Something about the look in their eyes tells you to listen. You nod wordlessly and follow them back up the trail.
“There’s no use going back to campus. There’s a peak not far from here where we can call for help,” Jackie says.
“Help from what?” you ask.
“The Butcher,” whispers Meredith.
The snow is falling harder now, so hard you can barely see the person in front of you. You reach out to grab each other’s hands, forming a human chain through the forest. Just audible over the crunch of your boots in the snow, the grating, incessant hum returns. Behind you, Jackie trips, pulling you with her. You lose your grip on Steven.
“Sorry,” Jackie says, “I hit a root or something.” Waving your arm frantically, you find his wrist again, the chain complete. “I know we’re close. Just keeping going straight.”
You keep trudging through the snow, the human chain pulling you up the trail. The trees are thinning out. In the distance, even though the storm, you can see the glow of the campus. And, up ahead, some light, a campfire is going, somehow, in the middle of the blizzard.
“Oh my god,” Jackie says, “we’re back at the ropes course.” She’s right. All around you
“Steven, we need to turn around. STEVEN, turn around!” Jackie release you. But the human chain keeps moving forward. You try to let go but it won’t let go back.
Behind you, Jackie screams.
“Steven!” You cry. “STEVEN let go of me!” As you get closer to the fire, you realize the silhouette before you is much bigger than any of yours. It’s skin, reflected in the flickering blaze, is sticky with leaves, sweat, and blood, its grip ironclad. Whatever hand is holding you, the hand leading you to safety, isn’t Steven’s.
That’s because Steven’s hand has already been laid by the fire, his skin a crackling brown. He’s next to Meredith and Jackie, each of them rolled much too close to the flames for comfort. Much too close, for anything, you quickly realize.
Anything but cooking.