Bianca stared after him for a second before turning her attention to those with the sensible take on events.
“All right, dead or alive, we can’t just stay here. We need civilization. We have nothing to signal anyone where we are, so we’ll have to walk. Who feels up to it?”
Everyone did, except Michael and Gary who sat on the beach and gazed at the water.
“I’ve had enough adventures for a year,” Charles said. “Let’s go.”
“We don’t know how long we’ll have to walk,” Bianca warned them. “It might take us hours.”
“What are we waiting for, then? To get dark so it’s more interesting?” Gabrielle said and started down a rocky path that wound down between rocks and boulders. She slipped once but didn’t fall. Rob, Bianca, and Charles followed. Samantha hesitated for a second.
“We won’t be long, guys,” she called to Michael and Gary. Michael raised his hand without turning. Gary didn’t do even that.
They walked in silence down the slope, among tufts of yellow stunted grass and lichen. While it wasn’t particularly steep, the slope had an abundance of pebbles and bigger pieces of rock that made walking hazardous. In ten minutes, everyone had slipped at least once and Samantha had barely escaped falling thanks to Bianca’s fast reactions.
“There’s civilization,” Bianca said and pointed to a cluster of houses below them, nestled at the foot of a mountain peak. “It shouldn’t be more than five kilometers or so.”
“Good,” Rob said, breathing heavily. “Then we’ll know for sure if we’re dead or alive.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Samantha said. “I checked my pulse, my heart beat, it’s all normal. I definitely need to breathe.”
“So, are you saying the boy was lying? Or joking?” Charles asked as he stepped carefully over a sizeable rock in his way.
“I don’t know,” Samantha said as they started walking again. A moment later she slipped on a tuft of grass and landed on her bottom. “Shit! That definitely hurt. Dead people shouldn’t be able to feel pain.”
“Exactly,” Bianca said distractedly while Samantha got back on her feet with a grunt.
“You don’t sound as certain as five minutes ago,” Charles, who had just caught up with her, said. “Doubts?”
She shook her head.
“Michael was certain we are dead.”
“And you know Michael and trust him?”
Bianca turned and narrowed her eyes at the older man.
“Are you a therapist?”
“No, no.” Charles waved the suggestion away like a bad smell. “I’m a history teacher. World history. It was the way you said what you said. Like you’re speaking about someone you know well.”
“We were married,” Bianca said. “I do know him quite well, I suppose.”
“And he’s not the lying or joking type.”
“No, but he’s a horror fan.”
“Hey, so am I and it’s never been a problem for me,” Rob said. She could hear the grin in his voice without having to turn back to see it. “We can still distinguish between fiction and reality. Although this reality is definitely weird. Fiction-level weird.”
“Don’t tell me you’re enjoying this,” Gabrielle said.
“Well, part of me is,” Rob admitted.
“I’m married to a crazy person,” Gabrielle announced to the mountains. “Wait,” she said.
They all stopped.
“What is it?” Bianca asked.
“I think I already saw this rock once,” the woman said, squinting and pointing to a pear-shaped outcrop to their right. “It’s a weird shape, so I remembered it.”
“You’re saying we’re walking in circles?” Rob said. “I don’t remember this rock.”
“That’s because you’re not watching your surroundings.”
Bianca turned back to the direction they were following.
“The village is still there,” she said. “But…”
“It doesn’t look like it’s getting any nearer,” Charles said.
“That’s right. It’s probably farther than I thought,” Bianca said. “Okay, let’s go. Now we’ll all remember this rock.”
The next five minutes passed in silence, everyone deep in their own thoughts, everyone watching where they stepped with all the rocks waiting to trip them or at least happen to be underneath their shoes, making the next step painful. The path acquired a slight elevation. Bianca checked on the village ever few seconds to make sure they were going in the right direction. It stayed where it was, down below, about five kilometers away.
The elevation increased and the tufts of grass became scarcer. Charles was breathing heavily.
“I knew I should start working out,” he murmured as he laboured on.
“It’s smoothing out,” Bianca said. She looked up to check on the village and couldn’t see it. She turned and there it was, behind their backs. “How the hell—” she started but didn’t finish because the path indeed smoothed out.
“What?” Gabrielle said in a high, shrill voice. “What the hell is happening?”
They were on the lake shore. Michael and Gary were sitting about a hundred meters from them, exactly where they’d left them. Now Michael looked up. He didn’t wave. He stood up and started walking towards them. Bianca met him halfway.