It started with five of us – Jack, Lawrence, Phil, Barney, and me. And then we were four. Barney went out into the woods early on the third morning while the rest of us were still breakfasting, said he was going to try and get some rabbits before the storm hit. We came across his body three hours later, face-down on the frozen ground out in the back woods, his skull smashed by a bullet. Lawrence's first guess was that he killed himself, except that his gun was nowhere to be found.
Jack immediately began to panic, tearing the shotgun off his shoulder, brandishing it in our faces, demanding to know which of us had done this. Phil, always the problem-solver, stepped in and put a hand on Jack's shoulder, gently lowering the gun barrel with the other, explaining in his soothing drawl that there was no reason to believe any of us had done this. Perhaps it had been a drifter – killed him for his wallet, then took his gun. But within minutes we found the wallet on the body, still stuffed with credit cards and twenties. Jack said he was going to take the truck to the ranger station to call the police, but the clouds were gathering overhead, and I reminded him that there was a storm on the way; he'd never make it before the roads got thick.
Lawrence was the doctor among us, and Jack suggested that he examine the body for evidence. Phil got irritable at that and warned that we would be disturbing a crime scene, but Lawrence said to hell with the crime scene, if we wait all the evidence could be lost in the snow by tomorrow anyway. He knelt down next to the body and announced that he'd only been dead some two hours; the body was still pretty warm, even with the dropping temperatures.
Then he pulled his Swiss Army knife from his parka. As he dug at the wound, the first snow began to drift down around us. We waited in silence for ten, maybe fifteen minutes before Lawrence finally extracted the bullet. He held it up closely, squinting through his bifocals. Phil suggested that we move inside then; the snow was getting pretty serious. But Lawrence just sat there for a few minutes, finally turning to us, horror in his face, his eyes passing slowly over each of us. All right, he said, none of us was going anywhere until we all told him where we'd been about two hours ago.
The bullet had come from Jack's gun. It was a 28 gauge, more money than any of the rest of us was willing to spend on shot. The second Phil saw it, he started for Jack, snarling and cursing, his hands outstretched and clawed, but Lawrence grabbed him with both arms and held him back. He said no, it couldn't have been Jack because Jack had not been out of his sight the whole morning. The two of them had sat around the campfire for hours swapping crude jokes and stories over beers, neither had even so much as gotten up to take a piss, and their guns had lain the whole time with the rest of the batch against the back of the shed.
Phil backed off, muscles tensed, eyes narrow with suspicion. Jack stepped forward, his gaze going from Phil to me and back again, and said in a slow, controlled voice that it had to be one of us. Which one of us bastards had stolen his gun and done this?
My heart pounded as I looked from Lawrence to Jack. Well how could we be sure it weren't the both of them? I asked. And Phil, musing, suddenly announced that it couldn't have been. He'd been in the garage the whole morning working on the snowmobile, he said. The garage had been open, they'd been far away but he had definitely heard them talking the whole time. They had never gotten up, not even for a second. He turned and looked at me.
"It must have been you."
And before I could so much as open my mouth, they had me. Phil held my upper body hugged against him, his arms pinning my wrists to my chest. Lawrence had my legs, and Jack was pointing my own rifle in my face, muttering that if I even so much as goddamn moved so help him he'd blow my fucking head off.
I protested the whole way as they carried me back toward the lodge house, but it was no use. They were making a mistake, I told them frantically, none of them had any reason to believe the others. And I had an alibi, too, I had been in the attic the whole time fixing up the fishing lines. But Phil said no, why fuss about the fishing lines with an ice storm on the way? And if I had been in the attic, surely he would have seen me at some point from the garage, leaving the house to come out here. And I replied, Of course he didn't see me because he wasn't goddamn there at all.
As they carried me through the front door and up the stairs, all I could do was scream.
"It was Phil, you morons, you damned stupid assholes! It was him, he's tricked you, put me down, God damn it!"
With one hand still holding the rifle, Jack threw open the door of the downstairs closet, and they lowered me inside. The last thing I saw was Lawrence's face, terrified, bereaved, and apologetic all at once, narrowing rapidly in a crack of light until I was plunged into darkness.
I cannot say for sure how long I was locked in, but however long it was I panicked the whole time, bellowing at them through the door until I was hoarse.
"Please, please," I sobbed. "It wasn't me! He was my friend. He was my god damn friend! Let me out, LET ME OUT, you're not safe out there, please, I'm scared, please, please, please…ohgod, oh fucking hell…."
I went on for hours, repeating the words over and over until they lost all their meaning. My face was hot with tears, my knuckles bled from pounding the door and walls, and my fingernails broke. When I heard the thud of boots outside the door, I was sure that they had come to kill me.
But no, it was only Lawrence. He was all alone, and his eyes were kind. He had picked the lock with his Swiss Army knife. He said that Jack was upstairs with the key, and he mustn't find out that Lawrence had let me out. They had Phil tied up in the bedroom right now, and they had been wrong; they were sure now it had been him. Jack was still uneasy and wanted me restrained, but Lawrence knew better. He said he had never really believed that, out of all of us, I would be the one to do a thing like that. He had made a mistake.
He pulled me into a hug, clapping me on the back. I squeezed his shoulder with one arm, laughing with relief. My other arm reached past his torso where I found the handle of the knife, still jammed in the lock. In a swift motion, I yanked it free, and a few more motions spelled the end of Lawrence. I took Barney's gun from the closet where I'd left it and slung it over my shoulder. Stepping over the fallen body - quietly, so as not to alarm the others - I started up the stairs.
Barney was dead for fucking me over; Lawrence was dead for saving me. Phil and Jack were waiting for me upstairs, and the snow was really coming down outside. The forecast was saying five feet by morning.
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