Lying on his back, George stared up into the tree line, his eyes wide open, his pupils greyish in color, dead. Blood and gastric juices oozed from the sides of his mouth in a mish mash of yellow and red. It was unsightly and disturbing. His belly had been sliced wide open with his intestines wrapped around his waist like a belt.
“How the fuck did this happen?” Mariah took a step back and swallowed her saliva which was now starting to fill up with the acidic taste of vomit. Her stomach was churning hard as she tried to process the scene before her. Hairs stood up straight on her arms and back as she pulled Carter away from the body.
“George.” Carter was shedding tears of fear as he felt his stomach turning itself inside out. “What the hell!? What the hell!?” He sobbed as he trashed and struggled from Mariah’s grip which was holding him by the collar.
“Stop!” Mariah shouted. “Fucking stop!”
“He’s dead! He’s fucking dead!” Carter screamed. In a single swooping motion, Mariah’s palm swung down onto Carter’s right cheek and slammed it downwards so hard Carter could feel his teeth scraping the inside of his mouth. There was a slight taste of blood on his tongue now as he felt a small cut open up on the inside of his cheek.
“Get a grip! You fucking idiot!” Mariah shouted. “We need to get our back onto something!”
“What?” Carter shouted as his senses returned from the hard slap.
“God knows what the fuck did this to him.” She said. “We need to find a safe spot.”
“O-Okay.” Carter’s voice was shaky as he tried to get on his feet, his eyes adverting from the direction of the fallen body.
“Quick.” Mariah said as she grabbed his hand and yanked him towards the giant maple tree of which George’s body had fallen out from. They stuck their backs to the sides of the tree and panted hard. The scene before them had clearly taken the air right out of their lungs.
Holding the gun close to her neck, she examined the forest before her. She hadn’t notice any movement around the room at all, neither did she spot anyone or anything following them from behind. Her honed skills had thought her to judge the situation by the various cues that would pop up here and there once in a while. This situation however, did not trigger any of those cues. Could they really be alone? Or were her senses wrong?
“I don’t see anything out there.” She bit her bottom lip. “Don’t sense anything either.”
“Y-You sure?” Carter was still jittery. His hands were grabbing the sides of his jeans tightly and violently, finger dinging deep into the fabric and into his thigh to keep him from losing his cool.
“Don’t let it get to you.” Mariah looked at him, she could see the fear in his eyes. “The minute you freak out and fuck up. We’re sitting ducks.”
“O-Okay. Okay.” Carter felt beads of cold sweat roll down from his forehead as he tried to free his hands a bit.
“Good.” Mariah muttered as she scouted the environment before her again. Three to five minutes of silence passed as her eyes and ears caught all the details she could find within the room. Her heightened senses tingled at even the slightest hint of movement or sound. Eventually though, her conclusion was still the same as before. “Whatever that did this to George definitely isn’t here anymore.” She paused and lowered the G43. “I’m getting nothing.”
“Great.” Carter slumped onto the ground with his back sliding down the bark of the maple tree. “Shit. What the hell is going on man? What the hell.” He rubbed both his palms onto his eyes in circular motions to try to get a grip of things.
Quickly, Mariah tip toed across Carter and squat right next to George’s limp body. She threw the gun back next to Carter as her hands closed in to the body. “Sorry old man.” She said as her fingers worked quickly to rummage through the various pockets and crevices in his clothes.
“What the hell are you doing?” Carter asked, still slightly shaky. “He’s dead. Leave him alone.”
“The clue in the trees said that our first step was to find the maple tree.” She said. “I’m assuming they wanted us to find George here.” She paused for a moment and then added. “They’ve probably hidden a clue somewhere on him.”
“God.” Carter sighed out loud. “Shit is so screwed up now. What the hell man.” He closed his eyes shut as he picked up the gun next to him and shoved it into his right pocket.
“Here we go.” Mariah’s fingers pulled out a small piece of paper from his right pants pocket. “What do we have here?” Her fingers slowly unfolded the flimsy piece of paper to reveal the message underneath. She squinted at it for a moment or two and passed it to Carter. “What’s this?”
“Huh?” Carter took hold of the piece of paper and read its contents. It read in dark blue ink:
“What the hell?” Carter muttered. “You can’t be serious.” He crumpled the paper together “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.” Carter pressed both his palms against his forehead. “But this was the same code Coat and I found in the surveillance room.”
“What does this have to do with anything right now man?” He said. “What the hell.”
