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February 2, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (2)

(Check out the first part here)


Hunt 2: The Rundown

He rounded a corner and headed east, gazing absentmindedly at a few rustling trees flanking him.  Kind of silly for him to think this whole thing was because of him; he’d laid down the basic idea, and the end goal, but he never would have guessed it would come to this…
               
“Luke!  You’re here -- oh man, so we’re really going through with it?”
               
Luke cut his daydreaming short and looked ahead.  He had to force himself not to laugh; a hunchbacked dwarf started walking towards him, fidgeting and looking like the weight of his gear would snap his back in two.  And for some reason, he wore a gas mask.  And a long, hooded jacket.  And sandals with socks.
               
“I was hoping that you, of all people, would have the sense to call off this…this…operation,” said the dwarf, moving closer to Luke.  To his credit, he wasn’t that short -- just a few inches shorter than Luke.  But stooped as he was, he could have passed for a middle school kid.
               
Luke laughed, and patted his hooded pal on the shoulder.  Funny, how it felt so good to laugh with so much risk involved with their -- what did he call it?  An operation.  “Don’t worry, RJ.  As long as we stick together, we’ll be all right.”    He nudged his buddy in the shoulder, and for a moment he could feel him trembling under his jacket.  “Hey, didn’t I tell you to travel light?  You’re not gonna be much use if you’ve got all that gear dragging you down.”
               
RJ shook his head rapidly -- so fast that when he finished, he had to readjust his mask.  “Preparedness is the key to survival, Luke!  And I’ve taken all the precautions needed; if you and the others are going to force me into a situation like this, I have no choice but to --”
               
Luke looked toward a chimney in the distance and stroked his cheek.  “If we have to run, you’re not gonna be able to keep up.”
               
“R-r-run?”  RJ made a motion to bite his thumb, but of course the gas mask got in his way.  “Damn.  The one precaution I didn’t take into ample consideration…if it comes down to it, then I…”  He held up a finger.  “Excuse me for a moment.”
               
RJ didn’t bother waiting for a response; he flung himself into some bushes, and started unlatching belts and unzipping packs.  “Don’t need that…don’t need that…oooh, but I can’t leave that behind, I’ll be sure to die!  And I’ll take -- ow, ow, ow!  This bush has thorns in it!”
               
This could be a problem, Luke thought.


                
But RJ -- rubbing his backside -- stumbled out of the bushes, fighting to loosen his foot from a few clingy branches.  He’d managed to turn a knapsack the size of a baby elephant into two packs, one strapped to his shoulders and the other, a rectangular box of sorts, clinging to his hips.  The gas mask that might have made him look like the world’s worst terrorist had been discarded; in its place was RJ’s unimposing face -- bony and copper-colored, with eyes that seemed a size too large, and seaweed-styled hair drooping to his neck.  While he’d kept his mossy jacket, he left it unzipped; just enough to reveal a dark green jacket, dress shirt, and tie. 
               
Luke’s eyes ran up and down RJ’s body, widening as he noticed his wrinkled pants and -- oddly enough -- electrician’s gloves.  “You wore your school uniform?” he asked.
               
“Of course!  Why wouldn’t I?”
               
“Because we’re not going to school?”
               
RJ shook his head quickly.  “School is the place that means the most to me right now -- the battlefield where we students prove ourselves time and time again!  If I’m to go on this mission, then I choose to do so as a representative of that fact, and my status as a top-class pupil!”
               
Luke just stared at him.  “Really?”
               
“…No.  I just couldn’t think of anything better to wear.”
               
“Like socks with sandals.  Dude, Dante’s gonna give you hell over that.”
               
“Well then, let him!” RJ pumped his fists up and down.  “It’s his recklessness and bravado that ensured our mission!  If he wants to make trouble over that, I’ll counter by explaining just how much of an assault on my nerves this has proven to be!”
               
“So your nerves are getting to you?”  Luke rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the street; suddenly, he couldn’t bring himself to look RJ in the eye.  “Hey, listen.  I’m sorry to drag you into this.  I mean, I know I said some stuff the other day, and things kind of got out of hand, but I won’t make you do this.”
               
“So you’re saying I can leave?  Really?”
               
Luke turned back to RJ and nodded feebly.  Their mission was important to him -- to Luke, and to no one else.  He couldn’t drag his friends into his problems, and definitely not his cockamamie plan.
               
But to Luke’s shock, RJ shook his head.  “I…I’m not THAT scared, you know!” he shouted (though his buckling knees said otherwise).  “My nerves aren’t even getting to me that much!”
               
