Beagsley had liked lying on that chest by the window so he could keep watch. The sink had dishes Quinn swore she’d get to tomorrow, what was then tomorrow, now today, and the dishes still weren’t done, just like old Quinn. Was that Rosie’s bra on the shower rod? Damion held a group meeting the first night about cleanliness and shared spaces. He was so offended over some B cups.
How long since Colby had been here? 12 hours, if even?
Margie had shot out a front window and the shards scattered across the hardwood, some tinkled down to the snow in front. The couch was jammed against the front door, but even Colby could push through that barricade. There were no pads on the legs and it arced four scratches into the floor, two blending into two, and there were more leading to its former position.
12 hours, but really, forever.
Where were the coats? Without them, this whole place felt lifeless. The hooks by the door held only the car keys. Two sets. Sunny and Glenn had taken the others.
Colby had to pee. It’d been forever since that, too. Since Margie had been trapped in here by a--what was it? Cockroach? Spider? Some black bug that he wondered about now. Since everything had settled, he could finally release but with the door open so he could watch out.
And good thing. There was a figure heading straight for the smashed window.
Before they were too close, he shut the door fast until the last inch then he twisted the handle and ever so slowly guided it close without a sound but the creaking hinges. Then that button lock.
That lock wouldn’t hold but if that thing out there didn’t know to bust in, Colby would be fine. He just had to be quiet. And prepared for his next step.
He heard the step over the threshold, their heels loud on the wood floor.
That backpack had been a haul out here and the pressure gauge hadn’t recharged on its own, but if he could get it working again, he really would be fine. He’d get off this mountain no problem. He’d tell the press. He’d send help. If anyone was still alive, he’d do everything he could for them as soon as he was off the mountain.
And if not, he’d tell this story till someone believed him.
The sound rang off the mirror and died in the drain.
He threw open the door. His ears, his hopeful heart had not deceived him. He went for another hug.
But she still had her ax, cocked at the ready till he spoke.
“Sunny, it's really me!”
She didn’t relax her weapon just yet but when he hugged her, she didn’t pummel him. It hurt. The wound in her arm was still raw, but wrapped, hidden.
“Where’s Glenn?” he asked.
Her grip tightened and the ax handle dropped with a little knock against Colby’s humming backpack.
Colby let go of the hug. “No…”
“We split up,” she said.
“So he’s still--”
“He’s on his way.” Her eyes were fixed on Colby.
He looked beyond her. “We need to get off this mountain. It’s daylight. I didn’t see a thing on my way down. Did you?”
“Not since the ranger’s station.”
“Good. If Glenn’s smart and…” He walked past Sunny to peek out the window for the forest he’d gotten lost in at the start. With Hunter. Margie. Colby was having trouble breathing normal. “If he can, he’ll do the same as us. All of you had the right idea from the start. We should’ve listened. I wanted to listen, if you’ll remember.”
“It didn’t work for us.”
“You didn’t know what we were up against.”
“Do we now?” she asked.
“How long were we here and saw nothing? Chances are we’ll be totally fine now that there’s daylight. We just caught it up and about during a hibernation period or something.” He was at the door. Waiting for Sunny to join him.
“Let me just grab something from my room.”
In her bag, she had brought a first aid kit with gauze, medical adhesives, hydrogen peroxide, and most importantly, pills. The same Xanax she’d given Rosie. Hopefully, Sunny thought, they helped her meet her end peacefully.
The wound was on her dominant arm. Even forgetting that, one-handed treatment was tricky. She fumbled the tape and it got stuck on itself.
“Let me help,” Colby said rushing in impatiently and closing the door behind them. “We need to get out of here fast.”
“Not without Glenn.”
“If he’s still--him even.”
“He’s on his way,” she said.
Colby took the bandage from her. It was soaked with the disinfectant. So were her jeans. Her shirt, half-off, was soaked, too, but with blood. The wound was bad but the cold did a lot to slow the bleeding. He eased the gauze onto it but no matter how careful he was, the disinfectant had a lot to sting. There was no escaping it: his help hurt.
