice was hollow and didn’t sound angry, just matter of fact. He seemed to mean what he said, but there was no emotion behind his threat. It worried the boy that something might be wrong with his brother. He liked helping people, especially his brothers. He had cured Indie, and he could probably cure Jay, too.
When he reached out again, he made sure to close his eyes to hide what he was doing. He laid in his bunk and closed his hands on his stomach. Then he reached his invisible part of him out again, so slowly that he counted to ten before he had reached Jay’s bed. Then another ten to make it to Jay’s face. Another ten to probe slowly into his mind. He felt a hard, open handed slap across his face and gasped.
“I told you to stop that,” Jay said as he leaned over the boy. His hand was raised to slap him again and the boy shrank away.
“I’m sorry, Jay! I just wanna help you!” the boy screamed in shocked pain as he grabbed his cheek.
“I don’t need your help.” Jay laid back down as though he had not just assaulted his brother and continued reading.
Getting hit by Jay wasn’t frequent but it wasn’t unheard of either. The scary part for the boy was the lack of shouting and emotion behind the attack. It scared him more than the slap itself had. Something was surely wrong with his brother, he knew it.
He didn’t have time to think about it too much, though, as Indie interrupted his thoughts when he burst into the room with an anxious energy.
“Momma just got a call from Mr. Avery. He said he is bringin’ the revised papers tonight.” Indie looked at him for the first time and his eyebrows knit together across his nervous face. His eyes flicked to the boy’s cheek, red and throbbing, and over to Jay, lounging in his bed reading.
Don’t say anything, Indie. The boy pleaded silently. Indie merely inclined his head slightly and waved the boy over.
“Let’s find out what we can do to help Momma before Mr. Avery comes.” The boy forced a smile on his face and followed his brother.
Their mother was at the table sewing one of the twin’s newly ripped shirts. Indie saw her hands move in a quick flicking motion to bring the two edges of the torn fabric together. He raised a hand to his forehead and wondered if his brother used that same idea to heal wounds.
“You boys sit outside until dark. I want some quiet.” She nodded to the backdoor but kept her eyes on the sewing in her hands. Indie shrugged and lead the way out the back door, down the few shorts steps, and to the side path that ran along their house to the front. The boys sat next to each other on the curb in the warm sunshine and were still.
Indie looked around them, suspicious of any shadowy figures. The boy caught him looking and frowned.
“What’s wrong?” Indie hated the worry in his tiny voice.
“Aww, nothin’. Just bored.” He shut his mind as hard as he could against his brother. It just set the boy to giggling.
“That’s not how that works. You don’t imagine a door. You have to actually shut your mind.” He sent Indie the idea of their mother’s stitching. “Maybe you would like that idea better.” Indie merely shrugged and shook his head.
“None of it matters, Rat.” Suddenly, he felt the meaning of his words and tears leapt into his eyes. “Shit, Rat. Shit.” The boy scooted closer to him and rested his tiny head on his shoulder.
“I’ll miss you, too, Indie,” he said quietly. He didn’t sound as sad as Indie felt and the elder brother wondered if he was secretly excited to get away. They sat in silence while Indie’s mind raced. His time with his brother was waning, the seconds ticking away with each tear that fell.
“I’ve gotta tell you about the shadow men, Rat, because you need to ask Mr. Avery about them.” Indie finally decided.
“I know about them. I think it’s only one man, and he’s not a shadow. He’s just real fast,” the boy assured his brother.
“You ain’t scared of him?” Indie asked, confused.
“’Course I am. But Mr. Avery said I ain’t gonna get taken while we are with him. Before Mr. Avery I would wish and worry and think and pray that nothing came in that window.” His voice trembled a little.
“I’m sorry I brought it up, Rat. I’m just scared for you. I will ask Mr. Avery myself, then. Because I need to know if we should be worried about him when you leave.” Indie hadn’t planned on talking to the visitor but talking with his brother made him change his mind.
They sat until the shadows of evening fell across them and then went back inside. Indie saw that his mother had dressed in a nice dress, combed her hair up in a flattering pile on her head and had put on a little lipstick. Indie, too, felt like this occasion was momentous.
Each family member filtered in slowly but this time, each brother took his spot at the kitchen table. Their mother stood behind the boy, her hands resting on his shoulders lightly. Their father stood with his backside resting at the sink, sipping a cup of coffee.
The knock startled them all and Indie watched as Jay got up to answer the door. His face was passive, solemn, and blank. He returned shortly with Mr. Avery in tow. Mr. Avery carried two large briefcases, which he set on the counter. He turned and faced the family.
“I’m glad to see you’re all here, as the newest provisos and agreements must be read to all pertaining parties.” He gestured to the two cases and addressed Indie’s parents. “The agreed upon amount, two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Fifty thousand for each scholarship, ten thousand for each remaining child and ten thousand for the boy.” He drew out a single sheet of paper from his breast pocket and unfolded it slowly. Indie reached under the table and grabbed his brother’s tiny hand. His brother squeezed his hand back and gave him a soft smile.
You’re going to come with me, Indie. The boy’s voice had a confident lilt inside his head.
How do you know?
“Dora and James, the Nightbound Hierarchy, on behalf of the Lux Initiative, request formal transference of guardianship of your son…” Mr. Avery intoned formally. He stopped and his eyes landed on Indie’s brother’s face.
“James Junior.” The stunned silence laced with a sharp coldness in the room was broken only by Jay’s own whisper.
“What the fuck?”
“We also request the transfer of guardianship of your sons Benjamin and Joseph.” The shock rippled around the room for a second time, so palpable that Indie swore he could see it.
“Why?” whispered Indie’s mother.
“We also request the transfer of guardianship of your son Indiana.”
“What’s goin’ on here?” Indie’s father finally spoke up.
“And finally, we request the guardianship of your youngest son, Alexander.”
I told you. Indie’s brother’s voice echoed hollowly in his mind as the shock, and something else, wrapped around him. The last thing he heard was his mother’s screaming sobs and his little brother’s delighted, childlike giggle, then nothing.
The boy watched in glee as his parents signed the papers. He was going to take not just Indie with him, but all his brothers. They would be a family, only missing their mother, who he would write to constantly, once he learned how to write. And to read.
“This second contract states that the contact you have with your sons will be limited to written communication, and when we see that it does not interfere with their work, verbal communication may be permitted. You will not attempt to find them, nor will you try to contact them yourselves. We will send any communication from our end.” He watched his parents sign this as well. He looked around the room to his brothers who all stood motionless in a creepy way. Even Indie’s hand in his own felt tense and immobile.
“What’s wrong with my brother’s, Mr. Avery?” he asked finally.
“They are in stasis, young Alexander.”
“Rat,” he corrected. Mr. Avery merely pursed his lips and frowned.
“You will not need that nickname any longer. I suppose you won’t need Alexander much longer, either so we should probably just dispense with names entirely for now.” He looked to the boy’s parents and motioned for him to follow him.
“Wait, I wanna hug Momma.” He got up from his chair and hugged his mother’s legs. She stood still and didn’t move to embrace him. Sad coldness was rising in his chest and he beat it down with scowl. He was taking his brothers with him and now maybe Pops would be nicer to Momma since they wouldn’t be around to bother him. He was not going to cry because his Momma wouldn’t hug him.
“She’s also in stasis, son.” Mr. Avery said gently. “The contract they just signed will keep them in this state until we leave the premises.”
“Oh,” he said. He felt a little better about not getting a hug back if that was the case. “What about my brothers?”
“Where you go, they follow.” Mr. Avery smiled again, but he looked smug and almost mean like Pops did sometimes. “That bond you share is deep, and I have made sure that they will follow. Let’s go.” He turned and led the way to the front door. The boy tentatively reached out and touched each of his family member’s minds and was secure that they felt just as they did when he explored their heads while they slept. Then he tried to touch Mr. Avery and felt a wall so hot and crack-less that he shrank away in pain.
As they left his childhood home behind, the boy belatedly realized that he had not packed anything to take with him. Mr. Avery reassured him on that front.
“You will have everything you need provided for you at the Initiative and the physical sentimental things you wish to take with you will not matter when you get there.”
They were nearly to the two black cars when the boy caught the shadowy man on the edges of the trees near a house across the street.
“Mr. Avery!” He pointed out the figure lurking not far away. His escort frowned and shook his head slightly.
“Absolute trash,” he whispered. “Hiding in the shadows, as usual,” he called to the man in the darkness. The figure detached itself from the tree it was leaning against and loped animal-like across the street.
He was horrifying up close. His yellowed teeth were long and sharp. His hands were gnarled and had long claw-like fingernails and dirty black hair fell to his shoulders in tangled ropes. The tattered t-shirt and jeans he wore barely clung to his frame, which was, the boy noted, even more skeletal than the gaunt Mr. Ulrich. But his eyes were the most terrible. They were shot through with blood and bulged horridly. The boy shrank behind Mr. Avery.
“Avery,” the creature spat, and the boy noticed it was tinged with blood. “You smell of human, Broker.”
“You smell of rotten rabbits. Are you on the run again?”
“I’m hunting right now, as we speak.” He flicked a bright red tongue over his teeth.
“The Scouts are still here, you low-life scum. You’d be dead before you could touch him.” Mr. Avery rolled his eyes in boredom.
“You seem to be awfully well fed for a Broker, Avery. He can hardly tell you’re not human. This must be a very good bounty for you.” The thing seemed to take delight in needling the well-dressed man.
“I see you have been trying to poach again,” Avery said, ignoring the jab.
“Trying?” hissed the man-thing. He laughed in a hoarse rattle. “Twenty-two, myself.”
“Well, that which you were searching for was just procured legally.” Mr. Avery sniffed. He gestured vaguely to the boy and his brothers. “They are under the guardianship of the Hierarchy and the Lux Initiative.” His smug look came back and boy frowned in confusion.
“The court will never tolerate a boy king.”
“There won’t be a boy king, so rest easy.” Mr. Avery was annoyed; the boy could tell. He reached out his own mind to touch the creature’s. It hissed in pain and his already bulbous eyes bulged out even more.
“Bonded!” he shrieked. “Bonded. No wonder you wanted them all. Which one did you trick?” The thing raked his claw-like hands through his greasy black hair.
“Why don’t you go crawl in a hole somewhere and die?” Avery suggested.
“The bonds will break, you know.” The man-thing spat again and this time it was even more bloody.
“Most definitely, but it will temper the final product and make him stronger.” Mr. Avery agreed, and he shuffled from one foot to the other in impatience.
The thing jutted his chin out and the boy followed his gaze to Two and Toe.
“They won’t survive.” The boy caught Mr. Avery’s eyes flick toward his own.
“That is a matter for us to figure out. This family is no longer of your concern.” He held his hand out for the boy to move past him to the car. “You can be assured that you will be reported for poaching. This is your third strike, isn’t it?”
The thing’s eyes narrowed.
“You have to catch me in order to punish me, Avery.” He hissed his wheezing laugh again, and darted off into the night, faster than the boy’s eyes could follow.