Michael wakes to the sound of drumming fingers on the wooden table next to his uncomfortable bunk. He rubs the sleep from his eyes and looks up to see his older brother John’s face an inch from his, wide-eyed and impatient. John is one year older than Michael to the date. They both have shaggy black hair, a few freckles, and big green eyes. The only difference in appearance, is that John is a few inches shorter, not nearly as muscular, and the gap between his front teeth is very noticeably larger. You’d never tell that Michael’s the younger of the two. He’s bigger, tougher, and meaner in every way. They’re as close as twins, and look the part.
They share a cramped bedroom in a wooden shack of a home, in the middle of nowhere. Their sleepy farming town in central Montana isn’t even big enough to make it on a map… any map. Being deep into a depression, there’s no money to spare to fix the leaky roof, or busted windows. The walls are cracked, and floors are creaky.
“Michael, get your lazy butt out of bed.”
Michael peaks out of the corner of his sleepy eyes, trying to process wakefulness. John has been sitting up next to him for a half an hour. He’s been waiting for Michael to bounce to life, not daring to actually shake him awake, or yell. The last time John tried that, he got a fist to the face and had a black eye for a week. So instead, he’s been sitting as close as he can get without actually touching his loudly snoring brother, just waiting.
“Jeez, it took you long enough. I’ve been waiting for hours.” John lies.
Michael and John have been waiting on this day for over a month. Their best friend Steven spends the summer with his dad every year. Now that they’re 16 and 17, practically all grown up, this will be the last summer they’ll be able to spend with Steven for who knows how long. Times have been tough, and nothing seems to be lining up for improvement in the foreseeable future. The odds of Steven ever coming back to this place after the summer is slim.
Steven’s father is one of the lucky men in the area who’ve actually been able to keep a job. He’s a cashier at the one and only grocery/convenience store for miles. They sell everything from guns, to gas, to bread. It’s a small store, but it has every essential any passer through may need for survival.
Not many people in town have the money for food. For the most part, they poach small game, and find their own way of living. But, the area does seem to get a lot of drifters. There’s a small room that’s rented out in the back of the store. Steven’s father has been the keeper of the place since the boys can remember.
Michael slowly sits up, stretching his arms as far as they can go in the lack of space their bedroom allows.
“Hold your horses, John. God, you can be such a butt-hole sometimes.”
Michael doesn’t handle being woken up very well. He isn’t a morning person, and his short temper is at an all-time high within the first hour that he rolls to his feet. There’s been a mean streak in Michael’s blood since he was knee high to his mommy, pulling on her apron for attention. He’s been known as the fighter of his class every year since the first year he went to school. Resorting to fists has been his favorite thing to do since he can remember. Over the years, he’s progressed into quite the scrappy teen.
Michael’s learned to save his fighting for after school, so that there are no teachers around to get him in trouble. The Hounds boys work odd jobs on local farms and gardening at home, but they spend most of their time hunting. They sell or trade the firs from their kills for anything that can be used to take care of themselves and their sick mom.
Not having a father at home made them learn to take care of themselves and at young age. It’s also made their mom very good at finding strange but effective punishments when either of them got into trouble growing up.
“Well, you boys are too big for a small woman like me to be whoopin’ ya, so I guess I’ll have to find some other way to teach you a lesson.”
She’d say this before taking them door to door, asking everyone they came in contact with if the boys could scrub their floors and wash their windows. It’s always been disgusting and humiliating enough to teach the boys a lesson. Mrs. Hounds is by no means a weak woman. She’s been raising Michael and John by herself since they were babies. Their father took off without a word. No explanation or excuses, he just up and left.
“That man was no good anyway, we’re all better off without him.”
It’s all their mother had said on the matter. Now that she’s sick they have little to no time for fights or playing around.
In no time at all, Michael and John have their shoes and hats on. Their lunches are packed, and they’re out the door. It’s a long walk to Steven’s house. They only have one peddle bike between the two of them, so they opt to leave it behind. Some people call it the boonies, some call it redneck hills, and some the Sticks. To the Hounds’ and the other twenty or so families that live in this spaced out little farming community, it’s home. It’s an adventurous place with lots to explore and get into.
Mrs. Hounds was gone most of the time while the boys were growing up. She worked long hours as a nurse at the little clinic at the edge of town. She decided they were old enough at 11 and 12 to get through the summers without a babysitter, given they would check in at the neighbors at least twice a day. It was a hard decision for her, but she really couldn’t afford to pay for childcare. Especially with the price of heat and food, they struggled enough as it was.
So, at only 11 and 12, Michael and John had the freedom that most kids their age only dreamed of. They caused a lot of trouble and learned to take care of themselves. It paid off in the long run, as now they’re not only taking care of themselves, but their mother too.
“We have to stop and see if Chloe changed her mind,” says Michael.
Chloe lives a half a mile in the opposite direction from Steven’s house. Obviously, John isn’t happy about the idea.
“Hell no! We’re not going to get your stupid girlfriend. She doesn’t even like Steven and she already said ‘there was no way in hell she was walking half a day to meet up with some dumb kid with a big mouth,’ remember!?”
John actually likes Chloe, and he knows how mad Michael gets when he labels her with the girlfriend title. Right now he doesn’t care.
“Well, you do whatever you want, but I’m going to get her.”
Michael doesn’t do much without Chloe. He takes off toward her house, knowing that John won’t argue with him much further. Being the younger of the two don’t stop Michael from getting his point across by no means. John rolls his eyes and follows with his head dropped to his chest. There’s no point in fighting about it. Kicking rocks along the way, John keeps a close distance in the rear.
When local girl Misty is found dead in an underground bunker, the town is thrown into a whirlwind of panic and speculation. Times are tough, but the spaced-out farmer community pulls together as one, trying to uncover who’s guilty.
Thrown smack in the middle of the chaos is a group of teens: local troublemakers, but with good hearts. Although they’re innocent, the local law enforcers believe otherwise, and the true killer is lurking far too close for comfort.
Will the four be able to uncover the truth before one of them pays the price for Misty’s death?