Chapter 8: The Footage
“Alright! Chopper’s back! One hour till supply sendoff!” Jim called out over the room of chattering viewers. “We’ve got field check in five so make sure you have the remote network linked on your stations.” Murmurs of assent echoed back from around the warehouse, and Jim nodded over at Kerri from the doorway to the office “Your camera team all check in?”
She nodded, pressing send on a final text to the chopper pilot. “All ready to ride out with Dr. Gillis. I’ll monitor the view from here.”
Jim lifted an eyebrow at her but nodded. She didn’t respond to the look but could tell what he was thinking. Normally, she’d be up there making the adjustments herself, making sure it was done right the first time. But when it had come time to assemble the team that would go back up the mountain, Kerri just hadn’t been able to bring herself to willingly reenter Darren’s camp. And she had made a point to assemble an all-male team.
She could see an awkward question brewing in Jim’s face, but she was saved from unwelcome interrogation when Josh from tech came skidding into view past the large window, hair windblown and color high in his cheeks. Kerri lifted her brows as he drew up short, missing colliding with Jim by inches.
Nodding quickly in apology, he shot an eager glance over at Kerri and then shuffled into the office. “I’ve got your footage,” he announced, sounding breathless and clearly excited.
Shaking his head, Jim lifted his chin in Kerri’s direction. “You good?”
She waved him away. “I’ll let you know when they get there.”
Nodding, he turned and made his way out into the viewing room, door swinging closed behind him.
Kerri turned her attention to Josh. “And?”
“You’re about to see something wild,” he nearly gushed.
Kerri blinked. She had never seen Josh so excited before. Wordlessly, she rolled away from her desk, motioning for him to take the helm. Biting his bottom lip between his teeth, he rushed into the empty space, jamming a flash drive into the port.
“We’re live at Darren in two minutes if you want to bring up remote,” came Jim’s voice through the speaker on her desk phone.
“Got it,” she answered, pushing off and rolling over to Jim’s desk. Pulling up Dr. Gillis’s feed, she took in a view of the lake rushing by, and the sound of an outboard motor filled the small room. She’d been waiting all week for this. Darren hadn’t caught a fish or snared any game in nearly eight days. No way he was making it through this weigh-in.
Josh’s mouse clicks were growing frenzied and Kerri rolled back over to her own desk, watching the scrub of video feed flying by on her screen.
With a definitive smack of the mouse button, the picture stopped.
Kerri blinked, shaking her head. “Josh, this is Holly’s camp.”
Josh nodded, not seeming put off by her observation. “I know, just watch.”
Lifting her brows, she looked back to the screen, the infrared image of a lynx crossing in front of the trail cam, eyes glowing.
“Darren, you’re looking well.”
Kerri glanced over at the other monitor to see Dr. Gillis’s camera view approaching Darren with casual steps. He was bundled in all his winterwear again, eyes and bearded face just visible between his hat and thick scarf.
“Alright,” Josh announced, bringing her attention back around. “Now this one.”
Kerri watched as a wolf snuffled around the camera, its fur a dark negative of the colors it would normally be in the daylight, eyes reflecting the invisible spectrum of the trail cam in bright flashes.
“Heart sounds good… Strong pulse… Good. Go ahead and take a few deep breaths for me.”
She tried to steal another look over at Darren, but Josh made another loud click.
Holly’s face ghosted into view, her dark hair showing bright and pale in the night-vision view, features content, watching the woods as the blacks of her pupils winked a soft green in the light from her fire.
“Josh, I really don’t—”
“Alright then, Darren. Why don’t you go ahead and unbundle and step up on the scale. We’ll do this part quickly so you can warm back up.”
“Now look at this.”
Kerri turned back, finally recognizing Darren’s camp in the pale green glow of trail cam footage. He was just walking back into the camp, eyes on the ground as he stepped through the trees. Something rustled in the brush beside the camera and Darren’s head whipped around—eyes gleaming an incandescent white.
“Holy shit,” Kerri breathed, then jerked away from the screen as Darren sprinted across the clearing toward the camera. Kerri heard the terrified squeal of a small animal followed by the squelching of flesh and popping of bone. All the hair on her body stood up on end and cold prickles raced across her cheeks as the blood drained from her face. “What the hell…”
“…Well, ah… you’re certainly doing better than the last time we saw you, it seems. Um… Go ahead, step on up.”
Kerri spun at the confused note to Dr. Gillis’s voice. Darren stood a few feet away from him, muscles lean and full across his chest and abdomen, shoulders back, spine erect. Scrambling over to the other desk, Kerri fumbled to turn the volume up.
The doctor didn’t speak though. A silent moment passed as Dr. Gillis stared down at the digital reading at Darren’s feet, Kerri staring with him. 68.9kg…
Not looking away from the screen, Kerri’s hand darted out and started searching drawers for Jim’s calculator. Sixty-eight nine… two point two… Shit! No… What was he last time? Remembering, she punched in the kilograms and converted it out again.
“Eight pounds…” A wave of ice clenched at Kerri’s gut.
“…What?” Josh questioned, voice hesitant.
“Darren’s gained eight pounds since last weigh-in,” she breathed, her rational mind fighting against what her eyes were seeing. She stared at the video feed in front of her, Dr. Gillis still oriented on the scale, clearly confused at this change in trend from his previous visit.
Shoving herself away from the desk, she stood, pointing a trembling finger at Josh. “I want all the trail cam footage—everyone’s. Starting from when the first two contestants bugged out.” She brought her fingertips to her face, feeling them shake against her lips as her mind struggled to keep up with the raging incongruity of practical, grounded reasoning and… Darren. “I want the entire technical team reviewing them, immediately. I don’t care what Jim says about the cost.” Then, suddenly thinking of Jim, she jerked her eyes down at her watch. “Jim!” she called, dashing through the door of the office and racing toward the exit. “Tell the pilot to wait! I’m going up with the supplies!”
Jim’s head lifted from where he was bent over Darren’s monitor station. “Ker? Wha—what’s going on?”
Yanking her coat from the rack, she stuffed her arms through the sleeves, grappling for the zipper pull as Jim caught up with her.
“Kerri, what are you doing?”
“I don’t know what you’ve gotten us into on that mountain, but there is something going on here that isn’t natural.”
“Not natural? What—Ker, slow down. What are you talking about?”
“Darren,” she answered, numb fingers finally gripping the pull and zipping it tight. “The way he was acting toward me last week, the change in his health, change in behavior, roaming around at night… He’s gained eight pounds in a week, not catching any food. Josh caught an image of his eyes showing retroreflection on infrared. Human eyes can’t do that, Jim. It’s an anatomical impossibility!”
Jim was scrunching up his eyes and shaking his head as he tried to keep up with her rapid and admittedly outlandish statements. “…Retro… Kerri, what on earth are you talking about?”
But she just stuffed her hat on her head and snatched up her bag. “Talk to Josh. I’ll pick up a remote line at Bugout. I need to go talk to this tribe.”