Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Others may deceive you
You decide what’s good
You decide alone
But no one is alone
From “No one Is Alone” by Stephen Sondheim
~ 6 ~
Into the Woods
Howie walked very slowly down the path that led away from the cabin, wondering if what he was doing was such a great idea. He hadn’t really thought about the consequences. What if Tim came back and in a rage, took his anger out on Nick? How could he be so willing to leave his friend behind with that maniac? He stopped and looked back. Maybe he shouldn’t go. Maybe there was a way he could just hide inside the cabin and try to overtake the bigger man when he least expected it.
There was nowhere he could really hide besides the bedroom or bathroom though and if he did try to tackle the guy and failed, there was a good chance he would end up getting both himself and Nick killed. No, leaving and finding help was his best bet, if not only for him but for the rest of the guys as well.
His thoughts briefly went to Kevin, AJ and Brian. Maybe someone had stopped and found them. They couldn’t be doing well if they were still at the van. They were probably hungry, cold and most likely wondering where the hell help was. Nope, they had to be rescued by now. Someone had to see the skid marks on the road and wonder why the fence was broken. They were most likely safe and joined in an effort to find himself and Nick.
At least he was sure that even if the others weren’t safe, by now everyone else was aware that something was wrong. The thought of Leigh worrying caused him to stop once again. He could see the scenario in his head, plain as day. His wife wondering why he hadn’t returned any of her calls so in turn calling Nick only to see he hadn’t either. She would then call Lauren, Rochelle or Kristin to see if they had heard from their guys and as a last resort Leighanne. Once everyone else said they haven’t heard a word she would begin to panic.
The police would most likely have been called by this point but so were the remaining members of his family. No doubt that the next call would be to his brother who in turn would tell their mother that something was wrong. Yup, everyone was probably concerned, but at least looking.
That was his hope.
He went into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone again, only to find it completely dead. “With my luck I bet I would have gotten a signal from here.” He muttered as he placed it back into his pocket after convincing himself that throwing it in frustration probably wasn’t a good idea.
He thought he heard something scurry by his feet so he quickly shined the flashlight to the ground. He saw nothing, but unfortunately the sounds of nature at night were scaring him to death. Howie by all rights was far from an outdoor person. He had only gone camping when forced to and his idea of roughing it usually involved an RV loaded with amenities. Nick joked that one day the two of them would have to take a good old fashioned camping trip with nothing except a small pup tent, some sleeping bags and a backpack.
He took a deep breath as he thought about his friend, more like worried about him. He should have never agreed to let Nick come with him. Howie KNEW he was lying about feeling okay. In a way he figured Kevin did too. They both knew the kid so well, they knew his tells. But still, the hope was that maybe he was just a little achier than he had let on, nothing major. He should have known better. It was selfish of him to agree to let Nicky tag along. He didn’t want to be alone though and the thought of being out there in the dark with no clue where to go frightened him more than the idea of Nick being a little hurt.
Once they had made it up the hill, he knew. Right there he should have forced his younger friend to head right back down and wait with Kevin. He was way out of breath and holding his side a little too gingerly as he bent slightly.
“Are you okay?” Howie had asked, already knowing the real answer as opposed to the one he would hear.
“I’m good, just a little winded.”
Howie had glanced back down the hill at Kevin as he let his friend catch his breath. “Which way do you think we should go?”
“Well, we passed nothing that way,” Nick stood straight grunting slightly and pointed in the direction they had come from before turning to face the other way, “So; I say we go this way.”
“I agree.” He saw Kevin staring right back up at him so he waved.
“He’s in a lot of pain.”
Howie nodded at Nick. “Lord knows how the other two really are as well.”
“We have to find help, Howie. Why haven’t any cars passed by?”
“I have no clue but we better get moving before it gets dark.”
Nick nodded and waved at Kevin as they set out down the road.
It was Howie’s hope that he could get himself back onto that same road. Maybe there was a house that he missed on the ride up. He wished he had paid a little more attention to his surroundings while they were driving to this place. He couldn’t even say for sure what direction they had ended up going. And how many times did Tim turn off a road before ending up at the cabin. Maybe only once, but what if he was wrong?
