"You're all a bunch of idiots," Quinn cried out as Sunny, Malia, and Glenn left for the car via the service road. The unmarked route split as they came upon a cabin identical to theirs. The security light in back flickered. The door was locked and windows dark and the wind hit hard so they discussed their options beneath the orange light, and Malia echoed Quinn's favorite word, "Idiot."
Glenn had wandered onto the wrong path. Neither continued down; however, Glenn's had an incline. He had just been scoping it out until she fought him on it. "Barely!" he yelled. "And you can see it turn in on itself, toward the parking lot."
When the whole party had arrived on the mountain a few days ago, they ignored the warnings and attempted to drive the service road, at Hunter's insistence, but the bends were narrowed by snowdrifts and they reached a roadblock. The road was also too narrow for a J-turn. Their three-car caravan had to back down an icy mountain in the dark.
"What do you think, Sunny?" Glenn asked his twin.
Both routes looked wrong. "Let’s just pick." Then she noticed Malia had taken off the hat Sunny had given her. "You'll freeze, little lamb."
Woven with multiples thread, pink and blue and shades of each, they named the concoction "cotton candy" and it was so sweet it was repulsive. Malia's ears were folded over by the friendship that also locked the hat upon her head. The pom poms hung with the immeasurable weight of knitted yarn soaked in shame. "I feel like an idiot."
Glenn teased, "For good reason." Sunny slapped his down coat. He didn't feel a thing, but said, "Ow," anyway.
"It's adorable. Plus she needs it. When was the last time you got snow in Arizona?"
Every night here, on the lodge's couch with a blanket for a cape and the sun warming Malia in the stuffy, rusty heat, her hands clutching fresh coffee, not for the taste or energy, but for the warmth, she had shivered. After college, Malia had moved home to the blazing winter sunshine of New Mexico.
She took off her hat. "What grandma even bought this?" She thought the hat was Sunny's.
The security light died and Glenn fiddled with the casing to magic it back on. "Tony."
"You put a dead man's hat on me?" Malia ripped the hat off.
"We don't know he's dead." Sunny tried sliding the hat on once more, but Malia fought this time.
"Better stop thinking like that." The hat wound up in the snow. "Aren't you a doctor? Isn't half the job prepping for that sweet kid you made a connection with to wind up with late-stage toenail cancer?"
Sunny picked up the hat but just held it.
And Malia mumbled, "That's all they show on TV anyway."
The light fell dead for good again. Like it’d been cut. They flipped a coin and picked Malia's path, a stretch that narrowed between rock faces so they had to continue one by one till it opened up and there, they could still see their cabin lighting the ridge above. They were mostly down with a few more bends when they heard the gunshots. Two at the cabin.
"Guess they found the gun," Glenn said in that joking tone but the punchline: that nervous tension of feeling it aim on them. No one laughed.
Mal said, "Great. Let's head back."
"We don't know who that was."
"Sure, we do. It’s our old pal Tony, right? Just bringing the gun back." She started back up the trail but Sunny, connected by vice grip fingers, anchored her from taking another step.
Glenn let out a hard laugh at his own joke before he ever made it. "Rose can explain when we get back." He mocked how she hyperventilated.
The only sound as reply were footsteps crunching snow as they marched on, but Malia stopped.
"What's funny about that?"
"Just a joke. Can’t take it?"
"There's not a person alive so far from the edge something can't push them over and some of us are so fucking close already. You'd shove us off for a bad laugh?"
Sunny got between the two and pushed her brother back as he got in Malia's face. Maybe unaware of the habit; being a tall guy in good shape, he won a lot of arguments for a reason. No physical violence ever came of these primal threats. Sunny didn't even know if he was aware he was doing it, but it was a habit he should've grown out of. It was a habit he never should've learned. "Glenn, let's keep attempts to lighten the mood sensitive. And disagreements civil."
"Fuck off," Malia said.
It was like getting clocked from behind. "I'm agreeing with you, Mal."
"We both know what you're doing."
"I wasn't doing anything."
"Well I'm the asshole willing to say what we're all thinking. Never should've let you manipulate me into coming and now we're going to die because of you. You think everyone decided to hell with it, let's shoot some squirrels? Whoever shot Tony is at the cabin. Two shots, two more dead, wanna take bets on who it was? Then let's just get the hell out of here."
She marched on.
