Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hollow Part Two - Free Excerpt

The Hollow - Part Two
Copyright 2011 Anthony Izzo

Liz dialed the management office's number, which was on the printout she'd had in her pocket. The phone rang twelve times and then she got an answering machine whose message told her she'd reached The Hollow's management office and it was closed. She turned off her cell.
She was standing outside the cabin with Jamie next to her. The other two women approached with Kevin and Matt in tow.
Jamie said, “Well?”
“You going to call the cops?”
“No. We're going home.”
“I was getting used to it,” Jamie said. “What about the campfire?”
Sonya was the first to reach her. “Get a hold of the manager?”
“Office is closed. I think we're going to head out.”
Matt said, “Liz, you can't go. We spent hours stacking wood for the campfire.”
“Let me guess,” Liz said, suppressing a smile, “a half hour on the wood and two hours with beers in hand.”
Kevin said, “Damn Matt, she's on to us.”
“I don't like this,” Liz said.
Hannah said, “C'mon Liz, don't get so spooked. Whoever did that's long gone.”
“Yeah. And I brought a bottle of Red Cat, your favorite. So you better stay and drink with us, bitch,” Sonya said.
“I don't know.”
Matt approached her as if she were a patient he was consulting. “Look, it's late. It's a two hour drive back on dark country roads. You're safer here by the fire.”
“I have GPS and Triple A if we need it,” Liz said.
“You really think Triple A's going to come out to the boonies and help you?” Matt asked.
“Matt, you're doing it again,” Hannah said.
“Talking to our friends like they're your patients.”
An angry look appeared on Matt's face, then disappeared as quickly as it had come. Liz was starting to notice this about Matt, little flashes of anger in his expressions, especially when someone corrected him.
“I'm just suggesting what's best,” Matt said.
“I appreciate it, Matt, but if it's all the same, Jamie and I are going to head out.”
“Mom, I think we should stay the night,” Jamie said. “Uncle Matt's right. The roads are pretty dark.”
Liz looked at her daughter, who had a pleading look on her face, and if not for Jamie, she would've gotten in the truck and gone. The woods to her were about as appealing as a twenty-four hour stomach bug. Add in the weird things they'd found and that made home seem even farther away. But Jamie was scared. Liz could tell. And she didn't want to venture on lonely country roads, even if it was with her mother.
“All right,” Liz said. “We'll spend the night.”

The waitress had been unusually friendly to Jacob Greene. Sandi – Sandi with an i – was how she'd introduced herself. She'd come to his table five or six times, each time patting his hand or standing just close enough to avoid entering his personal space. She smelled nice, wearing perfume that somehow made him think of the color purple.
He was in a little Italian place south of Buffalo, New York. Gino's. Not the most original name, but the marinara was good and the stuffed shells were the way he liked them. Firm, not mushy.
He sopped up the rest of the sauce on his plate with the homemade bread that had come warm in a basket. After wiping his mouth, he saw Sandi approaching.
She was pretty enough, with long dark hair and nice brown eyes. A little plump, but not enough to make her unattractive.
“Well?” she said, giving him a friendly nudge on the arm.
“Excellent marinara. Bread was kick ass.”
She laughed a little too loud and looked cute doing so. “Anything else, hon?”
“Just the check. You've been great.”
“It's nothing. I'll get that check for you.”
Maybe it was just his imagination. He was an average looking guy. Brown hair, brown eyes. Wore jeans, tees. Nothing special. He'd been doing hundreds of burpees, pushups, and chin-ups over the past year, running ten miles a week, and he'd learned enough Tae Kwan Do to hurt someone. So he supposed he had a decent build. Fuck, he was lonely. She wasn’t interested in him, was she?
Sandi brought the check to him. He took a look. It said THANKS. SANDI. She'd drawn a little smiley face over the i in her name.
As Jacob reached for his wallet, she said, “I usually don't ask this, but I'm off in ten minutes. Could you give me a ride?”
“Where to?”
“Home. Car’s in the shop. Blown radiator. I walked here, but it's dark and all.”
So she was hitting him up for a ride the whole time. He thought about telling her no, but then the loneliness struck again, like a sharp stone in his chest. His wife and daughter were gone, and he'd been on his own for years. Company might be nice. “Why not?”
“Thanks hon. Wait here for me?”

