As hoped, it started to give and we could feel the rest of the twigs and branches snapping as the tarps came loose under our force. We ran feebly, awkwardly, for a few seconds, going nowhere, until it finally gave away. We plunged forward. I almost lost my footing as the sheet covered me like a heavy blanket and weighed me down but Dex pulled me along and soon we were free. The tarp fell behind us and we were running into a supernova of bright sunshine.
We ran for a few feet before collapsing on the ground on our knees. Our hearts could not take a moment more. I rolled over, trying to catch my breath and take in the comfort of the open world. Dex got on his fours and had a coughing fit.
When I felt well enough, I looked behind me at the tent. It was completely flattened. Bird was nowhere around but Rudy was still under that tarp. As much as I didn’t want to go back, we had to help him.
Dex had the same idea. We got up and approached the tent, our senses heightened.
“Rudy!” he cried out. We stopped above a shape in the tarp. It looked like a body lay under it. I was afraid to look but we both picked up the tarp, expecting the worst.
There was nothing under there. The bucket was there, but the bag was gone. There were no scorpions, no snakes, and no Rudy.
“What the fuck?” I swore and put my hand to my head. I looked over at his pile of clothes, neatly stacked next to ours. Where was he?
Dex was just as perplexed.
“I don’t like this,” he said.
“What? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know but it’s not good. Not good.” He looked behind him at the house and nodded at it. “Come on, let’s see if they are inside.”
I followed him into the house. The backdoor was still open so we let ourselves in.
I gasped as we turned into the kitchen.
Boy Boy was standing on top of the kitchen table, growling at us. The raised, tough hairs on his back gave him a porcupine effect, and his teeth snarled into vicious points. His eyes were as wild as I’ve ever seen on a dog before.
“Hey Boy Boy,” I said softly but didn’t make any movements.
“We can’t even be sure that’s a dog anymore,” Dex whispered into my ear. It sent a chill down my spine. What if it never was a dog? Oh god. What if that was a skinwalker the whole time and he offed Bird and then did something to Rudy?
Dex pulled me back towards the door. “We need to leave now.”
I nodded and slowly walked backward. The dog continued to stand on the table top, growling like a lawn mower. Drool dripped off of its fangs and fell to the table top with a sinister splash.
We stepped outside and closed the door gently until it latched with a click.
Boy Boy jumped up at the window, inches from my face, snarling and snapping. I screamed in surprise. Dex ran for the side of the house and pulled me away.
We rounded the corner and saw Bird’s truck still in the driveway. Both their cars were there.
We hopped in the red truck but of course he hadn’t left his keys in the ignition. If this were a movie it would have been a different story.
“Shit, shit, shit,” I said hitting the dashboard.
“Calm down,” Dex said and started ripping wires out of the area beneath the wheel.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked. How did he know how to hotwire a car? Oh, nevermind. Probably took auto-theft classes along with his years of theater school.
“It’s an old truck,” he mumbled and concentrated. I looked out the windshield. I saw Boy Boy standing by the side of the house, staring us down. He must have gotten out somehow. I pictured him getting on two legs and physically opening that door, paws on the handle.
“Um,” I squeaked to Dex, “could you do that any faster?”
Dex paused, then kept going. “The dog’s out there isn’t he?”
“Uh huh,” I said through clenched teeth, not wanting to make a single movement. I realize it wasn’t like Jurassic Park, and just because I was still that didn’t mean he couldn’t see me, but it still felt better to be on the safe side.
“Okay, I think-”
“Dex!” I cried. Boy Boy made a sudden dash for us and leaped onto the hood of the truck, its nails screaming across the paint job.
“-I got it!” he yelled and the car suddenly vroomed to life. Dex slammed the truck into reverse and the dog went flying off the hood. He kept the truck going backwards all the way down the driveway until we reached the end and then he spun the truck around as soon as the smooth blacktop was felt underneath the wheels. Dex popped the car in gear and we were zooming down the road.
“Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God,” I whimpered. “What the fuck happened?”
He didn’t say anything but gave my body a quick look.“Do you have any bites on you from those scorpions?”
I looked down at my feet. They were caked in dirt but they looked fine, no pain and no swelling. The sight of my bare thighs, though, made me wish I had put on my jeans before I left. Now they were gone forever, along with my boots.
“I’m fine,” I told him. “You?”
“No, nothing,” he said.
“But you saw them, didn’t you? You felt them?” I asked, hoping he did.
“Yes, I saw them. But that doesn’t mean they were really there.”
“How could we both imagine that?”
“I don’t think it’s that simple,” he said but didn’t offer anymore.
It didn’t matter. The fact was Bird and Rudy were gone and Rudy’s happy dog just tried to kill us.
