“So,” said Frank, “what the Hell do we do now?”
The three of them stood on a ridge overlooking the Benson home. Erwin spat on the ground, took a compass out of his pocket, and said, “I reckon it’ll take them things about five minutes to figure out that there’s nobody in the house. Then they’ll follow our trail up here. North’ll take us toward town, south toward Blue Ridge. East, there ain’t nuthin’ but woods and the river. I say we go east.”
Linda and Frank concurred. They walked west for about six miles, following Erwin’s directions. Every few minutes, the wind shifted and they heard the unmistakable crunch crunch of shuffling footsteps coming over the hills and vales behind them. After a while, they came to the Oslo River: Relatively shallow, but wide and angry, roaring down the Oslo Valley at a descent rate of over twenty-five feet for every mile. Linda, Frank, and Erwin looked down at it churning two hundred feet below from the top of a near-vertical cliff.
“Frost’s mostly melted,” said Erwin, “so them things cain’t hear us anymore and won’t be able to track us for much longer. I say we head upriver toward town and see about backtrackin’ from there.”
Frank and Linda—lacking any better ideas—nodded their assent. They walked upriver along the cliff’s edge for another mile or two, then came to a thick growth of primrose. Walking past it, Erwin glanced into its depths and stopped dead in his tracks.
“What is it,” asked Frank.
“Be quiet. Motherfuckin’ leprechaun!”
Frank looked. Sure enough, underneath the relative shelter of the primrose sat a man about eighteen inches tall wearing a green tam o’ shanter, black pants, and a blue waistcoat. He was smoking a pipe that stretched nearly down to his toes, seemingly oblivious to the two humans gawking at him. As quick as thinking, Erwin jumped foreward and wrapped one of his long Nordic hands around the leprechaun’s throat.
Much to Erwin’s dismay, the leprechaun began to bite and scratch at his wrist. His eyes re-focused, and he saw that he was not holding a leprechaun at all, but was in fact holding a very angry possum. He flung it aside.
The real leprechaun stood on a rock several feet away. He winked, tipped his tam o’ shanter, and disappeared.
Around the time that Erwin was dashing into the primrose, Frank looked around and said to nobody in particular, “Where’s Linda?”
The wind had been picking up something fierce, and Linda had sought shelter beneath an ancient, gnarly oak tree that had had a lot of the earth beneath its roots washed away over time. It wasn’t exactly home, but it provided a decent barrier against the driving wind.
About the time that Erwin discovered he had been duped, Linda saw something. Tucked away at the edge of the hollow beneath the tree was a cast-iron cookpot full of coins. She reached out to touch it.
The ground beneath her fell away into a deep pit. She fell with it.
A mighty crash, followed by a series of smaller crashes, boomed from the mountainside behind Frank and Erwin. They turned and saw that a boulder had been removed from its perch on the side of the ridge and had tumbled down to the bottom, ricocheting off of trees and other boulders before finally coming to rest a few feet away from them.
Where the boulder had been, there was now a wide crack in the side of the mountain, the mouth of a cave. Standing in that mouth was another skeleton.
Another came out of the crack. And another. And another.
When Linda hit the bottom of the shaft, she hit hard. She only blacked out for a minute or two, but it felt like hours. Except for the pinprick of light high above her where she had fallen in, everything was pitch dark. She groped around blindly and found that she was surrounded on three sides by solid rock, the bones of the mountain. She couldn’t go left, right, back, down, or up. Go foreward? Only thing to do.
About thirty skeletons circled Frank and Erwin. Erwin took four shells from his belt, loaded them into his Anaconda, and said, “Frank, little buddy, this day just keeps gettin’ weirder and weirder.”
Frank rolled his eyes. The skeletons tightened the circle.
“Frank,” said Erwin, “I’m going to ask you a question. I need you to answer it. Alright?”
“That Linda, she’s a natural redhead, right?”
“Is her pussy shaved?”
Frank gave him an angry look with one eyebrow cocked. “I don’t think it’s any of your business, but no.”
Erwin closed his eyes, smiled degeneratively, and mumbled something about ginger-flavored cotton candy. He opened his eyes, grabbed his Anaconda with both hands, and charged the skeletons, screaming, “Alright c’mon now let’s do this Leeroy Jenkins!”
He fired off his six shots, each one bringing a skeleton to the ground. He tossed the revolver into the air, caught it by the barrel, and pistol-whipped one of them; it went down.
Reacting instinctively, Frank pulled out his sword. It grew to its full size in his hands. He ran into the skeletons and swung the blade like a mower swinging a scythe; a clumsy and untrained move, but his targets had no flesh to cleave and so it worked just as well, shattering the ribcages of the three skeletons in its immediate path. Erwin, in combat mode, noticed that his little cousin was holding a black claymore enveloped in green fire, but didn’t act as if it was out of the ordinary; he made a quick mental note to bring it up once things were safe.
The skeletons, exhibiting a kind of dark intelligence, kept their distance from Frank. Any time one of them got within reach of his sword, he would bring it down. They had their hands full enough with Erwin, who kept groping shells out of his belt with his left hand and reloaded his Anaconda whenever he got the chance.
One of the skeletons bent down, its knees popping like gunshots, and picked up a rock, a smooth egg-shaped rock about the size of a softball. It lobbed the stone at Frank, striking him just above the ear.
Frank groaned and dropped to one knee with a piercing headache, dropping his sword in the process. The skeletons rushed him, biting and stabbing. He screamed.
Erwin slammed his shoulder into the small of a skeleton’s back, disarticulating the bones. He kicked, punched, and pistol-whipped his way to Frank, who lay bleeding on the ground. He picked up the sword and, swinging it like a baseball bat, made short work of the rest of the skeletons.
He fell to his knees, cradled Frank’s head, and choking back tears said, “You’re gonna be alright, little buddy.”
“It hurts,” Frank said with a grimace.
“I know it does, little buddy, I know. Don’t try to talk. I’m gonna get you some help.”
“Hurts . . . cold . . .”
“Don’t talk, little buddy, don’t talk. You’re gonna be okay.”
Frank let out an agonizing groan. His eyes rolled back into his head. His body went limp.