There were eight of us. And I say were for a reason. I don't know how many there are now. But there were eight of us out there. It should have ended with eight.
We were all together at the beginning, sitting in Charlotte's house and simply waiting for darkness to swallow the clear blue skies, to darken the chilled fall evening. Today was Charlotte's sweet sixteen party, she didn't invite many, she never did. Only those who were her favorites. Charlotte was the kind of girl who did such things, picking her few favorites and denying the others any consolidation with her.
She had seven favorites.
Seven favorite people from our large high school, three girls and four boys she'd had her eyes on for quite a while. I was one of her favorites. I was accepted into her household, shown the easy lines of her family, able to quickly understand her ways, though I think everyone was able to.
We all sat in a loose circle, waiting for the sun to come down, surrounding a board filled with small metal pieces skirting the edge of it, depending on the numbers the dice gave up. Depending on the cards stacked at the center. It was a basic game, and small conversations swept around the room as we played. As I rolled the dice, I noticed Miles glancing out the clear window behind him, swiveling his head till it was almost facing completely backwards. He turned back, startled, when the dice slipped from Savannah's hands to echo across the board. Eight.
She placed her hand on the metal dog and moved it eight spaces along the edge, counting aloud as she moved the piece. There was a small conversation beside me, between Victor and Rose. It was strange to see these two interact, Victor was a year ahead of me, Rose a year below me, the oldest and youngest at this gathering. It was a simple conversation, one that I'd discussed with many people, what classes are you taking? How are the teachers? Nothing I needed to pay attention to.
Beside me, Nico gazed at the board with a blank look, quickly bored with it. But that was Nico, he got quickly bored of everything. Across from me, Charlotte and Colt flirt, till the dice are shoved into Colt's hands and he is forced back into the reality of the game, making a snarky comment to Miles at how he got so far ahead already. Miles responded with a shrug.
"C'mon, this game is boring as hell. Can't we do something else?" Victor asked, once the conversation between him and Rose grew stale.
"Yeah? What do you think we should do?" Miles drew back from his silent gestures, "We're waiting for it to get dark out."
"But can't we do something else instead of this game, it's boring. We all know Ivy's going to win," I smirked at the mention of my name, "Like, plan what we're gonna do when it gets dark?"
"Man hunt!" Nico shouted from beside me, punching the air with two fists, back arching from the effort. But we payed him no attention, ignored him.
"We could play hide and seek." Savannah offered, Victor shook his head.
"That's stupid, we can think of something better."
"How bout flashlight tag?"
"We don't have enough people." Charlotte pointed out hastily.
"I think we do."
"You're supposed to have three or four teams. There's only eight of us."
"So you want to be on the same team one other person?"
Silence. There's a pause as I glanced out the window, the sun had almost set, but we'd still probably wait a while longer just to get to the perfect time.
"What about capture the flag?" Miles mentioned as he leaned back against the foot of the couch behind him.
"What would we use for a flag?" Nico stated, looking over to Miles.
"You can use socks."
"How about we use a couple of dishtowels," Charlotte crept into the argument, "and each team be given one flashlight."
"That sounds cool," Savannah said, shoving her light brown hair back over her head, "where would the territories be?"
"We could just divide the woods in half, all the way up to the house, and behind the house is off limits."
"Hold on a sec, I haven't played this in a while," Rose began, shifting her weight, "so, basically, we split into two teams, each is given a flag and a flashlight, then they go into their separate territories. Where they hide the flag and establish a jail. Then part or all of the team goes into the other one's territory and if they're tagged, they go to the jail."
"You've got it." Miles confirmed.
"All except for some of the jail part, a team member can come and tag you, and take you safely back to your own territory."
"That's still a pretty big area to cover, that woods is big."
"That'll make it funner."
"It'll make it time consuming," Nico muttered. Though he was ignored as last time.
"So we'll be able to hide the flag wherever we want, right?" Rose asked.
"I think so, I mean, it's a pretty big area and will take time to go through. So maybe a time limit on hiding the flag?" Savannah suggested.
"Yeah, ten minutes sound good?" we all agreed on the time limit, some speaking it, some gesturing.
"So it's capture the flag then?" Victor pestered. Another chorus of agreements.
"No," I speak quickly, I was always chosen last and hated it so much, "let's pick names out of a hat."
"Yeah." Rose seconded, also knowing that since she was the smallest she'd probably also be picked last.
"How 'bout drawn out of a cup?" Charlotte asked, "I don't think I have a hat that would work."
"That's fine." Charlotte nodded and got up from her uncomfortable seat on the floor, her footsteps echoed around the house as she searched for the items the needed. Cupboards were opened in the kitchen and the next thing I knew there was a pen and plastic cup thrown into my lap.
"Just let me go get the paper and you can start." she walks down the hall toward another room. So I was obviously in charge of writing out names. She came back quickly and placed the paper in my hands, gone just as quickly into the kitchen again to fetch the dishtowels.
I started writing eight names onto the paper with the black ink splattering onto it in my handwriting, all capital letters. MILES, CHARLOTTE, ROSE, COLT, VICTOR, SAVANNAH, NICO, IVY. And tore them into their own separate sheets then deposited them into the cup. I felt all eyes upon me since Charlotte was busy gathering other things for the game. Personally speaking, capture the flag was not a game I particularly wanted to play. And as I placed the cup on the center of the board game for everyone to stare at discomfortingly, I got a bad feeling. A terrible feeling which sent shivers creeping down my spine, making me clutch my elbows in a tight embrace with myself.
Charlotte reentered the room, dishtowels in hand and two flashlights tucked under her arm. She tossed them all beside the cup and sat back down.
"Let's get started." Miles immediately reached a lightly tanned hand towards the cup, intending to draw the first name. Savannah snatched it up before he could.
"I think this is a job for the birthday girl," she teased, shaking the cup before shoving it beneath Charlotte's hand. "you pick the first one." Charlotte rolled her eyes, smiling as if she had nothing else to really do at that moment, and drew a name. She placed it face up on the table.
"Colt." Charlotte read, looking around the circle and quickly finding him beside her. I searched my handwriting quickly, indeed it read COLT and I become curious as to how they plan on forming these randomly drawn names into a team like formation. "Okay," she turned to him, "you'll be on team one." she slid the name across the board with a finger and I hated how easily it went. The paper felt like the person, so easily put into place with the flick of a finger. And can just as easily be torn into tiny shreds of what was once a name.
Charlotte reached back into the cup, "And for team two," she pulled the name out and placed it on the edge alongside the silver dog, creating a place for team number two to reside. "Miles." Theres a pause and Miles nods rather then saying much. But I recognized the look on his face, apprehension and anxiety. He's not sure if he really wants to go out there.
We go on with the two teams till both is complete. I was on team two with Miles, Savannah, and Nico. Team one was composed of Colt, Charlotte, Victor, and Rose. Poor Rose is stuck on a team with three sixteen year olds, only really knowing one of them. The teams were oddly placed, though I was glad to be on my own, I liked Savannah and though I didn't know Miles very much, Nico was in most of my classes and I was comfortable around him. Savannah was a good friend of mine and probably my favorite at the party.
I'd known her since I was little and we'd gotten along in the way where it felt like we were close when we were apart, having a faint memory of past conversations with her, but during actual meetings, it felt as if we were miles apart unless there was someone there alongside us. All in all, she was a nice person, though I had the feeling she would shatter like a porcelain doll if shoved the right way.
