Crunch! Crunch!

The distinctive sound of the Mossberg sawed-off shotgun shook Abby from her cogitations. She looked up and saw Kevin slumped in the front seat and their captors grinning.

Five hours earlier…

Somewhere deep inside the Mount San Jacinto State Park in Riverside County, California 

“Abby, what do you want to do now? Sit here on these damn rocks all your life and cry about how we landed up here, or do something to get the hell out of here?” Kevin said, his knuckles pressed against his temples.

“Don’t you think that I want to get out of here and never see your face ever again?” Abby retorted with a snarl as she stretched her swollen legs and massaged her calves with her hands. 

“Don’t make it more difficult for me than it already is, Abby. We need to get out of here right now.” Kevin said with his eyes closed. His fingers were now running circles on his forehead around the gash covered by clotted blood . 

“Oh! Now I am the one who is making things difficult? Don’t you even realize we have landed up in the middle of nowhere only because of your stupid guesswork?” Abby said with venom oozing through her words.

“Listen big city girl, to tell you the truth I wouldn’t have to do this guesswork if it wasn’t for your idea of seeing that pond or waterfall or whatever it was?” Kevin sat down and ran his fingers over his injured knee. 

Abby looked chastised. She understood that there was no point in arguing. She tried a different tact, “We are not going anywhere now. Lets stay here for the night and figure the way out tomorrow morning.” She hoped Kevin would accept and drop the argument. All she wanted was some rest and a break from the bickering. 

“So, you are telling me to just sit here and let time decide what happens to us and blame it on fate?” Kevin asked with incredulity echoing in his voice. “I have a better idea – let’s figure the way out of here together and do whatever so that we live.” He said as he stood up. 

“You want us to stay, and I want to leave.” He pulled out a quarter from his wallet and held it for her to see, ‘Let this coin decide what is best for us.” 

“Heads – we leave this place right away, and tails – we stay put for the night.” Kevin said and flipped the coin in air.

“Heads”, he declared, catching the coin mid air in his between the palms of his hands.

Abby looked unsure. 

Kevin sighed and said, “Please Abby. Let us try one last time.”

Abby nodded and held her hand out for him. 

They started walking following the directions on an old broken signpost. They weren’t sure whether the signs still held good. 

Abby’s eyes were on the path ahead but her mind was replaying everything that happened since that morning, trying to comprehend how she landed up in such a predicament.

Ten hours earlier…

Blues skies hovered over the Granite Mountains when they were at the aerial tramway around noon. Abby was mildly irked because her return flight was delayed. Kevin, who had assumed the role of their local guide just because he stayed in nearby San Diego, had offered to stay for a while after he came to know about Abby’s delayed flight. They both were awarded the rising superstars of National Properties Inc. last night. 

Their other companions, two other interns from the other offices, who were with them during the tram ride, had left for their respective flights. 

It was Kevin who suggested that they explore the San Jacinto state park close to the tram station. Abby had agreed immediately, anything to avoid the waiting lounge of the airport. 

After almost an hour of walking on the downward trail, they met a few people who mentioned about a waterfall just a mile away in a secluded spot; just the words to get the adventure juices in Abby’s system pumping.

Kevin mentioned about not being in that area of the park ever before. The weather was still warm, and there was slight breeze and she still had hours left before her flight. Adventurous by nature, Abby insisted on seeing the waterfall.

Somewhere on their way they took a slight detour for clicking a few pictures with the Granite Mountains and the sun shining down on the fern trees. They continued walking on a rough path that they had noticed earlier was going parallel with the downward trail for the waterfall. 

The path ended but there was no waterfall. Following what they thought was the echo of the waterfall, they walked for more than a mile underneath the scorching sun but found no luck. 

The trees became scanty and dead tree logs, rocks and scree were all over the place. Suddenly the realized that the terrain was completely different. Obviously, they had taken the wrong route. In no time, the clear blue skies were replaced with a thick canopy of clouds and soon they lost the already poor network connectivity completely. 

