“I decided to invite a few more people for tomorrow,” Bristol said coyly, brushing a stray tress of hair behind her ears. The strands immediately fell back into place draped over her shoulder, but Bristol hardly seemed to notice.
Rae’s eyes narrowed as she examined Bristol’s face, and she shifted her weight between her feet.With arms crossed rigidly she replied, “How many is a few?”
Bristol looked thoughtful for a moment, and she pursed her lips while looking up towards the broken ceiling fan a mere six inches above her head, pretending to be deep in thought.The two cousins were at Rae’s house that she shared with her boyfriend Carl and his dad. It was a miniscule house tucked away on a forgotten side street in a small town in Georgia. The house had been to be fixed up for years, but Carl’s dad didn’t have the time or energy to tend to any of its needs. Nothing in the house required urgent care; floorboards in the kitchen and living room were loose here and there, the left faucet in the bathroom only worked if it was a certain temperature outside and it was sunny out, and for some reason none of the ceiling fans in the house ever worked. They acted as ceiling decorations, providing homes for an obscene amount of cobwebs and dust bunnies.
“Well?” Rae demanded, snapping Bristol out of her haze.
“Oh, you know… Six extra people,” Bristol dropped this information as if it were common knowledge.
“Six? And this is on top of all the others that you already invited? Bristol, remember that Carl and I have friends coming too, and some of our friends are bringing their friends. I don’t know if I can be responsible for this many people for a few days. If something were to happen, I don’t want that weight being on my shoulders. I’m really going to have to talk to Carl about this,” Rae said seriously.
“Seriously, Rae? You already know most of them, and the youngest are Chester and Ruby. They’re seventeen, but you’d never know it with the way they act. We can take care of ourselves, I promise,” Bristol said impatiently, crossing her arms and tossing her mane of lilac hair.
“I guess I’m just not happy with such short notice. We leave tomorrow. How many people are supposed to be coming now?” Rae snapped.
“Well, on my end, eleven people including myself are supposed to be showing up. What about you?”
“My friend Ellie is coming with her boyfriend, I think she said they’re bring a couple more people... Carl said four of his buddies asked to come, too... Oh, and Kelsey’s definitely coming… Bristol, that would be twenty one people. In no way shape or form am I capable of that.”
Even though Rae’s tone was firm, Bristol’s eyes narrowed close to onyx slits. “I bet if I were actually your sister, you wouldn’t be telling me this,” she spat, whipping her body around and cuffing Rae's with her hair.
“What are you talking about?” Rae asked mystified, “this has nothing to do with how closely related we are. I just personally don’t want the obligation of being in charge of so many people. Even if you’re all eighteen.”
“You just really hurt me by doing this,” Bristol sniffed, her body was still turned around and posed to leave, but her head was cocked to the right, eying Rae for any sign that she was about to change her mind.
“Alright, they can come. But if anything goes wrong, the blame is not being pinned on me, okay? And I’d still like to talk to your mom about this before we leave, just so everyone is aware of the full plan. Okay?”
Bristol’s face lit up and she spun around to engulf Rae in a bone crushing hug, letting out a squeal. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Bristol exclaimed shrilly.
Rae gasped, taken aback by her cousin’s sudden mood change and spluttered out a mouthful of Bristol’s lilac mane. “Don’t thank me until your mother approves all of this. But just know that from here on out if anything goes wrong, it’s not my fault so please don’t take it out on me,”
Bristol released Rae and gave a dismissive flick of her wrist. “Yeah, sure whatever. I doubt Mom is going to say no, so I’ll tell everyone now that we’re on for tomorrow!”
“I... Sure, okay I guess.” Rae started to say something else but quickly bit it back. At least now if Bristol’s mother denies her the right to bring even more friends, I won’t have to be the one dealing with her temper, Rae thought privately.
Without waiting for Rae to change her mind, Bristol viciously ripped her phone from her pocket and sent her fingers wildly across the screen, releasing a massive group message to all ten friends confirmed to tag along on the camping trip.
Within seconds, Bristol’s phone exploded into a perpetual chorus of vibrations, with her grin growing wider and wider with each new message. Her fingers swept her keyboard furiously as she attempted to reply to each and every one of them with lightning speed.
A satisfied smirk replaced her jack-o-lantern grin and she slipped her phone back into her pocket. “Well,” she said, “everyone that I’ve asked has given me the okay that they're going,” Bristol said, stretching her eyes open in a vain attempt to feign innocence.
Rae pursed her lips and her eyes traveled across the cluttered room of books, movies, and house plants, hoping that at least something would remind her of another topic she needed to discuss with Bristol.
With a defeated sigh, she placed her gaze once again on Bristol, who was tapping her foot while awaiting for a response. “Well?” Bristol snapped impatiently, “is that everything or not?”
“For once, you’re off scottfree,” Rae said slowly. “Come on, scram. Get outta here, I have to get packing. Carl’s coming home soon and we’re working to prepare meals for everyone. We’re bringing enough for five days but, but,” Rae chided, widening her eyes as Bristol’s face lit up, “we will certainly not be staying that long. I just know how much Carl and your friends tend to eat so I’m packing extra. Do you by any chance have a spare tent?”