I didn't know Miles, only that he was ahead of me by a few classes and that Charlotte had been interested in him at one point. But the flame had quickly been snuffed out and all we really knew of each other was the occasional "hi" that flowed absently from our lips as we passed the other in the hallway.
Nico was someone I had in classes since preschool, though we'd only started talking last year, he was someone that I felt distanced from. He felt off in a way, as if he could see farther then his grey eyes would reveal. It was just plainly strange. He sat with me in past study halls, where we'd talk about the random till we were shushed and quieted. But as soon as someone more interesting walked in, he'd leave and ignore me for a good week or two before ever asking me anything again.
Either way, I was confident with our team. Savannah's known to be a fast runner, along with Nico and I. Miles was known more for his abilities at tackling people to the ground, and though I was fast, I was better at hiding in the shadows and springing out at the last moment.
It was 7:30.
The darkness had encased the trees outside and we gathered in the kitchen which had a screen door leading onto the broad section of well kept lawn and out to the forest. We awaited Charlotte's return from seeing her parents and asking their permission for going out into those woods at night. We hadn't thought of asking till it was all prepared and even then some just wanted to slip outside without a single word.
I wanted to go out into the forest, but I felt this strange hope that her parents would say no, tell us to return to our board game and stare out the window as clouds passed over the dancing sliver of a moon. That was not the case.
Charlotte's parents agreed as long as none of us got lost or hurt and we placed coats over our shoulders and trudged outside. The air was thin and had that cold feeling to it, the way it felt like you weren't getting anything from it when it flowed through your lungs and left your whole chest with a cold, tight feeling inside. Team two had been given the right side of the forest and that was where the four of us headed, the others going towards the right half. I felt moonlight pooling around my feet and the cold began to numb my fingers as I pulled my dark colored hair up into a ponytail resting on the crown of my head.
Miles didn't turn on the flashlight, which had been awarded to him, who claimed it was his since he was the oldest of the group. Savannah held the white dishtowel which had been given as our flag. We had agreed upon the rules that the flag needed to be kept in plain sight, since fumbling around in the darkness was hard enough without having to dig underneath the ground to find it. Of course, the wonder if the other team would cheat was always close in our minds.
And like that, we were beneath the shadows of trees limbs stretching out for each other. Though there was a strange feeling, as if a twig had been snapped beneath someone else's foot, though it was a different feeling. Hard to explain.
We walked for quite a while in deepened silence, Miles leading us deeper and deeper into the forest, till we finally stopped and huddled into a circle.
"Goddamn, it is freezing!" Nico shivered from where he stood, bare hands tucked beneath his chin. Savannah threw her braid back over her shoulder.
"Where are we going to hide the flag?" Miles flicked his eyes back and forth nervously, as if he felt that something were going to come after him. I noticed.
"Are you okay, Miles?"
"Yeah, fine." he looked back into the center of the circle. The switch of the flashlight was flicked on and the light powered into life. He shown it at our feet first, the light hitting Savannah's sneakers before he started it around the trees, gliding it between each as if someone would be standing there. But there was no one.
"Turn that thing off," Nico warned, attempting to snatch it from him, "they'll know where we are!" I thought of the way he said "they'll" and I wondered darkly if he meant team one, or something utterly different.
"They're practically miles away from us now, they're not gonna see us." Savannah reassured my doubts. Nico went silent, kicking at the ground. I shoved my hand in the pockets of my jeans, feeling a slip of paper slide between my fingers. Where did that come from? I ignored it momentarily, since I was known to put random slips of paper into my pocket and forget about them, only to find them later in time.
"Well, we could put it-" Miles was cut off by a guttural scream.
It was an odd scream, not really even a scream, more of a loud sob. It ended for a moment, then began again in the highs and lows of a cry. It stopped. Miles wildly twisted the flashlight back and forth across the trees, revealing only the regular shadows of the forest.
I replayed the sound in my head. It was certainly a scream, sounding so very despairing and almost as if it was a last cry. It came from a male, young or old I couldn't tell, certainly below the age of fifty. It was an odd voice, one that continued to send chills through me even long after it had stopped. It was an unfamiliar voice, one that I knew would have a picture of the speaker show up before my eyes if I had seen the face. Except I had never seen the face.
"What the hell was that?" Nico followed the flashlight beam with his eyes.
"One of the others must have gotten hurt or something," Savannah reasoned. I shook my head.
"That wasn't any of the others."
"Maybe someone else is hurt, we should go help them." Savannah started towards where the scream came from and Miles grabbed her shoulder with such sudden force she stumbled backwards. Miles was shaking his head and looking straight out to where the flashlight beam penetrated the darkness between the slim trunks of two silver birch trees.
"I don't think so," Miles's voice came out cracked and distorted, "I think we need to get out of here."
"I'm with you there, man," Nico gripped his coat in tight fistfuls, "That was kinda freaky." he said it half jokingly, though we knew he was serious. For a moment, I sided with Savannah, if there was someone injured out there, we ought to go help them. But, then again, why didn't they call out again? It just didn't make sense.
"Let's go find the others." Miles commanded, turning the flashlight back the opposite way of the scream.
"I doubt they'll believe us." Savannah stated hesitantly, looking over her shoulder.
"I bet it was them," Nico continued, "playing some sick joke."
"No matter what," Miles began, "flashlight man's leaving and unless you want to be left with that thing you better follow." We all followed.
There was no rush in leaving for some reason. We walked slowly, listening to every sound or rustle the forest might have to make. There was silence though, the forest didn't speak a word. Instead, the wind whispered between us, rattling branches eerily, and every once in a while I looked up at the clear sky thinking that horror movies usually start on cold stormy nights rather then clear star filled ones.
That's when I remembered the paper I'd felt in my pocket. Under any other circumstances I would have dismissed it for a ticket stub I had slid in unconsciously weeks ago, only to be discovered in ruin from so many washes, but when I felt the paper again, it didn't feel much like a ticket stub. It felt flatter, almost like printer paper.
Drawing it out I saw that it certainly wasn't a ticket stub, but actually one of the pieces of paper I had written out earlier, one of the names.
"What's that?" Nico looked over my shoulder and before I knew it, realized what was in my hand. "Why do you have that?" by now Savannah had turned back to look at it too.
"I don't know why I have it," I replied to Nico, "It just appeared in my pocket, I swear I didn't put it there."
"Right," Nico said sarcastically, then a tiny bit more serious, "I think there's a little more going on then just that." he raised his blond eyebrows in a mocking way.
I turned on the defensive, "That's not-" I noticed Miles looking slightly confused as he shoved a hand into the pocket of his jeans. Then he pulled out a piece of paper.
"Jeez, what's going on between you two? Some synchronized joke?" Nico laughed, though more to himself in a way to make sure he was still there. Miles looked the slip of paper thoughtfully, though uneasily.
"Nico, check your pockets."
"What? No way, I know for a fact I didn't take anyone's name thing."
"Just do it, Nico." Miles was suddenly in a strangely serious manner. It was a dangerous manner, and Nico quickly complied. He pulled out a piece of paper.
"How the hell did Rose's name get in my pocket?"
"Really? You're curious about that too?" I asked, my voice laced with mockery.
