Into the River Lands (Darkness After Series Book 2) (9 page)

BOOK: Into the River Lands (Darkness After Series Book 2)
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But mistake or not, what was done, was done, and there was no time to waste on regret. Leading Jason to a place he knew just downstream, where the creek was shallow enough to wade, Mitch made his way across to the opposite bank as fast as he could. He had to get to work deciphering all those tracks in the sand so he could figure out exactly what was going on. With no time to waste, he asked Jason to check and see if David was alive or dead, while he bent to the task before him.

Thirteen

A
PRIL
SAT
AS
STILL
as she possibly could in the bow of the canoe, terrified that she might do something to cause it to tip over, drowning Kimberly as well as herself. Her ankles were lashed together and this lashing was in turn secured to the seat thwart beneath her. Kimberly was cradled in her arms, but her wrists were bound and the only thing keeping her baby from falling out was the way she was balanced there on her forearms.
 

She couldn’t turn around to look back over her shoulder without leaning the boat. Wayne, the apparent ringleader of the four men her family had the misfortune to cross paths with in this lonely place, had made sure she would not attempt to escape. He had secured her and placed Kimberly there before they shoved off, warning her that any sudden move on her part would result in a capsize, which she and her child might not survive. April knew he wasn’t kidding. Even if he tried to cut her loose in the event of an accidental spill, it might be impossible to do so fast enough, especially for Kimberly, who would be swept away in the current. He had April just where he wanted her, and all she could do was sit there and wonder how far he was taking her and what would happen when they got there.
 

At first, she’d thought they were all going to be traveling on foot to wherever that was, and that’s the way they started out. But they had not gone a quarter of mile before April slipped while climbing a slick clay bank when they had to cross a deep gully. When she felt her foot go out from under her, she had grabbed the rope around her neck in one hand to keep from getting strangled, while clinging tightly to Kimberly with the other. As a result, she could do little to break her fall when Wayne dropped the rope from where he was standing, already atop the bank. April tried to roll with it and she did manage to keep from dropping Kimberly or landing on top of her, but her right foot got turned under her as she tumbled. A sharp pain shooting through her ankle told her she’d twisted it hard, and sure enough, when she tried to stand back up at the bottom of the ditch, it hurt too much to put her weight on it.
 

Wayne scrambled back down the slope and grabbed the loose end of the rope. “What’d you do that for? Are you okay?”

“I don’t think I can climb out of here. I turned my ankle.”

“Dammit, what did I tell you, Wayne?” the one he’d called Gary demanded from the other side, where he and the rest of the party were waiting to cross. “We can’t take her all the way back. I knew something like this would happen. We shouldn’t have even tried.”
 

“She
is
going with us! Or with me anyway. If the rest of you don’t want to help, I’ll get her there by myself!”

“How?” One of the other men asked. “She can’t even walk now.” He looked to be the youngest of the group; April guessed only a few years older than her. He had been staring at her with no attempt to conceal his lust since the four of them had first appeared. April knew exactly what would happen if it was up to him, or any of them other than Wayne, for that matter.
 

But Wayne ignored him and turned to April. “Give me the little girl. I won’t hurt her. I’ll help you back up to the top and we’ll have a look at that ankle.”

“Just leave us here,” April pleaded. “We’re only gonna slow you down. I can’t walk. We’ll stay here by the river until my ankle is better.”

“Staying here is not an option. I’m not leaving either of you.”

“If she can’t walk, and walk fast enough to keep up, then we’ve got to leave her,” Gary said. He turned to April: “You’d better figure out fast how to walk with that turned ankle, or you’re going to die here; you and your little girl.”

“We’re not leaving her here, Gary. So shut up with the threats and give me a hand. Help me get her back up there.”

April refused to hand Kimberly over to Wayne, but she did allow him to help her up the steep bank, knowing she couldn’t do it by herself. Reluctantly, she put one arm over his shoulder for support, while Gary grabbed her from the other side and they pulled and steadied her until she was on top. She then leaned against a tree and slowly eased herself to a sitting position, keeping a firm hold on Kimberly the entire time.
 

The swelling that had already started around her bare ankle was obvious to all of them, so they knew she wasn’t faking it. She was in real pain too, and she wondered what this was going to mean for her and her child. There was no way she could hike cross-country like this, even if she didn’t have to carry Kimberly. Wayne was clearly determined not to leave her, but if the other three had their way, they would do what they wanted to her now and be done with her.

“Look at that ankle, Wayne! You say we’re not going to leave her here, so what are you gonna do, carry her?” This was the youngest one again, the one who hadn’t stopped looking at her since he’d first seen her.

“She can’t walk. I got that. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a way. That’s your problem, Jared. You just don’t stop to think about all the options. Now, which way are we going anyway?”

April watched as Jared tried to figure out what Wayne was getting at.

“Let me help you, Jared. We’re going
downstream
. Now what does that mean? It means that if she can’t walk, she can
float
!”

“We can’t all fit in that one damned canoe, if that’s what you’re suggesting!”

“No, but it’ll carry her and the kid, along with me in it to paddle.”
 

“Splitting up would be stupid!” Gary said. “Why would you want to take a risk like that over a female? I know it’s been a long time, but damn, you’ll be a sitting duck out there, paddling that canoe down the middle of the creek!”

“Sitting duck for who? Have you seen anybody else other than these three since we came upriver?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean somebody hasn’t seen us. And even if they haven’t you could come around a bend any time and run into somebody either on the bank or in another canoe or boat. Having a girl like that with you is just going to make you a target, just like that son-of-a-bitch we left laying back there on the sandbar was for us.”

“Look, I don’t like the idea of splitting up either, Gary. But this time it makes sense. You know damned well she can’t walk with that ankle, and even if she hadn’t fallen, she would still slow us down too much, carrying that kid through these woods. We’ve got a lot of miles to cover, you know that.”

