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The silence of the wilderness around him was deafening that morning.

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Chapter 1: Adrina

The silence of the wilderness around him was deafening that morning. He slowly opened his eyes and listened for the trees, but there was no sound for him to embrace the beginning of a new dawn. He couldn’t motivate himself to get up off of the forest floor. He’d forgotten where he’d fallen asleep the night before, so out of curiosity for where he was he sat up and saw the ground covered in a multitude of colored leaves and brown fallen pine needles scattered all around. He brushed the pine needles and pieces of a pine cone from his cheek and they fell to the ground. The whirl of brown and yellow and orange and red and green made him dizzy. But he knew that these were not the colors of spring.

He knew that no one was around for miles, but everywhere he looked in the woods he felt as though someone had been there just moments before. His body began to move without effort. He began to sit up further and his eyes raised, but he was not exerting any energy. He moved, but he could not control his movement. He now saw the woods around him from eye level as he stood, but he somehow continued to rise. He knew that he was off of the ground, but he could not feel his legs nor his feet pushing upwards. He rose up through the trees until he stopped to levitate a few inches above the forest canopy. Around him he could see miles of endless tree tops like an ocean over the contour of the foothills. Beyond the hills he saw miles of tall rugged rocky mountain peaks. The leaves from above were a patchwork of green and red and brown and yellow and orange, though he knew they should all be green this early in the season. He knew from the position of the sun overhead and the glisten from the dew covered leaves below that it was early in the day. The bright morning sun shining down from above was warm on his face, or he thought it should feel warm. A partial crescent moon was overhead opposite the morning sun and the faded marbled white crescent contrast the blue cloudless sky painted around it. He remembered that he was free and he’d never been so alive before now. The thought flooded his mind and body and he knew that it was good. The smooth and continuous effortless movement of his body liberated his psyche into the beauty and magic of the wilderness around him. He wanted to rejoice, to tell someone that he was at peace and that the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders, that his mind was somehow suddenly cleared of the thoughts and the problems of his past. He was unified with the world around him, but there was no one around to tell. There was no way for him to communicate.

He thought for a moment that he was surely dead, and the joy would fade before he could celebrate his life. He thought he would soon continue to rise up to the heavens. But instead, he stopped and he began to move forward. He did so quickly, staying only a few inches above the treetops as they seemed to move underneath him. He had no sense of anything besides the trees and ground below and the sky above. He had no body, no breath, no feelings, he could make nor hear any sound, he had no more past nor future, and had no control over the present. The trees below somehow moved and accelerated him forward with exceeding speed. Before he knew it he had covered miles upon miles of forest in only a moment before he stopped abruptly at a small clearing in the treetops close to a large mountain ridge that cut through the heart of the area and filled the view in front of him. He began to drop into an area and somehow maneuvered through a wide crevice that was covered with small jagged rock peaks and a river below. He moved through a maze of rock walls, not knowing which direction to turn until the last minute he’d turn instinctually before smashing into the bluff in front of him. He must have turned fifty times before he stopped abruptly in front of an unusual pointed peak with four sides twisted perfectly near the top. It was one of three similar peaks standing near one another. The reflection from the sun off of the top of the peak blinded his approach until he was nearly level with the top of a nearby peak. He came to stop and looked down at the base of the peak where he realized he was no longer alone. Three strange men were talking in an excited whisper.

‘How we gonna get it outta here Bri?’

‘I’m surprised we’as able to get it up here in the first place Dodge. It took three of us damn near all night. It’s mornin’ now, I’m gonna want me a nap after all that hard work. I dunno how we gonna move it anywhere, but if you gonna need my help to move it further, then you gonna have to wait fo’ me to get up from a nap.’

‘If we are going to do the work while yo nap, then we will keep your share. I bet it’s worth fifty million dollars alone. Look at the size of that thing,’ the third man said.

‘We’s gonna have to break it up into smaller nuggets so we can pack it on the mules,’ the man called Dodge said. Dodge was the nickname that Todd Adrina had been given by his brothers because of his keen ability to dodge trouble.