“Do you think Boy Boy killed Bird or Rudy?” I asked softly though I didn’t want to hear his answer.
“I don’t know,” Dex said grimly. “Fuck, I wish I could think properly.”
“So what do we do?” I repeated.
“I guess the only thing we can do is go back to the Lancasters and explain to Will what happened.”
“But what if they are in on it?”
“I don’t know who is in on it anymore. For all we know, Rudy and Bird could be in on it.”
I didn’t want to believe that but I’d be lying if that thought hadn’t crossed my mind, especially when Bird failed to open the tent door. It did almost have that set-up feeling. But the idea that we had no one to trust was too much to handle.
“Too bad you didn’t get any of that on camera,” I said to him. I knew we left the equipment at home because it would have been inappropriate to film a sweat ceremony.
“Oh, it’ll be coming out as soon as we get back. I don’t know what the hell is going to happen next but whatever it is, we are getting that shit down. If anything should happen to us, we should at least get the truth out.”
I didn’t like the idea of more stuff happening to us but I knew it was just going to get worse.
We sped down the road until Red Fox came into view again. We drove down the main street and saw a blur of people up ahead. We slowed down. There was a crowd gathered in the middle of road, their backs to us, staring at something in front of them.
We brought the car to crawl. I was tempted to get out and ask what was going on but I still wasn’t wearing any pants. I was also worried that people would notice we were in Bird’s truck, with no Bird in sight. But no one turned to look at us. We put the car in park.
Dex stuck his head out the window and yelled, “What’s the hold up?” to no one in particular.
A scrawny Mexican teenager in skate shoes turned around to see us and sauntered over.
“It’s crazy,” he said.
“What is?” Dex asked.
The teen pointed at the crowd. “I don’t know what caused it. There are five dead cattle on the road. They’ve all been turned inside out. It’s fucking sick.”
“Excuse me?” I said feeling a chill go down my back. The teenager noticed me and gave me a funny look. I forgot I was covered in a lot of dirt.
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “It’s like science fiction or something. Their skin and muscles are gone. It’s only bones and organs. Fucked up.”
He sounded disgusted but there was a hint of excitement in his voice.
“When did this happen?” Dex asked. They hadn’t been there when we drove through town.
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Do you know another way to the La- get out of town, heading west?” Dex asked, almost asking for the Lancasters.
The boy told us a quick detour down the suburban side streets. We thanked him and did a U-turn. He watched us go, looking puzzled. I didn’t blame him. We were probably quite the sight. Not as gruesome as inside-out cows, though.
“What the fuck?” I couldn’t help but exclaim again. “Now cows?”
“That alone might be worth filming,” he said, his eyes squinting in thought. “If we could get our cameras and go back there, that’s just weird enough to make the episode worthwhile. I think we should go back, explain to Will, not Sarah, what happened. Pack our bags, get everything in the Jeep and then get the fuck out of there.”
That sounded like the best plan ever.
“You should text Maximus and tell him what happened,” I told him.
“Fuck,” he yelled and pounded the steering wheel. “My phone is in my shorts.”
Ugh. It seemed like we couldn’t have an adventure without one of our phones going MIA.
“We’ll call him from the Lancasters. Will has his number.”
Dex grunted, obviously upset, and kept driving until we saw their familiar gate again. We pulled the truck up to our Jeep and carefully climbed out.
Will came hurrying out of the house and nearly fainted at the sight of us pantless, dirty people standing before him.
“What on earth?” he cried. “Where’s Bird?”
“Um,” Dex said, looking around him. He moved to the back of the truck and beckoned Will to come over.
Dex explained what happened in a hush. Or at least part of it. We left the skinwalker talk out but said that Rudy had planned for us to take part in a sweat ceremony to cleanse us from evil spirits. The rest was history.
Will kept shaking his head the whole time, muttering “I don’t believe it” over the story. But in the end, he had no choice but to believe it. It was the truth and it was apparent that we weren’t kidding.
He looked pained. I patted him gently on his shoulder, feeling even sorrier for him than I was feeling for myself. This was his friend, this was his problem, and it seemed like we were making things worse by the minute.
“Has anything like that happened before? Where do you think they went?” I asked, hoping to get something out of him.
He didn’t budge. “It’s all too ridiculous. There has to be a simple explanation. I could call the sheriff and put an APB on both of them, just in case.”
“You should,” Dex agreed.
Will gave us an absent look before turning back for the house and walking away. “You should probably get yourselves cleaned up. Again.”
I exchanged a look with Dex and whispered to him, “I’m starting to think we may be the bad luck twins.”
It wasn’t appropriate to joke about it but it’s all I had left. He put a comforting arm around my shoulder and we walked back into the house. I wondered what my breaking point would be.