Razor Mountain — Chapter 18.1

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

The entire group marched without speaking. Boots crunched in the thin layer of snow. One of the soldiers’ radios squawked to life momentarily, issuing a series of staccato beeps familiar to Christopher from his time manning the radio in the bunker. The soldiers weren’t particularly rough, but Christopher felt corralled, like cattle, and if he stumbled in the wrong direction, there was instantly a gloved hand on his arm, shoving him back into the center of the formation.

He glanced at his ersatz companions. Harold’s face was as impassive as ever, revealing nothing about what he might be feeling. Garrett’s brow was creased and his narrowed eyes flicked back and forth, but Christopher could see that he was focused on his own scattered thoughts rather than his surroundings. Christopher suspected a battle raging inside the man’s head: would his risk be rewarded, or had he voluntarily ruined himself and his brother?

The soldiers marched them up a shallow ravine between hills, then into a deeper gorge where the ground was rocky and steep on either side. Now they were coming to the base of the mountain itself. The gorge led to a dead end, a broad stone face that had sheared cleanly from the mountain. Christopher could see the worn path where the water would run over the rocks above and into the gorge where they stood, but for the moment it was dry.

One of the soldiers walked up to the rock face and did something, his body blocking Christopher from seeing. A rectangular seam appeared as the man pulled at a section of the stone. It turned on concealed hinges, silent and perfectly camouflaged. Behind the stone facade was a heavy metal hatch, similar to the one on the bunker that was so familiar to Christopher. A lever was set within a little alcove in the door, and the adjacent keypad was also set flush with the surrounding stone, so the facade could close tightly against it.

The soldier took a step so he was between the keypad and the prisoners and punched in a code. Christopher listened to the sound, trying to guess the number of keystrokes, though he realized such little scraps of knowledge were unlikely to do him any good. He suddenly felt like his brain was buzzing, taking in everything around him.

Another one of the soldiers took out his radio and punched in another code in the keypad on its face. The soldier at the door watched him, waiting for a few beats afterward before he pulled the lever. The lever’s action was smooth and silent until it hit the far end of its arc with a satisfying clunk. The door swung open, and the soldiers immediately pushed the prisoners forward.

The entrance was too small for more than one person to enter at a time, so they had to go single-file. One soldier went through, then a second grabbed Harold by the arm and pushed him in before going through himself. Garrett went next, and Christopher was ready when the soldier next to him sent him through.

Even though it hadn’t been bright outside, it was dark beyond the door, and it took some time for Christopher’s eyes to adjust. The air was warm and carried a faintly mechanical smell, like oil and metal.

They navigated a series of long, branching hallways. Christopher couldn’t tell if the paint on the walls was a light green or a dull gray. It might have even been the naked rock, polished smooth. He wasn’t given time to stop and investigate.

He wasn’t typically prone to claustrophobia, and they couldn’t possibly be that deep underground, but he physically felt the weight of the mountain above him. It was as though the air got thicker as they went, syrupy and hard to breathe. Christopher felt dizzy, then nauseous. Sparks flashed across his vision. When it passed, his eyes were better adjusted and he no longer felt ill, but he still felt jittery and too-aware of his surroundings. He felt like he had downed too much coffee. He could differentiate the rustle of each piece of clothing as the soldiers moved around him. He could hear the tread of their boots on the smooth floor. He wondered if it was the lack of food and water over the past day catching up with him. Or just the shock of everything that had happened.

They reached the end of a hallway and moved into what looked like a separate section of the compound. The walls were brighter here, off-white. More halls branched off in three directions, but they were shorter and lined with wooden doors. At the intersection, the group split without warning or any apparent signal. One of the soldiers continued straight, fast-walking on his own. A pair of them took Christopher to the right, and the rest took Harold and Garrett to the left.

Christopher turned to look back at the brothers as they were marched around the corner. He thought he heard Garrett’s voice saying something about “bringing in an enemy spy” before the soldier behind him gave him a firm push to turn him around and keep him walking.

“I’m sure it doesn’t do me any good,” Christopher said, “but I’m just someone who got lost out here in the wilderness. That guy is determined to try to use me to help himself, and he’s going to say whatever he thinks will help him. I’m really not anyone special.”

The soldier ahead of him barely glanced back. “Please be quiet, sir.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Eventually, they stopped in front of a doorway and ushered him inside. On the other side of the door was a big, high-ceilinged room. In each corner of the room was a jail cell made of bright metal bars. Each cell contained nothing but a metal toilet on one wall and a narrow metal bench on the other. The four cells left an open, cross-shaped central space. In the center was a metal table. On either side of this was a metal chair. All of them were bolted to the floor. The desk had four brackets welded to the otherwise smooth surface.

The soldiers brought him to one of the cells and opened the door with a small key. He felt them cut the zip tie around his wrists, before shoving him into the cell. The door closed before he could turn around. The soldier turned the key and tested the door, then the pair turned and went back out the way they had come.

Christopher grasped the bars and took a moment to study the room. Then he sat on the bare metal bench that was apparently supposed to serve as a bed. He stared at the lines on his hands, then up at the ceiling.

He had never been in jail before. He had certainly never had an experience like this. Even so, he felt a jarring sense of familiarity. He closed his eyes and pressed his head back against the wall.

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