Crowded into in the radio room, the group listened with bated breath. Angel stood flagpole-straight, closing her eyes to better hear.
“Destiny,” said Eliza, all professionalism, “where are you?”
Angel was so glad that Eliza at least seemed interested in being competent. It troubled her deeply that between a sullen man-child with the world’s weirdest mommy issues and a doddering old French anachronism the barely-teenager was the most reliable person she had with her in this perhaps literally godforsaken place. She tried to keep it out of her face, but she desperately hoped that Destiny was more responsible than the people she currently was being forced to take care of. Maybe a forty-year-old. She would even take a twenty-something.
Destiny’s high voice came back on the radio. “I’m at…” she paused “end- enduu – Enduuance Peak.”
“C’est un bébé! ” Gabriel exclaimed putting his hand to his chest, “Que se passe-t-il dans cet endroit abandonné!?”
Angel didn’t have to speak French to get the gist. Her heart fell into her stomach. She kept her face straight.
“Destiny,” said Eliza, “are you hurt? Can you follow the trail to camp virtue?”
“I’m ok.” Destiny chirped, “Wheas da twail?”
“I’ll go get her,” Angel interrupted, “Right now. You all stay here. Destiny, this is Angel. I’m coming to get you. You stay near the trail.”
“Coming to get me?” the voice sounded alarmed.
“I’m coming to help you,” Angel corrected, “tell me what’s around you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, sweetie,” Eliza chided, “the more you tell us the more we can help.”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know wheah I am. I want to go home. I want Mr. Tiger.” Destiny pronounced it “Tigeah.”
“Where’s Mr. Tiger?”
Angel suspected there was not one person in the room who couldn’t surmise who “Mr. Tiger” might be. Angel saw Eliza reach a hand absently to her shoulder with a lost look on her face. Even Eloy and Gabriel both visibly shrank into themselves. Angel herself felt the empty, clawing feeling of being separated from God. She set her jaw. “Don’t worry about Mr. Tiger now, Destiny. We’re coming to help.”
Destiny was not encouraged. She started to whine. “I want Mr. Tiger. Mr. Tiger, where are you!?”
“We’re not going to get more out of her,” Angel decided, “I have to go.”
“Take my phone,” said Eliza, holding it out. She used her other hand to wipe some wetness that had welled up underneath her eyes. “It, uh, it has a flashlight. Just… flick it forward a couple times,” she demonstrated the gesture and a white light glared out from the phone. Angel accepted the phone. Eliza kept talking as Angel tried to recreate the gesture. “Use her radio to contact us when you find her.”
Angel looked at Eliza, pleased once again to have someone with presence of mind.
Eliza shrunk from Angel’s gaze, “If, uh, if you don’t mind.”
“Thanks,” said Angel curtly, and turned the light off and on a few times.
“I’m going, too,” Eloy blurted. Angel felt her mind go red and whirled at him, but he was already fixing her with a glare of his own. Everyone was looking at them. God, Angel prayed silently, Please send me a vision, tell me what I’m supposed to do. She had been praying long enough she knew how to do it without people reading her face. Angel waited for Eloy to say more. “I’m not going to slow down for you,” She said eventually, “If you get tired or lost you’ll have to find camp on your own.”
Eloy glared all around and donned a distinctly adolescent sneer, “Ditto.”
It was obvious Eloy spent all his time sitting on the couch watching TV, but he kept up with Angel’s brisk walking pace anyway. Angel was grateful that she didn’t actually have to leave him behind and worry about him on top of this little girl lost in the woods.
In moments they saw the trees thin and the big wooden sign rise up. “Endurance Peak.” “Where is she?” Eloy asked, struggling to speak between deep gasping breaths. Angel pointed at the end of the clearing. Wooden logs cut in half made steps leading upward.
“Oh, man!” Eloy’s boyish face was stricken, “how much further do we have to go?”
Angel kept her smile on the inside. “The whole trail is a few hours each way. Mostly climbing over rocks. Hopefully she’ll be on the closer side, but I’m going to go until I find her or reach the end.”
Looking at Eloy’s face, she added, “You don’t have to go anywhere.”
