Rumor---they spread fast like a virus, mutating and growing stronger with each person they touch. The difference between a rumor and virus, though, is that no one wants a virus. We do all we can to protect ourselves and to eradicate the spreading germ. On the other hand, the moment we get a taste of a rumor, we want more—taking pride in being the source of delivery. Fortunately, we can kill a virus with medicine. The only way to kill an infectious rumor, though, is to tell the truth—but if the truth hurts more than the rumor, perhaps it’s better to let the rumor run rampant.
Rumors were the reason I often hid in the bathroom, avoiding the questioning eyes of my high school peers. It was definitely not the ideal way to start my senior year, but it was easier to hide than risk the questions. Besides, from my position inside the handicap stall, I sometimes overheard tidbits of scandal, like how this kid namedDerek cheated on Anna, even though everyone swore at the beginning of summer that they were going to make it. Now everyone hates Noel because of it. Unfortunately,sometimes I couldn’t escape playing the lead role in the circulating rumors, and all I could do was stand in that stall and listen.
All the stories, since school began two months ago, suggested I was in an accident. The details of this accident became hazy, depending on who shared them.Some tales were way off base and suggested I lost control of my four-wheeler and smashed my head into the ground. That would explain why I didn’t say much to anyone about what happened. They chalked it up to partial amnesia. Others were adamant that I fell off a Jet Ski and was hit by a boat, rendering me unconscious. Most people, however, seemed to know that I almost drowned in a river. Word spread that my cousin fell in the river, too. Although, the difference between my cousin and me was that shedrowned. Since this happened in California, nobody here in Portland knew my cousin. Nobody really cared. They just liked to watch me from a distance, talking about me like I was an animal on display. They thought I couldn’t hear them whispering or catch them in my peripheral,gawking in pity, but I did.
Rumors aside, no one understood why I wouldn’t talk about it—why I refused to clarify the details of the accident last summer. It was simple really. Like I said, rumors can hurt—but sometimes, the truth can hurt more.
A gunshot echoed through the cabin.
“No!” I screamed. I threw my hands over my mouth, but it was too late. I could hear footsteps hurrying to the stairwell door.
I bolted across the room, stepping inside a small bedroom. Cardboard boxes were scattered throughout the room, disheveled and disorganized.
There was nowhere to go. I tripped my way to the corner of the room, stubbing my toe and ignoring the throbbing pain.
I could hear the heavy footsteps descending the stairs.Falling against the corner wall, I buried my head behind a large, unopened box. I crouched low, too afraid to even peek around the corner.
A set of footsteps entered the room, pausing by the entryway.
My hand clamped back over my mouth, muffling my breaths and the scream that threatened to escape. I wished I could quiet the pounding in my chest that was sure to give me away.
“We know you’re here. Come on out now, and maybe we won’t kill you.”
I didn’t move an inch, despite the painful cramping in my thighs. I closed my eyes, leaning my sweaty forehead against the cardboard.
A swift click flooded the room with light.
“There you are!”
I tumbled backwards, jumping against the wall as a very large man stalked towards me. At the sight of me, he lowered his gun, smiling in amusement.
“Stay away from me!” I managed to squeeze out from my dry throat. My voice sounded weak and small. I barricaded myself in the corner, my eyes jumping from side to side, searching in vain for an exit.
There was nowhere to go.