‘Hell, it might be worth a hundred million,’ the third man had stepped back to get a better look at the large golden boulder the three men were gathered around. The sun reflected so brightly off the polished metal rock that it was difficult to look at with the naked eye and the man had one eye squinted and the other nearly shot to block the reflection. He was Jeremiah Wollin. ‘What do you think Bri?’

‘I sure don’t know, I just know we all gonna be rich fo’ the rest of our lives if we can get this darn thing outta here without running into any problems,’ Brian Adrina answered.

‘Hell, everybody we know’s gonna be rich after we bring this much gold back. Maybe Loretta will forgive us for leaving her behind once she gets her fair share from it.’

Jon looked down from overhead in absolute awe at the solid chunk of pure gold they were talking about. It was the size of a man’s torso, smooth and shiny. He tried to hide behind the mountain peak, but he soon realized he could not be seen nor heard by the three men. He was somehow out of sight while he hovered overhead in the open watching them.

’First thing I’m gonna do is stop in at Bill Stinkies saloon and spend some time with Miss Molly. I bet I can give her a few pieces of this gold she’d do ‘bout anything I want her to.’

‘Yo an’ e’eryone else. I don’t know what the hell you see in that whore Dodge, she done had a turn with everyone in five surrounding counties. It’s bad enough that you’ll stick your face places I won’t stick my pecker, but now the first thing you talk about doing as a multi millionaire is sqanderin’ your newfound riches on a dirty saloon whore. What a waste!’

’She ain’t dirty, Jeremiah. Besides you’re married and you got a mistress or two on the side. You ain’t gotta worry ‘bout all that. What’d y’all end up naming your baby anyways?’

‘Terrance. Terry for short. It’s after Sheri’s great grandmother that she was close to growing up. I told her I was going to build them a house up north when I got back with gold. I’ll use my share of this thing to build her a real castle,’ Jeremiah rubbed his hand along the large golden boulder as he shared his dream about being home with his wife and new child.

‘A boy named Sue,’ Dodge laughed.

‘Shhh! Shut up you fools! You hear that?’ Brian said in a loud whisper as he ducked his head down and looked around.

For a moment Jon was worried they had seen or heard him until Todd shouted and pointed along the base of the peak in the opposite direction.

‘It’s coming from over there. Sounds like gravel beneath someone’s feet,’ he said as he pulled out a pistol and pointed it along the rock surface.

‘I don’t smell nothin’ and didn’t hear no howlin’ or see any rocks flyin’, so it can’t be none of them.’ A moment later two men came crawling along the ground and Todd held his pistol down as the men scampered quickly toward them.

‘Tim? Joe? What y’all doin’ back so soon? You ‘bout got yo’ selves shot dead. And where is the supplies you was suppose to bring back? And where the hell is your brother?’ By the time Brian stopped talking the two men were within a few feet from them.

‘We gotta hurry up and figure out how to get out of here without being seen, now,’ one of the new men said in a rushed and out of breath voice as he looked over his shoulder as though he was being followed. ‘We made it half a days hike south to the river, but when we got there we saw a group of damn Indians pokin’ around at our boats so we turned back to warn you before they took you by surprise and trapped you in here.’

From the look on their faces everyone became immediately scarred and worried, especially Jeremiah Wollin.

‘Did they see you?’ Jeremiah asked.

‘No, I don’t believe so. Do you Tim?’

‘No, Joe was pretty quick spotting them and getting’ outta sight. Otherwise we woulda walked right up on them,’ Tim Adrina said.

‘Where is our brother? Where is Ryan?’ Todd asked.

‘He went on, said he was gonna make it around them and bring supplies and git Lori,’ Tim said.

‘How many were there?’ Brian asked.

‘Prolly six or seven, all men, and they looked pissed from what we seen.’

‘What do you think Jeremiah, what should we do?’ Brian asked.

