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When Kevin came to, the first thing he felt was excruciating pain. It radiated through his skull and along his spine in waves, but the epicenter seemed to be the small of his back. He could feel something hard digging into it. He tried to roll over, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. The slightest twisting motion made the pain escalate to the point that he almost passed out again.

He continued to lie on the cold, wet ground with his eyes closed for a few more seconds until he summoned enough strength to open them. When he did, he found himself looking up at a canopy of leaves. Here and there, he could see patches of cloudy, gray sky peeking out between the treetops. Raindrops were still falling from it, splashing onto his face. With shaking hands, he managed to reach up and wipe them away. At least his arms worked. But his legs… Something was wrong with his legs.

Lifting his head slightly, Kevin could see that he was lying at an awkward angle, his back arched against the pack that was still strapped over his shoulders. His legs were splayed across the leaf-strewn ground like those of a rag doll that had been carelessly dropped there, and when he tried to rearrange them into a more comfortable position, they remained just as limp and lifeless as one would expect a rag doll’s legs to be. He couldn’t move them. His first thought was that the bones must be broken, but there was no pain below his waist. In fact, there was no sensation at all except for a faint, pins-and-needles feeling, as if both his legs had fallen asleep.

Once his brain connected this lack of sensation below the waist with the intense pain above, he knew: he had broken his back in the fall.

The next thing he felt was pure horror, as it dawned on him just how dire his predicament had become. Here he was, alone in the wild and unable to walk, in desperate need of first aid and unable to call for help. Deep down, he knew that was the reality of the situation, yet there was part of him that was still in denial, wanting to believe it wasn’t really as bad as it seemed. Maybe he had descended far enough to be within range of a cell tower.

He reached around to his back pocket, where he kept his phone, but he was lying on it and couldn’t lift his his hips to gain access to it. His legs, which he might have used to help hoist his body off the ground, were useless. Any effort to sit up or turn over sent fresh shockwaves of pain shooting through his back. Finally, by digging his fingers into the muddy ground upon which he lay, he managed to burrow beneath his left butt cheek. He could feel the wet fabric of his shorts with his hand, but he couldn’t feel the pressure of his fingertips prodding the area around his back pocket. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought he was reaching into someone else’s pocket.

Slowly and painfully, he pulled the phone out and brought it up to his face. With a sinking feeling, he saw that its screen was shattered, a spiderweb of thin white cracks crossing its black surface. He fumbled with the buttons, trying to get it to turn on, but was finally forced to accept that his phone, like his body, was broken. Unlike his body, it had not survived the fall.

Now he knew without a doubt that he was doomed to lie there like a log until someone found him. “HELP!” he called out as loudly as he could. “HEEEEELLLP!” With any luck, another hiker would come close enough to hear his cries. But how long would that take?

Kevin didn’t want to face the possibility that he might be stuck this way for hours, days, maybe even for the rest of his life. But he had heard enough survival stories to know that a fast rescue was far from guaranteed. He had no idea how many feet he had fallen or how far he had landed from the road. Lying down, he couldn’t see it and felt so dizzy and disoriented, he didn’t even know what direction to look in. Would people driving or walking past be able to see him? Even with his bright red windbreaker on, he wasn’t sure.

He continued to cry for help until his voice was hoarse... but no one came. By then, his throat felt raw. He longed for a drink, but the act of trying to retrieve his water bottle from his backpack, which was pinned beneath him, seemed too big a task to attempt at that point. He was too tired and in too much pain. So he simply opened his mouth and let the rain fall into it, savoring each drop of moisture as it soothed the back of his dry throat.

When he’d drunk his fill, he closed his eyes and tried to block out the dark thoughts that had permeated his brain. He kept his ears on high alert, listening for the rustle of footsteps or the hum of an approaching vehicle, but eventually, his injuries and exhaustion dulled his senses, and he drifted back into unconsciousness.


Nick woke in his pitch-black basement bedroom without any sense of what time it was. This was a welcomed relief from his routine and responsibilities at home. Normally, his alarm went off well before dawn, giving him an hour or so of quiet time to work out or play video games before the kids woke up. Lately, he had been choosing the latter more often than not, preferring to sit and savor his morning coffee while he slaughtered monsters over sweating his ass off in his home gym - and he had the “dad bod” to show for it.

He rolled over in bed and reached blindly toward the bedside table to turn on the lamp. Instead, his hand hit something hard where there should have been empty air; the object tipped over and fell off the table, landing on the tiled floor with a heavy thud. “Fuck!” Nick swore under his breath, more startled than actually angry. He never saw the note from Kevin, which fluttered to the floor along with the flashlight and ended up facedown under his bed.

He fumbled around for the lamp and finally found it, but when he flipped its switch, nothing happened. He heard the hollow click of the lamp turning on, but there was no light. Damn bulb must have burnt out, he thought, just as Kevin had hours before.

Nick felt around for his phone, which he’d left lying on the table in front of the lamp, and turned on its screen, which provided enough light to at least see a few feet in front of him. He was shocked to find that it was almost eleven a.m. Even when he accounted for the fact that it was only eight o’clock back home, he realized he had slept in three hours later than he was used to. He hadn’t had the luxury of sleeping late since at least March, when they were in South America. It felt good to get a full night’s sleep.

