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First pages

When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.

— George Bernard Shaw

 

 

"I wanted the ideal animal to hunt," explained the general. "So I said, `What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?' And the answer was, of course, `It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.'"

"But no animal can reason," objected Rainsford.

"My dear fellow," said the general, "there is one that can."

— Richard Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game"

 


1 — Trap

"We're just going around in circles! There it is again!"

The edge in Linda's voice was sharp as razors but Frank was immune having heard it countless times before. That edge was part of the reason they were here, trudging around—In circles, he thought, sure, maybe, likely—in the middle of the godforsaken woods.

Not that he didn't accept a good share of the blame for getting the two of them to this place. His signature was on the contract right beside hers after all.

"There what is?"

"That. It's the same tree we saw earlier."

"It's not the same tree," he grumbled, though he knew saying it would only piss her off more. She was always in charge of the maps because she'd always been better with directions. Frank, who would do the driving, was a creature of instinct. With no time restrictions he would gladly go where the road took him.

"It's the same fucking tree," she said, on the verge of growling as she stomped up alongside him in her ergonomic walking shoes. "Look! That's the same knot that looks like a vagina with the same initials carved into it!"

Frank couldn't help but laugh even though he knew it would piss her off. But he saw she was right. Engraved in the tree below what looked more like a weeping gash to him were the initials HK + JD.

He was still laughing as he stepped down on something hard that shifted beneath his shoe. His laugh became a yelp of surprise a split second before the pain struck his calf like a snakebite.

Except it wasn't a snake. He'd heard a sharp click. A rusty squawk of metal. The crunch of bone.

Frank dropped to his knees and the pain followed him down, metal grinding against bone like nails down a chalkboard.

"What the hell, Frank?" Linda turned, flashing with anger. When she saw what had her eyes went wide.

The agony swelled up his calf and down into his shoe like a swarm of fire ants. Screaming, he rolled back on his buttocks, scrabbling at the metal jaws of the bear trap.

"Stop moving!" Linda dropped to her haunches beside him and groaned, her eyes preceding her head as she turned away in disgust.

It was far worse than he thought, if such a thing was possible.

He didn't want to look. He had to.

The thick rusty teeth had torn into his calf. The wounds gaped on both sides of his leg, red muscle and yellow fatty tissue exposed. Blood had already soaked the rolled-down white tube sock like a nosebleed handkerchief.

Difficult to tell if the bone beneath was broken in his fevered glimpses. Pain and adrenaline came in waves to the drumming of his heart, his vision alternating from gray to Kodachrome bright, each wave threatening to pull him under.

Need a tetanus shot, he thought.

"Okay, everything's gonna be all right," Linda said, eyes still wide with fear as she lied. Her trembling hands hovered over the trap. She was too worried to touch it for fear she'd make it worse. "Just breathe, honey. Breathe."

Even through the mind-shattering pain he noticed she'd called him honey. Was it loving? Nurturing? Or simply professional, like an ER nurse or a waitress? He couldn't tell. Every phrase between them these days was a secret code the other was never meant to decipher. Every look loaded with hidden meaning.

He let out a hiss and sucked in a shivering inhale. The trees seemed to close in around him, mirroring the trap they'd been caught in for hours, for years, circling them like carrion birds, spiraling ever closer to the pain at its center.

To the metal jaws.

To this sharp-edged metaphor of their imploding relationship.

He held his wife's gaze, forcing a smile. Jaw quivering. Teeth chattering. Tears burning his cheeks, he tasted them from the corners of his lips.

He thought, Is this where it all ends?

Linda reached for his sneaker. "I'm gonna take off your shoe, okay?"

"What… for?" he breathed.

"Because when I pry this thing open I want you to yank your foot out as fast as you can, okay?"

Frank nodded, his whole body shaking. Blinked away sweat from his eyes. He lost control of his muscles during another pain wave and his upper body swayed toward the ground. He struggled to remain conscious, to hold himself upright.

As delicately as possible Linda untied his shoe. She looked up to gauge his reaction. If she was hurting him too much with just this tender movement.