It was getting dark so they started shouting for help, hoping for a park ranger or someone to hear them. The shouting increased to a crescendo of screaming and then loneliness fused with the sultry heat dried their lungs and their beckoning quieted down to a whimper.

It was while crossing one of those fallen logs that Kevin unwittingly stepped on a snake. The sudden slithering under his feet and the distinctive rattle freaked him enough that he stumbled, lost balance and fell head-first on a rock.

Kevin’s howl of pain and Abby’s shriek of terror scared the rattler enough to leave them be and slink back into the foliage. 

Abby looked at Kevin, crimson blood was trickling down from a gash in the center of his forehead as he lay on the dirt writhing in pain and anger. Abby tried to assuage the bleeding with her scarf and was left with sticky blood all over her palms and fingers. 

Two hours earlier…

Somewhere on an empty road on route 243 

“Look ahead!’ Kevin’s voice broke Abby’s thoughts. “Lights flashing by! Should be a motorway.”

All this while, as Abby was lost in her thoughts, Kevin was dragging himself but was still focused on finding the way out. They had seen a trail signpost sometime back, and he was hopeful. They had been walking for miles through overgrown bushes and numerous dusty paths. Hungry and exhausted, they had taken short breaks – sitting down on her insistence a few times. 

After almost three hours, they saw a small paved path. That was an indicator of something more concrete close by, Kevin declared. Abby rolled her eyes.

But he was right! There it was – a concrete road.

Abby hugged Kevin despite herself. The first sliver of smile creeped up on her countenance after many hours of mosquito bites, serpentine menace, and scratches and bruises.

“Oh God! Finally, we made it.” Abby said the moment they stepped on the poorly lit road. Kevin just winked at her while rolling the quarter smugly between his fingers. 

“Now we just have to either find a phone booth or make it to the park office quickly.” Abby said staring at the lightning that had suddenly exploded in the sky. 

They noticed a black Van approaching in their direction. It slowed down when it got closer to them. Kevin could sense the driver’s eyes staring at him but was unable to see anything because of the excessive glare from the high beam headlights. The van sped away. 

A little while later they saw flashlights beaming from what looked like a Camper van, which quickly went past them. 

He held Abby’s hand and started walking again, sensing with her now frail grip that the last reserves of energy in her petite body was draining out really fast. Something had to be done urgently. 

Few minutes later they saw an SUV coming in their direction and Kevin instantly lifted his arm pointing his thumb up requesting for a ride. 

“Wait. What are you doing? Are you crazy?” Abby spoke through her apparent delirium. “Why hitchhike when we can call for an Uber after reaching a phone booth or the park office? What if we run into a serial killer or something,” Abby grabbed Kevin’s hand and pulled it down. 

He stepped back and the SUV went past them. 

They started waking again when the clouds just burst open and they got completely drenched in the violent rain in no time. 

Almost an hour passed by but the rain refused to slow down. Abby had started shivering, something that even the rain failed to hide. 

Just then out of nowhere a car came and stopped right next to them. A skeletal bearded man in his 60’s peered out through the window.

“Do you want to die or what? Hop into the damn car, kids!” He said with an authoritative tone to his voice. 

Abby’s eyes said yes to Kevin finally. He opened the door to the front seat while Abby settled down in the back seat.

“Looking at the crazy rain, you never know what might hit you suddenly. Things get gnarly down these parts double quick, you know?” The driver said, as he moved closer to Kevin to secure his seatbelt buckle into the slot, before ramming the pedal.

Kevin glanced up and saw a mop of unkempt gray hair and thick overgrown beard on the driver’s face. The man looked and smelt like he hadn’t been near a shower in weeks. Thick black-rimmed spectacles sat on the bridge of a sharp pointy nose tip. 

The driver glanced once at Kevin, pulled a rag from the dashboard and wiped his glasses. It was as filthy as his soiled blue shirt. 

