Heather and Ric sped up Cadotte Ave. and made a quick stop near the top as Ric fumbled around with his eye gear for a moment. Heather took a peek behind her, taking in the destructive scene once again. Most of the lamp posts were still standing, and as the snow melted at an incredible rate, Heather could see the outline of their snowmobile tracks. She also noticed an outline of another set of tracks, ones they hadn’t noticed on their way up the hill. She darted her eyes in the directions of the tracks, but couldn’t tell where they were coming from, or where they were going. Were they heading right, toward the Grand Hotel? Or left, through the golf course? The tracks went far enough both ways so that they disappeared from sight.
Ric finally fixed himself up as the snowmobile began to move once again. They turned left upon reaching a large intersection and moved quickly on the road through the forest, turning a few more times, until they were behind the island airport. Ric drove further down the road until he stopped at a large crack in the ground. “We’re home.”
Heather looked around. “Really?” She couldn’t see or hear much around them, which she assumed was why he made this home. “But this is just a…”
“A what,” Ric said, “a hole in the ground?” He paused for Heather’s response, but none came. A little smile crept onto his face. “And you thought the gazebo was just a gazebo. C’mon.”
Heather and Ric hopped down into the crack in the island and walked towards the deeper end. Ric turned back towards Heather and grabbed her around the waist, lifting her up. “You go first!” He turned them both back around and dropped her down on the ground. She found herself trying to catch her breath and barely had time to react to his sudden man-handling, when he reached for a tree root sticking out from the side of the dirt, and yanked on it. Heather felt weightless for a millisecond, then the dirt under her feet started to swollow her down, and she reached out a hand toward Ric as he looked down at her, laughing. She was instantly shoulder deep in the earth, grasping at anything she could get her hands on before the dirt was suddenly past her head. She could do nothing but take in one last breath before everything went dark. She then felt pressure on her head, pressing her down further into the ground. The earth moving around her seemed to sound like the inside of an earthquake, and all the noise distracted her from the fact that her feet were now free of earth and hanging freely, followed by her knees, waist, midsection, shoulders, head, and arms. She was now falling from a dirt ceiling and landed on a foam pad, rolling off to the side and stopping when her back pressed up against a massive tree root. She shook the dirt off of her face and looked up quickly enough to see the dirt ceiling she had just fallen through, with Ric falling through it next, hands first, taking an elegant swan dive into the foam landing below. He stood up and removed his goggles, revealing his two clean and sparkling blue eyes. As the dusting of dirt settled, all he said was, “Magic dirt.”
“Magic dirt,” Heather repeated. “Why didn’t I think of that!” She brushed herself off and saw the home Ric had made for himself, far away from the dangers lurking here on Mackinac. He had fashioned a bed, a sofa, and even a table out of the tree roots and the earth, with some blankets and other household items he’d scavenged from around the island. There was also light from a solar-powered lamp, a cable extended out from it and disappearing into the dirt ceiling. It was strong enough to light the entire room, and Heather could see that Ric had some other items on his makeshift desk… a stack of books, a bible, a notebook, a pad of paper, and some writing utensils. Heather went straight for the pad of paper and grabbed a pen. “Let’s make a list of places to check out tomorrow so that we’re prepared.”
Rick opened up a can of food and started to eat. “Where do you want to start?”
Heather thought about what she had seen thusfar. There were several large hotels that could also have large and possibly still secured basements. There were also the tracks that she had just seen on their way up Cadotte. And she even thought about her presumed trick-of-the-eye down at the marina. Maybe one of those buildings nearby housed someone… someone normal, someone sane?
There were a few rumbles of thunder heard over Heather and Ric’s head, as they tried to brainstorm a list of locations to explore on Mackinac Island. Heather wrote down the Grand Hotel, Mission Point Resort, Stonecliffe, Lilac Tree Hotel and the Chippewa Hotel. She started to write down the marina when Ric interrupted her…
“Are you about to write down the marina? I was gonna say that myself.” He wiped the bottom of his food can with his spoon, and realizing that it was now empty, threw the can at a small trash bin by his side. “I’ve searched around that area a few times, and I’ve seen things… well, thought I’ve seen things… that would make me think someone’s down there. But, haven’t found no one yet.”
“Well, the Island House is near there, we could check that place out. I think it would be best, however, to start at the furthest point out, then work our way closer back to homebase,” Heather pointed down with her pen, signaling that she meant Ric’s dirt home would be homebase. She couldn’t imagine living in an underground cave, but this one didn’t seem so bad.
“We could do that, but we could also follow our strongest lead, which seems to me is the marina. That’s my first pick.” He laid back on his sturdy dirt bed, and reached his arms back behind his head and leaned back into his pillow. “Maybe with another pair of eyes, we can find whoever or whatever is down there.”
“Sounds good to me.” Heather circled the marina and closed the book. “I have a question for you, though…” Heather peered at the stack of books on the table, trying to figure out if any of them sounded familiar to her. “There’s an airport. With planes. And so why don’t you just fly off the island?”
“Like I said before, it’s not my intention to leave the good people of Mackinac here to suffer. Besides, I can’t fly one of those darn planes. They’re too rickety. And small…”
“Oh come now, you’ve created a futurist gazebo-maching out of who knows what, and a home out of ‘magic dirt,’ which I’m not even going to try to understand. I’m sure you could figure out how to fly a plane.”
“Hey – some things you just need to leave to the professionals,” Ric retorted. He looked irritated and pressed a hand against his stomach. “I might be good with machines, that don’t mean I can easily operate any machine I want. And if Scott could just get someone to this island who has experience with that, well then…”
“Scott! I forgot all about him!” Heather pulled her backpack close to her and started searching inside. She pulled out the walkie talkie that Scott had given her on the dock, and she turned it on. It made some white noise before going quiet again, and pressed the button to talk to the other end. “Scott! Scott, are you there? It’s Heather. Um, over…” she wasn’t familiar with walkie talkie protocol, but figured if anything that she said had made it to the other end was going to be good enough.
Ric and Heather heard more faint rumbles above their heads, the sounds of rolling thunder heading their way. “Don’t worry, that rain won’t get here tonight. And I’ve got enough rain gear to cover a dozen people, so we’re covered for tomorrow.” There was a slight air of reassurance in Ric’s voice, knowing that he had the weather patterns down pat. But the look of worry on his face had Heather a little more concerned. She focused her energy on the walkie talkie in her hand, waiting for a response…
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