The story so far: On their way to Herald Rock, the group got separated and then lost Nick when they got deluged by a cauldron of bats. Tilly, Catrin, and Marshall sit by the tunnel entrance, trying to figure out what to do next.
Lead in story: I like to settle those sorts of things
Tilly’s head had stopped hurting… mostly. There was a cut near her left temple. The same spot, she thought idly, as the scar on Marshall’s head. She’d brought a first aid kit, as had Marshall, and now there was a small bandage there. She wasn’t even sure it was needed. The cut had stopped bleeding.
What a week, she thought. Wednesday had been her final day in the cottage. He had already moved most of her things to storage. That day she’s paid Bobby and a friend of his to move the furniture in the truck they used for hauling stuff for the August House Gardens. He had been grateful to earn a few dollars, having been told that his services were no longer required by the new owners.
She hadn’t been able to convince herself to buy the condo Benton had shown her, despite a significant amount of pressure from her mother. Tilly had instead put almost everything in storage, then she rented a room at the Vernon Motel, a little twenty-room motor court near downtown. It was clean and nice for a motel, but her mother had still freaked out a bit. “Why would you want to live like a vagrant?” Her mother had asked, looking at the small, neat room as if it was infested with rats.
Tilly told her mother, “Because my home and job were taken from me and I don’t belong anywhere anymore.” Tilly was aware of how overdramatic that sounded. In that private part of her that people didn’t get to see, she had been deeply embarrassed. Still, it wasn’t untrue, and if you can’t be overdramatic to your mother, who can you be overdramatic to?
Tilly was officially unemployed now, and, after having every day seem like a hectic nightmare for weeks, suddenly on Thursday she’d found herself with nothing to do. She’d sprawled across her bed in the motel for several hours, half-watching a marathon of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. She tried to read one or another of the books she’d brought, but put them down almost as soon as she started. Books weren’t a comfort to her now. The thought disturbed her, but it was true and she had to accept it.
She had talked herself out of the trip to Herald Rock three times, but eventually she would talk herself back into it. She’d convinced herself it would be fun. Now she had a head wound, blisters on her feet, several bug bites, and Nick was missing. What a week.
Nobody was talking. Marshall was flat on the ground. He had said something about a dizzy spell and just laid down there. He’d been there for about ten minutes. She wasn’t sure, but he may have nodded off.
“How far do you think it is into town?” she asked. She could have checked the GPS on her phone, but she mainly wanted to say something, anything, to relieve the feeling of dread that was taking root in her.
Without opening his eyes, Marshall said, “We’re not too far. The tracks are going to curve around this bend, then pass through one more tunnel, a short one, then we’ll be on the edge of town.”
“I guess we can wait longer.” Tilly said, “It won’t be dark for another couple hours and it is still pretty warm. I think I might go check the cave again.”
“Tunnel,” Marshall said.
“Right, tunnel.” A tear ran down Tilly’s cheek and she wiped it quietly, not wanting to call attention to it.
Catrin saw it though. She came over and sat next to her, offering Tilly a fruit roll-up. Tilly forced a smile, thanked her, and ate it in small bits, savoring the tart sweetness. She breathed a few slow, deep breaths.
“I think maybe I’m in over my head,” Tilly said. “I don’t think I’m much of an adventurer.”
Marshall sat up and looked at her. “I’m sorry about the bats. I should have checked out the cave first. I’m supposed to be a leader.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tilly said. “We’re just not very good at this.”
“We’re learning,” Catrin told her. Don’t worry, everything will be all right.” Catrin put her arm around Tilly. “We’ll be all right.”
Then, oddly, things actually started to be all right. Tilly saw a figure walking toward them from a distance. At first, she had hoped it was Nick, but it was the tall guy who dressed well and looked like a movie star. He approached at a brisk walk and waved to them. “Hello my fellow adventurers, are you ready for your reward?”
“Reward?” Catrin asked.
“Nick is missing,” Marshall added quickly.
“Not missing,” the man said. “Nick is in town, where you should be. He got all turned around, but he’s more or less fine now and enjoying his reward. Come on!”
Finally, Tilly remembered the man’s name was Jack. It was weird how hard that was to remember.
“Are you going to be ok to walk?” Marshall asked Tilly.
Tilly stood up. For a moment she was dizzy, but she had her walking stick to steady herself. “Let’s go,” she said.
“What is this reward?” Catrin asked again.
Jack laughed. “Come find out.”