The hike, p.1
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       The Hike, p.1

           Drew Magary
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The Hike

  Also by Drew Magary

  Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-first-Century Parenthood

  The Postmortal: A Novel

  Men with Balls: The Professional Athlete’s Handbook


  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2016 by Drew Magary

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  ISBN 9780399563850 (hardcover)

  ISBN 9780399563867 (e-book)

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



  Also by Drew Magary

  Title Page









































  There were deer all over the road. He drove past a street crew in orange vests carrying a dead one off to the side of the highway, gripping the animal by its dainty hooves and moving it like they were carrying a small table upside down. After that, he saw more and more of the deer: some whole, some ripped in half, some just pieces of raw meat. Some were consigned to the shoulder, and he wondered if they had been dragged there or if the big, hulking trucks had plowed into them and chewed them up and spat them out in random pieces off to the side. There were a lot of trucks on this highway, all of them faceless. They didn’t seem to be driven by people at all. They were just there, seemingly operated by some grand master switchboard, programmed to never stop. And they were legion. They had paved the asphalt with all that deer blood under him.

  His only companion in the car was the disembodied female GPS voice coming from his phone. She kept silent for fifty miles as he looked out his window at the last gasps of fall in the distant hills—pretty red and yellow swaths of foliage surrounded by sad patches of gray, like an unfinished oil painting. Eventually, the GPS, with an inhuman calm, led him off the highway, down a ramp and to the right, then up a hill and to the left. Then she commanded:

  In five hundred feet, turn right.

  She was ordering him to turn directly into a cliff face, which he disobeyed. He stared down at his phone after passing up the proposed turn into oblivion: Rerouting, rerouting, rerouting . . .

  “Come on.”

  Eventually, the GPS stopped screwing with him, and led him up the steeply sloped driveway of a small mountain resort. It was a wedding mill. He could tell. There was an entire villa of wedding party bungalows, along with designated “Smile Spots” where a pushy photographer could hold a dozen groomsmen hostage for forty-five minutes without access to a cocktail. He drove up the private road, past a bridal salon and an open courtyard for summer ceremonies, all the way to the surprisingly dumpy main inn at the end of the loop. It was a Tuesday. Not even cheapskates get married on a Tuesday. His was one of only three cars in the driveway. He got out and left a message for his vendor:

  Hey, it’s Ben. I’m here. See you at seven.

  He walked through the main entrance and was greeted by an old, shabby lobby. Yellowed wallpaper. A table of frosted, maple leaf-shaped cookies wrapped up in little bags that cost five bucks each. Coffee urns that had been drained hours ago. Off to the left, Ben spied a wooden bar with swivel stools, but no bartender present. A small girl in a billowy cupcake nightgown danced around the cookie table in her bare feet as her mother screamed at her.

  “Will you get dressed? This floor isn’t clean!”

  She shooed her daughter up the stairs as Ben walked over to the reception area. No one was at the desk, but he could see a sad little office open behind it. He let out a meek “Hello?,” the kind of “Hello?” you use when you creep downstairs at night to see if a robber has broken in. A short old lady shuffled out of the office and took his credit card and ID.

  She looked at him funny. He was used to that. He had a long scar that ran down from his eye to the corner of his mouth. Whenever people looked at him, they saw the scar and assumed he was a mean person, even though he wasn’t. Or, at least, he wasn’t in the beginning.

  “What time does the bar close?” he asked the clerk.

  “The bar?”

  “Yes, the bar. The one over there.”

  “I think the bar closes around nine.” His little business dinner would probably end well after that. Drinking at the hotel would take more planning than drinking at a hotel usually requires.

  “It’s very pretty around here. Is there a path where I can go hiking?” he asked her.

  “A path?” Yeah, lady. A fucking path.

  “Yeah, like a trail, you know?”

  “No, I don’t think we have any paths around here.”



  Ben couldn’t believe that. You’re in the middle of a gorgeous mountain region that has long been settled by humans, and you don’t think anyone has blazed a trail back there? He was gonna walk anyway. He’d find something.

  She checked him in and gave him a room key. An actual key. Not a key card.

  “Ma’am, can you tell me where the elevator is?” he asked her.

  “We don’t have one.”

  “Oh. Well, thank you anyway.”