"Guys, stop," Miles ordered, "this is serious. Sav, check your pockets."
"I don't have any pockets." she claimed.
"What about your jeans?" Nico gestured to the roll of fabric that looked very much like pockets. Savannah pulled at it and all of the material came with her fingers, rather then just the pocket.
"They're fake. And my coat doesn't have any either."
There was quiet for a moment before Miles reached forward and placed his hand inside the fur lined hood of her coat. Savannah looked confused for a moment before he found the piece of paper stuffed in it.
"Charlotte." he read carefully and we all stared wide eyed at one another. Miles handed the slip back to Savannah who threw the dishtowel into the woods and we all knew why.
"Man, this is one sick joke." Nico stated.
"I don't think this is a joke." Miles corrected almost as soon as the words had left Nico's mouth.
"I think your right," Nico ran a hand over his forehead, past the white beanie cap resting over his ears, "I would have noticed someone putting a piece of paper in my pocket."
"But what other option is there?" I asked them all. There wasn't one, it had to have been a well planned prank or something like that.
Savannah giggled, "Fairies."
"Let's stop joking around and find the others." Miles decided and he took a step forward, slip of paper extended from his hand.
Then it tore into tiny strips right in front of our eyes.
I stumbled back a step. There had been no one near the paper, and we would have seen Miles rip it up if it was him. Pieces of VICTOR scattered to the cold ground where they laid to rest.
"Did," Nico paused, "did you guys see that?"
"Yeah." was all I could say.
"It wasn't me," Miles finally responded, "I didn't,"
"We know you didn't." There was a dismissive silence that dispelled out before us like a long stretch of highway, only the sounds of the night crickets left to keep us company. I felt as if I was completely alone, that these three weren't with me for the moment. That I was facing this thing alone. Then it touched me.
There was something out here. It wasn't just me, us, or both teams. There was someone else, something else. And it was out to get us. But why?
I dismissed the thought. It was just us. It had to be. All evidence pointed against it, and that scream could very well have been a regular person calling for help that we'd ignored. Now that I thought back, I was positive that was what it was. Nothing else made sense.
"Let's just keep going." we started off into the night again, flashlight beam piercing the air in wide arcs, searching for anything that might be there.
"You know, there is this thing called group hallucinations," Nico briefly explained, "that must be what's happening to us."
"That's what I'm gonna believe." we kept walking, for what felt like hours till we figured out that we had been going in circles for quite a while. In other words, we were lost. We discussed this for a moment, before deciding we were better off wandering around for a while longer.
Another scream lit the air. But this time, it was one of us, Savannah, who we all looked at with a great amount of fear growing inside us. She pointed into the shadows, a place where the flashlight beam had just swept past.
"There was something there!" she said hurriedly, when she noticed all of us staring at her. Miles shifted the beam to where she was pointing. There was nothing there except the trees.
"There's nothing there." Miles reassured, though he kept the light between the trees, in case whatever had frightened her wanted to make a reappearance.
"No, there was, it must be gone now. It was a person."
"Who was it?" Nico asked excitedly.
"I don't know, there weren't really any features, just kind of a shadow," she settled herself down and frustratedly continued, "I don't know how to explain, it wasn't any of our shadows though." she took another breath.
"Let's keep going," Miles said, "we'll meet up with the others soon, or find a road to get back."
We walked for so much longer, the moon rising in the sky and the stars twinkling overhead, clouds far away and gifting us with a beautiful night. We stopped when we heard footsteps to simply dismiss it for a tree dwelling animal, nothing suspicious. We kept going till we stumbled upon an old rusted down truck just rotting away in the middle of the forest and, of course, we approached it.
It was old, that was for sure, and rusted all over, parts were falling from it, coated in the brown grime. Miles glided the flashlight beam past the doors and we all drew closer, more curious then we ought to have been. Nico noticed it before I did, the white paper posted to the back and we both found ourselves eyeing it, Savannah following. Miles went off with the flashlight to inspect something else.
The note was posted to the truck with clear tape, and was written in thin, shaky writing, written in all capitol letters.
LISTEN FOR IT.
We puzzled over it for a moment, the flashlight pulsing around the cab.
"Doesn't Victor carry a notebook around with him?" Nico pointed out, finger brushing past the note.
"He does," Savannah confirmed, "but that's not his handwriting." My eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I quickly found the cliche bloody handprint placed on a section of the truck close to the note.
"They did this." Nico said quickly. Blaming the other team for everything. But it didn't make sense, the scream was certainly no one I knew, and besides the teams were chosen randomly, there was no way they had enough time alone to plan all of this so well. And this handprint looked suspiciously like actual blood.
Miles let out a shout and the light from the flashlight jittered from being dropped to the ground. He stumbled back, seating himself on the ground with an astonished look on his face, then skittering backwards and forgetting the light. We raced to see what he saw.
Inside the cab was Victor, looking as if he was asleep where he was placed against the wheel. As if he had been too tired to keep driving and had pulled over and fallen asleep against the wheel. Nico screamed before he broke into laughter, doubling over with it.
"Good one, man," he sighed, choking the words out over his laughs. He made his way closer to Victor, who must have crawled in through the broken window to look as startling as he did now, "okay, jokes over, you got me good." Nico came closer to Victor and laid a hand on his arm, shaking it slightly.
"Hey, Victor? Jokes over, you can stop now, okay. We've got you figured out, c'mon. Damn, you're freezing." he then realized that the joke was certainly over and jumped back.
"Oh my god." Savannah murmured through the hands she covered her mouth with. She backed up. Nico rushed into the woods, not far, but still close enough that we could hear his dinner being deposited onto the ground. Miles stared from where he fell, he stared in a daze, as if he had known all along that Victor wasn't playing a joke.
I found myself approaching the cab and looking at the body with a strange interest. I had never seen a dead human before and although Victor was a friend, I felt fine with the curious wonder that coursed through me as I checked for his pulse. There wasn't one.
Victor Dasnial was officially pronounced dead by yours truly.
I didn't find myself flipping out like the others had, just a basic sense of fear. What had happened? Had someone murdered him and stuffed him in this truck? Who? Why?
"He's dead." I pronounced when I turned my back to the truck and picked up the fallen flashlight. I waited for the "no shit, sherlock," comeback to sound, but Miles and Savannah didn't respond. Savannah was sobbing, not with grief but with a miserable fear. She was right to be fearful; we were lost, had no idea where anyone else was, we could barely see ten feet in front of us, and one of our friends was now found dead. Great.
"This is one sick joke." Nico rejoined us, leaning against a tree and looking rather dizzy. He reminded me of a drunk man.
"What happened?" Miles asked from where he collected himself on the ground.
"From a logical standpoint, I'd say someone killed him,"
"And stuffed him in the truck." I finished. Nico nodded.
"It would have to be one of the others, we've been together the whole time."
"Either that or there's some serial killer out here." we stopped all conversation before I remembered the note.
"What about that note?" I asked gently.
"What note?" Miles's voice sounded as if it was coming from far away, he didn't seem very cognitive.
"There's one on the back of the truck," Nico took the flashlight from me, "it said 'listen for it' kinda sketchy."
"It was written on a piece of paper from his notebook." Savannah mentioned through her sobs. She finally stopped after a moment, wiping tears from beneath her eyes.