Twenty minutes later, they were in his pickup truck, Zeppelin on the stereo, Sandi singing along with Robert Plant. She wasn't half bad.
She directed him to a side road that led off of Route Sixteen. He took it and ended up at a neat, white farm house with a wrap-around porch. Not at all what he'd expected, but he supposed you should never judge anyone. You were likely to make an ass out of yourself if you did.
“Nice house.”
“It belonged to my parents. They left it to me. Used to be a working farm before they bought it.”
“You like it here?”
“It's lonely. Too big for me. I don't like the nights.”
“Why's that?”
“I hear noises, keeps me up.”
“I'm sure it's safe enough.”
“It just feels so big. Like it’s going to swallow me up. Sometimes I go to sleep with the TV on, just to break up the silence.”
“I live alone, too. It can get to you.”
“You want to come in? I could put on some coffee.”
“I could use a cup.”
He parked in the driveway and they got out, Sandi leading the way. Jacob caught himself looking at her ass as she walked. He felt guilty. Jesus, how long had it been for him? Almost three years. That alone was depressing.
Sandi unlocked the front door and went in, Jacob sitting at the kitchen table while she put on a pot of coffee. While it brewed, she told him how her parents had died in a car wreck and she'd gotten the house and half-a-million dollars in life insurance money.
Jacob had left his peacoat on until now, and Sandi said, “You taking that off, or what?”
They went in her living room and he took off the coat. She was going to see the gun and hopefully wouldn't freak out on him.
“You a cop?”
“The gun, right?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“Not a cop. It's for protection.”
“You're not going to go all Ted Bundy on me, are you?”
Jacob smiled. “Funny, my last victim asked me that. No, I carry it for a reason. I'm harmless, mostly.”
“Tell me,” she said, and sat down.
“I'm looking for some men.”
“Like a bounty hunter thing?”
“No. These men killed my wife and daughter. I'm trying to find them.”
“They were murdered?”
Jacob nodded. He told her the story of what had happened to Emily and Maddie, and as he spoke, she slid her hand on top of his. It felt electric.
“You poor thing. That's awful,” she said, now making little circles on top of his hand.
He leaned across and kissed her, the bitter taste of coffee on her lips. She moaned and her hand gripped the back of his neck, holding him in close.
They wasted no time getting undressed. They were naked, twisting, kissing. She was on top of him, breasts in his face, then turned around, her buttocks hovering over his face, using her mouth on him until he thought he might lose his mind. They finished face-to-face, chests heaving, a sheen of sweat on their bodies. Physically, he felt great. But also like a shit for doing this, like somehow he was being disloyal to Emily and their marriage.
She buried her head in his chest, her hair soft against his skin. He heard her say, “Stay tonight.”

Later, in bed, Sandi rested her head on Jacob’s chest, and again he felt as if he were cheating on Emily, even though she was two years dead. But the companionship felt good, even if this woman was a total stranger to him.
“What are you going to do if you find these men?”
“Kill them.”
“You mean it?”
“I mean it.”
“I have more guns in the truck. I've been preparing for this for a while.”
She paused before answering. “I guess I'd want to do the same thing.”
“I've thought about it. I'm set on it.”
“What about the police? If they catch you, you'll go to prison.”
He didn't answer her. Instead he was thinking the cops wouldn't catch him, and there would be no prison for him. Jake would see to that.
“Can I come with you?”
“Why on earth would you want to?”
“I hate it here.”
“What about your job?”
Sandi said, “It's a shit job. They're a dime a dozen. Plus I still have insurance money.”
“If I catch up to them. And if I kill them, what would you do?”
“Honestly? I hope you don't. Killing them will make you feel worse. You might feel better for it at first, but it'll eat at you, make things worse.”
He didn't want to admit that maybe she was right. “Fine. Come along. I could use the company. But realize I'm doing this.”
“I can't stay here anymore,” she said.
“Then come with me.”

