Leaves crinkled beneath Gabe's feet as he made his way through the woods with his friends, stumbling over his own feet and giggling abstractly. His eyes widened immensely and he rubbed at them, bumping into a tree and bouncing into his friend Nef in the process.
"Yo fumble feet, watch where you're going."
Gabe grinned in a silly manner, continuing through the woods. The trees suddenly let off into a clearing, a single dead tree standing in the center. Blackened ground now lie beneath their feet. They had reached their destination.
"Dereck, light it up!" Nate said anxiously, walking into the clearing and looking up at the night sky.
They all followed suit, circling and sitting down. Gabe grimaced a bit, the earth spongy with fungus beneath his hands. He wiped them upon his jeans and watched Dereck pack his bowl.
"Brian, gimme a light." Brian tossed him a lighter, and a soft crackling filled the silent night as he lit the green herb that filled his bowl. He took a deep breath and then held it in for a moment, a bluish haze obscuring his features as he let it out. Grinning stupidly, he passed the bowl to Nef. Nef did the same, but instead coughed out a cloud. He hacked and sputtered for a few moments, pulling a flask from his pocket and swallowing a mouthful. Shuddering deeply, he made a rumbling sound in his chest and spat.
"That's some good shit," he said weakly, laughing and then coughing more as he passed the bowl to Gabe. Gabe cradled it in his palm, observing the charred layer of weed that lay upon the top. He blew it off and pulled his butane lighter from his pocket.
"Jesus Christ Gabe!" Nate's eyes widened as the lighter's chrome cover glinted in the moonlight. "You're going to torch it!"
Brian was nodding respectfully as he retorted, "Yeah, but you get the biggest hits that way."
Gabe smiled and placed his finger over the kill hole, bringing the end of the bowl to his lips before lighting its contents. Smoke filled his lungs almost at once, and he had to pull the bowl from his lips as smoke billowed from them, a loud hacking disturbing the silence. He coughed and coughed, gray cobwebs creeping over the edges of his swaying vision, and he hit Nef in the arm, reaching for the flask. He took a couple swigs of the liquid, which took him a few moments to identify as vodka, and it boiled in his stomach, though it soothed the tickle in his throat. His eyes were now watering profusely as his head swam, and for a moment or two he thought he might faint. But eventually his vision cleared, and he noticed that at some point he had found his way onto his back. He raised two thumbs before knuckling away the tears that were making tracks down his temples. He picked up the bowl from the ground and passed it to Nate, collapsing back onto the ground.
The bowl made its way around back to Dereck, and as he tapped it lightly against a rock to empty its beaten contents, Gabe noticed a thoughtful look pass over his features. "So..." he began, almost cautiously, "do you really think it happened?"
Nate laughed, but his voice seemed to have an eerie, hollow quality that spooked Gabe. "I doubt it. I mean, c'mon, a serial killer in Salistor?"
Dereck shrugged as he repacked the bowl. "Dad was telling me about it the other night. Said he killed a ton of kids in the 70's; most of their bodies were so fucked up that they had to use dental records to identify them."
Gabe shuddered. "C'mon guys, you can do better than scary stories as a birthday present."
Nef punched his arm, laughing. "And what, a fourth of the finest weed in Maine isn't good enough for you? You can't tell me you're not high as shit."
Gabe pretended to consider the question for a moment, then grinned widely at the stars. "I'm tripping balls."
Nef laughed at that, shaking Gabe. "That's my boy. No better way to celebrate an 18th birthday."
Smoky tendrils drifted over Gabe's head, and he looked over to see Dereck pass the bowl to Nef. As he lit it, the same frowning look of thought passed over Dereck's face again. "So, they lynched him right on that tree, right?"
Brian shrugged, looking over at him. "That's what they say."
Gabe sat up to take his hit, and heard Nef say, "I heard they poured kerosene all over the tree and set it on fire." Gabe finished his hit, careful to take it slower this time, and glanced at the ground as he passed the bowl on. if what they said was true, it would explain the charred quality of the ground, where only fungi and lichen dared to grow. He began to think of the ground, imagining the dead tree up in flames, broiling a clearing into the woods, but he soon lost his focus, as he often did when he was high. Instead, he began to observe the moon, its haunted glow and the face it contained, seemingly leering down at him. It made him uneasy.
The bowl was passed around several times more, Gabe sitting up for each of his turns, as they continued to talk of the serial killer. His name wasn't on police file, as it wasn't the police who found him out, but rather a little boy whose name was unknown. He promptly told his parents, who informed the residents of the town, and a mob was created. Or at least this was what the boys had heard. As time passed, however, Gabe began to lose interest in the stories. Instead, he focused on the sneer of the moon, a specter of the night, a halo of vacant light surrounding it.
Suddenly, a gripping fear stole over him; he had heard the moon laugh at him as clear as if it had been next to his ear. He dug his fingers into the softened earth, his eyes bulging as he watched the moon's face begin to transform. Lines dug into the face carved into the moon, its forehead peeling open, its mouth ripping open at the sides, upturned in a murderous grin. He thought he could hear his own scream pierce the air as his throat finally unhitched, but he paid no attention to it. All he could absorb was that laugh, a laugh of insanity, a laugh of impending death.
Somewhere a million miles away, his friends jumped to their feet, looking at Gabe with alarm. Wind howled past the deadened tree, whirling dust into the air, though the leaves of the trees circling the clearing remained unmoved. The wind grew stronger and stronger, the tree creaking dangerously, as if it were trying to unearth its roots and walk away. It swayed heavily, and Gabe began to laugh, his voice no longer his but the moon's, completely detached from reality. He lay on the ground, convulsing with his laughter, and a sudden explosion sounded, a tree branch plummeting downward and impaling Gabe's stomach. He continued to laugh, however, despite his absolute terror and pain; laughing and laughing until they became choked. A bubble rose up between Gabe's lips, and as it popped, smattering his nose and cheeks with blood, his laughter died.