This dinky lock wouldn’t hold. It was the same kind Glenn and Sunny’s parents had when they were kids and during their many fights when Glenn locked himself in his room, Sunny could barge through without a bruise other than the ones she gave her brother for how he treated her books. Sunny loved pristine spines. Glenn cracked them so the covers touched. If a pre-teen book nerd could get through the lock, there was no safety here.
Blood dripped from the soaked bandage running to the crotch between Glenn’s fingers. The pungent iron liquid soaked into their pant legs. It wasn’t a big puddle, but any puddle of his sister’s blood was too much and he pressed more firmly on the ax wound and she winced. She needed a new bandage, not more pressure.
Colby reached for her mouth till she shot him a look. He put his hand down.
The man wandering about the porch had come inside.
And yet there were still footsteps outside. More than a pair. Too many to count. All of them flooding into this ranger’s station and if the three locked in the bedroom could smell the blood--Sunny had accepted their fate.
There it was.
Colby and Glenn held their breath. They hadn’t had time to barricade themselves and stay stealthed.
That knock, though, a light headbutt--it wanted a reaction. If they threw their backs to the door now, it’d hear their swishy coats. It’d hear their backs slam the other side of the wooden door. It’d know.
It knocked again.
Hiding place blown, the three rushed to the door. Sunny and Colby sat against it, letting their weight and legs be the brace, but Glenn worked out. Maybe he’d put on a few pounds but in his tennis days, he’d go to the gym with all the football bros to hit the squat rack and after they all got in good together, a few of them even in his French Lit classes, sometimes they’d go drinking and it’d get wild and they’d have these toxically masculine competitions--in those days, Glenn could push a truck. Maybe not now, but he was still strong. He’d hold that door, however many of them came at the other side and he could feel it when they joined up, he could hear the dinky lock pop out the jamb, but still he’d hold that door.
Till his foot slipped in Sunny’s blood.
He stepped out of it and the door inched open but when he got his feet right, it slammed one of those things’ finger. It fell. Colby chucked it in the corner.
However, Glenn’s boot sole was slicked now.
The hoard outside shoved. They were pushing the three back. More fingers came through the crack.
Any second now, the door would be open.
But the pushing stopped. The fingers disappeared out the crack. Even the finger Colby had thrown into the corner inched past them like a worm with business and disappeared underneath the door.
The door slammed back into position and the three took no time to wonder as they skidded the bookcase, the bed, and the computer desk with all its wires stretched to their limits and the router getting dragged off the shelf. They pressed themselves up against the furniture wherever they could. Round 2 was coming. They had to be ready.
They were as ready as they could be. Sunny’s arm had stopped bleeding and been wrapped up. Glenn had his ax. Colby hadn’t figured out how to reload the pressure on the ice sprayer but maybe it could be an intimidation tactic.
They weren’t ready for nothing, however.
After long enough, Colby started pulling the furniture away till Glenn opened his mouth to protest but they’d sworn silence and he could only gesture wildly, his nylon coat screaming for him.
“Let him,” Sunny said. If they were doomed, she’d rather know than die waiting.
“It could be a trick.”
“Little brother, they’re mindless goo. If they could trick us, they deserve the win.”
Glenn let his ax drop and Colby continued moving away the barricade. Doing it solo, so slow, made it more agonizing for Glenn. After each book was pulled from the case so Colby could handle it alone, Glenn expected the creatures outside would renew their assault and he clenched after each like it was a countdown and he never knew when zero was, and when the bookcase finally scraped the floors, wobbling corner-to-corner, Glenn still couldn’t breathe with the door closed. They were on the other side. He knew it. They had to be.
Colby looked to him one last time.
He shook his head.
Outside their room, it was empty.
The break of day over the mountain shined long shadows through the room that Colby crept through, peeking over the counter of knocked over safety brochures.
It really was as empty as it sounded.
Glenn stayed back. He didn’t trust it.
The footsteps outside held so much trepidation in how they creaked, trying to sneak but the floorboards groaning at the extra weight Colby placed on them crouched over. But in time, confidence came. He walked around like normal. Normal footsteps. Walking upright. None of that dragging the boot those things did.
