Without looking at the kid Mitch said, “Two.”
The boy slunk back into the building soon to return carrying a cage containing two chickens. He deposited the cage in the back of the pickup, and Mitch sped off. The boy lingered outside chewing his hand till it bled. Sucking on the wound, he went back inside giggling and slurping.
Mitch drove until he came to Hunter’s Pass, a dirt road that branched off from the highway stretching deep into the Maigre Woods. About a mile in he stopped the truck. He went around back to get the cage. He set it on the ground several feet from the pickup then hurried back into the cab. Then he turned off the headlights.
He kept an ear open. The leaves rustled. The chickens clucked, sometimes their wings flapped. A half hour nearly passed. The night became still. Mitch felt a need to reach for the switch, turn on the headlights, but he held back. They preferred the dark. The chickens started making a racket. He heard metal being hammered, the birds’ squawks cut off by a hideous gurgle, and he heard footsteps crunching through dried leaves.
Mitch turned on the cab lights. Although he expected the sight he still jumped at the appearance of a skeletal figure with bone white skin standing next to the truck staring at Mitch through the darkness. Long strands of greasy hair dangled from its head like a frozen ink spill. The face may have been human once, but any semblance that remained survived by accident. Ritualistic scarification saw to the erasure of the thing’s humanity. The faint clatter of its bone necklace caused Mitch to swallow hard; fingers and vertebra clicking against one another, held together by string made of hair. Mitch knew his obligations, but that didn’t mean he ever got too comfortable handling them. He kept his family safe, just like his daddy did before him. The Shaman stepped closer to the pickup, his breath fogging the driver side window.
Cracking the window an inch, Mitch said quick as he could, “There’s some people in town. They ain’t looking for you, but they might be around where y’all usually at. You do what you want though I think it’d be best if you just hid.”
The Shaman turned, and slipped back into the woods. Mitch waited a minute before he felt safe breathing again. He started the truck – thub-splop: the sound of chicken intestines hitting the windshield. Mitch hurried back to town. The Bone People wanted blood.
Back in the hotel Sara retired to her room with a blunt goodnight. Before Gene could return her goodnight the door connecting their rooms shut. As many have done in previous situations throughout human history, Gene reminded himself he needed her money more than her friendship.
While Sara organized her maps and routes for the following the day, Gene uploaded all the pictures he’d already took onto his laptop. Jobs like this rarely needed more than few dozen photos: images which helped further the story by elaborating a scene’s context. That said, doing a good job meant having several variations to choose from. The right photo usually hid among 80 others all seemingly twins save for subtle shafts of light. Finding it, well, that’s what really made the difference between being a photographer and just a guy with a camera – taking the time to sift for gold.
However, for now, Gene tried not to pay attention to his pics. He focused on simply bundling them into folders. He knew himself well enough to know if he started eying them now – like that one where the angle is perfect, but the light all wrong. He fiddled with a few digital tools to see if he could salvage the photo. Nope. Too bad, maybe… six photos later Gene glanced at the clock next his bed. He swore.
An hour and a half tinkering with variations 99% of the world would never be able to tell the differences between, he should get to bed. He told himself to go to bed. The next series of photos didn’t even matter. He snapped them while they drove to the cliffs where Alice Dobbs jumped. Professional tourist photos nothing more except something caught his eye.
Gene opened the photo and zoomed in on the woods. He enhanced the image a touch to be certain. Sweat peppered his forehead. Trick of the light, he told himself, the filters will get rid of it. They didn’t.
The photo showed Sara getting stuff out of the trunk. She did her best to look amused, while Gene snapped a picture. He’d taken it so casually without intending – among the trees he saw two naked figures, their bodies covered in some kind of, it seemed like white paint, watching Sara and Gene.
Knowing he’d taken several snapshots in a row Gene cycled through the photo stream, but found no more. That one photo, a split second captured the Bone People in the forest. Gene lunged at the connecting door. He pounded until a bleary eyed Sara flung the door open.
“You’ve got to see this,” Gene said. He grabbed her by the wrist. Half awake, Sara found herself dragged in front of Gene’s laptop before she thought to resist. Gene pointed at the screen, “Look at that.”
She did, and said…