The Cult (Part III – The Escape and the Aftermath)

If you’ve read Part I and Part II of the story, you may proceed.


 

I honestly couldn’t tell if the music was still coming out of the tent or if my ears were ringing and I was the only one who could hear it. The rope around my body had suddenly started to hurt; it felt like someone had just tied me up. I didn’t know for how long I had been unconscious. It was still dark but it felt like I hadn’t been conscious for days. When I looked around, I saw that Marty and Evie were also tied up, but they were still unconscious. Jeremy lay on the grass in front of me, just looking at the sky. When I made a movement and sound, he tilted his head to look at me.
“Ah, you’re awake. It’s such a beautiful night,” Jeremy said, resuming looking at the sky.
“What the hell is happening?”
When I moved a little more, I could feel the grass under me wet and that’s when I figured out that I had peed myself, even though I was hoping I hadn’t, and I stank of different things. I was disgusting.
“Wait,” Jeremy said. And then he called out to the man behind all of this. “Dr. Fujita! Vivien Turner is awake! The Quaalude girl.”
Fujita felt like a familiar name, but I was in no shape to dig in to my memory. But when the man came out of the tent and removed his gas mask and stood in front of me, I didn’t have to dig into my memory because I recognized him instantly. It was Dr. Itsuki Fujita, the psychiatrist who used to practice in Hemlock Creek a long time ago. He was born and brought up in our town, and I remember when I was in middle school, a lot of Creek High’s students were his patients. He was forced to leave town when he had started doing drug experiments on the high school students and almost everyone was always spiralling and were getting addicted to Dr. Fujita’s special drugs. I had never officially met him, he wasn’t ever my doctor, but he was in the news for the shit that went down at Creek High, and that’s how I remembered him; only on TV, and in the papers. But that night, he was right in front of me, and in a position of power.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Turner?” He asked in his deep voice, with his hands at the back.
“What – what are you doing here???” My head was spinning and it was a struggle to keep my eyes open.
“Yes, I shall tell you that, of course. Jeremy, wake her brother and her friend up, please.”
My eyes followed Jeremy. He picked up and wore a gas mask before entering the tent. When he came out of the tent, he was holding two needles. He went over to my brother first, and put the needle in his neck.
“JEREMY!” I cried, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Relax, child. It doesn’t hurt. Much,” Dr. Fujita said to me.
My brother started to move. He was trembling at first, but then his body slowly started to calm down, and he opened his eyes.
What followed was a series of curse words thrown at Jeremy, a few “who the fuck are you anyway” directed to Dr. Fujita, and a few tears that were shed in the fear of the situation. I was really scared too, which is why when Marty started crying, I joined him.
“Tch. Tch. Look at the Turners weeping,” said Jeremy, chuckling at our misery.
He then went on to wake up Evie. Evie awoke the same way that Marty did, her body trembled at first and then slowly started to calm down. But the minute she looked around and realized that she didn’t understand anything that was going on, she freaked out, and fumbled a lot, so I didn’t quite understand a word she said. At one point of time, all three of us were talking simultaneously. We wanted answers, the ropes around our bodies hurt us, and we obviously weren’t completely sober.
“Shut up! Just, shut up everyone!” Dr. Fujita shouted. “I haven’t assembled you here to listen to this constant nonsensical indistinct chatter. I have assembled you here to help you. And I can’t do that until and unless you cooperate with me.
“Help us? We don’t need your help, Dr. Fujita,” I said, crying.
“Fujita? Oh God, is this the same Fujita who was banished from the town when we were in middle school?” Evie asked, bewildered.
I could see rage building up on the doctor’s face, but then I also saw him drop the rage and take a calm and composed tone with Evie.
“First of all, my child, I wasn’t banished from Hemlock Creek, I left on purpose. All I ever wanted to do was help everyone, but everyone in the town had such closed minds, I could never have achieved what I desired here in an office without patients, because everyone thought my methods were dangerous; it’s utterly outrageous, to call my methods dangerous. They’re not dangerous, they’re unconventional. They are experimental, and they are fresh, and humans fear any and everything they don’t already understand. Their demeanor told me that I wasn’t a part of my own town anymore, and that’s when I left. I left and I formed a group, a group of people with open minds, people willing to try new things, people willing to give life a chance. Don’t think of me as your enemy, children. I’m not it. I’m only here to help,” Dr. Fujita closed his eyes after he finished talking, took a deep breath, and let the breath out, and opened his eyes.
“By group, you mean cult, don’t you, doctor?” I asked. “I don’t want to listen to your bullshit. You have to let us go, all of us, or this time you will be kicked out of the town, maybe literally.”
“But you see,” the doctor sat down in front of me, pulled on the string of rope attached to my chest, with his index finger, “I can’t let you go. Not yet, anyway.”
“What the fuck do you want?” I was agitated and it was showing.
“I want to make your lives better, it’s as simple as that, my child,” he said, slowly moving away from me. “I want to help you see life in a different light, I want to help you live your life better.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Evie asked. She sounded scared.
“By altering your brain chemicals, of course. I’ve been doing this experiment on your brother,” he said to Evie and then turned towards me, “and your friend. And the other boy from your school and when I’m done, they’re all going to feel much better and they’re going to lead extraordinary lives.”
“What you’re doing, is going to ruin them. You were the reason behind so many students’ deteriorating mental condition when you used to practice in the town. I remember everything. It was all over the news. You call your methods unconventional, but you know that they are dangerous, and sick,” I said.
“Well, I’ll agree they are a tad dangerous, and I’ll take pride in it because a little risk is necessary to reap benefits properly.”
“Little risk?! It’s not little! You’re toying with the minds of young people, why don’t you realize that? Ever since Jeremy’s party the other night, Ava has been acting weird. Not happy, but weird. Like a fucking zombie. Who knows what she’s going to be like when you’re through with her. Where is she anyway? Still unconscious in the tent?” I asked.
I could see Dr. Fujita’s face turn red. I was annoying him, I was making him angry, and I wanted to continue doing that because some part of me thought that he would let us go. But it really wasn’t going to go down like that.
“Enough talking. Jeremy, get them inside the tent. It’s time we start the healing process,” the doctor said, put on his gas mask, and went inside the tent. When he came out, he was holding three needles. He gave two of them to Jeremy who went on to inject the needles into my brother’s and Evie’s skin. I could hear them screaming, resisting the needle, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Dr. Fujita. His gas mask made him look creepy, and I remember I didn’t resist and I let him inject me ‘cause I knew there was no getting out of that situation. Not yet, anyway.