‘Well, Indians is no good, that’s for certain,’ Jeremiah started. ‘ But it’s better than the other. We might last another three or four weeks at most without supplies, but we won’t last a minute if them engines get to us. I realized you promised Lori you’d bring her here as soon as we got settled, but all of that is going to have to wait for now. I say we get as much gold as we can carry and get out. What do you think Dodge? This sorta thing is right up your alley.’

Dodge paused for a moment and started off into the distance before he spoke. ‘I think you should have reconsidered before you and your daddy and his brothers decided to slaughter all of them Indians, Jeremiah. They didn’t pose no threat until you had to go and mess with them. It was bad enough that we killed them, but when we left the rest of them for dead,’ his voice trailed off as he shook his head and looked down to the ground. ‘You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout Wollin. We should have known that day would come back to haunt this place.’

‘How many did you kill Wollin?’ Joe asked.

Jeremiah hesitated for a few moments before answering. ‘As many as we could. We massacred them, we did. It was me, and my dad and my uncles and my grandad. And yours,’ he said as his head jutted out as though he was pointing at the Adrina brothers. ‘They were the only thing standing between us and the gold. We figured that their nonsense superstitions would die with them.’ Jeremiah Wollin had a worried look on his face. ‘I never thought it would come back on me.’

‘So that burial ground that we passed through on our way through the pass, that was your doing?’ Joe asked with an accusing tone.

‘Burial ground is the wrong term,’ Todd, ‘it was a bone yard.’

‘We never should have agreed to this Dodge. We ain’t res…’ Brian was cut off by Todd’s voice.

‘There ain’t nothing we can do about it now but fight or get out,’ he said to Brian before he turned to Joe. ‘You say you saw six or seven out there. That’s six or seven pissed off Indians that are prolly lookin’ to hunt down any white man they find messing around out here,’ Todd said.

‘What are the chances they know where this place is, Jeremiah?’

‘I bet they are headed in this direction right now. They know this place well, and if they saw our boats, then they knew we are here. Typically they would stay away, but if there is a chance for them to get revenge, all bets is off.’

‘You don’t say,’ Joe said. ‘You reckon we will make it out alive.’

The five men stood in silence around the large golden boulder for a moment each pondering the best plan of action. Tim broke the silence with a jubilant tone, ‘Hey, how did you guys get that awful big gold nugget outta that tiny mine shaft,’ he said as he pointed towards the corner of the twisted peak where there was a small hole in the ground that was surrounded by a cluster of small boulders. Three of the boulders appeared to have the clearly discernible symbols of the lamp and lantern painted on them from above. Jon was too absorbed in the danger of the moment to turn his full attention to the Lamp mine.

‘Yep, we tied ropes around it and it took the three of us most of the night to get it out,’ Brian said.

‘Is that right?’ Joe asked.

‘It don’t matter much now boys, we have to leave it. Take only what you can carry and leave everything else behind. There is only one way out of here through the pass, unless yo feel like climing a mountain and sliding down a damn glacier. I’ll take my chances with Kerosene creek. If we are lucky, we can get out before those Indians block our way.’ As soon as Jeremiah finished, the sound of an arrow whizzing through the air gave them a split second warning for all the men to look up before it penetrated Brian through the sternum and the bloody arrowhead came to his back. Brian fell dead inches from the large golden boulder with his face down in the gravel.

‘Get down!’ Todd yelled as each man raised a pistol from his belt and took cover behind the surrounding boulders. They were uncertain what direction the arrow had come from, but they knew it likely came from higher ground which meant they needed to say low and hidden to avoid being skewered by the next arrow. Joe and Jeremiah made a frantic dash away and slid quickly out of sight into the small mine opening, while Todd and Tim hid behind large boulders and rattled off gun fire withot looking in miscellaneous directions over the rocks to thwart the attackers. Arrows continued to bounce off boulders all around them, but neither were brave enough to poke their heads out and see which direction they wee coming from. Two pistols barrels stuck out of the mine opening and provided cover fire to keep Tim and Todd as protected as possible, but they did little good.

‘Dodge! Tim!’ A voice called from the mine opening over the sound of guns firing. ‘Get your asses in here. Keep you heads down. Quick. Now! We’ve got you covered!’