Night descended on the woods, and with it came a ten degree drop in the temperature. It had been in the fifties during the day, and Liz suspected now it was around forty, maybe even a little cooler. She had put on a parka, wool hat, and gloves before joining the others around the campfire.
The whole group sat around the fire, Liz next to Jamie, with Hannah and Sonya paired to their respective mates. They'd cooked hotdogs, hobo pies, and s’mores. Liz had sampled a pizza hobo pie and two s’mores; her belly felt stretched out.
She was nursing her second Sam Adams of the night when Matt said, “Anyone want to hear a scary story?”
Jamie said, “The scarier, the better.”
“Fire away,” Sonya said.
“Matt's really good at these,” Hannah said, rubbing his arm.
Matt set his bottle of Corona down, leaned forward on his chair, and rubbed his hands. “This place has a history, you know. Anyone ever hear of the Hollow Massacre?”
“That's a cheesy name,” Jamie said.
“Shush. Twenty years ago, these cabins were occupied. A whole family here for a reunion. They'd had a campfire just like us, then they went to bed for the night. A few hours later, the mother in the first cabin heard a noise. She got up to investigate and found a masked man in the cabin. He stabbed her thirty-six times.”
“Matt, that's enough,” Liz said.
“There were two men. Wearing masks. The police had warned they might be in the area, but the family went camping anyway. But they weren't done,” Matt said, his eyes getting wide. He was taking pleasure in telling the story.
Liz looked at Hannah and Sonya, who had both closed up their jackets, as if to protect themselves from the night. She noticed Kevin had shifted over toward Sonya. Funny how the dark woods could magnify the effect of a spooky tale.
“They dragged the other family members from the cabin. But they didn't kill all of them. They dragged a few campers off screaming. Took them to a secret location. One of the women escaped, but not after hearing her family tortured to death.”
Jamie said, “Is this true?”
“The woman who escaped the killers led the police back to where she'd been held. They found body parts. Arms, legs, a severed head. The paper said the floor was slippery from human fat.”
Sonya said, “Now I really don't want anymore hot dogs.”
This elicited a nervous laugh from the group.
“But the worst thing? They never found the guys that did it. There was a huge manhunt, but they disappeared.”
“Quit trying to scare everyone,” Sonya said.
“It's true,” Liz said. “There were two serial killers operating in the area. They killed a total of nineteen people, including the Hollow Massacre. Then they disappeared.”
“That's creepy,” Jamie said.
“Don't worry,” Liz said. “They're either long gone, dead, or in prison for something else.”
“It was a good story,” Hannah said. “Matt always tells good ghost stories.”
Except these ghosts were brutal killers. And real, Liz thought. But she didn't say anything.

The big man shifts his weight, careful not to make the leaves crackle. He is perched on a hill above the cabins, and he can see the campers gathered by the fire. The other man, the older one, has crept closer to the campsite and watches them from the woods.
The boy is back at the truck, for they've told him to wait there. Tonight they are just watching the campers, sizing them up.
The big man licks his lips in anticipation. He has an array of weapons dangling from a belt: hunting knives, hatchets, a hand sledge. He feels if he is lucky, he will get to use them.
The campers are listening to one of the men talk. He can only hear a male voice from up here, all of the other campers being silent. There are four women and two men, and they are the same people he observed rolling down the road in their SUVs.
They don't have any idea what is going to happen to them. A chill rushes over him at the thought of it.

Matt swigged the rest of his beer and set the bottle next to his chair. “I've got to take a leak.”
Liz watched him get up and head into the woods, wondering why he didn't just go in the cabin and use the bathroom. Maybe it was a guy thing.
“So that was really true?” Jamie asked.
“I remember. Fall of 1990. I was dating your father. The Hollow killers had everyone in the Southern Tier and near the Pennsylvania line scared shitless.”
Sonya said, “My mother lived in the town where some kids got killed. Disappeared. Cops think it was the Hollow killers did it.”
“And they vanished?”
“Like ghosts,” Liz said. “But don't spend a minute worrying.”
“Why'd they reopen this place?” Jamie asked.
“They should've torn the place down,” Jamie said.
“Let's not talk about it. Uncle Matt was just trying to spook everyone.”
Liz finished her Sam Adams, set the bottle aside, and took one from the cooler beside the chair. “Bottle opener?”
Hannah had the opener, which they'd been passing around. She tossed it to Liz, who caught it and popped the cap off of her beer. She was halfway through her beer when she realized Matt still hadn't come back.
“Hannah, where's your hubby? He go on nature hike?” Liz asked.
“Maybe he decided to fertilize the leaves, too,” Hannah said.
“Nice,” Kevin said. “I'll take a look for him.”
“Tell him if he's playing a joke on us, he won't be getting any tonight,” Hannah said.
“I'll pass that along,” Kevin said, getting up.