“I would have left the kid back there with her daddy if it was up to me.”

April shuddered when she heard Gary suggest that again, because she knew full well that he meant it. She knew that none of the others wanted to bring Kimberly along, but Wayne seemed to think he could get her to comply with his wishes if they did. He was right, too. April would do anything to protect her child, and if they even tried to leave her behind or hurt her, she was determined they would have to kill her right then and there because she wasn’t going anywhere without her Kimberly.
 

But once again, whether the others liked it or not, it appeared Wayne was going to get his way. For whatever reason, he was the one calling the shots, even though he looked to be about the same age as Gary and Gary seemed to challenge him at every turn. She figured the two of them were around thirty, give or take a year or two. From their ongoing discussion she gathered there were others in their band of outlaws or whatever it was they were, waiting somewhere else for them to return. The idea of having to try and escape from a larger group than these four certainly made her uneasy, but at this point April couldn’t think of a thing she could do other than go along willingly. As long as she and Kimberly were together, she knew they at least had a chance. That was far better than what had happened to David. Though she was not in love with him any more, if she’d even ever been, he was still Kimberly’s father and he was still a friend and companion, whether they argued all the time or not. She was saddened to have to accept the truth that he was dead or would soon be dead, and that there was nothing she could do for him.
 

When it became apparent that Wayne was going to get his way in regard to splitting up from the others, April wondered what would have happened to her and Kimberly if the canoe had not been an option. Her ankle was hurting so bad she could barely put her weight on it, much less walk. It would be impossible for her to travel on foot, even if it were a matter of life or death, and even if she did not have to carry Kimberly. And even if she were not injured, walking any distance through these woods carrying a child would be exhausting.

On the other hand, sitting in the canoe took no effort, but it was much more dangerous for both of them considering the way she was lashed to the boat. She just hoped Wayne had enough experience in canoes to not do something stupid. The creek was full of hidden stumps and snags, many of them in areas of swift water where it took skill with a paddle to avoid them. She and David had come close to capsizing several times among just such obstacles during their journey downstream from Brooklyn.
 

When they shoved off into the current and Wayne began paddling, the final agreement with the other three was that they would stick as close to the left bank as possible, with a rendezvous to camp together each evening at pre-arranged locations.

April gathered this was both to provide backup for Wayne in the event they encountered other river travelers, and perhaps, because Gary and the others didn’t want to let him out of their sight for too long for fear they would miss out. She certainly wasn’t looking forward to nightfall and the prospect of camping with any of them, whether the whole group or just Wayne alone. It was a heck of a predicament she was in, but April had been in many bad predicaments in the past seven months. As she sat there and watched the dense walls of forest slide by on both sides as the canoe cut through the water, she reminded herself that she and Kimberly were both still alive and still together. And while they were, there was always hope.

Fourteen

W
HEN
M
ITCH
REACHED
THE
sandbar he found such a mess of confusing footprints the story they told was practically impossible to decipher. The problem was that April and David had been walking all over it since at least the afternoon before, and then the four strangers had trampled it after that. There were so many tracks on top of tracks that they all blended together, especially in the dry, sugary-white quartz sand that was so deep the prints began to fill almost as soon as they were made. The first place Mitch looked was in the area where the canoe had been resting. There were drag marks where it had been pulled up there and more where it had been launched, but the footprints all around them were overlapping and confusing. There were certainly some that were a size that had to be April’s, but so many boot prints over them that he could not find clear evidence to show if she had been near the boat again or not since they arrived. Instead of wasting more time trying to decide, Mitch thought his efforts would be better spent starting someplace he
knew
she had been—at the edge of the woods where he had last seen her before she disappeared into the foliage.
 

“Hey, this guy’s still alive, Mitch! He’s breathing and I can feel a pulse!”

Jason’s announcement had a tone of urgency, but at least he’d done as Mitch had warned and kept his voice to barely over a whisper. There was no way of knowing how far the party may have gone and they couldn’t risk being heard at this point. Anything Mitch was going to do for April and Kimberly was going to depend on the element of surprise considering how the numbers were so heavily in favor of her captors.
 

Mitch was glad to hear this news, though. He took a minute to go see for himself, kneeling in the sand and turning the unconscious man’s head just enough to see the knot on the side that had been struck. From the way it had sounded on impact, he was truly surprised that David’s scull was not literally caved-in. But Jason was right; he was alive and truly lucky to be so.
 

“Do you think he’ll wake up?” Jason asked.

“I don’t know. Probably, but it might take a while. He’s bound to have a severe concussion. He could stay in a coma or go back into one, even if he does come to. But it’s not as bad as I expected. He may be just fine.”

“What are we gonna do with him?”

“We’ll get him to the other side of the creek, at least. I’ll help you before I go, and you can go back to the house for the others. But first, I’ve got to try and figure out what happened here. Try splashing some water on his face while you wait and see if that helps. I’ve got to get back on this trail.”

Mitch forced back the growing anxiety he felt as he crouched low, making his way to the edge of the woods while visually scanning every print he could see in the sand. He could clearly see the place where April had stood while the one man tied the rope around her neck, and leading away from there, the mostly single-file tracks the five of them made crossing a muddy area of low ground between the sandbar and the higher ground of the top bank beyond. The tracks in the mud were smeared and those of the men in the rear covered most of April’s but it was clear she had walked this way with them. There were no prints going back in the opposite direction, either. It was a confusing situation, but Mitch knew he didn’t have time to be confused. Every minute that went by while he was trying to figure this out was a minute that April was being carried farther and farther away from him—and a minute that anything could be happening to her and Kimberly.
 

BOOK: Into the River Lands (Darkness After Series Book 2)
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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