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!
[Carlton Cuse voice]
previously, on UP COUNTRY
To call it a road was...generous. Sure, it fit some definition of a road--chiefly, you could drive a truck down it--but it was little more than two tire tracks in the woods. Despite the fact that the bridge had been gone for what seemed to be several years, the road looked to be somewhat recently used. Paul guessed that someone had been driving ATVs across the brook, or perhaps a truck with 4 wheel drive when the water was low, but the traffic had done little more than maintain the integrity of the ruts. The trees hung over, creating a gauntlet of branches under a canopy that blocked out the sun. They could only see thirty or so feet until it made a gradual right turn and was eaten up by the forest. It could at best be described as a tunnel through the woods that was just barely big enough to fit a vehicle.
John was pretty certain that this road would lead them to the highway, or at least to a dirt road, so without discussion he started down it. And really, what was there to discuss? They could either follow a river or a road and a road was, at very least, man-made. It seemed to be taking them in the general direction from which they came, so it was something of a no-brainer. It never occurred to him to ask the others.
And so they walked, John in the lead, for a quarter mile until the road came to an intersection. To the left the road spread out a bit, opened up into something a little more spacious. Straight ahead appeared to be more of the same. But through the trees to the right, there was a building.
They had found their way out.
John motioned for Paul and Mark to catch up and they all stood there for a minute, staring at what appeared to be a hunting camp.
It was a small camp, placed in among the trees with a semi-attached shed over to the right. The trim and the porch had long ago been painted green. The shingles on the roof were badly in need of repair. It was obvious this building had been around for decades, if not longer. But in the area in front of it someone had gone to the trouble of doing basic masonry around a campfire and there was firewood stacked in the small clearing that served as a yard. As abandoned as the camp itself looked, it wasn't.
John went first, walking about half-way before he started calling out to no one in particular. Hello? Is anyone there? There was no answer, so he walked the rest of the way and stepped up on the worn, knotted planks that made up the porch. The camp was covered in gray shingles (had they always been gray?) that looked similar to the ones on the roof, only a different color. There was a hunting knife with a 6-inch blade jammed into the windowsill. John set his fishing pole down against the gun rack nailed to the wall and pulled the knife out of the wood, gripping it as a weapon. He slowly opened the wooden door, then the screen door patched with duct tape. It slammed shut behind him.
Once inside, it took John's eyes a second to adjust, to focus. Despite the fact that there were four rather large windows, the camp didn't seem to get a lot of sunlight except for on the white table to John's left. It was old and chipped, but looked new compared to the linoleum on the floor, which was cracked and peeling beyond recognition. In some spots it was non-existent. From the gas lamps that hung from the ceiling, John surmised that there wasn't any electricity. He was right. They were too far from a power line for it to even be an option. To the right there was a sink, but the spigot had been taken out and taped over, and a metal bucket with quite possibly the original version of the "All" logo was turned upside down inside it. There didn't appear to be a single thing in the camp that wasn't older than John himself.
Straight ahead was a wood stove, and behind that there appeared to be another room.
Is anyone there?
John pushed the curtain back to reveal bunk beds, two queen sized mattresses with another two more on the other side of a partial wall. The mattresses were lumpy and stained. John could see where a mouse had ripped out a good deal of stuffing and made a nest, exposing the metallic spring. There was a duffel bag on the floor and a sleeping bag rolled out on the top bunk, but no one was in the camp itself.
Outside, Paul and Mark looked around. Mark made a slow circle around the perimeter. Paul looked at the wood pile and spent a few minutes in the middle of the yard, taking in the surroundings while John went inside. There was a rusted out oil drum that had been used to burn garbage. He could see that the campfire had been recently used, as there was a tiny bit of smoke coming from it. He bent down to take a closer look as John came back outside.
"No, but someone's been here. I'm going to check the shed."
The shed had been built more recently than the camp, but was in worse shape. There were gaps in the boards and from the smell, John could tell that at least part of the shed functioned as an outhouse. The door was shut. He walked across the porch and reached to open it.
Paul shifted his weight to get a better look at the fire, to maybe get an idea of just how long ago it had been used. He reached his hand out for a rock to steady himself and it landed on something sticky. Annoyed, he went to wipe what he assumed to be pitch on his pants, but it wasn't pitch. It was a dark red. He touched it to his tongue.
The rock was covered in blood.
"Oh my God. Uh, John?"
John had the door to the shed half open when he noticed the silhouette of someone standing in the corner. He was heavy-set, hadn't shower or shaved in weeks, and looked as if he had been living out here for months, maybe more. But John didn't see that. What he saw was a crazed, maniacal look in the man's eyes and the gleam of light reflecting off whatever metal object was in his hands.
"Holy shit." He stumbled back and gripped the knife tighter.
The man took a step toward him and started to swing the metal object through the air.
"Oh fuck!" John scrambled off the porch, nearly tripped on the uneven ground, and took off.
"Paul! Mark! RUN!"
...to be continued when our Kickstarter campaign hits $3,000...