"Okay, what now?" Nico tossed the flashlight from hand to hand and I was surprised that he didn't seem to care much anymore that Victor was dead, possibly murdered. Then again, Nico usually turned everything life threw at him into some sort of gag. Perhaps this shouldn't be so unusual for him.
"We need to get out of here." Miles ordered as he pulled his knees up to his chest.
"Yeah, that's our problem, we're lost and the only landmark we know of is this truck."
"Look, maybe we should just walk around a bit more and try to find something to get us back, there's a murderer out in these woods and we could be next." I should have probably held back a bit in my words.
"And it could be someone we know." Savannah broke in.
We discussed what we knew for a while. We knew that we could be killed. We knew that we were lost. We knew we could be having a group hallucination. We knew Victor was dead. How he died? There didn't appear to be a cause and since no one wanted to check, I took up the miserable task. There appeared to be nothing from the outside and there was wonder if he had a heart attack or something like that. But the option was quickly dismissed, if he had dropped dead then why weren't the others with him? And why was he in a truck instead of on the ground? Someone had obviously placed him inside of it and I knew our friends weren't cruel enough to do that for fun.
He could have been on his own of course, scouting out enemy territory when he died alone. Still, that didn't explain why he was in the truck and it didn't make much sense for him to have crawled in when he thought he was going to die.
Someone had done this, and it wasn't anyone from team two.
We finally settled on leaving the body here and going back to the house to phone the police and have them comb the area for Victor. We decided against searching for the others since they must have the killer among them. Or all three were the killers.
Besides, we didn't really want to stay around Victor's body for much longer.
We started off again, before another scream delighted the air. It wasn't any of us, or the other team. It was the voice from before. It still had the sob-like quality of a child who was terrified of what he faced. And it sounded just as close as it had before.
Nico placed his hand in his pocket and I noticed in confusion his expression changed to one of utter fear and complete surprise. He closed his hand around something and pulled it out, opening his palm to display the torn up remains of Rose's name.
We were churned into silence as we stared at the shreds of ROSE, which were soon blown away by the wind and scattered into the shadows.
"Isn't that," Savannah forced out, "Isn't that what happened to Victor's name?" No one responded. Not even with a "no shit, sherlock"
"What the hell?" Nico looked up at us, eyeing each person carefully. His palm remained outstretched even though it had lost all scraps of paper from it. "I did not do anything to this, this name. I didn't touch it!"
"I don't think any of us did either." Miles stated, twirling his fingers back through his pockets. He'd lost his own name before though, it had torn up before our eyes, and now the bearer of that name was dead. Savannah showed Charlotte's intact name which she has clutched in her hand this whole time and I took Colt's from my pocket, his name was still legible.
"I swear I didn't rip her name up." Nico defended.
"I believe you, we saw Victor's ripped up in thin air, when no one was touching it." we go silent. That was a point no one had really wanted to bring up.
"Something," Savannah paused, searched for the world, "paranormal is going on." Nico gave a halfhearted laugh.
"I think Charlotte laced our sodas with something." he said and I remembered him explaining joint hallucination to us.
"I'm serious, Nico!"
"Oh, yeah, and next thing you know we're gonna turn around and fricken' Slenderman'll be standing there."
"Nico, stop, don't even say stuff like that right now."
"Look, none of you look high to me, but I'm just saying that crazy shit like this doesn't happen. They reserve this shit for horror movies and books just to rake in some cash-"
"So what's your explanation for this?" Savannah asked, growing more and more defensive.
"I don't have one. You're the girl who was joking about the fairies earlier, maybe they got pissed at you and decided to scare the crap out of you."
"Out of us." Miles corrected. Only I heard him.
"So that's your explanation?"
"Yeah, sadly it is."
"Very logical." she mocked sarcastically.
"And yours? You say this is paranormal, how different is that from mine?"
"Stop it!" Miles silenced them in a rush of anger, "Both of you. This is no time to argue! We need to accept that weird things are happening for some reason and keep moving." We all went silent and kept walking like we had this entire trip. We walked for quite a while, Miles flashing the beam back and forth against thick tree trunks and fallen leaves. I felt as if I was being watched for a moment but then the feeling was gone and the only things watching were the stars and moon gazing upon my back.
I saw it. When the beam flashed between the trees I saw the thing Savannah had been talking about earlier. It was the shadowy outline of a person, they were tall and lean and looked as if they were facing me. But as my gaze traveled to its feet, I recognized no trail of grey connecting them to one of us.
But then the beam moved on. Savannah pointed.
"There! Did you guys see that?"
"See what?" Nico twisted back, forgetting his silence from before.
"The shadow guy. Did any of you see it?"
"I did." I spoke cautiously and Miles turned his head back and forth slowly, following the beam. He placed it where Savannah was pointing and revealed no shadow man that had been standing there before.
"Here." he handed the flashlight to Nico. Nico looked at him quizzically.
"You take the lead for a while. I think I'm walking us in circles."
Nico brightens, "Okay," and we started slowly, much more quietly then before, listening for any of the others, a serial killer, or just a plain old murderer. Nico flashed the beam back and forth faster then Miles did, but I'm kind of happy for it since it doesn't give me much time to search for the shadow guy again. We walked for quite a while till Nico turned back and looked at us.
"Can we take a break, I'm tired." he stopped abruptly and looked confused. "Miles?" he shouted into the air. No reply. I twisted my head around too, to see that Miles was indeed missing. We scanned the area momentarily, Savannah shouting Miles before Nico covered her mouth, telling her they'd here us. Who "they" was, I had no clue.
"He was right behind us," I say, trailing off as soon as I started. What had happened? We hadn't even noticed his footsteps were gone, it was like he had never been with us at all.
"Well he's not there now." Nico stated matter-of-factly. Savannah started to cry again, in wailing, hitching sobs that sounded much like the screams from before. Her voice echoed throughout the trees and she collapsed to her knees with her face buried in her hands. Nico and I stared at each other, urging the other to stop her. Please stop her, before the killer realized where we were.
"I don't want to be here!" she wailed from the ground, "I want to go home!" her cry was interrupted by another sob-like scream that came from the same mysterious voice as the last two. It went on for longer then usual, causing Savannah to look up from where she crouched, red-rimmed blue eyes wide with momentary shock, and then the scream ended. She cried louder then before.
Neither Nico or I knew what to do, we were both despairing just like her, but were somehow holding together rather then breaking down. But Savannah, it was going to take more then glue to hold her together now. Finally, I laid a hand upon one of her shuddering shoulders.
"Maybe he just got lost." Nico tried to comfort, but it was too late, she wouldn't quiet now. Her shoulders continued to shake and I gently rubbed one, but I wasn't cut out for this kind of thing.
I remembered the slips of paper, and then noticed the connection between the screams from before and the paper, after both screams, a paper had been torn up. So maybe now another would have been? I reached into my pocket and pulled mine out, but COLT was perfectly unscathed.
"Nico, check your paper."
He shook his head, "I lost mine remember?" Yes, his was ROSE, and it had been torn. I leaned down to Savannah.
"Hey, Sav? Do you still have your paper?" She kept her eyes shut as tears continue to roll down her cheeks. She raised her hand and I saw Charlotte's name was still one piece of paper, my theory was not correct. Unless the other team was in the same situation we were and they were given our names in their pockets like we were. And perhaps Miles name has been torn apart.