“Well, he left us a pen too.” Mariah muttered as she stood up holding a blue gel pen in her right hand. She looked at Carter and showed it to him. “Found it in his chest pocket.”
Carter looked at the note for a while longer and then turned to Mariah. “Can I have a look at the gel pen for a second?” He said as he reached out for it. Mariah passed it to him with a sigh.
“Well, looks like we’re stumped.” She said. “A dead lead.”
“Wait a second.” Carter drew a line on the paper next to the writing and took a close look. “I don’t think this is the clue we were supposed to find.” He said, still panting a little.
“Check if there’s anything else in the bark.” He said as he closed his eyes shut. The paper was still being gripped tightly in the middle of his palm.
As Mariah approached the crevice of the tree where Carter’s body had fallen out from, she could see a combination of blood and vomit that covered quite a significant portion of the inside of the tree. It made her stomach turn as the putrid smell filled her nostrils and made her eyes watery. Closing her nose with one hand, she took a closer look at the indentation. Within the dead maple tree was nothing but dead tree bark, some leaves and the combination of disgusting bodily fluids. As she squinted harder into the darkness of the bark, she saw something buried under a bit of vomit deep inside. It was a piece of paper or plastic. Her hand reached in and her fingers caught hold of the tip of the object, just far enough to avoid getting any vomit on her delicate fingers.
“I found something!” She said as her hand pulled out the piece of plastic covered in stomach juice. “But it’s covered in fucking vomit.”
“Just flick it off.” Carter regained his composure as he shook his head violently.
Following Carter’s words, she flicked the note in her hand and had a good portion of the disgusting liquid fling off.
“Perfect.” She said as she unfolded the note. Almost immediately, she sighed. “Great. Cryptic again.”
“What does it say?” Carter asked. Mariah walked over to him and handed him the note.
“Take a look.” She said and then added “How did you know?”
“That the paper on George wasn’t the clue?”
“Oh. That.” Carter scratched his head as he unclenched the piece of paper still in his hand and showed it to her. He directed her attention to the side of it where he had drawn himself a blue line. “The ink on the paper is the same as the ink from the pen.” He paused. “George must have written this before he got caught up in whatever he got caught up in.”
“I see.” She said still examining the blue strokes on the paper.
He looked at the red paint on the tree. “Next to which, I think we can also assume whoever planted him here knew the clue in the trees beforehand.” He thought about it. “The paint looks like it’s been here for quite some time already judging from how high it had to be painted. The time it would take to create the message would be in the form of days with all the climbing and positioning work they had to do.” He scratched his head. “They didn’t set up the clue for us to find George. They merely wanted us to find George by using the clue already provided.”
“So what you’re saying is.” Mariah paused. “Whoever planted him here knew about the room’s clue and deliberately planted him here for us to find him?”
“Yup.” Carter nodded. “After all, all these preparations couldn’t have been done within just 2 hours could it?” He said looking at the painted trees around him. “And we last saw him alive around 2 hours ago anyways.”
“Then why did they plant his body here for? They should’ve hidden him.”
“No idea.” He sighed as he opened the small note within his palms which was sticky from the stomach juices that covered it. It made his stomach churn again.
Mariah walked over next to Carter and sat down beside him. Her eyes were fixated on the note which was written on the transparent piece of plastic in a deep black ink. A particular line was bolded while the others remained in the same Calibri font. It read:
‘Jack & Jill Went Up The Hill
Down Came The Rain And Washed The Spider Out
All The King’s Horse And All The King’s Men
Where Is The Boy Who Looks After The Sheep?’
“As I said, cryptic nursery rhymes.” She looked at Carter to see his reaction. His eyes were clearly going through the material at hand a second time. “Kinda creepy if you ask me.”
“They’re dissected and reassembled really oddly” Carter scratched his head. “What do they mean?”
Both Carter and Mariah recognized where the rhymes had come from. They were all very popular lines from nursery rhymes that were thought in grade school. The first was from ‘Jack & Jill’, the second from ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’, the third from ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the last from ‘Little Boy Blue’. Put together however, the lines didn’t rhyme neither did they seem to mean anything at all.
“Another fucking puzzle.” Mariah cussed.
“At least we know what we’re going to be working with.” Carter sighed as he examined the piece of plastic. “Nothing else written on the back.” He said as he flipped it the other way around.
“So what does it mean?” The tall lady asked. “You have any clue?”
“Well.” Carter said as he read the poem again. “I have a feeling these are instructions for us to follow.”
“How do you know?”
