Authors: Allison Brennan
Tim returned and said, “Nothing. No sign of foot or vehicle traffic or the other ATV.”
She rose and gestured to the oil spot and four gouges. “Someone was parked here and left quickly. We need to find Sean’s phone.” She didn’t want to say it out loud, but he could be lying injured anywhere between here and his phone. Finding the phone was a starting point to tracking him down. Then she would contemplate the idea that he’d been forced to leave with the arsonist.
Except that there was only one set of tracks leading from the ATV to the car.
Tim handed her the keys to his truck. “Continue down this road until you reach the signal. I’ll take the quad and retrace its route, and hopefully we’ll meet up at some point.”
Lucy nodded. She ran back to the truck and got in the driver’s seat. Deep pits and debris littered the path in front of the vehicle. Lucy was forced to drive slowly, and it took her nearly ten minutes before she saw the other ATV.
She stopped the truck and jumped out. She could hear Tim’s ATV in the distance, but with the echo couldn’t gauge how close he was.
On the ground was a blue helmet—the one Sean had been wearing. She smelled some sort of fuel, but it wasn’t gasoline. She looked under the vehicle and saw a large dark spot on the ground.
There were signs of a scuffle, the dirt freshly turned, branches broken, bushes trampled. She followed the destruction and saw Sean’s backpack next to a tree.
She searched it. All his emergency supplies were there, including his phone.
The ATV, the backpack, the helmet—everything but Sean. And no sign of the arsonist.
Lucy bit her lower lip. Sean was resourceful, smart, even cunning at times—there had to be a logical explanation as to why his things were here, while he wasn’t.
“Sean, where are you?”
Tim drove up, stopping close to where Sean’s helmet lay on the ground. Lucy said, “Did you find anything?”
“There was a fight over there,” she pointed to where she’d found Sean’s backpack, which she now had over her shoulder. “I found his pack and phone.”
“We need to be careful,” Tim said. “There are several ventilation shafts for the mines in the area, and it’s easy to miss the warning signs. The mines are all closed now, but they’re still dangerous.”
“We’ll start where I found the backpack and go from there.” Her pulse raced. “How deep are these mine shafts?”
“Fifteen, twenty feet, some deeper. They’re narrow, six to eight feet wide, used for ventilation and to haul supplies in and out. They’ve been boarded up for years.”
They followed the tracks which made a sharp turn to the right. They skirted a tree stump, and Tim said “Watch your step.” He gestured toward a bright orange tie around one tree. “See that ribbon? There’s a shaft around here.” He looked, then pointed. “There.”
Lucy saw a gaping black hole in the ground. Except for a few broken boards along the edge, the wood was gone.
Footsteps led to the hole’s edge. Only one set ran away. The side had caved in, lower than the ground by a foot, as if someone might have pulled a chunk of earth with him when he fell.
Tim pulled her back. “Hold it.”
“He’s in there. I know it.”
“Go slow. Test the ground with each step.”
Lucy did exactly as Tim instructed, though it was killing her. She got down on all fours at the edge of the pit. “Sean? Sean! It’s Lucy! Are you there?”
She heard only the echo of her own panicked voice.
The pain started in his chest and radiated out to his limbs.
Sean wondered if he’d been shot.
It was very cold. Moldy and damp. He remembered. He was in the basement of that bastard who’d kidnapped Lucy. Cold, snow all around …
As he took a deep breath the pain suddenly sharpened and he fully regained consciousness. He wasn’t in a basement; that real-life nightmare had occurred months ago. He pushed the memory aside and recalled that he had been chasing a kid—and the kid led him into this pit, whatever it was.
Forty years ago, Spruce Lake was a booming mining town. But the mines had long been abandoned. No one would find him.
He shifted just a fraction, and his right arm sent sharp pains through every nerve in his body. Broken? No—it wasn’t his arm, but his shoulder. And something was wrong with his leg, but he couldn’t see anything in the darkness.
He heard something—faintly, far away. His name. The volume increased, the panic in the voice forcing him to open his eyes and try to call back.
