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“Thank you, that was delicious.” Angie says to Mike in a tone that indicated she genuinely means the compliment.

“You’re welcome. Always a pleasure when someone enjoys the food.” Mike actually might blush from a response like that to such a simple meal.

“What are you talking about? It was just oatmeal. No fruit, honey, cinnamon. Just bland. Even I could make that.” Jess complains. Why she would choose to metaphorically put a bitchy foot in her mouth right now, is a mystery. Mike starts scowling at Jess.

“I have been a cook for seven, fucking, years. I don’t got nothing fancy here.” Mike is holding his anger pretty well. As Jess is about to retort I butt in.

“What about the meat, could help?”

“Don’t trust that. God knows what animal, or guy, they pulled that from.” Quite a lot of dried meat was found in the packs. Angie visibly shakes at what Mike just implied about the food’s origins.

“Really, then what about getting something off the goats?” I gesture to the clearing. A large pile of dead goats was on the other side of the large circle we initially arrived on. The group had found them last night. All the corpses were drained of blood, and strangely they did not smell unless you got really close.

“Are you, fucking, insane.” Jess says some really hurtful things sometimes. I do not dignify her with a response. Just raise my smile and narrow my eyes a bit at her. Despite her best effort she visibly recoils a bit.

“Um, guys can we just try to get along?” Angie interjects in the silence.

“She has a good point, and we need to make a plan for getting out of here.” Mike says, providing the needed segue into the discussion we should have been having.

“You are supposed to stay still, in a survival situation. Idiots get themselves killed wandering through the woods.” Jess says, kind of condescendingly.

“No one knows we are out here. No one is looking. Somebody will probably be accused of chopping us up and hiding our parts around town.” I helpfully chime in. A slight chuckle following my comment to keep the mood merry. The others do not seem to appreciate my humor. Angie starts clutching her shoulders at the thought.

“Don’t listen to him.” Jess rubs Angie’s back soothingly. Large soft circles to reassure that someone is there. “They will probably think you just ran away. Everybody will be looking for you.”

“They aren’t finding us even if they are. You all saw ‘that’ last night.” What is Mike talking about?

“Yeah…” Angie seems to know. She is now clutching herself a little harder, trying to appear small and unnoticeable.

“It was probably a trick of the light.” Jess seems to want to deny whatever this is. Keeping a hand on Angie’s back to support the girl that is breaking at these thoughts.

“Wait! Saw what?” I interject. Mike and Jess just look at me like they are not sure themselves what they saw. Or that they do not want to believe it, and saying something will make it true.

“I’m not sure. How did you miss it anyway?” Jess looks at me with disbelief.

“I have been told I am very dismissive of the world around me.” I say a light chuckle at my own insult on my person.

“Heh, if it is still there tonight I’ll show you.” Jess promises me, looking smug for some reason.

“Aw, come on. Please just tell me.” I want to get any information on this mysterious thing that I missed last night. When Jess sees I am still smiling, despite my own failings being called out, she backs away slightly. I could probably force an answer out with some rough verbal prodding.

“Eric. Drop it.” Mike is trying to ruin my fun. “We need to stop getting distracted.”

“Alright.” I say simply. Probably should keep this on the right track anyway.

---

The planning went well. A long, boring, back and forth that only got derailed one more time. We have decided to move. Walking along the stream until we hit civilization or ocean.

Mike and Jess both have their cell phones, but cannot get any signal. Jess had actually been trying back when we were trapped. I guess I was too distracted to notice.

I am now approaching the clearing with Jess, as there is a slight problem with the plan. Both Angie and I do not have footwear, having been taken from our homes. Also Jess does not have appropriate footwear. Her sandals may look nice, but will fall apart after a few miles hiking. The only source of shoes we have is corpse looting, which brings us back to the bloody circle.

“So get to it.” I turn to Jess indicating she should start prying off the shoes, with a slightly jokey smile.

“Go burn in a lake.” Jess does not look at me, or move towards the corpses. She is hiding something in her right hand from me.

