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The small town of Cantankerous, Washington lay at the base of Mt. Rainer. In the winter it was cold. In the summer it was cold. We were used to it. Me and my friend Declan rode our bikes to school and back every day. In the summer –the only time the weather ever rose above 50 degrees – we would often go hiking in the forest with Sergio, our other friend. On this particular July day, it was just after my 12th birthday and it was the hottest of the year at a steamy 75 degrees and we were heading into the forest.
My dark hair was pulled into a pony tail and my old white tank top was sweat soaked already. We were meeting at the café where my mother worked for lunch. We sat in our usual booth eating burgers and watching the news on the fuzzy TV on the counter.
“This just in: searchers have found yet another body in the forest just outside of the small town of Cantankerous. The body is believed to be of the young Abilene Spring, who went missing last week from her home in Seattle.” The reporter said.
“Gee,” Declan said after a long minute. “Who would drive all the way from Seattle to dump a body here?”
“A serial killer.” Sergio joked.
“Not funny Sergio.” I rolled my dark eyes and scoffed.
“Gee, Lauren, learn to joke a bit.” He retorted.
“Come on you two,” Declan laughed, standing up and shaking his mop of blonde curls. “We better get going if we want to be back by six.”
I sighed and followed Declan out of the café beckoning for Sergio to follow me. We jumped on our bikes and rode the mile and a half to the trailhead, where we chained our bikes to the bike rack and walked into the trail. I was carrying the back pack
with our flashlight, water bottles, flint and survival knife. We weren’t planning on being out here past six o’clock but just in case we were ready.
We hiked to a small stream before picking some blackberries and stopping to have our snack. Sergio was the one who decided to go wading first, peeling off his tennis shoes and wading into the bitter water. Declan wasn’t so sure about going into the water, as he had never been too keen on any sort of water animal. Between me and Sergio we managed to convince him that there were no – oh god forbid- snails.
We were wading in the creek when it happened, I tripped and completely soaked myself from head to toe, not that I minded. It was what I tripped over that scared me.
“Gee Lauren you’re such a klutz.” Sergio joked laughing, his electric blue eyes sparking with laughter.
“Declan! Sergio! Get over here!” I screamed.
“What is it now?” Sergio sighed not moving, but Declan moved over to me.
“Oh my.” He stammered his green eyes wide like traffic lights. “Sergio is this what I think it is?”
“Is what, what you think it is?” Sergio trudged over. “Honestly you two can be such babies sometimes.”
He finally came to where we were and when he saw it his eyes went wider then Declan’s, I was too horrified to look back but the two of them confirmed my worst fears. I had tripped over a human body.
The water had made the body begin to swell and the clothes weak and limp, it would’ve been floating on the surface but there wasn’t enough water for it to float. The skin was a sick vampire-esque grey and the hair was think and blonde. I screamed.
“Lauren, Lauren calm down and stand up, we’re going home now.” Sergio’s tone was calm and even, making it clear he was the only one who could keep his thoughts straight. He was holding out his hand to help me up. I took it gratefully and he pulled me up.
“Why? One of us has to stay here, and the others can go get help!” Declan said urgently.
“Declan, my dad is a cop and if I’m right that body has only been dead a few hours and in the water not more than an hour - we need to get out of here.” Sergio’s voice was even as he led me by the hand away. He stooped to pick up the back pack. He pulled a small towel and handed it to me. “For your hair.”
It seemed a mundane thing to worry about but I thanked him and dried my sopping black ponytail and handed the towel back. Declan was out of the water by now and pulling his shoes on.
“H-how did she die?” Declan asked weakly.
“B-bled out, like a deer, see the cut on the neck.” Sergio pointed. “My dad does that when we go hunting, it stops the suffering and allows a quicker death, but usually you cut the other main arteries.”
“But that’s a deer, this is a human being.” I said. “Let’s go- we need to get out of here.”
We started back down the trail now, running as we reached the trailhead. I pulled the key to the bike chain out of my pocket and tossed it to Declan who unchained the bikes. We leapt on them and pedaled away faster than we ever had.
The ride back to the café seemed to take hours but if I had checked my watch it would’ve taken only twenty minutes. When we got into the café Sergio’s dad was drinking coffee at the bar and talking to my mother.
“Mr. Ridgeway! Mr. Ridgeway!” Declan screamed.
“Oh hello kids, what’s wrong, you all look like you’ve seen death himself?” Mr. Ridgeway said.
“D-dad,” Sergio panted. “W-we found a body in the creek, L-Lauren tripped over it.”
“You found a what?!” My mother gasped.
“A body mother, I t-tripped over a dead body!” I screamed.
“Okay, okay calm down” Mr. Ridgeway said. “Take me to the body.”
“I-I don’t want to go back there.” I pleaded.
“You have too Lauran, you’re the one who tripped over it.” Sergio insisted.
I sighed giving up and agreeing to take Mr. Ridgeway back to where we’d seen the body. When we got to the creek Mr. Ridgeway sent me and Declan back to get the rest of the police in Cantankerous. Sergio, who was now at the police station, met us there. The rest of the cops headed back into the woods and we stayed behind.
“Gee what a day huh?” Sergio sighed.
“What a day? What a day?!” Declan shook his angelic curls “We could’ve all died and all you say is what a day?! What is wrong with you?”
“Lots of things, Declan, lots of things are wrong with me.” Sergio said grimly, running a hand through his dark hair.
“Wh-what do you mean Sergio?” I asked, fear choking my throat, Mr. Ridgeway was a police man he wouldn’t do this. Would he?
“What do you think, my dad is a murderer and you’ve let him take all the cops in the town into the forest with a gun!” Sergio snapped.
I could feel Declan grab my hand and pull me back as Sergio’s violent temper boiled over and he shoved everything off his father’s desk. Declan pulled me out of the police station and over to a pay phone.
“Do you have any change?” He asked urgently.
“Y-yeah here.” I said, handing him some coins from my pocket. “Who are you calling?”
“911.” He answered.
“Well, I hate to tell you this but 911 is in the forest with a murderer right now!” I snapped.
“I’ll have them send someone from Gregarious then!” He hurried. The rain is pouring down and I draw closer to Declan, who wraps and arm around me, drawing me close.
We stand huddled, the phone pressed to his ear as the 911 operator talks in a soothing voice. I didn’t really hear it though because I was so focused on what was going on in the station. I could see Sergio destroying what ever was in his path through the window. It was terrifying but it was no surprise his temper had always been a violent one.
It took them the better part of an hour, but they finally brought Mr. Ridgeway down from the mountain and handcuffed him. Some of the cops from Gregarious were talking to me and Declan, but I was distracted. Sergio sat off by himself, he had nowhere to go, what with his mom dead and his dad arrested. What would happen to him?
That was 20 years ago in 1982. After the incident in Cantankerous Sergio was removed from his home and placed in a foster home. The next year in ’83 my parents moved us 100 miles away to Camaraderie, just over the border into Oregon and Declan moved to Gregarious.
Now the two of us stand side by side in Cantankerous bent over a crime scene, a young woman has been killed.
“How did she die?” Declan asks. The two of us have been working for a private detective agency in Seattle for some time now and have recently been called to the murder scene of a woman here in Cantankerous.
“All the main arteries have been slashed open.” The cop on the scene says. I look at Declan and my brown eyes meet his green ones.
“Hey Declan, whatever happened to Sergio?”