The wind rustled the branches of the eerie pine trees. A man, concealed by the evening shadows, glanced down at his watch. 10:34. Any minute now, he told himself, resuming his previous stance and staring expectantly out at the deserted road cutting through the old trees.
Just as his eyelids began to droop, a painfully bright light flooded the evening air. A small, gray car drifted around the corner, along with a truck he knew to be loaded with heavy lumber driving in the opposite direction. When the vehicles were only a few seconds apart, the overloaded truck suddenly swerved sideways. An earsplitting squeal shattered the peaceful twilight atmosphere as the semi’s momentum caused it to roll directly into the path of the helpless car. Another harsh shriek was followed immediately by a thundering crash as the bulky metal frameworks collided. The front of the smaller car collapsed completely on impact, and what was left was mangled beyond recognition. The observer was so in awe of the devastation, he failed to notice anything of interest among the rubble thrown away by the force of the crash.
As orange flames crept and quickly grew over the settling remains, he snapped out of his daze and slinked warily out of the trees. After a quick glance around, he rushed nearer to the blaze, eyes searching. There. Towards the center of the devastation lay two still bodies, barely visible under the hulking debris. Further out was another body, that of the truck driver. An easy cleanup, then, he thought as he approached the limp form, stubbornly ignoring the sudden queasiness in his stomach. Boss will be happy. Seeing the empty eyes of the other man, he quickly looked away… And directly at the small boy standing only meters away.
As the boy looked up to meet the man’s gaze, he began to tremble, obviously in shock due to the recent events of that night. He stumbled backwards, tripping over his own feet in panic while the man tried to calm his pounding heart.
The man shook his head before leaping into action. Rushing forward, he seized the boy gently, and then frowned with indecision. I can’t kill him, but I can’t let him go, either! He debated with himself for several long moments before looking again at the terrified boy and groaning. All things considered, he was in good shape; besides several rapidly forming bruises, his only obvious injury was a sprained wrist. However, it was likely that the kid hadn’t felt the pain yet, as an effect of being in shock. This wasn’t in the job description.
“What is your name, boy?” he questioned.
“A-axel” he croaked quietly.
“How old are you?”
The man nodded, once. After another moment of silence, except for the now-raging fire nearby, he made his decision. “Do you want to survive, Axel?” he murmured with false casualness.
“Y-yes…” Axel stuttered in his confusion, somewhat unfocused eyes widening.
“Then be very quiet and follow me,” the man stated, attempting in vain to convince himself that everything would be fine. He took one last weary glance over his shoulder before pulling the boy away from the scream of distant sirens towards a dark van hidden behind several tall pine trees, the only remaining witnesses of the truth behind tonight’s tragedy.