Todd and Tim turned and could see Joe’s face sticking out of the opening.

‘Go!’ Tim yelled to Todd. ‘I got ya’.’

Todd Adrina took three steps towards the mine, but he was not able to dodge the barrage of arrows. Within a few moments, Todd laid dead face down on the rocky dusty ground. Tim stopped cold.

‘Dodge!’ Todd heard his brother Joe scream. He looked at Joe peaking through the opening of the mine. Then he looked behind him in the direction of the pass. He knew it was the only way out. The rocks would provide marginal cover while he ran. Neither option sounded good as he mulled them over. Tim looked towards Joe again and mouthed the words, ‘Meg. Sitting Ducks. The boats,’ before he took off in the opposite direction towards the pass. He dodged arrows between the rocks and heard gunfire behind him as he hurried and disappeared between the rocks in the distance.

Jon hovered above watching as the group of Indians walked down slowly to the area they had been previously shooting at. As they came down they put another arrow in Todd and Brian to make certain they were dead before one of the Indians that looked particularly pissed off bent down and took their scalps without a sound. The group of Indians stood over the mine hole and shot a few arrows down into the mine, but there was no response. They stood around talking sternly with one another and pointing for a few moments before they dragged the two dead bodies with bloody scalps over to the mine and stuffed them into the small hole in the ground and let the limp lifeless bodies drop. They then gathered all signs the white men had left laying around and threw them into the mine. Lastly, they rolled the large golden boulder over to the mine and returned it to where it came from. During this time there was no sign of Jeremiah nor Joe from within the mine. Now there are six skeletons down there, and before long there will be seven, Jon thought about what would happen if they found Tim before he escaped. Jon watched as the leader of the Indian group raised his hand as if he was expressing peace as he looked towards a high ridge surrounding the area. The rest of the Indians followed in the gesture. Jon followed their gaze upwards and saw a young woman fading into thin air, he would never forget the anger and satisfaction that he observed on her face for a fleeting moment before she vanished into thin air. The Indians then turned their backs to her and headed towards the direction that Tim had fled. Adrina had a ten minute head start towards his escape.

Jon again rose quickly into a spaceless timelessness where he eventually wound up floating through a narrow valley where he was soon only a few feet behind Tim Adrina. Tim ran frantically, sweating and breathing heavily while clambering over and between rocks and constantly looking back behind him and above him on the ridgeline high above each side of the narrow mountain pass to see if his followers had caught up. He went on this way for what seemed like an eternity until he came to a break in the bluffs. He came to a shallow creek bed that was filled with thick red muddy flowing water. He waded upstream in the waste deep red water for nearly a mile before he emerged on the other side into a clearing before the valley narrowed again. There was no sign of his pursuers behind him, but he was certain they were closing the gap. He stopped where the path ahead became a maze of narrow openings in the bluff in front of him. It was clear to Jon that he was uncertain which direction to take. He sat with his back at base of the bluff, unbuttoned his dirty worn shirt and pulled out a yellowed cloth. Jon peered over him and saw it was a map, with a variety of trails and words scribed in red. Tim looked up from the map, and ran towards the third pass to the right. As he entered, two arrows struck the wall of the bluff, narrowly missing him as he darted out of sight. The Indians had caught him quickly by taking the higher ridgeline and were able to cut down on Tim’s head start and peer down into the valley from higher ground to attack him. Jon continued to follow Tim with the group of Indians only a few yards behind and closing in.

After a miles of running and squeezing through tight spaces between large rocks, the pass opened to a large river bank. The river was much larger than Jon had ever known to be in the area. Steam rose from the surface of the river. He didn’t understand how such a large river could be hidden here within the mountain pass without being clearly identified on every map of the region. The silence of the pass and the sound of Tim’s panting and the scurrying of feet were overtaken by the sound of rushing river water. Tim ran to where the gravel river bank met the far edge of the bluff. He ran towards a wooden boat. There was writing scribed on the bottom of the boat, but he flipped it over and quickly dragged it to the water and got in before Jon had a chance to read it. Tim nearly flipped the boat in the water as he jumped in and it dipped the rear of the boat into the water and it filled partially as it tipped. Jon watched as Tim lay down in the boat and floated downstream. He watched as the Indians overhead pelted the boat with arrows from above as they continued to chase it as far as they could from above until the ridge veered away from the river and the river flowed downstream into a cavern. In the distance on the highest part of the ridge Jon could see the young Indian woman from before watching as the boat rushed into the cavern. Both faded into the the distance. Tim Adrina had a map on him when he got into the boat, Jon realized as he began to distance himself from the riverbed very quickly.

