01 Feb The Left Right Game: Part 8
Apologies for the removal of this log a second ago, not sure why that happened, and I should also apologise for the delay in posting recently. If I could dedicate all my time to finding Alice, then I would. Sadly, I need to work as many Christmas shifts as I can get my hands on, especially now I’ve decided that I can’t continue the investigation effectively from my flat in North London.
I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I’ve decided that, after Christmas, I’m going to be flying out stateside to follow up on the leads you guys have provided. Hopefully once I’m there I might be able to make some real headway.
In the meantime, please keep any and all insights coming, however small. I really do read all of them.
Ok, here’s the next log:
The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 14/02/2017
In the brief interlude before I hit the ground, I find myself alone with the stars.
As I fall backward towards the slope, my gaze rising to meet the night sky, I feel a sudden weightlessness take hold, as if I’m being granted an audience with the heavens. The rich and endless firmament shines down through the canopy, with no earthly light to dull its glow. Despite everything that’s happened, I’m unable to ignore how magnificent it all is, how gracefully detached from the ugliness below. Though the moment lasts no more than a second, it feels longer, like I’ve been gifted some fleeting respite, a transient sliver of time in which to appreciate the calm and quiet cosmos. A moment to escape, however briefly, from the events that are to come.
I don’t know how much longer the moment might have lasted. I suppose I never will. It’s with a sense of genuine sadness that I turn myself away, twisting my body around in mid-air. The stars disappear from view, and I am left staring down the slope into the valley’s dark, uncompromising depths. My commune with the heavens has ended, and I’m returned to the cold, unforgiving earth.
It doesn’t welcome me back.
I hit the slope, immediately bouncing off one shoulder and landing on the other, barrelling forcefully and unstoppably downhill. My entire body is thrown into chaos, tossed into a frenetic, uncontrollable dance, swept along by the rushing earth towards the impatient valley floor.
The back of my ankle flails against a hard, jagged rock. My face rolls into a small bloom of stinging nettles, their caustic leaves scraping against my cheek. I battle to bring order to my descent, my hands grasping at the undergrowth, clawing through loose soil in a frenzied search for stability.
Rocks and dirt cascade around me as I pull myself onto my back, finally managing to descend with my feet pointed downhill. I’ve regained control just in time, looking ahead to see a large tree, bursting out of the hill a few metres below me. A split second before I would have collided with the thick, knotted trunk, I throw myself to the side, my wrist ricocheting against the bark and sending a shooting pain down my arm.
The valley’s base comes into view, hurtling towards me as I plummet through the rushing undergrowth. I can make out the bodies of the deer who made this hazardous journey before me. I can hear the pained braying of the survivors, moaning in hollow resignation as they struggle to stand on broken legs.
A moment later, I join them.
The slope doesn’t level out gradually. Just before the bottom, the sharp incline I’ve been hopelessly traversing drops off into a sheer rock face. Before I can stop myself, I’m launched from the slope, kicking dirt into the air. I spend the final three metres in freefall, before landing on my hands and knees, my whole body subject to a complete, bone rattling halt.
My body tensed and aching, I pick myself up off the valley floor. The second I stumble onto my feet, a harsh beam of torchlight strikes the ground to my right. My muscles groaning, I jump back against the natural rock wall as the light swings my way, sweeping directly over the spot where I just landed.
Bluejay is looking for me. I would have expected nothing less. The beam glides along the ground, scanning the base of the slope, lighting up the twisted bodies of countless deer. Fortunately, the shadow cast by the rock wall offers a measure of sanctuary, shielding me from the torch’s restless glare.
About half a minute after it arrived, the beam rises through the trees and cuts out.
I don’t expect her to come after me. I certainly don’t expect her to drop down the slope. Perhaps she could walk back down the road, taking a gentler route downhill, and pursue me through the valley once it levels out, but that walk would probably take half an hour each way. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to leave the Wrangler unprotected for that long.
Despite the fact that she’s showing no signs of entering the valley, Bluejay is clearly eager to locate me. The torch suddenly illuminates the damp soil ahead of me as she points it back down into the valley. I suspect she turned it off just long enough for me to feel overlooked, allowing me to consider stepping out into the open. I also suspect that, should the torchlight find me scrambling around on the valley floor, a bullet will quickly follow it, putting me down to lie with the deer. From that point, all she’d need to do is walk down and slip the Wrangler’s key from my cold, limp fingers.
Catching my breath, my back pressed against the rough rock wall, I run through my current priorities. I need to stabilise Rob, I need to lure Bluejay away from the Wrangler, and, most pressingly, I need to contact Lilith.
I reach to the back of my waistband, my hand searching for my personal walkie talkie. My fingers touch denim, finding an empty space where the transceiver should be. My stomach drops as I search along my back. It’s gone. I’d had it with me when I dropped onto the slope, but at some point during my furious descent, it must have gotten away from me.
The torchlight swings back around once more.
Though it’s something I never thought I’d have to do, I find myself making a mental inventory of the convoy’s radio transceivers. Before we set out on the road, Rob handed a walkie talkie out to each of us. Since then, it’s safe to assume that those belonging to Ace, Apollo, Eve, Bonnie and Clyde are no longer in play. Lilith must have lost hers when her car sank into the ground, which is why I gave her Rob’s before she ran into the forest. That just left mine, which could be anywhere on the hillside, and Bluejay’s.
The torchlight disappears once more.
I cautiously lean out from the shadows, scanning the forest around me. Bluejay’s walkie talkie had been in her car when the child pushed it from the road. If I’m correct, then her transceiver is the only one left that I can use to contact Lilith. The car itself doesn’t seem to be anywhere around me, but as I turn my head and scan the dark hillside, I can see it resting on the slope. The entire car has been stopped mid-fall, resting precariously on its side, the vehicle’s crooked undercarriage crumpled around the trunk of an old and battered tree.
If I’m going to get in touch with Lilith, I’m going to have to climb up there.
I edge along the rock until Bluejay’s car is almost directly uphill from me. Turning around, and running my hands against the damp, shrouded wall, I’m able to discern a few passable handholds. Placing my fingers into a large groove above my head, I jam my boot onto a small outcrop just above the wall and push myself upwards.
It isn’t an easy climb. My hands are cold, my arms are tired and I’m certainly not wearing the right shoes. My boots repeatedly slip from their holds, causing my arms to throb as they’re forced to bear my weight. After painstakingly scraping up the first two metres, I run out of places to put my hands, my outstretched fingers falling roughly 10 inches short of the top. I take a quick breather, letting both arms straighten as I lean back and observe the wall above me. As the torch sweeps past overhead once more, it illuminates a small twisted root on the very edge of the cliff.
I have no idea if I can reach it, and there’s every chance it will give way immediately, causing me to topple helplessly back to the earth. However, I can already feel my grip weakening, a noticeable ache running up my forearms. I’m not going to be able to stay where I am much longer, and I suspect I won’t have the energy to make it this far again. Edging my feet up, scrabbling the side of my boot against the wall until it sticks in place. I bend my legs slightly, poising myself to make the jump. Gritting my teeth, and with a sharp, tentative intake of breath, I swing myself up into the air and let go of the wall.
I feel grossly vulnerable, hanging in the air with nothing but a harsh fall below me and a harrowing climb waiting above. I throw my arms forward as I hit the peak of my jump and just manage to catch the root with both hands. A heavy jolt wrenches my shoulders, threatening to yank me back to the ground. Fear and adrenaline alone sustain my desperate grip, my arms on fire as I swing my leg up to the ledge, hooking my heel over the top after a few clumsy attempts.
I force myself over the edge and onto the soft soil, just in time for the torchlight to start circling back towards me.
With one final surge of effort, I push my aching body upright and struggle over to the nearest tree, falling at its base and pressing myself against the bark. The light travels quickly. The tree’s darkening shadow swings over from the right, covering me, and then fading again as it stretches out to my left. The light leaves me in darkness, certain to return soon as Bluejay continues her frenzied surveillance.
It’s started to rain a little. A few sporadic droplets fall through the sparse canopy and land on my outstretched palm. It doesn’t take long before these scouts are reinforced by a steady downpour, drumming against the leaves and grass, soaking through the loam. The already punishing incline is going to prove completely unclimbable if the rain has enough time to slicken the grass and pound the soil into mud. I also doubt I’ll be able to make the initial climb again, especially if the rock wall becomes coated in a layer of cold rain.
