Love winced and watched as Yorana asked Mr. Kim curious questions, wanting to find out as much as she could about Shazzar while he wasn’t there.
She stared at him with large, innocent hazel eyes, as if it could soften him in his cautious answers, sipping hot coffee from an ornamental cup he had just served on the white stone patio. Her cheeks blushed like blooming roses in the front garden. Love realised that she was infatuated with Shazzar, and was acting like a scented candle spreading a pleasant scent in the air in an effort to lure a sensitive nose to the flame. She would have chuckled if Mr. Kim weren’t here, because she realized bitterly that Mr. Shazzar’s hard times were just beginning. But as soon as she remembered the landlord, a strange premonition spread through her chest. Yorana might be ecstatic, and her eyes might light up every time Mr. Kim mentioned his name, but one thing was beyond doubt – Mr. Shazzar was certainly a dangerous man. She felt like she was walking on eggshells. She didn’t want to see him when he was furious.
When the object of her suspicious thoughts entered the patio, dressed in a black shirt, Yorana cheered and gave him a wide smile while Love’s was cautiously reluctant. He bowed slightly with his hand on his heart and put a first-aid kit on the table and introduced himself: “My friends call me TYQON.”
“My nickname is Love,” she smiled condescendingly, “and this is Yorana, my best friend since childhood.”
She watched Yorana out of the corner of her eye as the breeze twirled her long, sun-bleached hair right into her reddened face. Tyqon Shazzar sat down and took his cup of coffee. Remaining serious, he asked:
“How did it all start?”
The sun’s rays were knocking on the transparent door of Love’s closed eyelids. She had forgotten to close the blinds before she laid down. The phone rang somewhere in the apartment.
“Let’s go somewhere. It’s a beautiful day!“ Yorana had been up for a while. Her voice rang in Love’s head like an early alarm clock.
“I don’t know. Close your eyes, point your finger at the map and tell me where it lands.”
“Haha, now I can’t remember where I put my map.”
“Take your sneakers. We can go to the mountains. It’s not as hot there.“ Yorana hung up, not giving Love the chance to argue.
Three quarters of an hour later they were sitting in Slavena’s blue sedan, cheerfully switching between music stations. The windows were half-open, their hair flew crazily around their heads and they laughed wildly.
When the countryside changed from the mainly flat to the steep one, the road narrowed, most of the time they either went up or down. Suddenly Love turned off the radio and broke the silence with a swear word.
“Something’s wrong. The steering wheel won’t turn properly, and the engine warning light is red.” She slowed down and started tapping on the steering wheel. “How many kilometres to our destination?”
Yorana looked at the GPS on her phone. “Thirty-six.”
“We might manage.”
But ten minutes later, she pulled over into a dusty parking lot by the narrow asphalt road. The simple wooden sign marked the local chalet, three hundred meters away.
“Damn it! The temperature’s going up. Look, we’re almost at red.”
Love turned off the engine, got out and looked around. Green meadows enclosed them as the dreary peaks melted in the morning sun. A dusty path led across the meadows and up the hill.
“Come on, we’ll get coffee in the chalet and think about what to do next.”
The sun burned their naked shoulders, they dragged themselves and complained, their feet literally on fire in their sneakers.
Yorana shrieked out. She had twisted her ankle.
“Are you alright?” Love watched as she sat down into the grass massaging her ankle.
“You have to watch where you step.” She kneeled down near her and looked at the hole, in which Yorana’s right foot slipped into.
“It’s not a hole,” she traced it with her finger. “It’s a footprint! And a deep one!”
There was a short pause. “It looks like a footprint of a big dog.” The sun had dried the mud and made it hard as concrete. “A huge dog.” She added.
They were welcomed by a large chalet’s terrace hidden in a pleasant shade. They stretched out on the wooden benches under a wide timber shelter.
“Of all the things!” grumbled Love. Why did my car have to break down today, when the temperature is hitting thirty-three degrees? One hundred and sixty kilometres away from home?”
“Excuse me, would you mind telling us where we are right now?” Yorana asked the waiter when he brought them their coffee. His artificial expression did not change as he responded:
“Once this valley surrounded by hills was called Wolf’s Throat. But about two hundred years ago it was renamed to Wolf’s Trail.”
“Do wolves live here?” Yorana asked him promptly.
