On Mountain High – Chapter Nineteen

Chapter 19 – Ronan

Dead. Matteo is dead. I killed Matteo.

I might as well have killed Riven. Matteo is dead like my dead brother Riven. Matteo is dead and it is my fault.

Something inside of me breaks.

We haven’t found his body yet. We traced a path downstream, following the direction his slack, lifeless figure traveled. The waterfall was huge, at least a 200-foot drop. I swallow the truth like bile, realizing that there’s no way anyone could survive a fall like that. Accident or no, I sent him to his doom.

His face will haunt the checkpoints now, another name in the list of the Fallen. I wonder if it will be there as early as this evening. How would they know? They just do. The Order knows everything. The Order knows that the Hunt takes people. The Hunt took Matteo, like it took Riven. Like it takes everyone. It was only a matter of time, really.

But the Hunt didn’t kill Matteo.

I did.

“There!” Iona exclaims, cutting through my morose thoughts. She points upstream  toward a tangle of branches where trees guard the river’s edge. I follow her direction and can just make out a small, dark object caught on a fallen branch.

Matteo’s backpack.

Jagger, Iona and Kalliope sprint toward the place where it floats. I stumble groggily behind. Venturing into a gentle flow of knee-deep water, Iona wrestles the thing free. Jagger keeps a watchful eye on her, clasping his hand over hers and pulling her out when she turns back toward the river bank.

We all stare at the backpack for a long, long while.

“Matteo is dead,” I finally say to no one in particular. “It’s my fault.”

Kalliope sobs quietly and sinks to the ground. Iona stares at me through wide, red-rimmed eyes.

“You’re all thinking it.”

Jagger’s voice is flat, even. Purposely neutral. Hanging tensely at his sides, his fists are balls. “It’s no one’s fault. It was an accident. A horrible, horrible accident.”

I shake my head. “I killed him. It’s my fault. Mine.

“No,” he snarls.

“I killed Matteo!” I scream through a mist of tears.

“Fine. You want to hate yourself? Is that what you want?” He is shouting now.

I do not know what I want.

“Fine by me. Yes, Ronan, you killed Matteo. You were clumsy and you weren’t paying attention – you slipped at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place and now Matteo is dead because of it!” His eyes are lined with rage, his voice loud with zeal. He lowers his eyes and steps menacingly toward me, whispering, “You killed him, Ronan.”

“You think I don’t know that? I killed him. I killed a man.”

We’re both screaming now, his voice louder than an angry mountain thunderstorm. “I’m sure you’re very proud of yourself, you deplorable ass.”

Iona is crying now, too. “Stop it!” She screams. “Stop it. Stop fighting, this isn’t going to bring him back!”

But I cannot stop. It’s all welling up inside of me. The frenzied fury, the paralyzing fear, the never ending self-loathing. I lost Riven and my parents never forgave me. Now I have lost Matteo and I will never forgive myself.

I feel rage rising up in my chest, a scalding ball of fury. It settles, making a permanent home in my heart, and I feel my blood begin to boil. I feel every ugly thing in this world take hold of me.

My voice is a growl. “That’s right, I killed him. Matteo was here, and now he’s not. I killed him.”

I hate The Hunt. I hate these people. I hate myself.

The anger tightens inside, clenching in a vice grip shattering any softness I once had.

I ball my dirt-stained knuckles into a hard fist and take an angry lunge at Jagger. My fist drives into his jaw with a satisfying thud. Jagger stumbles back, taken off guard. He rubs his jaw, then settles his body weight low in his feet and barrels toward me. He knocks me to the ground with a hollow thud, and we tear at each other. In the haze of rage I hear Iona and Kalliope scream for us to stop. Their voices are a million miles away.

His elbow connects with my nose. I hear the crack before I feel the pain. I drive my knee into his chest, connecting with the hard muscle protecting his ribs. He groans and I smirk. He grabs hold of my arm with surprising speed and agility, and it is behind my back in an awkward angle, threatening to pop at any moment. He pulls me up from the ground.

“Have you had enough, murderer?”

I wrench my arm free, and I know I am only able to do so because he let me. He is strong. Stronger than I am.

“I’m done. I’m done with you guys,” I say through bared teeth. I taste the blood dripping into my open mouth as I gasp for air. I swipe my sleeve across my face, wiping the blood away. The pain is excruciating.

Jagger only heaves hungry breaths in return.

“Be serious,” Iona’s shaky voice commands. “You can’t go out in the forest on your own. Something could happen to you.”

But something already has.

Staring at Jagger, I spit on the ground where he stands. His eye twitches. His fists clench at his sides. He inhales slowly, deeply, and swallows his rage.

I jerk my backpack up off the ground, swing it over my aching arm and shoulder, turn my back and walk away.

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