I looked up at Caleb, who was looking at me impatiently. I wiped my mouth quickly with the back of my sleeve, realizing I probably still had a bit of puke somewhere there. Not exactly the look I’d imagined sporting when reuniting with Caleb in my fantasies.
“I’m so thirsty,” I croaked, realizing how dehydrated I felt for the first time, now that I’d just coughed up the remaining fluids I had.
Wordlessly he bent down and pulled me onto his back again. He began to run again.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Who is that warlock? Why did you take me? What was that island? And what were you doing there?” Some of the questions that had been crowding my mind blurted from my parched mouth at once. And Caleb answered exactly none of them. He remained silent as we lurched through the jungle.
When I pressed for answers, he said, “Not now.”
My throat was too sore to argue. I had to save my speech for when I really needed it.
It was probably a good thing that it was dark and I had trouble seeing. The disconcerting noises surrounding us—those of predatory animals and tropical insects alike—made me realize that this was a jungle so wild, if I was able to actually see the creatures around me, I’d be screaming. Sometimes ignorance really is the best course.
As Caleb ran, the thundering of water got louder and louder, echoing around us. Finally, he stopped again. He set me down on my feet and held my hand, leading me down a slope toward a roaring river. I let go of him and crept toward the edge of the water.
“Careful,” he said. “It’s slippery.”
I tried to heed his advice and go slow, but I was so anxious for water. The sight of it made me even more keenly aware of how much my throat hurt. I lost my footing on a muddy stone. The next thing I knew, I’d slipped into the river. The water submerged me and before I could fight my way back to the bank, a ferocious current sucked me under. By the time I surfaced again, gasping for breath, I was already a good ten feet away from the bank and moving fast. It had all happened so quickly, my body was still in shock.
Caleb had already dived in. His powerful arms sliced through the current as he waded toward me. But this river was so monstrous, it slowed even Caleb down.
“Don’t look behind you, Rose,” he shouted. “Keep your eyes on me. I’m coming for you.”
“Wha’d you—” I choked, swallowing a mouthful of water.
How can he say something like that at a time like this and expect me to actually obey him?
I cast my eyes back over my shoulder. And I immediately wished I’d obeyed him. The moonlight reflected a set of slimy scales, gliding streamlined toward me.
I shrieked. An alligator.
“Look at me,” Caleb bellowed. “Look at me, Rose.”
I fought to turn myself around and face him again. I forced myself to stare into his intense brown eyes. Eyes that had haunted me for weeks. Eyes that I now believed might be my last vision. I realized I couldn’t think of much else that I would rather be looking at. I could look at them all day. I just wished that a giant reptile wasn’t creeping up on me from behind, about to swallow me alive. That would have made it much easier to follow his instruction.
“Caleb,” I screamed. “Help!”
“I’m coming for you. Just keep your eyes on me. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
Another current pulled me under water. I was afraid I might resurface right next to the beast, perhaps even underneath it. But I reappeared ten feet away. I fought to turn myself around in the water to look at Caleb again, and breathed out as I saw he too had been swept under by a current and was now only few feet away from me. He closed the distance between us quickly with his broad muscular strokes. And then his strong arm snaked around my waist, guiding me to climb onto his back. I was expecting him to immediately turn round and swim in the other direction. But to my horror, he headed straight for the monster.
“Caleb! What are you—” But it was too late.
The creature quickened its strokes until it arrived within two feet from us. I shut my eyes, burying my face against Caleb’s neck.
The alligator bellowed and when I dared open my eyes again a few seconds later, the reptile was bleeding from its eye sockets. Caleb had ripped out its eyeballs, leaving it thrashing in agony. Caleb turned away and began swimming against the current. I felt his whole body tense—pure muscle challenging the might of this terrifying river that was so bent on swallowing us up. Caleb won. It was a slow and steady process, but a few minutes later he was climbing back onto the bank. I rolled off him and lay on the ground, panting.
I stared up at him, then let out a scream. I pointed to his shoulder.
“What’s that black thing?”
He glanced down. “A leech,” he said. I expected him to immediately pull it off. Instead he crawled over to me and began running his hands over my own arms. I shivered as his hands brushed down my legs, reached up beneath the hem of my ripped jeans and touched my thigh. Then he lifted up my wet shirt to reveal my stomach. I screamed again on seeing a black leech writhing and sucking on my own skin, just above my panty line.
“Lie back,” he ordered.
I leaned back, but only enough that I could still keep an eye on what he was doing with the leech. I gasped as he lowered his mouth to my stomach, his mouth enclosing the leech. I shivered as his lips brushed against my abdomen. Then I felt a sharp pain. He sucked the leech from my skin and threw it over his shoulder. He jumped up several feet away from me, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and spitting on the ground, I assumed to rid himself of any trace of my blood that might have entered his mouth. I couldn’t imagine the amount of self control it must have taken him to do that. I knew he craved my blood as it was. If he allowed himself to taste even a drop of my blood, he might not be able to stop himself from sucking me dry.