Razor Mountain — Chapter 12.3

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

They walked. A sliver of moon rose, giving them a little more light to see by, and the girl slowed her pace. Her head still swiveled constantly, watching the shadows.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

She scrawled in the notebook and held it up to the light, still walking.

Amaranth

“Who was shooting at me, Amaranth?” Christopher asked.

She turned to look at him, then closed the notebook and kept walking.

He stopped.

“Look, I’ve had a lot happen to me out here, and none of it makes any sense. Yesterday I didn’t know if anyone even lived out here. Now I’ve apparently got someone trying to kill me. You’ve got to tell me something about what’s going on.”

She wrote in the book.

Be patient. Answers when we get there.

“Where is there?”

She started walking again.

“Look,” Christopher said. “I need you to give me something here, or I’m not going.”

Amaranth turned to face him. He tried to look determined, despite holding the thin blanket wrapped around him and shivering. She half-smiled sadly at him, raised a hand in farewell, and walked backward a few paces before turning and continuing on her way.

Christopher sighed and followed.

“What a skill, to be sarcastic without even speaking.”

They walked for hours, Christopher in sullen silence, Amaranth seemingly in her element. She exuded a confidence and grace moving through the woods.  After a while, he realized that she was leading him through the thickest parts of the forest, keeping them well-hidden from distant eyes.

“Did you leave that rabbit for me?” he asked.

She nodded.

“How long have you been watching me?”

She didn’t reply.

Christopher felt himself beginning to slow. He stumbled. He hadn’t gotten a proper meal or a rest after he set up camp, and the blanket wasn’t an adequate replacement for his coat, especially as the night grew colder. He clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering.

Amaranth glanced back at him, and he thought he caught a hint of concern behind the serious expression.

Finally, she stopped and took out the notebook again.

Wait here.

Christopher looked around. They were still in the middle of the forest, in a place that looked the same as anywhere else they had hiked that night.

“What do you mean, ‘wait here?’” he hissed. “You’re the first person I’ve seen since my plane crashed. I’d rather not be alone in the woods again.”

I’ll come back.

He nodded. There wasn’t much point in arguing. She could run off into the woods if she wanted to, and he would never be able to keep up.

She crept off, and he found a dry patch of soft forest detritus under a big pine. He sat with his back to the tree, the blanket wrapped tightly around him. He instinctively faced south, away from the broken mountain peak and the source of the shooting.

Christopher tried not to nod off, his fingers going numb, wondering if he was cold enough now that he might not wake up again. He could no longer keep his teeth from chattering. He vaguely remembered reading that it was only when the body gave up on shivering that you really knew you were in trouble.

The tiny patches of black sky between the branches were just starting to turn morning gray when Amaranth returned. He didn’t realize he had fallen asleep until she shook his shoulder.

The notebook raised into his field of view as he blinked away the bleariness and tried to focus.

Let’s go. There’s a place up ahead where you can warm up.

She grabbed his hand and helped him to his feet. They trekked onward. The ground grew more uneven and rocky. There were boulders among the trees.

Then they came to a gully that descended into the earth, twisting and turning. It widened and led to a broad depression in front of a wall of rock, a ridge about ten feet high. The depression had become a little pond of dirty, frozen water. Set into the rock face a row of three drainage pipes, each a few inches in diameter and covered with rusted metal grating. They were half-visible, half-buried in the ice. Next to them was a metal hatch with a lever set into it. The design was similar to the door of the bunker, but twice as wide and slightly taller. The bottom of the door was also beneath the level of the ice. Christopher saw chunks had been chipped and cracked away along the frame.

Amaranth led him across the dirty ice, which was slippery in spots and rough in others. There was a number pad in the wall next to this door, just like the bunker, and she shielded it from view with one hand while she punched in numbers. There was a thud from within the door. She pulled the lever, then pointed to Christopher and mimed pushing.

“Teamwork?” he asked, and she nodded. They both put a shoulder against the door and did their best to find purchase on the ice. The door groaned and scraped, and eventually slid about a quarter of the way open. Amaranth slipped inside, and Christopher followed.

Beyond the door was a hallway, perhaps fifty feet long, that looked as though it was cut through solid stone. It was fairly smooth, but not as smooth as the walls of the bunker. It had faint circular scoring, like the marks of some high-powered drill or saw. There were webs of cracks running across the floor, some barely visible, others wide enough that he could stick a finger in. Most of them glistened with cold moisture.

Christopher looked back at Amaranth as she shoved the door closed and pulled the lever back into place. The hatch was keeping out most of the moisture, for now. Surely it would be an issue when the summer thaw came.

“What happened here?” he asked. “The bunker was in great shape. This place looks like it was hit with an earthquake.”