He couldn’t speak; his lungs had little air from his hitting the hard packed earth. He slowly drew in breath, practically tasting the damp, moldy dirt. The pounding in his head was painful and thick. Worse than his worst hangover.
“Sean, please!” Lucy cried from above. Her voice was clearer, and she wasn’t as far away as he’d thought.
A rock was jabbing him in the thigh, and he began to move, but a sudden, sharp pain made him cry out. He tried to mask his pain with a cough.
He coughed again. That hurt, too, and he worried about a cracked or broken rib. He’d cracked a rib before, and that was certainly no picnic.
“Lucy,” he called with difficulty.
“Thank God. Are you okay?”
He was lying facedown, his mouth coated with dirt, his jammed shoulder rendering his entire right arm useless. He used his left arm to help push himself onto his back, and he cried out again. A dislocated shoulder could be easily fixed, but until he could force it back into place the pain was nearly intolerable.
“What happened? Sean?”
He couldn’t respond until the initial wave passed, fearing he’d pass out again. He’d dislocated his shoulder twice before, he knew how to pop it back in—if he could stand. He moved his leg. It wasn’t broken. That was a big fat plus. But something was wrong with it.
“Dammit, answer me, Sean Rogan!”
“I’m still here, Princess.” He tried to sound normal, but his voice was scratchy and weak. He could make out faint light from above, but his vision was cloudy. The entrance to the shaft was partly blocked by trees and shrubs, but there was enough light for him to see shadows. He judged that the shaft was about eight feet square and twenty-five feet deep, but his vision blurred again as he tried to focus on his immediate surroundings. He closed his eyes, though in the back of his throbbing head he knew he shouldn’t because he probably had a concussion. How long had he been out?
“Tim is here with me. We’re going to get you out.”
Though it hurt like hell, he pulled his body up so he could sit against the wall. The pain helped wake him up, and he didn’t know whether to swear or be grateful.
He realized as he righted himself that a sharp, squat piece of rotten wood protruded from his jeans. Blood seeped from the wound and he didn’t know how deep the oversized splinter was embedded.
He leaned against the side of the mine shaft, his dislocated shoulder bumping against the rock, and he grunted.
“Sean? Where are you injured?”
“My shoulder. Dislocated.” He felt like puking, which wasn’t a good sign. His head was still spinning.
“I’m coming down there,” Lucy said.
“No!” The effort to shout exhausted him. He couldn’t have Lucy down here. What if he was dying? He didn’t want her to watch him die.
Stop being so melodramatic, Rogan. You’re not dying
It sure as hell felt like it.
“Unless you tell me that if I toss you a rope you can climb out on your own, I’ll be there in two minutes.”
A deep, male voice said, “Sean, I have equipment in my truck to get both of you back up. Give me a couple minutes and I’ll lower Lucy down.”
It was useless to argue. How else was he going to get out of this pit? He just didn’t want Lucy to see him like this.
But of course Lucy could handle it. She could handle anything life handed her. Even him in this condition. He just … hell, he didn’t know what he was thinking. The pain was making him stupid.
He closed his eyes again. He thought he heard Lucy talking, but it was far away.
“Sean? Hang tight. Okay?” Kneeling at the edge. Lucy braced herself when she heard no answer. She squeezed back tears. She was usually so much better at closing off her emotions, but Sean was in a bad way and she was pretty certain he’d passed out again.
From behind her, Tim said, “Lucy, let’s get my gear.”
She didn’t want to leave Sean, but the faster they gathered the equipment, the faster she could get down there and check out his injuries. A dislocated shoulder she could fix. But there was more. No one could fall that far unscathed. His arm or leg could be broken. His back. He could have a concussion. He wasn’t responsive, and that worried her more than the shoulder.
Tim’s truck wasn’t far, and he had plenty of rope and mountain gear. “I only have one harness,” he said. “I’ll lower you down, and you strap Sean in and I’ll pull him up.”
“How can you do it alone?”
“Alone?” He patted his truck. “I have a winch.”
She tried to smile, but it felt unnatural and forced.
Tim squeezed her arm. “We’ll get him out. He’s going to be fine.”
She had to believe it.
