Updates to Chapter 1:
- Rob was never in the Army.
“Please,” the woman said. She lifted her arm toward Rob, who stepped back.
“Are you in the race?” Dave asked her. “What team?”
“No way is she a racer,” Angie said. “Dave, look at her. She’s filthy.”
“Yeah, well, I just ran through a swamp. I’m not too spiffy myself.” Dave squatted down to eye-level with her. She was pretty underneath the sticky hair and dirt smudges, and Dave smiled at her. The dirt looked old though, and she smelled like a musty basement. “Tough race, huh?”
The woman dug at her forearm, leaving shiny pink grooves behind. She sighed when she saw them, then offered the arm to Dave.
“Got into some shit, huh?” He turned to the team. “Who packed the poison ivy stuff? The cream.”
Lara said, “Dave, let’s go.”
Dave started to take his pack off—he might have some anti-itch cream in the First Aid kit. “Do you know where we are?”
“You’re on private property, that’s where.”
They all turned toward the man’s voice. Angie let out a small scream before she clapped her hand over her mouth. The man with the gun was on the edge of the small clearing. He was in his twenties and dressed for working outdoors. The gun was pointed at the ground and the thumb of his other hand was hooked in a pocket.
Dave stood. “This is state land. The park.”
“Porcupine State Park. We’re in the adventure race.”
The man frowned. “Buddy, you’re fucking lost.”
Angie was behind Dave and let herself smile. She looked at Rob and Lara to share it but they were staring at the gun. Behind them the blonde woman found a stick in the leaves and used it to gouge the inside of her elbow.
The man pointed with the gun. “That’s east. Go straight that way until you hit a two-track. That’s the park. Stay on the far side of that track and you’re good to go.”
“Two-track?” Dave said. He pulled the map open.
Rob took a step to the east, taking Lara with him. “Yeah, we crossed it about three hours ago. Let’s go.”
“Please,” the blonde woman said.
Angie asked the man, “Do you know her?”
“Why you think I’m out here? Come on Trisha, time to go home.”
“Noooo,” Trisha moaned. The stick broke and she started crying.
Lara pulled away from Rob. “Hey, Trisha, shhhh. Are you okay? Do you need help?”
“She’s fine,” the man said.
Rob said, “Come on Lara.”
“She needs help.”
“Naw, that’s just how she is,” the man said. “Right Trish? Come on now.”
Trisha gave Lara a pleading look. She blinked heavy tears onto her cheeks.
“Do you need to come with us?” Lara said.
Dave held the map up for the man. “We go east from here, where do we hit the track?”
The man swatted the map down so he could watch Trisha and Lara.
“Hey!” Dave said.
“We’re going,” Rob said. “Everybody, come on.”
“He tore the map,” Dave said, holding a corner in one hand and the rest of the map in the other. “Asshole.”
The man stepped around him. “All right Trish, up we go.”
Trisha reached out for Lara, who tried to help her stand. Trisha lunged forward and pushed her hand past Lara’s and jammed her fingers into Lara’s mouth. Lara reeled back, gagging and spitting, and pulled the fingers out.
Rob kept her from falling. “Okay, okay.”
Trisha sat, scowled at her fingers, and went back to digging at her forearm.
Angie said, “What the fuck, man? What’s wrong with your friend?”
“Don’t worry about her,” the man said, “time for you to go. You’re trespassing.”
“Yup, come on,” Rob said.
Trisha bent over her arm and grunted with effort. It made Dave think of when Angie couldn’t open a jar but wouldn’t ask him for help. Trisha looked up, her face contorted with strain, then everyone heard a wet snap. Trisha’s eyes rolled back and she gasped with pleasure. She held her arm out to show the four-inch gash she’d pulled open. Dark blood welled and spilled into the dirt.
The man said, “Ah, dammit Trisha.”
Trisha’s body shook with a few deep, sobbing laughs. She swung the arm toward Dave and Angie. “Here. Please.”
She tipped back and landed in a clump of ferns and seemed to pass out.
Dave went pale.
Angie had seen worse helping Hannah through her chemo treatments. She pulled Dave around and rooted into his pack for the First Aid kit.
Rob said, “Angie, come on, let him take care of it.”
“She’s bleeding all over the place.”
“I know,” Rob said, “you got this, right man? You got her?”
“Yeah,” the man said, but he was looking at the four of them, figuring something out. “Wait, no. I’m gonna need your help getting her back.”
