Authors: Edward Crae
Copyright © 2016 Edward Crae
Cover Art by Necropolis Digital Art (shawnecrapo.com)
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All brand names mentioned within are the registered trademarks of their respective copyright holders. No infringement, endorsement, or detraction is intended.
This is a work of fiction, and any resemblances to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Place names are used respectfully and solely for the purposes of reference points for the story.
Animals were harmed in the making of this story. A guy’s gotta eat, right?
For Lisa, my proofreader, partner in crime, and soon-to-be wifey.
Toby was imprisoned in a dark, musty room in some kind of cabin. His abductor had removed two floor boards near the wall, put Toby down in the gaps, and nailed them across his lap. He was trapped there with his legs immobilized, and a strap around his waist that was bolted to the wall behind him.
He shivered with the cold, frightened and alone in an unknown place. The man had left him there by himself, with nothing but his own thoughts, and a slow-burning fireplace directly across from him. Though he could make out some details in the room, it was clear that it was empty.
The fireplace did no good. Though there were flames, there was little warmth. The cold air underneath the floor chilled him to the bone, making the whole situation that much worse. He was terrified, missed his mom, and he wanted to go home. It was all he could do to keep from crying.
He pictured the strange man and the even stranger creatures in his company. He saw the man standing there in the pitch black and arctic cold, barely affected by either. He had the monsters tethered to his waist with long wooden poles; maybe they were to prevent them from getting too close. They were scary, after all. Maybe the man was scared of them, too.
Once he had been snatched up, he felt something across his face, and smelled a strange odor that made him sleepy. Then, he woke up in the room, unsure as to how he had gotten there. Maybe could yell and scream and someone would hear him. Maybe Dan would hear if he was close. He
to be close. They would notice he was gone and come looking for him.
“Hey,” he yelled, but not loud enough. Something held back his voice. Maybe the strap was too tight.
“Hey,” he tried again, ending in a coughing fit.
He heard footsteps outside the door, the creaking of the floorboards. He held his breath, his heart racing and his vision blurring. After a few seconds, the footsteps sounded again, waning in volume as their source walked away.
He began sobbing, letting his bottom lip flap in and out with each breath.
“Mama,” he whispered. “I’m scared.”
Mama was nowhere to be found.
“What the hell is wrong with you, boy?” Dan’s father asked.
Dan was quiet and withdrawn as usual. He sat motionless, thinking in the back of mind that if he didn’t move, his father wouldn’t see him.
“Look at me.”
Dan resisted, but eventually the super dad power that fucked you up was too hard to resist. He looked up, seeing the old man standing there in his fine tuxedo. The tuxedo he was buried in.
Dad was dead.
His skin was pale, but no more than usual. He stood there with his arms crossed, his head lowered, but his dead eyes staring straight into Dan’s soul.
he thought. He was dreaming again.
“What do you mean what’s wrong with me?” Dan asked. “You said you were proud of me.”
,” the old man said. “But you let that boy down. You let his mother down.”
“I had to go find her,” Dan protested. “She…”
“She was already dead.”
“Not yet,” Dan said. “I didn’t want her to suffer, or to see her become a monster.”
“And you left that boy in the care of a bunch of retards who fell asleep.”
Dan shook his head. “They’re good guys, Dad,” he said. “People fall asleep. It happens.”
“Well guess what else happens,” his Dad said, stepping closer. “Children get taken. They get taken by freaks who do fucked up things to them. Now it’s happened to this poor kid and it’s all your fault.”
” Dan shouted, swiping his arm across.
There was nothing there. His dad was now in a different place.
“Do you just try to hit me, boy?”
Dan sighed, letting his head fall into his palms. He didn’t want to hear it anymore. He was tired of all the… logic. He sighed again, realizing why his dad was here. He had come once again to kick him in the ass.
“You need to find him. You need to get your ass out there and find him.
“I don’t know where to start,” Dan protested. “And there’s a chance I might be—“
“Infected,” Dad finished. “Yeah, I know. You nailed that woman in the storeroom without even thinking that you could get infected.”
Dan nodded, feeling ashamed.
“But you know what? You’re not infected. You know that.”
Dan looked up at him again in question. “How do you… how do
“Well,” Dan said. “No.”
“Good. Now get your ass out there and find that boy before he freezes to death. Remember, these people are counting on you to lead them. I can’t think for the life of me why they chose you, but they did. Now it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t die. Don’t let me down, boy.”
Dan jerked awake. Everyone was gearing up around him, ready to go out and look for Toby. He stood, disoriented; not sure when he had fallen asleep.
“You alright?” Cliff asked, pulling on his gloves.
“Yeah,” Dan said. “I think so.”
Everyone looked at him as they gathered their gear. He knew why, but he kept quiet. He knew he wasn’t infected, so fuck what they thought. If he turned into some kind of boogeyman, then they could kill him. But as of yet, he was still Dan Motherfucking Parker. There would be no executions. Yet.
“I can’t believe he just left,” Jake said. “Man, I wish I could have stayed awake.”
“It’s not your fault,” Dan assured him. “Everybody has to sleep. There was no way for any of you to know he was gonna leave.”
“I think I might know why,” Max said, still on the couch with his hands in his pockets. “He probably saw what I saw in the monitors and thought it was his mom.”
“It doesn’t matter, man,” Travis said. “All that matters is that we find him.”
“We’ll find him,” Dan said, not really sure he believed it. “We’ll start by following his tracks if he left any. Max and Travis, you guys stay here and hold down the fort. The rest of us will look.”