Bristol wrinkled her nose and tossed back her tangle of hair. “Do I look like the type of person who’d keep a tent just hanging around my room? Of course I don’t. Hang on, my friend Charlie might. Let me call him real quick,”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just text him and ask--” Rae began, but was soon cut off by Bristol who already had her phone pressed to her ear.
“You,” she began, rolling her eyes, “do not know how to work Charlie like I do.” Her face perked up and a half smile crept on her face as Rae heard a muffled “Hello?” on the other end.
“Charlie,” Bristol purred into the phone, “how are you doing, love?”
Rae rolled her eyes as she heard Charlie’s nervous laughter on the other end. His quiet response prompted Bristol to erupt into forced laughter, and even though he couldn’t see her, she began winding her hair around her finger.
“Right, right… Anyway Charlie dear, the reason I’m calling--Besides to hear your husky voice--” Rae mocked loudly vomiting into the sink while Bristol flipped her off, “--Is because I need to ask of you a favor.” She lowered her voice before adding, “you’d make me very happy if you did…”
An eager response answered Bristol’s question and she began, “You’re too kind. What I’d really love to ask of you is for a spare tent. Really? Are you sure? Oh Charlie, thank you so much! You’re an absolute dime. Yeah, just bring them tomorrow morning. I’m so very grateful for this. Remind me to repay you once we’re at camp. Bye now.”
Half of Bristol’s lips twisted up in a self satisfied smirk. “We’ve now got two tents, thanks to Charlie’s naïve nature. They’re pretty large too, so I bet we can fit about five people in each one if we really squeeze. Really, this shouldn’t be a problem at all now,”
Rae sighed as she accepted yet another loss against Bristol’s reigning arguments. “You're free to go,” she said, “meet me here with everyone tomorrow morning at nine. We’ll give everyone a brief introduction and head out.”
“Sure sure,” Bristol said triumphantly. She threw her arms quickly around Rae, and dug her keys out of her pocket. She power walked towards the door and shouted, “See ya tomorrow!” As Rae, still standing in her kitchen and wondering just what would be in store for the weekend.
The next day, tires screeched in front of Rae’s house as Bristol and her posse.
Carl was teetering under the weight of multiple bags of clothing and supplies while Rae and her best friend Kelsey were idling in front of the half opened front door, watching Carl struggle. Halfway to his camper, Carl dropped one of the bags and used his free hand to run a thick hand across his forehead, attempting to rid himself of sweat. “A little help would be nice!” He called loudly to Rae and Kelsey’s direction.
Kelsey smirked and swung his arms back and forth. “You look like you’ve got it under control. Keep up the good work,” he called back with mock enthusiasm.
Carl sighed, picking up the dropped bag and continued lugging it to his camper. Several other bags were already strewn messily in the back window from what Bristol could see. “Your cousins are very... neat people,” Bristol’s friend Diana commented from the passenger seat.
Bristol sniffed and let her hair fall into her face, hiding her red cheeks from her friends view. Why did Rae and her boyfriend always have to embarrass her like this?
“I’m technically only related to Rae,” Bristol muttered, opening her car door. “Come on, everybody out!” She ordered, stepping out of her car and expecting all of her passengers, and her friends that had followed her over to follow her lead.
Since everyone in the vicinity had at one point or another realized that if they wanted to be happy, then Bristol first had to be happy, everyone obeyed, with those in two other cars copying Bristol and exiting. Ten pairs of eyes locked onto Bristol, waiting for their next command. Most of her friends had not had the pleasure of meeting Rae and Carl, with the exception of a very select few.
Bristol strode confidently towards Rae’s front door, where Rae and Kelsey were eying the large group of teenagers making their way towards them.
“I forgot how much I’d missed high school after seeing you guys,” Kelsey said under his breath while Ras snickered. Bristol glared at him as her friends wearily stood a few feet back from the front door, fanning out on the front yard.
Bristol turned around to survey everyone, and cleared her throat. “Everyone, this is my cousin Rae,” she gestured towards her short brunette cousin, who in turn gave a nervous wave, “her best friend Kelsey,” Kelsey nodded his head in acknowledgement, “Rae’s boyfriend Carl is who we saw loading up the pickup. And now, Kelsey and Rae, this is everyone,”
“Great introduction,” Kelsey muttered.
“Anyway,” Bristol continued sharply, “you guys have already met Ruby, Charlie, and I think briefly Diana. But starting from left to right we have Chester, Sebastian, Bianca, Holden, Violet, Simon, and Susan.” Each indicated member waved or nodded their heads towards Rae and Kelsey. “Right, so that’s everyone on my end. Where are all of your friends?”
“She doesn't have any,” Kelsey said dryly, which was promptly followed by a swift slap courtesy of Rae.
“Most of them are inside. I think Ellie said to meet her and James there, since they’ve heard about the campsite before. They said they would try to set up their RV first, so the rest of us could get settled in immediately. Which, should be soon. Let me get everyone,” Rae said, turning around and flinging open the screen door and slipping in beside Kelsey.