Her arm tensed up. Her jaw had been tense since she arrived. However, she made no noise.
And so, whoever had stepped beyond the threshold this time, their foot dragging along, didn’t know to come for their closed door.
Colby reached for the doorknob. What if it was Glenn, really him? Then the scars of the night had hit him and he caught her eyes.
They said nothing.
He motioned his head toward the window, then mouthed it to be sure she understood. She stayed on the bed, holding her arm, until Colby urged her to go first. “It’s not your brother anymore.”
She grabbed her ax and crawled out the window.
Glenn knocked at the door.
There was no stealth on the snow and so they dashed down the hill, the sprayer in its holster banging against the backpack. As they hurried down the switchbacks, Colby looked up the hill they’d just come and down the next hill and he never seemed to focus on what was ahead. Sunny only watched him.
Sunny was faster, even wounded, but she lagged behind Colby. Whenever he slowed down, she did, too. When he slowed down to a full walk, she did, too. A shadow trailing him as they ran for the last shred of hope. He had slowed down, not to rest, but to get a better look over the edge and when he stopped completely, she did, too.
They hadn’t gotten away.
“We can’t be taking these switchbacks anymore,” Colby said. The trail was a direct path to them and what did this thing care about properly marked trails? It’d cut through the trees and down the hills and even if it tumbled to get there, it’d catch them soon. “We have to go down.”
Sunny peered down the steep slope peppered by trees. The end blended in with the white of the rest of the hill. “We’ll die just getting down.”
“Think of it like sledding.”
Even Sunny had started to balk at this idea. The night had drilled common sense into her, not out of, but holding the ax, she thought through the plan.
“I’ve done it a hundred times. This is the best spot for it that I can find.”
She didn’t like how he smiled as he tried to convince her. He was not someone to be trusted anymore, but neither was she. “Okay.”
She sat on the edge. “Don’t push,” she said. A root beside her was like a handle at a waterslide and as gravitated tempted her toes to tip over and go, she clutched that root tight. With one hand.
“You have to put the ax down. Axes aren’t good for hugging at high speeds.”
Her grip on it didn’t waver.
“I’ll throw it right after you, okay?”
Hesitantly, she released her hold on it and when she did, he shoved her down the slide so violently that her grip on the root almost went, too, but she stared up at him in wild confusion before it all clicked.
“You knew,” he said.
On the hills above them, the snow crunched as Glenn slithered down on his belly. Branches tearing off the shell of his face.
“Get back here,” Sunny screamed.
Colby looked once more at Glenn and once more at his sister. “You knew.”
The cars were in sight. Every window frosted and a snow drift closing the driver-side door of Hunter’s 20-year-old “classic” junk Jeep that didn’t even have passenger airbags. With three vehicles, Sunny’s CR-V sandwiched in someone’s minivan, but he couldn’t quite remember who and he wondered if it was someone dead or someone that’d soon be. At a distance, he hit the car-start button to get the windshield defrosted ASAP, but as it roared to life, he flinched.
No one was around.
It was an open lot. A truck with more snow under than on. Neighboring sedans buried. But if that thing were coming, either of it, or really any of it, he’d see.
Till he got between the cars.
Always a tad short, a bit hobbit-ish he'd say on dating profiles, between the cars that came in at five-five and five-six, his hair poked over but not his eyes. He was visible but he could not see. He tried to hurry.
A hard covering of snow froze the door and even after scraping the handle clear with his gloves, he pulled until it felt the plastic might rip off.
He stood up on his tiptoes.
When it dove on him, he broke off Sunny’s side mirror before smashing his head into a footprint. He fought back, kicking and shoving, but with the backpack, it was like a turtle trying to bench press. No leverage.
With its hair in his face, hair that was not its, stolen hair, it had him pinned.
Then it got off.
To grab the ax.
Colby couldn’t catch his breath. “I did what I had to,” he said.
The engine hummed. In the corner of the driver-side window, a wet circle had started forming.
She raised the ax.
What does she do?