The twins argued as Sunny tried to go have a look. She used words. He shook his head and widened his eyes and held her hand pleadingly.
When all of the sudden, Colby’s steps stopped.
Glenn went even quieter, even shushing his sister, determined not to go out there. They waited for a signal.
There wasn’t one for a long time, then they heard the floorboards outside, not in the station, but outside on the porch creak again like when Colby had been crouched over.
It was a trap, Glenn knew it, and when Colby yelled in, “You have to see this,” Glenn almost didn’t go.
He had his phone out. He had his phone on. Colby was taking photos with low battery.
The snowy mountain was speckled and the specks were moving. An army of soldiers marched up the mountain. An army of skiers, many with one or even two, sometimes broken skis, had joined them. Morning hikers. Animals. There seemed too many of them and they all marched up the mountain on an impossibly steep path and they’d climb and they’d tumble back and take a few down with them but they’d start up again and keep going, right under the station’s porch even.
Maybe they weren’t the prey currently, but what were they to do? Wander into the parade and hope those things stayed so single-minded? There was still no escape.
Sunny asked, “Doesn’t the mountain look different? The peek never looked like that.”
The top had collapsed, gone flat, almost concave like there was a hole in it.
Before they could discuss it, a horror that demanded attention tore up the sky with its spinning blades but the masses marching on the mountain paid it no mind. Only the three looked up. A rope dropped down and a soldier yelled but it became noise under the helicopter.
Colby took the rope first and the wench reeled him upward and once up there, the soldier from the tent, Dooley, said it was good to see he’d made it and Colby could’ve responded telling the crew about Sunny’s arm and how it’d be difficult to hold on but he didn’t think of it and when the rope lowered, she held onto her brother who had his arm around her as well and they clung to the rope together. Dooley helped the twins into the main body of the chopper, first her, then him, and then he had that stunned moment of seeing something off but not knowing what before he realized she needed actual first aid, not a rag tied to her arm. He prepped everything but ultimately, the doctor did it herself.
“Where’s the Gunny?” Colby asked.
The helicopter passed over a peak but the peak fell away. The pilot checked the altitude. They weren’t climbing. The peak went black. The whole mountain did. Wet and viscous but less so every second as it flattened and then like a flood, it stretched far through the lands.
“Doing that,” Dooley answered.
The sea of black receded to its source, crashing at the drain.
It was an election year. The mountain disappearing got lost in that. No cover up. No conspiracy. Just the news. New scandals everyday and the mountain never said anything racist or sexist or anything so after a week of discussion on Reddit, Twitter, the very memory of the mountain disappeared as the actual mountain had. There wasn’t even a Wikipedia page for it.
Sunny started physical therapy come spring and since it was at the hospital, just a different floor, she started working again, too. Stuck with giving check-ups. Charts were digital. She carried around a tablet that slid into docks with keyboards around the hospital and she’d always been a hunt & peck kind of gal. The few handwritten tasks left, she used her left hand, non-dominant, and while it was a slow, considered act to write that way, nurses and pharmacists commented on how much more legible it was.
Her first patient of the day was a gray-haired woman with a sore throat and self-described “goldenrod sputum.” She knew all the nurses. The receptionist already had April’s appointment on the schedule, the 23rd, exactly four weeks away. Her wild weekend plans. She was quite old and maybe quite lonely.
Sunny took a look. It’d take a minute to listen, another to check it out, a third to suggest something over the counter. Sunny spent a full fifteen with her instead, talking before examining anything.
The woman, Barbara, was worried her dog gave her this cold. This little dachshund. She had pictures on her phone. Chubby thing.
“You know how we call them wiener dogs?” On a rolling, swiveling stool, Sunny went from one end of the room to the other by pushing off the cabinets. “Across the pond, the Brits call them ‘sausage dogs.’ Crazy, isn’t it?”
“There was a time,” Barbara interrupted herself with laughing then coughing. “Right after university, when I could afford to go to Great Britain or buy a new red sports car.”
“Please tell me you traveled.”
“I did. From the highlands in Scotland in this city called Inverness to this town in the south of England, Salisbury. You’re thinking the steak, right? But it’s actually famous for being quite near Stonehenge.”
“I’m so glad you went.”