It seemed like Howie would stop himself about every ten steps or so, probably because he had no real plan. All he had was a flashlight that he hoped held fresh batteries. He also should have thought to raid the small kitchen, grab a bottle of water and maybe some food. But it’s not like he had time to make all these elaborate plans. All he knew was he had to be gone before Tim came back.
The breeze made him also wish he had a jacket or something too. He didn’t expect it would be this chilly in the middle of the summer. Kevin was probably freezing to death about now.
That thought made his feet finally move. He continued to walk down the dirt road and almost fell when the smooth dirt made a transition to gravel. He continued to walk down the long gravel road at a pretty quick pace as he tried to think of some happy thoughts to help him get through.
Thoughts of his kids and his wife helped for a few minutes but then he found himself just getting more distressed about the possibility of never seeing them again. He hated feeling this way. Even the direst of circumstances, Howie never ever felt like giving up. This was certainly the worst situation he had ever found himself in. “You’re right, Nicky. This would make a pretty good Lifetime Movie.” He laughed out loud remembering the conversation they had before this particular part of the nightmare began.
“Think about it, D.” He lowered his voice to resemble Mr. Movie phone. Something that Kevin had taken a habit of doing and of course since Nick always ended up trying to copy everything Kevin did, it was only natural to hear him try this too. “In the middle of the woods…five Backstreet Boys get into a car accident because of…bananas!” He over exaggerated the word which made Howie laugh and shake his head. “Yes, you heard right…bananas! And now they are all fighting for their lives! Will Nick and Howie get help in time?”
“That fight will probably go down in the record books as the stupidest argument ever.”
“I don’t know Howie, remember the Nairing of the brow incident in 98?”
Howie let out a laugh, “Okay you’re right but at least that one didn’t result in a major car accident.”
“Only because I made Kevin so mad at me that he wouldn’t even be in the same room as I was, let alone a car!”
“I can’t believe we ALL managed to end up in the middle of that one. It’s because I had to stick up for YOUR ass!”
“But I’m worth it, aren’t I?”
Howie had looked over at his younger friend and smiled, he had momentarily forgotten why they were in the middle of the road even having this conversation to begin with but taking a look at Nick and the gash on his forehead coupled with his overly white complexion had brought him right back to reality. “Yeah, I guess you’re worth it.” He then grabbed Nick by the scruff of his neck and gave a slight squeeze. Even at thirty three, the blonde giggled at the slightest touch of his neck just like he had when he was twelve. Some things never changed.
The silent and dark night started to play games with Howie’s mind. He could swear he was seeing shadows off to his side. Obviously it was his imagination, but what if it wasn’t? That’s the first time he allowed himself to explore the possibility that Tim wasn’t really alone. Maybe he had someone staying with him. Maybe that person had been trailing him ever since he left the cabin. Of course he was sure it was paranoia because if that Tim guy did have someone in his life, he wouldn’t have been so keen to ‘adopt’ the two of them in the first place.
Maybe there was someone though, “Hello?” He said out loud suddenly flashing his light into the trees he was sure the shadows were coming from, “Is anyone there?”
He was answered with silence except for another slight breeze that made the trees all dance in unison.
Letting out a sigh he decided to turn back towards where he had just walked. The cabin was nowhere in sight anymore, now totally consumed by the darkness of the remote road. Tim couldn’t have picked a better location if he tried. The place was built for a lunatic, it was secluded, had no cell reception and probably no human contact anywhere within a fifty mile radius. That’s when Howie’s heart sank. What he was doing was useless. There would be no one to help him. Not until he got back onto that main road and he wasn’t sure how far that was. He felt like he had already been walking for at least thirty minutes but when he shined the light ahead all he saw was nothing but more gravel road. There was nothing that even resembled an intersection or anywhere to turn at all. He was sure they had made at least one turn.
Once again he was unsure of what to do. Was it the fear of the unknown that was preventing him from continuing on, or his inner voice telling him it was a bad idea and that he should turn back while he had the chance?
Unfortunately it ended up being fate that made his decision when out of nowhere an intense growling sound was heard coming from the place he had shone the light before. He didn’t even turn around to see what it was, he was afraid if he did he would see it right behind him, it’s teeth being the last thing he saw before he was eaten, so he took off into the actual woods, off the road and into the trees, accidentally dropping his flashlight as he ran.