Bristol looked behind her to see that all of her friends were leisurely chatting, with the exception of Diana and Violet, who were gossiping animatedly next to a very uncomfortable looking Ruby. Violet’s green eyes traveled to the house and she laughed loudly, with Diana chiding in. Ruby gave them both a dirty look and side stepped away.
Bristol sighed, wishing that for once everyone could get along, and enjoy a weekend without any drama or fighting. As if Kelsey could read her mind, he gave a chuckle and said, “Your friends definitely look like the type that are a lot of fun during weekend getaways,”
“They are,” Bristol grunted. Thankfully, she was spared from anymore jibes from Kelsey as Rae burst through the door laughing loudly, followed by seven young adults, all of whom looked more than discouraged as they lined up on the porch and absorbed the fact that they’d be alone in a campsite for several days with people six to eight years younger than them.
“So,” Rae began loudly, finding confidence in front of Bristol’s friends now that she was accompanied by her own peers, “listen up everyone. Although most of you are technically adults, Carl, our friends and I, are going to be the ones in charge on this trip. Mostly meaning, if anyone acts out or creates a dangerous situation, we’re going to be the ones kicking your asses out. Anyway, here we have Dylan, Seth, Jack, Katie, Jess, and Cassie.” Each member of Rae’s party waved to the teenagers, who nodded their heads in curt greeting, with the exception of Ruby who smiled at each introduced person, and Chester who gave an awkward wave at the end of their introduction.
“Great, now everyone knows each other,” Carl said, weaving through Bristol’s herd of friends and climbing the porch steps to wrap his arm around Rae. “I think everyone’s all packed and ready to go. You ready to go, hun?” He asked Rae with a smile.
Rae nodded, and all of her friends gave their murmur of agreement. With a look of satisfaction, Carl turned to address the teenagers. “Okay, so none of us as I understand have ever been to Camp Noir before, so you can all just follow Rae and I up. We’re going to be taking a route that’s slightly longer--” Carl was cut off by a chorus of moans from the teenagers.
“Why?” Came Diana’s prominent whine.
“Because of the foliage,” Kelsey said as the group snickered and Diana scoffed loudly.
“Anyway, let’s go,” Carl said, hopping down the steps and jogging to his car.
Everyone began dispersing to their vehicles, talking excitedly amongst each other. Bristol’s eyes searched for Chester, who was walking slowly to Holden’s car when she caught up to him. Tapping him on the shoulder, she asked as sweetly as she could, “There’s a seat open in my car if you’d prefer to ride with me.”
Chester smiled in return and said, “Sure. Thanks, Bristol.”
Bristol lead the way to her car, Chester trailing behind when Diana cut him off and said sharply, “Okay, you can ride with us but I call shotgun,”
Chester shrugged and got in the back, while Bristol started her car and pulled out behind Carl’s camper.
To Bristol’s dismay, the drive was less getting to know Chester and gossip with Diana and Violet, but more drive in silence with the exception of her passenger’s soft snores. Though long, the drive wasn’t as terrible as she’d feared, with lots of luscious green colors that lured them out of the city, and into a more rural area. Squirrels littered the tree tops (and side of the road) but the thing that stood out to Bristol was the sound of the loud, rushing wind that thwarted at her car.
After what seemed like centuries, Carl put on his blinker and made a sharp left to an unmarked dirt road. She did the same, checking her rearview mirror as a line of cars followed them into the forest. The deeper they went, the more dense and vibrant the forest became, blurring her vision to exotic greens. A beaten down wooden sign painted black read “Camp Noir” on the right side of the road. Bristol hit a pothole in the dirt, jarring Diana awake who swore loudly before giving Bristol a grumpy look.
“We’re here,” Bristol said as they arrived to an open dirt area, with barely enough room for all 5 cars to park. A second camper was already in the lot (if you could even call it a lot), which Bristol guessed must have been Ellie’s.
Once parked, the door to Carl’s camper immediately flew open, and Rae burst out with a yawn, stretching her arms above her head. Diana did the same, stiffly climbing out of Bristol’s car with her arms stretched in front of her. Chester was still dozing in the back, and Bristol couldn’t help but give him a warm look, her inky eyes wide. She gently prodded his shoulder, and his own brown eyes snapped open. A sleepy smile crept on his face and he slurred, “We there yet?”
“Sure are,” Bristol answered, opening her car door. With a wink she added, “come on, let’s get going. We have to start unpacking.”
When Bristol emerged from her car, the last doors were slamming shut and the first thing everyone noticed was the silence. It bit through them like cold and seeped straight down through their skin to the bone. All of the signs of wildlife and civilization had vanished as the group took in the overgrown, umbrella like forest that whispered for them to come in. The leaves shimmered in a silence breeze that was neither warm nor cool. It simply ruffled quietly at hair, bags, and clothing. Vibrant greens and Browns saturated their surroundings and danced in the shadows as the sun struggled behind the clouds and thick canopy of leaves. Droopy limbs of trees beckoned for the group to come closer, closer, closer, and melt into the darkness on the other side of the trees.
Diana and Violet were whispering swiftly to each other on the other side of the car, while Chester leaned in closer to Bristol and asked, “How are we going to spend five days here?”