When I woke up next, my eyes opened for a very brief period, I looked around but couldn’t see anything except for smoke and the color red. I could hear the music and the chants. I knew I was inside the tent. I wanted to move and get out but before I could do that, I breathed, and I was unconscious again. The next time I woke up, I woke up with a flinch. I sat up immediately and had major difficulty breathing. I was lying next to Marty and Evie, both of them unconscious. I wanted to get up and run away, but I couldn’t feel my legs. I turned around, while sitting down, and saw that I was not alone. A guy I had never seen before was standing behind me.
“Jeremy!” he screamed. “Come out at once, one of them has woken up. Jeremy!”
“Please, please let me go,” I held the guy’s leg and begged.
Jeremy came out of the tent, wearing his gas mask, and holding a needle. He took off his gas mask, and threw it over me for the stranger to catch.
“Go inside, Zachary. The doctor needs people. I’ll deal with her.”
Jeremy sat down, and came close. I wasn’t tied up, but I felt like I was. It was really hard to move.
“Aren’t you a feisty little girl?! Now c’mon, let’s go back to sleep,” he said, and was about to poke me with the needle, but somehow, I gathered strength, and punched him in the gut. He wasn’t expecting it and dropped the needle accidentally. I quickly reached for needle, and even though I couldn’t feel my body, I think it knew what it was doing. I jabbed the needle in Jeremy’s neck and before he could scream, he drifted into a deep slumber. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. I could hear the chanting, and I had to get away from there before anyone came out of the tent and caught me.  I crawled my way to Evie, reached inside her jeans’ pocket, and took out her car’s keys. And then I crawled for as long as I could and when I could get up, I did, and walked out of the forest. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I got lost, and bruised, but what matters the most is I got out of the forest, I started the car, and I went straight to Hemlock Creek’s police station. I drove in a very rash manner; if I had encountered any cars in the way, I would’ve definitely hit them. I wasn’t sober, but I made it to the station alive.

It was an arduous task to explain to the officer what was happening. I was fumbling with words and I kept feeling like I would pass out any minute.
“Miss, calm down and tell me what’s going on,” Officer James said.
“No, we have to hurry, the doctor and his henchmen are going to ruin our lives. We have to go to the forest. NOW!” I was definitely panicking.
I think I passed out in the station after that. The process was pretty simple thereafter; the cops busted Fujita’s practice and retrieved everyone. Fujita and his men obviously had a terrible fate waiting for them, but to say that we were better off would mean underestimating the damage that had been done to us. When I woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t tell what day it was. I saw my Dad in front of me, and before I could talk to him, I passed out again. The next time I woke up, I saw my Mom on the chair next to me, but she was fast asleep. I wanted to get up but couldn’t, cause I was hooked to a machine and to a glucose bottle. I felt heavily sedated so I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but I just couldn’t. So I decided to wake up my mother.
“Mom! Hey, mom! Wake up!” I whispered, but she didn’t move. Then I realized we were in a room and I didn’t have to whisper.
“Mom!” I yelled and she woke up with a start.
Disoriented in the beginning, she soon realized that I had woken up and that it was a big deal but instead of saying anything to me, she ran to the door, opened it, and shouted for the nurse to come in.
I wished back then and I wish even now that I would’ve woken up with Dad in the room. But, at least I was conscious again.
“How are you feeling?” A question that my mother should’ve asked me instead came from the nurse.
“A bit sedated, but not enough to go back to sleep,” I said, clearly. I was surprised I wasn’t slurry.
“The doctor will be right with you!”
The nurse left the room and my mother just stared at me.
“Are you not going to talk to me?” I asked her.
“No, honey, I just thought you weren’t ready – ah – forget it. How are you feeling?”
“Like shit.”
“No wonder, sweetheart. Can I hug you?”
Before I could say yes, I started crying, and then in between tears I said, “About time you did!”