There was a the sound of a twig snapping under the heel of a shoe and Nico shined the flashlight in that direction, revealing nothing. He opened his mouth to shout something like "who's there," but I stood up quickly and covered his mouth with my hand. Whoever it was probably knew we were here but maybe they didn't, and we may as well not officially let them know.
Nico glared at me momentarily before understanding and I moved my hand away, kneeling back down to Savannah.
"Hey, Sav? Can we start moving again, so that we can get home before morning?" I asked her. She nodded and stood, wiping tears from her eyes.
We traveled for about ten minutes before there was the sound of cracking branches from overhead. Twigs rained down on us and I covered my head with my hands, just as Rose's body came tumbling down from overhead.
It landed with a soft thud at our feet and Savannah and I let out a shriek as it hit with startling accuracy. Nico covered his mouth with a hand.
"Oh my god," he moved it up his head, taking his hat off, "the name on my paper," he stopped and stared like we all did, Savannah surprisingly not breaking down into tears, only staring blankly like Miles had at Victor's body.
Victor's body had looked more peaceful then Roses did. Her limbs were contorted into weird angles from her startling fall from the tree tops. Her dark colored skin was still smooth and otherwise there appeared to be no outer injuries from before the fall, like Victor.
Again I was struck with the same odd fascination as I approached her stiff, unmoving body, I reached forward and took her cold wrist in my hand, and waited. There was no pulse, no warmth that reverberated from her skin. But she looked as if she could have simply fallen asleep like this, if her arms weren't at such odd angles. She looked simply like Rose, dark hair up in the same bun as before, same bright white coat she always wore, deep brown eyes closed.
I was surprised that I hadn't broken down like Savannah, I've seen two dead bodies tonight, one that had almost fallen on top of me, and yet I was perfectly calm. So was Nico, though I suspected he was trying to play the tough guy.
Savannah tugged at her braid for a moment, moving her fingers slowly along the paper in her hand.
"How do you think she died?" I asked after the moment of shock had passed and acceptance had set in.
"I'm guessing the fall would have done her in." Nico responded eerily, a half attempt at being humorous, though it wasn't the right time for it.
"That's not funny, Nico." Savannah said from where she'd sunk to her knees.
"The thing is, there's no real physical wounds that would have killed her, except those from the fall. So how'd she die?" I questioned.
"But how do we know the wounds from the fall weren't what killed her?" Nico responded, Savannah went silent again.
"We don't. It's just that the same thing was for Victor too, there was no obvious wounds that would have caused death." I decided not to mention that Rose's skin was cold so she had to have been dead before she was dropped from the trees.
"Maybe they were poisoned."
"Yeah, that must be it." Poisoned. Why hadn't I thought of that? A needle tipped with some chemical that caused no real sign of death. It would be simple and not very noticeable. Just pull some kid that had been alone and jab them with a needle, kill them. But it still didn't explain the scraps of paper that tore themselves or the screams we'd heard in the background. And why would the killer pose Victor's body in a car and place Rose's in the tree branches and have it fall in front of us?
But the poison thing was logical, and that's what we needed more of, logic.
"I think I know who the killer is." I said quickly. Nico turned his attention to me,
"Charlotte. Think about it, she had us over to her house in the first place, she drew the names from the cup, she supplied the paper which could be the reason it tears itself into pieces. She could have set up that eerie scream on some tape recorder."
"But how did the paper get in our pockets in the first place?"
"It doesn't explain everything, but it explains a majority, so we should maybe rely on that." Nico nodded.
"Yeah, I think your right." he was serious for once, but then a crooked smile took its place, "I still think she laced our drinks." I shook my head and we got Savannah up, prepared to keep walking. There was a mournful silence as we left Rose's body, and I felt bad for a moment, we should have stayed with her and sat vigil for the rest of the night. But we didn't want to end up like her. So we kept moving slowly through the forest, taking brief breaks and finding a small clear stream which we drank from at moonlight, stumbling over rocks and tree roots. We knew we were far away from the house and luckily Savannah had a watch around her wrist.
It read 12:36. Charlotte's parents must have been worried by now, we were four hours late, and parents coming by to pick us up at ten? They'd have the police notified soon so all we had to do was avoid being killed by Charlotte or something else till dawn. Five and a half more hours of walking to go. So how far had we walked? It had been at least a mile, where was the road? Or civilization? Or some freaking landmark? But there was nothing but pine trees in clumps and varying styles of oaks and birches.
We kept it up though, and exhaustion began to set in around 1:00. We were all tired and our pace had begun to slow, our alertness for any noise or movement deafening. But we hadn't heard or seen anything suspicious for a long while and that was somewhat comforting. Maybe we had brought ourselves outside the killers range of sight. Maybe whoever they are won't find us. Not true.
We stumbled upon Charlotte at about 2:00. She was screaming and shouting and just plain terrified, laying curled up against a tree trunk and peering through the fingers over her eyes as we approached. Nico took his shoe off, holding the flashlight between his teeth momentarily.
I looked at him strangely for a moment as he pulled a knife from his shoe and shoved it back over his foot, flicking the blade from its sheath. He remembered our theory of Charlotte and I nodded in clarity. Savannah didn't appear to really notice let alone care.
We approached Charlotte cautiously and she still hadn't noticed we were here. Nico flipped the switch on the flashlight and it went out, he handed it to me, then holding his knife threateningly in one hand. I wasn't going to question him on the fact that he kept a knife in his shoe, right now was not the time, it was convenient so I would not ask him about it. Though I did wonder why he hadn't brought it out sooner then this.
Charlotte turned her head up from her hands before screaming and scuttling back. Then she gave us an ecstatic look and rushed towards us, joyous that we were here. Nico brandished the knife forward.
"Not so close!" he called and she stumbled back, as if she had been physically shoved. Her green gaze flickered to the weapon and a fearful look grew on her face. That was when I realized she was completely innocent.
"What-" she sounded baffled, "What are you doing, Nico? It's me, Charlotte!"
"No shit your Charlotte, and you killed Victor and Rose."
"What?" she was legitimately astounded, "Victor and Rose are dead? Oh my god," she fell to her knees, "what happened?"
"Hmm? Perhaps you could tell us." Nico pestered. She was crying now.
"I swear, Nico, I didn't do anything. I have no idea what's going on! We got split up and-" she takes a deep breath, "I don't understand!"
"Nico stop." I ordered. He looked over at me, completely confused.
"She didn't do it."
"How the hell do you know that?"
"It just," I stop thinking momentarily, "it doesn't make sense."
"Keep in mind, this was your theory." he said, shutting the knife.
"I know. Thanks, Nico."
Charlotte looked around, astonished at us, "I don't know." is all she said.
"What happened to your team?" Savannah asked hesitantly.
"We got out here and split into two groups, Rose and Victor were supposed to hide the flag and me and Colt were supposed to invade you guys's territory. We split up and there was this terrible scream, god, it was the worst sound I've ever heard. Colt panicked and ran off with the flashlight. I started walking around and got lost and then there was another scream, and another, and then I just stopped here. I couldn't go on!" Charlotte was always an over dramatic person, "I'm just so glad to see you all!"