Glenn saw the opportunity to part ways with that ticking time bomb. This wasn't the first time she screamed at someone over nothing this week and in their history together, how many times had Malia berated Sunny over some perceived slight? Too many. “I’m taking the other path.” He waited for Sunny to join him.
"Come on, Glenn," Sunny said. "The coin said this way."
"Malia said that way. The coin fell in the snow. She picked it up."
“Do you really think that?”
Mal trudged down the path, scowling at even the snow, pretending not to listen. Sunny followed.
Glenn went his own way. Sunny just watched both get farther from her and said a little prayer that the paths met up again and soon, before she hurried toward Mal.
In the dark, Malia focused on her footing but did not notice the black goop stuck to her frayed pant-legs. It squirmed. Every few steps, she landed on black specks embedded in the snow that wormed their way up her mismatched Converse sneakers and it grew slowly but impatiently. Hungry.
"Should've brought the Xanax," Sunny said.
But Malia wouldn't be coaxed into talking.
"You probably have your own medication, I guess. Dangerous to mix and match."
The more Sunny tried, the more Malia hated herself, frozen tears held back with sniffs that she swore, in her head, were because it was cold, and the heavy breathing, too. Malia lied even to herself. She wanted an excuse to apologize, but the biggest roadblock, pride, kept her from opening her mouth.
Sunny kicked the snow, accidentally, then again playfully, and again trying to cover Malia.
Malia turned around. Almost ready to give in. Then continued on.
Sunny would not stop. It got in Malia's hood.
While wiping it out, the spray hit Sunny, who threw some back, and then and then and then Malia had Sunny's hood full and pulled over her head and Sunny was screaming, "Stop! Stop!" and Malia flew off. She'd taken it too far. She was already on her feet ready to continue walking, continue scowling, continue in silence.
But Sunny came out laughing. "You little butt. Pretty sure that got down the back of my shirt."
"You started it."
"And like usual," she said good-naturedly, "you returned fire with so much force, I had to relent."
In a small voice, "I can't help it."
"It's okay. You're trying."
The two curled together in the snow, both shivering, Malia's lip were split because she'd chewed them all weekend, but they were finally made up. At least for this last fight. And to seal the deal, Sunny walloped a scoop of snow into Malia's face, pinning her.
The black goop on Malia’s pants had rubbed onto Sunny, but neither had noticed yet.
"GET THE FUCK OFF HER!" someone cried out. A small spotlight hit them and it was tough to see past.
Sunny rolled off and as the spotlight trained on her, Malia saw who held it--Margie. The phone was in her pocket. Her hands were full with the rifle.
"No one move," Margie yelled. Her raspy voice carried a desperate authority.
"Hey, hun," Sunny cooed. "What's going on?"
"Shut up!" She wouldn't get closer, but she cut a wide berth down the switchback. The slope was too steep for walking, thus the path that turned back on itself, but Margie would not wait. She couldn't. She tripped and her itchy trigger finger luckily fell as she did.
With Margie face down in the snow, Mal rushed toward her.
"Don't!" Sunny yelled.
She was too far. Margie snapped the crosshairs on Malia and she froze.
A snowflake landed on Margie's cheek and instantly she wiped it off on her shoulder then retrained her sights on Malia. Sunny's foot settled into the snow with just a little sound and the gun pointed at Sunny. Every little motion agitated Margie. Putting hands up, the sign for surrender, almost got Sunny shot. "You're really scaring us here."
"You shot him?" Malia demanded.
"Did you shoot Tony?"
"Malia, please. Margie would never." Sunny approached Malia just wanting her to shut up for once but that girl pushed every situation toward more conflict, waiting for someone to finally do it because Mal believed she'd never be as lucky as Tony. No dog would save her. No matter how Sunny tried, she couldn't save Mal, and a decade ago, Sunny took that job in New York because she knew Mal couldn't follow.
Margie stepped away from them both. Armed, but retreating. Why was she so afraid? She was ready to slide down that slope risking injury. Something made it so she needed to flee.
"Tell me!" Malia shouted. Malia focused the attention on her. The gun on her. Whatever risk that carried, at least Sunny would be safe. Glenn would make sure of that as he sneaked through the woods behind Margie.
Malia kept talking, trying to get away from Sunny. "Tony was so goddam alien this whole trip because he was the one of us getting his life back on track. He had a dog. He had cleaned up. He'd kept a job for months. And you shot him, didn't you?"
"She was in the house with us. We know she didn't do anything. Just put the gun down and we'll talk this out."
