The forest was dark and quiet, save for the soft rustling of nighttime animals. The peace was broken by something much larger running through the brush. Quick feet rumbled the ground like thunder.
Jackson ducked his head as Diablo broke through a thick patch of branches like they were matchsticks. He held onto the creature’s shoulders in a deathgrip, his knees squeezing Diablo’s sides as if they’d vanish from underneath him in a second. It was unnecessary since the tendrils that made up Diabol’s mane were wound around him protectively, securing him in.
It amazed him how sure footed Diablo was. Every step was made with purpose, placed perfectly to not hinder his momentum. Even with just one eye, the dark might as well have been full daylight. Every nook and cranny visible to him.
Diablo leapt off a ledge, making Jackson’s stomach do a somersault as they were suspended in the air for a moment. Completely weightless and unbound by the laws of gravity. Diablo didn’t miss a beat when his feet found ground again then proceeded to climb straight up the other side of the ravine.
To feel Diablo’s muscles work under his fingertips was amazing. They were hard, but flowed effortlessly as they reached the top and continued to careen through the woods.
The trees thinned out considerably, leaving a part of the mountainside that was open and bare. A forest fire had raged through there years ago and all the dead trees had been cleared.
It was in that moment the thrill really took hold of Jackson. His blood pumping, the wind whipping through his short hair, the knowledge that with Diablo with him, nothing could hurt him.
He was safe.
For the first time in his life, he was not afraid of anything. There was no pain, no fear of something lurking around the corner. He was in control of his life.
Without thinking, he released his grip on Diablo’s shoulders and flung his arms out wide. He embraced the freedom, and whooped and hollered into the night sky. Diablo, spurred by the show, let out a tremendous howl and their voices became a chorus of triumph.
In that moment the boy felt like Jack from that dumb Titanic movie his aunt made him watch. He was the king of the world.
It was a short time later that Diablo finally wore himself out. They were on one of the tallest peaks of the mountain that overlooked Jackson’s town. Diablo was curled up and Jackson nestled back against his side. The creature was incredibly warm for not having an ounce of fat on him.
Jackson was twirling a few blades of grass, peering down at all the little lights that twinkled down below.
“It looks like a whole swarm of fireflies down there,” he murmured.
Diablo huffed into dirt. Not bothering to lift his head.
“You probably don’t even know what fireflies are, do you? I’ll have to show you some pictures or something.” He turned his gaze to the stars and let a moment pass before speaking again. “I wonder if you guys have something like them over in Elsewhere. I bet there’s so many amazing things there. You’ve told me so much, but I bet it doesn’t compare to *seeing* it.”
A mournful whine came from the creature. He missed his home terribly. Jackson stroked his mane. They were like fleshy vines.
“We’ll get you back. Don’t worry. Somehow we will.” He was quiet a moment. “Diablo?”
A golden eye opened and looked at him.
“If – when we find a way to get to Elsewhere.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “Can I… stay with you?”
At this, Diablo raised his great head to peer at him better. He growled questioningly.
“I want to go to Elsewhere with you and stay there.” He began plucking at the grass furiously now, not meeting that piercing eye. “There’s nothing here for me. Meeting you – meeting you has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When you go…” He trailed off. The idea of continuing his life without Diablo with him. It was unbearable.
He leaned forward and buried his fingers in his hair. “It would just be better. I can start a whole new life in Elsewhere. It’s gotta be better than here. Then – then I wouldn’t be such a burden on Auntie anymore. She wouldn’t have to work multiple jobs just to support us. She’d be free of me. Then I can finally leave *everything* behind and not have to look over my shoulder all the God **** time!”
He didn’t know when he had started to cry. The hot tears had just begun to roll down his face, dripping off his chin. Everything was quiet save for his soft sobs.
A bump to his shoulder forced him to uncurl. Diablo was still staring at him, but his golden eye had softened with affection. He nuzzled under Jackson’s chin with his snout and rubbed against his cheek.
Even though Jackson couldn’t hear Diablo’s voice when he was out like this, he could swear he was saying, “I would like it if you came with me.”
Jackson wrapped his arms around Diablo’s head and began to cry harder and unabashed.
He was wanted and wouldn’t be left behind.