Authors: Carrie Harris
Calamity took the sword from my hands, testing its weight with a couple of experimental swings. I wanted to launch to my feet and explain to her how I’d whittled down a dowel and packed the PVC with cotton to get the weight just right, but I forced myself to stay put. I’d committed myself to her mercy, and I wasn’t going to get up until she gave the okay.
She circled around me, and now I could barely sit still. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. If she killed my character, I wasn’t going to be able to LARP for the rest of the night. I had a regeneration charm, but it didn’t activate until sunup. Which meant I’d be stuck sitting on the sidelines while everyone else raided the Apple camp. And that would suck major suckables.
But before Calamity could make a move, Amethyst came back out of the armory and walked toward us. “Hey,” she said, “what’s going on?”
Calamity leaned close, whispering in my ear. “This conversation isn’t over. Take your stupid sword.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I said, returning the sword to its sheath. “I’m sorry,
Cal.” But she ignored me and walked away, her jaw tight with tension. Europa gave me a helpless shrug, and I smiled at her a little.
“Hello?” Amethyst walked up and waved her hands in front of my face. “Did some alien virus strike all males in the area completely mute? The guy at the armory just stared at me until I finally gave up and left.”
“Don’t mind Lariat. He’s just shy. But Goldnar, the sentry, will try and sneak a peek at you in the shower if you don’t buddy up,” said Europa, extending a hand. “Hi. I’m Europa of Goldenrod.”
“Amethyst.” They shook hands. “And thanks for the warning.”
I turned to look at Europa. “Why didn’t you tell me about Goldnar?” I asked, my grip tightening on the hilt of my sword. “I would have taken care of it.”
Europa and Calamity exchanged guilty glances. Then they both cracked up.
“I handled it,” said Calamity. “I’m not totally incompetent.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that!” I exclaimed. Some days it was hard to be chivalrous without coming off like a total ass.
“So what happened with the tent?” Amethyst said, and if I didn’t want to snuggle up to her before, I did now. The change of subject was very much appreciated.
“A yeti fell on it. Like, out of the sky.” I waved my arms around excitedly as I surveyed the damage. “It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I’ve seen zombies!”
I’d spent two nights setting up all my gear just the way I wanted it. Now it was in shambles. The central support pole was splintered, and the heavy-duty tarp sported a couple of giant holes. My storage chest looked intact, but the folding table and chairs were twisted into metal origami shapes. It was going to cost me a lot of snow-shoveling money to replace all of it, but I couldn’t help grinning every time I thought about the beast plummeting out of the sky. He could have fallen onto anybody’s tent, but he had fallen on
Finally, I tore my eyes away from the mess to find all three girls staring at me.
“You need to get out more,” Amethyst said. “Seriously.”
“Everything okay?” A chaperone came lurching into the camp, sweat plastering his wispy hair to his head. He set a carton of bottled water down on the ground with a huff of effort. “Looks like your tent died, Jonah.”
“Yeah.” I tried to look embarrassed, which isn’t easy when you’re bouncing on the inside and making a loud
sound in your head. “Structural deficiency, I guess. We’ll clean it up.”
“I know you will.” He turned away, totally uninterested. On one hand, it was a little insulting that our chaperones had no gaming chops whatsoever. On the other, it could also be very convenient. We got away with the occasional bending of the rules because they quite simply didn’t care
we did. They just showed up because the Bayview Community Center paid them.
“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?” muttered Calamity.
“We can’t make him clean this up all by himself,” Europa said. “Come on, Cal. That’s totally uncool.”
“I’ll take any help I can get,” I said. “But I was hoping you’d at least stick around so I could pick your brains. I think between the four of us, we could have a nice strategy council going on here.”
“What are we strategizing?” Amethyst pulled a chair out of the rubble. One of its legs was bent into a curlicue. “Anybody have duct tape?”
Calamity snorted. “Duct tape won’t fix that.”
My words came out in unison with Amethyst’s: “Duct tape will fix anything.” We grinned at each other, until I noticed Calamity’s scowl and figured I should stop.
“So I need ideas on how to track the yeti,” I said, dragging my chest out of the mess and retrieving the tape. “We need to know once and for all if we’re dealing with a real
cryptozoological creature or if it’s just some LARPer.”
