Into the Hollow
Dex’s eyes flitted to mine and back to Mitch’s. “I believed he might be doing this to raise attention to his business. Wouldn’t you think that’s more believable?”
For once, Mitch seemed stumped. He shrugged. “I’ve known Rigby a long time. He’s not that type. Yeah, business is down but it’s not like he’s in real trouble or nothing. He lives simple, like I do, like everyone here does. We aren’t hurting for money. Besides, there are always dumb Americans coming here, wanting to shoot some good ol’ Canadian moose.”
Dex raised his brow but declined to comment on the American comment. “So you don’t think this is all a set-up.”
“Nah. I don’t believe it’s real either. Rigby’s got an imagination.”
“And his daughter.”
“She’s a dumb young bitch,” he said simply.
Dex and I were stunned into silence. The crackle of the fire filled our ears and the only thing missing were the chirps of a few crickets.
Dex cleared his throat in a rough manner and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his cutting gaze on Mitch. “Kind of an unfair assessment of a girl who’s only, what, sixteen?”
“Women start as bitches early.”
Then Mitch looked at me, as if I was some sort of example. I cocked my head, running through the many, many things I wanted to say to him.
Yet couldn’t. Because as we sat there, staring at each other across the angry flames, the dark and unforgiving wilderness at our backs, filled with who knows what, he was our only hope of survival. And he had two fucking guns on the other side of his log.
I bit my lip. Hard. Until I tasted copper. I stole a glance at Dex and from the way his jaw was clenched, I could tell he was doing the exact same thing.
“I think it’s time for bed,” I announced, gulping back the tea which was cooled from the mountain air, and got to my feet. I needed to remove myself from the situation before I said something I regretted and I could only hope that Dex would do the same thing.
I gathered up my toothbrush, wet-wipes and a roll of toilet paper out of the tent. I fished my flashlight out of my pocket and made my way past the men, who were staring at each other like that pissing contest was about to erupt at any moment. The fact that no one was speaking only added to the awkwardness.
I didn’t go too far to do my business, keeping their shadowy figures and glowing fire in my line of sight at all times. They could probably see me if they tried to and I was glad Mitch’s back was to me. He was creeping me out more and more and I wouldn’t have put it past him to be a peeping Tom of some sort.
By the time I was done, somehow not feeling refreshed or clean or anything, Dex was spitting out toothpaste into the fire. Mitch was staring at the flames with some super nutso look on his face, the bottle of bourbon in his hand. He was beyond drinking out of cups now and was just swilling from the bottle like it was water.
I couldn’t have been happier when Dex finally crawled into the tent, his flashlight bobbing as he held it between his teeth.
It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. The tent was a lot thicker than your standard model, the sleeping bags were heavy and insulated and the mat beneath the tent did an excellent job of retaining heat. And yes, I was a tiny bit disappointed that we weren’t sharing a sleeping bag like the last time we went camping together, but I wasn’t about to request that I crawl into his. I had my limits and I think I blew past them the other night when I tried to put his dick in my mouth.
I wiped that mental image out of my head and settled back into the sleeping bag as he zipped the tent shut. Like I had done, he kept every item of clothing on for warmth and just crawled right into the bag.
“I was thinking about sabotaging your sleeping bag so you’d have to get in here with me,” he said with a grin, quickly zipping himself in.
My face grew hotter than the rest of me. “Thinking isn’t doing.”
He rolled over, his face now inches from mine.
I moved my head away. “Get away from me, I stink.”
“You don’t stink. You smell like Perry.”
“Baby, I could drown in your scent.”
I looked at him askance and saw the gravity in his hooded eyes. He was totally serious.
“But,” he went on, voice low and rough, “if you need to get clean from head to toe, I’m offering my tongue.”
I wished that image hadn’t caused more heat to flash over my body, this time between my thighs.
I eyed him steadily. “You really are something, you know that?”
The corner of his mouth tugged upward. “I do.”
“Is this you trying?”
“This is me playing.”
Figured. I rolled away from him and put my back to his face. “Of course. What else is new?”
His arm came around my body and he brought me back toward him, spooning me through his sleeping bag. He gently brushed my hair away from my neck, the skin shocked from the cold air, and rested his chin there, speaking low into my ear.
“I’m not about to try anything with Heston’s understudy out there. You know he’s drunk, armed and listening.”
A shiver rolled through me, lighting my nerves. If Mitch hadn’t been sitting just outside the tent, would Dex be trying something? And would I have had the guts to turn him down?
Somehow, I really doubted it.
I didn’t know what to say to Dex about that, so I swallowed my fears and anticipation and tried to sleep. With his arm around me and body pressed up against mine, I didn’t once think about being in the middle of the mountains with Mitch and some beast. I just thought about his hot breath on my neck, wishing I could fall asleep like this every night.