Amaranth shrugged and scribbled in the notebook in the half-light. Circular holes in the hallway ceiling provided diverted sunlight, but it was dim.

Problem with the geothermal. Before my time.

She led him to a similar hatch at the far end of the hallway. This one had no keypad, just a lever. It was in good shape, opening easily. A wave of warmer air washed over them as they entered.

On the other side was a huge space. It was outfitted like an old-fashioned office, with rows upon rows of identical desks. There were filing cabinets here and there. Much of it was knocked over or broken or shoved out of the neat and orderly rows. He found himself in a space near the door that looked like a sort of waiting area, with coat hooks on the wall and two rows of metal chairs all bolted together. The ceiling was higher here, but the light was still dim. A section of the room on his right actually tilted at a disconcerting angle, as if it had sunk a foot or two from the rest of the floor. It was eerie, deserted, and quiet. The air was stale and musty. Christopher felt like he was stepping into a scene from a horror movie.

Amaranth led him on a path through the sea of desks and fallen filing cabinets. She navigated the maze of furniture with the ease of familiarity, and she seemed less guarded and wary than she had been in the woods.

There were papers scattered here and there, occasional coffee mugs, pens and pencils. Christopher was hardly knowledgeable about architecture and design, but it all had a very post-war look to it, maybe the 40s or 50s. A few things, like a winged figure in stained-glass and chrome decorating one wall, seemed older.

They reached the far wall of the huge room and began to follow it to the left. They passed an opening, an empty metal door-frame with broken hinges still attached, but no door. It was a stairwell, but unnavigable because it had been crammed completely full of desks, chairs and filing cabinets, all the way to the ceiling. It was clearly a barricade, and it did not make Christopher feel any more at ease.

A little way further down, they came to a pair of elevators with steel doors, a rainbow of oxidation creeping across them like lichen. Amaranth took a short piece of metal out of her backpack. It looked like it had been broken off some piece of machinery for use as a makeshift crowbar. She wedged it between the doors and pulled them open far enough to put an arm through. After that, they gave way with little effort. The girl banged a syncopated rhythm on the metal door before putting the bar back into her backpack.

She gestured to Christopher, then pointed to the side wall of the empty elevator shaft. Christopher leaned forward and peered into the abyss. There was a ladder along the indicated wall, leading up and down into darkness.

“Up or down?”

Amaranth pointed down.

Christopher took a deep breath and fought back a little vertigo. It was perilous stretching out an arm and a leg to the ladder while clinging to the edge of the opening. Once he had hands and feet firmly planted, he felt a little more at ease. He wasn’t particularly scared of heights, but he was not comfortable hanging in the dark shaft, gripping a rusty ladder.

Amaranth illuminated the shaft with her flashlight while he got onto the ladder and began to descend, but she turned it off and stowed it before she followed. Christopher found himself in nearly complete darkness, with the sound of their feet on the ladder echoing dully around them. When his foot hit the bottom of the shaft, it was a shock.

He stepped out of the way, giving her space to come down. The bottom of the shaft was bare except for what looked like a big shock absorber made of thick rubber, dry and cracked. There was no elevator car, which made Christopher wonder if it was hanging suspended, high above them.

Amaranth reached the bottom of the ladder and stepped past him. She turned on the flashlight again, illuminating a low metal door in the concrete sides of the pit. She banged on it, the same odd rhythm she had used at the top of the shaft. Christopher realized it was a code, or a password. After a moment, the door opened, letting in too-bright light. Amaranth ushered him through.

He had to bend to fit through the door, squinting and half-blind. When he came up, he found himself in a small utility room. Discolored stripes on the walls indicated where shelves had been removed. A man in camouflage fatigues with a bushy beard and wild hair stood in front of him, holding a rifle. It wasn’t pointed directly at Christopher, and the man had his finger on the side of the trigger guard, but his bearing and his stare told Christopher that the gun could be brought to bear quickly, if that proved necessary.

Christopher held his open hands out at his sides as Amaranth stepped out next to him and closed the little door.

Christopher was unceremoniously ushered out of the room, his two armed companions behind him. They walked down another nondescript hallway to another room. This looked like a central area with more hallways and doors leading off in every direction. It felt more like a custodial or maintenance area than the offices above. There were a few chairs and tables crammed into the space, and a group of people. Two were playing cards at a table. Others leaned against the wall, resting or sleeping. Two men stood in one corner, talking quietly. All of them wore the same camouflage fatigues with no insignia. They all stopped what they were doing to silently watch Christopher as he entered.

He glanced back at Amaranth. She tilted her head slightly and raised her eyebrows. He took a deep breath.

“Um. Hi,” he said, addressing the group. “My name is Christopher, and I have no idea what is going on.”

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