“Rough day, eh? What brought you groms here at this hour?” He prattled away without waiting for an answer. The driver turned to look at Abby for a second, “What happened to those beautiful lips young lady?” His keen tiny eyes scanned the new occupants of his car. 

“We lost our way while hiking, Sir. We just need to go to the park office.” Kevin replied as the stinky smell of cigarettes and marijuana filled his nostrils. 

“Thank you very much sir. We will be indebted to you for life.” Abby added, trying to feign her disgust arising from the stench in that car. 

“Well, if you say so, for life. Indeed!” The driver replied with his index finger tapping on one corner of his chin while the long nail of his thumb rested on the other end. 

The smell of the cigarettes had seeped into the seats and carpets in the car and interbred with the old man’s pungent body odor. 

Feeling nauseous Abby tried to roll down the car window next to her, but stopped abruptly when she noticed those old infuriated eyes staring at her through the rear view mirror. 

She made to roll the windows up even as the car came to a howling halt. 

“What is your problem? Kids these days.” He barked as he turned towards Abby. 

“Sorry. I just…” She couldn’t say a single word after seeing his bloodshot eyes and clenched teeth. 

He then got out of the car and stomped towards the car’s trunk. 

Kevin’s whole body was stiff with shock. He still tried to turn slightly and signaled her to keep quiet. Abby could almost hear him say please. 

What had she done? Why was he angry all of a sudden? Kevin’s mind stopped racing when the old man opened the back door and kept a box right next to where Abby was sitting. 

Crunch! Crunch!

Presently…

“No more funny faces.” The driver yowled pointing the sinister end of the Mossberg at Abby as he barked a further command to Kevin. The young man glanced at Abby, nodded once, and reached into the glove-box to retrieve a roll of duct tape. 

Abby stared in horror as Kevin tore a strip of the tape and plastered it over his own lips. Then, he pulled the free end of the reel and ran it over and over his wrists, binding them together. 

“That’s rad, grom!” The driver snipped off the tape and proceeded to bind Abby’s hands together.  

 

A sudden draft brought in a smell of something putrid wafting into the car making Abby gag and vomit on the natty floor carpet. It was like someone had placed a dozen rotten eggs right under her nostril. Abby realized that the smell was emanating from the now open trunk of the car.

“You need to learn something tonight.” The driver said, got into his seat and started speeding like a demon. 

The next ten minutes were filled with only Abby’s whimpers and Kevin’s muffled pleas.

The driver soon stopped the car next to a black van. A stout man came out of the van and tried to pull out Kevin from the front seat, while the old man pulled out Abby. 

He twisted her arms behind her back and tied them with a rope he took out from his pocket. 

“Who are you? Why are you doing this to us? Please let us go.” Kevin begged as the fat man ripped the duct tape that covered his mouth.

The stout man hit Kevin with something hard on his head, which made the young man collapse down instantly.

The old man frog-marched Abby away from the car, and started ripping her clothes off.

He dipped his dirty fingers in her underwear while fixing Abby with a distasteful look. 

“Go away, bitch. Today’s your lucky day, after all! Be indebted to me for rest of your life. Go tell everyone that you lived.” He said dumping her on the ground and rushing towards his car. 

The vehicles sped off soon after leaving Abby in her skivvies, whimpering into the cold, dark night.

Three days later…

Abby woke up and found herself in a hospital bed. The kind looking nurse had let her know that a passing patrol vehicle had found her and had brought her to the hospital. Abby lay on the bed, not daring to close her eyes – she was haunted by those brutal eyes and clenched teeth of the unknown enemy who came not from the wilderness, but from outside it. 

She knew now that decomposing body parts, at some point in time, do smell like rotten eggs. 

***

Photo By: Alex Lamb

***

This is an entry from team viibrant quillers of ArttrA-3 – A Game of  Writers, co-sponsored by Diners Club International.

Check out the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/arttra-3-guide-artoonsinn/

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Thanks for reading.

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