"Yeah, I think we are too." I noticed the similarities between our stories, the screams, the way that Colt ran off and Miles vanished. It made me wonder if the two of them were working together, though it still didn't make sense with the whole paper and pocket thing.
"What happened to you guys?" she asked.
"Can you check your pockets first for us?" Charlotte looked at me strangely before complying, reaching into the pocket of her pants and pulling out dozens of shreds of paper.
"What is this?" she practically shouted, I had her place the pieces in my hand, where I began to organize them back into a word. A name.
"What's going on here?" no one answered Charlotte. I thought back to the other shredded papers, both the names listed belonged to the dead. So perhaps it was correct to believe that the names that were torn up corresponded to those that were dead.
"What's going on-" Charlotte was cut short from her second questioning when another scream rang out, sounding the same as the last three. We were so used to it now, but shivers still spread across my body, though I had been walking so much I was practically sweating. But that was it for Charlotte, who fell to her knees and started sobbing.
"Why is this happening?" she screamed, "Why me?" None of us made an attempt to shut her up. Even though she was probably calling whatever it was to us. I let Miles's name fall from the palm of my a strange feeling raced beneath my skin, almost like a flash of heat. It was a strange physical feeling and I stopped all movement for a heartbeat. And as quick as it had come, it was gone.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the remains of Colt's name. Nico noticed and stepped back a few paces as I shrugged and dropped the pieces into the mercy of the air. If the torn pieces did represent those who were dead, it meant that Colt and Miles also had been killed and we would probably stumble upon their bodies soon like we had Rose and Victor.
And if while I was still theorizing, I thought about the screams and how almost immediately afterwards a name was torn up, and when a name was torn up it meant another of us was dead. And if I was correct, it meant the four of us were the last ones left. I didn't say any of this though.
My thoughts on the matter were still a little bit over the top though, right now, the events taking place, none made any sense. So for right now, I would ignore everything that was going on and think about what connections they had to each other, ignore the fact that none of them were logical.
"Okay, Charlotte," Nico began, I turned the flashlight on, "that's enough, lets start heading back, see if we can make it home."
"No!" she shrieked, "It's been safe here, it will stay this way!"
Nico ripped the hat from his head in frustration. "No it won't, Charlotte. Whoever it is is going to come for us and they will find us if we just stand around! We have to keep moving!"
"No!" she screamed.
"Please, Charlotte," Savannah finally spoke up from her rather emotionless state, "I want you to come with us." Charlotte shook her head stubbornly.
"Fine, stay here then." Nico turned away, taking the flashlight from me. "You can be brutally murdered for all I care." It was a cruel comment but Nico was a cruel person. He shoved his hat back on over his blond hair and a few strands stuck out from beneath it. Savannah and I turned back to follow him, we both knew we needed to get out of here and we weren't staying with Charlotte, especially without the flashlight.
"Wait," for some reason we all turned back to hear what she had to say, "wait for me."
The four of us walked along the rim of trees, past a few uncovered sections which opened up to the sky and revealed the stars and the sharp claw of a moon in front of a deep purple backdrop. There wasn't silence anymore, Charlotte talked a lot as she came out of her terrified state, and I didn't mind since she was comforting Savannah back into a normal form. It soon became as if none of this was happening and we started to ignore the night sounds and subtly joke around. But not too much, this was still gravely serious.
Then the flashlight beam passed the trunk of a tree and we all froze as Nico brought it back to see if what we saw was true. It was. And it was part of an arm.
"Oh god," Charlotte said, backing up, "can we just pretend that's not even there and keep walking?" Nico shook his head.
"It could be Colt or Miles, maybe one of them fell asleep or something, if you want to stay there while we check it out, be my guest." he sounded as if he had no hope for the fact that Colt or Miles might still be alive, but we may as well take a look.
Indeed it was Colt, but there was another body strategically posed alongside him. Miles. The two boys were stooped over a chess board, Miles frozen, immobile hand gripped loosely around the king. Colt's arms were crossed as if he was in deep thought. The board looked like a normal chess board, every piece in place except for two rooks, a knight, and a pawn which had been knocked over.
At first glance, it looked like two buddies playing a friendly game. But we knew that was false, Colt and Miles had never played the game and neither one was the intellectual type. Both were hoping to get into college on sports scholarships.
That and the fact that their eyes were closed and they were completely lifeless.
I checked their pulses anyways while Charlotte had a slight breakdown. Both were dead, their bodies were stiff and lifeless, like marionettes left out in the snow. I backed away from them.
"Their both dead."
"That's what I thought."
"This is hopeless! We're all gonna die!"
Savannah remained blank.
"Would you please shut up, Charlotte! We have no time for this! They're dead, okay? They're dead and not coming back!" Nico shouted at her harshly, "So just accept it and move on!"
"Accept it!" he stopped, breathless for a moment, before gaining his voice back. His words echoed around us, as if secret beings were whispering "accept it" into our ears. Nico was right though, we had to find a road, someone's backyard, something. Either that or the policemen that were hopefully sifting through the woods for us.
"Savannah, what time is it." I asked to break the silence.
"3:11" she replied after raising the watch close to her eyes.
"Okay, look, we have close to three hours left till dawn. So let's keep going till then. It should be easier after that."
Charlotte sniffed, wiping her eyes, "I just want to go home."
"I know, and you'll make it there. We just have to keep walking no matter how tired you are, we are. If we do, we'll all make it home."
"Let's listen to Ivy." Savannah stated.
We did keep going, having to take breaks more frequently. But noises were beginning to morph together and blend into the same things. We weren't as distrustful now and every cracking twig was just a deer or a rabbit. Every screech was just an owl. Every creak was just a tree branch. We heard the scream again at one point.
We came across a field, and Nico's flashlight struck something across from us, just slightly beyond the next row of trees. It was a silhouette of someone, they looked perfectly normal, unlike the shadow guy Savannah and I had seen earlier, and if all our other friends hadn't been dead, I would have run towards the shape, thinking they were one of us.
I couldn't tell much about the person at the edge of the field, it was just a barely legible shadow for all I could see. Though I could distinguish some features; the individual was tall, oddly tall and lanky, they looked like they were wearing a brimmed hat and a coat that reached mid thighs. Other then that, I couldn't tell much more.
Charlotte made the mistake of thinking they were someone we could trust.
She raced across the field toward them, judging her steps by the beam of light highlighting the figure.
"Oh thank god! You came to help us!" she shouted at the individual as she made her fumbling steps through the sparse grass, "We got lost! Please help us back home! I want to go home!"
"Charlotte wait!" Nico shouted. He didn't go after her though, just stood with his flashlight pointed at the figure. He didn't dare move it in case the individual moved, "Come back here! Charlotte! It's not safe!" but she didn't listen.
Then the figure moved, raising one arm so that he was pointing directly at Charlotte who froze three quarters of the way to the edge. She backed up a pace, realizing this person wasn't here to help us, that this person was the killer. But why was the person at the edge of the field simply pointing? What was that going to do?
"Run Charlotte! Run!" Savannah spoke wildly, as if she knew this wasn't meant to end well. But Charlotte just stood there, frozen with her back to us, placed that way by the flashlight beam.
Then there was a slight, painful jerk of her body, a subtle shriek of sharp pain, and she collapsed to the ground, dead.
