I've decided that in the process of raising $$ and working on Up Country (or whatever we end up calling it), to release the story in serialized novella form. Every $500 we raise, I'll put out another chapter. I'll be writing it (and revising it) as we go, so if we raise money faster than I can write, so be it. The end won't come until after we hit our goal. Enjoy!
Their gear was gone, that much was certain. The packs had left an imprint in the grass, so there was no mistaking where they had been. As the minutes passed, it became more and more clear that their guide might not be coming back. He hadn't exactly been friendly or outgoing, and he had always seemed to be sizing them up, as if he was unsure they were worthy of the woods.
It didn't take a detective to connect the dots. The guide was missing. Their stuff was missing. There were, as far as they knew, only four people for miles around, maybe farther. So unless Yogi Bear had mistaken their gear for picnic baskets, the only logical solution was that the guide had stolen their stuff. It wasn't a perfect theorem, but it was damned close. It was John who finally said what everyone was thinking, that the guide had stolen their stuff and abandoned them in the middle of nowhere. He shot a disapproving look at Mark, who seemed to be more at a loss than Paul.
"It's just...I had no idea," Mark stammered. "He even had positive reviews online."
He has a webpage?
"How do you think I found him?"
"Through your jailbird cousin?" John retorted. Mark glared at him.
Paul's face said that maybe this wasn't the best time as he took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. He was going to have to start thinking like a lawyer again. He started by taking a wider look at the area, but the woods pretty much all looked the same. There was evidence of traffic all around, but it was their traffic. The guide could have easily re-traced his steps back to the road or gone up river. There was no way to know. And considering how unfamiliar they were with the area, it would be a bad idea to head out into the woods looking for him.
"Well then," John added. "That means we either stay where we are, try to find our way back, or follow the river. Paul, you saw the trail better than I did. How well could you pick it up?"
"I would hardly call it a trail. For all I could tell, we were just walking through the woods."
"Ok, well we can't exactly stay here. I don't imagine he's sending someone to come get us. What do we have to work with?"
They all emptied the gear they were carrying. It wasn't much. Some worms and lures. Extra hooks. A lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Mark had a small Swiss Army Knife. John had his cell phone, but there was no service. The flares, the flashlights, all the stuff they needed was in that missing gear. Paul had bragged at the airport that he had brought enough supplies to survive for weeks. It was all gone.
"We're fucked," John said in the most direct way possible.
Mark was quiet. Paul was sorting through the creels, trying to see if he could channel his inner MacGyver and fashion something out of nothing. John looked around, trying to get a sense of direction related to where they had started. He paused staring at a 30 degree angle up-river.
"So I think we generally came from that direction. Seems we have to follow the river. So I would think upstream would have a better chance of taking us to the road."
Mark finally spoke up. "But if we go downstream, won't it take us to the ocean?"
"The ocean is a hundred miles away. We have to go upstream. Right, Paul?"
Paul thought for a minute. "Yeah, I think so."
They worked their way upstream for a mile or more, walking on the shore where possible, but more often wading through the shin-deep water. The rocks were slippery under the water, which slowed their progress some and made for a few moments where it looked like one of them might fall, but they trudged on more or less silently, all three of them trying to sort out the situation at hand. They were lost in the northern Maine woods, in a place so remote they hadn't even bothered to name the town. They had driven by a sign indicating that they were in the unorganized township T2-R6, whatever the hell that meant, and now they were seeing it first-hand. That big rock over there might as well be the mayor's office, the fish in the water the town council.
John was leading the way. After a while, he slowed to a stop. He motioned for them to catch up.
"What is it?" Paul asked.
"I don't know. Definitely something."
Upon closer inspection, what they found was the remains of some sort of wooden structure on the shore, the logs connected like the corner of a log cabin. The structure was clearly gone, but the wood wasn't so old that it should be. And yet, it was too close to the water to be a cabin. It looked as if it had been knocked down a couple of years ago. John climbed up on the shore and suddenly his expression changed.
"Guys, it used to be a bridge."
"How can you tell?" Paul said.
"Because up here, there's a road."
...to be continued when our Kickstarter campaign hits $2,500...