It felt like a really special moment back then, but every time that I have thought about it since, it hasn’t felt all that special. I was directed to stay at the hospital for one more week. For that one week, I saw neither my brother, nor Evie. They were directed to stay in the hospital for one more week, and so was Ava. After I was discharged, I didn’t go home. I stayed in the hospital, in Marty’s room and waited for him to wake up. It was cold in the hospital, so I had asked my Dad to bring me my coat from home. I was sitting in the chair next to Marty’s bed, just looking at him, waiting for him to wake up, all the while rattling the bottle of pills I was prescribed to keep the withdrawal symptoms in check in my coat’s pocket. When I started to fall asleep on my first night at the hospital after my discharge, I felt like Marty woke up and tried to talk to me. But I realized soon that I was hallucinating. The next morning both the doctor and my father suggested I go home and rest. But I refused to leave Marty’s side.
“At least go take a walk. Don’t stay holed up in a room,” the doctor said.
“Okay.”
But I didn’t go for a walk. I swallowed two pills and asked at the reception for Ava’s room. I had to see Evie too, but Ava had me really worried. When I reached her room, I opened the door, and saw that her mother was sitting on the edge of the chair, as if just waiting for Ava to open her eyes. She looked at me and got up.
“Vivien! How are you, child?” she came up to me and hugged me. It was warm. I hugged her back.
“I’m doing okay now, Mrs. C. How are you holding up? And how’s Ava?”
Before she could reply, she broke down.
“She hasn’t – hasn’t woken up. Is she ever – is she going to wake up?”
“She has been through a lot, Mrs. C. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll wake up soon,” I reassured Ava’s mother but I wasn’t sure about when she would wake up, or if she would, myself. I planted a kiss on Ava’s cheek, and walked back to Marty’s room, too upset to say another word to Ava’s mother. That night, sitting in the chair next to Marty, I had a nightmare. I saw that all of us were back in the forest and we were tied to the trees and the ropes were searing and leaving burn marks all over our bodies. I woke up with a violent jerk when it started to ache too much in the dream. I was trembling and I reached for my bottle of pills and downed three of them. After that, I called my Dad and asked him to come over. Dad brought me some lasagne from home which I hurriedly ate.
“Dad, I think I wanna go home,” I said; I was really tired. I hadn’t been home in god knows how many weeks and I needed to rest in my bed. I couldn’t have waited forever for Marty to wake up.
“I’ll give you a ride and then I’ll come back here,” he agreed.
“Oh, one last thing!”
I had totally forgotten about Evie. I had to pay her a visit. I asked for her room and one of the nurses took me there. When I opened her room, I was happy to see that she was awake and her father was feeding her soup.
“Vivien!” She said, with her mouth full. “It’s so good to see you. I’ve been asking about you since morning, how are you doing?”
“I was discharged a few days ago; I just stuck around in the hospital to be with Marty. You look well,” I said that because she really did.
“Yeah, my dad here has been taking care of me. Dad, this is my friend Vivien, who I was telling you about. Vivien, this is my Dad, Noel.”
“Hello!” I gently said, and Evie’s father flashed a big smile and nodded, with the soup bowl in one hand and a spoon in another.
“How’s Marty?” Evie asked.
“He still hasn’t woken up. Neither has Ava.”
“Shit! I hope they’ll be okay. I’m getting discharged tomorrow, I think.”
“That’s great, Evie. I’m going home right now. I’m very tired,” I said to her.
She smiled at me and said, “No wonder you are. Get some rest and I’ll see you soon.”
I walked over to her, kissed her on the cheek and left her room.

When I reached home, my mom asked me if I wanted to sleep in her room and I refused. I told her I needed to lie down in my own bed and be alone for a while; away from people checking my temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate all the time, away from all the machines, away from everything. When I lay in bed, I felt the need to take some Quaalude. I started sweating and reached for my bottle of pills again. I took 5 of them and went to sleep.

Ava took some time, but eventually woke up but to this day she is dealing with the trauma of what happened to her. She regularly visits a psychiatrist, some days she’s good, some days she’s back in the forest in her head and she sees and hears things that don’t exist but existed once upon a time. My brother on the other hand, never woke up. He died in his coma. The doctor said his body couldn’t take so many drugs mixed up and that even if he were alive, his withdrawal would’ve been very hard to treat. Evie had a speedy recovery and left town to go to University in a big city. It has been five years since the incident, since we encountered and fought a psychotherapy cult. I myself see a psychiatrist every now and then, because of my anxiety and the trauma that I went through partly because of my own mistakes. That’s the thing about mistakes, I guess. We either learn from them, or we repeat them. But under no circumstance can we eradicate them. We ruined our lives to a point where some of us had no life left to live. And we can now not afford to repeat our mistakes. We have no other option but to learn; we have no other option but to live.

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The Cult (Part II – Into the Woods)

If you’ve read Part I of the story, you may proceed.


 

I could feel the sweat everywhere on my body – on my forehead, my neck, my armpits, everywhere. Sitting behind her never gave me the chills but what I was feeling was something entirely different. Maybe I was sweating because I was anxious about the pills, because this story is primarily about how drugs ruined us, or perhaps how we let drugs ruin us. But there was certainly something wrong with Ava; her vibrations were cataclysmic. When the bell rang, which again rang in my ears for longer than it did in reality, everyone stood up to leave. The literature professor said something and left the room before any of the students did. Ava made her way through, walking without caring if she bumped into others, and walked right out of the classroom. She didn’t look at me even once. I wanted to get up and follow her and shake her and ask her where she had been but my legs were numb and I just couldn’t get up. And a part of me knew, I guess, that she won’t answer any of my questions, so walking up to her and creating a scene in the hallway would’ve been profoundly futile. When I finally could get up, I looked for her outside the school but she wasn’t there. I wanted to search for her everywhere but I was exhausted. I went to the girls’ bathroom to wash my face. Evie was there, sitting exactly where we sat in the morning, smoking her bubblegum cigarette.
“Were you here all day, Evie?” I put my bag down and opened the tap. I stared at myself in the mirror while the cold water warmed my hands.
“There’s nothing better to do in school,” she replied.
I took my eyes off of the mirror, and smirked at Evie.
“You’re wasting water, Turner.”
I washed my face and used my t-shirt as a towel. I realized I looked like a terrible mess myself. My white t-shirt now had a dirty and wet patch on it, my hair was coming loose from everywhere in the pretentious bun I had put it in, and my lips were chapped; so maybe Ava’s appearance wasn’t that horrifying, I thought to myself. But it was. It really was. I went over to where Evie sat, and extended my hand. She passed me the cigarette and I took out my cell to call Martin.
“Hey, you at the parking lot?”
“I’m sorry Viv I forgot to tell you, but I left for Jeremy’s a while ago,” my brother said, again, calmly, like it was no big deal.
“Dude, what the fuck, Marty seriously?! I don’t even know what to say to you except that be wary of my tonight, I might fucking strangle you in your sleep.”
“Hey, I’m doing this for you, okay? Don’t forget that.”
“How am I supposed to go home, you asshole?” I passed the cigarette back to Evie.
“I’m sorry, Vivien. I had to go immediately, or else I would’ve dropped you home first.” He said he was sorry but I could sense nothing but nonchalance.
“I needed to talk about Ava too. Did you see her?”
“I did, actually. I waved at her but she just stared at me and walked away. I figured she was still mad at me so I didn’t try to talk to her or anything.”
“You’re pathetic, Martin Turner. PATHETIC.” And with that, I hung up.
Evie passed me the cigarette and I smoked, standing up.
“Jesus, Turner, sit the fuck down, you’re giving me a headache.”
“I can’t, Evie. I just, can’t.” I paced around in the bathroom.
She stood up and extended her hand. I handed the cigarette over to her. She took one last drag and threw it on the floor and crushed it with her boots.
“Let’s go, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Don’t you live on the other side of the town though?”
“Yeah, but what makes you think I’m in a hurry to go home?”

