"You're a bunch of idiots," Quinn said, having joined Rosie under the quilt.
The Xanax put Rose in a deadened place. She thought she could see Tony again, like he was in the car smooshing his face against Beagsley’s scruff, not like he was in the woods where his face was... She didn't care as much as Quinn that half the group was leaving to die. She was just cold. Quinn kept her warm.
"But please hurry back."
Damion, Quinn, Rosie, and Roger were staying. Beagsley, too, but Damion, a cat person, almost kicked him out with the others after all the yelling turned the Beags into a howling maniac. Roger told him to stuff it and he argued that it was just a joke and Quinn told him to stuff it and he did. After the rest left, they even let the little dude out. He jumped up on Rosie, and Quinn let him under the blanket and he got to work chewing up Rosie's tail like he liked. Rosie almost stopped him. Almost rubbed his belly. She wanted to. Like she wanted to stop the others and the voting. But she couldn't work up the energy. She had little sense of time. Watching the wall clock made it seem broken. Then she'd blink, and it'd be so much later, but everyone would be where they'd always been till she spoke and they responded from behind her. She swore she still heard Hunter's shrill voice even after he'd gone.
"Rest up, Rose," someone said and she thought she had been.
Beagsley sprung up.
On their first day here, Sunny had set up a table by the window that he liked to look out when he was allowed among the peoples and he'd lie there and watch and be a good boy, scanning the treeline for a squirrel invasion or visitors, then falling asleep since there was never anything to see. He always snored.
Now, his head was up. And his teeth bared. A growl not quite out, but revving up.
Then his lips fell and whatever he saw had retreated into the shadows cast through the forest by the pale moonlight. Once again, he had saved his humans.
Damion and Roger were in back discussing Rosie. They could've done it in front of her and she wouldn't have minded, for once, but to be polite and to avoid Quinn's wrath, they did it where no one could hear. "I'm not saying she didn't see anything, but maybe it wasn't what she claimed," Damion suggested. It was in a whisper even behind a shut door.
"How could anything else trigger her like that?"
"She's never been the most stable girl. Like graduation? Almost everyone had a job lined up but she didn't hear back on the one application she sent out and suddenly she's fleeing through Europe, which you all thought was so cool at the time, but I was just shaking my head, also living in Europe to work on research that if we'd had proper funding could have changed our understanding of the universe, not just walk around like she did, but no one seemed excited for me. Could any of you even understand it? I'm surprised she even ran back to the cabin. If she had a car key, it'd be logical that she'd–"
"Dude." His tone could've stopped a stampede.
But Damion didn't pay attention to such intangible things. "She'd have left us with whatever danger she claims is out there. And maybe it is something. A bear. A wolf. A lunatic. Maybe she saw something bad, but something reasonable. Explainable."
"That's not the point. Someone says they saw something horrific, you don't call them a liar."
"This isn't the first time Tony's done something stupid and it finally caught up with him. No idea why she ever dated him to start."
"Rosie and Tony?"
Quinn busted into the rooms one-by-one till she found the conspirators. She saw them cross-legged on Roger’s bed like they'd just been playing Patty Cake and, wordlessly, she waved them to the main area.
"What's happening?" Damion asked.
But she made a motion to zip his lips as she ushered them toward the large viewing window the sun always hit first and Malia, who had chosen the couch, said the sunrise helped her get to sleep. It was where Beagsley liked to look out. Where he'd been growling earlier. Where he growled now.
"It's just the beast. Again. He's gone crazy at every little thing, even me."
"Maybe because you blew an outlet," Roger explained to him for not the first time. Damion had brought an octopus strip so he wouldn't take up all the plugs with his laptop, phone, external battery, tablet, and rechargeable headlamp, but it was too much of a drain on the antiquated wiring. Margie had confiscated the power strip and that night someone had thrown it in the snow. Malia was the only accused, but it'd actually been Glenn. Damion ended up hogging the other outlets. "Electrical sparks tend to scare animals, especially if there's smoke."
"So what is it this time? The bear?"
"If anyone mentions that stupid bear again..." Quinn threatened Damion with the handle of a kitchen knife. She was actually handing it to him--safely, but he found her intimidating. He liked that she was intimidating.
Roger had a steak knife covered in last night's grease. Broccoli and red pepper shreds stuck to Quinn's butcher knife. All that'd been left in the drawer was a paring knife, still clean because how useless they'd found it during meal prep. Damion got that.
"Now shut up. There's something out there."
"You tell me to shut up, but not the dog."
"I'm telling everyone to shut up!"
The porch lights carried far in the winter canopy. They felt almost unnecessary given how trapped the ambient light was, a permanent incandescence, like looking at the world through snow goggles, and so the simple iron-and-glass-encased porch lights gave off no neatly lit circle, but added to the range that campers could see in so long as they squinted and only wanted silhouettes. Whatever was out there was just at the edge of visibility, trudging forward.
Beagsley's table didn't have the space for everyone and him and he got kicked out, being the smallest and kindest, and he tried the other window, identical but without his table and he was too short to stand up and see.
But as he ran to the other window, the others assumed he had a better sense and ran to see why he'd gone over.