When Jon opened his eyes and and saw Madison peering over him he was immediately frightened. He breathed deeply and tried to back away from her. He looked around for the Adrinas and their golden boulder, for the mine opening and the shiny twisted peak above, for any signs of the Indians or for the girl or Tim Adrina floating away in his boat. He was relieved to see only Madison instead of the mysterious Indian girl looking down on him. It took Jon a few moments to disconnect from his dream and what had happened to the Adrinas. He realized where he was. He was alone in the woods with Madison. He remembered that after he and Madie had hurried to escape from the pack of wolves that had attacked their campsite the night before. He remembered feeling her hand in his as they ran. They had run some distance before they climbed onto a ledge of rocks that was enclosed inside of a patch of large soft pine trees that had overlapped from growing close together and surrounded the ledge. It made for the perfect hidden spot to spend the night out of sight and reach of the wolves or whatever else might find them during the night in the mountains. As soon as he realized they were hiding in a large pine tree, the distinct odor of pine filled his noes. It was better than any taxi he’d been in for years. The smell of fresh pine reminded Jon that he was free. The ground was covered with a bed of soft red brown fallen pine needles that made a comfortable bed the night before.

‘We must have dozed off,’ she said in a hushed and groggy voice that indicated to Jon that she had just awoken from a short restless sleep as well. ‘Do you think anyone else got away?’ Jon could tell from the tone in Madison’s voice that she was scared, but she still managed to smile when his eyes caught hers.

‘I don’t know. It’s probably safe for us to go and check by now.’

‘I startled you when I woke you, were you dreaming of being chased by wolves?’

Yes and no, he thought. It was so surreal. I thought I was dead. I dreamt of the mine. I had a vision. It’s far from here, near a narrow jagged peak that reflects the sunlight and looks different from any other rock formation I’ve ever seen here. He wanted to tell her but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I just didn’t know where I was. It’s hot out this morning.’ Typically for this time of year the temperature would vary between just above freezing and light jacket weather and the mornings usually had a chill in the air. But today, like the previous few mornings they’d spent in the wood, Jon could not see his breath. In fact, the sun beating down through the shade of the pine made his skin warm and his forehead began to sweat as he moved.

Jon held the pine branches out of the way for he and Madison to get out of the tree and he helped her climb down off of the rock ledge. It felt good to plant their feet firmly on the ground. The ground was still wet from the night before, but there was no standing water in sight. Jon had been sure to get them far up the side of the valley to an elevation that was night likely to fill with water. Last nights storm had long since passed, and the day was bright and the sky was blue and cloudless and the air was warm and humid.

‘I think our camp was this way,’ Madison pointed, ‘it shouldn’t be very far.’ She continued with a somber tone, ‘Jon, why do you think those wolves attacked us?’

He thought for a moment before responding, ‘I’m not sure, maybe they were hungry and thought we’d be an easy meal. Remember we saw that lone wolf earlier in the day devouring the rotting elk caracas. Its very common to hear wolves howling in the distance at night, but pretty uncommon to actually encounter one or even an entire pack like we did. Maybe we set up camp in their territory, they can be extremely territorial beasts.’

‘That all makes sense. It was just really strange that the attack came right as the storm startled us awake, almost like the storm woke them up or they knew we wouldn’t hear them approach in the rain and thunder.’

‘Possibly. They aren’t stupid animals, that is for sure,’ Jon responded.