“Really?”
               
RJ nodded -- and then, shot a stream of yellow puke all over the sidewalk.
               
“That…that doesn’t look too good, man.”
               
“Th-that was just comedic timing, that’s all!” RJ blurted, rubbing the corners of his mouth with one oversized sleeve.  “I’ve been practicing!  It’s sure to make me sixty-four percent more popular with the females in our age demographic!”
               
Luke managed a wry smile.  “You actually crunched the numbers on that?”
               
“Yes.  It comes out to sixty-four percent…well, sixty-four point three, with a repeating three of cour-”
               
“Luke, come on.  You should know better.”
               
Neither Luke nor RJ jumped at the sound of that smarmy voice.  Just as they expected, Dante came strutting toward them, with a hand on his hip and a teasing chuckle slipping from his mouth.  “Our man RJ loves crunching numbers.  Why do you think he’s still single?”
               
Luke laughed nervously, while RJ went into a childish pout.  “I’ll have you know that women are an investment with an incredibly high down payment,” RJ grumbled.  “Besides, YOU’RE single, too.”
               
“Maybe.  But all I have to do is wave my hand and I’ll have women straddling my legs.”  Dante brushed at a few of his feathery bangs, earning an annoyed glare from RJ.  “Let’s face it.  I’m beautiful.”
               
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘handsome.’”
               
“Nope.  Beautiful.”
               
Luke ran his eyes over Dante and his equipment -- and he had to admit, even he felt a bit of a swoon.  Tall, with a slight tan and mahogany locks to die for, every now and then he had a right to be cocky.  It certainly helped that he had the lithe, toned frame of a Muay Thai fighter, along with the clothes -- a red tanktop and clinging biker pants -- to draw a few eyes.  But it was Dante’s hands and feet that drew the most attention for Luke.  He’d wrapped his hands in athletic tape, and had started jabbing rapidly at the air; his red-sneakered feet bounced about, letting him move fleetly to the left and right.  The glint in his chocolate eyes said everything Luke needed to know: he’d come ready to follow through on their operation, and then some.
               
“Dante ‘Dashing’ de Luca -- otherwise known as ‘The Red Beast of Two Sparrows’ -- otherwise known as --”
               
“You’re not allowed to have that many nicknames!” RJ wailed.
               
Dante threw a few more punches, making sure to flash one of his trademark debonair smiles.  “You are when you’re me.”  He ran a backhand against his brow and sighed, and turned to Luke.  “Anyway, I’m all warmed up.  You ready to get this done?”
               
“I could ask you the same thing,” Luke answered, now eyeing the red duffle bag slung over one of Dante’s shoulders.  “Is everything you need in there?”
               
“You said to travel light, so I’m travelling light.”
               
“But you’re sure that’s enough?”
               
Dante tapped a few fingers against his left fist.  “Please.  As long as I’ve got Sasha and Melody, there’s no way we can lose.”
               
“You named your hands?”
               
“I name all my body parts.”  Dante smiled wryly.  “Wanna know what I named my junk?”
               
Luke shook his head.  “No, I think I’ll be --”
               
“I call it Harrison Ford.” 
               
RJ raised a hand, as if the three of them were back at their school desks.  “Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if you named it after an Italian actor?  You know, absolute immaturity and repulsiveness notwithstanding.”
               
“Please.”  Dante folded his arms and started walking, with Luke and RJ trotting close behind.  “That’d be like me saying you should name everything you own after Arabic actors.  If there are any.”
               
“How many times do I have to tell you?  I’m Sri Lankan!  That’s a completely different region!”
               
“That explains why your real name is so damn impossible to pronounce.”
               
RJ’s nose started to wrinkle up.  “As I’ve explained to you in the past, all you have to do is break it down into the requisite syllables and --”
               
“Did I ASK for an English lesson, Professor?  No?  Well then how ‘bout you do us all a favor, and keep that learning shit where it belongs?”
               
“I’ll have you know that learning -- much like reading -- is fundamental to --”
               
“Blah blah blah reading, blah blah blah standardized tests, blah blah principals.”
               
Before they could go any further -- and before RJ could start gnawing on Dante’s head -- Luke stepped between them and held up his hands.  “Hey, come on guys.  No need to fight,” he said reassuringly, making sure to keep pace with the pair. “Look, let’s just focus on this thing for now, and leave the school stuff for later, okay?”
               
Both Dante and RJ nodded, though the latter hung his head and started trembling again.  “You just had to remind me,” he muttered -- just before firing a cannonball of orange puke into a lawn gnome.
               