Matt had walked twenty yards into the woods. Certain the women couldn't see him, he unzipped and peed on a pine tree. As he was zipping up, he heard a branch snap.
There was a trail that led up and away from the campsite, and the noise had come from that direction. He attributed it to a raccoon or maybe a deer and was about to return to the campsite when something caught his eye. Up on the trail, behind a pine tree, he could make out the shape of someone. Someone standing still.
He could make out the outline of a figure, maybe the arm and part of a shoulder. He loved the woods, having camped alone numerous times, and had never been scared out here. But he couldn't deny the chill that ran down his back.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
Maybe there wasn't anyone there, and he hoped that was the case. If the stranger in the woods had bad intentions, Matt was unarmed.
The figure slipped out from behind the trees and went deeper into the woods. No mistaking it now, it was a good-sized man.
Matt's first instinct was to get the hell out of here, go back to the campsite where it was bright and warm. But doing that might lose sight of the man, and he had a chance to deal with whoever it was. Besides, who said the guy was dangerous? Maybe just weird.
Matt bounded up the trail.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Hollow Part One - Free Excerpt

I'll be posting my novel "The Hollow" here in snippets over the coming weeks. Read it for free. If you like what you see, it's available at amazon, barnes and noble, and kobo

The Hollow...
Twenty years ago a pair of serial killers terrified the nation. Their crimes made national headlines.
Their final target was The Hollow Campground. An entire family was dragged from their cabins and slaughtered. Then the killers vanished.
Now they're back. And ready to hunt again.
The Hollow has recently re-opened, but people haven't forgotten the carnage that took place there. Liz Mallory is taking a weekend camping trip to the Hollow with her old college friends.
Liz doesn't know they're being watched. The Hollow killers have come home, and the weekend plans are about to take a turn for the worse.
When the killers descend on the campground, Liz and her friends must wage a desperate battle to survive.
The Hollow. How long could you survive?

The Hollow 

Copyright 2011 Anthony Izzo

They are home.
The men stand on the bluff, careful to stay out of sight. They watch the three SUVs travel down the winding road that leads to the Hollow Campgrounds.
It has been twenty years since they last visited the Hollow. The biggest of the three men, who weights two-hundred-eighty pounds, motions for the others to follow.
He opens the rear of their step truck and shows them the tools he has purchased. There are drills, saws, icepicks, and blowtorches. Knives, hatchets, and machetes, as well.
The other two men smile, satisfied with the contents of the truck. It is early in the day. Around 11 a.m. The beginning of November and most of the trees are bare. There is a fourth man who is part of their group, but he is wild and unpredictable. If they are successful at the Hollow, they will meet up with their friend later.
The people in the SUVs have no idea what is in store for them. The men have been staying in the Hollow’s empty cabins for weeks. The youngest of the three, twenty years old, likes butchering small animals. He usually starts by cutting off the limbs.
The young man has said he wants to try killing something bigger.
He will be given the chance.

