Neal woke up to find himself lying in the grass at the side of a mountain road.  His boxers were torn and dirty, his skin deeply tanned.  His lips were dry and cracked, and his throat screamed for water.  Neal scratched his cheek in thought and discovered stubble.  He sat up with some effort and looked around.

            The others were all in a similar state, and all were just regaining consciousness.  He counted heads and suddenly felt annoyance.

            “Where’s Ethan?”  He asked, beginning to get tired of having to ask that question.

            “Behind you.” Alex said, pointing.

            Neal turned his head and looked up.  The sun was in his eyes so he had to put his hand up to block the glare.  The dark silhouette looking down on him clarified and he began to see who it was.

            “Ethan!” He said, excited.  “You’re okay!”

            And he was.  His beard had started to grow in, Neal noticed.  He was darkly tanned, for perhaps the first time in his pale life, and he looked just as parched as the others, but he was conscious.  That alone was an improvement.  He was also smiling.

            There was something unsettling about that smile to Genevieve, sitting a few feet away from them.  It chilled her to the bone, because it wasn’t so much a smile as it was a grin.   And it wasn’t what she’d call a happy grin.  No, it was something else.  She searched her memory for something half-remembered, but whatever it was wouldn’t take shape in her mind’s eye.  She had seen this disturbing grin sometime before, but when?

            Ethan was reaching down to help Neal up, and something about that bothered her as well, something about the way he did it, but she couldn’t place why it unsettled her.  It almost came to her, but then fluttered away into the deep recesses of her mind.  She shook off her discomfort – her brother was awake and standing, she should be grateful instead of worried, she told herself.

            “Good to see you up and about!”  Neal said, clapping his friend on the arm as they shook hands.  “We were worried.”

            “Why?”  Ethan said.

            “You were unconscious, for at least two days,” Evan said.  “Don’t you remember?”

            “I don’t remember anything,” he said.

            “You did bang your head,” Jason said.  “Maybe that accounts for it.”

            “What happened?”  Ethan asked.

            “There was a storm, and we survived somehow.  We stayed in a cave in a mountain,” Owen told him.  “You don’t remember?”

            “No,” Ethan said, staring at Owen strangely.  It was like he was unconcerned about it all, as if he didn’t care that he had been unconscious and now had no memory of it all.  Genevieve felt the discomfort returning.

            “Well, this is getting us nowhere,” Dan interjected.  “Maybe instead of talking about what happened, we should try to make some things happen instead?  Let’s get out of here!”

            “If we follow the road, we have to get somewhere,” Neal said.  “Let’s go.”

            He led the way and the others followed.  Six young people in their underwear, dirty, sun-scorched and barefoot, and one in dirty, torn clothes.  Not one wondered why it was spring instead of winter, as it had been when they had left home for their Reading Week breaks.  Not one needed to – the answers were there, buried in the back of their minds, just waiting to be remembered.

  

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