BENT

By: Ann

Chapter Five

A rusty old pickup truck rattled noisily down a back road. "Goliath the Fighting Turkey!" was painted in red on the fading green paint on the side of the vehicle.

Phoenix gripped the side of the weather-worn wood bolted to raise the sides of the truck bed as it bounced down a dirt path. "Relax." Linda said sitting in the back corner of the bed, across from him, picking a stem of straw apart half meticulously and half absentminded.

"Relax?" Phoenix let out a breathy laugh his hair a mess in front of his face as he glanced down at the younger boy snoozing in the hay that littered the truck. It irritated him. "This thing is a death trap!"

"Dustan doesn't seem worried." Linda said with a shrug tossing the bit of straw in her hand and frowning as it fell listlessly down to join its brethren. Phoenix ground his teeth together. He'd known she'd use that against him. The kid had already proved his versatility in sleeping just about anywhere when they found him snoozing on a bench as they waited to hear of the tragic condition of Linda's car. Kylie was known for her temper, but severing all the hoses in the car as well as the steel fuel line was cruel even for her. "Try sitting down." His companion suggested cooly.

"I'm not sitting in that reeking pile of-" Phoenix's words were lost as he was flung forward falling face first into the dry grassy hay. "Shit…" Phoenix murmured.

Dustan growled as the teen's torso was sprawled over his midsection. With little restraint, he shoved the older boy aside rolling up into a sitting position as he glared blearily at the hunter. "Really?"

Just as Phoenix was starting to get back up the vehicle made a sharp left turn throwing him back against the side. He gripped his now pounding head and grumbled. Just as he finally settled they screeched to a halt. Glaring daggers at Linda he let out a huff of irritated breath. She ignored him as she looked out at their surroundings. The death trap had come to a stop in a large red dirt field. Tents and fences had been built up and a large sign read. "Jackson Town Fair"

The driver of the truck hopped out, shaking the whole frame as he slammed his door shut. In moment's he pulled open the tailgate. "This is my stop. Down town's just 'bout an hour's walk from here." He said, his worn hands getting stuffed into his blue jean overalls. He glanced at the festival jerking his head slightly. "I got my own show in there if ya want to come see it though."

"Thanks, but no thanks." Phoenix growled, stepping off the bed, red dust puffing up around his black running shoes.

Dustan gaped at the festivities as he and Linda joined Phoenix on steady ground. "Wow, is that a carnival? Can we check it out? I've never been to one before. They even have a Ferris wheel."

"No, it's a festival." Phoenix said. "And we don't have time for it."

"Actually it's a town fair." Linda corrected. "And I don't see the harm in spending a few hours here."

"Like it matters what it's called." Phoenix growled forgetting the fact that he was the one to bring it up. "We don't have time to mess around. So soak it up while it's in view. Let's get walking."

"Come on Phoenix. A couple hours at the fair won't hurt us." Linda said with a frown as she shifted her weight placing a hand on her left hip. "You might actually benefit from it. You know, stop acting like you're getting prodded."

"Please." Dustan said, looking at Phoenix his eyes begging.

Phoenix glared at the scrappy boy whose hair was a matted mess of dirty brown, then to Linda the calm presence like steel. Finally, he let out a growl of a sigh. "Fine, whatever."

Linda smiled at Dustan. "Cool. Go have fun."

Dustan smiled back at her before he ran to the fair like an excited puppy. "You're being awfully lenient with this kid." Phoenix said crossing his arms.

Linda shrugged. "It's not like he's a hunter. He needs to have moments where he can be a kid." Linda said. "I'm following my instincts here." Linda smiled patting him on the shoulder. "Don't forget, we should let ourselves enjoy life every once in a while too… otherwise… what are we fighting for?" With that, she walked into the fairgrounds.

Phoenix followed slowly. As Linda disappeared and he moved into the festivities he found himself surrounded by stalls. The smell of funnel cakes thick in the air. Making his way slowly down the rows and rows of tents as game host shouted at him and other fairgoers. Insisting attention be given to their particular attractions. He jumped slightly as a couple of kid's ran by laughing excitedly. He rubbed his arms trying to fight down the tingling sensation of adrenalin. He was still drained from the fight, still weak from the poison. The heat of the sun was bearing down on him, loose dirt kicked up by the disturbance of the celebration hovered in a light breeze. He felt his breath shorten, a suffocating feeling falling over him.

