The singing of a pair of birds and the crowing of roosters from Rolf's farm heralded a new day in the remote town of Peach Creek. The darkness and dust that surrounded the confined environment told Eddy that he was not at home, and there was no alarm to destroy. He was very well hidden in a hole, which protected him from the angry neighbors who were seeking his head.
As best he could, he tried to get out of the makeshift burrow in which he had spent the night. His arms and legs ached like hell. He'd had to contract his body to fit into that filthy hole, and he'd slept in that position all night. He didn't really care if the kids had gone through that tunnel or not. He opened the small portion of the wall and crawled out.
Faint sunlight filtered through the ends of the tunnel, marking shadows on the ground. Eddy exhaled. He was hungry and cold. He was kneeling, palms on the ground, like a dog. The tiny grains of sand, cold and sharp, dug into each of his palms. The pain was annoying, but instead of standing up, he dropped to the floor and rolled over, staring at the ceiling.
Now he was comfortable. After the torment of the night before, and his attempt to rest, just now was when he could relax.
'Can I stay here?'
Why not? It seemed that no one would ever find him there. It was cold, but it was comfortable and pleasant. For someone who had just been persecuted for a crime he did not commit, the least he could deserve...
'Come on. Let's stay here and be found asleep. What do you think?'
Because he knew that was also possible. The fatigue was great, perhaps as much as the frustration, but if he stayed there it would only be worse.
'Find your friends and clear your name by chasing and catching the real responsible for this.' That was the plan. He would take care of all of that first, and then he would reconsider his relationship with the others.
He stood up and left the tunnel.
It was 6:00 am.
Spring had done its thing with every corner of the region. The scenery that the forest provided was truly fairy tale-worthy with illustrations: colors everywhere. The sun, meanwhile, from its rising position, was in charge to provide a perfect angle of illumination to give the landscape as a whole, a superbly flirtatious, elegant, realistic and at the same time cheerful touch-up. Effects that not even the best image editor could match.
A sort of run-of-the-mill bird, whose name only a major book-worm like Double-D could recognize, was returning from a good trip across the region. Exhausted, it decided to go down to rest there. Is chose as lodging, that red cap that camouflaged very well with the territory. A few millimeters from the cap loomed a kind of covered nest, perfectly molded and too cute to be a nest. But that was not a nest; it was the hair of a human.
Kevin awoke from his sweet dream, his back aching from the awkward position he had to adopt. With one arm, he encircled Nazz. They had fallen asleep. That made him jump.
"Oh God!" He exclaimed, not noticing that Nazz had been asleep, leaning on his shoulder, until now.
The girl rubbed her eyes and opened them very slowly.
"Umm... Kevin... What time is it?"
"It's dawn, Nazz! The sun's up!" He sat up quickly, leaving his friend unsupported and ignoring the bird that took off from his head. "I told you!"
Nazz fell to the floor and stood up as well.
"Oh, sorry Kevin! Forgive me."
Leaning on Kevin's shoulder, Nazz had slept like a baby, and she guessed that was why she managed to fall asleep soundly. It's that he was so comfortable.
"Damn it! I knew we shouldn't stop. I told you! But you insisted: 'my feet hurt, you look very tired, come, just ten minutes'." He said, imitating her voice.
"Sorry! I was very comfortable and... well." She lowered her head in shame.
"Eddy must be crossing the frontier by now." Kevin turned his attention to the sun. In the middle of spring, it was calculated that it must be seven in the morning at the most. "If he escapes us..."
Suddenly, they heard the voice of an irritating guest.
"You finally wake up, sleepy heads."
The 2x4 boy had already returned from his risky mission. How long had he been with them? Who knows...
"Wha... How long have you been here?" Kevin asked.
"A couple of hours, I think. But don't worry, Plank and I didn't find Eddy at the..."
"You twerp!" He pushed him and he fell to the floor next to the board. "You had to wake us up! Eddy is running away!"
Johnny just rubbed his head.
"Ups, I'm sorry. It's just that you looked very tired and cuddly together and I didn't want to wake you up" he replied with a smile.
Nazz just gave Kevin a knowing look. He just shook his head.
"Forget about it. Let's just go..."
No matter how hard they tried, the two Eds couldn't get the soles of their shoes off the floor. Exhaustion prevented them from even lifting their feet to walk properly. They wanted to collapse, fall right there on the gravel and sleep. Or die. It didn't matter, it wasn't a bad idea. But despite all the exhaustion, neither of them even thought of stopping to rest for a while. Until now.
The flashlights had been turned off an hour ago. The battery was running low and the sunlight was increasing.
It was strange, but Double D felt some heavy energy on his back. Like something dark trying to crush his soul, or take him over. Something so dark that suddenly, and almost without logic, he found himself rethinking his principles.
Eddy made many mistakes in the past and he was always by his side defending him, as a loyal friend would. And didn't that make him responsible? But it was different. Even Marie said he was the kindest and most honest person she knew. That nothing he did was to harm someone. And for some reason, those words reassured him. It was good to know that there was someone else who understood at least a little. And again he felt a little guilty for trying to accuse her.