“See the first line?” He said pointing towards the last few words. “It references the features that are around the room. The words ’up the hill’ is probably the starting command to the riddle, probably telling us to start from the top of the hill.”
“Okay.” Mariah nodded. “Let’s get going then.”
“Wait.” Carter sighed and pocketed both the plastic and paper note into his breast pocket. “Let’s send George off first in a more dignified way.”
The two of them discussed for a moment and decided it was best to at least cover his body with a shroud of some kind. Mariah positioned his body in a sleeping position with his arms folded on his belly. From the maple tree, they tore down the moss that previously enveloped George’s body and lay it down onto him neatly. She stroked her hand down onto his greyish eyes and closed his eye lids. Carter merely sat down next to him and paid his last respects by saying what little words he knew to send off the dead at funerals. George now truly looked like he was merely sleeping.
“Let’s get to it.” Mariah tapped Carter by the shoulder.
“Yeah.” Carter nodded.
Both of them headed up the hill once more. They walked slowly and steadily in a moment of silence.
“It’s odd.” Mariah turned back to look at the body as they were walking upwards. Her voice had broken through the awkward quietness.
“What’s odd?” Carter asked in turn.
“This.” She pulled out something from her back pocket and showed it to Carter.
“Where did you get that?” Carter asked looking at the sturdy black object in her hand. It was a handgun.
“Found it on George.” She said. “Whoever killed him, didn’t take the most obvious thing they should’ve taken.”
“What the hell?” He thought for a moment. “They probably had one on themselves already maybe?”
“Don’t think so.” Mariah replied. “There weren’t any bullet wounds on George, only knife wounds.” She strained her eyes. “They didn’t even have a fucking gun to take the guy down with.”
“So you’re saying they came in close contact with him?”
“Seems like the only way they could’ve taken him down.” She looked at the gun as she spoke. “They left out on a really reliable gun as well.”
“What is it?” He asked, genuinely interested after the first lecture he received from Mariah.
“This is a Buck Mark Camper by Browning. It’s another really reliable handgun in the market and one of the more popular ones to date.” She explained. “It’s more of a hunting sidearm instead of a self-defense gun so it’s designed to be pretty accurate and doesn’t have much recoil on a whole. It’s another good handgun, almost similar to your GLOCK in a lot of ways.” She checked to see how many bullets were left in the magazine and continued. “The main difference is the bullet type. The GLOCK uses a 9mm while this one here uses a .22 caliber bullet.”
“I’m not too sure what you mean.” He replied looking at Mariah slip in the magazine into the gun again.
“Basically, the Camper has just a little less fire power but is compensated with an extended effective range and less recoil.” She nodded. “This one has around 45 meters of effective range or so. That’s what you get for using a .22 caliber bullet compared to a 9mm.”
“So it’s different kinds of bullets then?”
“Yup. Different kinds of bullets.”
“So what’s a caliber bullet made out of compared to a bullet made out of millimeter?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” She paused. “You have no idea how guns work do you?”
“I have no idea.” Carter nodded in agreement as they began climbing up the hill again.
“Caliber and millimeters are just a form of measuring the diameters of the bullet or barrel. Millimeters is the metric form while caliber is the English system.” She paused. “If you convert it, a .22 caliber bullet is around 6mm or so. So yea, it’s just how people phrase it, the bullet material itself doesn’t change, you idiot.”
“So it’s just the diameter then?” He asked. “So the bullets are both made out of the same stuff?”
“Yup.” She nodded. “You can make bullets with different materials and all but these two are just regular lead bullets.”
“I had no idea.” Carter laughed as he reached the top of the hill. “I always thought bullets were made of silver or something. To kill vampires and all that you know?” The conversation had lightened up the mood ever so slightly for Carter.
“You’re an idiot.” Mariah sighed as she reached the top as well. She stretched her hands up into the air and then reached for the handgun once again. “Let’s trade guns.”
“Huh?” Carter looked surprised. “Why?”
“I’d prefer the firepower over the range.” She nodded. “And the lower recoil means better accuracy for a total beginner like you.”
“Okay.” Carter said as he reached for his G43 and handed it over to Mariah. They swapped guns and then looked out into the distance.
“Thanks.” Mariah said quickly.
“Oh!” Carter had remembered something. “What happened to your empty gun?” He asked.
“It’s here.” She pulled it out from her other back pocket. “It’s still empty though so it isn’t much use.”
“Well, at least we both have some form of self-defense now.” Carter laughed as he took out the plastic note from his breast pocket again.
“Let’s figure this out then.”
Written By HoiHoiSoi
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