As much as I have to move quickly up to the car, I also need to move carefully. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this will be my only attempt at reaching the radio.
The vehicle is only a short climb away. I can see its undercarriage laying against the tree, the entire left side of the vehicle pressed into the ground. Only now I’m nearby do I hear the ominous creaking sound that emanates from the car, as it rocks almost imperceptibly around a thin focal point.
I wait for the torchlight to swing past me once more before pulling myself out from the shadow of the tree. My dirt covered hands grasping at any conceivable purchase, I crawl up the bank towards Bluejay’s vehicle. My feet slip on the grass with every other step as the rain seeps into the ground, soaking through my fleece.
I’m completely exposed as I make my way on towards the car. Though it remains a constant concern, the torch seems to be exploring another section of the hill as I arrive beneath the chassis, the undercarriage looming imposingly over me. I briefly glance up to check on Bluejay’s movements then, slowly, steadying myself against the incredible incline, I climb out into the open once more and pull myself up until I’m in line with the warped, twisted hood.
Bluejay’s transceiver is still fastened within its dock. Despite the car’s battered condition, the windshield is frustratingly intact, with nothing more than a small jagged, irregular hole near its centre. It will take a bit of manoeuvring, but it should be just big enough to reach through and pull the radio free. Slowly, and tentatively, I thread my arm through the centre of the opening, shards of serrated glass encircling my skin. My hand reaches the dashboard, slowly brushing along its surface towards the walkie talkie as I lean into the car.
The torchlight starts to swing back across the hill. Bluejay is walking along the ledge in a frantic mission to find me. In my current position, out in the open and trapped in a slow and delicate procedure, there’s no way I can get out of the way in time.
My hand grasps the transceiver as the light reaches me. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, for a brief moment, drowned in the revealing glare of the torch’s beam, I’m stunned into inaction. The light has stopped moving, fixed directly on me, casting my stark shadow down into the valley. I can imagine Bluejay’s triumphant glare as her desperate search is finally rewarded.
Returning to my senses all too late, I grit my teeth, and wrench the walkie talkie from its dock. With no time for grace or care, I retract my arm from the windshield, inhaling sharply as an aberrant shard of glass scrapes across the back of my hand.
It turns out I have greater things to worry about, as I hear a loud bang from up the top of the hill, followed instantaneously by a disgusting zipping sound that flashes past my ear. I flinch instinctively from the noise, my sudden reaction causing my boots to give way beneath me. I slam into the earth and career down the hill. What little control I have over the slope, I give away in a desperate bid to roll into the car’s shadow and out of the light. I don’t have time to right myself as I’m dragged chaotically down towards the valley, and cast over the edge once more.
The base of the valley flashes into view mere seconds before my body slams into it. The air is ripped out of my lungs, my pained cry forming a visible plume of steam that dissipates into the cold night air. I lay on my side, cradling the walkie talkie in my hands. At the very least, I’d managed to keep a hold of it.
The torch dances erratically around my position. I pick myself up and drag my body the last few metres, collapsing against the wall as torch beam lights up the ground in front of me. As I raise the radio, I realise my hands are violently shaking. I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to death as when that bullet passed by me, and although the noise itself died quickly, it’s horrific implications echo in my skull. Bluejay shot Rob as a bargaining chip, to drag us out of the Wrangler. It was a show of force. A power play. The bullet that she just fired in my direction had no nuance, no pretence, no objective other than its primary function.
Bluejay’s prepared to kill me, which means she’s prepared to kill any of us. I raise the transceiver, and switch through the channels until I find Rob’s frequency.
AS: This is Bristol to Lilith. Bristol to Lilith. Do you copy?
The radio crackles as I release the button. I wait twenty interminable seconds for Lilith to respond. She doesn’t.
AS: This is Bristol to Lilith, can you hear me?
This time I let a minute pass. Still nothing. Everything I’ve been struggling for since I jumped into the valley has come up against a wall of silence. I feel a swell of frustration inside me.
It isn’t fair.
AS: Jen? Jen… are you there?
Another minute goes by. I sit in silence the whole time, watching as the radio I risked my life to collect transforms into a useless hunk of plastic. After a while I loosen my grip and let it drop into the wet soil.
I bring my legs up to my body, wrap my arms around them, and rest my head against my knees. In a moment of rest, my breathing becomes shallow. A set of fresh tears well up behind my eyes, spilling out down my face. The rain falls around me as I quietly cry, sitting in the middle of a dark forest, muddied, injured, and alone.
I’m ripped out of my melancholy as the rain is blasted in every conceivable direction, whipping against my face, and splattering against the rock with incredible force. The air is whipped into a furious maelstrom, and a familiar, booming sound crashes through the ether.
VOICE: I’ve watched you struggle.
As soon as it arrives the voice is gone. The wind quiets down and the rain begins to drop vertically once again.
AS: Hello?! Hello?! Who is that?
The air is still, absent of everything but the rain. I wipe the tears from my face as I call out to the air.
AS: Can you help me? Please can you… just…
The voice has disappeared, and I suspect I won’t be hearing it again any time soon. Perhaps it just wants me to know that it’s watching. One thing is certain, if the voice is attempting to bring me comfort, or make me feel less alone, then its methods are horribly misguided.
LILITH (VO): Alice are you there?
My eyes fixate on the crackling radio.
LILITH (VO): Alice are you still there? I’m sorry I couldn’t…
AS: Jen! Jen, are you ok? Are you safe?
LILITH (VO): Yeah I’m ok, I thought you were… what happened to you?
AS: I uh… I jumped down the hill, got Bluejay’s walkie, she shot at me… how’ve you been?
LILITH (V.O): She’s gone fucking crazy. I made it to a clearing in the woods. It’s straight on from the car, or at least I hope it is. I still haven’t seen that… that thing anywhere.
AS: Well, it’s a big forest. Maybe it’s gone. Can you stay near the clearing?
LILITH (V.O): Yeah I can keep hidden nearby. What are you gonna do?
AS: I’m going to make my way to you and we’re going to get Bluejay away from the Wrangler.
LILITH (V.O): How?
AS: I’m still working on that. I’m about half an hour away. Keep your volume down but stay in touch alright?
LILITH (V.O): Yeah. Ok… ok will do. I’m glad you’re alright Alice.
AS: Yeah, you too Jen.
I fasten the radio to my waistband. My body still aches from the fall, blood dripping slowly from my hand, and my fingers are almost numb from the cold. Yet hearing Lilith’s voice on the other end of the radio has brought back something I lost in the valley. A sense of resolve that jumpstarts my tired muscles, pushes me to my feet and sets me off to rejoin road.
I’m still stuck in the middle of a dark forest, I’m still muddied, bloodied, and injured, but I’m no longer alone.
It isn’t long before my boots hit asphalt. I follow the road, sticking to the tree line as I work my way back up the hill. I’m reluctant to place myself within sight of the Wrangler, where Bluejay will almost certainly be camped out and waiting. Unfortunately, it’s the only point of reference in an otherwise unknowable forest, the only location from where Lilith’s location can be divined.
Once the road levels out, I take the precaution of heading deeper into the trees. The road is almost impossible to see now, but I’ll need the cover if Bluejay is still on the lookout. Even though I’m only a few metres deep, the woods fill me with a palpable sense of unease. Every shadow feels predatory, every twig that snaps under my foot sounds like the crack of a whip.
When the Wrangler comes into view, Bluejay’s nowhere to be seen. Curiosity getting the better of me, I creep closer to the road, observing the scene as the trees thin out. The place is deserted, with neither Bluejay or Rob anywhere to be seen. I have no idea what could have forced her to move him. Perhaps he managed to get away.
Something feels wrong.
Creeping up to the Wrangler, I find the passenger side window broken, a thousand splinters of glass spilled across the ground, trodden into the mud. The glovebox has been left open, the boxes of ammunition either emptied or removed. The next thing I notice makes my blood run cold, and forces me to curse my own stupidity.
The light on the CB radio is on.
When I’d reached the bottom of the hill. I’d correctly calculated the number of active radios, arriving at the conclusion that only me and Lilith would be able to communicate. Technically I’d been right, we were the only two who could talk, but that didn’t mean we were the only ones who could listen. I’d forgotten that the CB radio in Rob’s car had its own independent battery, and in-built speakers. Most importantly, he’d been using it throughout the trip to broadcast and receive across all our frequencies.
I switch the frequency of the walkie to a random channel, lift the receiver to my mouth and hold the talk button.
AS: Bristol to all cars.
My voice crackles out of the CB radio. Bluejay must have known I was going to contact Lilith, and she’d broken into the Wrangler to spy on the conversation. I can’t believe I didn’t think about it before now.
I switch the radio back to Lilith’s frequency.
AS: Lilith you need to get moving. Bluejay heard us. She’s not listening now but she knows I’m meeting you near the clearing. Get yourself back here ok? Lilith can you hear me?
BLUEJAY (V.O): Bring me my fucking key Alice.
My heart sinks. Now it makes sense why Bluejay wasn’t guarding the Wrangler. She’d eavesdropped onto my conversation and, instead of waiting for me to get back up the hill, she’d gone after Lilith. Despite all my efforts, all my good intentions, I led Bluejay right to her.
AS: Bluejay, where’s Lilith?
BLUEJAY (V.O): She’s here.
I hear a refrain of quiet sobbing in the background of the call, I can hear Lilith meekly calling my name.
AS: Ok… ok let me speak to her.
BLUEJAY (V.O): Hah what?! No no. No you’re not going to trick me again, Alice. You don’t get to confer. You get to bring me the key to my fucking car, and then you get to walk yourselves back home. Now what about that do you need to fucking discuss?
AS: Bluejay this is ins… we’re not your enemy Denise ok? Please… please you have to believe me-
BLUEJAY: You think I’ll ever believe a fucking word you say?! Bring me my fucking keys and if you pull ANY more tricks I will put a bullet in your fucking skull. Now, do you believe that?
She waits patiently for my answer. I suddenly feel like we’ve entered an entirely new realm. Bluejay has the upper hand, and under the threat of fierce, unthinkable consequence we’ve become the subjects of her domain. Reason, diplomacy, and sanity no longer hold sway over proceedings. As long as she has Lilith remains at the end of that rifle, I’m beholden to her madness.
AS: Fine. Ok. I’m on my way.
BLUEJAY (V.O): Good. You need to remember Alice, I didn’t want any of this. You brought ME here.
Bluejay lets go of the button, returning me to a familiar silence. If I keep the keys from her, Lilith will be at her mercy, and although Bluejay can’t really afford to kill her bargaining chip, I have no doubt she’ll be willing to hurt her as much as she needs in order to force my compliance. If I let her take the Wrangler, however, we’re both dead anyway.
I take a moment to think through my options. It doesn’t take long. There aren’t that many left.
My journey through the forest is uncomfortable, and rings with an unsettling finality. Like a guilty child heading towards an unavoidable reckoning, I’m overcome by a pervasive dread which builds with every shuffling step. I do my best to keep the Wrangler behind me, carving a straight line through the woods. All in all, it takes less than five minues before the clearing opens up ahead of me.
Bluejay is planted in the very centre of a large glade, leaving too much exposed ground in every direction for me to even contemplate an ambush. Rob’s torch lies at her feet, as she keeps both her hands firmly wrapped around the rifle. Lilith kneels beside her, the barrel of the gun placed against her temple, her tearstained face contorted by a mixture of despair and vitriolic anger. Her hands rest against her lap, her wrists bound by same brand of cable ties I’d used to restrain Bonnie. I can imagine Bluejay bristled with poetic justice when she ordered Lilith to fasten the band around her wrists.
They both see me as soon as I step out of the trees.
BLUEJAY: You’re late.
AS: I got turned around. Lilith are you ok?
BLUEJAY: Stop walking. Stop walking!
Bluejay grips the rifle more tightly, sending me an unignorable message. She’s keeping me at a good distance. She knows it takes her a second or two to reload the rifle, and she wants me far enough back to allow time for at least two consecutive shots. Everything she does, every action she takes, demonstrates that she’s preparing to act swiftly against us, should anything untoward take place.
AS: Lilith, are you ok?
LILITH: I’m… I’m ok. I’m ok.
BLUEJAY: Hand over the keys, Alice.
