The Race – Chapter 4

Zeek herded them toward a low building wrapped in rusted sheet metal and crawling with wild grape and poison ivy. More rickety buildings butted up against it on both sides, but the foliage made it impossible to tell if they were attached. There was a metal sign above the barn-style door.

“Gaston Mining Company,” Dave read.

“Yeah,” Zeek said, “this used to be a mining facility. Copper, I think. Maybe silver.”

“And now you own it?” Angie said.

Zeek laughed. “Well, I don’t.”

The race officials had warned all the racers about the abandoned mines around the state park. For your own safety, they said, if you got caught in one it was instant disqualification. Trisha sat in a rustling heap of poison ivy and reclined into the oily leaves. Her eyes were closed.

“Ah, shit,” Zeek said. “I’m super allergic.” He looked between Dave and Rob, waiting.

“Fuck that,” Dave said. “I’m not touching her.”

Rob reached down to take her hand. The blood smeared on her arm was a maroon crust. A fat black fly landed on the stain, took a taste, and wobbled away.

“Please,” Trisha mumbled. “Please.”

“Come on,” Rob said. “Up you go.”

“Hold up.” Zeek pointed the rifle at the ground, dug in his pocket, and pulled the vibrating cell phone out. “Yo.”

Lara pulled Rob away from Trisha, who rolled into the fetal position and seemed to fall asleep. The fingernails of her right hand scratched idly at the outside of her thigh.

“Yeah, they’re in some race.”

Dave frowned. “Who is that.”

Zeek turned away. “I was gonna bring ‘em inside.”

Angie felt her stomach twist. He was talking about them like they didn’t have a choice. She stepped so Zeek couldn’t see her face and mouthed to Dave, “Run.”

“Huh?”

Angie caught Rob’s eye. She tilted her head toward the berm. “Go.”

“Angie, stop it,” Dave said.

Zeek squeezed the rifle between his legs and stuck a finger in his open ear. “Say that again. Straight there? Oh, sure. Duh.”

“Straight where?” Dave said. “Back to the park, right?”

Angie grabbed his arm tight enough to make Dave wince. “We have to go.”

“What do you think I’m trying to do?”

“No, now. Let’s leave.”

“Wait, I thought we were lost. Don’t we need help? Make up your mind.”

Zeek put the phone away and lifted the rifle. “They’re coming out.”

“Who is?” Rob said.

Zeek just squinted at the four of them. “Which one of you is Hannah?”

Angie thought about her daughter, alone in the hospital and waiting to hear all about the race. She’d helped Angie make energy bars out of dates, cashews, peanut butter, and honey. They were wrapped in individual sandwich bags in her backpack. She wanted to rip the pack open and eat all of them. If something happened here, if they didn’t walk away, she couldn’t handle knowing Hannah would  see the uneaten bars in her gear.

“She’s our daughter,” Dave said. “She’s sick.”

“What kinda sick?”

“Cancer.”

Zeek whistled and shook his head. “Hey, I know a guy might be able to help you out with that.”

Something heavy slid and dropped on the other side of the metal door. It swung open a few feet and two men came out. One was tall and dressed in an suit, the other stocky in a white lab coat. He turned and closed the door behind him.

“Hey guys, hot one, huh? I’m Vince.” He moved close and stuck his hand out, and his presence was so unexpected and overwhelming Dave, Angie, Rob and Lara all shook it. “This is Don.”

“Is this your property?” Rob said.

Vince shrugged. “Pretty much. The company I work for owns it. They bought it from Gaston to use it for research and agriculture, then, I don’t know, forgot about it. At least for now.”

“Who do you work for?” Lara said.

“Well, I’m not on the clock right now sweetie, so I’m working for myself. And Donny here. He’s a real slave driver.”

“We just want to go,” Angie said.

“Yeah, I get that. You’re in some race?”

“The Porcupine Adventure Race,” Dave said. “48 hours.”

“Jesus Christ, that sounds awful. Zeek here tells me you want to come in and check the place out.”

Angie took a step toward the berm. “When did he say that?”

“On the phone, just now.”

“I was right here. He didn’t say that.”

Vince winked at her. “Not in so many words.”

Just run, her gut screamed. If the others followed, great, but Hannah needed her mother. She imagined herself sprinting up the berm and rolling over the top, running until she found someone, anyone to get her back to the hospital. But her legs wouldn’t do it. Her gut tried to wrench her feet free, but her brain kept saying it would be rude. Embarrassing.

“Come on inside,” Vince said. “We’ll get you some cold drinks and figure out what to do next. And goddam, somebody get Trisha out of the jungle.”

“We just need you to point us in the right direction,” Dave said. “We’re losing time here.”

Vince nodded. “I see. Okay. Don, you want to help them out?”

“Oh man,” Zeek said.

Don had Trisha sitting up, talking to her in a soft voice. He got her balanced and let go. She fell back into the poison ivy.

“Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

Vince shared a look with Angie and rolled his eyes. Angie managed another step.

Don pointed at the berm and walked toward Lara. “Right, if you go straight over, toward that big tree—”

Everyone turned to look at the tree. Don pulled a syringe out of his lab coat pocket and jabbed it into Lara’s shoulder.

“Ah.” She turned, expecting a bee or wasp, and found Don pushing the plunger in with a wince.

“Sorry.”

“What the fuck?” Rob drove a hand into Don’s chest and shoved him away. “What was that?”

“You should come inside now,” Vince said.

Angie ran to Lara and squeezed her shoulder, as if she could wring out whatever had been in the syringe. “What did you do? What did you do to her?”

Trisha sat up in the poison ivy. She pointed at Lara and started to giggle. When she opened her mouth to laugh harder, blood spilled down her chin. She’d chewed through her tongue.

Trisha pointed, laughed and bled. Zeek stepped behind the four of them and leveled the rifle. Don opened the door.

“Come on,” Vince said. “You don’t need to worry about the race anymore.”

And then you said: