01 Feb The Left/Right Game: Part 7
Apologies for the delay in getting this post up, events conspired against me it seems.
Please let me know if you have any information.
The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 13/02/2017
I’m followed back from the junction by an overture of birdsong.
I’m grateful for the company. In the wake of Clyde’s departure, I’m welcoming of any sound that distracts me from my own solitary footsteps, grasping for any conceivable antidote to the palpable silence he’s left behind. I’m am not, however, as welcoming of what the shrill, melodic warbling represents; the first symptom of impending daybreak.
I’d only been up at this hour a few times before, stumbling back from Niddry Street and down Sweetmarket after an unexpectedly heavy night out. My housemates Molly, Craig and Tom would spend the walk joyously discussing the evening’s scandals, leaning against one another as we all stumbled away from a night of horrific excess.
This time around, the circumstances couldn’t be more different. I’m quite alone as I make my way up the road, and the only excess in my night has been a relentless torrent of stress and melancholy. There is one similarity however, resting in the back of my mind as much now as it did then; the nagging feeling that the day ahead will be one of bitter and immediate consequences.
As somber as this night has been, I still find myself clinging to it, reluctant to witness the harrowing developments that sunrise will bring. In a few hours time, the convoy will wake up to find they have suffered yet another loss. It won’t be the brutal, heart wrenching feeling that they experienced with Eve or Apollo or Bonnie, who perished in front of our eyes, but a muted sensation of gross unfairness, less immediate yet all the more insidious. As much as we hate to face the horrors in our lives, it can be far worse when they strike us without our knowing. To find out only the next morning that you have been affected by cruel forces acting in complete disregard of your presence and taking without concern for you.
It’s not going to be a pleasant morning. Nevertheless, I glad to see the convoy when it finally comes into view.
The hulking Wrangler rests by the roadside like an old relic. Right now, I can think of nothing more comforting than climbing into its secure, rugged shell. For a moment, I find it strange how an object built for transit has become the one fixed point in my world, then again, it’s not exactly the strangest thing that’s happened on this road.
Bluejay’s car is parked sideways on, laid out across the tarmac. The windows are shrouded in darkness, yet for the briefest moment I think I see the red dot of a smouldering cigarette, igniting behind the glass, glowing momentarily before dropping out of sight. I fix my eyes on the Wrangler and keep walking, resolved to ignore the ominous flicker of embers, and attempting to ignore its uncomfortable implications. Even still, I shudder to think of the grim conclusions that are being drawn within that acrid, smoke-filled echo chamber.
I rest my hand on the Jeep’s passenger side door, pausing briefly to gauge the sun’s progress. I probably have less than two hours before I’ll be expected to step over that nascent horizon, to let Rob carry me into unknown territory, onto the unexplored section of the Left/Right Game. Whatever lies at the end of this ordeal could very well be two roads over… then again it could take a whole lot longer.
I suppose there’s only one way to find out.
I climb quietly into the car and gently position myself next to Lilith. It’s cramped, and now that she’s had the space to move around it takes a modicum of contortion to properly lie down, but it still feels more comfortable than the prospect of resting on the open space that had been reserved for Clyde. For tonight at least, it would feel like a little too much like resting on a fresh grave.
The morning does come quicker than I’d like. Surprisingly, once I awake from a blissfully dreamless sleep, I realise I’m not tired at all. Perhaps it’s going to hit me later in the day, or perhaps the need for sleep is yet another casualty of the road’s odd sustaining quality. It’s unsettling to think that the road is exerting some metamorphic influence over me, however convenient the effect. After losing most of my need to eat and drink, and now starting to require less rest, I can’t help but feel that something wants us to continue on the road, removing everything else that might distract us from the journey. It’s a notion that intrigues and terrifies me in almost equal measure.
When I open my eyes, I find myself staring directly at Lilith, who has turned to face me in the night. I can tell she’s already awake, quietly resting her eyes, understandably reluctant to face the morning without someone at her side.
LILITH: Hey, good morning.
AS: How’d you sleep?
LILITH: Uhh… yeah… not too bad. This place isn’t so comfortable.
AS: Hah yeah. You get used to it.
A moment of silence passes between us.
I’m already aware of the empty space on the other side of the Jeep, hidden just beyond a pile of luggage and jerry cans. It would be easy for me to act surprised at Clyde’s absence, to say that I had slept through the night, to throw myself into a fruitless search effort and to realise the truth alongside everyone else.
Part of me wants to avoid the weight of recent events, to step aside and let all blame fall against the road. Yet even if I wanted to, I know it wouldn’t be right. I’m not going to contribute a new set of secrets to this journey. Anyway, for all I know, Bluejay saw me return from the junction. I wouldn’t want to give her the satisfaction of catching me in a lie.
If I am going to tell them what’s happened, then the conversation will need to happen immediately. Certainly before they have a chance to discover Clyde’s absence themselves. The words don’t come easily. They’re impossible to form into a delicate order, and I quickly realise that any attempt is just delaying the inevitable. In the end, all I can bring myself to say is…
**AS:**Clyde’s gone, Lilith.
It takes a few seconds of quiet comprehension before Lilith sits bolt upright, alarmedly peering over the luggage to Clyde’s side of the Jeep.
LILITH: Rob. Rob!
ROB: Wh… What’s goin’ on?
LILITH: Something took Clyde.
Rob is suddenly wide awake as he twists around to view the back section of the Wrangler. I can see the realisation dawn on his face as he understands what’s happened. He turns back around and fumbles with the ignition. His eyes in the rear view are burning with desperate intention. He still thinks he can catch up with Clyde before he crosses the threshold.
ROB: Nothin’s taken him Lilith. Hold on.
AS: Rob he’s gone.
ROB: We don’t know that we just gotta-
AS: Rob! He’s gone. He already passed the junction.
Rob’s eyes flick to the rear view mirror, meeting mine. The engine stays running as he turns around to face me.
ROB: How do you know that?
The urgency has drained from the car, replaced instead by a palpable air of inquiry. Lilith and Rob are both looking at me intently and for the first time on the road, I feel like a figure of legitimate suspicion.
AS: I was with him when he crossed over.
LILITH: … What the fuck? When was this?
AS: Last night, about 3… 4 AM. He said that he-
In response to my words, Rob swings the drivers side door open and leaves the Wrangler. I watch him march out into the centre of the road, his entire body tensed and strained by a swell of anger.
I quickly climb out behind him.
ROB: Goddamnit! Damnit Bristol why in hell did you let him?
AS: You weren’t there Rob.
LILITH: We were fucking yards away Bristol! You didn’t think to wake us up?
AS: Of course I did. He told me not to.
LILITH: OH oh ok well that’s just fine then is it?
AS: He`d made his decision, Lilith. None of us were going to stop him.
LILITH: Well I certainly wouldn’t have let him just fucking kill himself! You tie Bonnie to the fucking headrest but you let Clyde waltz over the road without even telling us?
AS: That’s a… that’s a false equivalency.
LILITH: A false… Are you serious?!
AS: Yes, of course it is, Bonnie wasn’t herself… Clyde was capable of making an informed decision.
LILITH: His sister had just died! Of course he wanted to join her. That doesn’t mean you let him fucking die! You might as well have helped him blow his fucking brains out!
Rob speaks the name harshly, forcing its owner into an immediate silence. After letting the group breathe for a moment, he speaks calmly.
ROB: Bristol… are you sure there was nothin’ we could do?
I look Rob in the eye. His words hit me harder than Lilith’s impassioned tirade. Standing before the both of them, at the intersection of their expectant stares, I feel first inkling of doubt creep into my mind. What would have happened if we’d talked Clyde back into the Wrangler, if Rob had forced him to stay. Could he have found some reason to move forwards if we had kept him for a night? A day? A week? All I can do is hold onto my recollection of the night before, reminding myself of the sense of calm finality that radiated from Clyde when I confronted him. All I can do is trust that I made the right call.
AS: No. No there wasn’t.
ROB: Ok… well.. Then there ain’t nothin’ more to say.
Rob walks to the back of the Wrangler, cutting the conversation short through the quiet resumption of his usual morning routine. Lilith storms back to the car and shuts herself inside. I’m left standing in the centre of the road, wondering if I could feel any more wretched.
BLUEJAY: I know what you did.
Well, at least that answers my question. It seems that, while I had been struggling to defend the validity of my actions to Rob and Lilith, Bluejay had very quietly climbed out of her car, waiting patiently for the rest of the convoy to scatter before directing a victorious smile toward me.
AS: Can we not do this Bluejay?
She responds to my words by ignoring them completely.
BLUEJAY: I was up in the night, watching you all. What a surprise when I saw you leave with Clyde, and come back alone, calm as a fucking grave. I don’t know if Clyde was in on your little game but he sure as fuck wasn’t happy with how far you’ve taken it. He had to go didn’t he?
I don’t want to dignify her words with a response. In point of fact, I’m not entirely sure what I’d say to such an absurd accusation. Her statement rings with all the trademarks of paranoid conspiracy; the unnatural confidence, the vague language, the frenetic conclusions which are so obvious to her, yet seem impossible for me to grasp.
In the end, Bluejay doesn’t wait for my response.
BLUEJAY: I just want you to know, that I am not falling for your fucking game. But you will not turn me around, and if you try ANYTHING like that with me… I. Will. Fucking. Kill. You.
I stare at the woman before me. Her pupils two dark pools of venom, her smile curled into a crooked smirk of unadulterated contempt.
AS: Why didn’t you talk to the hitchhiker Bluejay?
Bluejay’s brow furrows, the smirk degrading from her face. I don’t wait for her response.
AS: I mean… now that we’ve seen what happens, to people who spoke to him… it’s fair to assume you didn’t. Or am I wrong?
Bluejay presses her lips firmly together, glaring at me, the veins at her temples embossed against her taut skin.
AS: It’s alright Bluejay. I was scared too.
I walk to the back of the Wrangler where Rob has pulled out the stove and four camping chairs. After helping him set them up in the middle of the road, and allowing him to cook me a bowl of steaming hot rice, I sit down next to him and eat what I can.
We can’t think of anything to talk about, and the two remaining chairs stay empty for the rest of the meal.
When I climb back into the Wrangler, Lilith seems quiet. She’s less angry now and, as I’ve seen before with her, is now being forced to confront the feelings her fury had been overshadowing. She shares a look with me in the rear view mirror, a look of being genuinely lost. I find myself reflecting the same expression as I stare back at her, and in that small sliver of glass, I think we both find a glimmer of understanding. An understanding that there have been no easy choices on this road, and that we should forgive each other, and ourselves, for the decisions we’ve had to make. After all, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are harder choices ahead.
It takes us less than an hour before we reach the woods. The drive has been predictably bereft of conversation, however as the cornfields merge into deep green woodland, and the thin opening we’re supposed to take draws nearer, Rob breaks the silence with a customary all cars address.
ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Just want to say it’s an honour taking this next corner with you all. From here on out we move slow, report anything unusual and stay on the lookout for the next turn ok? Alright… here we go.
Rob twists the steering wheel. We turn in a slow, deliberate arc towards the gap in the forest. The tarmac disappears below us, giving way to a rough dirt track. A towering legion of knotted trees eclipse the convoy, the sun all but disappearing behind their thick canopy.
The significance of this small turn in the road isn’t lost on me. We had finally crossed the threshold, into the unknown reaches of the Left/Right Game. For all we knew, we were the first people to ever have come this far, the first explorers of an entirely uncharted world. I’m not surprised when I realise I’ve been holding my breath.
I examine my compatriots closely. Lilith isn’t even looking out the window, lost in her own tumultuous thoughts. Rob is reacting exactly as I expected, looking out of every window with an air of mystified wonder.
ROB: Well I’ll be. It’s beautiful ain’t it?
As I look away from him and back out the windshield, I find myself smiling. Even after the stressful morning we’ve all had, and the uncertain day that lies ahead, Rob’s statement rings with a joyous sincerity which I can’t help but appreciate. I also can’t help but agree with him; in its own eerie way, it’s a beautiful place.
The Wrangler moves at a crawl for the rest of the day. The woods are vast and untameable. Thin, swooping branches hang lazily over the road, clattering against the light rig as we pass beneath them. Many of the trees stand at strange, crooked angles, their various disparate inclines making it impossible to see too far in either direction.
Rob spends every moment scanning the sides of the road. The trees that flank us are so thick, so tightly packed together, that it’s easy to denote an upcoming turn. I suspect Rob simply doesn’t want to take any chances, paranoid as he is about the road’s deceptive qualities. He needn’t have worried. There are only four turns across the entire afternoon. Each one is identified far in advance and navigated perfectly.
Before I know it, we’ve entered the early evening, with no discernable end to the woods in sight. We’ve been travelling uphill for a short while, plateauing onto a thin stretch of road, an endless expanse of forest to our left, and a dangerously steep bank to our right. With one less side of the road to look out for, Rob seems a little more comfortable holding a conversation.
AS: So what are you going to do, if you get to the end of the road.
ROB: Document it, bring it home, hand it over to the world.
AS: And after that?
ROB: I guess I might take a vacation. Maybe I should visit London. You want to show me round?
AS: You’ve never been to London?
ROB: I just passed by, carryin’ packages. Never liked cities so much, try to stay outta them when I can. I’d go if I had a tour guide though.
AS: Hah ok, well that’s my next story then. Rob Guthard Takes On London.
ROB: I don’t think folk would wanna listen to that.
AS: I dunno I think people would tune in, or are you just worried you’ll grow to like the place?
ROB: Hah, Junior would never let me hear the end of that.
AS: Fair enough. Wait… sorry?
ROB: My son wouldn’t let me forget it. He’s always been a city boy.
I stare out into the pitch black forest, suddenly thinking back to my arrival in Phoenix, Arizona just five days before.
I recollect my formative meeting with Rob Guthard, and how I’d been treated to the briefest overview of his life. I hadn’t pushed for too much detail, wanting to hear the story in his own words and under the assumption that I could get more background after a short stint on the road. After four days of intrigue and horror and stress I haven’t had time for a follow up. In all honesty, it’s only now I think back on it that I realise just how little ground we covered in our first interview, how eager he was to skip past the formative details of his existence. I didn’t know the names of his ex-wives, or anyone who wasn’t directly involved in his work with the paranormal.
For example, I didn’t know he referred to his son as Junior. Often used as a general nickname for a child, it can, every so often, mean something much more specific.
AS: Is… does your son share your name?
Rob turns to me, confused.
ROB: Yeah, did I never-
LILITH Look out!
Rob snaps forwards as a fleeting blur darts across the road, before tumbling down the steep verge to our right. Over the engine, we can hear rustles and thuds as it disappears down the steep hillside and into the deep forest below.
AS: What was that? Was that a deer?
ROB: That’s what it looked like,
LILITH: It went straight off the edge why would it do that?
ROB: Ain’t too bright is all.
AS: Guys can we get moving, this is-
I’m interrupted by the sound of faint rumbling, emanating from the woods on the left side of the road.
LILITH: What is that?
ROB: We ain’t waitin’ around to find out.
Rob kicks the car into gear and pulls down the track. Less than five seconds later, he slams the brake on once more, stalling the car as a small group of three or four deer burst out in front of us. A few more can he heard skittering behind the Wrangler, slamming against the back of the jeep as they hurriedly negotiate the gap between us and Bluejay.
As Rob works to restart the car, I stare out of the window and into the forest, finally aware of what I’m hearing in the trees. The thunderous sound of hooves hammering against the earth, brushing past the undergrowth, struggling over rocks and branches on their way towards us. In no time at all, the forest erupts from empty darkness into chaotic, violent life, as an unbroken horde of frenzied deer burst out from the trees.
Rob tries to tell us to hold on, but he doesn’t have time.
The path ahead floods with hundreds of stampeding deer, an unbroken torrent that blocks out the headlights’ beam. Lilith jumps back from the passenger door, as deep, thudding knells vibrate through the Wrangler. The deer, locked in a desperate sprint with little space to maneuver, are running head first into the side of the car. One of the smaller deer bolts out of the forest hits the deep green metal just below my window, the reverberation shaking the glass. I think I hear its neck snap.
The ones that get past the car aren’t fairing better. Locked in a frantic state and forced along by their equally desperate cohorts, I can only watch as they spill over the edge of the steep hillside. Countless bodies crash into the darkness, carried down into what I can only assume is a quickly developing mass grave of twisted, interlocking bodies.
LILITH: Rob get us out of here!
ROB: We ain’t movin’ through this just stay down!
BLUEJAY: What the fuck is- Somebody help!
Bluejay sounds terrified. The Wrangler is taking a beating from the onslaught of desperate creatures, but is still managing to hold firm. When I look back towards Bluejay, I see a different story entirely. The car is lying at an angle, pushed towards the edge of the hill by the sheer force of the herd’s collective impact. The passenger side is on display, riddled with slick red marks and heavy, craterous dents. The creatures rush past her, clumsily clambering over the hood, and hammering into the doors of the car.
Bluejay screams into the receiver, placing a hand over her eyes as one of her front tyres passes over the edge, the car’s chassis dropping down into the dirt. Luckily for her, when I turn back to the forest, I can see it’s emptied dramatically. The flood has subsided, and the last few deer are pelting through the trees and across the road, their position at the back of the herd providing them with more than enough space to manoeuvre around the convoy.
ROB: Ferryman to Bluejay, get yourself over here we gotta go now.
BLUEJAY: What the fuck was that? What the f-
ROB: It was just a herd of deer, Bluejay, but they were runnin’ pretty hard and I ain’t lookin’ to meet whatever they were runnin’ from. We don’t have time to get you back on the road, get over here NOW!
Nothing more can be heard from Bluejay’s radio except for static and a few intermittent gasps of breathless fear.
ROB: Ah Goddamnit. Stay in the car you two. Lilith, hand me the rifle, I ain’t takin’ any chances out here.
Lilith finds the rifle and hands it over to Rob. Grabbing some supplementary ammo from the glove compartment, Rob climbs out and slams the door, marching through the dirt to Bluejay’s ruined car. I clamber into the back of the Wrangler, struggling over a pile of empty jerry cans and surveying the scene as it unfolds.
In an almost herculean effort, Rob wrenches the passenger side door open and holds his hand out for Bluejay to take. I look on as she unbuckles her seatbelt, climbs out unassisted, and immediately launches herself at Rob. Crying her eyes out, and lashing at his chest with two clenched fists. She looks distraught, terrified and violently angry.
Rob stands there and takes it, whispering vague assurance to her as she unloads her terror and frustration into every wailing blow.
LILITH: Come on Bluejay we gotta go.
Lilith talks under her breath, willing Bluejay’s catharsis to speed itself along. I look at her, silently sharing her impatience. Then something catches my eye, something in the distance behind Lilith, slowly making its way through the trees.
I turn around, and scramble to the front of the car, returning with the radio transceiver.
AS: Rob, get back here. There’s something in the forest.
Hearing my warning crackle out from Bluejay’s car, Rob turns in my direction before alarmedly staring into the forest where a pale figure is winding its way towards the pair. From what I can ascertain as it briefly leaves the obscuring undergrowth, it seems to be small, tremendously thin, and crawling unevenly on its hands and feet.
The creature stops in a clearing ahead of Rob and Bluejay, in view of me and Lilith, but shrouded from everyone in the shadow of the forest. Bluejay separates from Rob, pulling a head torch out of her bag. Slowly, and with trembling fingers, she points the beam towards the creature and switches it on.
The resulting sight is incomprehensible. The beam instantly illuminates the light frame of an thin, almost emaciated child. It’s barely over a year old, deathly pale, covered in dirt, it’s skin stretched taut over frail limbs. It stares up at Bluejay, reflexively holding one arm over its eyes to shield itself from the bright LED light.
LILITH: Oh my god what’s happening to it?
I know exactly what Lilith’s talking about. My hand raises to my mouth as I watch the child struggle through the stream of harsh, white light. With every step it takes, the child’s form starts to shift and change. Its limbs elongate, in jagged, lurching bursts of growth. Anything exposed to the beam develops with grotesque rapidity. It’s as if the child is aging before our eyes.
Letting out a tortured cry, the creature darts towards Bluejay, angrily swatting the torch from her grip. Bluejay screams in shock and pain as she holds her stricken hand, her attention transfixed on the child, who has seemingly aged almost three years in a matter seconds. Even in the fresh darkness, with her head torch fractured on the ground, I can tell that Bluejay is paralysed with an abject, consuming horror.
Rob doesn’t hesitate. He reflexively grabs Bluejay and pulls her backwards into the path of her headlights. The creature reaches out for them as they go, one hand passing after them into the light. It pulls back quickly, its eyes full of heart wrenching, juvenile tears. The fingers of its left hand aged beyond the rest of its body.
Its cries begin anew. As ghastly as it seems, the child doesn’t seem malevolent or demonic. In fact, as it looks back towards Bluejay, it seems genuinely upset, unable to comprehend the actions of those around him. As it stares sorrowfully back at its newly malformed fingers, it’s not much of a stretch to assume the transformations are as painful to endure as they are disturbing.
ROB: Stay in the light Bluejay. Keep movin’.
Bluejay breaks away from behind Rob and sprints towards the Wrangler. As soon as she begins to flee, the child lets out a high pitched scream, and strikes the hood of Bluejay’s car. The impact of the blow is impossibly forceful. In less than an instant the chassis crumples into a mass of jagged metal, the one remaining headlight disappears from view as the car is launched off the path and rolls into the valley below.
With Rob and Bluejay now returned to the darkness, the child skitters quickly towards Bluejay, grabbing her foot as it lifts off the ground, and yanking it backwards. With all her momentum immediately halted, and one foot taken out from beneath her. Bluejay has nowhere to go but down. She slams into the earth, her chin bouncing off a sharp rock.
Bluejay looks up at us with stunned, pleading eyes. Lilith and I have only a few seconds to meet her gaze before she is dragged backwards along the ground. She screams in pain, her ankle caught in the child’s iron grip. It doesn’t even break pace as it walks back towards the woods, pulling Bluejay along like a ragdoll.
Rob reaches out for her, snatching for Bluejay’s hand as she writhes and thrashes against an unstoppable force. They connect, briefly, but Rob’s effort to keep a hold of her is futile, dashed immediately as she is pulled effortlessly from his hands. Bluejay resorts to clawing at the ground, dragging thick, dark soil and pulling loose rocks free from the dirt.
Rob somberly unstraps his rifle, swinging it around to his front. He reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket and chambers a single bullet.
Bluejay looks on as Rob raises the rifle to his shoulder, and aims for the back of the oblivious child’s head.
LILITH: Oh god.
Lilith turns away from the window, cowering away from the insanity outside the car. I can barely watch myself, as Rob places his finger on the trigger.
The shot never comes.
Bluejay shrieks as the child reaches the treeline, pulling her into the undergrowth. Robs hands are shaking, unable to do what needs to be done. Cursing loudly at the air itself, Rob lets the rifle fall to the ground. He stands immobile as Bluejay’s screams continue to emanate through the trees.
His expression has been worn by everyone on the road. Like all of them he’s no longer present, lost to a realm of hopelessness and bewilderment. But unlike many others, he doesn’t stay that way for long. Unlike the rest of us, Rob Guthard manages to bring himself back.
ROB: Bristol! There’s a torch in the green bag. Get it now.
I don’t have time to hesitate. I scour the contents of the Wrangler desperately, Bluejay’s screams growing increasingly distant with every passing second. Locating a large green bag in the far corner, I crawl across the Wrangler, unfasten the straps and spill its contents into the car. A heavy duty LED torch clangs against the cabin floor and I snatch it up before it can roll away.
Returning to Rob, I swing the back doors open and jump out onto the dirt track, throwing the torch toward Rob’s outstretched hand. As soon as he catches it, Rob sprints out into the forest, leaving me and Lilith behind.
The events that unfold among the trees are told to us in sound and light.
