Chapter 18

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"Gunshot," Guy One says. He has a thick winter beard and appears slightly older than the other two. I nickname him 'Captain Obvious' in my head. The Captain lifts a pair of binoculars up to his eyes and looks in the direction of the smoke. "We should go back."

"You can't ski uphill, stupid," Guy Two says, sweeping his automatic rifle back and forth as he watches the trees. I decide he's 'Sassypants' and remain very still as his gaze sweeps over me. 'Sassypants' or maybe 'Magoo'. You'd think he would find a way to keep that frizz out of his eyes.

"We should still go back and see if there's trouble," Guy Three says (nickname pending). Three takes a swig from what I assume is a canteen of water (unless these guys are simply well-equipped idiots on a vodka-binge hunting trip).

"Oh, ok," Sassypants says, lowering his rifle. "Ski all the way down here to investigate one thing of smoke..."

"Plume," Obvious says.

"Fuck off. One plee-ume of smoke only to turn around and hike back before we find the source, just because of one gunshot. They probably just shot a deer."

"And you are willing to stake Jesse and Colin's lives on that chance?" Obvious asks.

"If it was trouble, there'd be more than one shot," Sassy reasons. "At least two, if we're betting both lives. And quit saying gay words like stake and plume, already."

"Jack has a point," Three says.

"Just because I scavenged books with print instead of porn growing up..."

"No, he has a point about the..."

In the distance a second shot is heard. All three heads (four, if you count mine) turn toward the sound.

"Fuck," the Captain says. "We're going back."

"Toldja we shoulda tried to find a snowmobile back north," Sassy-Jack remarks. The three men begin un-strapping their skis.

Three looks up from his ski-boots and his eyes lock with mine.

Fuck. Don't see me, don't see me...

"Uhh, ahh, intruder!" he shouts, fumbling for his rifle.

"Where?" Obvious shouts, bringing his own gun to bear. He spots me in the snowdrift. "Hands up."

"How about you let me clamber out of the snow first?" I ask. "And I'm no more intruder than you are, unless that's your plee-ume of smoke up there." Although they've all got their barrels pointed my way, they let me get to my feet.

"Sure got a mouth for someone with three guns pointed at you," Jack says. He follows it up with a chortle. "She talks like you, Steve. Clamber."

"Maybe I've found your replacement, Jack," Captain Steve quips. He turns back to me. "You know anything about those gunshots? Friends of yours?"

"I'm just passing through. No idea who fired that shot."

"Passing through alone?" Jack asks.

"No," I answer. "Shoot me and you'll have a lot of firepower coming after you."

"We're real scared, sweetheart," Jack says.

"Shut up, Jack," Three replies. "We should bring her with us. She seems like she could handle herself."

"Not interested," I say, wondering how steep the ditch is behind me if I have to jump for it.

"Wasn't giving you the option, baby," Jack says.

"I am," Steve says. "Don't be stupid, you two."

"Sure." Jack lowers his rifle and turns his back to me, looking at Steve. "Let's start our new city without any women. Great plan. We can even call it 'Sausagefest'."

Behind the men, another skier comes around the bend, bundled in brown furs and toting a Mosin-Nagant rifle.

I point at the newcomer. "I hate to interrupt your creepy resettlement plan, gentlemen, but is that one of your...?"

The Captain's head explodes before I hear the ringing of the first shot. Something stings my shoulder and I fall backwards, over the steep cliff-like ditch. Belatedly, as I scrabble to find purchase and break my fall, I realize that I, too, have been shot.

I hear more shooting as I tumble through the snow and brush. Then my head strikes something hard and I come to a stop in the deep snow at the bottom of the ditch.

"Fuck," I mutter as my vision swims."Don't pass out, Regan, you've got a..."

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