Bristol swallowed uncomfortably, looking around at everyone else’s reactions. All of Rae’s friends were talking and laughing loudly, trickling around their cars to unload bags, while all of the teenagers stayed knit together in tight groups, heads together and murmuring.
“You guys all ready to set up?” Carl’s booming voice behind Bristol made her jump. His normal heavy footfall had been masked by the blankets of dead leaves lying around them. It was odd, Bristol noted, for leaves to be falling so early in the year. It was only the end of July, after all.
Chester answered for Bristol who still hadn’t found her voice and said, “Yes we are. Charlie has the tents, so I think first we should focus on getting those up and making sure the campers are ready.”
Carl nodded in agreement. He started looking around for Charlie, and almost as if he was reading Carl’s mind, Charlie’s tall head and messy blonde hair started bobbing amidst the group and made his way towards Carl. He was stumbling under the weight of two large tents, which he promptly dumped on the ground once in front of Carl. “Well, here they are,” he said dramatically, panting. Turning to Bristol he added, “you and I are sharing a tent, right?”
Bristol opened her mouth to tell Charlie that although she was grateful for the tents, there was no way she would share a tent with him, when Carl picked up one of the tents easily and motioned to the other one while turning to Carl and inquired, “You okay to take the other one?”
Chester stooped down and gripped the tent, bringing it up with shaky hands. “No problem,” he panted as Charlie skulked away.
“Let's go then!” Carl said. Leading the group down the only trail, Bristol noticed that every branch or leaf she stepped on made no sound, as if the density of the forest was muting all noise. Not even the gravel the twenty one trekkers kicked up made a sound. After roughly twenty minutes of waking, they arrived at a small campsite, complete with a pitiful brick fire pit that was falling apart.
In the distance there was a green tinted lake, with another trail bending down the campsite that lead into the unknown. Carl and Chester immediately started pitching the tent, while everyone else huddled together in excited conversation. A thick, musky air had settled over them that sent shivers of not only cold down their spines, and carried the scent of musk, as if they were in a basement. (“What is that awful smell?” Diana and Violet had complained.)
Carl paused hammering at a tent peg and wrapped his arms around his body to indicate he was cold. “Why don't some of the guys go down that path back there and collect any sticks to make a fire? Why not one of the adults and one of the teenagers go, so we can get to know each other?”
I think staying together for five days will be plenty to get to know each other, Bristol thought privately. Reluctantly, Simon and Dylan volunteered and agreed to venture down the unexplored path for any firewood. Soon after, Chester and Carl finished with the tents and it was determined that five people from each party would stay in a tent and the other five in the camper. In the end, Carl, Rae, Kelsey, Ruby, Chester, and Bristol were to be staying in one camper, with Ellie, her boyfriend, Dylan, Seth, and Katie staying in the other. Everyone else was split into tents.
The group began warming up to each other, with even Violet and Diana making an effort to get to know some of Rae’s friends. Bristol stayed by Chester and Ruby, the three joking adorns when Chester suddenly stopped, his brow knitted together and his lips pursed.
“Shouldn't Simon and Dylan be back by now? They've had to be gone for at least an hour and a half now. . .”
Carl pricked his head up at Chester’s words and nodded in agreement. Carl pulled out his phone, ready to call Dylan, when he frowned. “No service,” he frowned. Raising his voice he said, “Does anyone here have service?”
A chorus of “no”s was his answer, and Carl began pacing. “How convenient,” Kelsey said, the only one seeming not the least bit unnerved that two group members had not yet arrived back.
“Should we look for them?” Bianca called out.
“Maybe it's just a long path,” Ruby suggested hopefully.
“It's too dark now to look for them.” Carl said firmly. Between the drive and unpacking, it was close to eight o'clock and growing dark. Without a fire, the silent breeze aggravating their skin, the group came to a mutual decision to retire early and worry about Dylan and Simon in the morning, thinking they'd be back by then.
The people sleeping in the campers traveled slowly back to the path and quietly said their goodbyes as they dispersed. Carl's camper was large, but even so one person would have to sleep on the couch and the other on the soft carpeting in the living room. Carl and Rae claimed the master bedroom, while Ruby and Kelsey got the two guest beds. Bristol took the couch, leaving poor Chester on the floor, though he swore it was fine.
A deep tiredness pulled at everyone, and they soon drifted to sleep as early as it was. The beeping of a microwave jolted Bristol from sleep, and she groaned and rolled onto her stomach. “Carl, what are you doing?” She complained, as Carl was prone to midnight snacking.
“Carl, what the hell?” She groaned, sitting up and staring into the darkness sure enough, the light of the microwave was on as it heated up an empty plate. Confused, she quickly dodged Chester’s sleeping form and raced to the kitchen to save the microwave from imploding. Irritated, she checked around to see that no food was out, and could hear Carl's prominent snoring from the other room. Confused, and too tired to do anything, Bristol stumbled back to the couch and fell back asleep.
The next morning, Bristol was prodded awake by Rae, who was sporting dark bags under her eyes and looked on edge. “C’mon, everyone else is already awake and we need to make sure that Simon and Dylan made it back okay.”
