© Copyright 2012 - Jo - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; M/f; outdoors; caught; pit; mud; sink; naked; submerged; hum; cons/nc; X
"Never seen nothin' like it. Gotta be thirty feet tall with a big ass antenna on top and a bunch of little ones scattered all over it."
"I figured that with the bigun, but the little ones? And I asked him about it, you know, chatty like while I fixed his furnace. He said it was a hobby, but he said it in a way that told me I shouldn't be askin' after it."
"He's up at the Caldwell place?"
"Yeah. Right at the top of Jacob's Knob. You can see the tip of the antenna through the trees."
"Who'd want to live in that godforsaken place?"
"Guy's name is -"
"Warm that up for you, hon?"
Charli, startled, looked up at the waitress.
"Uh, yeah, sure, thanks."
The waitress filled her he coffee cup, the booth shifted.
"Bye y'all. Come back and see us."
Charli watched as the men left.
"But it's part of the public record."
"Well, bless your heart, it is, but there's public and there's public if you know what I mean. You can fill out a form to request to see it, but it won't do you much good. I can tell you it's in the name of an LLC, which means it's being hidden on purpose."
The woman shrugged.
Charli left city hall, crossed the street, and went into The Herald. After an hour in the archives all she could find out was that old man Caldwell had died two months ago. What was odd was that was the only thing she could find, the small obit, nothing else about Jacob's Knob anywhere. She went up to her desk, tried Google Earth - nothing. A great view of downtown and the surrounding farmlands and a big, fat blank over Jacob's Knob.
Charli signed out a camera, swung by her apartment to change into a T and shorts, drove out onto the county road headed west.
She had dealt with information gaps before, but they were just gaps, not big gaping holes. Even things from pre-internet times were readily available. Charli's mind reeled at the possibilities. Could be just a recluse with a radio hobby, in which case it would make a good, local story. Or it could be something more sinister. Can you say Pulitzer?
Charli crested the last hill and could, in fact, see the tip of the antenna through the trees, but just barely. It wasn't silver as she'd expected, but some kind of mottled color. If she hadn't glanced in the right direction at that precise moment, she'd have missed it.
A few miles down the road she crossed the creek. The road wound up the side of Jacob's Knob. Near the crest was a dirt road heading into the trees. She could see a heavy, metal gate blocking the way. She pulled a U-ey and drove back down to the creek. There was a dirt space on the side of the road and she pulled off onto it.
Charli double checked the camera, climbed out of the car, and headed into the woods. The path wound through the trees, but was headed in the general direction of the knob. Eventually she came to the edge. There was a small expanse of green grass, a modest, little log house, and the antenna. And it was BIG. And there WERE several smaller antennae mounted on the tower. Charli raised the camera.
Charlie stumbled back into the trees. She had managed to get only a couple of shots of the house before the baying started.
She moved quickly down the path. The howling increased, drew nearer. Charli ran.
They were close, so close she could hear them rustling through the underbrush. Close. Oh so close. She expected the bite of long, harsh fangs any moment.
Charli, in full panic, ran headlong through the trees, missed the turn in the path, skidded to the edge of the pit. She was momentarily airborne then came down with a bone-jarring thump, bounced once and was propelled forward. She took a staggering step, then another, then nothing. She couldn't move.
She looked down. Charli was knee deep in thick, black muck. In her panic she desperately tried to run. Her efforts brought her deeper into the pit and further from shore. She reached out, got a crumbling handful of dirt, reached again and got only air.
Charli pulled the camera from around her neck and tossed it onto a tuft of grass. She lunged at the bank. Again caught only air.
Charli sobbed, shaking with terror. She expected the hounds to burst through at any moment. She struggled, sank inches deeper, and moved another foot from the edge. A form resolved itself on the edge of the bushes. Charli screamed.
A hand appeared, made a clutching motion, and green camouflage netting drifted to the ground. Charli screamed again.
While the animal in her was in sheer terror, the journalist in her took in details. He was a big man, but not overly big, six feet, maybe. Broad shoulders, slim hips. Wearing khaki pants and shirt, brown work boots. He had one of those mature GQ faces with an even tan, silver-white hair. He squatted at the edge of the pit.
"Please! Please help me!"
The sound of the dogs was deafening. The man pulled a plastic fob from his shirt pocket, pointed it over his shoulder. Their world went silent. Confused, Charli blinked up at him.
"What are you doing snooping around here? Hm?"
"Please! I wasn't doing anything. I was just -"
He picked up the camera, turned it on, thumbed through the recorded shots. He looked at the camera, turned it this way and that, looked at the bottom.
"The Herald? So you're not only a snoop, you're a paid snoop."
"Please. Please get me out of here."
The man raised the camera and took a burst of pictures of Charli, thigh-deep in the peat muck.
"You got a story. I want to hear it. Then I'll decide whether to pull you out or let you sink."
Charli blinked again.
"You do what I say, you come out if this none the worse for the wear. If not, well, you're about, what, five feet-ish. The pit is cone-shaped and close to eight feet in the middle. You do the math. Now strip."