  Ben grabbed his rollerboard and trudged awkwardly up
the staircase with it. There was no porter to help. The hallway upstairs was alarmingly narrow. He would’ve had to turn sideways to let another man pass by. He came to room 19, turned the key, and was greeted by a musty, red-painted room. Nothing about the joint felt comfortable. It was like staying at a hated aunt’s house.

  He called his wife. The kids were screaming in the background when she picked up. They were always screaming in the background.


  “You make it?” she asked.

  “I did.”

  “How’s the hotel?”

  “Little shaky, to be honest. Not wild about the idea of staying an entire night here.”

  “Oof. Don’t put your suitcase on the bed. Bedbugs.”

  “I’ll have you know that I put it on the table. It never touched the bedspread.”

  “Good boy.”

  “It’s pretty here, though. You could have come. Oma could have looked after the kids.”

  “Please. They’re too much for her. They’re too much for me.”

  “Yeah, that’s true. How are things there?”

  “I had to kill a huge cricket in the basement. Second-biggest one I’ve ever seen.”

  “Oh, Jesus.”

  “Yeah, so enjoy the time to yourself, you lucky bastard.”

  “It’s a work trip. It’s not that fun.”

  “Sure, it isn’t.”

  “It’s not. Don’t give me shit for it.”

  “So what are you gonna do with all that free . . . FLORA, I AM ON THE PHONE. . . . FLORA, JUST ASK HIM FOR IT. . . . Christ. I gotta go.”

  “No worries. Love you.” With three children, they never properly finished any conversation.

  He threw on his workout clothes and walked back downstairs, passing through the empty lobby into a small fitness center and then out a pair of glass doors to the outside. He had his phone and room key on him, but nothing else. No watch or wallet. Behind the main inn was an open gravel driveway and a flimsy shed for the groundskeepers’ equipment: ATVs and lawn mowers and piles of mulch and whatnot. Past that, he could see a flattened road that led into the countryside. Looked like a path to him. Maybe it was for authorized personnel only, but no one was around to stop him. He cruised past the shed and found the trail widening in front of him. After three minutes, he came across a birdhouse and a trail posting that read “0.1 Miles.” He felt the urge to uproot the sign out of the ground and bring it back to the lobby. Look at this, you crazy lady. Look at the marked path that’s right behind your hotel.

  Ben kept on walking. The path ran atop an esker, with the ground sloping down on either side, like moving along one continuous peak. Down below he could see a valley that was blanketed by massive estates: acres of pristine grass that required hours upon hours of care every day to maintain. He saw big houses plopped down in the center of those green fields, each one fit for a retired president. They probably had kitchens with marble islands and everything. You could have your friends over to one of these houses and serve them fine cheeses and drink good red wine and make merry from middle age until death. It would be a nice little rut to find yourself stuck in. He wanted to jump off the mountainside and fly down to one of them.

  The rest of the path beckoned. He felt the urge to jog but a history of knee injuries made that dicey. His right knee was a gnarled root of scar tissue and grafted ligaments, and he would rub it like a talisman whenever he exercised, even when it didn’t hurt. So he gave the knee a reassuring pat and walked faster. He passed a second marker, and then a third, and then a fourth, which was encircled by birdhouses. They really were houses, too—with shingled roofs and stepped gables and little doors and windows for a family of sparrows to peek out of. Maybe they had kitchen islands as well. Maybe everyone got a cool house around here.

  And then he came to the half-mile marker and found a circle of benches built from tree-trunk sections that had been sawed in half and bolted to big flat discs taken from sections of another tree. There was a stone pit in the center and a scattering of ashes. From any seat, you had a nice vantage point of the surrounding Poconos. You could smoke pot here. You could play guitar here. You could split a flask of whiskey here and then go have sex behind a tree. It was that kind of spot. A good spot. Back near his home in Maryland, there weren’t many spots like this. Things were cramped and congested and busy, every last bit of real estate claimed. There were no more secret passageways.

  The path circled around the sitting area and led right back to the inn. This was the end of the trail . . . except. Except there were ATV tire tracks leading away from the circle and down into the hard forest below. He took out his phone (he could never go very long without checking it) and noted the time: 3:12 P.M. There was no point being stuck back in Bed-and-Breakfast Land, suffocated by all that quaintness that only people over sixty yearn for. He had time. He had all the time in the world. And the GPS could always lead him back, even if that meant the occasional hiccup. When he was getting ready this morning, he accidentally pressed the walking prompt for directions instead of the driving prompt. The prompt told him he would need eight days to walk to the hotel. He laughed when he saw that.