The figure turned its finger on us and Nico flicked off the flashlight, raising his blade threateningly into the air. I grabbed him and Savannah by their arms and we raced back into the forest, Nico protesting at first, but then understanding that a knife wasn't going to do much against someone who could simply point at you and kill you.
We ran till we couldn't run anymore and I ended up doubled over, trying to catch my breath. Savannah collapsed the ground in her struggle to reclaim her breath and Nico leaned against a tree with his head resting on the trunk, eyes closed and breathing hard.
"Was Charlotte," Savannah fumbled with her words from exhaustion and shock, "was Charlotte... dead?"
"Yes." I replied after a moment of decision making. She had to have been dead. We didn't see much, but with the way her body contorted as she let out that shriek caused me to understand that the death was too painful for screams. It was something I didn't want to have to experience.
Savannah gently unclasped her hand, showing us the torn up scraps of Charlotte's name. But this was no surprise to Nico or I, it was almost expected at this point. She let the pieces filter through her fingertips onto the forest floor and there was the call of an owl, asking us who we were.
Nico gripped his hat tightly between his fingers, it was a death grip especially with the pocket knife slipped between two fingers.
"Did you guys see anything specific about that person?" I asked.
"It was wearing a hat," Nico gasped for breath, "that was all that was really specific that I noticed. I think it was a guy too."
"I think so too."
"We need to stay away from him no matter what."
"Yeah." I decided to not go with the "no shit" response.
"Is that all he did? Point? And she was dead?"
"Yeah." it didn't sound far fetched from anything that had happened recently. Nico shook his head and put his hat back on.
"There's some weird shit going on." he attempted a Nico-like smile but it failed miserably, "I think I've either been drugged, or I just got really drunk. Either way, I'm passed out and this is some scary ass dream."
None of us laughed at his joke. This wasn't funny, this was scary. It was very frightening to think that you could have a painful death by having some guy point at you. I was starting to agree with Charlotte: I wanted to go home.
We hiked along no real path till we made it to more and more trees. It was so aggravating, we must have been walking in circles to have come across nothing that was familiar. Then there were rustles in the trees, a cracking of a tree branch underfoot, and this time we knew it wasn't a creature of the night. This was something that walked on two feet. We froze.
"Hello?" Savannah called out in a slowly withering voice. Nico shushed her as he bent the beam around the surrounding trees and underbrush, searching for a tall guy with a hat who was pointing at us. He stopped when the scream rang out full fledged into our ears. It was familiar now, but made me worried. If this was like all the past times, then after the scream came the paper tearing, and the paper tearing meant that that person was dead.
And there were only three of us now.
Fear built up in the base of my chest but I managed to settle it back down with a breath. More footsteps sounded to our right and Nico flipped the beam that way, brandishing his blade into the dark. But we were facing the wrong way.
The thing came from the left and all we heard was Savannah's scream to let us know it was there and when we turned we wished we hadn't. It was the shadow thing we had seen in the past, not the guy that pointed to kill. And it had Savannah who was screaming and thrashing, bending her arms in harsh punches and kicking her legs, but the creature would not stop and there was nothing we could do.
It was just a shadow, something that blended into the darkness and was only visible in the beam of the flashlight and slunk away from it even then. It was a cowardly creature, blind to the world since it was sightless, only having a mouth since all it could do was eat and all it could feel was hunger.
When Nico turned the flashlight on it, it refused to release Savannah, only slunk backwards and drew its lips back in a horrifying hiss that sounded so much like the screech of a terrible violin player who had no idea how to play, who drew the bow across the strings and only produced a ear piercing noise rather then a lovely tone. Savannah continued to kick and scream. Nico then grabbed my arm and fled, dragging me along with him. His grip was so tight that I wondered if he would break my arm. He held the flashlight and the knife in one hand, my arm in the other.
Trees blurred past and the flashlight beam bobbed up in down in ways where we couldn't make out anything. We crashed over thorns, twigs breaking as they snatched upon our coats and jeans, larger branches swung back in our wake. And finally Nico released me, falling to the ground and dropping the knife and flashlight. He looked beaten, as if the world had fallen upon him in the form of a concrete block. His shoulders slumped and twigs clung to his clothes, hat, and hair. I'm sure I looked the same, my hair probably wasn't in the same way as it had started, I'm sure my face was probably covered in dirt, my clothes probably bathed in leaves, twigs, and sweat. But I didn't give a crap at this point.
Nico caught his breath again and brushed a leaf from his shoulder. All I saw in front of me now was a basic coward.
"How could you leave Savannah behind like that?" I accused. I couldn't believe him. All Savannah had was her fists while he had a knife and no shadow clinging to his back. How could he have just grabbed me and ran? How could he leave one of our own behind like that?
"Look it had to happen-"
"No it didn't. You could have helped her. We could have helped her. But no, you ran off like a scared little-"
"You're lucky I grabbed you!"
"Then I guess Savannah's not very lucky, is she?"
"I guess not," he said the words quietly, looking down at the ground as he met the shame that came along with his actions. Yes, he could have run and left me behind too, but he didn't. Which was fine by me, but we should have stayed and saved Savannah from that thing. "what now?"
"I guess we keep doing what we have been." I respond in a more familiar manner.
"You bet your sorry ass we're walking more." he groaned but I knew he was glad I was in a better mood. But the last kind of person I wanted to be with in a situation like this was a cowardly one, and look what I got. I guess it's better then one that's going into hysterics. He got up and we started off again, both exhausted and just wanting to stop but it would be worth it in the end. I knew it would be. We'd be safe and maybe we'd find Savannah too. Maybe she was okay.
But I doubted it.
We found ourselves at the spot where the shadow creature had last turned up, where it had dragged Savannah back into the forest. All that was left of her was the watch setting gently on the ground as if nothing had ever happened to it. As if a hiker had just dropped it there and it was waiting for its owner to pick it up. I picked it up.
It read 4:56. We had about an hour left. As I looked up at the sky I noticed it had become considerably brighter then it had been when we first came out. When we first got out here felt like months ago now. Nico looked at the watch and punched the air with a fist like he had when we were sitting around the board game.
"So we've got, what? An hour?"
"I think so."
"Yes!" he didn't sound as excited as he was attempting to portray, "If I get out of this alive I am never playing capture the flag again."
I smiled in agreement.
We made our way farther into the endless trees, till we heard the sob-like scream once again.
"No." was all Nico said as he spun the flashlight in circles. He now understood what that meant. Either pointing guy or shadow dude was going to kill someone. And we were likely the only two left. He figured this in his head, despairing the truth of it, then he shouted into the air, "Savannah, why the hell did you piss off those fairies?" It was pointless to try and hide ourselves. One of the two killers had found us and one of us was going to die. Just which one was it? So that sentence was sort of Nico's final cry to the world that he didn't care..
I took a breath, "What now?" was all I could say. Nico sighed and shrugged, flicked his knife closed and handing it to me.
"Here, take this and go hide somewhere, close by so you can see me."
"Why?" It didn't make sense for us to separate now. He replied after a moment.
"I feel bad for what I did to Savannah so I'm giving you a chance to save yourself. Now take it."
After a moment of thought, I took the knife from him and nodded. He gave a childish salute with a shaky hand and I saluted back. This is it. This is the end, he seemed to be suggesting. I nodded once more and darted into the shadows of the forest.
