AS SOON as Billy pulled the trigger, he knew he’d made a mistake. Ignoring Lance’s sound of protest, he threw the BB gun to the ground, but it was too late. The shot cracked through the quiet forest, echoed first by Billy’s cry and then the bird’s as it fell from its perch in a flurry of ragged feathers.

Chased by Lance’s bloodthirsty whoop, Billy ran forward. Skidding to a stop in front of the bird, he hunched over it, his hands hovering uselessly over the little animal. What have I done? What have I done? repeated over and over in his head.

A black barrel appeared out of the corner of his eye. Whipping around, Billy pushed the BB gun away. “Lance, what are you doing?”

A gleaming light Billy didn’t like danced about in his friend’s eyes. Lance aimed his new gun back at the bird. “I’m putting it out of its misery. It’s still breathing.”

It was. Billy hadn’t noticed its sides were still moving. Even as he looked, the bird started to move its wings in a weak flutter.

This time Billy used his shoulders to knock Lance’s gun aside. Carefully sliding his hands beneath the bird’s small body, he picked it up and cradled it against his chest.

“What are you doing, Billy?” Lance demanded. “Put it down and I’ll kill it.”

“No.” Lurching to his feet, awkward with his need not to jostle the bird and hurt it any more, Billy walked away. “I’m going to take it to my uncle.” Uncle Abel’s house was nearby, nearer than Billy’s own, and he was a vet.

Lance frowned. “Why? I wanna shoot it.”

Billy turned his shoulder, shielding the bird. “Go away, Lance.”

“Billy—”

“Go away!” he screamed and took off, running through the trees toward his uncle’s house.