Dawn was just breaking when I woke up. Our tent was shaking and I was frozen in a half-asleep fear before I realized that it was Mitch who was doing it.
“Wake up you bastards,” he said, his voice slurring terribly. “Get the fuck out here.”
I sat up beside Dex who was unzipping his sleeping bag in the dim light. The air was freezing cold, colder than it had been all night, and I wanted nothing more than to stay bundled up. But when Mitch was telling you to get up, you got up.
Dex opened the tent flap and stepped out into the grey morning. I hurried to shove on my boots and trundled after them, careful not to trip on my loose laces. Mitch was standing by the fire, like he’d never moved all night. The bottle of bourbon was empty at his feet and he was swaying back and forth, his eyes fixed on a spot behind us.
I followed his eyes straight to the front of Mitch’s tent. In the grey mist of early morning, a bloody llama carcass laid there, a gruesome mixture of white and red.
“Holy shit,” I swore, turning my head and immediately heading back into the tent. My first instinct was to grab the camera and if Dex hadn’t looked so disgusted, I could have sworn I saw a hint of pride in his eyes.
“What the fuck?” Dex asked as I came back out and hurried to turn the camera on. He took a few steps toward the carcass, getting into the shot but not going any farther. I couldn’t blame him. My pulse was raging and it was only by looking through the viewfinder that I could look at the corpse without wanting to hurl everywhere.
“What…oh my God, he has no head,” Dex said, putting his hand to his mouth. He looked back at Mitch for explanation and I swung the camera over on him.
He didn’t look too good. He was drunk off his tree, his eyes still fastened on the dead creature.
“I fell asleep here,” he said, waving at the logs. So I wasn’t too far off with my assumptions. “I woke up just now. Saw that.”
“Is it…Twatwaffle?” Dex asked, peering back at it.
“Yup. The other llamas are still here. Surprised they didn’t warn us. You guys hear anything last night or are you both too useless?”
I took my eyes off the screen momentarily and glared at him. “We were sleeping. And no, we didn’t hear anything. At least I didn’t.”
“Me neither,” said Dex. “Jesus.”
“Can’t save you now,” was Mitch’s dry response. He then spat in the smoldering ashes in the fire.
“But he’s been gutted…”
“What?” I asked in alarm, craning my neck to get a better look.
“Yeah, come look,” Dex said, walking forward, covering his mouth and nose with his sleeve. “He’s been sliced up from top to bottom. Fuck man, he’s just been emptied out.”
“Guess all the good stuff is inside,” Mitch commented. I heard a bottle clink and turned to see him stumbling toward us. I quickly moved out of the way and he went up beside Dex to gawk.
“Who would do that?” I wondered, chewing my lip.
“What would do that,” Dex corrected. “This is definitely a what now. No way would Rigby go through all of this.”
“It’s almost like it’s teasing us,” I mused quietly. “Like it’s showing us what it can do.”
Mitch snorted up through his nose and then spat again on the llama. The sight made my blood boil.
“Can you be any ruder?” I sniped. My tone made me cringe internally but Mitch only shot me a deadly look.
“You’re believing Rigby now?”
“Well I really doubt a bear did this,” Dex countered, stepping back from the llama carcass and coming over to me. He laid a supportive hand on my shoulder. “So yeah, I guess maybe we should start taking at least part of his word as truth.”
“You two are suckers.”
Dex opened his mouth to say something but I quickly stepped on his foot to get him to shut up. Just because I got away with talking back didn’t mean he would. He looked down at me, brows dark and angry, and I tried to quiet him with my eyes. It took all the grinding of his jaw to comply.
I took in a deep breath and looked around me, trying to figure out what was happening. It was growing brighter by the second as the sun was climbing above the mountains, still hidden by the low clouds. But it was growing darker in my heart. Whatever left the llama there had been outside our tent during the night. It hadn’t come after us, for whatever reason, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t out there, hiding in the gloomy trees, waiting for our next move.
“So now what?” I asked Dex feebly. “Now that you and I think the beast is real, what does that mean? Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, go back?”
“Oh we aren’t going back,” Mitch piped up, a dangerous edge in his tone. “We aren’t going back until I kill this motherfucking creature. I told you I’m a hunter. I hunt and I kill and I’m going to be doing both those things.”
Fuck, I thought in frustration. We should have taken our chances the other day and made a go for Rigby’s while we were able to.
Dex gave me a short, understanding nod then looked back at Mitch. His wiped at his beard and then smiled and I could feel the change coming over him, like he was trying a new persona.
“All right Mitch,” Dex said in a reasoning voice. “We won’t go anywhere. But what do you suppose we do now that we are out here. Wait for it to show up again?”