The trail that Jon and Madison made as they walked through the woods twisted and turned continuously to avoid rocks and trees scattered throughout the area. It was amazing to Jon that they were able to run away so efficiently the night before to escape the pack of attacking wolves in the pitch black of night without tripping over the rocks and running into trees that couldn’t be seen in the dark. Jon was amazed that the spring bloom had come so soon in the year, where typically for mid-March the wilderness would be grey and brown and cold as though winter were still holding out. Instead, the world had awoken and sprouted early and was lush and green and warm. The feeling gave Jon hope. Not only hope that the long warm season would allow them ample time to search for the lost mine, but immediate hope that his friends had survived the attack from the night before. He felt confident he would return to the others in good spirits and safety. Once they were approaching the camp they could see the brightly colored tents and smoke looming overhead from the campfire between the trees. They knew someone was still there from the movement of figures. As they got closer they saw Travis and Roger standing around the fire between the tents. Both of the men looked up when they heard Jon and Madison walking towards them.

‘I figured the rest of the group was with you,’ Roger yelled to cover the distance between them.

‘We were hoping that same about you, but it was just the two of us,’ Jon said as he looked around the camp at a small number of wolves laying dead. ‘We heard gun shots behind us last night and I figured it was Mike or Travis or both of their guns going off. By the looks of it you killed quite a few of them. To be honest, I don’t even remember which way anyone else ran.’

‘Shim ran that way,’ Travis pointed.

‘I doubt he realized there were wolves when he ran, I think he thought it was Sampson’s ghost girl.’ Roger’s words made Jon remember the girl up on the ridge from his dream. ‘I’m not sure about anyone else.’

‘I didn’t hear any other gunshots besides the ones I fired.’ Travis implied the others may not have been able to defend themselves from the attack, including Mike Lowrey.

‘We have to find them,’ Madison said.

‘We should wait for them to come back to camp,’ Roger answered and Travis nodded in agreement.

‘Camp will be here even if we go out looking. If they are hurt or worse then they may need help. I say we go together to search for them. Fan out, but head in the same direction to cover more ground. Travis, bring your gun,’ Jon said. ‘Is Mike’s gun still in his tent then?’

‘It is right here,’ Travis handed the gun to Jon. ‘I found it when I went in to get his satellite phone.’

‘Did you use it?’

‘What? The phone? Yea, I tried to call C a few times earlier, but I wasn’t able to get through. I left him a message and told him to send help to this spot if he gets it. But I turned it off to preserve the battery.’

If he gets your message,’ Jon said. ‘If help doesn’t come then we’ll be stuck out here another night.’ They all knew what that meant, and feared a repeat of the previous night, or worse. ‘Turn the phone back on in case Conrad calls back.’

The four of them set off together to search for the others. They scanned the wooded valley for the better part of the morning, looking in nooks and crannies of the forest and rock covered areas. They called for their friends, but there was no response. There was not even an echo off the rocks or the hollows around them. Their calls seemed to flee into the depths of the wilderness and escape the valley. After a few hours and no sign of any member of their party they decided to head back to camp to see if anyone had returned. As they walked back they came to a clearing in the woods where the ground was still covered in a few inches of water. Their feet began to splash through the water. Piles of boulders layer every few yards across the clearing. Jon stopped abruptly when he saw a person laying face down in the water near the edge of the clearing. A few yards beyond where the the body laid a large number of wolves laying dead on the ground. They ran towards the body. Before Travis rolled him over, Jon and Roger knew it was Mike. He was dead, but there was no sign of any visible wolf attack that they could tell as they look him over.

‘What do you think killed him?’ Madison asked.

‘He was old, probably a suddenly heart attack,’ Travis said sarcastically.

‘No,’ Roger responded abruptly. ‘Mike was in perfect health. He was electrocuted. He was standing in this water when the lightening struck. It’s the same as what killed all of these wolves. Look.’ Roger held up Mike’s boots, which were both scorched on the bottoms near the heel. ‘Electricity entered and exited here before passing through his body.’

‘There must be a hundred of them,’ Jon said in amazement as he stood looking around at the wolves laying dead in the clearing.