“Crypto-whatsit?” Europa asked, wrinkling her nose.
“Cryptozoological,” Amethyst interjected before I could answer. “Legendary animals like the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot and the chupacabra.”
“Which are all awesome,” I said.
“I don’t believe in any of that stuff,” Amethyst said, tossing her hair.
“You should.” Europa started to duct-tape the tent pole back together. “Jonah and his sister just took on a bunch of zombies. He lost the tip of his pinky finger and everything.” She gave me the Look, the one that made me feel all mushy. “He’s really brave.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, E.” I grabbed the tape and started tearing off pieces. Turning to Amethyst, I said, “But if you want to believe that it’s some idiot in disguise, I don’t mind. Just help me find it.”
“That’s easy,” Amethyst said. “My dad’s been taking me hunting since I was ten.”
“You kill Bambi?” Europa looked ready to cry.
“Nah. Ducks, mostly. I took down a wild turkey once too. But deer are too cute to shoot.”
“So you can help me track it, then?” I asked.
“I should be able to run down something as big as a yeti. How tall did you say it was?”
“Seven feet or so. I didn’t exactly measure it.”
“Like I said, easy.”
We all stood there and watched as Calamity strong-armed the curlicue chair back into shape. I honestly didn’t know how she managed because she was built like a string bean. Maybe the chairs were really flimsy. I decided I’d try it myself sometime when I didn’t have an audience.
“Well?” she grumbled, tossing the chair to the ground. “What are we waiting for?”
I glanced around the tent. It didn’t look anywhere near as cool as it had, but I didn’t think any of the chaperones would be tempted to rope it off as unsafe, if they even noticed the disrepair at all. That was good enough for me. Who wanted to spend time redecorating when
there was a yeti to hunt?
“Nothing,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We followed Amethyst into the woods, weapons at the ready. The tip of my sword trembled. Europa noticed, and she rubbed my shoulder soothingly. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t fear so much as excitement that was making me shake. Well, maybe a little fear, but that was okay. But then I realized it was pretty dumb to argue with her—as a healer, caretaking was just in her nature.
I walked in the middle of the group, which seemed backward to me. As the lone guy, shouldn’t I have been protecting the women? I felt like I should have been bringing up the rear, but Calamity had claimed that spot and I knew she was equal to it. Maybe someone would attack us and she could take her frustrations out on them. I’d just have to resist the urge to shout a battle cry and leap to her rescue.
I spent so long overanalyzing the situation that when I looked up, I had no idea where we were. Which may have had something to do with the fact that I’d never been a Boy Scout, and one tree looked disturbingly like another—unless they were digitized, in which case I could have spotted a lazy programmer with a blindfold on.
We were in a clearing. I was fairly certain we were still in the same state, since we’d only been walking for about five minutes and hadn’t hit a highway. Then a familiar rock caught my eye. Lariat and I had laughed about it when we’d set up our ambush; if you were to paint it yellow, it would have looked exactly like Pikachu. Too bad I hadn’t noticed it a millisecond sooner.
“Amethyst, stop!” I shouted just as her foot hit the tripwire buried in the leaves around the rock.
She half turned to face me as the catapults started firing. The air filled with Grade A extra-large eggs. The first one took Amethyst on the arm, followed by four body shots in quick
succession. The other girls tried to duck and cover, squealing, but it was no use as a second volley of ovoid ammunition flew through the air. One egg splatted on my tunic; another took me on the side of the head and oozed a cold trail toward my eardrum. I covered my face with my hands and waited for the ambush to end.
The eggs finally stopped flying, but I didn’t move. It would have been useless anyway; we’d made sure to set up our trap so that it would catch the Apples if they tried to flee. I heard a muffled
as the tarps released the mountain of chicken feathers we’d stashed overhead. The downy feathers fell onto our shoulders like snow.
When I opened my eyes, the ground was white. The girls looked like chickens with leprosy, because the feathers had only stuck to their eggy bits. Which actually made it even more hilarious than if we’d been completely covered.