After almost a minute of silence, the torch’s rays burst through the trees. Bluejay’s distant screeching intensifies as the child breaks into a gut wrenching cry. A large crash echoes through the night air, the sound of bark cracking as the very trees shatter into splinters. The light dances chaotically, as Rob lets out a cathartic, damaged roar. Suddenly, the child’s desolate wailing grows more distant, retreating deep, deep into the woods. Then, suddenly, silence.
LILITH: Bristol… what’s… what’s happening?
AS: I don’t know. Stay in the car.
We wait for what seems like an age, lost in worry, before the gentle rustling of undergrowth calls our attention back to the treeline. A moment later, Rob emerges from the trees, holding Bluejay’s arm around his shoulder
LILITH: Oh thank god. Oh thank god.
The pair stumble over to us, slowly and painfully. Bluejay walks with a limp, her ankle is already horribly bruised. Rob sports a series of cuts across his face, but seems otherwise unharmed. He calls back to us, utterly exhausted.
ROB:… Nothin’ to it.
An irrepressible smile grows across my face, a pained grimace of sincere joy. I raise a hand to my mouth as tears of unbridled relief start to roll down my cheeks. It’s a brief, fleeting moment in an otherwise dark night, but for once we’ve managed to pass through the storm, battered and broken, but at the very least, still together.
Bluejay falls to the floor, slipping free of Rob’s grip and unable to hold her own weight. Rob turns around to look for where she’s fallen, and finds her crawling slowly towards the steep verge.
ROB: Bluejay? Denise, you ok?
Bluejay stops crawling, places her hands on the ground and rises unsteadily. I suppose she can stand on her own after all. When she’s finally upright, she turns back towards Rob, raising his rifle to her shoulder and fixing it on his torso.
My smile vanishes.
ROB: Denise. What are you… put it down.
BLUEJAY: It was a child, Rob. It was a child it… what did you…
LILITH: Oh my god Bristol what’s happening?
AS: Stay in the car Lilith.
ROB: Denise… you seen it just as much as me. You saw what it did.
BLUEJAY: It…it tore at my… it broke the skin! How… why are you doing this?!
ROB: Denise. Denise. You know what you saw, OK? You know this is real. We ain’t doin’ this to you. It’s happening… to all of us. It’s-
Rob stares at Bluejay, then down to the rifle, the sights boring into his chest.
ROB: Ok ok. How about we turn the car around. Right now. I’ll turn us around and I’ll take you back home and I’ll drop you off outside the tunnel… safe and sound. I just want to get you home safe… what do ya say?
Bluejay looks into the Rob’s eyes, the rifle quivers in her hands. We all wait, scarcely taking a breath, for Bluejay’s response.
BLUEJAY: … I don’t believe you.
The shot echoes around us. Rob falls to his knees. A look of surprise and disbelief carved into his face. A plume of dark red blossoms around his shoulder. There’s no air in my lungs. My entire body is paralysed by the shock, by the rank unfairness, the sheer impossibility of the scene before me.
I still don’t understand how it could possibly be happening.
LILITH: OH MY GOD! Oh my god! No!
Bluejay quickly paces up to Rob, snatches a handful of ammunition from his breast pocket, and reloads the rifle with practiced efficiency. She’s stopped shaking, in fact, there’s a calm conviction to her movements which convinces me, with shocking immediacy, that I might be about to die.
I dive back into the Wrangler, slamming the door shut behind me. I find Lilith gripped by an immediate, immobilising shell shock.
AS: We need to go. Lilith? We need to go ok?
LILITH: I don’t… I don’t understand.
BLUEJAY: Get out of the car, both of you! I’ll kill him! I will kill him!
LILITH: Do you think she’s going to kill us too?
AS: No. No… she was going to shoot Rob in the chest, but she aimed away at the last minute. She’s just bargaining.
AS: She wants us out of the car. I think she’s going to take the Wrangler.
LILITH: If she leaves us here we’ll die anyway.
AS: I know.
LILITH: Well we… we can’t fight her… one of us will…
BLUEJAY: Get the fuck out of the car, both of you! I want your hands where I can see them!