“No, you got it,” Rob said.
“Naw, she don’t like me very much. She wakes up she’ll take off on me again. You girls can help her. Just back to the farm, then we’ll patch her up. Hey, I can give you a ride to the two-track.”
“We can’t use any motor vehicles,” Dave said, “disqualification.”
“Huh. Well, I’ll show you where you need to go then, we got markers you can follow. Just grab her up and we’ll get it done. I’m Zeek, by the way. Both Es in the middle.”
He stuck his hand out toward Dave, who held up the torn piece of map.
Lara rinsed and spat for the third time. “Is she contagious?”
“She’s not well.”
Zeek considered Trisha. “Nah. Just…don’t get any blood in your mouth.”
“Jesus,” Rob said, “why not?”
“Because it’s fucking gross dude.” He turned toward the berm, a dark shape rising above the underbrush.
“Are we in danger?” Angie blurted.
Zeek gave her a crooked smile, like they might be in on a joke together. “Why would you ask that?”
Angie pointed at the assault rifle.
Zeek glanced down and seemed surprised to find it there. “This? Naw, we got a shootin’ range set up. I was about to do some plunking when Trisha pulled this shit on me.”
Angie pulled a bandana out of Dave’s pack and wrapped it around Trisha’s arm. Dave didn’t notice until it was already soaked with blood.
“Angie, that’s my Spartan bandana!”
She ignored him and tried to pull Trisha up. Lara moved to help.
Rob got there first. “Stay clear babe, I got her.”
He and Angie got Trisha on her feet. She swooned and giggled, locked eyes with Rob. “Fucking devour me.”
Zeek slapped the butt of the rifle. “And we’re off!”
They pushed through the brush toward the berm. Thorns and branches tugged and slapped at them. Dave still refused to believe they were so far off. He couldn’t help scanning the woods for one of the orange and white box-shaped flags that meant they’d found a checkpoint. Run to it, mark the corresponding square on the scorecard with the unique punch tool hanging from the flag, and then find the checkpoint on the map. See where the hell they really were.
Zeek started up the berm.
It was steep and soft. Broken limbs and pale roots stuck out of the soil. Rob grabbed one with his free hand for leverage and it slid out of the dirt. The three of them almost fell.
“No wonder this isn’t on the map,” Dave said, “it’s brand-fucking new.”
“It’s been here a while,” Zeek said. He was at the top already. He waved at someone on the far side. “But it ain’t on your map because this ain’t the state park. Like I already told you.”
Lara was closest to him. She breathed hard from the climb. “Is anybody going to shoot this way?”
“The firing range.”
Zeek was confused. “Oh, naw, we’re good.”
He leaned the rifle against a large, scraped rock and held a hand down to her. Lara saw a black tattoo peeking out from the end of his sleeve. She accepted the hand. It was surprisingly soft, and that plus the tattoo jarred with his rugged clothing and rifle so much she had to ask, “What do you do out here?”
Zeek turned toward the far side of the berm. “Oh. This and that.”
Dave got to the top. “Thanks for the help.”
He pulled Rob up, who hauled Trisha behind him.
Dave reached for Angie.
“I got it,” she said. She crawled to the top and checked her hands for cuts. She wiped them on her shorts and realized everyone was silent and staring down at what they’d come to.
Angie stared and felt her stomach shrivel into a block of ice.
“Here we are.” Zeek hefted the rifle and waved them down the slope. It had wooden planks staked into it like steps. The berm continued left and right, curling into a huge ring that disappeared behind the few large trees left standing in the bowl. The far side of the pit was hidden by an endless warren of rickety barns, sheds, outbuildings and trailers, all of it overgrown with wild grape and poison ivy.
Zeek was smiling, but Angie knew without a shred of doubt he wanted them to go first so he could stay behind them.
In case they tried to run.
“Let’s get Trisha here taken care of,” he said.
Angie looked at Rob, Dave, and Lara. They all knew this was a mistake. The fear and dread showed in their eyes. She and Dave shared a rare moment of connection.
We need to get the hell out of here.
Dave blinked and checked his watch. “Clock’s ticking guys. Let’s get this over with.”
He took Trisha down the steps.
Rob and Lara followed. Lara glanced back and Angie felt her heart break at the fear in her sister’s eyes.
“Clock’s ticking,” Zeek echoed, just loud enough for Angie to hear.
Angie went down the steps knowing she should run the other way.
Knowing it was too late.