Evie’s car smelled great. Evie smelled great. She had a Scorpions CD already in the player which blasted when the car started and Evie immediately turned the volume down and I think she said something like “Sorry about that” but my ears had started ringing again because the sound was definitely deafening. We didn’t talk much in the car, she was lip-syncing to all the songs on the album and I was sometimes watching her, sometimes the road, and sometimes I was just staring at my hands. Surprisingly, we weren’t smoking either. I was expecting her to light a cigarette but turns out, her car is a no-smoking zone. No wonder it smelled like paradise and not the ditch within ourselves that we always voluntarily fall in.
“I don’t really want to go home,” I said just a few minutes before we were about to reach my house.
Evie stopped the car on the side. “You could’ve told me this before, you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I just, don’t feel like going home.”
“Say no more.” She turned the car around and drove with a new found enthusiasm.
She stopped the car at the dead end of Birchwood Drive, where the opening to the forest was, welcoming us with silver birch trees. Our town is called Hemlock Creek because it’s dominated with Eastern Hemlocks, but at the clearing of the forest, silver birches overshadow the hemlocks.
“We can stay here for a while.”
“And do what?” I was pulling on my jeans. I was very anxious and it was very obvious.
“Relax. ‘Cause you need to relax. We can smoke outside the car, and,” she reached to the back seat and took out a big silver bottle, “I’ve got something that will definitely relax you.”
“Woo-hoo!” It was fake enthusiasm Evie couldn’t detect. Or maybe she did, who can tell?
“You can handle vodka, right?”
“Yup.”
We went outside and sat on the bonnet of the car, staring into the forest and drinking, and smoking. We talked about a lot of stuff. I talked, mostly, about my love-hate relationship with Marty, my irritating mother, how weirdly awesome my dad is, how Ava had been acting weird (which caught her attention). I think it was the first time Evie and I had a real conversation. And it was great because words just flew effortlessly. It was so comforting to talk to Evie.
“Yes, I saw your friend, Ava. The first thing I noticed was that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. I mean, who does that?”
“And did you see her eyes, Evie? ‘Cause I did, up close. Her pupils were so heavily dilated that all I could see was black; just a big black button in the centre of her eye. It was almost disturbing,” I said, with a shudder.
“Maybe she was on something.”
Before I could say anything, Evie came a bit closer to me. She took the hem of my t-shirt in her hand, and crumpled it up. Her hands touched my bare waist on the side and I felt a spark inside my body.
“I really like The Guess Who,” she said, looking me in the eyes.
At that moment, I kind of freaked out. The bottle of Vodka was in my hand and I gulped down a good amount of it, and said, “Oh yes, they were great.”
I think Evie received the hint because she let go of my t-shirt and moved away from me a little bit. Not too much as to make it obvious, but just enough to make it noticeable.
She lit a cigarette and we smoked it together, but we weren’t talking. There was a long awkward silence which continued and was only then broken by a noise we heard.
“What was that?” My head immediately started looking for the source of the noise.
“Maybe it was a deer,” Evie was also looking around now to see where the noise had come from.
We heard another rustle and this time we saw not a deer, but a person going inside the forest. With her hair tied up in a ponytail, and her red crop sweatshirt, I instantly recognized it was Ava. I got off the car, handed the bottle to Evie but the minute my feet touched the ground, I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up. I fell on the ground.
“Dude, you okay?” Evie sounded concerned.
“That’s Ava!” I said to Evie. “AVA! HEY, AVA!!!” I screamed.
I saw Ava stop for a minute, but she didn’t turn around. She looked like she went home and changed and groomed herself but her going inside the forest made no sense at all. She went on to walk further inside but I was still on the ground, screaming her name. Evie was trying to help me up but she was drunk herself.
We somehow managed to get inside the car.
“You sure that was Ava?”
“100%.” I was.
“Call her.”
It was a good idea and I did call her but it went straight to voicemail.
“I should’ve gone after her, Evie, I’m so worried,” I said with my eyes slowly filling up with tears.
“And we would’ve if we could’ve. Don’t sweat it. Let’s get you home.”
“Hey, woah, slow down. You’re drunk. No driving, please.”
“I’m not that drunk,” Evie sounded confident.
“Maybe we should wait a while. Maybe we can see Ava come out.”
And so we decided to stay in the car, watch out for Ava and sober up before going home. But we were obviously very drunk and we passed out and woke up around 2 hours later.
“SHIT! Evie, it’s six! DRIVE!”
“Huh? What?” Evie looked charming even when passed out, I mean, is that fair to anybody?
“My mother has been calling me like crazy. We need to go home. She won’t know I’ve been drinking though, would she? Do I smell drunk?” I was getting anxious again.
“Don’t worry, just go straight into the shower, wash up, and get into bed. Call your mom right now and tell her you’re on your way.” And then, Evie drove even better than she drove when she was completely sober.

The front door was unlocked and I tip toed inside the house. I had no idea where my mother was, but I wasn’t in the mood to get curious about that. I went up the staircase and straight into my room. And there she was.
“Jeez! Mom! You scared me!”
“Sorry, honey, didn’t mean to. Just by the way, where were you?”
She was folding my fresh out of the laundry clothes.
“Why are you in my room?”
“Answer me first. Where were you?”
“I was with Evie. We were just driving around and lost track of time. I’m sorry.” I was trying to maintain distance so she couldn’t smell alcohol off of me.
“Still doesn’t explain why you weren’t answering your phone.”
“I’m sorry, I really have to pee, okay bye,” I said and hurriedly went to the washroom.
“You’ve escaped right now, but we will have to talk about this later, Vivien. You’ve been acting very weird lately and I’ve no idea what’s going on with you, and who is this Evie? Is she from school? I want to know everything.”
I didn’t say anything because I’m not too sure if I was supposed to. After a while, I heard mom leave the room. I took a long shower, and tried to relax in bed until it was time for dinner.

