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I will totally understand if nobody reads this b/c it is long and drawn out and I think I would be sick of it by now, if I were reading. But here it is, just in case anybody's hooked:

 

 

            Only 5 survivors found. 23 dead. “Mayville’s newest attraction becomes it’s greatest disaster…” 23 dead. 17 Missing. “Mayville’s newest attraction…” 23 dead. Only 5 survivors. 23…thoughts swirled in Jason’s foggy mind. The image of a woman stabbed through the fog. She was falling, her whole body contracted in an instant of sheer terror, and a white scarf trailed uselessly behind her. The scream he never heard echoed in his temples and Jason started awake, his breath as short as if he’d been running. He looked around. He was lying beside a deserted gravel road with no landmark in sight. Only the bare Montana hills rolled above him to the sky and raced down the other side into the valleys full of grass and dotted with rocks and trees.

            He was stiff and cold, and his knee and palms throbbed where they had been cut. Jason looked down ruefully at the dried blood and dirt on his hand, and the neat little V-shaped cut in his pants. Slowly he got up, and stood beside the road, rubbing his neck and looking around.

            Mayville must be that way, if I didn’t get turned around in my sleep…He knew he couldn’t go back. The police would be hunting every street in search of him. He looked around anxiously, half expecting a brown and white sheriff car to shoot into sight. He swallowed, remembering the panic that had overcome him last night. He shoved his hands into his pockets and shivered. His hand met something cold and hard. My phone! Maybe I can find out where I am. He slid his finger across the screen and waited anxiously, but then his hopes fell: there was no reception here.

            “Wherever I am, it must be in the sticks,” he muttered, and jammed the phone back into his pocket. “But I’m still lost.” The sentence had a menacing sound, and as he said it, he realized how thirsty he was. And hungry. He thought about the piece of celery he’d eaten last, and wished he’d taken time for a larger dinner.

Then a thought struck him. I’m lost. I can’t go back to Mayville, and I have no money. How am I supposed to live? He tried to remember survival tips he’d learned in high school, but all he could think of was the threes: three weeks to starve, three days to death by thirst, three seconds to panic. That’s for sure. Then the others must be true.

He looked at the bare hills and dusty gravel road and shivered in the wind. Behind him was Mayville and the police. Ahead of him was…he didn’t know. A town? A new life? Death by dehydration and exposure? Neither option seemed very promising, but there was only two. Then he made up his mind. He shuffled stiffly onto the road and started walking away from Mayville. Come what may, he’d rather face exposure than a prison sentence. The gravel crunched softly under his feet; otherwise, there was no sound.

Three hours later he walked into a little town named Cary, population 200. The morning breeze had died, and the temperature was climbing upwards of 80 ̊ . Heat waves shimmered over the Cary Café and the run down gas station with a broken sign and diminutive awning. Jason stumbled into the shade of the Café and leaned against the wall. I wonder if ‘3 days to death by thirst’ applies to 3 days of Montana summer. The smells of panini sandwiches and espresso wafted out from the café’s open door and made his mouth water. He looked dizzily across the street at a tiny grocery store with old-fashioned shopping carts parked in the entryway, and wondered if they’d have a drinking fountain.

A young man came out of the café and stopped short at sight of Jason slouched against the brick wall.

“Are you okay, sir?”

Jason half lifted his head, but shifted his eyes away. “Could kill for a drink.”

“They sell them in the café.” The man sounded confused. “Where’s your ride?”

Jason shook his head.

“You mean you’ve been walking? There’s nowhere to walk from.”

“I—had a breakdown.” Jason stammered, and looked at his feet.

“Oh. Let me get my truck. We’ll have the car back in no time.” The man shifted his lemonade to the other hand and dug for his keys. The sight of the lemonade sloshing in the cup made Jason almost wild.

“Say, I could use a drink…”

The man looked up. “They sell ‘em in there. Er, wait…you don’t have any money?” he studied Jason’s flushed face and his voice rose in concern. “You’ve been walking on a day like today without any water even?”

Jason hardly had time to nod before the man was across the street ducking into the grocery store. He came back with a big plastic bottle of water, straight from the cooler. Jason reached for it, but couldn’t bring himself to look at the man.

“Say wait a minute.” He pulled back the bottle he’d started to hand to Jason. “I like a guy to look me in the eyes before I give him something I paid for.”

Jason glanced at the water bottle. It had already started to fog up from the temperature change. He could hardly keep himself from lunging at it. Slowly he lifted his head and looked sideways at the young man. He was clean shaven and handsome; barely out of high school.

“There we go. Here.” The water bottle came closer again, then stopped short. “Hey, aren’t you that guy the Mayville cops were after?” The water bottle started back. Jason’s hand flashed out and twisted out of the kid’s. then he started running. With a shout the kid was after him. Jason stumbled and almost fell: he was tired and thirsty, and the other man was fresh. In a few long strides the kid had caught up and grabbed Jason’s arm. An impulse quicker than thought made Jason twist away and feel for something to throw. His hand went to his pocket, where his phone was, but the man stepped back and raised his hands.

“Okay, okay, take it easy.”

Jason looked up in surprise. The kid was still backing away, fear written plainly on his face, and suddenly Jason knew.

“I don’t want to shoot you; you seem like a nice kid. But I can’t have you talking about police, okay?” 

The kid looked around, and for an instant Jason wondered if he had a real gun, hidden somewhere beneath his clothes. Jason started slowly away, his hand still near his pocket. When he rounded the corner of the café, he heard the kid start to run. He’s going for phone. Jason looked around, but the narrow alley offered no hiding place. He turned and trotted to the back of the café, and then stopped, winded. Just outside of the little town, not twenty yards away, was a brush truck, almost full, and a man on the hillside clipping weeds away from his fence. Jason jogged toward it and heaved himself into the back and under part a bush. Blood pounded in his ears, and his cheeks burned from the heat. The cold feel of the water against his chest was maddening, but he didn’t move. The man was coming back with his last armload of brush. Jason winced as twigs raked across his cheek, followed by a cascade of taller weeds and a sapling. The roots sprayed dirt into his mouth and eyes. Jason swore under his breath, but the rancher didn’t notice. In a few seconds the engine had started, and the truck was bouncing its way along the dusty roads, and Jason was tossed around with the trees and shrubs in the back.

Once he raised his head, but the truck was going too fast to jump out, and in the dust he couldn’t tell where they were going. Finally, it came to a grunting stop and the rancher hopped out and pulled off the sapling that had been hitting Jason in the back of the head for the last ten minutes. Jason shook himself and sat up. The rancher was throwing the brush onto a pile of bushes and weeds already half burned. He stepped away from the flames and whirled around with a purpose as Jason leaped over the side of the truck and broke into a run.

“Hey!”

Jason didn’t risk a look back.

“What’re you doing in there?”

            As he crested the hill and stumbled down the other side the rancher shook his head and muttered, “Crazy coot! Probably some hobo looking for trash,” and turned back to his fire.

            In a ditch, somewhere close to Cary, Montana, Jason lay wheezing and panting. Sweat dribbled off his red face, turning the dirt into mud. With a hand that trembled from heat and hunger he unscrewed the cap and gulped the cool water greedily.

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