She thought, Did I give up on him too soon?

The shoe slipped off his heel and she cast it aside urgently. The scattering of dead leaves where it landed made a distinct metallic clink.

Linda scowled in the direction of the sound.

Frank followed her concerned gaze and saw nothing.

She grasped the loop of rusted chain fastened to the trap. Frank grit his teeth in agony as she tugged on it, pulling it up from the ground. He wanted to tell her to stop but her determined look made him think better of it. Her pulling exposed more and more rusty dirt-clodded links previously hidden beneath leaves and roots and earth, snaking off toward the big tree with the initials carved in its bark.

"What the hell…?" she said.

Frank saw the chain tied around the base of the tree and wondered how they hadn't noticed it the first time around.

"This wasn't there before."

"Someone just put it there in the twenty minutes since we last came around?" He didn't want to start another argument but the pain made him reckless and so often now they argued just for the sake of it. "That makes no sense, Linda."

"It wasn't there, I swear." She shook the chain in frustration, causing another searing wave to travel up his leg and settle in his groin.

"What does it matter?" he growled in agony.

Linda's gaze snapped toward him and all her anger instantly evaporated. "You're right." She lowered the chain gently to the ground. "It doesn't. Let's get this thing off you, okay?"

"Okay."

Frank thought, Is it too late to take it all back? The arguments? The complaints? The name-calling?

She grasped the jaws, fingers streaking with his blood. "On the count of three, okay?"

He nodded eagerly, tensing against the impending pain.

"One…" Her voice hesitant, her gaze unsure.

They both thought, Can't we just start over?

"…Two." More assuredly now, determination returned to her warm brown eyes.

They thought, Can't we go back to what it was like before?

"…Three!"

Her muscles strained as she pried open the jaws, tearing them free from the meat of his calf. Blood-slicked fingers slipping, her fingernails tore on clumps of rust and the trap clamped down harder than before, juddering against naked bone.

In the silence that followed Frank's howl of agony, sending a host of sparrows fluttering from the branches of a nearby aspen, they both heard the dogs.

In that moment, Frank wondered, Was Linda right about the chain?


2 — It's Not a Cult

Pain seized Linda's left calf and she might have cried out if not for the men above and below her.

She'd climbed above the trees just fine but had suddenly found herself forty or fifty feet above the rocky ground without a foothold and nothing within reach of her straining hands.

In an extremely risky dynamic leap she'd launched herself too far from any previous holds, the crimp she held in both hands barely deep enough for her fingers to maintain their precarious grip. Her strained leg quivered as she scoured the rock for somewhere to place the other.

With their friend Trevor belaying, she could easily have given up. Called "Falling!" and just let go to hang in space until he lowered her down. But Frank had assured her he wasn't up to the climb and that she wasn't either.

As much as she wanted to prove her husband wrong she also wanted to prove to herself how far she'd come since the Year From Hell.

The trouble was Dillon and Trevor weren't just experienced climbers, they also appeared to be in the best shape of their lives. Dillon already neared the top of the rock, climbing like a sexy little gecko on methamphetamines despite baby Clayton snuggled in a papoose on her back. Trevor leisurely picked holds and glided languidly to the next in a semi-doped haze.

"So she cheated on me," he shouted down at Linda, oblivious to her pain. "Do you believe that?"

Linda knew he expected a reply so she uttered a sound of disbelief, even though she could actually believe it. She'd known Trevor far longer than Dillon had. They'd even dated briefly in college, back when his ego could have received its own honorary PhD. He'd mellowed since then apparently but the last time the four of them had gotten together Dillon and Trevor had gotten into a huge fight about some slight he'd committed and Dillon had stormed off. Now that she and Frank were having trouble it seemed like Trevor and Dillon were suddenly the perfect couple.

"You all right up there?" Frank called up from a good ten feet below, looking up between her legs. Probably noticed her twitching. His concern, tinged with an obvious "I told you so" edge, pissed her off but at least he was good enough not to call attention to it.

"I'm fine," she grunted.