AS: It’s ok. It’s ok. Here, take this.
I reach down and grab the walkie talkie, pressing it into Lilith’s hands.
AS: It’s a short sprint to the tree line. We need to get round to the hood of the car, then we get into the woods as soon as there’s an opening ok?
LILITH: I… I can’t do this, Bristol.
AS: I’m sorry Lilith. You’re going to have to.
I gently open the driver’s side door, climbing out and edging along the muddy verge, keeping low to avoid Bluejay’s line of sight.
Lilith climbs out after me, closing the door softly behind us. Without making a sound, conscious of every rustling leaf that passes underfoot, I gesture for us to make out way around to the Wrangler’s hood. Lilith goes first, staying below the windows, working her way to the front of the car and passing around the corner. From the hood of the Wrangler, we’ll be able to make a beeline to the trees.
BLUEJAY: Don’t play fucking games with me!
Before I can make my way around to join Lilith, Bluejay’s impatience boils over. I can hear her footsteps on the rough ground as she makes her way over to the Wrangler. The situation rapidly spiralling further from my control, there’s only one thing I can do to stop her discovering the both of us.
AS: We’re coming out!
I raise my hands and stand up, making my way to the back of the Wrangler. Bluejay stops walking, before she gets far enough to notice Lilith. She turns to face me, raising the rifle to her shoulder. A moment later, I hear Lilith burst out from her hiding place, sprinting into the trees.
Bluejay quickly realises what’s happened, and with a yell of violent frustration, turns the rifle to face the treeline. Lilith has already disappeared into the dark forest, out of range and out of sight. I choose not to attempt to rush Bluejay in the midst of this distraction, and I’m right not to. Realising Lilith is lost to her, Bluejay quickly spins back towards me and levels the rifle at my chest.
BLUEJAY: I knew you were all in this together, you fucking monsters!
Her eyes are practically bulging from their sockets, her entire face contorted in malicious, sickeningly righteous hatred. After all these days on the road, I’ve never seen something quite like this.
AS: You’re not well Bluejay.
BLUEJAY: No. No. I’m just not willing to fall for your fucking tricks!
AS: How could this all be a trick Bluejay? How? Apollo, Eve, Bonnie. You saw what happened to them. It’s beyond our understanding, mine and yours.
BLUEJAY: There’s no such thing as fucking magic. Only fools and FUCKING frauds.
There it was. In one sentence, the trigger for Bluejay’s creeping insanity. The inflexible belief that had broken her mind against a maelstrom of contradiction. With every impossible event she had witnessed, every brutal death that had unfolded in front of her, Bluejay’s unwavering skepticism had barred her from blaming the supernatural, from blaming the road. Instead she had blamed us, a swiftly dwindling pool of conspirators, whose crimes had swiftly spiralled from deception, to reckless endangerment, to outright murder.
As far as Bluejay was concerned, we were the only monsters on this road. This wasn’t madness. It was self defense.
AS: It doesn’t matter anymore. You can go home ok? But just… at least take Lilith with you. Please. She isn’t part of this.
BLUEJAY: I’m not a fucking retard Alice. Don’t you think I’ve been watching? You are all complicit, and as far as I’m concerned you can all fucking walk!
AS: I’m sorry… I just don’t think I can let you do do this.
She laughs, a sarcastic, ugly chuckle. Holding the rifle tight against her shoulder.
BLUEJAY: I can’t see how that’s your decision.
AS: Well… that’s always been your issue hasn’t it Denise? You lack imagination.
I step backwards, allowing gravity to carry me over the threshold of the steep, dark slope. In the last few seconds before I topple into the darkness, I clench the fingers of my left hand.
When I’d been holding both my hands up, my empty palms faced vertically towards her, Bluejay could have easily mistaken the band around my finger for jewellery. As I fall backwards, Bluejay’s eyes fix on my now closed fist, as she sees what’s attached to the other side of the ring. A bottle opener, a small LED torch, and the ignition key to the Wrangler.
I disappear over the edge, bracing myself for what’s to come. With nothing else to do, I surrender myself to the long fall, followed into the darkness by the enraged screams of Bluejay.