Exodus Page 1

Chapter One

IT WAS POURING RAIN, BUT we were greeted back at our home in Kahayatle with a hero’s welcome anyway. Many hands reached out to us, guiding the group of injured warriors to the hut set up for treating them.

We were all soaked to the bone, but no one other than me seemed to care. I was cold and shivering, lost and confused about what I was doing there. I should have been back at the canner place, searching for Bodo. He should have been here with me, smiling, getting his bruised face looked after by the girls living in The Everglades.

Faces that were familiar to me cleaned, stitched, and bandaged the wound on my arm. Others brought food and water, standing over us, chatting with one another, stopping occasionally to hug or just touch us before asking questions. When no answers were forthcoming from the exhausted and shell-shocked, they speculated as to the reasons for various injuries and whispered about the possible outcomes that we might anticipate as a result of having attacked the vicious group of canners who lived only a few short miles away.

The bright flashes of lightning slicing across the sky lit up the faces around me in short bursts, reminding me of cameras and paparazzi that no longer haunted the streets of our country. The thunder rumbled and boomed, rolling across the sky, sometimes sounding as if it were right over the swamp and other times as if it were blasting the roof off the inferno that used to be the canners’ home and a prison for the kids now lying around me.

None of us had told our eager healers yet that we had let some of the monsters escape alive. The time for dealing with that problem would be later, when we knew how many people would survive their injuries and could discuss the potential fallout. Maybe the two chiefs, Kowi and Trip, were thinking the same thing I was - that we could delude ourselves for just a little while that there wouldn’t be retribution and that the monsters would just disappear … fade into the horizon never to be seen or heard from again.

I watched numbly, as kids with missing limbs were gently laid on raised pallets set up on the floor of the hut and on the ground just outside when the clinic was too full to handle any more of them. Many were moved soon after, to the homes of other Miccosukee or Creek indians who were eagerly volunteering to see after these kids who had been captured and kept by the canners, abused horrifically before being set free and brought to Kahayatle. It was almost an honor to take them from broken to whole - or as whole as they could ever be again.

Celia was on her feet for hours, tending to the wounded and sitting with them as they cried. She held their fingers or feet with the one hand she had remaining, knowing better than anyone else that while we might be able to heal their physical wounds, the emotional ones went way deeper and would be much more difficult to cover with toughened scar tissue. I saw their faces and knew that being with Celia was the best thing we could offer them right now. She gave them hope, and that was powerful medicine.

Peter came in at some point and pulled me to my feet, guiding me away from the crowds.

“Where are we going?” I asked, my voice sounding flat.

“Back home, to our hut,” he answered without looking at me.

I stopped walking. “No. I don’t want to go there.”

“Why not? It’s where we live. You don’t want to stay in the clinic, do you?”

“No. But I don’t want to go back to our hut, either.” I looked down at the ground, fighting back the tears.

“Why not?”

I just shook my head. I was afraid if I started talking about it, I was going to cry like a stupid baby.

Peter sighed. “Look … I know you miss Bodo. I know that’s what this is all about. But you can’t let that stop you from living, Bryn.” He stepped closer and put his arm around my waist, half-pushing and half-dragging me along. “This isn’t like my sister, Lily. Bodo could still be out there.”

“Do you really think so?” I wanted to believe him. Peter had seen his sister brutally murdered by animals much like the ones we had just fought.

“Yes, I really do. No one saw him … dead.”

I stopped again, tears jumping to my eyes despite my attempts to keep them back. My heart was spasming in my chest as the words I was thinking made the picture so clear for me in my mind. “Then why didn’t he come to the truck? He knew we were going to leave. He knew it was the only way out.”

“Maybe he was busy fighting someone off, I don’t know. Maybe he was injured. But he’ll find a way to get back, anyway. You know him. He’s stubborn.”

I grabbed Peter’s forearm hard enough to make him flinch, but he didn’t pull away.

“What if he is injured? And if we don’t get back there, he’ll die from it!” I wanted to run to the canoes immediately. I didn’t care that it was pouring rain, that my newly stitched wound was bleeding again, or that I didn’t even know where they were keeping the boats and paddles or the bike or truck I would need to get back to the canner place.

My desire to run must have shown in my eyes, because Peter stepped in between me and the path leading to the water, grabbing both of my upper arms and staring me in the eye. He shook me hard one time.

“No. You are not going back there. You are staying here and waiting. And if he comes back, good. If he doesn’t, oh well, we move on. That’s how it works here.”

I looked at him, aghast. “What’s wrong with you, Peter? We’re talking about Bodo. He’s … he’s … family.” I searched Peter’s face, wondering if he’d gone crazy in the middle of all the fighting, or had somehow lost his grip on reality. But all I saw there was firm determination.

“Nothing’s wrong with me. It’s called loss and you have to deal with it. Now, come on. It’s getting dark, and I don’t want to get stuck out here with the snakes.”