"There's a hold right there." He let go of his own hold to point to a crimp she hadn't noticed.

"That's a crozzler," Trevor said, looking down through rainbow-tinted sunglasses. "Crumbled under my foot. Careful there."

"Thanks," she said.

Frank mumbled something under his breath.

"What's that?" Linda asked, unwilling or unable to let just let it go.

"I said, 'You're welcome.'"

If he had said it he'd done so in a snarky tone. She let it go and felt the crimp for give. Seemed solid enough. Trevor must have crumbled off a layer of loose rock.

She relaxed her leg, putting more weight on the other. The cramp in her calf lessened to a dull throb and she rotated her shoulders one at a time, relishing the crackle in her joints.

Of course now she was safe the pressure on her bladder returned. She'd have to pee relatively soon, she just hoped she could make it to the top of the cliff first.

"So yeah, she cheated on me with three other guys," Trevor continued. "Not at the same time. But I deserved it, you know? I was a prick. Took her for granted," he said, pronouncing it like granite.

"And you forgave her?" Frank said, forgiving the mispronunciation.

"Oh yeah. We got to the root of the problem just last week. But we worked through it, didn't we, Dee?"

Instead of answering Dillon shouted, "Rock!"

Trevor jerked his head back just in time, a large chunk of slate shooting through the space he'd left. The rock struck the cliff face a few feet above Frank, smashing into smaller bits that rattled on his helmet and rolled off his shoulders.

"Shit!" he cried out.

"Guess who didn't want to wear a helmet," Linda mocked.

Trevor flashed down a toothy smile that would have melted her like butter in their college days. "Oh you gotta wear a helmet, bro. One-hundred-and-ten percent."

Frank scowled up at Linda. She gave him a big self-satisfied grin.

If asked, she could have pinpointed the exact moment their relationship had become like navigating a barbed-wire fence. The fact that the root of their problem wasn't entirely either of their faults had turned their marriage following their Year From Hell into a battle of wills, neither of them willing to admit their share of the blame. Both of them wearing their guilt on their faces like flashing road signs.

Could be they'd always been hurtling toward the edge of a metaphorical cliff like Thelma and Louise. Their favorite fictional couples had all been contentious: Maddie and David from Moonlighting, Sam and Dianne from Cheers (although Frank preferred Sam and Rebecca—of course he preferred the hot one over the one with brains), Buttercup and Westley from The Princess Bride. When she was young Mr. and Mrs. Twit had been her favorite storybook characters. Frank, believing himself a special child lacking in parental nurturing, had preferred Charlie Bucket.

There'd been an element of teasing and toying to their relationship from the very beginning. Of push and pull. They'd met at a college basketball game rooting for rival teams. Enrolled in rival schools.

Frank had picked her up with a classic technique by pointing out how great she would look "if not for that stupid hat," in reference to the team cap she'd been wearing. In retrospect it likely wouldn't have worked on her if she and Trevor hadn't had their huge public breakup a few weeks prior, but when she'd told Frank it was a terrible pickup line he'd laughed and admitted to it.

"So let's trade," he'd said.

"Trade? Caps?"

"Yeah, why not? What's the worst that could happen?"

She'd given him a suspicious look. "Head lice?"

He'd laughed and she'd loved it immediately. Uproarious. Infectious. Not like these days when he usually just uttered a sharp and sardonic "ha" rather than dare to really let go.

"I don't have lice," he'd assured her. He'd taken off his cap and held it out for her to inspect. Sweat on the band but free of bugs. "What, are you afraid they'll catch us on the Jumbotron and all your friends'll disown you for rooting for the bad guys?"

"Oh, come on. You're not bad guys." She'd smirked. Being playful.

Frank had grinned. "Some of us are…"

He'd played the bad boy during those first few weeks of courting but he just hadn't had it in him. Linda had seen the nice Canadian boy in him from the very beginning. Her breakup with Trevor, a true bad boy back then, had practically thrust polar opposite Frank Moffat into her bed.

Whether it was ironic or inevitable that she had been the one to end up filling the bad guy role after the Year From Hell, Linda wasn't sure and didn't want to think too deeply into it.

