Chapter 1: The Contestants
“Looks like they gave me a bang-up spot here. …Right by a great source of fish… This small clearing will give me a good… five, six hours of sunlight. …Yeah, this is going to be amazing. I can’t wait.”
Kerri leaned back in her desk chair as Darren Henderson, first Wild contestant to be dropped off via chopper deep in the Montana Rockies, set his camera down on the pebbled lake shore and executed a dramatic walk off-screen into the twisted woods.
“Who’s this one again?” her producer, Jim, asked.
Kerri looked down to check her notes. “Darren Henderson, freelance survivalist—”
“Look, you gave me the budget, I’m working with what I could find.”
Jim held up his hands, warding off any further effrontery.
Kerri hadn’t been immediately on board when he’d pitched his low-budget survival series idea to her, but he’d eventually talked her into it, citing this was the best way to break into the over-saturated film industry.
“As I was saying, he describes himself as a ‘freelance survivalist’, runs an independent woods-craft school out of his home in West Virginia, and claims to be an Eagle Scout, though he wasn’t able to produce any credentials by the time we needed to start shooting—says it’ll be coming in the mail…”
Jim arched one eyebrow at her dry tone and cast an uneasy glance back at the now-empty computer monitor. “…I take it you’re not holding out hopes of that making it into the credits.”
“Hardly,” she confirmed. “But, he signed the waiver. Honestly, Jim, if you’d given me more than $50,000 prize money, I could’ve found you better contestants. Fifty grand is nothing these days.” She pursed her lips at the monitor, eyes searching. “Good lord,” she muttered. “I told them all to stay on screen. Stay. On. Screen.” Leaning forward, she fiddled with the mouse until another view popped up, a high-vantage view of the entire camp that Kerri had fought hard for, showing Darren off in the far distance just pulling his pants up over his bare ass.
Jim snorted. “Well, can’t fault a man for wanting a bit of privacy to do his business.”
“And if a bear or mountain lion took interest in him ‘doing his business’, how would we know, hm? …And you said we wouldn’t need the Crow’s Nest…” Jim gave her an exasperated sigh and she turned, spinning her chair to face him. “You wanted me involved in this, Jim. Remember that. You wanted me because I know film, and I know the Rockies. Let me do my job.”
Jim drew back a bit at her tone, holding his hands up in surrender and causing Kerri to grimace.
“Look, I’m sorry, but this guy, especially, makes me really nervous.” Taking a frustrated sigh, she shook her head at the screen, tucking her short hair behind one ear. “There’s only a few more weeks left of temperate weather. If we’re lucky, he’ll realize how hungry starvation feels and bow out quickly.”
“Uh huh…” Jim answered, nodding slowly. “So, who else do we have?”
Pulling her eyes away from the Crow’s Nest cam, she passed over a manilla folder. “Zane Giller, did eight years in Air Force Special Operations, got out and joined local law enforcement in Chicago. After becoming disillusioned with the big-city justice system, he picked up and moved his wife and three kids to a small town outside of Denver. Still in local law enforcement, but he also moonlights as a guide for some of the more adventurous tourists.”
Jim was nodding as he read along with Kerri’s synopsis. “Sounds like a decent guy. How about this Holly Helms? Seems a bit old.”
“She’s fifty-six and could probably wipe the floor with you,” she retorted, making the corner of his mouth quirk up at the side. “Holly Helms, mother of six, lifelong pioneer woman from northern Idaho, lives mostly off-grid. She’s my one to watch. If she can keep enough weight on her, she’s winning this thing.”
“That would make for a good pitch to the network,” Jim mused, glancing down at the other contestants as Kerri worked to get Darren Henderson back on screen.
“This man is going to be a thorn in my side.”
Jim leaned in for a better view, then pointed down to the alert at the bottom of her screen. “There, he’s got his action cam on. Flip to HeadCam.”
Glancing down to where he was indicating, she flipped feeds, and the trundling image of greenery and forests lurched into view as the screen came up. “Ugh, he’s going to make me seasick. I’m going to have to get someone else to watch this first-person stuff or I’m gonna puke. Wait—” And Jim looked over at her suddenly anxious tone. “What’s he doing? Volume—where’s the volume?”
Kerri’s hands slapped across her keyboard until she found the volume button and Darren’s voice rose from the speakers.
“—but at least I know I’m not going to starve. Not for now, anyways. These red currants are going to be a great source of vitamin C and…”
Kerri’s head was shaking in rapid jerks as Darren started plucking handfuls of bright red berries from a nearby shrub. “No, no, no, no… Jim, Squawk him, SQUAWK HIM!”
Fumbling, Jim dove for the satellite radio on the desk next to him and shoved it into Kerri’s waiting hands.
“Darren? Darren, stop! Can you hear me?”
Jim tipped his head as Kerri’s voice, distorted with a slight delay, emanated through the speakers on the display monitor. Darren’s motions hesitated, and the camera view dipped as he assumedly reached for his 2-way.
“Stop, Darren. Those aren’t currants you’re picking. Currants haven’t been in season for months. Those are red baneberries. Eat those and we’ll be medevacking you out by tonight.”
“Baneberries…” Darren muttered, dropping his handful to the forest floor and wiping his palm on his pants. “Sorry, don’t have those back home.”
“Yes, you do.” Then, after a rough sigh she uttered back, “Darren, do I need to pull you?”
“No!” came the immediate, tinny reply. “No. Baneberry. Got it. I’m good.”
“You’d better be, Darren. Take a leaf. Memorize it. Stick it to your forehead if you need to, but if I see you trying to eat any more poisonous plants, I’m pulling you. Understand?”
“Yeah, uh… Yeah, I got it.”
Leaning her forehead down against the heel of her hand holding the radio, she shook her head, but not before a low, “…bitch…” drifted up from the video display.
Jim quickly reached over and plucked the 2-way from Kerri’s tightening fingers just as she was lifting the device back to her lips. Scowling at him, she muttered, “Thorn in my side.” Then she took a deep sigh. “When are the others getting dropped off? This guy’s exhausting.”
“Within the hour,” Jim promised with an incriminating dimple in his chin. “The rest of the crew should be here any minute.”
“Should’ve been here already,” she countered. “I’m serious Jim. I don’t care if this is some independent venture run out of the back of a warehouse on crowd-funded money, these monitors better take this seriously. If I had looked away for one minute, one minute, my contestant would be dead. Make sure they know that.”
“Don’t worry, Kerri. I’ve got this.”