He liked being part of the group and so he stayed until people crowded him and again, he was kicked out, but could return to his table and see. When the group came this time, his fur was up. His lips. His voice. He would not be shoved away now, and though Roger pulled at his collar, he growled through choking till Rog let go and his teeth clacked the window. They couldn't see it. They couldn't smell it. But it was coming. The flickering shadow that existed between the winds.
Rosie laughed so hard from the couch it scared them all into turning around. A hearty, lively laugh that kept going until she had no more air then a sudden gasp. "Why does it hurt to laugh?" she said, still wheezing.
"Gotta breathe, hun." Quinn laid her hand on Rosie's shoulder, who nuzzled against her friend's arm.
"It's not that," Rose spoke dreamily.
"There's nothing," Damion said coming over with Roger. They'd been staring at the window without a sighting of anything real. "Just the dog responding to everyone else's paranoia."
"It's funny that we're going to die together."
"Can we lock her in a bedroom?"
Quinn glared at Damion. He claimed he was tougher than he looked and she hadn't actively trained in a while beyond morning runs, but she could and would kick his ass if he kept this up. She said that all with a look.
But then Roger agreed. "I'm starting to get freaked out. I'll watch her."
Raving, Damion said, "Nothing happened a minute ago. Nothing happened five minutes ago. Or ten. Or an hour when the others left. Nothing has happened."
"What about Tony?"
"Well, him, but we don't even know what and like you said, probably got himself shot, and since then, nothing; we have no reason to think anything will happen—we have no reason to panic."
"Ion," Quinn said in a gentle voice. "Please stop yelling. You're scaring Rosie again." The lifelong hitchhiker was curling into her dinosaur kigurumi, sinking away.
"And me," Roger admitted.
"I wasn't–" Damion took a breath. Roger touched his shoulder and he flinched. The paring knife in his hand caught on his pants pocket, but it wasn't pointed enough to scratch through. "I didn't realize–" He needed another breath. They were coming too fast. Beagsley's barks were getting to him.
"It's okay. We're all worked up."
The alcohol had burned off and they were coming into a harsh reality dehydrated. Everyone sat on the couch with Rosie. It was too small for all of them but no one got up for another seat. They needed to be off their feet for a second. To get their wits together.
But a knock on the door scattered them.
Rosie laughed again.
Beagsley hollered with his teeth hitting the glass panes.
Quinn got up to check, gripping her knife.
The knock was erratic. Solid and wide and slow. Like it wasn't a fist, but someone with groceries in their arms hip-checking a locked door. And there was a doorbell, lit well and easy to find, but they knocked again. They hadn't tried the handle. They only tried force.
"Who is it?" Roger called from the couch. Quinn shot him a glance and he gave one back like, "What else am I supposed to say?"
Quinn peeked through the eyehole, but they were standing too close. They were just a blurry form but there was definitely a shirt. A sweater. Seemed to be hood strings tucked into his neckline. She felt safe calling out, "Hunter?" He’d been wearing something similar.
A hard knock.
The door thumped against Quinn's eyebrow. She shook her head at the others who were waiting for a sign, good or bad, anything.
Damion crept to the window, the one opposite the Beags because the pup was still viciously barking which he'd done at Glenn and pretty much anyone that'd gotten locked out during this week. He just liked to bark. Sharp claps of instinct signifying nothing but a lesser evolved brain.
Damion looked out the window.
He pulled back the curtain for a better angle.
He gaped. "Open up!"
When he rushed over to the door to do it himself rather than explain, Quinn stopped him. She covered the handle with her body and would not be moved. "Who is it?"
The knock again. The thud hit a sore spot on her hip. Her mattress hadn't been as soft as advertised.
"Tony," Damion said.
Rosie laughed breathlessly till it faded away.
Roger got up from the couch and went to look for himself and got all excited saying, "Yeah! It really is him!"
Quinn looked, too.
Roger kept cheering. "Rose, come look. It's Tony."
Beagsley barked wilder than ever.
Roger shoved his bud over to the window though she was limp on her feet and needed him as a crutch just to stand so he basically dragged her and pointed her head toward Tony! Tony! Tony.
She was done laughing.
"See? He's okay!"
Wide-eyed with stilted breaths, Rosie lunged for the door Damion was unlocking but her legs failed her. She stumbled. Roger caught her. But as he was trying to get her to stand, she wrestled with him thinking he meant to stop her. She had no control over her words. The shrieks came out slurred, but god, she got the volume up so loud Hunter in the woods could hear her pleas.
And in the scramble of panic and emotion, Quinn heard Beagsley.
Not the barks.
But what was beneath. Like she swore she had ages ago and only her sister had believed her but she was gone, long gone, dead with a tire mark across her neck, and Quinn had buried these confessions in her studies and career. She had left for Orcas Island and every morning listened as the birds sang or at night, the sounds of the wild lighting up the world. But they said nothing she knew. Even the crickets she begged to tell her one way or the other. Had it been childhood fantasies? They didn’t say. Nothing did. Nothing till now.
Now she heard Beagsley’s frantic excitement.