‘Maybe more,’ Madison said. ‘It’s amazing Mike made it this far. Wolves are fast and they work together to take down their prey.’

Roger and Travis knelt near Mike’s body. Travis checked his pulse to confirm he was dead but could tell from how cold his skin was. ‘You can have his truck Rog. You’ll finally drive a respectable truck,’ Travis said.

‘Now isn’t the time to give away Mike’s belongings, show some respect Trav,’ Jon said. ‘Besides, the truck won’t do any of us any good if we don’t find anyone and get the hell out of here.’

‘Look!’ Madison said loudly as she got up and walked fast towards the pile of wolves. After a few steps her walk turned into a run as she splashed through the water.

‘Hurk,’ Roger said softly as he stood up from the corpse.

The three walked towards Hurk and stood surrounding him with Madison fearing he’d befallen the same fate as Mike Lowrey. Madison put her hand on Hurk’s back. His lower body was not in sight, his arms splayed out to keep himself up. His shirt was covered in blood below the chest.

‘He’s stuck in a hole!’ Jon said. From where he stood he was not sure if Hurk’s lower body remained intact.

‘He’s breathing,’ Madison said. ‘Hurk, can you hear me. Hurk. Hurk,’ she repeated as she bent down close to his face but there was no response.

‘Hurk, shes’ trying to call you her nigga,’ Travis joked as Jon, Madison, and Roger looked at him queerly as though to imply that now was not the time to joke.

Hurk raised his head slowly a few inches off the ground and struggled to whisper a response. ‘I’m ai’t,’ he said before he dropped his head back down and blinked his eyes slowly. He appeared to be holding on to life by a thread.

‘No you’re not alright. You’re stuck in a hole in the ground,’ she turned to Jon and said, ‘We’ve gotta get him out.’

‘Hurk, what happened?’ Travis asked. ‘Did you get struck by lightening?’

‘Lightenin’ mothafuckin’ lamp,’ Hurk tried to laugh but coughed up blood and faded out of consciousness. Jon, Travis, and Roger all looked at one another in curiosity and concern.

‘We are glad to see you too buddy,’ Madison patted Hurks back and looked up at the others. ‘Guys we’ve got to get him out of here. He may have punctured a lung or broke something or worse,’ Madie said.

‘We can’t lift him out of there Madie. He is too big. He weighs too much,’ Jon said.

‘We will probably hurt him even more if we try,’ Roger added.

‘We’ll probably hurt ourselves even more if we try to lift him,’ Travis said.

‘Well we can’t leave him in a hole in the ground guys,’ Madison said as her brow sunk. ‘What do you suggest we do Rog?’

‘Hey Jon, you don’ think,’ Travis stopped before finishing his thought.

‘I don’t think what Trav?’ Jon said impatiently waiting another inappropriate joke to come from Travis’s mouth.

‘He might be stuck in the lost Lamp Mine,’ Travis said excitedly.

‘Don’t get your hopes up, it’s probably just a hole in the ground,’ Jon knew from the surreal dream he’d had earlier that morning that the Lamp Mine was far away from this area. He knew it was nestled in a mountain pass near Lielbergh Ridge and they would have to wait for a few more weeks of warm weather before being able to scout that area fully. But that was only if they made it out of the current predicament.

Travis responded excitedly, ‘I’m serious. Maybe it is, he was just too big to fall all the way down.’ They all stared at one another over Hurk’s still body.

‘He’s lucky the hole he fell in is elevated a few inches out of the water, or he would have been struck like Mike,’ Roger commented.

‘Hey there!’ There was a faint call from the other end of the clearing.

‘Look!’ Madison said as she pointed to the distance. ‘Ryan and Wyatt!’ She said excitedly. Jon and Roger both waived to them.

Ryan and Wyatt came running across the soaked ground and were out of breath when they’d reached the others. ‘I’m glad we found you. We waited at the camp for a while and figured someone was still alive because the fire was smoldering. So we set out looking before it got too late.’ Ryan caught his breath as he looked around at all of the dead wolves, Mike Lowrey and Hurk. ‘We got lucky Wyatt, it appears we ran in exactly the opposite direction of all of the action last night.’