I started to snicker quietly to myself, when Calamity said, “I am going to kill those Apples,” in a voice that assured us she was not kidding at all. Something told me it would be wise to let the Apples take the blame for this one, at least for now. I bit the inside of my cheek and tried to hold in the giggles, because I wanted to live long enough to prove that the yeti was real, that I’d discovered it, and that if it hadn’t been for my superior tent-building skills, it would probably be dead. After that, I’d own up to placing the trap.
Amethyst and Calamity started brushing each other off, muttering angrily. At least their shared fury gave them something to bond over. Although that would be of little consolation when they combined their powers to beat me into a pulp.
I tried to clean the egg off my tunic and only succeeded in smearing it around. “Here,” Europa said, producing a package of baby wipes from her bag. “Let me help.”
“Are you planning to change diapers sometime this weekend?” I asked, holding my arms out and letting her tackle the yolky parts.
She laughed, her curls bouncing. “No. I keep them in my med kit just in case of emergencies.”
“You’re awesome,” I blurt out.
Color rose to her cheeks. “So are you,” she said. Then she paused before continuing. “How did you know? About the trap, I mean?” She finished cleaning off my tunic and offered me the package. I took out a wipe and started cleaning out my ear.
“I … uh … saw the tripwire. I think. It moved the leaves, you know?”
She didn’t seem to notice that I was stammering.
“Well, thank you for trying, anyway.” She stood up on her tiptoes—she was even shorter than me—and pressed her lips against my cheek. I would have confessed right then and there, but suddenly Amethyst let out a yelp.
“Nobody move!” she exclaimed, crouching to look at the ground. “I think I’ve got something.”
“Define ‘something,’ ” Calamity said.
I half expected her to say, “It’s Jonah’s footprint. He must have set the trap, and now I’m going to kill him.” Very few things honestly scare me, but right then I was terrified.
Amethyst looked up at me. “I think it might be a yeti print,” she said, the shock clear on her face.
We crouched on the ground amid drifts of white feathers to get a better look at the print. It was big, like order-your-shoes-off-the-Internet big, but I don’t think this guy was going to be squeezing those tootsies into a pair of Skechers anytime soon. His toe prints were long, widespread, and tipped with deep gouges where his claws would be.
“That,” I said solemnly, “is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s probably just a costume, Jonah,” said Calamity, snorting. “Don’t get all worked up over it.”
“So what if it is?” I shrugged. “We’re still on an honest-to-goodness yeti hunt. Doesn’t that strike you as even a little bit cool?”
“I guess,” she replied cautiously.
“Then I’m going to enjoy the experience. You probably wouldn’t have so many latent anger issues if you did the same thing.”
I turned to Amethyst and changed the subject before we ruined the whole experience by starting an argument and losing any chance we might have of tracking this thing down. “Can you follow it?” I asked.
Amethyst nodded slowly, glancing from Calamity’s red face to mine. “Yeah. I think. The ground’s wet enough to hold a print. Although she’s got a point. Yeti are supposed to be, like, found in the Himalayas, right? They’re not exactly indigenous to Ohio.”
“So maybe it’s an albino Bigfoot. Or maybe it’s a guy in a suit. I don’t care,” I said. “Don’t you get it? This may be my only chance in my entire life to hunt a yeti-type-thing, and you are all ruining it!” My voice got a little screechy at the end there, but I’d just about had it. Didn’t they understand that sometimes for people like us, imagination was the only thing we had left? Maybe I would go back to school on Monday and one of the jocks would give me a wedgie in the locker room, but today I was a hunter of cryptids that would make those weenies squeal in
fear. It was a tradeoff I was more than willing to make, but I was starting to wish I’d taken on the hunt alone.
Europa sidled up to me. “It’s okay. I’ve got your back.”
“Thanks, E.” I cuffed her on the shoulder because I didn’t want to get overemotional.
“Hey.” Amethyst stood up. “I’m still in. It’s all right, dude.”
The three of us looked at Calamity. Calamity looked at me.
“It wouldn’t be the same without you, Cal. Please?” I wheedled. “Do it for me?”
“I hate you,” she said, but she didn’t sound like she felt that way at all. Then she shouldered her sword. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s move.”