I heard a muted chiming noise. I flung out my hand, touching dry dirt. It didn’t have sand texture but it wasn’t loam. It was … dirt. I struggled to sit up. I was sitting on something hard, covered in dirt. I was sitting on …
Setup: Bea Emerson (pen name B.R. Emerson) was present when a famous author died, autographing a book for Bea at a writer's conference. The next evening Bea and her friends attend a cowboy roundup, but she's separated from her friends, passes out, and finds herself in the middle of nowhere with Jim Quinn, another author at the conference.
Panic seized me. I staggered to my feet, hands scraping through gravel until I finally managed to lurch upright. I immediately wished I hadn’t. Waves of nausea washed through me. I couldn’t stop it. Like a heaving tide, I put my hands on my knees, leaned over, and barfed.
I heard the noise again. My stomach hurt so bad I knew I’d be sick again. I just prayed I wouldn’t have the runs, too. The two so often went hand in hand. Now I could see a faint ribbon of light in front of me. I knew that had to be the gravel road I was on. The sound was ahead of me, on the right and down somewhere. I followed it, finally seeing a blinking light.
I paused to barf again, doubling over with the effort. I wiped my mouth with shaking hands then followed the noise again.
It was a cell phone, on the ground. I dropped to my knees and opened it. “Who’s there?” I croaked, my hands shaking so bad I was afraid I’d press the wrong button.
“Miss Emerson? Bea?”
Nausea was lurching through me again. “Who’s this?” I sagged down on the ground to put my head on my knees.
“It’s Detective Remarchik. Where are you? Are you okay?”
I turned aside and barfed again, ending up on my side, face pressed against the gravel. “I’m sick,” I managed to say.
“Where are you?”
“I don’t know. I’m here, wherever this cell phone is.” The world was spinning around me. The cell phone pressed to my ear was the only solid thing around. I squinted at a dark shape just a couple of feet away. “I think I see somebody.”
“Don’t hang up the phone, Bea.”
I heard him shouting to somebody, saying something like trace it. “There’s somebody here, I think.” I struggled to inch forward through the gravel.
“Stay there. Don’t move.”
I tried to laugh but nothing came out. “I can’t move.” I pushed myself upright to peer ahead of me.
A dark shape was visible against the ghostly white of the gravel. I tipped my head upward. The moon had finally risen, giving me enough light to see Jim Quinn on the gravel a few feet away. He was twisted in a funny way, his shoulders pressed to the ground while his legs were sprawled at an odd angle. His face looked covered by something black. I inched closer.
He didn’t move. I could feel another barf coming so I flopped back down on the gravel, praying it would pass me by. This time just a gush of bile came out, but it hurt like crazy. I curled up into a ball, setting the cell phone carefully away from me. I could hear someone talking but it didn’t make sense. The only thing that mattered was the pain in my gut.
I opened my eyes. L.J. Remarchik was looking down at me, his hand on my face.
“How did you get here?” My throat hurt so the words came out like a croak.
“I followed the cell phone.” His eyes looked very concerned.
“Am I going to die?” My stomach felt like it had ruptured. I’d never felt such burning pain in my life.
I looked for a lie in his eyes but he met my gaze. I closed my eyes. “I think Jim Quinn was sick, too.” When I could manage it, I opened my eyes then tried to sit up. That’s when I realized I was on an ambulance gurney. Lights were flashing and people were all around, talking. “What happened?”
He put his hands on my shoulders to push me back down. “You’re going to the hospital. They need to check you over.”
“What—” Someone moved. I caught sight of Jim Quinn, still lying on the ground. This time there was enough light so I could see it wasn’t a black cloth on his face. It was blood on what was left of his face. The right cheek and eye were smashed flat, giving him a lopsided, melted appearance. Near him was a broken flashlight, like the one we’d used to find the latrine.
I looked up at Remarchik just as another wave of pain washed through me. I couldn’t help myself. I leaned over and barfed all over his boots. I heard him say, “I want a tox report on that.”
Then I passed out.