She reached up for a bucket hold far above her head, pushing with both feet. The tips of her fingers scrabbled against it. Straining, her cramped leg buckling, she thrust upward with all of her remaining strength and slipped her hand into the groove.

"Nice one," Frank said without a trace of his usual sarcasm.

Trevor was pretty, but Frank was unconventionally handsome and far more intelligent. Where Trevor had provided excitement and spontaneity both in bed and elsewhere, Frank had a better sense of humor, wit, and at one point romance as well. They were also comparable in bed, though Trevor was slightly more inclined toward self-gratification.

Frank and Linda had dated for six years and been married for three. She'd gotten sick a few months after the honeymoon.

But she wouldn't think about that. Not here, clinging to the edge of death. Not now, with Trevor above her and Frank below.

"How'd you do it?" Frank asked.

For a moment Linda didn't know who or even what he was asking. Then she remembered Trevor's admission. Dillon cheating with multiple men. Him forgiving her. As far as Linda knew, there had been no such transgressions in their own relationship.

If only it was that simple, she thought.

She reached for a hold. Pulled herself up.

Trevor grunted as he wedged himself into a ledge just wide enough to rest a single butt cheek. He sat with his shoulder and hip against the rock, breathing evenly, and brought out a joint from his fanny pack. Twisted the precise flame of a butane lighter around its tip, taking a luxuriant drag.

Linda noticed bruises on his legs and arms she hadn't spotted before. Climbing injuries, she supposed, or from any number of extreme sports he and Dillon participated in. But the gash on his right forearm looked nasty, like it had only recently been infected. Multiple stitches stood like black barbs around wound.

Trevor held the smoke in for a moment. On exhale, he said, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

"Ha!" Frank said. Not a laugh, merely an acknowledgment that a joke had been made. Never that laugh like he used to, like she'd loved. "Seriously, though."

Trevor's eyebrow rose above the rim of his sunglasses. "You really want to know?"

"It's The Method!" Dillon called down. They all looked up to see her on her hands and knees at the top of the climb. Her slim muscular body silhouetted by the sun, she waved down cheerily. "Come on, you gumbies—catch up!" she said, before laughing and disappearing behind the rock.

"'Gumbies,'" Trevor sputtered, exhaling a lungful of smoke. "Ch'yeah, right."

"What's The Method?" Frank asked. More than just a little curious, Linda noted. "Is that like meditation? Yoga, or something?"

Trevor shook his head. "Nuh-uh. It's, uh… more like unconventional therapy. Cutting edge stuff." He chuckled to himself and his expression darkened. "Wait, you two aren't…?"

"No," both Frank and Linda said all too quickly.

"We're good," Frank added. "I'm just curious."

"He's just curious," Linda agreed, not about to open up about their relationship troubles on the side of a rock with Trevor and Dillon and baby Clay.

"Good. You two were always my rock. If you guys broke up… shit, there's no hope for any of us, is there, Dee?"

"Nope!" Dillon shouted down from the edge.

Linda had never thought something Trevor would say could move her close to tears but here she was fighting them back. She felt Frank looking at her and knew that if he caught her eye she wouldn't be able to stop them from falling.

"Friends of ours, though," he said. "Couple friends. They're having trouble. Can't seem to stop fighting. Almost like they enjoy it but they're pretty sure neither of them does. Like it's a full-contact sport."

Trevor nodded thoughtfully, holding the smoke in his lungs. "Well, I'll give you the info. You can pass it along to them." He looked from Frank to Linda and raised his eyebrows. "Coolio?"

Linda managed a look in Frank's general direction. He nodded.

"Coolio," she said.

 

Linda came back from squatting in the bushes to where the rest of them sat on the top of the rock, eating the food they'd packed, looking out over a huge expanse of brilliant green treetops of the Enchantments. She'd had to pee a lot more frequently since the surgery. Her frequent urination since the Year From Hell was one of the reasons Frank had thought coming out here wasn't such a good idea.