As if on cue, a red and black serpent slithered across a set of tree roots very near to where we were standing. I should have stepped away, but my instincts weren’t working like they should have; I just stood and watched it go by. Luckily, the snake had somewhere to be and ignored both of us in favor of finding cover under a nearby clump of plants.

“Ick. Come on.” Peter grabbed my hand and pulled.

I stopped fighting and followed dumbly along, lost in thoughts of Bodo and what he might be doing right now, wondering if he was alive or dead, injured or healthy. A piece of me hoped he was injured, because otherwise if he was alive but not here, it was probably because he was choosing not to be. And I didn’t want to think about what that might mean about us.


I woke up the next day feeling hungover. I’d only ever done that once - drank too much beer taken from a friend’s fridge during a party and severely regretted it the following morning - but it wasn’t something I ever wanted to repeat. Today’s throbbing headache mixed with the dampness that seemed to pervade every inch of my world was making me feel nauseated.

“Here. Drink this,” said Peter, standing over me, handing me a plastic bottle of water. “And Coli told me to tell you to chew on this.” He handed me a small stick.

I frowned at him. “You must be smoking something if you think I’m going to chew on a piece of bark sent over from that witch.”

Peter smiled. “Back with the living, are we? And it’s not a piece of bark. Or maybe it is, but it’s like aspirin, she said.”

“Shut up,” I said, snatching the bottle of water from him and gulping it down. I refused to chew on anything Coli sent over. One minute she was insulting me, the next she was offering me medicine. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with her mood swings.

Peter left the sleeping area and came back with a basket of food, setting it down next to my mattress. I leaned over to look in, seeing some bread and fruit inside. I had zero appetite, so I pushed it away.

“You have to eat. That injury isn’t going to heal if you starve yourself.”

“Who cares.” I laid back down, turning my back to Peter and Buster who’d wandered in from somewhere and looked like he was thinking about diving into the basket.

“No, Buster,” admonished Peter, “this is not for you. It’s for Cranky Buns.”

I ignored Peter, but Buster was not so easy to blow off. He climbed over my middle and landed on my injured arm, looking for access to lick my face.

“Get off, Buster, you idiot! You’re sitting on my arm!”

Peter reached over and plucked Buster away, carrying him out of the hut and disappearing into the trees. I heard him talking to the dog as he went. “She’s just sad, so we’ll give her some space to work it out…” I lost the rest when he got too far away.

I lie there feeling sorry for myself, crying for Bodo and wondering if I were ever going to see him again. I couldn’t forget that the last time we’d had a private moment together, he’d said he was sure that I was going to tell him I loved him before he was done with his life. But I hadn’t done it before we’d left to do our recon and rescue mission. I hadn’t told him, and now I knew that I should have.

I fell asleep listening to the sound of rain hitting the leaves around me and dropping into the swamp below, wondering if Bodo were somewhere out there, alive, thinking about me too. My mind wandered to the more likely scenario - that he was dead, his body left alone and cold, lying in the wreckage of our battle.


It was late afternoon when I woke again. This time it was Coli sitting nearby, waiting for me to open my eyes. She was on the mattress next to me, staring at me silently.

I took one look at her and closed my eyes again. “Geez, Coli. Do you have any idea how creepy it is to wake up and find you staring at me like that?”


“Well, trust me. It’s a lot creepy. Go away.” I rolled over, turning my back to her.

“Kowi wants to see you at dinner.”

“I’m busy.”

“Busy feeling sorry for yourself. Yeah. I can see that.”

“Go to hell, Coli.”

“Already there.”

Tell me about it. I refused to comment out loud, hoping she’d eventually give up trying to engage me in conversation and leave.

“You have to get up and go to the bathroom, eventually. Don’t you have to go now?”

Now that she’d mentioned it, I realized that I did really have to pee. Damn her.

“Come on,” she said, standing. “I’ll walk with you.”

I sat up slowly, battling the dizziness. “I don’t need a frigging escort to the outhouse.”

“You haven’t eaten in two days, you lost a lot of blood, and you look like hell. I think you do need an escort, and so does Peter.”

“Screw Peter.”

“I’ll pass along the message. Now come on.”

The rain had finally let up, so at least my walk to the toilet wasn’t going to get me soaked. It was too late in the day for the sun to do much more than light up the really wet landscape, but it was a nice reprieve from the blanketing grayness that I’d seen through slits in my eyes over the last who knew how many hours. Lucky for us, the chickee hut roofs were so well-made that not a single drop of the monsoon that had dumped on us had made it through. At least I had a dry mattress going for me.

I stumbled on the path, and Coli caught me. I pushed her away after I’d regained my footing, and she laughed.

“What’s so funny? Me falling down?”

“No. You refusing help when you so obviously need it.”

I scowled at her, refusing to admit she was right. “I don’t like having help from you.”

“And I don’t particularly like giving it to you. But we do things out here that we find unpleasant all the time, so…” She shrugged.

I had to smile. She was so rude, it was comical. She totally didn’t give a crap what I thought either, which was kind of nice in a way. I needed brutal honesty right now.