"Double D, I think I'm hallucinating."
Behind him, Double D watched him. He could see his determination when he walked, but also the great physical wear and tear. He supposed that even if they didn't want to, sooner or later they would be defeated and wouldn't wake up for a day or two, perhaps, regardless of whether they were later found by some not-so-desirable being.
"We're close, Ed..." he said, fighting to stay awake. "It shouldn't be... far..."
And then he fell face down on the ground. Ed ran up to him.
"No, Double D! Not you!"
Edd made an almost superhuman effort to get up. He placed the palms of his hands on the cold, sharp gravel. He pressed on it and felt pain.
"I'm fine ... Ed ... Well, not really," Double D replied. Ed dropped to the ground, and sat up. "We better rest for five minutes."
"Double D, I hear voices," Ed commented. He might have an amusing paranoia at times, but it was just a figment of his imagination. "All around! They tell me I'm ugly."
Double D chuckled.
"It's just your imagination, Ed. And exhaustion, I guess," Double D answered. "Listen, Ed. We can't stop for long, is that clear?"
"Sure, but... Double D, you look like the walking dead."
It was true. He did not need to look in a mirror to know his current state. He was about to reach one of the limits that a human being can reach, and he knew it. He had minutes left, or maybe seconds.
'That coffee must have been expired,' he thought. He had tried to stay awake on caffeine, without success, because he had fallen asleep anyway. Had this whole thief problem exhausted him so much? The only sure thing was that in a few minutes he would be exhausted, and he does not know if he would wake up in five minutes, in eight hours or next week, running so as not to be late for school. Maybe something happens and he'll have to wake up in a matter of minutes, as it had all day. But what about Eddy?
'We have to find him, or at least one of us must do it before any of them does,' he thought.
Double D dropped to the floor, almost as if he had collapsed.
"Ed, could you wake me up in five minutes? Then you sleep and I wake you up in another five. Understood?"
To Ed it wasn't a bad idea. He would only have to hold out for five minutes and then he could take a little nap. It wouldn't take them more than ten minutes, and after that they would continue looking for Eddy. And also Double D always knows what he's doing.
"You got it!"
Double D was happy to have such a friend. He put his arms under his head, and closed his eyes.
"... and then you rip it off hard."
"Wow, and how much does it hurt?"
"He'll scream like a little girl, but when we get him you'll see, Jimmy."
Sarah and Jimmy were heading into the woods, to join the others. The intense search in Ed's jungle had been a failure. They didn't find any of the missing items, not the red tablecloth, or Mr. Yum-Yum, or anything. Before continuing with the mission, they stopped to wash up a bit and have some breakfast.
"I want to see what Eddy would look like without his three hairs!" Jimmy said, laughing.
They had taken some wax they found in the bathroom medicine cabinet to use against the thief. They figured it was most likely that they had already found it and "corrected" him with a bit of duress, as expected. As there was no place to hit, they decided better to take revenge in their own way.
"But that's not all. We will spill what is left in his stomach and torture him to confess where he hid our things." Sarah told him, more evil than ever.
"You're the worst, Sarah."
They continued walking along the almost invisible dirt path that snaked through tall pine trees. Sarah ahead, Jimmy behind her.
Suddenly, Jimmy heard what sounded like a low growl, perhaps coming from behind some tree. It was not dawn enough to illuminate the entire forest well. The light only reached some sectors. Convinced that it was just his imagination, he decided to ignore it.
They remained silent for a few minutes, listening only to the sound of their footsteps and that of the birds waking up all their neighbors.
He heard that growl again. This time he managed to determine its origin: two trees behind and one to the left. Without Sarah noticing, he pulled out a small stone, placed it on his slingshot, stepped back, and came close to the point.
There was nothing around there.
His imagination was playing tricks. The darkness and exhaustion made him hear things that weren't there, he thought. If they had reached the forest a few hours earlier, when everything was still dark, he might not have been able to advance without trembling with fear. When one walks through a dark place, without having slept for hours, surely he distorts what he hears, believing that there are more creatures than there really are. But all that was in the mind, right? In this pleasant forest there are only birds, rabbits, insects, and not much else.
When he turned around, ready to go back to Sarah, with some effort he managed to make out a small, bulging figure, leaning against the foot of one of the surrounding trees. It could be an animal.
He walked a few feet to the object and was able to identify it: his teddy bear.
"Mr. Yum-Yum!" He exclaimed in a low voice. He dropped the weapon and ran to his bear. The poor thing surely froze all night. He took it and lifted it off the floor. "What are you doing here, Mr. Yum-Yum? What did we say about going for a walk very late? You may have gotten sick. I'm afraid I'll have to put you under punishment, along with Mr. Caterpillar."
Sarah was already far enough away to even hear her friend's voice.
"How you like to make us worry. The cow lady asked a lot about you." Jimmy didn't realize what big mistake he had made in parting ways with his friend, not until it was too late. "Now we have to go back to Sarah." He looked around for his friend, but she wasn't there. "Oh jeez! We lost Sa..."
Two gloved hands covered the boy's mouth.