Angel took a sip from her water bottle as she watched Eloy stomp back the way he came. It was paved and nearly straight. He couldn’t possibly fail to get to camp. She turned and moved forward. It could be the days were just long or Eliza time thought it was later than it really should be, but the twilight still shone through the trees even at 7:30. It wouldn’t last much longer, and she didn’t want to trust Eliza’s little magic future rectangle any more than she had to. She couldn’t keep up a sprint for hours, but unencumbered she could go much faster than the pace she had set for Eloy. She took the steps at a jog.
Thirty minutes in, Angel slowed back down to her fast walk. Even with the light from the phone thing she didn’t feel comfortable walking along this trail in the dark. At places the whole path was just big rocks. The walking was still flat, but some of them were far enough apart you had to reach your foot out to get to the other side without falling into the gulch below.
God, please give me a vision. Where is this poor child?
As with every time since she had come here, Angel’s pleas went unanswered. She stumbled on a root and just managed to catch herself and keep from tumbling over. She couldn’t keep feeling sorry for herself. God had abandoned her and that was it. She couldn’t spare the attention while she focused on finding a little girl and not getting a broken leg on the way.
Angel slowed further and shined the light all around her. “Destiny? Destiny!”
The forest’s crickets and frogs made such a racket that it was becoming oppressive. Angel took in a breath. She pulled up Eliza’s phone. 9:14. The going was slower than she had expected in the dark. That was a terrible oversight. She couldn’t afford to be sloppy in this world without a god. “Destiny!” she shouted again.
This was the part of the trail where the rocks grew steeper. Angel put the phone in her pocket and hefted herself onto an enormous slab. “Destiny!” She had passed several places where sign markers said “Endurance Peak,” and she didn’t remember there being many more after. If Destiny had not stayed near the trail, there wouldn’t be much that –
Do not think like that.
Angel pressed on. When she reached the end of the trail, the actual peak of Endurance Peak, she shined the light out into the darkness where just a few days before during the day she had seen a broad vista. All trees, she remembered. No evidence of civilization for miles. No evidence of Destiny. “Destiny!” Angel was beginning to feel as if the crickets were laughing at her. The frogs and birds were mocking her. Again, she failed. She couldn’t save anyone on Earth and she couldn’t save anyone in this twisted Hell. She
Slowly, Angel forced herself to turn around. She kept shouting Destiny’s name as she descended, shining her light everywhere she could. She knew the composure had left her, and she sounded as desperate as she felt. Her mind went back to the radio room. The wailing little girl who had lost her god and everything else. She knew that little girl because she was that little girl. Hell if she’d ever let anyone know, but it was true.
Angel had lost her focus. This time when she tripped she didn’t catch herself. She landed hard onto the rock. The phone light spun in the air in front of her before it fell and vanished. Shit.
Angel ignored the pain flaring in her ankle and scrambled forward to find the phone. No one would help her if it had broken and wouldn’t light up anymore. She would never find it in the black night if that had happened. She felt ahead of her as she crawled. She couldn’t afford to fall into a chasm on top of everything else she had fucked up already.
As she crawled, she thought she heard a sound besides the ever-present crickets and frogs. She lifted her head and closed her eyes. Someone was crying. She considered shouting, but she worried that Destiny might run away instead of towards her. Slowly, not letting the gentle sobs escape her ears, Destiny turned around. She crawled forward, one hand in front of the other, as the weeping grew louder and more distinct. “Mr. Tiger…” she finally heard, “Mr. Tiger… Mr. … Mr. Tig- Tiger…”
Angel crawled forward until the sobbing was right in front of her. She guessed she could reach out and grab Destiny if she needed to.
Angel didn’t shout. “Destiny,” she whispered as quietly as she could.
The crying stopped. Angel held her breath and, ignoring her ankle’s protest, readied herself to pounce if Destiny spooked and tried to run.
“Destiny,” she whispered again.
Destiny began to whine softly, a note of fear entering her voice. No, no, no, this wasn’t good. What could Angel say?
“Destiny, I’m sorry about Mr. Tiger”
“Mr. Tiger.” Destiny agreed, sniffling.
“I lost my Mr. Tiger, too.”
“Uh-huh,” Destiny mumbled. Then after another sob, “Is this Angel?”
Angel steeled herself. She couldn’t start celebrating until they were both safely at the camp.
“This is Angel, Destiny. I’m here to help you get someplace bright and warm. Would you like to come with me?”
Exciting! Happy ending!