“Why are you guys in the living room and not at the dining table?” I asked my parents, who were lazily sitting on the couch, watching something on Comedy Central.
“Oh honey, it’s ready, don’t worry. We’re just waiting for your brother,” my mom replied.
“WHY?”
“What do you mean ‘why?’?”
“I’m starving and who knows when he’ll come?”
“Well, young lady, unlike you, he has been answering his phone and he should be home in another 10-15 minutes. So, relax a little.”
There goes the R word again. So fucking stupid.
“Do you want to come and sit with us, honey?” My Dad asked.
“No, I’ll just wait for you guys at the dining table.”

My head was still buzzing so I pulled out a chair, sat down and kept my head and my arms on the table. After which I’m guessing I passed out again, cause Dad was stroking my hair.
“You alright, Viv?”
“Oh, Dad, yeah. I’m okay. Is Marty here?”
“I sure as hell am,” Marty said, coming out of the downstairs bathroom, wiping his hands with a towel.
“Language, boy. Language.” Dad and I both said this at the same time, and then giggled.
I had so many questions for Marty but I couldn’t have asked him anything on the dinner table.
“Please stop shaking your leg, Vivien,” Marty said.
“I don’t think I want to.” I was anxious.
“Go to hell!” Martin’s calm broke. But only the one of his words, his face and demeanor was still as calm as a foggy night.
I was expecting Dad to say what he usually says when someone uses a bad word, but he was mute.

After dinner, Marty and I went upstairs together and I asked him outside his room what he had brought for me.
“You’re going to be so happy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was able to arrange the buttons,” he said with a sly smile.
“WHAT?! REALLY?!?!?! Maaartyyyy!!!” And with that, I flung myself at him. I didn’t usually hug Marty unless I was drunk or really happy and feeling the sibling love. I don’t know what it was that day but Marty probably got it right.
“You’re drunk, aren’t you?” he asked with a warm smile, which I saw when we were done hugging.
“I – erm, yeah, okay,” I was fumbling, still buzzed.
“Okay, go to your room and I’ll get you the stock for this week. Please don’t overdo it this is all I have for now.”
“Aye aye, captain!”
I went to my room and patiently waited for a knock on my door. I couldn’t, obviously, take my mind off of Ava. I sat on the edge of my bed and called her again. It rang for a while but then went to voicemail. I didn’t want to waste hours trying to contact her. I decided to let it be. Maybe she didn’t want to talk, or something. And then my phone buzzed, and I received a text from Ava. It read “I know you saw me today. Tell no one.” Vague. I called her again but she didn’t answer. We exchanged a few texts then.
V – Okay but are you okay? I’m very worried.
A – Going out tonight, telling mom that I’m sleeping over at your place.
V – Okay but where are you going?
A – Where I need to be and where I belong. The silver birches are calling my name out.
V – I have no idea what you’re saying. What’s going on, Ava? Why are you being so weird?
And that was the end of it because she didn’t reply after that. A few minutes later, while I was still thinking about Ava and her texts, my door flung open and my brother jumped on me with an injection in his hand, very close to my neck. My heart had started beating very fast and I wanted to scream but I couldn’t.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t jab this needle in your fucking neck, you bitch.” He wasn’t calm at all.
“ Get off of me! What the hell?”
He pinned me down on the bed harder, the needle coming ever so close to my neck.
“No don’t do this, please, Marty, what’s up? Why are you doing this?” I was about to burst into tears but even that couldn’t have melted Marty. He was really angry and it was justified, but I couldn’t figure out then what it was.
He got up, grabbed my hand, and violently jerked me out of my bed and took me over to his room and then to his bathroom. There lay the destroyed iPad.
“Why would you do that? Why are you such a bitch? And don’t deny it, I know you did this.”
I had started crying extensively.
“Don’t cry! Answer me! What the fuck, Viv? You know how important this was to me. Have you gone fucking psycho or what? Is it because I didn’t get you the buttons? Seriously?”
I was nodding.
He didn’t say anything after that. He went back into the bedroom and I sat down on his bathroom floor, next to the broken iPad, crying.

