“I swear! I went in the classroom and there she was! My teacher was drawing our new colleague in nude! You should have seen her face! It was priceless!”
Gabriel was the best at spilling secrets out, but he knew good stories about everyone. Henry did sit next to Zoe, but Ezekiel didn’t catch the other free seat next to her. That was how she ended up between Mark and Henry; on the other side, Alice did sit next to Ezekiel, whom after a beer or two became very talkative. Andy was sitting close to Ezekiel and was pushing the beer cans out of his reach. It was a funny sight.
“So, are you ready for the real fun?” Zoe didn’t want to know what real fun meant in Gabe’s vocabulary.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zoe asked Mark, who scoffed loudly at Gabriel’s idea.
“Gabe is Gemini,” Henry answered instead, confusing Zoe even more.
“Which means what?”
“Gabe works in a field where he needs to sustain a charming and professional exterior but once he leaves that behind, he transforms into this childish, risky, annoying old brother.” Mark explained in detail.
“How old is he anyway?”
“30,” both men answered at the same time.
Zoe had to look twice at Gabe in order to understand and register the information. The more she was scanning his face, the more Gabriel looked to be in his early twenties. His skin was smooth and probably his messy blond hair was giving him a youthful aura, but still 30 years old was a stretch.
“No matter how much I enjoy your stupid stories from back when you were an artist, I’d prefer something else.” Luke interfered, “Let’s start the scary stories! I’ve been waiting for this the whole week!”
“He actually prepared for it,” Mark told his friends earning a nasty glance thrown from the side.
“Anyway, I heard this story from my grandmother who actually met this person. So, it’s about this group of friends who went camping during the 1980’s. Two of them were involved in a romantic relationship.” Luke started when Gabe interrupted.
“You don’t have to label it like that. It’s a story remember? You don’t have to be polite about it.”
Luke glared at his older friend before he cleared his throat and continued.
“At some point, they went into the forest saying they were going to look for wood for the fire. That was rubbish, of course,” Luke stated and quickly continued so that Gabe wouldn’t interrupt again, “But while they were being busy by themselves, the guy who remained at the camp site became very aware of how creepy the forest looked at night. He started to feel paranoid and swore he saw something in the distance. He went over to check it out.” Coincidentally, the wind started to blow, and everyone got closer to the fire. “It was nothing. But when he returned to the camp, he realised that the fire was extinguished. The wind began to blow much stronger than would have been normal in that summer. He started to hear voices.”
Luke was really good at telling stories. He was modifying his tone and was animating the whole atmosphere.
While he was telling his story, Zoe glanced at Ezekiel, who was completely drawn to Luke. But when Luke mentioned the voices, Zoe became aware of how opportunistic their situation looked. It was the best time to wreak havoc and she was sure Eneizar and Iaosur were definitely around. If she’d try a bit and listen to her surroundings, there were high chances to hear mutters.
“The voices lured him in. They told him that his friends were going to die. They told him that Rubber Donni was the master of that forest,” Luke continued.
“Rubber Donni?” Henry asked, not believing a single part of the story.
“Hey, I swear I didn’t make it up. My grandmother assured me that it actually happened.” Luke said in his defence.
Zoe glanced at Henry and sighed. Her eyes traveled over every person in the circle and lagged a bit on Ezekiel, who seemed content. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be prepared for either, so why did she feel a knot forming in her chest?
“I have a better one, but I will let you finish yours first.” The older man informed everyone.
Luke and Gabe glared at each other before the younger one continued his scary story.
“They said that he’s very elastic and can crush you in his hand. He got scared and went to look for his friends. But when he entered the forest, he heard a loud scream. It was the girl. He rushed there only to find her dead against a tree. His other friend was not there. He’d vanished,” Luke animated the bad news by using his hands, “He walked deeper into the forest and heard a scream. He turned quickly just in time to see his friend falling at his feet. He was dead and covered in blood. That was when he saw Rubber Donni. He saw his long face and scarily long limbs. They looked into each other’s eyes before he started to run. He got out of the forest but the car wasn’t working. Rubber Donni caught him and cut his right leg. Slash! Slash!” He was really trying to scare them. Well, Henry did look scared. So did Alice, but for completely different reasons.
“And he survived,” Gabe added. “Shouldn’t everyone die in order to be scary?” the older friend asked. Luke rolled his eyes and kicked the boy.
“Just tell us your story.”
Gabe’s eyes widened in excitement as he leaned in.
“Right. I have one that’s not scary, but it gives you the creeps.” Luke rolled his eyes and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I don’t know his name, so I’m going to call him Guy. Well, Guy came here once for work. He really loved nature and he was a landscape photographer. He wanted pictures of this place, so he entered the forest by day and found this little river coming from the mountain. It was beautiful and he snapped a few shots of it. When he got home, he developed the pictures and noticed something. In the corner of every picture of the river was a face. The face of a young guy. His eyes were black and dead. That much he could figure out,” Gabe started.
The story wasn’t scary, yet Zoe felt herself shiver. She glanced at the forest and licked her lips. That was the main reason why she hated places where the paranoia was greater than the surprise factor. The anticipation that something bad could rise from the dead and force their way over was overwhelming and she hated it.
Ezekiel glanced at Zoe a few times and saw her rubbing her hands together. From the looks of it, she wasn’t cold nor scared or interested in the scary stories; there was something only she could feel and it was bugging him.
“He went back to the river and inspected the place. He found a gravestone right where he saw the guy. Guy realized that it was a ghost. That’s what he originally thought. That was quite cool. He captured a ghost. He made three new pictures and developed them. The face didn’t appear anymore. He went there one night, because he realised he lost his phone. He looked for it for a while but couldn’t find it.”
Zoe flinched, her anxiety growing with every detail shared. She gulped and glanced at Henry who leaned closer and wrapped an arm around her waist. She didn’t know if it was for her safety or for his but it was uncomfortable. Subtly, she shifted so that Henry’s hand would slip off, which it did. She glanced at Ezekiel and saw him stare at his phone, most probably waiting for Andy to send him a message.
Her eyes wandered around the place, searching for an answer to her anticipation. It was dark and the forest looked scary but not enough to provoke such subtle reactions. She was slowly calming down when she heard someone chuckling in the distance.
“Did you hear that?” Alice asked, her eyes widening in fear.
Zoe froze because everyone heard it, not only her.
“That’s never happened before,” she mumbled, feeling the hair rise on the back of her neck.
“Maybe we should stop. I’ve seen enough scary movies to know what can happen at this time,” Alice added, moving closer to Ezekiel.
“Nothing will happen, we’re not in a movie.” Mark sounded like he tried to explain that to himself more than the rest. “Go on,” he told Gabe, who smiled slyly.
“Guy went to the river and heard his phone ringing. He found it in the water. It was weird because even if the phone was still working, it didn’t have any signal up here. We don’t either,” he clarified. “He responded.” Gabe coughed and changed his voice a little. “I want your soul,” he said in a low and sore voice. It kind of scared everyone more; the wind picked up and it almost pulled out the fire.
“What happened next?” Even Luke got over his annoyance and became interested. Gabriel shrugged.
“No one knows. That was the last day they heard about him. He vanished. The ghost killed him and stole his soul.” Gabe didn’t look scared at all. “Well, I want to go rest now. That’s how you say a scary story, Luke!”
“My story was far scarier than yours!”
“It was obvious. I could foresee the ending from the moment you established the group and the setting.” Gabe mumbled, pushing Luke aside so he could enter their tent.
“That’s what happens when the story is real!” Luke was not easily persuaded on giving up so he followed the older man inside.
The two were really loud and any type of mysterious voices from the forest were impossible to listen to.
“Did you see anything?” Ezekiel walked to Zoe when Mark moved.
“But there is something out there, isn’t it?”
“Who knows,” She answered seeing how there was no proof.
“Hey! Where are you going? Gabe!” Alice grabbed everyone’s attention. Gabe grabbed his phone and turned on the flashlight.
“Luke said that my story is not believable, so I’m going to look for that river and take a picture of it.”
Zoe glanced around before she licked her lips and walked up to him.
“I want to come, too.”
Not a full second passed before Ezekiel got up and smiled at everyone.
“I’ll come, too. Just let me get something from my bag.”
Zoe watched Ezekiel skeptically. She already knew what he wanted to bring along but let him take his utensils.
“Are you sure? What if something is out there, waiting to feed on your souls?” Henry asked, bothered that a simple fun game could turn so wild.
“Then we’re all going to die sooner or later.” Zoe answered bluntly, visibly scaring the rest.
“Right,” there was nothing to add to that statement, “Let’s just hope nothing’s out there.” Henry said meekly, rubbing his hands on his back anxiously.
Ezekiel rolled his eyes but pulled his books closer to his chest, just in case. Even if there was a ghost, he wanted to believe that the demons wouldn’t let Zoe die and thus she won’t let the rest die either.
Once they entered the forest, Gabe started to ramble and swear.
“We’re not even the best of friends, but I didn’t expect him to get so bloody annoying during the trip. And we’re sharing a tent, above everything!”
“Do you even know where the river is supposed to be?” Ezekiel asked the older guy. Gabe scoffed before his eyes lowered to the pile Ezekiel was holding dearly.
“Why did you bring books with you?”
Ezekiel bit his lip so that he won’t swear at the older man.
Zoe waited for Gabe to get further away from them until she opened the subject again.
“You didn’t have to bring the books. The only demons around are the ones connected to me and they’re not even here right now.”
“I got possessed by one of them. I’m not risking it.” Ezekiel mumbled grumpily.
“You still didn’t tell me where you found out the information about the commander.” Zoe started. He wasn’t sure if he should tell her and make her angry or keep it to himself and have a normal conversation. “Was it Andy? Look Ezekiel, I’m not the commander.”
“Yes, you are. Andy said that everyone knows. They know how the commander looks and that’s you.”
“Mehrdir appeared after you called me. He told me that the commander has a sign on his arm. He checked and I don’t have it. I am not the commander.” She took care to emphasize what was important. “Who do you believe? Me or a ghost?”
Well, he definitely responded fast. She scowled and resumed searching for the river.
“Where is Gabe now?”
They’d been going in circles and they didn’t find their new acquaintance.
“That’s because you started to talk about things that we shouldn’t talk about in a forest!” Ezekiel complained, narrowing his eyes at her.
“Now it’s my fault? Why is everything my fault? Did I even invite you in my life?”
Ezekiel pointed at her with the intention to say something but he ended up pushing her slightly.
“You certainly invited me to this camp.” Ezekiel combated. That was right. “I told you this was a bad idea! You have demons and ghosts around you! What part of your life is even normal enough for you to go camping with people you just met?!”
He could see just how angry she got. She was fuming. The problems were piling up and she was going to blow up.
“You don’t know how my life is! I have to obey some stupid rules and watch how people get into accidents and die! I see their souls getting out of their bodies and I can’t freaking do anything! It’s just like Iaosur said. I have the power to see the bad but I can’t fight against it. You don’t know how guilty I feel every time I see someone dying.” She was furious and needed to vent her anger. “And the demons! Ha! Do you even understand just how hard it is to feel their presence? I get paranoid everywhere I go because I know there is someone watching me. And do you know why? Because they want to keep me following them blindly. Because if I learn more, then I know more and they don’t want that. That’s why they have always been around me and messed with my life. They save me because they need me.” She finished, breathing heavily after venting out what she has been keeping inside for so long.
Ezekiel watched her with pity. He’d understood everything after he talked to Terrance, but hearing it from her was even worse. She knew what was going on, but she preferred to act stupid and let the demons do whatever they wanted.
“Maybe it’s time for you to learn,” he mumbled quietly. She looked up at him.
Ezekiel was ready to say more, but they heard someone screaming. Their heads turned to a certain place and they ran over. They found Gabe staring into nothingness.
“Gabe? Are you all right?”
Gabe didn’t move or respond. Ezekiel wanted to take a step closer when Zoe stopped him.
“Dark mist doesn’t gather around humans. Who are you?” She asked, her tone colder than Ezekiel ever heard her speak.
The false Gabe glanced at the woman over his shoulder and chuckled darkly.
“I will devour your friend and you will watch him squirm until he dies.” He turned around slowly. His eyes were completely white and he looked pale. Ezekiel took a look around and gawked at the details.
“This is the place from the story. The river and the gravestone.” He squinted a little in order to see the gravestone but it didn’t have any name on it. “There’s only one thing left.” He glanced at Gabe. “The phone.”
The ghost started to laugh loudly, his mouth growing larger.
“Do you really believe that story? Ha! That place doesn’t exist, human. I used this man’s imagination to create a setting for you but that gravestone and the so called river were his plan all along. I can’t understand what’s so scary at it anyway,” Gabe explained, pacing around before his white eyes moved on Zoe, staring at her curiously.
“Have you been following us from the city? This place is empty.”
Gabe laughed as he started to walk closer to her. Ezekiel opened his book at a certain page but the books got thrown to the side.
“Do you think I followed you, Zoe?” His voice was low, but it wasn’t sore. He tilted his head to the side and chuckled.
“Who are you and why are you here?”She asked, keeping an eye on Ezekiel while also talking to the demon.
“This is my playground. You just stumbled upon it. This young guy was ready to scare you all but I interfered.” The false Gabe started in a far more polite tone, “I’m quite honoured to be in your presence, Commander.” Seeing her frown, the demon took one step forward and bowed his head. “I’m sure you’ll grow to love this title. Demons don’t just bow to anyone.”
“I’m not the commander. Mehrdir checked it himself and I don’t have any mark on my forearm.” Zoe said through gritted teeth.
Everyone was pressuring her with that idea but they didn’t have any proof.
“Oh, Mehrdir. I wouldn’t believe what that guy says. Everything that comes out that rotten mouth of his is a lie. I bet he didn’t tell you anything, not even how he stumbled upon his position as your guardian.” The false Gabe said, chuckling at her angry expression, “Zoe, Zoe, Zoe. Letting yourself being swayed by a demon like him. Don’t you know? A demon can’t get fond of a human and the commander can’t get fond of a demon. Commanders need to be able to sacrifice their people during war.” He chuckled bemusedly, taking a few steps towards the woman.
Ezekiel’s eyes widened as he listened to that unnamed demon. Everything he said sounded real and true and glancing at Zoe, she believed so too.
“Get out of here.” Zoe replied, hanging on the idea that all demons lie. She knew only one way to get the demon out of Gabe and that was touching him. She was ready to do that, but someone moved faster.
The demon got thrown against a tree. Her eyes widened when she saw Iaosur appear before him and grab him by the forehead. Gabe screamed loudly before silence engulfed the whole forest. The place disappeared with the demon.
“What did you do?”
Iaosur turned to her and stared at her blankly.
“I sent him back where he belongs.” He raised an eyebrow and continued to stare at her. “Go back home quickly. I got you a present.”