The Calling Page 18

Eventually we were tramping through the forest in silence. That didn’t really help, because the quiet meant every time we startled an animal and it took off, brush crackling, Corey or Hayley or Sam—sometimes all three—would jump and spin around, their backs to ours, like bison fending off a pack of wolves.

“It’s a rabbit,” I’d say.

“It’s a grouse,” Daniel would say.

We’d both add, “If anything bigger comes near, Kenjii will let us know.”

But it didn’t help. For our friends, the forest—with its sun-dappled groves and majestic, soaring redwoods—was no less terrifying in daylight that it had been last night.

We’d camped near the base of the mountain. Whether it actually qualified as a mountain, I had no idea. But it was tall and it was wide, and it was on our way—which explained why we hadn’t been able to see any lights—so I thought of it as “the mountain.” Seeing it had come as a relief to all, the thought that we might get to the top, look down, and see civilization. Or it did come as a relief, until we realized how long a hike it would be—all of it uphill.

Still, it was our best option. We just needed to go up the side. Which would be fine, if we’d had anything to eat. And if Corey had miraculously healed overnight. He was doing better, but it was a tough haul for him. For all of us.

One good thing about the mountain? It gave us a reference point. If everything was quiet, I could still pick up the distant crash of waves to my left, but the mountain was an even better compass point to keep us going in the right direction.

We slogged uphill for at least two hours. I was guessing at the time. My watch had survived the first dunk after the helicopter crash but not the second one, when I’d been pulled right under. Daniel’s still worked and I think Corey’s did, too, but no one was asking them for the time—no one cared.

When I heard the burble of a stream, I picked my way through a patch of bramble to get to it. Hayley was right behind me, fighting through the branches instead of ducking them. Sam got poked in the eye. When she cursed, Hayley jumped and slipped on a muddy patch. Corey ripped his shirt on thorns helping her up. All three complained, loudly and bitterly.

“We need more water,” Daniel said. “Which means you need to get to it, because we can’t bring it back for you.”

“Well, maybe if Hayley was more careful,” Sam said. “Not letting the branches fling back.”

“Well, maybe if you weren’t walking right behind me,” Hayley said. “Why do we need water anyway? We drank before we set out.”

“We need to drink from every stream I can find,” I said. “As I’ve said, dehydration is the biggest risk we face out here.”

“Okay,” Corey said. “Butcould you find a path without mud and thorns?”

“I’ll make sure the next one’s paved.”

Daniel leaned toward me as we walked. “I bet if we bolted, we could lose them in ten seconds.”

“Don’t tempt me,” I muttered.

He grinned and put out his hand to help me over a muddy patch. I crossed, then called back a warning to the others. Daniel seconded the warning and pointed out the mud. Hayley still slid and fell.

At the stream—a little cascade splashing over a rock ledge—we got a drink. As we were leaving, Hayley said, “I can’t do this,” dropped, pulled up her knees, and buried her face against her legs.

“I’m sorry, guys,” she said, her voice tight. “I just can’t. I’m cold and I’m tired and I’m hungry.”

I crouched beside her. “I know you’re uncomfortable, but we’re okay. Our clothing is dry now and it’s not cold enough for hypothermia. We can survive without food as long as we don’t dehydrate—”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Corey snapped. “We’re tired and hungry, and you blather on about hypothermia and dehydration—”

“Hey!” Daniel bore down on Corey. “She keeps talking about hypothermia and dehydration because you guys won’t shut up about being cold and hungry.”

“Well, maybe we don’t need to hear how this isn’t going to kill us,” Corey said. “Maybe we need more than a pep talk.”

“Like what? Sympathy? Right. Because that’s going to get us out of these woods. Maybe you can show a little sympathy yourself under the circumstances and—”

“Enough,” I said. “You’re right, Corey. I’m sorry. I know your knee is hurting. I know everyone’s cold. I know everyone’s tired. I know everyone’s hungry. I know everyone’s worrying about their parents and what’s going on back in Salmon Creek. And we’re thinking about Nic and Rafe and—”

Oh God. My parents. Nicole. Rafe.

I tried to finish, but I couldn’t remember what I’d been saying, and I just stood there with everyone staring at me. Then Daniel was beside me, rubbing away the goose bumps on my arms and Corey was hobbling over, looking like a kicked puppy. He put an arm around my shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Hayley echoed him, on her feet again, standing there awkwardly.

I wiped my eyes, and gave Corey a quick embrace before nudging him back. “I should look at your knee.”

“Nah, it’s—”

“I should check it.” I glanced up at him. “Please.”

He nodded, and limped to a boulder to sit.

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