“I wish there was more I could do,” Max said. “But my tracking skills are precisely zero.”
“Don’t worry,” Dan said. “If he comes back, someone will need to be here. That’s your job. Travis will make sure he’s okay. That’s
Everyone was ready, and Dan gave Travis an encouraging nod. “We
find him,” he said. “Or he
Travis seemed skeptical but nodded back, his eyes lowered. Cliff opened the front door, and the search team went out to brave the freezing cold and howling wind.
“I think these are his tracks here,” Cliff said, pointing down to the small indentations in the icy surface. “They go toward the windmill.”
Everyone turned on their lights and began walking in the windmill’s direction. The tracks were erratic, as if their maker was unsure of his direction. There were areas where they were gathered around on place, telling them that whoever made them had stopped to contemplate their plan.
Dan saw a .22LR round lying on top of the ice nearby. Toby was definitely here, and had dropped a bullet for some reason. He pointed at it, and everyone acknowledged it. Cliff led them ahead, stopping at the windmill. There, the many tracks were confused and random. A lot of people had been here checking on the makeshift generator.
“Damn,” Cliff said, shaking his head. “Where to now?”
The wind began picking up, howling like a werewolf. The sky was still a strange amber color, and there was fog creeping in from the south. It was a freezing fog, frightening and almost alien.
“Poor kid,” Drew said. “I bet he’s fucking freezing. I hope he bundled up well.”
“What if he’s not even gone,” Jake offered. “Did anyone think to look inside anywhere?”
“These tracks are new,” Cliff said. “And if he had dropped that bullet the last time he was outside, it would be covered in snow.”
“Over here,” Toni said, standing past the windmill. “It looks like he went this way.”
They all followed Toni toward the steep drop off. Near the edge, the tracks stopped, but there was a large depression in the ice, almost boy-sized. There were no other tracks.
“Shit,” Dan said. “He must have slipped down the hill.”
He looked down into the darkness. Though he could see nothing but blackened trees, their presence gave him hope that they would have at least offered the boy some shelter. He could see very little snow or ice at the bottom, however, and that meant tracking him would be even harder.
“What’s that black thing?” Cliff asked, shining his light at the bottom.
Dan looked, seeing nothing but stumps and fallen branches, but as he focused, he saw what Cliff had seen. There was a jet black object, long and narrow, sticking out of the ice. He raised his scope to his eye and zoomed in. Sadly, it was Toby’s rifle. His heart sank.
“Shit,” he said. “It’s his Ruger.”
“We gotta find a way down there,” Cliff said.
Cliff was right. There was no way they could simply slide down the bank without getting hurt. If Toby had done so, he was likely lying there somewhere at the bottom, injured and/or frozen stiff. Dan had no desire to injure himself or see anyone else get injured. He was out of ideas, other than traversing the ridge around the forest.
But if they could manage to get down there, they might lose Toby’s trail.
“Fuck it,” Dan said. “We gotta go down here.”
“Great,” Jake grumbled. “I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.”
Dan stretched his left leg out over the slope, stomping his heel down onto the icy crust. He managed to put a nice hole in it, and took a step forward, turning back to nod at the others.
“Let’s go,” he said. “Be careful. I don’t want anyone slamming into a tree.”
Jake pulled out his machete, turning around to go down backwards. He used the long heavy blade to break up all the ice around him, making a nice, soft path for the rest to use. Dan continued down, keeping his eye on the others.
But then he slipped.
He smacked his face on the ice, groaning loudly as he began sliding. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t stop. He just rolled over onto his back on the way down, trying to steer his way using his hands. He stopped at the bottom safely, scared shitless, but uninjured.
Are you okay?”
he heard Jake shout.
Dan dusted himself off. “Yeah,” he called back.
“You said don’t slip.”
Dan grinned, gathering up his rifle and sweeping it around at the forest floor. As the others made their way down, he examined the mass of broken surface ice. It was obvious Toby had landed here, but had either gotten up and walked away or was carried away. Seeing as the rifle was sticking out of the ice a few feet away, he knew the boy was probably in trouble. He frantically looked around for blood, or other signs of danger.
There was nothing.
“Did you slam into any trees?” Jake said when they all reached the bottom.”
“No, but check this out.” He pointed at the landing spot, and the others searched it with their lights. Cliff knelt to inspect it further.
“He definitely landed here,” he said. “I can see his handprints. I don’t see his footprints going anywhere though.”
“Guys,” Drew said a ways away. “There are some heavy boot prints here.”
Cliff went over to look, and then shook his head and looked back at Dan. “He’s right,” he said. “Someone walked in this direction and then walked away, probably carrying Toby.”
“Shit,” Dan said. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. “I guess we follow those.”
Jake was staring at another spot. He mumbled something, and then shined his light in a circle around the boot prints.
“What is it?” Dan asked.
“Mr. Big Boots had company.”
Cliff followed Jake’s gaze, and Dan went to look as well. There, around the boot prints, were other tracks. They were barefoot and elongated, with four clawed toes.
“Jesus Christ,” Dan said, squatting down.
Eric, who had been silent, called to them from a few yards ahead. “They go on this way,” he said. “Right into the heart of the forest.”
The landscape sloped downward at a gentle angle, but became thicker and thicker. They would have trouble navigating it safely and effectively, but they had to try. Toby’s life was at stake. Dan’s biggest fear, other than whether Toby was still alive or not, was the uncertainty of what they would encounter in the deep woods.
There were enough strange things out in the open.
“Let’s go get our boy,” Dan said.