Dillon passed a tall boy from the cooler to his. He finished his mouthful of sausage, blew foam off the rim and drank greedily before handing it back. She took a sip herself, mindful of baby Clay's fuzzy little head as he breastfed, and burped.

Everyone chuckled. The atmosphere was amiable, though Linda sat on a rock a little ways behind him. Frank smiled back at her and she gave him a half-hearted smile in return.

He noticed the gash on Trevor's forearm, under a tattoo of a rose dripping blood. "That's a nasty cut. All those bruises. What happened to you two?"

Trevor gave Dillon a startled look. He swallowed a mouthful of food. "Motorcycle accident."

Dillon smiled thinly. "You should see the bruise on my thigh. Cracked a few ribs, too."

"You should be more careful now that you've got Clay to think about," Linda said.

Frank agreed but never would have said it aloud.

"No, you're right," Trevor said. "That's why we tried The Method. For little Clay." He took the baby's chubby foot between his thumb and forefinger and gave it a little jiggle. "And it worked. One-hundred-and-ten percent."

"Unconventional therapy," Frank said.

Trevor smiled, all teeth. "Exactly."

"How does it work?"

"It's a weekend thing," Dillon said. "A private lodge in the woods. They only take two couples at a time so they can give you personal treatment."

Baby Clay clawed at her breast with a tiny hand and she smiled down at him. In an unintended glimpse, Frank noticed three oblong bruises below her clavicle that looked almost like fingermarks.

"But what is it, exactly?" Linda wondered. "It's not religious, is it?"

Trevor and Dillon shared a knowing smile. "It's definitely not religious," he said.

"But by the end of the weekend," Dillon added, "it's like a spiritual awakening, you guys. It's…" She nodded ecstatically. "…pretty intense."

"Shit, you two know how clouded I used to be." Trevor chewed while he spoke. "How… just fucking out of touch I was. After that weekend, after we met the doctor…" Again they shared a knowing look. "I see what matters with focal-point clarity. We see it. Everything makes sense now." He chuckled, looking at everyone. "It probably sounds crazy to you guys."

"All that matters is that it makes sense to you," Linda said, smiling back at Frank. He nodded, though he wasn't sure he agreed. It sounded like they might have gotten themselves into a cult.

"It's not a cult, if that's what you're thinking," Trevor said.

"I wasn't thinking that," Frank lied.

"It's just… it's a very intense experience, isn't it, Dee?"

Baby Clay laughed at her breast. "Clay seems to think so!" she said, and they all laughed with her.

"Is it expensive?" Linda asked.

Gotta be cheaper than a divorce, Frank thought. And less nasty.

"Well, it ain't cheap," Trevor answered. "But how can you put a price on love, right?"

Dillon leaned into his shoulder. "Such a big softie."

Trevor kissed the top of her head. "That's not what you said last night, babe." He laughed and everyone joined him, even Frank, who didn't find it particularly funny.

"But seriously, it's the best decision we ever made, right, Dee?"

She smiled up at him from under his chin and baby Clay gurgled at her breast.

Trevor drew an arm around them, his perfect family.

Frank had never thought he'd see it but it really did seem like their relationship had gone through a massive transformation. It had matured.

Whether that was more down to the arrival of their new family member or a single weekend's getaway at therapy camp, he couldn't say. But if Linda was willing to try it he supposed this "method" thing couldn't hurt.

3 — Authority

Silence drew out between Frank and Linda as he drove the wide mountain road looking for the turnoff. She wondered if it was as uncomfortable for him as it was for her but she wasn't about to ask. Instead she pretended to study directions on her cell phone.

In the week following their climb with Trevor and Dillon, when Frank had blurted out that he wanted to try this "method" and she'd agreed to it, they hadn't argued much. Home life had been civil for the most part. Part of her suspected Frank's reason for suggesting the trip was so he couldn't be seen as the bad guy when their marriage did eventually—inevitably—disintegrate.

He was trying though, and she couldn't fault him for it. If she didn't at least meet him halfway she'd ultimately be responsible for the death of their marriage. Or be burdened by the weight of that guilt even if she wasn't.