Liz Mallory couldn't deny the prickly feeling that danced on the back of her neck. She didn't like the woods, and attributed the strange feeling to her dislike of their location, but she couldn't shake it.  It felt like they were being watched.
Liz was driving the second vehicle in the three car caravan, a blue Ford Excursion. Jamie, her seventeen-year-old daughter, sat in the passenger seat. They were off for a weekend camping trip with some of Liz's old college friends, who were in the vehicles in front and behind.
“You're quiet, mom,” Jamie said.
“Woods. Don't like them.”
“Afraid of a bear?”
“Rabid squirrels. They terrify me.”
“Your sense of humor terrifies me sometimes,” Jamie said.
Liz cracked a smile.
“We'll be fine. We're staying in cabins. I wonder if they'll have a fireplace?” Jamie said.
“Said online they did. They just reopened this place.”
Jamie said, “Oh yeah?”
Liz nodded, but didn't tell her daughter why the cabins had been closed for the past nineteen years. “Doing renovations.”
She was being jittery, which wasn't like her. The trip would be good for them. The divorce from Ken had been painful. She'd spent the better part of last year fighting with him and his lawyers, with Jamie caught in the middle. Her daughter had the strength of a grizzly, and had held up well through the ordeal. Even when Ken had called Liz a filthy bitch in Jamie's presence. Liz had thought Jamie was going to go for her father's throat when he'd said that. Maybe they could start putting things behind them, unwind. There was a twelve pack of Sam Adams in her cooler to help with that.
“Look's like Uncle Matt's stopping,” Jamie said.
“There's the cabins, that's why.”
They came around a bend and saw three cabins perched up on a hill. The cabins had new vinyl windows, and each had a porch out front made from knotted logs. They looked cozy to Liz, and she envisioned herself in front of a fireplace, feet up, beer in hand. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Her friend Hannah, and Hannah's husband, Matt, were in the lead SUV. Liz had known Hannah since college. Liz's other best friend from her days at the University of Buffalo was Sonya, who was in the rear vehicle with her fiancée Kevin.
They'd planned this trip for a month, hoping to make it an annual thing.
Liz pulled to the side of the road, parked, and got out. Jamie stayed in the Expedition.
“We're here,” Hannah said. Hannah was blond and slim, and today she wore too-tight jeans and a pink sweater that looked like it'd been painted on. The tight clothes worked for her, evidenced by the number of guys that usually found Hannah distracting.
“Thank you, queen obvious,” Liz said.
“I was just telling you,” Hannah said.
Matt was already striding up the hill that led to the cabins. Liz buttoned her wool coat as the wind nipped at her.
Sonya came up beside her. Sonya, petite and dark skinned, had bundled herself in a puffy blue coat, hat and scarf. Kevin joined them. He was a big guy with a face that always reminded Liz of Droopy the Dog. Sweet guy, though.
“What's our fearless leader up to?” Sonya said.
“Probably building us a shelter and starting a fire,” Liz said.
Hannah said, “Quit mocking my man. He's a take charge guy.”
Matt appeared at the top of the hill. “C'mon up.”
The rest of the group walked up to the cabins, which were arranged around a small clearing with a fire pit in the middle. They found Matt reading a piece of paper, a quizzical look on his face.
Hannah said, “Something wrong, hon?”
“I don't think these are our cabins,” Matt said.
“Uh oh Matt, you're slipping,” Sonya said.
Matt frowned. Liz knew he wouldn't like looking foolish.
“Well it's this goddamned printout. This says Cabin Area C, but the cabins are marked D-1 through D-3. I think we're in the wrong area. But the campground map says this should be it.”
“I'll call the manager,” Liz said, and took a printout from her pocket that had the campground info on it.
“Now just wait,” Matt said.
“You wait. I'm freezing,” Liz said, and taking out her cell, dialed the manager's office. A gruff voice answered and said he'd be right down to help them.

Fifteen minutes later, a Ram pickup truck with the words The Hollow Campgrounds on the door pulled up. A stick-thin man of about sixty got out of the truck. He wore a flannel jacket and khakis. As he approached their group, he moved with the stiffness Liz associated with an arthritic.
He came over and said, “Who called?”
“I did,” Liz said.
“We need our cabins,” Matt said.
“Name's Lee Cordo,” the man said, and offered his hand to Liz.
She shook it. “Liz. Seems we're confused about our cabins.”
“Lemme see your printout,” Lee said, holding his hand out.
“Hope this gets straightened out,” Matt said.
Liz handed the printout to Lee, who looked it over. “They did it again, damned website. We use a third party website for our reservations. These are the D cabins, but they used to be C. You want to be in the new C area. I'll take you down there,” he said, and handed the printout back to Liz.
“Easy enough fix,” Sonya said.
Matt said, “Okay, let's go then,” and hurried towards his SUV.
“What's the matter,” Lee said, “he have a hot date?”
Hannah said, “My husband likes being in charge. We're doctors. Kind of used to it.”
“All right doc. Follow me.”

