Thursday, March 08, 2007

Snippet: A Discovery in the Woods

At supper, Coyote sensed something was wrong on the other side of the lake, but their unit commander doesn't believe in trusting the vague pronouncements of a half-crazy teenager who derails trains for fun. But Will and Diana believe him. And they're going to find out what's going on.

As soon as Amalia was gone, Will got to his feet and shook Diana awake. She opened her eyes and frowned. "Don't tell me we're on watch already."

"I thought we wanted to go check out that part of the lake. You know, the part Coyote said—"

Diana sat up, suddenly alert. "Right. This is a good time for that, isn't it? Before we go on watch and before anyone else thinks of it." She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and began pulling on her boots. "I wonder what it could be?"

"He said it's not dangerous. But that might just mean it's not a danger to our camp. We'll have to be careful. Be sure and take plenty of ammo, in case it's the sort of thing that's dangerous when we find it."

"Maybe we should get some of the others to go with us."

"No, just us two. We can be quieter that way." He looked at her feet. "Wear your ket'age. We want to be quiet."

Diana nodded, pulled the boots off and slipped her feet into her moccasins. "We'll just scout it out and give a report." She reached for her pistol and a knife. "Then we can get a bigger group and go back if it's important."

But no sooner were they in the woods, following the overgrown track toward the bend in the lake, when they came upon Coyote. They almost didn't see him, dressed all in black and moving stealthily among the bushes. Had he not signaled to them, they might have walked right past.

"What the hell are you doing out here?" Will asked.

"What do you think?"

"I guess we'll all go together, then," Diana whispered, coming up behind them.

"It's probably safer this way."

"Well, if there's going to be three of us,” Coyote said, “We'll need a plan.

"What exactly are we looking for?"

"I'm not sure, but we'll know it when we find it."

"That’s not something we can plan for, is it?"

"Before you came along and messed it up," Coyote said, "My plan was to sneak up on it by moonlight. No flashlights. And once I see what it is, I'll take things from there."

"Not much of a plan," Diana pointed out. "But there's no reason it can't work for three."

"Right. Let's go." Will started back on the trail.

"Wait," Coyote said. "I'm not sure we should use the path."

"Why not?"

Coyote considered, listening and closing his eyes. He sniffed the air, whether for show or because he could actually smell something wasn't clear. "It'll be okay, I guess. It's not dangerous. It's just. . . I don't think you're going to want to be on the trail when we get to it."

Will and Diana looked at each other, confused and more than a little spooked. "I wish you'd just say what it is."

"I'm telling you, I don't know. Honest."

"Well, I'm not afraid of the trail." Diana pushed her way past them and started walking slowly and silently like her Apache friends had taught her. With a shrug, Will followed. But Coyote shook his head and took to the cover of the trees again.

The trail grew darker, the moon almost completely obscured by the thick branches overhead. Diana moved more slowly now, scarcely breathing, taking each cautious step toe to heel, alert to twigs that might snap under her weight and announce her presence. She couldn't hear Coyote in the woods. She couldn't hear Will behind her, either, but she knew he was there, guarding her back. The thought gave her confidence, even as the woods grew blacker and it seemed she was alone with the darkness pressing in all around.

Suddenly her foot touched something soft. She stopped and took a step back. She prodded the thing with her toe and didn't like the feel of it at all. Her heart started pounding and she tried to move around it, only to walk full-on into another one. It was as big as she was, and as she felt its heavy weight swing away from her, she jumped back, stifling a shriek. A pair of arms clasped her from behind and she opened her mouth to scream, but then realized it was only Will. She gasped for air. "Don't—"

The beam of Coyote's flashlight pierced the blackness, nearly blinding them. "Well, will you look at that!"

Diana looked long enough to take in the row of bodies swinging in nooses from the trees. Near her feet was a dead man, still attached to a broken branch. She sucked in her breath and closed her eyes.

"Is this it?" Will asked, looking all around.

Coyote nodded, too pleased at this proof of his skill to be repulsed. "Yeah, this is it." He ran the light up and down each body in turn.

"Turn that light off! What if whoever did this is still here?"

"Oh, they're gone.” Coyote began walking around the bodies, examining them. Some were men, some women, one was only a child. Although it was impossible to tell much about them from their swollen and blackened faces, the color of their hands suggested they were either Indian or Mexican. "I wonder if these are México Lindo people. Or one of the tribal groups."

"We’ll come back in the morning and look for evidence," Will said. "Let's get out of here."

"But maybe they've got money. If it was a racial or political thing, maybe whoever did it was in too big a hurry to—"

Diana opened her eyes, saw Coyote digging in a man's pants pocket and curled back her lip in disgust. "How can you even think about that at a time like this?"

"Hey, they have no use for money, but I do."

"I can't imagine Macy's favors are as good as all that." Diana switched on her flashlight and started up the trail, back the way they had come.

"At least she listens to me! And she ain't no frigid virgin, either!"

Will took a few steps toward him. Coyote had moved on to another body and was tugging at pockets with enthusiasm. "Just what do you mean by that kind of remark?"

"Well, I. . . You know. I try and tell people when I sense things but they never listen."

"We came out here, didn't we? We believe you. I'm talking about what else you said."

"Okay, okay." He shrugged and dug a little deeper in a dead woman's pocket. "Are you saying she ain't a virgin? I'll apologize to her first chance I get. Happy now?" His face lit up. "Look at this! Silver!"

Will turned away. "How nice for you."


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Once again, you're intriguing me, but here, I'm finding that all the dialogue cuts into the creepy factor. And you deliver on the creep! Now, build me up to it more, okay?

Moby Dick said...

OK, there is a lot missing, I guess? Like the relationship between coyote and the others. It was interesting, reminded me of Predator when they find the dead bodies in the trees.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Well, of course there's stuff missing. It's a novel and if I'd included everything that led up to this scene, it would've been a chapter, not a snippet. ;-)

Maybe I should be posting chapters, but then I'm afraid I would bore people.

Alice Audrey said...

I remember this scene. It leaves a distinct impression.