She'd decided not to ruin his gesture by questioning his motives. She let him book the trip. Let him put the hefty downpayment on their joint credit account and provide the business with the make, model and plate number of their hatchback and next of kin for both in case of emergency. They'd both undergone physicals and had their physicians fax the results to Lone Loon Lodge c/o Dr. Kaspar.

The little blue arrow on her GPS blinked for them to take a right at the next turn and she instructed Frank to do so.

"Thanks." He turned to her briefly. The smile didn't reach his eyes. "How 'bout some music, huh?"

He thumbed on the radio. The Eagles's "Hotel California" came on right before the guitar solo—"can never leave…"

"Please, God, no," Linda said, rolling her eyes in despair.

"I like that song." He shrugged and changed the station.

A pleasant melody for strings filled the silence. She recognized it but couldn't name either song or composer. Never been great with classical titles despite or because of her mother's affinity for it. They were all "opus number" whatever and "concerto for" this or that instrument.

She allowed the music to wash over her, soothing her nerves. What was there to be nervous about?

Nine years, that's what, she thought. This weekend will make us or break us and honestly I'm not even sure which I'd prefer.

If the thought hadn't already spoiled her moment of peace, the police car up ahead with its bubble lights flashing did the trick.

Both Frank and Linda glanced at the speedometer.

"What's the speed limit here?" he said.

"Fifty-five, last I saw."

"Me too." He maintained his speed. They passed the cop at two below the limit.

Frank let out a sigh of relief, cut short when the siren blipped behind them. He bristled, frowning at the rearview mirror. "Shit. What does he want?"

"Better pull over."

"What, you think I'm gonna lead him on a high-speed chase?" He flicked on the blinker with a shaky hand and slowed the car.

"Stay calm, okay? It's probably something minor."

Frank gave her a dubious look. "Lin, can you do me a favor?"

"What?" She didn't mean for it to sound aggressive but it did.

"I've got weed in my pocket."

"Oh, Jesus, Frank—I thought you were gonna take this weekend seriously!"

"I am taking it seriously. It's a just in case. Can you just… can you just hide it or get rid of it?"

Linda shook her head in aggravation as Frank began to pull over into the soft shoulder. The hatchback came to a stop and she gave a faux-casual look out the back window, digging into the front pocket of his jeans.

"That's not it," he teased.

"Do really think now is the time to make jokes like that? Where did you even get this stuff, anyway?"

"Trevor hit me up. He said it's good for pain."

"What pain?"

"My knees were shitty after the climb." He grinned and zipped down the window. "It's a joint for my joints."

"Jesus," she said again, watching the officer leave his patrol car and approach. He was huge in his khaki Sheriff's Department uniform, even in the side mirror. She slipped the bag of weed out of Frank's pocket and tucked it under the seat, just hoping Frank wouldn't say something stupid and give the cop cause to search the car.

"Morning, Officer." Frank gave the trooper an overly cheery wave. He'd always acted weird with police. More so when he had something to hide. The quirk wouldn't have been so odd if his dad wasn't a retired officer

"Sir, please keep your hands on the wheel."

The cop leaned down toward the car. Frank jerked his head back at the size of him in the window.

"Is there a problem?" Linda leaned down to get a look at the man. "We were driving the speed limit."

"No problem, ma'am," the cop said. With his mustache and hair slicked to the side he reminded Linda of Frank's dad. "Unless you're looking for trouble."

"Why would we be looking for trouble, Officer?" Frank asked.

The cop tapped the shield on his lapel. "Sheriff, not Officer."

"Sorry—"

"Don't be sorry, just don't do it again."

The sun glimmered off his sunglasses. It troubled her, not being able to see where he was looking. Could he see the weed sticking out from under the seat?

"You passed by my patrol car back there and didn't slow down. Do you realize that's against the law?"

"I…" Frank looked confused. "But you were just parked there."