Liz got back in the Expedition to find Jamie listening to her iPod. Liz didn't know what kind of music she was listening to, but it was loud enough to be heard through the earbuds. She let it go. As a teen, Liz had listened to Def Leppard full blast in her room and remembered how annoyed she would get with being told to turn it down.
They pulled out, Lee's truck in the lead.
He led them down the road a few miles and turned down another road that sloped into the woods. Darkness seemed to close in around the Expedition, and the little bit of sun they had was blocked by clouds.
The road continued downward for several miles into an area containing three more cabins arranged around a clearing, much like the D area cabins
They pulled into the driveway that looped through the cabin area, and Liz saw the stark difference in the cabins. These cabins were built of dark wood and seemed to blend with the trees. The paint on the windows was peeling, and moss grew on the roofs. The cabins up top had seemed cozy and cheery, where these seemed forgotten.
“This is dreary,” Jamie said.
“Maybe it won't be so bad.”
They parked the vehicles, got out, and gathered around Lee near the fire pit.
“These are older, but they're serviceable. All have fireplaces and running water.”
Kevin, who had been silent until now said, “This is kind of a downgrade from the other cabins.”
“Yeah,” Matt said. “These look pretty rough.”
“You're camping,” Lee said. “You were expecting the Hyatt Regency?”
Kevin looked to Matt, whose forehead had knitted into a frown. “We want a discount. This isn't what we paid for.”
“No discounts,” Lee said.
Liz said, “Matt, these will be fine.”
Hannah was rubbing Matt's arm, telling him to let it go.
“Hell of a way to run a railroad, right Kevin?” Matt asked.
“Maybe these won't be so bad,” Kevin said. “It's just for the weekend.”
“Look,” Lee said. “I can offer you a refund if you really don't want them.”
“Nah,” Kevin said. “We drove two hours to get here and there's nowhere around to stay.”
Matt went to the nearest cabin and started looking it over, as if performing a home inspection.
Liz looked at Sonya, who rolled her eyes. “We'll take them,” Liz said.
“Good,” Lee said. “Liz, right? Can I talk to you for a second?”
He motioned for her to follow him, and she did, ending up at his truck. Lee leaned against the door and crossed his arms. “You know what happened here?”
“I do.”
“We don't get much call for these cabins. My maintenance people don't even like coming down here. If you want a refund, take it now. I won't offer again.”
“I said we'll take them,” Liz said.
“Just making sure. Some people are funny about stuff like that.”
“I'm not superstitious. It was almost twenty years ago.”
“Okay then.” He gave a brief nod and got in his truck.

The interior of the cabin wasn't much of an improvement. It smelled musty and damp. The floorboards creaked, and when Liz flipped the light switch, some dim yellow bulbs came on.
Liz and Jamie brought in their bags and the coolers. The cabin had a kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms.
“Any preference on the bedroom?” Liz asked.
Jamie lugged her bag into to one of the bedrooms. A moment later, Jamie said, “Gross. That’s really gross.”
Liz entered the room. “What?”
“On the floor,” Jamie said, pointing in the corner.
Liz saw what had disturbed Jamie: an animal, or what was left of one. The skin had been peeled away, exposing pink muscle tissue, and its eyeballs bulged, as if they'd been squeezed. Its head hung at an odd angle, indicating to Liz its neck had been broken.
“It's been skinned,” Liz said.
“Gross,” Jamie said.
Liz wondered if the poor thing had been alive when someone skinned it. Why would someone do this?
Liz noticed the animal’s intestines were uncoiled and stretched out from a wound in its belly. Liz told Jamie to wait in the kitchen and went to the Expedition, where she kept a small snow shovel for emergencies. After grabbing the shovel, she went in the bedroom, scooped up the remains, and carried it outside. She went into the woods and tossed it, glad to be rid of the stinking carcass.
Hell of a way to start a camping trip, she thought.
Back in the cabin, she found Jamie seated at the table. Liz went over, put a hand on her shoulder. The girl was trembling. “You okay?”
“That was freaky,” Jamie said.
“Probably some kids,” Liz said, realizing that sounded lame.
“Sick kids.”
“Some kids are. Let's try and forget about it, start unpacking. Okay?” Liz said.
“It'll get smoother from here on in,” Liz said.