“No one has ever seen any. But it is said that a long time ago a lone wolf had a hunting territory here. The local people were terrified of him. His human prey was found somewhere in the meadows with a torn neck, hence Wolf’s Throat. But that’s just an old legend.” He fixed the black bowtie on the white collar of his thin shirt.
“Old wives’ tales,” Love bristled up, “wolves don’t hunt people. Even a small child knows that wolves avoid people.”
“It was said that this wolf was huge. No one knew where he attacked from. He appeared unexpectedly and silently like a ghost. When he growled or looked into somebody’s eyes, they would fall instantly on the ground like a chopped log. They would die from the fear long before they were actually caught by the man killer.”
“Well then,” Love said, not giving up “if everyone who’s met him died, how did they come to blame the wolf?” she teased him.
The waiter only shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “The locals decided to rename the valley so that the old legend wouldn’t scare people and discourage new families from settling here.”
Love reached for her cell phone to search Wolf’s Trail on Google Maps.
“There’s no signal,” she complained.
“I don’t have any either,” Yorana confirmed.
There was shouting at a nearby table. The terrace was filled with a woman’s yelling. Yorana and Love turned their heads as if on command and looked, wide-eyed.
Five burly men were grouped around a single table, with dark tattoos on their shoulders and forearms. Their helmets, resting near their hands, shone matte under the wooden roof. The leather clothes revealed that they were bikers.
One of them stood over a woman whose face was covered with long raven hair. Unlike the men, she had no tattoos on her thin hands, and she wasn’t even wearing a piece of leather clothing. The muscles on his rough hand rippled as he held the woman by the hair and pressed her face, twisted in fear, against the wooden surface of the table, while he held a thin-necked bottle in the other hand and poured the entire contents onto the woman’s head. She sobbed, and he shouted psychotically:
“What did you say? What did you say?” He leaned over to show her that he was listening: “what did you say?”
The dead silence on the whole terrace was unpleasantly pierced by his voice which made their ears bleed.
One of the five noticed their dismissive, horrified glances and grinned confidently at them:
“It’s stupid, isn’t it? Won’t you have champagne with us?”
Love was struck with terror, and Yorana bristled. The waiter, meanwhile, had slipped away without them noticing. Without thinking, Yorana blurted out:
“Try pouring it into my cup and you’ll have it between your eyes!”
The man didn’t even manage to turn red with anger when he let go the woman and turned his attention to the new victims.
“What did you say?” He yelled.
“Are you on repeat or what? Can’t you say something else?” Yorana came to Love’s rescue as she swallowed dryly. They were on their feet as soon as the fleshy man took the first step toward them. His companions jumped off the benches too, while the black-haired woman ran into the chalet. A blond man came out, he waved the bikers to keep calm. Love and Yorana quietly disappeared into the chalet, hoping that the young man would make a truce out there and cool their hot heads. Everyone, except the woman who had escaped the bikers and had her head wet from champagne, rushed to the narrow low window blinds. There were other men among them. They couldn’t be bothered to go outside to help the poor blond man. Love didn’t know if she should be terrified or feel offended. She got the feeling that Yorana felt the same way.
Swearing, threats and shouts echoed through the valley as the young man used his body like a shield while the bikers irritably pushed him around. They left slowly and without their woman companion, who had apparently hidden somewhere safe.
“Maybe we should mix a little bit of vodka into that coffee, because otherwise I might vomit.” Yorana glared at the male crew disappearing from the windows to their original positions.
“Just help yourself,” Love said supportively.
Yorana passed on the alcohol, finished her coffee, paid, and slowly walked down the valley to the parking lot.
“Did you see how all four of them defended the other one, in case we accidentally harmed a hair on his head?”
“I couldn’t help noticing how much they were worried about the little one.” They laughed.
As they came out of the last curve in the road they froze.
In the parking lot where their car was parked, five large motorcycles gleamed in the sun. And the whole motorcycle gang was smoking cigarettes.
“Should we hide somewhere?” Yorana suggested anxiously.
“Too late, they’ve noticed us!”
They walked on, their blood frozen on the walls of their arteries, worrying about what would happen. As they approached the car, a silver skull leered at them, hanging from a thick chain on a wide chest. “Where are you going?” the man said slyly. It was him who had been hitting the woman’s head on the hard wooden table without the slightest hint of mercy. He took a deep pull from his cigarette until only a filter remained between his fingers, which he threw away angrily.