“From the north to the south of the British Isle, in my new red sports car.”
Sunny had a great laugh at that and the woman before her had a much younger smile as she played out that roadtrip in her mind.
“Stonehenge, very overrated, if you ask me. Look it up on the internet nowadays and it’s good as making the trip yourself.”
“I actually saw it before. I did a year in France--I agree. Overrated.” The conversation seemed to get to a lull and Sunny reminded herself there was a schedule to stick to, patients in the waiting room, and Barbara had a good girl to get home to. “How about we take a look at what’s bothering you?”
Barbara opened up.
It was dark in her mouth. Even angling her chin toward the light, it was dark. When Sunny shined the flashlight inside, the muscles around her old silver-capped teeth twitched and writhed and lept out at Sunny. She fell off the stool.
Barbara apologized, “I swear I brushed this morning.”
“Just lost my balance,” Sunny said. She laughed it off. “It’s this arm. Skiing accident--involving an ax. Ugly business.”
She took lunch at 10 am. Her phone went off from a text while picking through her salad for the chicken. It was Glenn.
“How about this weekend?” he asked.
Glenn probably thought she was typing up a novel of plans as he watched the dots, but what killed her about this arm wasn’t writing with pens or typing on keyboards or even putting in her stethoscope, but texting. Autocorrect couldn’t save her. “Already,” Getting to that question mark was an impossible task.
His reply came immediately. Show off. “We said more often.”
“Knlyy been a mknth,” she sent after several worse tries.
Glenn called. “How sad is your life that a month is often?”
She crunched the salad already in her mouth right in his ear. Then put the phone down and on speaker so she could keep eating. “Think Colby would want to join us? I didn’t realize till--I didn’t realize he lived in New York.”
“Maybe we can surprise him.”
“That’s probably the only way we’re dragging him out. He’s been dodging my calls.”
“You call him and not your own brother?”
When they hung up, Glenn noticed the new part-timer he hired had been waiting quietly at the door. She’d been there most of the call, lingering but not wanting to interrupt. Swathy went to SHG, the parochial school a town over, about 45 minutes on the bus, despite being Hindu because they had the best education in the area. She always showed up to the Inn in her uniform, khakis and a purple polo shirt (vaguely their school colors). The customers really liked her at the front desk, as a personality, but there were an increased number of calls about overcharging after they were sure they got a discount and one couple had stayed a week but only got charged for a night, and Glenn dealt with the problems if the person left a message stating what it was and who it was. The regulars kept asking when he’d be back at work.
From the doorway, she stammered, “Could you--if you’re done, that is, could you show me how to do the vacation-time request again?”
“You’re taking time off?”
“Just a day. In three months. That’s enough advance notice, right? For my mom’s birthday, she wants to go to Disney so if I get the Friday off, I’m not scheduled for that weekend, or well, that schedule’s not out but I don’t work on the weekend, so--she’s paying! So…” Swathy was great with customers, but a bit nervous with Glenn either because he was an authority figure or because he had skulked around in back since hiring her. She hadn’t even interviewed. He put out that he needed help at the front desk and she was the first application he saw. When they first met, she had finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird and so Boo Radley was already on her mind. “That’s okay, right?”
“Of course,” he said. “Anytime you need it. I know company policy says you only get a couple weeks of vacation time, but since I’m the one enforcing that policy, there’s a lot of wiggle room if you need it. Just ask.”
“I’ll be back here if you need me.” He opened In Search of Lost Time, a novel he was assigned in college and gotten an A on his term paper about it and he had opened it many times but never finished.
Swathy opened her mouth but if it meant interrupting his reading, she couldn’t bring herself to remind him that she needed help with the vacation request form on the computer. She was a smart girl. She’d figure it out herself.
The twins found Colby’s place in the suburbs. It never struck them that he’d have a place here. The big adventurer came home to two-stories, working streetlights, and trash collection Tuesdays. All his neighbors had fences and so did he. They almost suspected he had secreted away a family in there.
Sunny stepped back to get a look while they waited. A light on the second floor cut out.
Any second now, he’d be down.
Maybe he was naked and that was what took so long.
It was getting awkward waiting this long with the hairy neighbor dad mowing shirtless.
Glenn tried the bell.