After a while, when the tears had stopped, I stood up. I was too anxious to face Martin but I needed to go back to my room and I had to face Martin before that because he was still in bed. I slowly built the courage to face him, and I walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. I saw Martin in bed, cleaning up after injecting himself, hiding the needle and the spoon under the mattress, and getting ready for a trip. It was a really sad sight, to be honest. I was relieved he was drugged because he would have screamed at me otherwise, but I still hated seeing him that way. I know he only used to take heroin in very small doses, never enough to completely pass out, but it was still a sad sight. Before I left his room, my eyes fell on his bedside table. He had taken the bottle of Quaalude out for me. I was feeling guilty about taking them, but Martin was almost asleep and I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the bottle and went into my room. There were 7 pills in total, 1 for each night, but I hurriedly swallowed 2 with water. Then I got into bed, and checked my phone. There was another text from Ava. My heart started beating out of my chest. I initially decided to open the message when the pills would start to kick in, but I couldn’t wait. I opened her text and it read: “Help. Forest.” I called her immediately but it went straight to voicemail. I texted her a few things but the messages didn’t deliver. I was slowly moving on to the heavy sedation realm and I liked that, but the whole deal with Ava was freaking me out and keeping me grounded, somehow. I stood up but my entire room was spinning, or my head was, and I had to sit back down. I remember thinking to myself, I’ll lie down for a bit. When I woke up, to my phone buzzing, it was midnight. I checked my phone and there were around 10 missed calls from Evie. I picked up my phone and called her back.
“Hey, Evie, what’s up?”
“Dude, I’m standing outside your house, where the fuck have you been?”
“I was sleeping, what’s the matter?” I was still very sleepy.
“Well, initially, I was just driving down to come see you, because there was this huge fight at home where my brother just left, he was acting very weird, not speaking and all, so shortly after he left, I left too, didn’t want to be a part of my folks’ fight, they were driving me crazy. But then, when I passed the forest, I heard some really weird trance music, only, it was kind of disturbing but at the same time tranquilizing, I don’t know how to explain except that it was very weird.”
And it hit me. I had totally forgotten about Ava’s ‘Help’ text.
“Evie, wait for me, I’ll be down in five.”
Evie was about to say something, but I hung up. I dialled Ava. Voicemail. I stood up, and while still dizzy, I somehow put my jeans and the The Guess Who t-shirt back on, without caring how spoiled they were, and ran to Martin’s room. It wasn’t locked. I went inside and saw him sleeping. I had to wake him up.
“Marty,” I shook him. “Wake up, Marty!”
He tossed and turned for a few seconds and then bolted upright.
“What? What happened? What’s the matter?”
“We have to go. It’s an emergency.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just, please, trust me. Are you stable enough to come with me?”
“I’m fine, but I don’t think you are.”
He stood up, held his head in his hands for a few seconds.
“Hurry up, we don’t have much time,” I cried.
“Would you chill? You look like shit. Go wash your face or something. I’ll see you downstairs in two.”
I went to his bathroom before he could, splashed some water on my face, and went downstairs. I kept staring at my phone, and I had to sit on the first step of the staircase because I was still dizzy. Exactly three minutes later, Marty tip-toed downstairs. Our parents’ room was downstairs and it was closed so we assumed they were asleep. We opened the front door, and snuck out.
“Shit! Wait, I forgot my car keys.”
“No, it’s okay. We’re riding with Evie. Don’t worry about it.”
“What the fuck?” My brother was irritated, but somehow still very calm.
“Bloody hell, you both look so fucking terrible. You guys aren’t sober, are you?” Evie said, sitting on her car’s bonnet.
“Everybody, just get in the car, and I’ll explain everything,” I held Evie’s hand as she slid down from the car, and pushed Marty to get inside the car.
I sat in the passenger seat, and my brother got into the back seat, and Evie started the car.
“Now, Marty, listen. Ava is in trouble. We’re going the forest, and –”
“Forest?!?!? Are you kidding me? Are you fucking nuts? It’s midnight, for fuck’s sake,” And at that point, my brother was as far away from calm as I’ve ever seen him in my life.
“Would you let me finish? I have a very bad feeling so please, just, roll with it.”
“If you have a bad feeling, then we should be doing the opposite of following the bad feeling. We should be at home sleeping like we were. I do everything you say, man, I get the buttons for you so that you can cope and sleep, do you know how hard it is to get them? And you want to go to the forest I mean what is this, some pretentious adventurous trip idea? Evie, stop the car.”
“No, Evie, don’t,” I said to Evie, and then turned my attention to Marty. “Marty, please just trust me. And thank you for everything, but it was your fucking fault in the first place. God knows what Ava has got herself into just because you were too fucking high to care where she was going and with whom.”
Martin shut up after that, and Evie was avoiding looking at me. I felt embarrassed ‘cause I was pretty sure Evie thought of me as a junkie, so I just looked outside the window, and there was complete silence in the car which no one tried to break, until we reached the forest’s clearing.
We got out of the car, and heard some noises in the distance. It was similar to what Evie described earlier, weird trance music. It was dark, and we could hardly see anything. It was simple. We only had to follow the music. So the three of us turned our phones’ torches on, and went into the woods. A few steps in, and I experienced a strong head rush which made me fall.
“Hey, you okay, Turner?” Evie helped me get up.
“Yeah, erm, I’m okay. My head’s spinning.”
“Mine too,” Martin added. “We should’ve done this sober. But then again, I would never have done something like this sober.”

We walked for a long time and then finally, in a distance, saw a red tent. Upon being closer to the tent, we realized that the trance music was accompanied by gibberish chants.
“Maybe we should go back. Now is the time to realize that this is a stupid idea and we should head back,” Martin’s voice was shaky.
Before I could reply, someone behind us spoke, with his hands on Martin’s shoulders and mine.
“I’m sorry, but it’s too late for you now, Turners.”
We turned around to face him, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. But it was a real shocker for my brother.
“Jeremy?!” Martin exclaimed.
“Hey brother. Glad you could join us. I never had the courage to actually ask you, but you found your way here, I’m so glad. We knew you would come looking for your girlfriend, and,” he turned to face Evie, “that you would come looking for your brother.”
“What the fuck kind of circus show is this? You know this guy, Turner?” Evie asked me.
“He – he is my – my brother’s friend,” I stammered.
“Oh, don’t be so modest now, Vivien,” Jeremy said, looking into my eyes. “I’m more than just your brother’s friend to you, am I not? I’m the reason you’re able to sleep at night.”
“Where’s Ava?” I needed to stick the point.
“Oh, you’ll know. She’s in the tent over there.”
I ran straight ahead to the tent, opened the zipper, and entered. I was welcomed by a strange smoke, and bright red lights, that had beautifully engulfed the tent in entirety. It had no scent but I immediately started to feel more light-headed than I was already feeling. And the tightness that I was experiencing in my throat and chest ever since I woke up started to fade away. I fell to my knees, my eyes were droopy but I could see, amidst the smoke, Ava, along with Evie’s brother Jayden, and another boy from school I didn’t know the name of, lying peacefully on the floor. Four people I couldn’t recognize stood above them wearing gas masks. They were looking right at me. The music was coming out of speakers, and the chants were a part of the music. And soon, I succumbed to the smoke and must’ve fallen asleep, cause when I woke up tied to a tree outside the tent, what I got to know and see, wasn’t pretty at all.


 

Proceed to Part III.

The Cult (Part I – Where’s Ava?)

I woke up very, very, very anxious that morning. I had no recollection of any nightmare which would have caused the anxiety, but I rolled out of bed wearing just my pink night gown, and nothing underneath, and I ran to Martin’s bedroom, avoiding any kind of contact with my parents who were preparing breakfast for us downstairs. I punched hard on his “DO NOT DISTURB” sign but the door swung open. There was no sign of Martin in the bedroom. I kicked open his bathroom door but he wasn’t there either.

“That. Fucking. Bastard.”

I went downstairs in a hurry, and before my mom could comment on my kind-of-see-through gown, I interrupted her.
“What time did he come home last night?”
“I don’t know, honey, but you sound anxious. Is everything okay?” My mom looked concerned, but I couldn’t tell if she really was.
“Where is he right now? I checked his room.”
“Oh, he left about twenty minutes ago, said he had to pick one of his classmates up from his aunt’s place or something.”
“WHAT A JERK!”
My dad chimed in, “Language, girl. Language.”
I said I’m sorry and ran upstairs.
My dad called me from behind.
“Viv, you’re going to change for school, right?”
I just stared at him for a few seconds and continued climbing up the stairs.

“What? I was just making sure she wasn’t wearing that to school.”
“She obviously wouldn’t, you didn’t have to embarrass her.”
I overheard this bit of their conversation from the floor above but I rushed into Martin’s room. I looked through his dresser, all the drawers, his cupboard, the pockets of the jackets he hung inside the closet, inside the pillow cases, the cabinet in the bathroom, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was very furious that morning, so I smashed his iPad on the floor which he had luckily (for me) left on his bed that day.
“What was that noise?” my mother shouted.
“Nothing! I just dropped something.” I shouted back.

I shut his door with as much power as I could ascertain and ran towards my room. I shut my door behind me, locked it, jumped on my bed, screamed my lungs out (not literally) on the pillow, and then stood up, trying to breathe the situation in. I picked up my cell and phoned Ava. Voicemail. I called her again, and again, and around ten more times but it all went to voicemail. I think it’s safe to say that the morning of 23rd September 2016 was an utter disaster. I opened the door to my room, walked to Martin’s, closed his door properly shut, took his smashed iPad to the bathroom, and I banged it against the toilet seat and fucking destroyed it. I didn’t think of the consequences back then; I just couldn’t have. On my way back to my room, I stood at the top of the stairs and asked my mom, “What’s for breakfast?”

“Pancakes, sweetheart. Come down and eat some with – ” she stopped. After a hard look at me, she said, “put on your goddamn clothes and come eat breakfast.”
“Language, lady. Language,” my dad mumbled in the background.

I went to my room, locked the door again, opened my cupboard and wore the first pair of blue jeans that I saw with a white The Guess Who t-shirt, which was actually my brother’s so it was a bit oversized for me. I didn’t mind, though. I quickly packed my bag and started to run downstairs. I realized after two steps that I had left Martin’s room open. I went back and closed it, fixed his stupid ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign, and finally walked downstairs. I grabbed an apple from the refrigerator, and was on my way to exit from the front door.
“Honey, Vivien, I made pancakes for you.”
“Honey, mother, you know I hate pancakes.”
I couldn’t have stayed in the house longer. I had to find Martin.

 

I tried calling Ava one more time, but there was no luck. I started scrolling through the contacts of my phone, trying to fish people who could give me a ride to school. My dad came out to the front porch and sat next to me.
“I’m sorry Dad, I’m just stressed, and definitely not in the mood for pancakes. I mean, she knows I hate them anyway. Martin likes them, I don’t. How hard is it to distinguish?”
“You’ve got to cut her some slack, she’s always just trying to help,” Dad was very calm. I hated that. Why is Dad always so calm?
“So what’s up, now?” he asked.
“Ava isn’t answering her phone. I’ve called her like a million times but the goddamn woman just won’t fucking answer.”
“Erm, sweetheart – ”
“I know, I know, ‘language, Vivien’ so okay I’m sorry,” I interrupted.
“Do you want me to give you a ride to school? I don’t quite understand why you want to reach there so early but if you do, I could give you a ride.”

It was the only way. I had to reach Martin. I wanted to scratch his neck and make him bleed.
My dad’s car always smelled weird. Martin’s did too, but the cigarette and marijuana smoke killed all the ‘man’ smell. But Dad’s car smelled strongly of a mix of deodorant and sweat, and I don’t know, it just smelled like Dad, and the smell was very weird.
“You want to listen to the radio, sweetheart?”
“First of all, no thank you, I’m okay with the silence and the radio is trash anyway. Second, please don’t call me sweetheart anywhere near the school grounds or that’s all they’ll call me for the rest of my sweet little time in high school.”
“Roger that, captain!” My dad smiled, and it was a rather comforting one. I only saw it through my peripheral vision ‘cause my eyes were glued to the school, but Dad’s smile made me reconsider brutally injuring his son.

“Have fun at school,” my dad shouted from the car.
I guffawed and shook my head and waved him bye-bye. It was time to enter the building, find, and confront the monster. Since I was early, there weren’t a lot of people, which was a tad assuaging. I heard someone say “Hey, Vivien! How come you’re so early today?” but I was too fidgety and restless to stop and look at the person and/or reply. I hurried inside and went straight to the basketball court where Martin usually likes to chill. But he wasn’t there that morning; instead, I had to stand through Gary Graham’s vexatious attempts to flirt with me.
“Ah, so telepathy actually works,” he said. He was the only one there.
“Do you have any idea where my brother is?”
“No, but I’m here and so is my package,” he stopped to point at his groin, “and we’ve been waiting so long for you.” He came closer and I stepped back.
Gary was irritating and sometimes I felt like crushing his stupid face with a big piece of rock, but I was also kind of afraid of him.
“Fuck off!” I exclaimed and walked towards the exit.
As I opened the door and was about to leave, he shouted from behind, “The last time I saw Marty was last night at the party. But I didn’t see you. Why weren’t you there?”
“Cause you were, jerk!” I let the door close slowly behind me, and walked away.