Dante glanced at Luke from the corner of his eye.  “Is he gonna be okay?” he asked, watching as RJ tried to clean off the gnome…and giving up as he decided he didn’t want to touch something so gross.
               
“I sure hope so.  We may need him most of all,” said Luke.  He pointed at the rectangular box -- one that had a hastily-plastered red cross atop it.  “If anything bad happens to us, chances are that he’ll be the one to make sure we get out of there safely.”
               
“Oh, great.  So my life’s in the hands of a basket case.”
               
“What’s wrong?” Luke asked with a smirk.  “Is the Red Beast starting to lose his nerve?”
               
“Heh.  Come on, man.  You know me -- always ready for a little bit of glory.”  He stroked his chin.  “Well, a little MORE glory, but you follow me.”
               
“That’s what I was counting on.”  RJ rejoined the group just as they took a turn, and emerged before a patch of apartments on their left.  On their right, they spotted the old complex that used to be a Wal-Mart, with its paint mostly faded and its doors long since bolted shut.  Luke pointed to a spot illuminated by a street lamp, and with a loading dock annexed to its wall.  “Look.  There’s Wade.”
               
Wade, indeed.  At the sound of approaching footsteps, he stumbled to his feet and started heading towards them, waving jovially all the while.  “Whoa ho, you guys made it!” he called out.  “I was starting to get a little lonely out here!”
               
Luke started to speak, but RJ leapt to the head of the group and put a finger in front of his mouth.  “Hey!  Keep your voice down!” he hissed.  “If we wake someone up, we could get in some serious --”
               
“Wha?  Can’t hear ya, buddy!  Talk louder!  Like, really loud!  Loud enough to wake up some neighbors, maybe!”
               
While RJ seethed, Luke turned toward the sky.  What would RJ say if he knew an antsy Doberman might have compromised their mission?
               
Regardless of who was to blame, Wade stood in front of his teammates with his typical goofy grin.  And he stood above them as well; at six foot five with a build like a linebacker, he had several inches on Dante, and made RJ look like a dwarf all over again.  He broke into a chortle, sending his curly orange hair into a bounce.  “So am I the only one who’s hyped up for this?”
               
Luke inspected Wade, just as he did with RJ and Dante.  A blue vest that looked more appropriate for a fishing trip than their operation; a plaid shirt half-tucked into some ragged denim shorts; work boots with laces he’d chosen to stuff behind the tongues; short gloves that he could have sworn he’d spotted in the sports section of Academy.  He ran his eyes over Wade’s gear, mostly stuffed into a blue camping knapsack -- save for a couple of items.
               
“What’s this?”  Luke ran a hand over a wooden stick, lodged between some of the pack’s straps.  He couldn’t help but notice the metal, cog-shaped doodad at one of its ends, and the pentagon at the other.
               
“Oh, that?”  Wade slipped a hand over it and pulled it out; he did the same with a wooden stick on the opposite side.  “Yep, and here we go…combining time.”  He shoved the sticks together, and brandished the completed item:
               
“It’s a shovel,” Dante said with a disdainful scowl.
               
“Yup.”
               
“You’re seriously bringing a shovel along with you?”
               
Wade tapped the shovel’s handle against the ground.  “Hey, I’d stake my life on this shovel if I had to,” he argued, with a bit of fire sparking in his russet eyes.  “Besides, this isn’t just any old shovel!  This baby’s straight from China, and custom-made, too.  It’s better than a Swiss army knife, I bet!”  He leaned forward and started looking left and right.  “Hey, anybody over here got a Swiss army knife?  I wanna see if I can win a fight with this bad boy!”
               
“Well, there ARE a few more mechanisms on your shovel than usual,” said RJ, observing it as closely as an ace detective.  “But where did you get something like that?”
               
“I asked my dad if I could borrow it.”
               
Luke, RJ, and Dante all widened their eyes.  “S-seriously?” Luke stammered.  “So…you told him everything?”
               
“Yeah.”
               
The others exchanged nervous glances.  But Wade just laughed, and slung the shovel over his shoulders.  “Hey, hey!  No need to worry, guys!  My dad gave us the green light, so I say we go for it.  It’ll be fun, right?”
               
Dante was the first to regain his composure; he laughed sharply and crossed his arms over his chest.  “I’m not just here to have fun, Wade.  I’m in this for the glory.”
               
“Oh.  Well, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of that, too.”  Wade looked to RJ.  “And what about you?  You hungry for some glory pie?”
               