Bristol struggled to remember last night’s previous events. “Damn Rae, you look like hell,” Bristol said, “what happened to you?”
Rae averted her eyes. “Didn’t sleep well,” she mumbled.
Bristol sat up and stretched. “Hey, who was making food last night? I had to turn the microwave off before it fried,” she complained.
Rae looked back at Bristol and cocked her head to the side. “No one was making food last night, Bristol. I know Carl was out cold the entire night. You probably would have heard Chester move, and I doubt Kelsey or Ruby would have done anything. What happened?”
“Well someone was fucking with the microwave then. I woke up to it beeping, but when I checked it, nothing was in it. It didn’t really look like anyone was awake, either…” Bristol explained. “Has it been prone to electrical issues?”
Rae frowned, looking troubled. “No. In fact, it’s brand new.” She shook her head as if to clear it. “Alright, just get dressed and we’ll worry about it later. For now, we really need to focus on the others.”
When Bristol had gotten dressed, the five friends ambled out of their camper, knocking on the door of Ellie’s to alert them they’d be traveling to the main campsite with the rest of the group.
The ten-some set off down the silent trail, Carl, Kelsey, and Rae muttering quietly amongst themselves. Bristol’s eyes caught Chester staring into the forest and walking slowly. His movements were slow, as if his thoughts were hindering his physical ability. She quickened her pace to match his, and blocked his view from the forest with her body. He offered her a weak smile when he noticed her, but gave her no words.
When the group reached the tents, the rest of the campers were sitting huddled on the logs around the fire. Some of Rae’s friends on the end were talking, but all of Bristol’s acquaintances were sitting silently away. When Diana and Violet caught sight of Bristol, their shouldered slackened as if relieved. Everyone else seemed oblivious to the group’s arrival.
“Good morning guys,” Carl called wearily. “Any sign of Simon or Dylan?”
No one answered right away, but Cassie was bobbing her head up and down in a headcount. When she finished, she looked confused and immediately looked past Bristol, as if something was behind her. “That’s odd,” Cassie said with a frown, her eyebrows raised, “I thought only ten of you slept in the campers?”
Rae’s shoulders stiffened. “Only ten of us did,” she said with an edge to her voice.
“Then who’s that behind you?” Cassie asked warily, sliding farther back on the logs.
All ten members of the group that had slept in the campers whipped around, their eyes searching the empty trail behind them. Rae laughed nervously. “Are you messing with us? There’s no one there.”
Cassie squinted her eyes and peered behind Bristol again. Her mouth parted slightly when she looked back to Rae, and creases overtook her forehead. “I swear, there were at least three people standing right behind Bristol,” Cassie promised. She did another headcount of everyone in the vicinity. “There’s twenty one of us now, but I don’t see Simon or Dylan anywhere,” she said slowly, examining each and every member of the group.
“That can’t be right,” Ruby said calmly. Ruby stepped forward and began counting everyone, her body going rigid when she counted everyone. Bristol counted too, and sure enough, Cassie was right. Twenty one of them were in the clearing. Simon and Dylan definitely weren’t back, but with all of Rae’s friends, Bristol couldn’t tell who she recognized and who she didn’t.
Everyone was starting to stand up and regroup, mixing in with each other and forming smaller groups. Bristol pulled Chester aside, who was shaking violently. “Something’s wrong,” he choked out, eyes stretched wide.
“Don't say that,” Bristol said sharply, drifting closer to Chester to comfort him. “There’s a reason for this, okay? Maybe we're all just tired, and with everyone moving it was hard to count everyone,” she suggested.
Chester didn't look convinced, and with everyone's voices growing louder, Bristol could feel the group begin to panic. She looked helplessly over to Rae, who had her face buried in Carl's chest. Even Kelsey was looking uncharacteristically paranoid, his arms crossed tightly in front of his chest, and looking over his shoulder every few seconds. Carl caught Bristol's eye then nodded, gently pushing Rae away. He made his way over to the logs and climbed on top of one. “Hey,” he called out, struggling to grasp everyone's attention. Only a few of the group members stopped talking, and the hysteria only continued to grow. “HEY!” He called louder, “something is obviously going on here. Now, can everyone please stand still so I can do a proper headcount?”
The crowd obeyed, and Carl pointed his finger to everyone once. When he was finished, his eyes narrowed in frustration and he curled his hands into fists. “Cassie, you must have counted wrong. There's only nineteen of us here, which means Simon and Dylan are still unaccounted for.” he spat.
“I know for a fact that I didn't count wrong!” Cassie protested. “There were definitely twenty one of us here.”
Ruby nodded her head in agreement and added, “She’s right, I counted too.”
Bristol reluctantly gave her head a small nod. “Me too,” she mumbled.
“I think you're just trying to mess with us,” Violet challenged to Carl. “We've never met you guys before; how do we know you aren't just trying to scare us off so you guys can be alone?”
“Yeah, that's right!” Diana's voice rose up, supporting her friend. “I think this is all a huge joke meant to scare us just because you don't think we're adults!” She said, her voice rising shrilly.