"Hey!" He jumped at the sudden voice cutting through the chaos that had begun to engulf him and spun quickly to face Dustan. "Are you okay?" The boy asked.

Phoenix took a breath, blinked, and swallowed. "Hey, Mr. Runaway." Phoenix said a slight smile playing at his lips at the irritation that flashed across the boy's face. "I'm fine. Did you get to ride the fairy-wheel?"

"It's a Ferris wheel, and no, I haven't yet." Dustan said looking away, a blush rising to his cheeks.

"What? Are you scared?" Phoenix continued to poke fun at the boy.

"No. I can't because… I have no money…" Dustan flexed his fingers and shuffled his feet. Not meeting Phoenix's gaze.

"Oh." Phoenix said, the realization hitting him bluntly. "Oh, that's right. They would charge for rides… wouldn't they?"

"Yeah." Dustan looked up to Phoenix just in time to see him grit his teeth slightly. A suffocating feeling was closing in on the hunter's chest as he spoke.

"You need some money?" Phoenix forced out trying to keep his breathing steady. Fighting to stay calm.

Dustan glared at Phoenix misunderstanding the situation. "If you don't want to give me any, you don't have to."

Phoenix took a deep breath, trying to fight off a wave of vertigo, biting the side of his tong to focus. "I'll give you some money, don't worry, I wouldn't want you to miss out on riding the fairy wheel."

"Stop calling it that!" Dustan growled.

"Whoa, calm down Tinkerbell it's just a joke." Phoenix said patting Dustan's head. Dustan's eyes went wide and his features paled as his shoulders rose slightly. Phoenix froze, sensing the change almost immediately, realizing something was wrong.

"Stupid!" Dustan swatted his hand away coming back to life with a furious bite.

Phoenix pulled out his wallet and handed Dustan a couple of bills. All fun he'd been having teasing the boy was gone. The suffocating feeling rushed through him again and he felt a shudder run down his spine. "Here. This should be plenty for you to ride the Ferris wheel."

Dustan glared at it. "Keep it!" He ran off shoving Phoenix as he did so.

Phoenix hit the ground, and he let out a groan of protest. "Stupid punk." He slowly got to his feet, sticking his hand in his pocket, in search of his wallet to put the bill's away. He froze when it wasn't there. "Damn punk!" He growled rolling to his feet and taking chase. "You're dead!"

Dustan rounded a tent and came to a stop gasping. Phoenix's small black wallet clinched tightly in his fingers. He trembled staring up into the clear blue sky, his eyes glazed slightly as a tremor racked through his body. Closing his eyes, he shook the image of fist out of his head. "Stupid jerk. Damn it." He glanced down at the wallet in his hands, not sure what to do. Part of it had been instinctual. The wallet was just there, but he couldn't help the turning feeling in his stomach. "Serves that jerk right…" He murmured. It wasn't like this would be the first wallet he'd ever stolen. As he debated whether or not to take it back to Phoenix he heard the sound of running behind him and spun.

"Serves the jerk right? Is… that… right?" Phoenix gasped, standing behind the boy.

Dustan jumped as the hunter came upon him, taking a step back. "Hee-hey Phoenix, what's up?" He held the wallet uselessly behind his back.

"Don't 'what's up' me!" Phoenix snapped, visibly sweating. "I'm gonna-" He stopped suddenly swaying a bit as he took a step back and grabbed his head.

"Are… you okay?" Dustan asked.

"Fine! Fine!" Phoenix snarled, gasping. "It's just… too damn hot. I can't breathe."

Dustan blinked. There was a sharp wind that cut across the fair that made him shiver, and he could see several people in jackets and scarves. Dustan ignored the fact that he kinda wanted a thicker jacket himself when he saw Phoenix wobble. Dustan hesitated just a moment before walking up to the teen. "Look, let's find you a place to sit." He wasn't sure if he could help Phoenix walk but he'd try. The pallor of Phoenix's face made it look like he was about to pass out. Dustan suddenly wondered if he was still weak from the poison.