AS: Bluejay, take her back with you. Please. You don’t have to let her… you can drop her off at a police station as soon as you’re home. But just… take her home.
BLUEJAY: Hand me the fucking keys.
AS:… Fine. I have them in my bag let me-
BLUEJAY: Hey HEY! What are you doing.
Bluejay snaps at me as I reach into my bag, pointedly jabbing the rifle against Lilith. Lilith cries with distress as the barrel repeatedly prods her temple. I take my hand out of my bag, and slip it slowly from my shoulder. Every move I make is being considered a potential act of subterfuge.
AS: Fine. Fine. Here.
I swing my bag in a slow arc and throw it over to Bluejay, it lands in the wet dirt about a meter in front of her.
BLUEJAY: That’s better.
Bluejay steps forward, momentarily letting the gun’s barrel slip from Lilith temple. She quickly bends down and places the bag over her shoulder, reaching in, extracting the key to the Wrangler and placing it in her jacket pocket. In the fleeting seconds of distraction, I watch Lilith raise her hands high above her head and swing her elbows down to her sides in a single fluid motion.
The zip tie snaps open, and without wasting a second Lilith launches herself at Bluejay, grabbing her waist from behind and trying to force her to the ground. Shocked at the suddenness of it all, but aware that this may be our only chance, I find myself sprinting across the clearing towards the pair of them.
Bluejay is taken by surprise following Lilith’s assault, but she adapts to the situation quickly. Planting one foot in front to brace her sudden momentum, she stops herself from being brought down. At the same time, she swings the stock of the rifle down to her side, where it meets Lilith’s face with a sickening crack.
BLUEJAY: You fucking bitch!
Lilith is knocked onto her back, dazed and hurt. Without hesitation, Bluejay swings the rifle down and fires a shot into the girl’s stomach.
I find myself trapped in the moment, as if reality itself is stunned by the madness taking place before it, unsure how it will continue on. The sound of the shot thunders through my consciousness, yet at the same time seems distant, otherworldly. I can’t bring myself to speak, my lips uselessly parted as Lilith’s fitful cries resound, uninterrupted, throughout the clearing.
AS: What have you done… what have you-
Bluejay is backing quickly away from Lilith, putting space between the two of us while she struggles to reload. She was right to keep me at a distance early on, she’s given herself more than enough time to drive a second bullet into the chamber, and click the bolt into position.
BLUEJAY: No more tricks Alice.
Before I know it, I’ve broken into a final, desperate sprint, casting wet mud behind me as I dash towards the shelter of the treeline. I can imagine Bluejay levelling the rifle, lowering her eye to the sights.
Another shot echoes through the cold air, flying wide and perishing with a distant thud. As I reach the edge of the clearing, I throw myself behind the thick trunk of the nearest tree. My back presses against the rough bark, as I listen for any movement behind me.
Twigs snap beneath Bluejay’s feet as she advances towards me.
BLUEJAY: You did this to yourselves! You did this with your lies and your tricks and your fucking games. Well I’m not FUCKING playing any more!
A shot grazes the tree, ricocheting off into the woods, I can hear her beginning to strafe around my position, poised and ready to fire as soon as she gets an angle.
BLUEJAY: You kept lying right until the end. Everything you’ve done, everything you are, you fucking monster! I will put a bullet in your skull and I won’t feel a fucking thing!!
From the moment she’d first opened her mouth, spilling her bitter, dogmatic cynicism into our group, I’d been waiting for Bluejay to realise she was wrong. Every so often, in a quiet moment, I’d catch myself fantasizing about the stark and esoteric phenomenon that would stop her tongue and force her to accept the truth. I realise now there was never going to be such a moment, that nothing lies beyond her powers of self-delusion. She was lost to us, lost to the road; a twisted woman, driven mad by her own rationality.
My hand slips into my pocket.
AS: You know what Bluejay. I believe you.
The next thing I hear is a faint, nostalgic ring tone, a sudden, deafening bang.
In the brief time I was afforded, following my tense call with Bluejay, I had taken one of Rob’s knives to the block of C4, cutting away almost everything around the blasting cap. The block was less than a pound in weight when I’d slipped it into a compartment of my satchel and buttoned it up. When Bluejay had asked for the key, I’d made sure to reach into my bag enthusiastically, I had a feeling she’d see my eagerness as a potential trap, allowing me a chance to throw her the satchel.