Lucy watched Tim’s vehicle cautiously approach the mine shaft. There weren’t many trees blocking access, but the bushes and fallen branches left over from winter storms made it cumbersome even for the large four-wheel drive. Finally, the truck was in place.
Tim called down. “Sean? You doing okay?”
“Yep.” His voice was faint.
Lucy checked Tim’s equipment. The harness was simple and lightweight, primarily used for rappelling, not rescue. But it had a metal ring to attach the rope, essential to Sean’s release since he wouldn’t be able to pull himself out.
She strapped on the harness, attached the rope, and checked all the buckles.
“You’ve done this before.” Tim handed her a small flashlight.
“Only in training. My specialty is water rescue, not getting-my-boyfriend-out-of-a-mine-shaft rescue.” Her attempt at humor was weak, but Tim smiled.
She quickly rappelled down the side of the mine shaft. She landed hard, but kept her balance.
“Impressive,” Sean said, his voice strained.
“I live to impress you,” Lucy said as she removed the harness. She wasn’t one for playful banter, especially when she was so tense, but it relaxed Sean. Little light made it down this far and she turned on the flashlight.
He’d pulled himself into a slumped position against the rock and dirt wall. She smelled blood, and looked at Sean. Wood protruded from his leg, and his jeans were soaked in blood. She averted her eyes, just for a second, to gather her strength.
“You smell like smoke,” Sean said.
“I got a little dirty putting the fire out.”
“Much better than you,” she said. “I think—” She hesitated, a familiar smell flitting under her nose. She breathed in, smelling mostly soot and her own sweat. She exhaled and breathed in deeply.
Then she identified it.
A decomposing body.
Lucy had worked for a year in the morgue; she knew what a dead body smelled like. This was subtle, but still putrid, likely from the dampness in the tunnels as well as bacteria and molds that feed on body tissue and organs in such an environment. It smelled like cold storage, when organic matter breaks down extremely slowly.
It’s probably an animal. A large animal
It was much colder down here than on the surface. How cold did it stay in the summer months? She had no idea. But it was spring now, and if someone had fallen into this pit last year, the body could have frozen and just now started to thaw.
She pulled a more powerful flashlight from her backpack and shined it around the area. There was little except broken wood, some old, rusty tools, and a pitch-black corridor leading off the mine shaft—no telling how long the tunnel was or where it led. But no dead body in sight.
“You’re not thinking of exploring the caves?” Sean said, half-joking.
“Of course not.”
She knelt next to him and stared at his leg.
“It’s just a splinter,” Sean joked without humor. Then he said, “It hurts, but not half as much as my arm.”
She inspected his dislocated shoulder. She wasn’t a doctor, and would have at first thought it was broken. But she trusted Sean’s assessment. “We’ll have to secure it—”
“Just pop it back in.”
Lucy stared at Sean under the flashlight, which made his face appear extremely pale. A sheen of sweat coated him even though it was frigid. “What?” She knew exactly what he meant, but hoped he wasn’t asking her to do it.
“Duke usually helps. You have to—”
to do, but I don’t want to.”
She sounded childish. Adjusting a dislocated shoulder was agonizing, and she didn’t want to hurt Sean.
“I can’t do it alone, Luce. I need you.”
She let out a long breath. “Okay.” She had no a choice.
“Do it fast.”
“Hold this.” She handed him the flashlight.
Sean tensed. “Maybe—”
,” she repeated. “If you’re tense I could damage something. You have enough injuries as it is.”
“Okay.” She felt him try to calm his muscles, but he began shivering. It
cold down here, and his injuries and blood loss could put him into shock.
“Count to three, okay?” she said.
“All right.” She didn’t touch him yet, but positioned her hands so she could push and twist the shoulder back into place in one smooth move. “One,” Sean began and forced his body to relax.
She grasped Sean’s shoulder with one hand and pushed against his chest to hold his body against the cave wall. She pushed and barely heard the bone pop back into place over his sudden scream.
She bit back her own cry. He was right—it had to be done—but she didn’t have to like it.
Sean’s eyes squeezed shut and the muscles on his neck stood out. He’d dropped the flashlight and it rolled a few feet away, casting a ghostly light over their surroundings.