‘It looks like the wolves spotted Hurk and figured he was big enough that he’d feed the whole pack for a month,’ Travis said.

‘Where is Shim?’ Wyatt asked but no one had an answer.

After they briefly reacquainted and pointed to Mike’s dead body a few yards away, Ryan took charge and felt around on Hurk’s torso and tried to talk to him, but there was no response. ‘He probably broke some ribs. There is a chance he messed his back up too by the looks of how he is slumped over sideways. He may have punctured his lung, that could be why his mount is bloody. We need to get him out of this hole and laying flat on level ground.’

Together they tied a rope around Hurk and under his armpits and struggled to pull him out without hurting him more. The rope was from Travis’s pack, and was still damp from his climb into the Icebox the day before. It took all of them to lift Hurk out with the wet rope. Hurk didn’t make a sound while they lifted him, but all six of them pulling the rope sounded as though they were moving a mountain. After Hurk was free from the hole, the group was laying on the ground cringing in exhaustion and breathing deeply next to him. Hurk remained silent.

‘That big nigger weighs a god damn ton,’ Travis said.

‘Shut up Travis,’ Madison yelled at her brother.

‘I’m just sayin’. I mean I’m glad he is not stuck in the hole anymore, but he ain’t going too far from here unless he gets up and walks. There is no way we are going to carry him back to camp without a forklift. Did you bring a forklift with you Madie? I don’t recall seeing one in your pack,’ Travis said sarcastically looking at his sister across Hurk’s large still body.

‘Well we’ve got to do something. For Hurk and for the rest of us. We can’t stay out here another night and hope the rest of the wolf pack doesn’t come back for seconds.’

Wyatt and Ryan knelt over the hole that they had just removed Hurk from. ‘Travis give me your flashlight,’ Wyatt said. He was on his hands and knees with his head immersed in the hole. Wyatt shined the flashlight down in the hole, but there was no reflection backup as they had all hoped. He looked around and then put his ear down towards the opening.

‘Well it’s not the Lamp Mine,’ Wyatt stated what Jon already knew. ‘The underground river from the Icebox is running underneath us. If you stick your head down there you can hear it. Hurk is lucky he didn’t fall in and get washed away complete.’

‘He is lucky he didn’t get struck by lightening too,’ Roger said.

Wyatt was interrupted by the echo of a loud bloodcurdling scream off far in the distance that rattled everyone in the group. Even Hurk opened his eyes and looked around in concern.

‘What was that?’ Wyatt asked. His yellow skin had turned pale white and his slanted eyes opened wide and circular with the sound of the scream in the distance.

‘It came from that way,’ Roger said as he pointed back towards their camp.

‘No, it was from over there,’ Ryan pointed in the opposite direction

‘Probably just the wind,’ Travis said. He looked startled.

‘It’s not windy Trav. That was a girl screaming, it wasn’t the wind,’ Madison responded.

‘It could have been Shim,’ Travis reasoned. ‘He has been known to scream like a little bitch when he is scared.’

Hurk whimpered a laugh and a single word of agreement, ‘Yea.’

‘What is that god awful smell?’ Travis asked as he covered his face and looked to Hurk. ‘Hurk, god damn, what the fuck did you eat? And then barf up and eat again?’ A stench of rot and decay had filled the valley. It was thick, and the taste of the air made the group swallow and close their mouths and cover their faces with their hands not want to breath the foul air. Ryan covered his nose and mouth with the collar of his shirt.

The faint scream came again. This time it was echoing off of the rocky walls of the valley. They stopped talking abruptly and began calling for Shim in every direction. Then they stopped to wait for some response in silence. They were all scared stiff by the haunted woods that surrounded them. The loud sudden ringing sound of Travis’s satellite phone broke the silence. Everyone jumped and then took a sigh of relief as Travis pulled out the phone and answered Conrad’s call. There was still no sign of Shim as the rescue helicopter circled them from overhead at dusk.

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