"When an emergency vehicle is parked with its lights flashing," the sheriff's voice rose in aggravation, "it's the law to slow down. Now since this is only a two lane highway, I can't expect—"

"Off—" He caught himself. "Sheriff, with all due respect that's a bullshit law."

Linda shot a look at the back of her husband's head. She'd always known about his problems with authority, with male authority figures in particular, but she hadn't expected him to be so reckless about it.

"Frank," she pleaded.

"Excuse me?" the sheriff said.

Frank turned to her with anger in his eyes—and something else she couldn't quite place. He looked like a little boy who'd been picked on, unable to take any more abuse. "No, Linda, it's a bullshit law. He didn't have anyone pulled over, there was no emergency, as far as I could see—"

Over his shoulder she saw the sheriff's jaw tighten and his chest expand as his thick fingers gripped the windowsill. He was making himself larger, more imposing. Losing his patience. Readying to strike back.

"Sir, step out of the car please."

"Officer, this is—"

"Sheriff." The cop rested a hand on the .9mm Glock in his belt holster. "And I am not gonna ask you again."

Frank rolled his eyes at his own reflection in the rearview and opened the door.

The cop stepped aside to give him room, boots clomping. Frank threw a wary glance at Linda as he climbed out. From then on she could only see their torsos.

"Put your hands on the car, please."

"This is ridiculous," Frank said. His hands thumped down on the roof, and the cop began to pat him down. "I didn't do anything. I know my rights. My father's a retired cop."

"Sir, I would advise you to stop talking."

As the sheriff's hands neared Frank's crotch Frank danced away from him, pressing his groin against the window. "Ow! What the hell?"

The cop's hand returned to his sidearm. "Don't move."

Linda willed Frank to listen. To his credit he immediately put his hands back on the car. "You just jabbed me with something."

"I didn't jab you with anything."

"I felt it, man," Frank said. "I'm not making it up."

"Sir, I'm frisking you. It's called frisking. Now don't move again, or I'll be forced to take you into custody."

"All right," Frank said. "Okay."

The sheriff pushed Frank's legs apart with a knee and resumed patting him down. "Sir, what is this?"

"I can't tell what you're touching."

The cop reached into Frank's front pocket, where he'd kept the weed. Linda hoped the baggie hadn't opened and he wasn't feel bits of dried leaf with the tips of his fingers at the bottom of the pocket.

He removed his hand, holding up Frank's pocketknife.

"What have we got here? A concealed weapon?"

"That doesn't meet the requirements—"

"Shut up!"

He pulled out the knife blade with a long thumbnail, its edge glinting in the sun as he examined it. Linda heard him snap it closed. "All right, looks like you're clean." He sounded disappointed. Stepping back, he handed Frank the knife. "You're free to go."

Frank took it and opened the door. He got in with a sulk, slipped the knife into his pocket and placed his hands on the wheel at ten and two.

The sheriff leaned down with a grim smile. "Next time you see an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing, what are you gonna do?"

"Pull over," Frank said through gritted teeth.

The cop leaned in further, cocking an ear. "What's that? I didn't hear you."

"Pull over, sir," Frank spat.

"It's not just the right thing to do, it's also the law." The cop patted the roof, causing Frank to startle. "You have a nice day now."

"You too, sir," Linda called out as the cop rose and stepped back from the car.

Frank said nothing, looking dead ahead as he zipped up the window.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Canada. As a "grownup," Duncan lives with his partner and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that disturb him. He is the author of the collection Gristle & Bone, and the novels Salvage, Wildfire, and Woom, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
My main influences for "The Method" were Stephen King's "Misery" and more recent psychological thrillers like "Gone Girl" and the action-packed "Pines" series from Blake Crouch. I should also mention two exquisite "mindscrews": Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw" and "The Magus" by John Fowles.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I'd wanted to be a writer since the age of fifteen, long before I thought it was a possibility, and I've been writing ever since. My first collection was published in 2014, and my debut novel soon followed. I write mostly thrillers and horror, with the occasional stab at science fiction.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
You know that myth about sharks, how if they stop swimming they'll die? That's me (metaphorically of course), only with writing. I do enjoy swimming though.

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