“Of course not!  What sort of hare-brained fool do you take me for?” RJ blurted (noting that he’d indirectly called Dante a fool).  He started fidgeting again, and dragged his foot against the ground.   “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place…but, since you three are dragging me into this, I suppose I’m in it for the opportunity.”
               
“Really?”
               
“Well, aren’t we all?” RJ asked, his gaze lingering for a moment on Luke.  “Just think of the implications of our actions here.  If everything goes as planned, then --”
               
But Wade had long since stopped paying attention.  He pulled a honey bun out of his pocket, tugged it out of its wrapper, and started munching away. 
               
“F-fine, ignore me, then,” RJ said with a bow of his head.
               
“You’re the boss.”
               
“That wasn’t meant to be --”
               
Wade -- with the honey bun lodged between his teeth -- turned to Luke, his eyes locked on him almost probingly.  Luke rubbed the back of his neck; a part of him felt embarrassed for even thinking something so silly, and even more so now that he had his three friends targeting him like snipers.  “Well, you guys all know why I’m in this,” he said at last, hoping that they wouldn’t notice his reddening face.  “I mean, I was just fooling around when I first brought it up, but now that we’re actually here…well, I can’t help but wonder.”
               
Dante put a hand on Luke’s shoulder and nodded.  “Say no more, my man.  I follow you.”
               
“You do?”
               
“Yep.  You wanna get into Chloe’s pants.”
               
Luke jumped as if he’d been jolted by lightning.  “Wh-wh-what?  Where did you get that idea?  And what does Chloe have to do with any of this?  She’s totally innocent!”  He started pressing his index fingers together, and stared at his pals like a guilty preschooler.  “B-besides, it’s not like that between us.  We’re just childhood friends. That’s all.  More like neighbors -- a ‘girl next door’ kind of thing.  She’s out of my league.”
               
“You’ve totally got the hots for her,” said Dante.
               
“How many clich├ęs was that?” RJ asked, tapping his fingers one after another.  “Really, Luke, you’re making it too obvious.”
               
Wade swallowed the last bite of his honey bun.  “So after this, are the two of you gonna…initiate the docking sequence?”
               
“What?  No!  She wouldn’t!  I couldn’t…”  He shook his head frantically.  “All right, enough of that!  We’re here for a reason, damn it, and it’s high time we move out!”
               
Wade raised a fist.  “Operation: Get Luke Laid!”
               
“Yeah!  Wait, no!  NO!  Wade, do you even remember what we’re supposed to be doing?”
               
“I know it involves shoveling…right?”  He tapped the shovel against his shoulders.  “Is that some new move they’re using nowadays?  Man, there sure is some kinky stuff out there…”
               
Luke groaned and started massaging his forehead; he’d started to realize it was still way too early to deal with his friends’ shenanigans.  “Just so we’re clear,” he began, his gaze turning from one teammate to another (and lingering on the grinning Wade), “we’re not out here for our own sakes.”
               
“Yeah we are,” said Dante.  He pointed a thumb towards himself.  “At least I am.”
               
“We’re not out here for our own sakes,” Luke repeated, hoping that that would be enough to prove it to the group -- though even he wasn’t too committed.  “We’re here for a reason.  We don’t know what exactly is gonna happen to us, or what could go wrong because we started poking around, or even what the consequences might be.”
               
“So why are we doing this?” RJ asked, his shoulders drooping.  Wade couldn’t help but snicker.
               
“Because this is something we have to do.  We’re pretty much men now; that’s why it’s up to us to make a stand when the time calls for it.  And right now, people need us to stand more than ever.  So let’s get going.”
               
“Was that supposed to inspire us?” Dante asked, scratching at his ear.  “Dude.  I think I feel even less motivated now.”
               
“Not exactly compelling, Luke,” RJ muttered.
               
“So does that mean we can go back to sleep?” Wade asked.
               
“O-of course it doesn’t!” Luke blurted, flustered that he’d botched his rousing speech (and to think he’d practiced it the day before…).  “So come on!  It’s now or never, you guys!”  And before anyone could stop him, he jogged briskly down the sidewalk.
               
The others followed behind, their bags and gear all bouncing about with each step.  But before they could travel too far, Wade raised a hand to hail Luke.  “Hey, wait.  So what exactly are we doing again?  You didn’t tell us.”
               
Actually, Luke had told them earlier; Wade had just forgotten.  But in any case, he was quick to remind them.  He slowed his pace a bit to let them catch up, and turned his eyes upon RJ, Dante, and Wade -- the partners that would see him to victory.
               
“Isn’t it obvious?” he asked.  “We’re going to catch a Sasquatch.”

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