Murmurs of agreement trickled through the youngest half of the group, and Bristol saw her friends distancing themselves from Rae's, shooting them suspicious looks filled with accusation.
“I promise you that this isn't a joke,” Carl said firmly, hopping down from the log. “First things first, we need to find Simon and Dylan. Bristol, why don't you and--”
“Chester,” Bristol suggested immediately. Chester shot her a stunned glance, disbelief marking his round face. Why me? He mouthed to her. Bristol offered him a small smile in return.
“Okay, fine. You and Chester, go down the path that Dylan and Simon followed and see if you can find any sign of them. The clocks on your phone still work, right? If you guys aren't back in an hour, then we're alerting the police. Does anyone have any objections?” No one did, of course. They were all happy that they hadn't been the ones chosen.
“Let's go then,” Bristol said with an air of importance. She strode towards the overgrown path, Chester trailing fearfully behind her, and soon the two disappeared from sight, swallowed into the forest.
The path was dimly lit despite the sun, and the shadows cast by the trees gave the impression that it was a lot later than ten a.m. Bristol was happy to finally get the chance to be alone with Chester, who seemed less than thrilled about being separated. Luckily for Bristol, the fear factor was driving him closer to her, and at one point his head snapped towards the forest, and he grabbed her hand roughly, his palms slick with sweat. Smug with triumph, Bristol didn't bother initiating any conversation.
After roughly five minutes of walking, the path opened up to a single three person swing set. The swing set looked old and rusted, the black now splotchy and fading to grey. Bristol gently pulled her hand away and marched towards the swings, taking a seat in the middle seat. Chester joined her more slowly, his head down.
Bristol sighed loudly, wishing for any sort of interaction to occur between the two again. Her wish was granted when Chester asked, “Do you think there's anything actually going on here?” His eyes were fixed on the mossy ground, and he swung idly back and forth, propelled by the silent breeze.
Bristol dug her heels in the ground to slow herself. “What, you mean something other than some of Rae's friends trying to scare us? No way.”
Chester closed his eyes, remaining silent.
Bristol slowed her swing to a halt and playfully grabbed Chester's shoulder. He shrugged Her hands off, and Bristol gave an impatient sniff. She barked a sarcastic laugh. “You're not seriously scared, are you?”
Chester's head looked up suddenly, and he stared Bristol dead in the eye. “Of course I'm scared! People are disappearing and reappearing with no explanation. At bare minimum, Rae brought some extra friends to mess with us. I overheard some of our friends talking back there, and they want to leave before anything else happens and I... I think they might be right,”
Bristol paused for a moment before responding unnaturally gentle, “I understand what you're saying. But we still have 3 days left after this to enjoy ourselves. I have no doubt that Simon and Dylan are going to turn up eventually, so just try to relax, okay?”
This seemed to calm Chester, but his eyes returned to the ground. “I guess you're right,” he sighed, his shoulders loosening, “I'm just being stupid. Let's try to have fun.”
“That's what I've been trying to tell you,” Bristol said playfully.
Chester looked up at Bristol and laughed. His eyes then filled with shock and honor as he looked beyond Bristol, and he gave a yelp of terror, leaping off his swing.
“What? What's wrong?” Bristol asked frantically, swiveling to follow Chester’s gaze.
Bristol let out a gasp as her eyes took in the scene to use left. The empty swing next to her was twisted on top of the bars holding it up, swinging lazily back was forth.
“That... Wasn't like that when we got here,” she spluttered.
“Yeah, no shit!” Chester shouted, taking several nervous steps back. Bristol leapt towards him, and the two turned and sprinted back down the path, their feet pounding against the ground sounding unnaturally loud in contrast to the silence engulfing them.
When the first signs of the campground appeared, Chester floored it and left Bristol behind. “Something's wrong!” He was panting, “there's something definitely wrong here. Swing-- there's nothing but a swing set there, and it moved on its own! Simon and Dylan-- gone!” He shouted.
When Bristol exploded into the clearing, she noticed the unease in the air, and sensed chaos on the brink of overtaking them. Something else had happened. Bristol slowed to a walk, and approached Chester, who was deep in animated conversation with Carl and Rae. Ruby was standing a few feet back, trembling.
“...It was over there, right there in those bushes,” Carl was saying, pointing to his left. “We heard it first, sounded like a wounded animal, then there was a creaking, as if there was a noose in the tree. We saw it next, and honestly it looked a little like a Sasquatch without any hair. It had blood on its face, everyone stopped talking when we saw it. Then it just disappeared,” Rae was shaking too, and Bristol noticed that a few of her friends were crying.
“Why don’t we just call the police and leave then?” Ruby asked quietly.
“Ruby’s right,” Chester agreed immediately.
A pin prick of jealous sliced through Bristol, and she nodded her head curtly. Before she could reply, Rae cut in saying, “You don’t think we haven’t tried that? Neither of the campers will start, and all of the cars tires were slashed. We have no service and we’re stuck here until we can think of a way out.”
“Then what are we supposed to do?” Bristol demanded, as Ruby mumbled, “I can’t do this anymore,” and shuffled towards the trail back to the camper. Ruby suffered from anxiety, Bristol remembered, and watched as her friend disappeared down the trail, presumably to get some rest.