  He pocketed the phone and followed the tracks.



  The signposts were gone now, but the path remained fairly consistent. Ben walked along parallel tracks of pressed-down leaves as the woods spread out behind him. The trail descended and he had to walk in a zigzag to keep his footing on the loose, unsettled rocks. Going back up the mountain would be a real pain in the ass, but again, he had time. Maybe the path went in a circle. Maybe there was a more gradual, friendly slope back up the mountain so he wouldn’t have to double back. He could keep moving forward but still end up home.

  He kept expecting to see another walker come crossing by, or a jogger, or a hotel attendant on break time, but there was no one. He was alone, for the first time in a very long time. There was that little itch to check his phone, but he quashed it the best he could and tried to enjoy the moment like a responsible adult . . . to take in the majesty of the forest. Oh, the majesty! The leaves flittering and the sound of distant tractors from across the mountain and the royal blue sky above. Yes yes, this was all worth soaking in for the sake of personal betterment.

  And then he came to a fork. The ATV tracks split in two here. To the right, he could see them bend down toward a main road. Through the dwindling leaves, Ben caught the occasional glint of a passing car. If he went that way, he would eventually hit that road and have to turn around because there were no sidewalks to be had. That was a country road. You were either driving on it, or you were the dead deer lying next to it.

  So he followed the tracks to the left and stayed perched along a ridge, walking along as the country road option disappeared behind him. He would remember the split if he had to go back. It was unmistakable. There was no other spot where the path turned vertical like it did right there, so he walked on with a great deal of confidence. He saw the country McMansions below come back into view and now he was moving back closer toward the inn, if not exactly on the same level. He was good. This was all fine. The path split again and this time, he took out his phone and opened up the Notes app and jotted down the markings so he wouldn’t forget them: “Two trees with split trunks at junction.” He thought about calling home a second time to talk to the kids (on the phone, they were adorably unintelligible), but he saw the top left corner of the screen offer nothing but “Searching . . .” The only way to bring the phone back to life was to move on.

  Soon, he could see a gate in the distance: one of those old iron-bar gates that you have to get out of your car to unchain. It was hanging open now, with a big NO TRESPASSING sign posted next to it, and past that was an old white pickup in front of a two-story aluminum shed.

  Then Ben heard a whirring sound, like the motor of a leaf blower or a hedge trimmer . . . the
kind of motor you can make squeal just by squeezing a trigger. It got louder and louder as he approached, but he couldn’t see any people and he couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from. Suddenly, he felt more vulnerable than he had five seconds earlier.

  As he got closer to the gate, Ben slowed down, without even realizing it at first. One moment he was walking briskly, the next he was stepping around quietly, like a drunken teenager trying not to wake his parents up. Maybe I should turn back around. Seemed like a good idea. This was probably the end of the trail anyway. He could go back up the mountain and get back to the hotel and shower and get dressed and maybe lie there for a moment before his meeting. The hotel didn’t seem so bad anymore. It probably had hot water. Ben wasn’t exactly a marathoner. Every step forward was now going to be an extra step back, and it was wearing on him and his corroded knee joint. There was nothing more out here for him to see.

  And then he saw the man: a big, hulking man wearing a denim shirt and cheap jeans, dragging a body out of the shed. The corpse was small and clad in a little cupcake nightgown. Her feet were gone. Her hair was bloody and tangled. Her hands were limp and Ben could see the chipped blue nail polish on her fingernails. The legs were just a couple of stumps dragging along the ground. He saw the red, like the butchered deer parts on the side of the road. Saw it. Then the man turned to him and their eyes met and fuck.

  The man’s face wasn’t visible. It was covered by the skinned-off face of a black Rottweiler, ears included.

  Before Ben could process anything, he was running. He couldn’t feel his body moving at all. Sight and sound took over his brain: the sight of the path cutting through the forest, the sound of the killer dropping the corpse to the ground, and his footsteps kicking into high gear: first lumbering, and then jogging, and now booming behind Ben in big thumps, like a giant stepping across acres of grassland at a time. Soon, he could hear the killer panting, and laughing in a low demonic register. He was closing in.

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