After Brian and Howie had gone to bed the night before, Nick had stupidly stayed up until almost three in the morning talking to his wife and watching the storm rage outside the basement windows. He had fully expected to be woken up and dragged out of bed a few hours later, so he was surprised the other guys had let him sleep so long without coming down to pour cold water on him or blast loud music in his ear. After all, that was the sort of thing he would have done to any one of them.

Instead, he rolled out of bed feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. He padded over to the window, which was outlined by thin cracks of sunlight from the edges of the blackout curtains that covered it. He pulled back the heavy drapes to let in the light, brightening the bedroom. Looking out the window, he saw what a dreary day it was. The mountain tops were obscured by clouds of gray fog, and raindrops were trickling down the window glass. The other guys must have agreed that it was a good day to sleep in.

On the other side of the room, Howie’s bed was empty, the covers pulled up semi-neatly. Assuming he was the last one to awaken, Nick threw on some comfortable clothes and went upstairs, where he found Howie sitting alone at the kitchen island, eating a bowl of cereal.

“Morning,” mumbled Howie through a mouthful of Frosted Flakes. “Power’s out. Better help me finish this milk before it goes bad.”

Nick raised his eyebrows as he looked around, realizing for the first time that all the lights were off in the cabin. The large windows provided enough natural light that artificial ones weren’t needed during the day. “Well, that explains why my lamp wouldn’t turn on,” he replied, pouring himself a bowl of the gluten-free cereal he’d gotten at the grocery store in Bethlehem. It wasn’t his favorite kind - they had better brands back home - but it would do for now. “Where’s everybody else?” he asked Howie, as he got the milk out of the dark refrigerator and added a liberal amount to his bowl.

“No idea,” said Howie with a shrug. “I just got up like half an hour ago, and no one was here. The SUV’s not in the garage, so they must have gone somewhere.”

“Without telling us?” Nick frowned. That didn’t sound like something the other guys would do. He could see Kevin, the nature freak, going off on his own for a refreshing walk in the rain or something, but he couldn’t imagine AJ and Brian hopping into the Range Rover to drive somewhere together without inviting him and Howie along, or at least letting one of them know where they were going.

Howie shrugged again. “I guess they figured that’s what we get for staying up late and sleeping in.” He didn’t seem too concerned, so Nick supposed he shouldn’t be either. But it still didn’t sit right with him that the rest of the group had seemingly disappeared without warning when they had planned to spend another day working on the album together. They wouldn’t be able to record anything while the electricity was out, but they could still write and rehearse. It didn’t seem like a good enough excuse for three of the guys to ditch the other two.

“They probably just drove into town to buy some batteries and candles and stuff like that,” Howie added reassuringly, as if he had sensed how unsettled Nick felt. “Who knows how long it’ll take to get the power back on in a place like this.”

Nick nodded. That made more sense. They hadn’t thought to pick up batteries or any other emergency supplies besides food and water when they had gone to the grocery store before. Knowing Kevin, he had probably insisted on going early and getting prepared in case the electricity didn’t come back on before dark. “I bet Kev’s secretly loving this,” Nick snickered. “He’s probably hoping the power doesn’t come back so we can really rough it for a while.”

Howie rolled his eyes and grinned. “You’re probably right.”

They ate their breakfast, enjoying the peace and quiet of the otherwise empty cabin. Then they both went back downstairs to shower and get dressed, expecting the other Boys to be back by the time they were ready for the day. An hour passed, and then another, but Kevin, Brian, and AJ didn’t come back.

By late afternoon, even Howie had started to worry. “Where the hell are they?” he asked Nick for at least the fifteenth time. The power hadn’t come back either, and they were both bored out of their minds. They couldn’t make phone calls without Wi-Fi, couldn’t surf the web or watch TV or play video games. They had half-heartedly messed around in the studio for a while, Nick helping Howie brush up on his rusty guitar skills, but it was hard to focus when they were constantly wondering where the rest of the group was and when the other guys would return.

“I dunno, man,” replied Nick, shaking his head. The realization that they had no way of contacting each other or anyone in the outside world was a frightening one. Nick had never felt so isolated. He was happy to have Howie with him; he would have been freaking out if he had woken up to find himself all alone in the cabin. Still, it was hard not to worry about Brian, AJ, and Kevin. “What if something bad happened to them? Like an accident or something?”

The color drained from Howie’s face. Nick was sure they had both been thinking it, but it was the first time either of them had said it out loud.

“I… I dunno,” Howie stammered. “I mean, we’d have no way of knowing, would we? We can’t call anyone, and they wouldn’t have any way of reaching us either. What could we do?”

Nick’s mind raced. He hated the thought of the other Boys being hurt and in the hospital while he and Howie were stuck here, out of contact and completely clueless. He couldn’t stand not knowing what had happened to them. “We have to do something,” he decided. “We could walk down the mountain until we find somewhere with a working phone. Then we could call them - and if they don’t answer, call the police.”

