Chapter 11: The Message
This was not something he had prepared for.
Hell, who -would- be prepared for this?
Spinning back to Josh, he pointed at the feed. “Get me a screenshot. A good one.” Then he spun to the viewers. “Tell your contestants to pack their things. I’m sending Bugout. I want everyone on HeadCams immediately and tell them not to take them off until they’re back in civilization. Where’s Dr. Gillis? Have they already left Holly?”
Someone near the back of the crowd looked down at a tablet. “Yeah-uh, it looks like they’re scheduled to hit Todd’s camp in five. They got held up making it to Holly because of some thick ice.”
“Good, get him on the radio. Tell him not to bother with an exam, just get Todd out of there. I’ll send Bugout straight to Holly, that’ll save time.” His phone buzzed and he thrust his hand into his pocket. Flicking open the home screen, the terrifying features of the mountain creature met his eyes.
Stifling a shudder, he quickly sent the image to Kerri before rushing back over to his own desk and jamming the headset back down over his ears. “Kerri! Kerri, please tell me you can hear me.” But no response came from the headset. “Dammit!” And he tore them off again. Running his fingers back through his hair, he reached for his phone instead. Finding her contact, he fumbled to press ‘call’.
The monotonous buzzing of a connecting line droned in his ear until a cheery version of Kerri’s voice picked up, telling him to leave a message. “Dammit!”
Slamming the phone down on the desktop, he spun to the field check team. “How far out is the chopper?”
The man with the tablet shook his head, looking down at his display. “…Two hours? Maybe less? The pilot had to refuel after this run.”
“Gahh!” Gripping his hair by the roots, he spun on the spot, frustrated at every angle. Dipping back to his desk for a moment, he punched ‘call’ on Kerri’s number again, switching it to speaker phone. “Call the company. See if they have anyone that can fly out sooner. Tell them it’s an emergency. If that doesn’t work, call rescue. Tell them we have several people in immediate danger on the mountain and they need helicopter extraction.”
"This is Kerri, leave me a message."
“Goddammit Kerri! Pick up your damn phone!” Closing the line, he hit ‘call’ again.
Jim’s head snapped around at the strangled shout from field check. A crowd of people rushed over with him, and he leaned low over the young man’s shoulder.
“Oh my God…” Lurching to the side as his gorge rose into his throat, Jim vomited into the deskside trashcan.
Todd Sawyer’s headless body dangled from a gnarled hemlock tree, impaled through the chest by a broken-off limb to hang with his toes just brushing the pebbled shore.
Beside him, Jim could hear hurried instructions for the MedBoat to immediately vacate the area, then the revving of a boat engine. “What—what happened?” he rasped, dragging a shaky knuckle across his bottom lip. He looked over to Todd’s monitor station, but the viewers were both shaking their heads, clearly confused.
In answer, the nearest one spun the whole screen around to show Todd’s HeadCam still bobbing around the camp. “We’ve had HeadCam view up since you told us,” he insisted, leaning over to stare as the view started lumbering toward the retreating MedBoat. “I-I mean, there was a quick tumble just a moment ago when he slipped down a short embankment, but after a few minutes we Squawked him and he went and put it right back on.”
“Are you sure it was him?” Josh’s tremulous voice asked from the back of the small crowd.
Turning the screen back around, he made a quick adjustment with his mouse. “…Oh God…”
“What?” Jim barked, and the viewer spun the screen around again.
Darren was striding through the camp, Todd’s camera riding at his brow. Jim watched as he took several deep breaths staring out at the icy lake, then turned and stalked back into the camp.
“Flip back to HeadCam,” Jim ordered. “Don’t let him out of your sight. I want to know where he is and what he’s doing at all times.”
“But Boss, what if he takes it off?”
“Just keep the feed up!” he shouted as he made for his own desk again. Desperate, he tried Kerri’s number one more time, listening to the empty tones as he circled back to the live feed.
The camera was pointed toward the ground as Darren strode through the camp, snowy earth and exposed rocks sliding by beneath his view. He reached a well-trodden area of dirt and paused, camera dipping further as his hands moved to the front of his pants. A stream of piss arced down on screen.
Lip curling, Jim ground his teeth as Kerri’s familiar voicemail message chirped out again. Then the camera view lifted and Jim cried out, along with half of his staff as Todd’s severed head stared down at them, eyes staring and mouth gaping, mounted over the apex of his shelter like prize game.
Taking several deep breaths and turning away, he bent to his phone and typed: Kerri! For the love of God, open your goddamned phone!