We spent close to an hour in the warm room at the top of the mountain. The girl with blonde curls was named Helen, and she’d been stationed there for three weeks. But it was time for rotation and she would take us down the mountain with her.
Damon didn’t want us to eat too much, but Helen packed extra snacks and handed them around to each of us before we walked through another door in the mountain into a small dirt tunnel. Heat filled the space, filtering in through a metal vent suspended over our heads. I hoped it went all the way down the mountain and we’d get to avoid being cold. The first half of the trip had been bad enough.
“Okay, I’ll go ahead. Count to one hundred and then follow quietly. If anyone is coming, I’ll drop something to make a noise. Then you need to double back to the nearest side tunnel and wait for them to pass.”
“What if they’re going to that tunnel?” Steph asked.
Helen didn’t hesitate. “They won’t be. The only one coming up this way is going to my post at the top. The side tunnels are all closed off a couple of feet down. They’re just deep enough for a hiding place.”
Lillian nodded. Damon repositioned this bag on his shoulders.
“Okay, let’s get moving,” Damon said. “I’m hoping to get back by morning.”
“You know, you always have a safe place with us,” Helen said. She held Damon’s eye contact and raised an eyebrow.
Damon grunted and looked away first.
Helen, satisfied, turned and started down the tunnel, whistling.
Steph and I exchanged a look, and Damon started counting.