The moment dragged out. Finally Charli fumbled the button on her shorts, pulled down the zip. She tugged them off of her hips.
Another long pause, but Charli pushed her thumbs into the waistband of her panties and tugged them down.
It was a struggle. Charli couldn't raise her foot high enough to clear the muck. She fell over a couple of times. Finally she managed to reach down into the mire and slip her shorts over her boots. She tossed them out of the pit.
She was trembling now, not with fear, but with a sudden, blind rage. She ripped the T over her head, threw it at him.
He didn't flinch when the shirt hit his face. She yanked at her bra, got it free, and threw it at him likewise. Then the fear returned and she clutched herself, shaking.
"Nice tits for a pinay."
Charli shot him a glance.
"Yeah, I figured you for a Philippine. Spent a lot of my life in your part of the world. And judging by your reaction, you know the word. No American would know it, so you were born there, right?"
Charli nodded. The struggle with her clothes had brought the muck level a centimeter shy of her crotch. The man took another burst of photos. Charli tried to will her feet to be still, but her fight or flight response was in high gear and there was no fighting to be done. She slid closer to the center of the pit and still deeper.
"What's your name?"
Charli looked down, realized she was hip deep in muck.
"Please. Please get me out of here."
"I asked you a question, girl."
"That's a boy's name."
"Charli with an 'i'."
"Still a boy's name. So what's your story? No, let me guess. Your folks have money and sent you over here to go to school, maybe travel a bit, see the world. Am I right?"
"What do they do? Can't be too well off seeing as you're probably going to State. I mean, not wealthy, but, er, comfortable. Am I right?"
Charli nodded again, waist deep now.
"So tell me."
"Ah. That explains it. State does have a decent medical program. But what's with The Herald?"
"Let me see if I can read minds. You're in pre-med, but now that you've been out in the world a bit you're not sure if you want to be a doctor"
He held up the camera.
"A journalist? Probably a lot more exciting than medicine, am I right? Travel around, see the world. Hm?"
Charli nodded. She looked down. She had sunk to where her breasts just rested on the black surface. Panic rose. Charli struggled. The slimy ooze covered her breasts now.
"Oh please. Please."
"So which will it be? Doctor or journalist? Hm? You certainly have the talent of a reporter, really get yourself into the middle of a story." He chuckled.
Charli didn't hear. Her shoulders were covered. The panic changed and she became very still, taking little, panting breaths. The muck reached her chin, covered it. Charli arched her head back. Only her face visible now.
The man stood and turned.
"NO!" Charli shrieked. "Oh God! No! Please. Please don't leave me!"
The man bent, retrieved a coil of rope from under a bush, tied the end to a tree. He tossed the free end to her.
Charli forced a hand free of the muck, got a grip on the rope just as she went under. For a moment there was silence, stillness - just Charli's hand above the surface, clutching the rope. Then Charli's head burst free, mouth open, gasping. She got her other hand on the rope and pulled. Inch by inch Charli drew herself toward the edge of the pit. She struggled, grunting, gasping as her body emerged, muck-caked. Now on the surface she made her way across the pit. She scrabbled at the dirt on the edge, pulled on the rope, scrabbled some more, got an arm, then two on terra firma. She squirmed her way onto solid ground and lay panting.
"You had me worried there for a minute, girl. I thought I was going to have to go in after you."
Whether Charli heard or not, she made no response. The man popped the memory chip from the camera and dropped it into his shirt pocket. He fished her car keys form a muddy pocket, wiped his hand on her, mostly, clean shirt. He left the keys, took the camera and clothes, turned and walked away.
In the room, he adjusted the monitors. He watched her make her way down the path, tripping sensors as she went. She took the left fork in the path and headed down to the creek where she washed off the muck. Back on the main path, Charli paused at the edge of the trees, then sprinted for her car. He watched her pop the trunk, pull out a gym bag, tug on clean shorts and T. He smiled, reached out, and punched a button on the console.
"Herald, Carlyle speaking."
"It's Waite. We have to talk."
"I could have died."
"Damnit, Charli! Journalism can be dangerous enough without you making it worse. What if he hadn't been there? Yeah, you would have died. And you know what? There would be no investigation - none, nada, zip. College girl disappears. Happens every frickin' day!"
"Does the name Allen Waite ring a bell?"
Charli shook her head.
"Deputy director of security and communications, (air quotes) retired, from an un-named government agency that doesn't officially exist."
Goodbye Pulitzer, hello jail ... or worse
"I'll tell you something, but you never heard it from me. In addition to a top flight pre-med program, the university also has a dandy little engineering department. Do I have to paint you a picture?"
Charli shook her head. "No. Sorry, Chief."
"What about the pictures?"
"What pictures? I don't see any pictures. Maybe they exist; maybe they don't. But I'd keep away from Jacob's Knob if I were you."
"And, by the way, the camera needs to be cleaned. I'll send you the bill."