Come on, I tell myself. If there’s no phone in there, you can still go down-mountain. But you have to look.
I cross the weedy ground that used to be a yard. There’s a covered round spot that I suppose was once their well water, or maybe a septic system. Roses are growing wild around the side of the house in tangles of thorns the size of animal claws. Nothing blooming now.
The door’s open, and I step inside. My heart is hammering, and I’m sure there’s someone inside, waiting; I want to run so badly my legs shake with it. But I edge into the darkness, and I nearly do scream when I see the glint of what seems like eyes in the corner.
It’s not eyes. It’s a video camera. It’s new tech, nothing from the Betamax generation that this cabin hails from. There are lights, too, all hooked up to a small diesel generator. What the hell is this? The feeling of dread is so strong in here I can taste it, and everything, everything, is telling me to run, get out of here, and never come back.
I stop dead when I see the princess-pink canopy bed on the other side of the room. It’s new, or new-ish. Neatly made, with a pink ruffled bedspread and fluffy white pillows. It’s wrong, and sick, and incredibly creepy, and I don’t go any closer at all. Couldn’t if I tried. I back up toward the camera and the lights, and I find a closed laptop sitting on a warped apple crate. I open it, and it boots up without asking for a password. It has an Internet connection. It’s using a cell-signal USB.
I pull up the messaging program, and silently thank Mom for making me memorize phone numbers. I quickly type in Kezia’s, Javier’s, Connor’s, every number I can think of, and tell them to track the cell address on this connection. I can’t tell them where I am, but if the computer’s sending, this should work. IP addresses can be faked. Cell signals have to be routed through towers. Harder to fake.
I check the other programs and find FaceTime. I quickly boot it up and call Kezia’s number. She accepts in seconds, and her face resolves on the screen out of a blur of moving pixels. “Lanny? Jesus, where are you?”
All of a sudden, I’m in tears. Seeing her has made it all real, and I can’t hold it back anymore. I want someone to come get me. Now. I try to talk. I can’t, for a few seconds. When I finally manage to, I say, “I’m okay, but come get me! Please!”
“I will, I promise. Can you tell me where you are?”
“Up pretty high,” I tell her, swiping at the tears still streaming hot down my cheeks. My voice keeps breaking, and I can hear the terror in it. “I didn’t see the road. But this is some old cabin. I don’t know what it’s for, but . . .” I pick up the laptop and pan it around to show them the room, lights, camera, bed.
When I turn it to face me again, Kezia looks shaken. For just about the first time since I’ve known her, I see real fear on her face. She tries to speak and can’t. She swallows and tries again. “Okay. Okay, here’s what I need you to do. You keep this connection open. We’re going to trace this signal.”
“It’s a cell signal,” I tell her. “I think there’s only one road up. We’re somewhere west of Norton. The road kind of curves in a big S coming up.”
“Good,” she says, and she tries to smile. “That’s good. We’re going to find you. Is there any way you can lock the door of this place?”
I swallow hard. My nose is dripping, and I wipe at it with a corner of my shirt. My eyes are swollen, and they ache now. I just want to curl up in the corner, but I get up and take the laptop across with me to the door. “There’s no lock on it,” I tell her.
“Can you brace it with something?
I put the laptop down, and I look around. I try pulling the bed, but it’s big and heavy, and I can only move it a few inches. I come back and see that she’s talking to Detective Prester now. And someone else.
My brother’s head is bandaged, and I can see some dried blood on his chin. But the first thing he asks when I come into view is “Lanny? Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I realize I’m whispering. “I’m okay. I just—” I swallow. “I’m afraid he’s coming back.” Something terrible occurs to me, and I stand up and look around. Really look. There aren’t any closets. No hidden places for my dad to be hiding in. “Did Dad tell you he’d meet you here?”
“No,” Connor says. He looks so miserable. “He was supposed to meet me at the house. I never meant this to happen, I swear, I just—” He starts to cry like his heart is breaking. “He said he loved me.”
I can’t imagine what that feels like, or how big it seems to him. I just want to wrap my arms around him and hug him until he stops feeling so bad. Until he’s my annoying little brother again.
He’s the one who’s been quietly, constantly suffering, and I didn’t even know about it.
Connor gulps and says, “Please come back. Please. You have to.”
He backs away from the camera. Kezia leans in, and I see her looking at him in concern for a second before she transfers attention back to me. “Honey, I need you to find yourself a place to hide. If you can’t find one in there, get out of that cabin. We’re triangulating the signal, and we’re sending police as fast as we can. I’m going to stay here and stay on the line with you. Take the laptop with you if you can and keep it on.”
I have to keep the lid open, and that’s awkward, but stepping out of the cabin feels like intense relief. It only lasts a few seconds, though, and then I start wondering where the van is. Is it coming back? I can’t see anything through the trees. I can’t hear anything.
What if he comes back on foot? I had to leave my club behind.
“There’s no place to hide,” I tell Kezia miserably. “It’s just the cabin and trees.” I pan the camera around.
“Stop,” Kezia says. “What’s that?”
I take a look at what I moved past. “I think maybe it’s a well? Do you want me to open it?”
“See if it’s some kind of basement,” she says. “But don’t go down there. Just look.”
I reach out and wrap my hand around the metal cover, then slide it back. I can’t see anything much. There’s a ladder on the side, rickety iron, but I can’t tell if there’s a room down there.