Hannah watched Matt unpack: sleeping bags, pans, pots, a tool kit and assorted camping gear. He did this in silence, operating with precision, as he did when he replaced knees or repaired slipped discs. She admired his surgical skills, but could never be a surgeon. Her practice as a pediatrician allowed her to talk to people up close, be personal. Surgeons were the auto mechanics of the medical world. Fix it, bring in the next one, fix it again.
Her stripped-bare ovaries also had something to do with it. She loved the kids that came into the office, even the ones that occasionally puked on her.
As she entered the bedroom, something crunched under her feet. Hannah looked down and saw chicken bones. There was still meat and gristle on them, and they had a greasy shine to them. That told her they'd been consumed recently.
“What's up,” Matt said from behind her.
“Chicken bones. Looks like someone ate them recently.”
“Probably a raccoon,” Matt said.
“Why would it come in the cabin? They usually live underneath places like this.”
“Whatever. Want me to clean them up?”
“No,” Hannah said. “I got it.”
Using a plastic bag to cover her hand, she picked up the bones, wrapped the bag around them, and tossed them in one of the Hefty bags they'd brought.
Half-an-hour later, they were unpacked, and Matt was sitting at the kitchen table reading a medical journal. Hannah grabbed herself a bottled iced tea from their cooler.
“Those bones still bother me,” Hannah said. “Like someone was here.”
“Animals, babe. Trust me.”
“Even if they were here, it was before we came.”
“Even if who was here?” Matt asked.
“The chicken bone eaters.”
“You mean the raccoons?” Matt said, still reading his magazine.
There would be no changing Matt's mind about it. “I'm going to text Sonya, see if she wants to take a hike.”
“Sounds good. I'll hang back. Me and Kevin can get wood together for a fire.”
“You're not coming?”
“These trails aren't much of a challenge,” Matt said. “But if you want to try them out, go ahead.”
“Suit yourself.”
Thinking it foolish to text someone in the next building, Hannah walked over to Sonya's cabin and knocked on the door. Kevin answered, a smile on his bulldog-like face.
“Help you ma'am?”
“You going to invite me in?”
“I suppose,” he said, and stepped aside.
Sonya was standing in the kitchen, pulling a second sweater over her first.
“Chilly?” Hannah asked.
“Freezing. That back window was left open. A penguin walked by,” Sonya said.
“Last campers must've left if open.”
Sonya said, “You'd think the staff would've noticed an open window. Don’t they do an inspection before you check out? Make sure there's no damage in the cabin.”
She didn't share her uneasiness about the chicken bones with Sonya. “I'm sure it's fine. Probably an oversight.”
“Want to take a hike while our men get the fire going? I'm thinking hot dogs over the fire for dinner.”
“Sure. Let's grab Liz, too.”

After grabbing Liz, the three women hiked up a trail that ascended behind the cabins and wound through the dense woods. Sonya had been chilly in the cabin, and even with two sweaters, gloves, and a furry hat, she still shivered. Kevin would keep her warm tonight, placing a big, hairy arm around her while they were sleeping. She'd hoped to surprise him by coming to bed with a pair of see-through bra and panties, but thought she might shiver too hard.
The three of them reached the crest of a hill and went down the other side before stopping.
“I found something weird in our cabin,” Liz said.
Sonya said, “Our window was open.”
“We had a dead animal,” Liz said. “Skinned.”
“Ugh,” Hannah said. “I found chicken bones that'd been eaten. They were fresh.”
“Maybe we had some squatters. Hikers or kid screwing around,” Sonya said.
Liz wandered away from the group and said, “Look here.”
Sonya and Hannah joined her. Sonya saw burnt logs sitting in a fire pit. Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she saw something next to the campfire. A cat, its head severed from the body, its eyes removed.
Liz hunkered down and took a closer look. “These have been burned recently.”
Sonya was beginning to wonder if they shouldn't have canceled the reservations and gone elsewhere. Like the Hilton, where they had heat. And no mutilated animals.
Hannah said, “Let's call the owner.”
“Cops might be better,” Sonya said. “Maybe we should go home, eat the money on the cabins.”
“Matt won't go. Too stubborn.”
Sonya said, “Kevin will do what Matt does.”
Liz said, “Well, we could always leave them here. They could keep each other warm at night.”
“Thanks for putting that image in my head,” Sonya said.