Sunny tried her phone.
There was no answer and no explanation.
Colby had locked himself in the closet. This wasn’t the first time. It was routine. Whenever a package came or Jehovah’s Witnesses or some company that scammed kids into selling their shit for shitty prizes, he compulsively checked the reddit threads about the mountain, some of which he started, cross-posting with pictures and insider information and a lot of silence from others. There were no new comments. He tried Twitter. Instagram had several notifications.
It’d been a month since he posted and sometimes the notifications were likes or even comments from someone on another site reposting his NatGeo stuff and actually linking his profile. That used to be a rare bit of good luck.
Now he hated it.
The followers, the likes, even the comments--
It had made the news that Russia and Macedonia were peddling fake news via Facebook and Twitter, spamming social media with bots. They exploited both sides. One was more susceptible. There were whole threads of bots responding to one another like a stupid, but believably so conversation. Even on Reddit, a guy posted a link to a thread he started years ago that made r/all so he remembered the attention from it quite well and even snippets of that momentary internet fame. He linked that thread again, several years later, because recently on r/all someone else posted the exact same topic with the exact same title, which happens. People love fake internet points. But the top level comments were also identical to the ones on his old thread and even conversations within those comment threads were identical but with different usernames. It was all bots recreating his old post for...for… why?
So when he saw these new likes, new comments, new followers on Instagram, which was full of bots that nobody seemed to care about, just as Google Play Store was, just as Yelp was, he didn’t know if they were real people.
Eventually, Sunny and Glenn gave up and left.
With that half of the day a bust, the twins went back to their hometown.
“Let’s hit up Luke’s!” Sunny suggested. It was the best diner coffee in their town of 500. They loved it as kids and during university breaks, it was like a ritual for them. They even knew the owner back then. The regulars, the friendly ones at least, would get up off their stools to hug the two, ask them about what they were studying, Sunny’s lacrosse team, dating, their majors, their futures, if Glenn was going to be a teacher--“No,” he’d always answer firmly.
When had Sunny last been? Too long.
When had Glenn? Even before coming back from the mountain, he hadn’t had time.
None of the several customers got off their stools when the door jingled closed behind the twins.
Sunny got really excited, though, seeing a server bringing someone a plate of fries with a burger buried beneath. “Is that Cassie Dan--” She cleared her throat. She had read the woman’s name tag, Jessica. It wasn’t the high school buddy she had thought.
The woman Sunny had mistaken as a friend caught them standing at the entrance looking around. “It’s seat yourself! I’ll bring you menus in a minute.”
The more Sunny stared, the more it looked like Cass. She almost had to ask if Cassie, or rather Jessica was going by her middle name now or something, she was that sure of it. Sunny sat down.
Part of the old ritual, for Sunny anyway, was ordering breakfast food for lunch or dinner and burgers for breakfast. The Lumberjack Special. It was an item not on the menu, but part of the secret menu. She’d get a short stack, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast just dripping, hash browns and she didn’t like half the food, which was good because it was a lot of food, so she’d dump half on Glenn’s plate and he’d eat anything then she’d pick at whatever he’d ordered. He mixed it up more than she did.
“Know what you want?” the server asked, pouring complementary coffee.
They used to never have to ask Sunny. It’d been a while, though. Even Glenn had to look at the menus. They had reprinted them and all the old doodles were gone. He’d made a few of them as a teen and a lot during college.
“We’ll need a minute,” Glenn said.
Looking around, Glenn didn’t recognize anyone. He lived in this tiny town. He worked in it. And no one was familiar.
“See something you like?” Sunny said with a wink. Maybe she’d see her brother work that old charm today and pick up a sexy local that hadn’t gotten wise to his bullshit yet.
Glenn shook his head. “No.”
He kept looking around and Sunny did, too. She really didn’t know anyone. She thought she did with a few, like Cass--Jessica, but when they caught her staring, they didn’t say anything. They stared back.
“You?” he returned the question to her.
She was one of the few black people in this town and they had forgotten her? That couldn’t be right. The population of this town was so incestuous, generations and generations living here. They wouldn’t be forgotten so easily..
“Want to get out of here?”
They left without taking their coffee cups to the front like they were supposed to.