A solemn look washed over Rae’s face, and she seemed eerily calm. Raising her voice, she hollered, “I say everyone stays in their tent and camper. Carl packed a few walkie talkies, we’ll distribute them for contact. No one should leave except for emergencies, and please, for the love of God, stick together. And keep your eyes out for anything odd, or out of place. Got it?”
“Who gets the walkie talkies?” Ellie shouted over the talking that had interrupted the silence.
“I’ll get one, you and will have one, Holden and Susan, you’re in charge of your group’s, and finally Jess and Katie, you’re in charge of the last one.” He said this importantly, as if these directions were life or death. Which, Bristol realized, maybe they were. Finally he added, “Bristol, head back to our camper and make sure that Ruby’s okay. Rae, Chester, and Kelsey, I’m going to need you guys to stay here with me and answer any questions anyone else might have, alright?”
Everyone nodded, Chester very reluctantly, and Bristol even more reluctant to leave him. Bristol waved a quick goodbye to everyone else, then jogged down the path to make sure Ruby was okay. She reached the camper quicker than she’d expected, and burst through the door only to be greeted by nothing more than silence. She walked down the puny hallway into Ruby’s room, and looked around.
Ruby’s mahogany hair spilled around her pillow, and Bristol could barely make out her green eyes, the only visible part of her face not shrouded by a large quilt.
“This is going to sound ridiculous,” Ruby said shyly, sitting up slightly. “But whatever happened today really scared me. You’re the only one I don’t feel like a complete child asking. Just, please Bristol, check under my bed. Make sure nothing’s there.”
As harsh as Bristol could be, Ruby was one of her oldest friends, and she had to admit that something was going on here. That still didn’t stop annoyance flickering deep within her, though. “Ruby, I can assure you that there is nothing under your bed. I’m not going to check under your bed for monsters. If you’re so concerned, do it yourself,” Bristol said simply.
Bristol wasn’t even fully turned around before she heard Ruby desperately call out, “Please just do this, please, please, please! I won’t be able to get any sleep unless you check!” Ruby’s voice broke on the last word.
Sighing, Bristol once again faced Ruby, who was sitting up halfway in her cot with her eyes stretched halfway across her face. She was trembling. Bristol gave her a plastic smile. “Okay, I’ll do it,” she promised.
Bristol knelt down beside Ruby’s bed, and rolled her eyes. “You see, there’s nothing--” She broke off suddenly as she came face to face with Ruby, another Ruby, tucked into a ball and cowering under the cot.
Her emerald eyes were wide and her mouth was opened in a small O shape. “Bristol, there’s somebody in my bed,” she hissed out through clenched teeth.
A scream escaped Bristol’s mouth as she tumbled backwards onto the floor. She lay stunned for a moment before she shot up and stared at the now empty mattress where someone had been laying moments before.
“Is it gone?” Came Ruby’s voice, muffled by the mattress.
“What the fuck is happening?” Bristol choked out as Ruby slithered out from under the bed. “Can you explained to me what just happened?” She demanded again.
“I’ve felt really sick since you and Chester came back without Simon or Dylan,” Ruby started. With shaking hands, she shook the dirt off of her jeans and arms and continued, “then Carl saw that thing in the bushes, so I went back to the camper and sat on the bed to try and calm down. About five minutes later, the door opened and I assumed it was one of you guys, but instead it was… It was me! Whatever it was, it didn’t see me right away so I dove under the bed to try and hide. It laid down in my bed until you came in, and now… Well, you know as much as I do about where it went!” Ruby finished by throwing her arms up in the air, then covering her eyes. At this point, she was shaking violently.
Bristol felt torn. She’d been reluctant to believe anything was seriously wrong until the swing set had twisted on its own, and a clone of Ruby had been discovered. But still, there had to be some logical explanation for this. Bristol thought. Things like this didn’t just happen. There was always a reason.
It was then that a thought popped into Bristol’s head. Brimming with hysteria, Bristol rounded on Ruby and pressed, “What did we all notice about this place, right off the bat that was really, really weird?”
“I don’t know,” Ruby said, confused.
“Think!” Bristol urged. “It’s the silence! This place is so quiet, but whenever there’s noise, that’s when things start to happen. You’re not too silent when you walk, you know, and with all the voices and everyone talking, things always seem to happen whenever there’s an abundance of noises. All we need to do is make a racket, and I’m sure whatever’s terrorizing us will show themselves! I’ve got to tell Carl, come on!” She rushed through her sentence as if she were going for gold, and was out the front door of the camper even quicker, with Ruby hot on her heels.
The girls reached the clearing in almost no time, where Carl, Rae, Kelsey, and Chester were getting ready to head back. “What’s going on?” Carl asked suspiciously.
“I think I figured out what’s going on!” Bristol said breathlessly, “think about it! Just before anything happens, there’s always a shit ton of noise going on, and this place is so quiet. All we need to do is just make a huge racket and I’m sure we’ll figure out what’s happening,”
Carl looked at her like she grew another head. Finally, he mused, “It’s worth a shot, and at this point I’m desperate to try anything.”