She didn’t trust anything I did, and it had made her predictable.
I step out from behind the tree and look towards Bluejay, lying broken on the forest ground, a large section of her abdomen removed by the blast, her arm, shoulder, and upper thigh virtually non-existent. She struggles to breathe as blood fills her air way.
BLUEJAY: I was ri… I was-
I turn away from her, and run towards Lilith. I drop to my knees beside her, grasping one of her hands. She grips my fingers weakly, her eyes are starting to drift shut, opening again for briefer and briefer intervals.
AS: Hey Jen…
LILITH: H… Hey Alice.
She speaks softly, her words hardly making it through the intense ringing in my ears.
AS: Try to stay awake Jen. You’re going to be alright ok? We’ll stop the bleeding and we’ll get you patched up… back at the Wrangler. We’ve got Roswell… in the spring. Once you’re better we’ll go there together ok? Jen? Jen…
When she manages to open her eyes once more, the look she gives me is kind, and heartbreakingly knowing. I can’t help but think back to our time on the cliffside, overlooking the vast ocean of fields. She’d asked how many people had died being told comforting lies. She asked how many of them knew. I can’t speak for anyone else, but as she stares up at me, hushing me with a look, I can tell that she does.
LILITH: I wish we could have been friends for longer.
I can’t bring myself to speak, every word seems too small, too insubstantial, too wholly insignificant to be the last thing she might hear. All I can do is stare into Lilith’s eyes as her faltering breath rises in clouds of pale steam, clouds that grow slowly thinner, and thinner, until nothing rises at all.
I lay her hand on the ground, and let her fingers slip gently from my grasp.
My legs carry me over to Bluejay. My hand reaches into her pocket and lifts out the key to the Wrangler. The metal is irreparably bent, with no hope of fitting back into the ignition. This was the potential outcome which had rendered the C4 as a last resort, only to be used if my life was in imminent danger. It had done its job, I was alive, but I was also stuck in this forest.
I can’t bring myself to care about that right now. My mind is numb to the concept of future suffering, with no space left to contemplate tomorrow’s potential trials. The horrors of the present are hard enough to face, my mind eclipsed by more darkness than I can process. The only glimmering shred of solace I can muster, comes from the wishful belief that I’ve now seen all the terrors this night has to offer.
As I turn towards the Wrangler, I find myself proven wrong once again.
I stand stock still as the child’s crooked form staggers out from the treeline. It looks markedly different, now a patchwork malformation of adolescence, adulthood, and old age. The face however, is still juvenile and filled with an innocent sorrow as it lurches towards Bluejay on uneven feet.
It doesn’t seem to have noticed me. I back away from Bluejay and step slowly towards Lilith, where Rob’s LED torch still lays on ground.
The child reaches Bluejay, observing her silent, mangled frame. Through my dampened hearing I can just make out a heartbroken whine. I continue to back away as it lifts Bluejay’s limp arm, shaking it wildly as if attempting to imbue it with some semblance of animation.
Frustrated tears dripping freely from its chin, the child throws Bluejay’s wrist back down against the ground. As it looks away from her broken body, and turns its face to me, I watch as the soft innocent features contract into a scowl of juvenile rage, signifying the inceptive throes of a tantrum that could eviscerate anything in its path.
In the last few seconds of calm, I feel my boot brush up against the torch. Bending slowly, keeping my eyes on the child for as long as I can, I reach down with my right hand and lift it from the ground. My hopes that I wouldn’t have to use it are dashed instantly. The child drops onto its hands and legs, letting out a tortured, furious scream, and races towards me with staggering velocity.
I dodge out of the way at the last possible moment, hitting the soft dirt as the child skitters to a stop behind me. In the time it takes to turn itself around, I’ve already switched on the torch.
Once again, the child is hit by a powerful beam of light. It’s body lurches and spasms, its skin pulling and stretching over elongated bones. Crying out in pain, its voice deepening with every passing second, the disjointed figure dashes in my direction, clasping my right arm in its hands and slamming me down onto the ground.