“Harsh. What did I do to you?” I was not actually expecting her to go corpse robbing, but I could have had some fun watching her panick about. Anyway, I just smile and shrug the words off.

I go to the least bloody corpse, the first to die. Killed in only one shot to the head and falling in such a way that the blood pooled away from the body. I begin pulling the boots off of the cadaver.

“So, why do you hate me?” I ask, slightly too cheerfully, as if I enjoy being hated.

“I’m not here to talk. Just help carry things.” Jess says dismissively. She turns away slightly but still keeps an eye on me. She keeps her hand behind her back where I can not see.

I pull the boot off the body. Holding it against my foot, it looks like a fit. Placing the footwear aside after quickly grabbing the partner. I begin searching the body for anything else.

“Creep.” Jess is disapproving of this action apparently. Ignoring her I continue searching. The matching robes the cultists wear are very thick. Apparently thick enough that in this weather one only needs underwear underneath. The only place to store things appear to be a single pocket on the right side of the robe. I pull out a dagger. Only one side is bladed and curves into a single point at the end. Even with the nice design, the knife looks kind of unimpressive. A rough iron affair. The curvy design feels like it will break if striking anything too hard.

“Look what I found.” Gripping the dagger I make a few swings. “Now then, can you please tell me something? Do you think you can stop me with only your pepper spray, if I decide to charge you with this knife?”

“How did you-”

“Answer the question.” I interrupt the annoying woman. Her face takes on a vexed expression.

“Y-Yes.” She manages to stammer out.

“Then you are greatly mistaken. By the time I reach you all I have to do is follow through. Even in the unlikely event you manage to hit my eyes, by the time I am in range of your spicy mist, I just have to slice where you are.” She looks conflicted as I make a very good point. Luckily she has not decided to run. I would not be able to catch up if she did.

“Don’t worry I just want to know your problem with me, so would you please do me the kindness of answering this time?” I say in my attempt at a soothing voice.

“In, in my line of work, I have to be able to pick up on anything that seems off.” Jess finally starts talking.

“What line of work is that?” I make a casual inquiry.

“You don’t need to know. Just that everything about you says danger.” She looks away like she is ashamed to say what she does.

“What about me says danger?” I press her some more.

“What?... You killed two people and don’t even seem bothered! You have a stupid creepy smile all the time! And now you are handling corpses like it’s nothing!” She yells out at me.

“I suppose you are right.” Resheathing the dagger, I toss the weapon over so it lands next to her. “For your protection.”

I continue looting the dead, while keeping an eye on her. She yells at me as I attempt to search the dead gunman. Ignoring her I continue searching, but do not find much. Some cigarettes and a wallet, and Jess asks for both. I do not smoke and the wallet only has four dollars, so I oblige.

“What do you want these for anyway?” I question her.

“A freak like you wouldn’t care, but I at least want to know who this guy was.”

She is right, I really do not care. He is dead and if we find some authorities we can send them to the body. "But why the cigarettes?" She just shrugs off the question, so I continue searching. I discover the first cultist I killed, Mr. Freeze, had the same knife as his friend. Shorty also had this knife on him, and had apparently decided that he did not require any undergarments under his robes.

“Hey! Is there a book?” Jess asks from her comfortable distance.

“No.” I look around not finding anything else. Now that she brings this up, I do seem to remember one of the cultists had a large, strange book.

“Really, nothing?” Jess seems to be in disbelief. I suspect she would think I was lying if she had not been watching me this entire time. I kick over each cadaver as I quickly scan the area again for the tome.

“Don’t see it.” I report once again.

“Then were did it go?” She seems to be demanding I answer the impossible.

“That’s not what I would be worried about.” I say giving a slight chuckle to mask my nerves.

“Huh.” Jess gives me a dumb look. I begin walking back towards her and the loot pile.

“Nothing has been nibbling at them in the night. Out here in the forest normally bugs would be crawling all over them, and something big might take a bite. But there was nothing.” I report my findings. Jess does not know what to do with this information, and just looks confused.

“I think we should get out of here, quickly.” I give a subdued, frustrated smile.

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nifirin

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