While Carl jogged over to the tents to let the rest of the group know, Kelsey asked, “While this is all fine and good, what are we supposed to do to make noise? And if this works, what are we supposed to do to face this unseen force?”
“Worry about it when it happens,” Bristol replied.
Kelsey shrugged, looking unhappy, when Carl came back and the rest of the group running behind him. “Let’s make some noise,” Carl stated.
Everyone in the group cupped their hands around their mouths and started caterwauling. Bristol stomped her feet, and soon the others picked up on it and joined in. It only took three minutes of this before their voices tired and they stopped, thinking that would be enough noise to attract the entities. And it was.
After the yelling died down, they started making their way from the shadows. The creatures that had been toying with them. With the horrors coming closer and closer to the remaining group members, bristol wished they had stayed disguised as other people. Nothing could evade her eyes from the monstrosity slowly dragging themselves toward them.
They looked like they were human--or were at one point. There was six beings, with ivory skin glinting unnaturally in the moonlight. Their skin was stretching tightly over a humanoid body and limbs, but that's where the resemblance stopped. They lacked feet or hands, and their faces were blank, skin stretched over where their eyes and nose should have been. Their mouths sported cracked lips and broken, rotten teeth. They dragged themselves closer still, until they were a mere three feet from Bristol. They then sat hunched, balancing on peg legs, arms covered their faces with their arm limbs. Bristol gasped when she noticed pure black eyes blinking on the back of the arms.
Very clever. One of them, the one in front, said. Its voice creaked, resembling the sound of a rope swinging from a tree. Except, even though its lips moved, no sound came out. Bristol jumped when she realized the voice had been in her head, and hadn't been heard in the open. She whipped around and saw Chester shiver, while Rae and Carl were latched onto each other in raw horror. Everyone else was huddled in the back, and Bristol could hear Ruby and Susan crying.
To exit this place without further harm, we require... A sacrifice. The being in front continued. We were summoned to this place years ago now, by a girl who wished to speak to her dead sister. She did not close the portal into your world after contact, and we've been able to roam between our two dimensions freely since. Even if we see limited to just this forest, it's fine with us. So far, you've been only the second group to figure out our weakness. As a treat, the rest may leave, as long as one of you joins us forever. It repeated. A choked scream, probably Bianca’s split the air, and in unison the creatures heads whipped in her direction and hissed.
“So that's it? A sacrifice?” Bristol rasped hoarsely.
You speak as if that is a small deed. The leading creature spat, it's tone laced with venom and hatred. If this is such an easy thing for humans, we will make this more difficult. You may make a choice now, if it will be you or your pretty cousin that will join us.
“NO!” Carl screamed, his voice turning into a wail and eventually a son. Bristol’s heart twisted as she saw Carl clinging onto Rae harder than ever, and to Bristol’s horror she saw a calm, purposeful look in Rae’s hardened hazel eyes. She took a step forward, and Carl shouted out again, “NO!”
Bristol's immediate reaction was fury, disgusted that they would think her immediate choice would be to sacrifice Rae. Then, she noticed with shock that Chester had tears in his eyes, and she was suddenly embraced by several hands, as her friends rushed forward to prevent her from joining the ranks of the creatures. It was then that Bristol realized that if she knew she could go on living with people who loved her, she'd have no trouble letting go of Rae. But Rae loved her too.
“I have not done good in my time here,” Bristol began slowly, and like clockwork the creatures cocked their head to the side to listen to her. Chester was watching her, silent tears running down his soft face. “I have been selfish and cruel, making sure my priorities were always first and never caring about anyone else. Rae has a plan for the future, and I have nothing . . .”
Understanding washed over Rae’s face and her eyes popped open in shock. Carl stopped crying and Bristol continued, “. . . So that's why after this, I'm going to make an effort to better myself. Take her,” she ordered the creatures, who nodded in agreement.
They delved into the shadows, limbs flailing while Carl began crying again. Rae was crying too, her eyes squeezed shut, refusing to look at Bristol. Even Chester had averted his eyes to her gaze, and covered his face with his hands.
Bristol watched steadily as the creatures erupted out of the shadows at Raw's feet, and ripped her away from Carl, dragging her back into the shadows with them. Shrieks of pure agony ripped through the air, and it was hard to tell whose screams were Rae's, and whose were Carl's. After five agonizing minutes, the six creatures emerged again, with a seventh now among them. We thank you for your gift. The leading creature said with what sounded like sincerity. However, with such a pure specimen, it is helpful if we take... Another. All of the creature's heads panned their heads to Bristol, positioning their eyes to get a full glance of her.
"No," was all she managed to choke out.
We thank you for your time, the creature said. Dragging itself forward, the creature that was once Rae crouched before Bristol. She looked down at it, and for the first time in her life was faced with the razor pain of regret.
"I'm so sorry, Rae," Bristol whispered, swallowing her pride. The creature looked up at her, cocked its head to the side, then reached for her ankles and dragged her into the shadows.
Now free from the creature's malicious clutches, the rest of the group was freed to go home.`