The torch swings wildly as the creature climbs on top of me, tearing the fabric from my right sleeve, digging its nails into the skin just above my elbow. It doesn’t stop at the skin. I feel the hot, electric agony of scraped nerve endings, hear the sickening snap of breaking bone. Before I lose my chance forever, I throw the torch weakly from my right hand, and catch it in my left, pressing the beam directly into the child’s face.
It screams a scream of decades. The child’s eyes roll back into its head, overpowered by the brutal onslaught the light has wrought. I look on as its face melts and flickers through adolescence, through adulthood and middle age. The tortured scream grows hoarse and weak as its skin wrinkles and sags, rushing beyond human years into an untouched realm of decrepitude. Eventually its eyes glaze over, and its once powerful scream becomes nothing more than a grating rattle. I let the pitiful, lifeless creature fall to the ground beside me as I roll myself onto my knees.
I stumble along the ground towards Bluejay, falling repeatedly, a stream of red soaking into the soil behind me. Once I reach her, I use my left hand to unfasten the rifle’s leather shoulder strap. I clumsily form the strap into a loop, passing it beneath my right shoulder. My head feels light, struggling to maintain focus. I grab a stick from the ground and place it through the knot of the loop, using my teeth to draw the knot securely closed around it. My left hand twists the stick over and over again, each turn tightening the leather strap until it bites into my skin.
The bleeding lessens, but not nearly enough.
Picking up my tired frame, barely able to keep myself upright, I place one foot painstakingly in front of the other, struggling over the damp ground, out of the clearing, and into the trees.
I need to get back to the Wrangler.
I can feel everything starting to fade, even the ringing in my ears is dulled, my vision blurry. I lock the stick under my armpit, freeing up my left hand to brace me as I start to stumble against the trees. The more I lose of my faculties, the less capable I am of perceiving their decline, but I know they’re slipping away all too quickly.
As I struggle further through the woods, a figure steps out from the trees, stopping me in my tracks. I sway on my feet, as I try to identify what I’m seeing, the very act of standing now requiring constant, dogged attention.
I have never seen the figure before. It seems to be composed of a constantly shifting maelstrom of crackling monochromatic sparks. An electric cloud of black, white, and grey, formed into a humanoid shape. As soon as it sees me, the humanoid creature falls backwards, scrabbling away from me across the ground, more terrified of me than I am of him.
I don’t know if the entity is malignant or benign, but in my current state, my mind softly screaming against the dying light, I can’t make the distinction. As it backs up against a mound of earth, I try to ask it for help. The requisite words have already been lost to the advancing fog, and all I can do is reach out my hand towards him. Attempting to entreat some spark of humanity within the fizzling, shifting figure.
In response to my vague plea, the entity scampers off into the forest, tripping over itself before disappearing from view. As I watch it leave, a single dim beacon ignites in the far corners of my swiftly vanishing mind. A single light, whose implications kick-start my fading reason, and force me on through the forest.
I can see the Wrangler through the trees. It’s close by, yet at the same time, impossibly far away.
There’s something wrong with my eyes. The car shifts in and out of focus, but every time it comes back in view the image is less sharp, until it exists as a pulsing dark green blur against a dull, slowly swaying backdrop.
My boot’s kick up against one another, a final stumble that brings me down to earth. When I try to get up again, I find that I’m completely unable. There’s no strength left in my body, and no amount of resolve can raise me back to my feet.
Though it may be my imagination, I think I can hear a steady rustling through the undergrowth, as if something were making its way towards me. Soon after my senses start to die away, leaving me with nothing more than the cold and the silence for company.
The dim light shines until the end however, the single strand of revelation, a solitary thought that I attempt to hold aloft from the all-consuming fog.
It’s a memory, a vague recollection from my first interview with Rob J. Guthard.
It was the day we met. The day he told me about his long and meandering life, Japan, Hiroji, Aokigahara, and the strange phenomenon he saw which sparked his obsession with the supernatural. The singular event that started him down the road to the Left/Right Game, that led this excursion… the moment that brought us here.
ROB (V.O): It walked up to me through the trees. Looked like static you see on a TV screen but it had a human shape almost.
AS (V.O): Almost?
ROB (V.O): It was missing an arm.