Lee Corvo locked up the manager's office at The Hollow and climbed into his pickup truck. His wife, Maggie, was making beef stew for dinner, which was one of his favorites. An apple pie. She would never tell him she made one, but if there was beef stew for dinner, the pie always followed.
He pulled away from the office and down the road leading out of The Hollow. Switching on the radio, he found a sports station, the host discussing the NFL's latest rule change on blows to the head.
He drove ahead, almost to Route 16, which would take him home. There was a truck pulled to the side of the road, its hazard lights flashing.
A man the size of a small truck stood near the van. He waved his arms frantically, wanting Lee to stop. Looked like a workman's truck, maybe a plumber or carpenter. Lee had been helped by passing motorists before, one time running out of gas on Interstate 90 and having someone pull over and drive him to a gas station. Why not return the favor?
He pulled the truck over and got out. “Need a hand?”
The man motioned him closer but said nothing. Lee approached, the guy standing still, arms hanging at his sides.
“What's the trouble?”
The man stood silent. Lee got the feeling he might be walking into something bad. A raw jolt of adrenaline pumped through his system, and he stopped. The large man still hadn't said a word, and this worried Lee more than he could have articulated. The man hadn't threatened him in any way, but this was somehow more terrifying to Lee.
Lee backed up against his truck. The man stood still and watched him.
Something bit into his arm, a hot pain, and he turned to see another guy, this one with a face like carved granite, holding a machete. He was aware of blood leaking from his arm and drenching his shirt.
The man swung the machete again but Lee managed to get his arm up and block the blow. From there, he ran, off the road and into the woods, not knowing where he was headed. He hadn't looked at the wound, just knew it was bleeding heavily.
He heard the man grunting behind him, as if he were an animal tracking prey.
Lee stumbled through the woods, branches scratching his face. The cold air burned his lungs. He thought about not getting his beef stew and pie.
His legs began to cramp and he slowed down. Turn and fight, he thought.
Leaning on a tree for support, he turned around to see the man closing with the machete.
Before he could get his arms up to defend himself, the man swung the machete low and chopped into his leg. The pain was enormous, and he collapsed to the ground.
He looked up to see the man staring at him with eyes that were nothing more than hard slashes in his face. The man wasn't even out of breath.
Lee heard another voice in the distance say, “Keep him alive.”
Lee raised his hand, as if to ward the man off. The man swung the machete and clipped off three off Lee's fingers. Lee stared at the stumps, now jetting blood. His head swimming, darkness began creep into view, shrinking his peripheral vision.  He didn’t have long to live.

The man with the machete yells for the fat man. The old man’s body is lying near a tree. He is pale. Dead from blood loss and shock.
The fat man arrives and says, “You shouldn’t have chopped off his fingers. We could’ve kept him alive.”
“He’s just a warm up. Help me drag him.”
The two men drag the old guy’s body through the woods. He reeks like shit. The man with the machete goes to the truck, cleans his weapon with a rag, and grabs some spades.
While he is getting the shovels, the fat man pulls the old guy’s pick-up truck off the road and leaves it. Then they drag the body into the woods and bury it in a shallow grave. They cover it with dirt and leaves.
The fat man is dripping with sweat and begins to stink.
“I was hoping to catch a woman on the road,” he says.
“Well we didn’t, did we?”
“We should get off the road. Get to the truck,” the fat one says.

Saw A Quiet Place II This Weekend

Jenn and I went for lunch yesterday, then saw A Quiet Place II at the Aurora Theater. The Aurora is a great little theater. One screen, and...