"Yeah, I shot him. He just wouldn't die." Margie was paralyzed at the memory. "And I shot Hunter. You're all next. If it hasn't already taken you."
Sunny got distracted from the light and the gun and the madwoman with frozen tears because she finally saw Glenn.
He was almost on Margie.
He waited for her to aim slightly away and then he could pounce. He could wrestle Margie no problem.
She leaned against a tree.
The paranoia trained into her that night raised every sound of nature to a threat to be dealt with. As Glenn packed down some snow, Margie turned. The barrel of the gun led. And as it landed on the dark figure approaching her, Glenn, she didn't know that--
To Margie's chest.
The rifle fell into the snow and then Margie with it.
In the immediate moment, as they heaped out staggered breaths frozen from fear, everyone felt relief. Glenn’s tears kept coming after he wiped them away. Sunny grabbed Malia and Malia let her.
Then… “Step away from the gun and put your hands on your head.”
The group looked for the authoritative yell.
But it came again. “Do it now!”
Sunny buried her face in the snow, and she pulled Malia, who hesitated, with her. Glenn stared at Margie’s body.
“I will shoot if you don’t comply.”
His sorrowful gaze locked onto the gunman. A pistol trained on Glenn’s head. “What the hell did you shoot her for, man?”
“Are you trying to get yourself shot tonight.”
“Glenn!” Sunny’s voice was loud with panic.
Finally, Glenn knelt into the snow. Next to Margie. “She wasn’t going to do anything.”
The man in flannel with his face half-covered by a mask came closer out of the trees. “Sunny?” His light fixed on her then scanned the others as he grabbed the gun and swung the strap around his back. “Glenn? Can’t stay out of trouble can you?” His voice behind the mask softened.
Sunny breathed again. She finally placed the voice to an old flame that haunted her still. “Thank fucking christ--Jimmy! What are you doing here?” She started getting up but the white man motioned for her to stay still. He hadn’t put his gun away but it at least aimed at the snow now.
“Hold on. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Margie went mad. She shot Tony and Hunter and that’s all we really know.”
“We don’t know that,” Glenn interrupted.
“She admitted it!”
“That was old Margie? Well fuck me.” Jimmy stared at the body and then rolled it over to get a look at her face. Familiar but not the one he remembered. He asked, “Had she been acting erratic? Strange at all?”
“Not that I noticed.” Sunny looked at Malia for corroboration, but she’d retreated into herself. She’d probably be quiet for a while. “What are you even doing up here?”
“I’m the one who suggested this place! It’s practically my backyard. But I’m actually up here for work. We got some reports.”
“That was probably this whole crisis. Another lodge must’ve called it in.”
“I still can’t believe it happened.”
“We don’t know that it’s over yet. If she had an accomplice or if it was planned. I mean how many people came on the trip? It’d be pretty tough to get them all. Or maybe she had a grudge against Tony or Hunter and wanted it to look like an accident. Can’t rule anything out.”
Glenn had heard Jimmy say that before. Right when his parents had died. When they investigated it as a murder. “Going to cuff me again?” Glenn asked.
It wasn’t an easy time for Sunny, either. “Ancient history, Glenn. 9 years. Let it die.”
Jimmy interrupted the start of this old feud. “9 years wasn’t that long ago, was it, Sun? We don’t have to let everything die. I did just save y’all.” He was so close to her. And wider than Glenn. He pulled his gator mask down for a reward. Nervously glancing to Mal, who looked away, she gave him a little kiss. “All right, all right, but if you feel like you need someone after this ordeal, it’s pretty common. Fear makes people more, uh, open. Hey, what’s with your leg?”
As he squeezed her butt, he noticed her jeans were soaked dark.
Malia accused him, “You shot her!”
“I don’t miss.”
“I’m fine, promise.” She felt nothing. It was just some crap she rubbed up against, she figured, but as she tried scraping it off on a rock near the edge, she saw a trail of the stringy goop stretching from her leg down the slope under the snow, darker than its cover. She was holding Malia’s hand.
Malia’s glove ripped off as Sunny was tugged down the slope.
The snow she clawed gave way till she held a snowball as she slapped the ground looking for traction and had none. Her ACL ripped. She knew the feeling from an old soccer injury. Her chin hit rocks and dug its own trail until a tree caught between her legs and she stopped. She could not catch her breath enough to wail.
The goop had snaked its way up her leg, her body, and now her outstretched hand.
Who raced down the mountain for her?