They didn’t intend to answer, just walk past him. But he grabbed Yorana’s forearm, which infuriated Love so much that she shoved him. In return, he shoved her, causing her to fly into the arms of the man standing right behind her. She wanted to stand up, but he squeezed her so hard she could barely move. Meanwhile, Yorana’s chin was in the fingers of the man who stood behind her.
“Our leader doesn’t like disobedient girls!” Love’s torturer said arrogantly.
“Go to hell!” She stomped on his foot with all her strength.
The grip weakened and Love jumped forward. She punched the leader again, opened the car with her shifty key fob, and shouted at Yorana:
“Get in the car!”
As soon as they sat inside, Love locked the car. She pushed in the ignition key and turned.
She returned the key to its initial position and turned it again.
Her old Honda didn’t make a sound.
With her eyebrows raised, she turned to Yorana.
“Looks like the engine died.”
She tried to ignore the man to her left, who was looking through the window as he lit a cigarette tapped his finger on the window, trying their patience.
“We wait to see what happens. Don’t open the door for any reason!”
They watched angrily as one of the men sat on the hood, pretending to enjoy it immensely. He looked lazily from side to side and then turned his face to the sun. However, when he put out the cigarette on the blue metallic finish, Love got angry. Blood rushed to her face.
“Shithead!” She yelled, “I’d rather put that cigarette out on his forehead!”
“They know what they’re doing. They’ll find some way to coax us out.” Yorana’s fixed her eyes nervously on Love.
“In that case, we need to escape.” Love looked for approval in Yorana’s eyes. She saw it. “We can’t run on the road! They’ll get on motorcycles and catch us. We have to run there – up the hill.” She indicated the direction with her chin. “They’re drunk, look at them, they’re not sporty types, and they’re smoking. They won’t keep up with us.”
“We’re not sporty types either,” Love commented.
They both screamed in fright. All five men stood on the driver’s side, the sleeves of their motorcycle jackets tightening on their large shoulders as they lifted the car. And then they suddenly let it drop. The Honda wobbled.
“They’re going to flip us!” Yorana shouted.
Love pulled the keys out of the ignition and squeezed Yorana’s palm. “When they pick us up again, I’ll unlock the doors and you open your side of the car. As soon as you get out, run in the direction I told you. I’ll be right behind you.”
Love leaned toward Yorana as the left side began to rise again. The mocking laughter was replaced for a moment with groans of exertion.
“Now!” Love unlocked the door and threw herself at Yorana. Thrusting her hands forward, she pushed her onto the asphalt ground, where they instantly collapsed in a heap. They rolled off each other, and ran. The stomping behind their backs filled their subconscious with terror, their hasty escape was ruined when someone grabbed Love from behind, causing her to fall on her back on the asphalt road. In the chaos following her painful cry, she realized that Yorana’s arms were twisted behind her back.
“Let me go!” Yorana winced, and from the tone of her voice, Love judged that a mighty hand of anger had just cut off the head of her fear. The guy probably didn’t want to tangle with her anymore because he tossed her to one of the other men, accompanying her swearing with a dose of playful laughter.
Love was determined to rescue Yorana, but strong hairy forearms wrapped around her chest and a teasing voice floated into her ear like a wobbly ship into a bay:
“Don’t you need to lick your wounds …?” He turned her towards him and Love glared at the gang leader’s face. He grabbed her palm and snatched her car keys, hiding them in the front pocket of his pants. She almost exploded with outrage.
She tried to deliver a firm kick to the knee of the idiot in front of her, but he stepped aside. She turned her back on him in a flash and shoved her full weight against the man on whose chest Yorana had helplessly landed.
“Assholes,” she shouted as they laughed uncontrollably. The women grabbed each other’s hands and they cautiously backed away from them. As if on command, the gang clung together and walked slowly toward them.
“We start running on three.” Yorana whispered without looking at her. There was tension in the air. “One …” The gentle singing of birds somewhere in the treetops sounded pitifully ridiculous and ironic. Like from another world.
“Stay back!” Yorana shouted at the leader.
“Two.” They let go.
They watched each other, bikers with mocking smirks on their lips, while the girls stayed completely focused. The leader casually pulled a cigarette out of a box which he fished out of his jacket. He looked down at the lighter to light his cigarette.