It didn't take me time to find a hiding place, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I found a towering oak close by. It had thick limbs which were meant for supporting weight. The perfect place to hide till morning, was above the killers and the final victim. As I reached for a branch, I thought of the chess game Colt and Miles had been "playing." My newest move was going to hopefully be the best, I would be the player of the chess game, I would be able to watch all the action without being physically involved. And up there, I could contemplate my next move.
The branches were slick and my frozen fingers hadn't much purchase as they began to clam up with cold sweat. I could climb up high, to a place I would never be expected to be and as long as I was quiet, I would remain invisible. I had my doubts though. If these were normal killers, humans, they wouldn't expect a teenage victim to have had the sense to climb a tree till morning. If they were overseeing, supernatural creatures, then I had a whole new issue served to me.
I climbed as high as I dared, my whole body was trembling and I couldn't see the branches very well in the limited light. Wedging myself in the angle the branch made where it connected to the trunk, I gazed down at Nico who played with the flashlight where he now sat on the ground, whistling eerily in the darkness. I stayed still and as the impenetrable morning blackness wore on, as the flashlight became dimmer, and dimmer, till it went out entirely.
I checked the watch that was still around my wrist at 5:46. Five minutes before there were steady footsteps sounding below. The sky was so much lighter now, with streaks of pink and orange highlighting the sky which felt so much closer to me now. Then he came into the clearing close to where Nico sat, and Nico stood, beating he flashlight gently against his hand. He looked braver, and suddenly older.
He wasn't going to be a coward anymore.
There was a brief quiet before an autumn wind whispered past and a crow began its listless call in the distance. I couldn't see the face of the person below me though, I knew he was the same one who killed Charlotte. The one who very well killed everyone except Nico and I and maybe Savannah. We were all that was left of the eight.
I knew it was him because of the hat he wore, it was highlighted in the morning rays as a tan color and the style was a basic newspaper boy hat with a large brim that guarded his face from my sight. Black tendrils of hair rested on his pea coat of the same color. A coat that came down to the middle of his thighs, black colored jeans and black shoes resting beneath. He raised his hand, gloved finger pointing at Nico.
Nico, who became terrified at that moment, didn't turn to run. He wanted to, I could tell that, but some force kept him facing this guy with the brown gloves. In a last minute hope, Nico raised the flashlight above his head, then flung his arm forward, releasing the flashlight and letting it fly towards the guy. The guy in the black coat simply turned his head to the side, as if in a confused attempt, and the flashlight raced past. It looked so easy.
I hated that I couldn't see his face, Nico could, and he didn't look too frightened of the face, so it couldn't be very mangled or creepy looking, like shadow dude who took Savannah away. But Nico was terrified of the hand pointing at him and that was when his body contorted like Charlotte's had and I heard my heartbeat in my ears.
Nico started screaming out in pain as one arm was twisted in painful circles, then what looked like it was being wrenched from its socket. He had pissed this guy off with the flashlight trick, and would probably not be left with a death like Charlotte's or Victor's or any of the others. It was all I could do to stay silent and not move, only shutting my eyes so I didn't have to see the painful images. Screams echoed across the dawn streaked sky and flowed through the air like some kind of gruesome music. Music for the shadow dude.
Then Nico quieted and there was a thud. I knew he was dead. And I knew I was the last one left and that if I didn't get out of this alive then no one would know what actually happened this past night. If I died, there would be no one to tell their story, our story. And their screams would go unanswered.
I opened my eyes to see that I was right, the coward was dead, lying back on the floor of the small clearing below. His arm was twisted the wrong way and a trickle of blood made a path from the corner of his mouth. His grey eyes were left open.
The scream came out with a rush of breath, a hopeless scream, a tortured scream. An "I'm sorry" scream. And this time, I saw the person it came from. He was below me, clad in a tan hat, black coat, and brown gloves. My first thoughts were that the scream meant ripped paper, which meant death. And I was the only one left, Nico was dead and Savannah may be alive, but I wasn't sure. As I searched the ground, I believed the screamer below me had no clue where I was.
Oh but he did.
Birds let out their calls as he lowered his hand back to his side, chest rising with an easy breath. Then his head snapped up and I saw his face.
It wasn't a shocking face. It was the normal one of a young teenager who's skin flexed smoothly over its skull. He had wide, staring eyes. When I saw most people, I couldn't tell the color of their eyes, just maybe a mild guess. From my point of view in the tree, I could barely tell the color of his, they looked dark, though not brown, maybe a deep blue. But like I said, I couldn't tell.
His eyes were large and were the only things on his face that conveyed emotion. The rest of his face was like staring at a blank white sheet of paper. There was nothing. His nose was simple and average, along with the down curved line of his mouth, set in a rich frown of nothing. But his eyes, they were so strange, a whole mix of things deep inside. Guilty, stop, help, save me, fine, leave, innocent, trusting, were things I saw. But most of all, I heard his silent call out to me:
He raised his hand and panic filled me. This, this, kid was going to kill me. What do I do? I felt like an idiot for choosing a tree. Any normal person would have ignored me up here, but this wasn't a normal thing we were dealing with. I had known this. And now I had no where to run, I would fall from the branches like cold, dead Rose had, and that would be my demise. But no, I was not ready to go just yet.
I dropped the knife first, then jumped from the branch, heading toward the kid, he took an easy step back and I hit the ground, hard. There was pain, so much of it in my left ankle that I wanted to scream. Instead, I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes, staring right up into the screamer's. In an instant, I understood everything.
The shadow dude needed us. This wasn't a dream. Savannah was dead. I hadn't been drugged. The screamer guy had killed her, the shadow dude had no part in the killing. I was not drunk. The screamer guy had killed all seven of them. I was not passed out. The shadow dude was the one who placed the bodies the way they had been, left the creepy note on the back of the truck along with the cliche handprint, had put the paper in our pocket, had torn it up. The screamer guy just screamed and killed, nothing more. They were not partners.
There were going to be eight dead by the end.
He pointed his finger at me and I stared pleadingly up into his eyes which had proved to be a deep, clearwater blue, the strangest color I had ever seen. When he showed no pity, I rolled out of his way, shrieking when I felt the sharp pain in my ankle, and some how made it dizzily to my feet.
He was much taller then I could tell from above and below. At least six feet with long legs which probably made one step the equivalent of two of mine. And his faced looked plainly sick, ghost white and hiding an ill nature. His hair was long and needed to be cut, drifting unevenly past his shoulders.
Behind me, I suddenly heard the slight roar of a car as it passed by on a nearby road. We were that close? If we had kept walking, we would have made it, as I look into this guy's clear eyes I know that if I made it to that road, I would live. He would leave me alone. So I limped backwards, continuing to face him as I let out a noise with every touch my foot made, I had hit it in the fall and it was certainly damaged.
He didn't raise his hand to point at me. Just kept up by taking a step forward for every mangled one I took backwards. The slight noise of traffic grew louder and I was sure I was going to make it, positive.
Step back. Step forward. Step back. Step forward. It was then that I looked behind me. I was two steps away from the flat tar surface. I was going to be fine, just two more steps.
When I turned back, he had his finger trained on me.
There was pain, a movement that felt like my heart being torn from my chest, then I fell backwards, landing on my abdomen with my eyes staring at the road in front of me as a truck passed on its morning route.
I was almost there.