"Good idea." Phoenix looked at him a slight smile on his face. "Some shade… would be nice…" Phoenix took a step forward, reaching toward Dustan as his body swayed and his eyes lost focus.

"Phoenix!" Dustan rushed forward just a little too slow as Phoenix collapsed into the dirt.

Fire. Fire was everywhere. It crackled and popped in the all-consuming dark as Phoenix stood frozen watching his brother standing in the flames. His older brother's form stumbled jolting Phoenix out of his shock. "Griffin!" He cried and his brother's head jerked up and Griffin grinned at Phoenix. The wide baring of teeth was an unpleasant mockery of his usual smile. It was wide and wild; sharp fangs clearly glinting in the flickering light.

"Little Phoenix." His brother's voice cooed out in almost a purr. Phoenix's eyes were wide and locked, trapped by the unnaturally yellow turn of his brother's eyes. Phoenix's breath caught as Griffin's face was suddenly inches from his own. His brother's hand on his throat.

"G-griffin." Phoenix gasped his brother's grip pinching but not constricting. "S-stop, you're hurting me."

Griffin leaned in close and Phoenix felt hot breath rush into his ear as Griffin whispered. "Good."

Out of seemingly nowhere there was a loud clang noise and Phoenix stumbled back from Griffin's lost grip. He stared wide-eyed as Griffin swayed and collapsed revealing Linda who stood behind him, holding a cast iron pan. Breathing hard she stood there looking scared and angry all at once before dropping the pan on Griffin's head and grabbing Phoenix's arm. "Come on!" She ordered, dragging him with her as they ran. Ran from the fire. Ran from his brother.

Phoenix glanced back… The fire was dying and his brother was gone.

In the distance, he heard his brother's unhinged laughter. "Phoenix…

"Phoenix. Wake up sleepy head." Linda blurred into view. Her hair hanging down in a way that showed she was leaning over him.

"Wh- what happened?" Phoenix mumbled sitting up slowly.

"You passed out on Dustan- why didn't you say you were getting light headed?" Linda asked.

"I wasn't." Phoenix rubbed his head. "I was just hot… and it was hard to breathe- It hit me so fast I wasn't sure what was happening."

Linda frowned studying him with clear worry. "Well… okay then."

Phoenix glanced behind Linda, seeing Dustan standing there watching them anxiously. "What's up? Did you get to ride the Ferris wheel?"

Dustan snorted. "Yeah, right, I'm so going to go have fun at the fair while you're dying."

Phoenix chuckled. "I'm fine. See. You still have my wallet, right? Go have fun." He forced a grin as he added unapologetically. "Stupid."

Dustan glared at him. "You really irritate me." He said as he walked away.

Linda smiled. "So… you starting to like him?"

Phoenix sighed pushing himself up to his feet. "No."

Linda shook her head, her smile never faltering. Turning she raced after Dustan. "Hey, kiddo! I'm going to ride with you! Come on Phoenix! You too!"

Phoenix sighed following after them. Unable to stop the small smile that slipped onto his face. "Fine, I'm right behind you."

"Y- you guys don't have to." Dustan said blushing slightly.

"Come on, it's no fun to do everything alone." Linda said wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Plus I need to help Phoenix face his fear of heights!" Linda said winking back at Phoenix.

"Oh, haha." Phoenix rolled his eyes.

Dustan got a chair all to himself as Linda and Phoenix shared one. "Seriously…" Phoenix said placing his chin in a fisted hand as he leaned against the bar. Looking out across the horizon he watched apathetically as the basket slowly rose.

"You know this was fun." Linda said.

"For you. I passed out." Phoenix sneered before looking down at his shoes. "I've been off lately. It's been dangerous… and…" He let out a slow breath closing his eyes. "It sucks."

Linda nudged him. "So you did notice. I thought you were just being an oblivious idiot."

Phoenix glanced up to the basket that was above theirs, the one Dustan sat in. "Yeah… an idiot and a jerk."

Above them, Dustan stared out over the horizon as the Ferris wheel stopped at the very top. His eyes were distant as he let out a sigh. "Mom…" He mumbled. He held his breath for a moment before shaking his head. Just as the machine jolted back to life and he began to move back down toward earth.