“It could be a long walk,” Howie warned. “You saw how far apart the houses are way up here.”

“I don’t care.” Nick’s mind was made up. “I can’t keep sitting here just waiting and wondering. I’ll feel better if I’m moving.”

Howie’s forehead was creased with worry. “It’s gonna get dark in a few hours…”

“All the more reason to get going now,” Nick argued.

Howie sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’d rather do something than just sit here in the dark and do nothing.”

Nick nodded. “Better put on some good walking shoes. And grab a bottle of water.”

They left ten minutes later, less prepared than Kevin but better equipped than Brian and AJ, with the hope that they would reach their brothers and find out they had been worried over nothing.

If they’d known what had happened, they would have left much sooner.


Kevin’s first thought upon waking for the second time was that he must have had a bad dream. As he slowly emerged from the fog of confusion, he felt convinced he was safe in his bed at home. One of his dogs was nudging him awake, wanting to be fed. Kevin could hear his heavy panting and feel his warm breath and the weight of one of his huge paws on his shoulder. “Yeah, yeah... I know. I’m gettin’ up, Baloo,” he mumbled without opening his eyes. “Just gimme a minute here…” But when he finally managed to lift his heavy eyelids, he saw that his nightmare had only just begun.

In an instant, his mind snapped back to reality as it processed the images his eyes were relaying. He was far from the comforts of home, and the creature currently pawing at him with increased interest was definitely not his cuddly pitbull, Baloo. Kevin’s heart leapt into his throat when he realized he was face to face with a wild animal that looked more like his pup’s namesake from The Jungle Book: a large black bear.

The bear was sniffing at his backpack, which was still wedged beneath his upper body. Probably scavenging for food, thought Kevin, picturing the snacks he had packed that morning. His mind raced as he tried to remember what he’d been taught about bears: If it’s brown, lay down. If it’s black, fight back.

While this was no grizzly bear, it was plenty big, and Kevin didn’t see how he could fight it off in his current condition. His instinct was to go against the rhyme and continue playing dead. But it quickly became clear that the bear wasn’t going to go away until it got what it came for, never mind how much damage it did in the process. Despite his best efforts to stay quiet, a strangled cry of pain escaped Kevin’s throat as the bear pushed his broken body to one side, determined to gain access to the pack underneath. He couldn’t just lie there and let the bear hurt him even worse; he had to fight back.

Raising his free hand, he took a blind swing. He felt it connect with something warm, furry, and immensely solid and heard the bear grunt as he backhanded it. “AHHH!” Kevin screamed as loudly as he could and waved his arm around wildly, hoping to scare the bear. “GO AWAY!” With a surge of adrenaline, he rolled back toward the bear in time to see it retreat in bewilderment. “Go on, get outta here!” he cried, taking another swipe at it. He prayed it wouldn’t be bold enough to strike back. His hands were no match for the sharp claws he could see at the end of the bear’s massive paws. If it decided to attack, there was no way he would be able to push it off of himself before it mauled him.

But to his relief, the bear surrendered, lumbering away into the woods from which it had come as Kevin continued to shout at it. Once it was gone, he lay his head back down on the ground and took deep, gasping breaths, trying to slow his galloping heart. Then the tears sprang into his eyes, hot and stinging, as it hit him how close he might have come to death… and how close he might come yet.

He still couldn’t move the lower half of his body, and as the musky scent of the bear dissipated, he became aware of another, even more pungent odor: the stench of urine and shit. He wrinkled his nose as the smell hit him, overwhelming his senses. At first he thought the bear or some other animal must have defecated nearby. Then, with dawning horror, he realized the stink was coming from him. He had lost control of his bladder and bowels, had soiled himself in his sleep. That was probably what had attracted the bear’s attention more than the small amount of sealed food inside his pack. The saddest part was that, had it not been for the smell, he wouldn’t even have been able to tell. He couldn’t feel anything below the waist.

Tears rolled down his cheeks as the seriousness of his situation fully sank in. So far, he had been focused on his own basic survival - fending off the bear, summoning help, staying alive until he was found and whisked away to a hospital. But now, for the first time, he allowed himself to imagine his future beyond the point of being rescued from this place. If he had sustained a spinal cord injury in the fall - and it certainly seemed like he had - then he was probably facing back surgery, followed by months of painful rehabilitation. Would he ever walk again? Be able to use the bathroom by himself? Or would he spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair, wearing a catheter bag or, worse, a diaper?

He didn’t want to think that far ahead. The ideas in his head were too terrifying to dwell on, so he forced them to the back of his mind and tried to think positive. It won’t be that bad, he told himself. Whatever damage has been done, the doctors will be able to fix it. It won’t be permanent. I just need to get out of here so I can start healing and get back on my feet.

But how? He couldn’t walk. He thought about trying to turn over onto his belly and using his upper body to drag himself across the ground, but the slightest movement sent shockwaves of pain shooting up his spine. There was no way he would be able to army crawl all the way back to the road. He would just have to keep calling for help and wait until someone came close enough to hear his voice.

He prayed they would be human.