Chapter 12: The Mission
Kerri frowned down at the text message taking up her lock screen. Standing, she moved away from the fire, swiping at the screen with her gloved hand. After a few failed attempts, she yanked off the glove and flicked the screen open. Her knees buckled and she nearly went down, falling roughly against the wall amid a tangle of bones and bird wings.
The shaman’s voice was urgent, and Kerri’s suddenly numb limbs were caught in a firm grip that guided her the rest of the way to the floor, vision darkening and blooming as she blinked with wide eyes, struggling to not pass out.
Her sight returned in a slowly widening tunnel, and Kerri stared into the Hopi woman’s eyes as a point of solid reference. The room around her began to steady, and Tiponi’s grip on her relaxed. She gestured down with a subtle tip of her head. Answering the unspoken question, Kerri brought the image of the monster around for her to see.
Tiponi’s jaw clamped shut and the muscles beneath her eyes began to quiver.
Her phone gave another buzz and Tiponi suddenly cried out, turning her face away. Kerri swung the screen back around and slapped a hand over her mouth, muffling the strangled cry that escaped at the sight of a decapitated body impaled on a tree.
Fingers numb, the phone slipped to the ground, and she scrambled to find it again through a second wave of tunneling darkness.
Warm hands brushed hers aside, and Mahasani closed his weathered grip around her phone. Turning it around to look, his features darkened and hardened into a mask Kerri couldn’t read. Slowly, he handed it back to her and turned away.
Kerri immediately flicked the image away and hurried to dial Jim. It rang once.
“Kerri! Kerri, thank God!”
“—No, listen to me Ker. We’ve got to get you down off that mountain—now. You and the supply team.”
Kerri shook her head, gaze flicking up to Tiponi’s as she watched with worried eyes. Bringing the phone down, she hit the speaker button. “The pilot said he couldn’t make it back until noon at the earliest.”
“I know. I’ve got a boat headed for Darren’s camp right now. They’ll be there in five minutes. It’s only a short walk from the village. I need you to meet them there.”
“Are you out of your mind! Not with that thing stalking around down there! After what you just showed me?”
“That -thing- didn’t do that.” A brief pause and a sigh let the noise of the background scramble inside the warehouse reach her through the line. “Darren did.”
“But we have eyes on him still in Todd’s camp,” he hurried on. “That’s nearly two hours away by foot. If you leave now, you’ll be safe.”
“Darren did—that?” she repeated, still struggling with the idea that Darren could be capable of such a monstrous act. Though, after what she had just heard from Mahasani and Tiponi, and what she had witnessed when she went to find him in the forest…
“You were right Ker. Whatever’s going on in these mountains…” But he didn’t finish. He didn’t have to. “I don’t know when we’ll be able to get a chopper out to you, and when we do, I want everyone present and accounted for at Bugout. Dr. Gillis is heading back to pick up Holly and a separate team is headed for you. I told them to meet you at Darren’s fishing nets. …I sent them with the bear stoppers.”
Kerri breathed a small sigh of relief, immeasurably glad now that she hadn’t backed down regarding the investment of several big-game rifles. “Alright. I’ll get everyone to Darren’s camp.”
“I know you will,” Jim answered. And the faith in his voice was almost enough to make Kerri believe it, too. “Keep eyes and ears on at all times. I’ll be watching from here.”
“I will,” she promised. Then she ended the call, reaching up to open the line at her earpiece.
After a moment, she heard a tinny rattle, then, “You got me Ker?”
“I got you.”
“Good. See you back home.”