I went to the girls’ bathroom and sat on the floor outside the last stall. I called Ava several times but she didn’t pick up, yet again. I didn’t want to call my brother so I just kept my phone aside, covered my ears with my hands and buried my face in my knees. I was growing anxious by the minute, rocking back and forth against the wall, and kept feeling like I would hurl any minute, even though I had just had an apple.
“What’s your deal?” Evie Stevens walked in along with her bubblegum scented cigarette smoke.
“Can I have a drag, Evie?” I asked. I was getting more and more restless.
“What if I say no?” She smirked and raised her eyebrow. She was wearing a pink knee length skirt with a tight white blouse, and brown boots. Her small purple sling purse reached her hips and its strap clung to her body. An average person, in my opinion, would look like shit if they were to dress up in such a manner. But this was Evie. Her dreadlocks fell gracefully on her blouse, and again, I find dreadlocks disgusting, but they looked fabulous on Evie.
“Well then you can go fuck yourself!” I screamed at her.
“Woah! Easy, tigress! Here, you can have all of it, I’ll light another one.”
She handed me the cigarette, I took a long drag, and tried to relax.
“So, tell me, Turner, what’s bothering you?” I made room for her and she sat down next to me, fetching another cigarette from her sling purse.
I think I was slightly attracted to Evie at that time. I guess half of Creek High was, but can you blame them? She was flawless. Her skin was so radiant and features so amazingly sharp, even racists forgot that they were racists when Evie was in front of them.
“I just really need to see my brother. He left early this morning and I’ve searched for him everywhere but I’ve no idea where he is, and I’m so fucking pissed,” I ranted and took a few more drags. The cigarette was too sweet for me, but I needed the smoke.
“Chill!” She said while some smoke was still inside her. After blowing it out, she said, “I just saw him by his locker talking to Pedro.”
I got up immediately, grabbed my bag, took one more drag, put out the cigarette in the sink, spit on it, and left the bathroom. Evie said something while I was walking out but I didn’t pay much attention to it, and therefore, don’t remember it now.

I spotted him in the hallway, fidgeting with his stuff in his locker. There were a lot of people in the hallway so I had to keep it low-key. I kept my head down and walked towards Martin, avoiding any kind of contact with anyone else. As soon as I reached him, I pinched his arm really hard.
“WHAT THE FUCK?!” he shouted and jerked my hand off of his arm.
“Shhhh”, I said.
“Are you fucking crazy? What was that for?”
“Where have you been, Marty? I’ve been going crazy, looking for you all over the place, no idea when you came in last night, no idea when you left this morning, just tell me what the fuck is up and where the fuck have you been?” I grabbed his arm really tight.
“Would you fucking relax and LET GO OF ME?”
“NO! WHERE. THE. FUCK. WERE. YOU?”
He pushed me away a little and went back to organizing his stuff in the locker. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get it, Viv.”
“What the fuck do you mean by ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get it, Viv’?” My voice became louder. “You know I fucking need it I’m out of what you gave me and you promised me you were going to get me some from the stupid party you went to last night.”
“Would you please keep it down? Come with me.” He shut his locker, took my hand, and we walked to the space under one of the staircases.
“I came into your room last night to tell you, but you were passed out. I checked the place where you keep the pills, but there were none so I figured that you took more than you were supposed to. If you didn’t abuse it the way you fucking did, you would still have had enough to last you this week and I would’ve easily arranged some by then. So this one’s on you, Vivien, not me.”
I felt like crying really hard, but was also considering scratching my brother’s neck and making him bleed. “Please, Marty, you have to do something. Anything. Why didn’t you get it from the guy you were supposed to get it from last night at the party?”
“Cause he didn’t have any either.”
“What am I supposed to do tonight now, tell me?”
“I’ll get you something else, just stop freaking out and pinching my arm,” he calmly said. Calm, always so fucking calm, just like Dad.
“But I need the buttons, not anything else, why don’t you fucking understand?” I was the opposite of calm. I was always frenzied.
“Jeez, move to South Africa then, stop bothering me.” He started to walk away, but then turned around and asked, “Why the fuck are you wearing my t-shirt?”
“Fuck off already, you jerk,” I was beginning to feel depressed. I sat on the first step of the staircase. I took his hand in mine. “Just please, can you try and arrange it as soon as you can? PLEASE?”
“Yes,” he said, squeezing my hand.
Just as he was about to let go, I tightened my grip. “Hey!”
“What?” he asked.
“Where’s Ava?”
I swear I saw his face turn pale as soon as I asked him where Ava was. He looked at me, bewildered, as if I was speaking a language he didn’t understand.
“What do you mean? How am I supposed to know where she is?” He let go of my hand and put both his hands in his jeans pockets.
“She was with you last night at the party, wasn’t she? You took her there. I’ve called her like a million times since morning but she’s not answering, not replying to my texts, not calling me back, I mean, where the fuck is she? You were the last person to see her so you tell me where the fuck is my friend?” My legs had started shaking.
“Maybe she’s on her way to school, or sick at home or something. Stop freaking out.”
“That’s the whole goddamn problem, Martin. I can’t stop freaking out. The last text I received from her was at around 10 last night which read ‘this party sucks balls wish you were here’. And I read it in the morning when I woke up. Ever since, there has been nothing. She was with you last night, aren’t you supposed to know where she is? Weren’t you supposed to drop her home? What’s going on?”
Martin kept staring at me, but didn’t say a word. He took his left hand out of his jeans pocket and brushed his fingers through his dark hair, then quickly put his hand back inside the pocket.
And then the bell rang.
“Okay I’ve to go, I’ll see you later, sis.” And with that, he walked away.
I kept staring at him until he was no longer in my sight. I had my first class for the day upstairs so I got up and climbed the staircase to reach the first floor hallway. The first class was Spanish, where Ava and I always sat next to each other. But the seat next to me was empty that day. When Ms. Torres asked, in Spanish, where Ava was, I told her I didn’t know, in English.
“Habla en español, Vivien!”
“No lo sé, Ms. Torres.”
It was so annoying with Ava not around. After Spanish, I tried calling her again. But she didn’t answer. I attended all my classes that day with a blank state of mind. Ava and I had three classes together – Spanish, Literature, and World History. All of world history flew over my head that day as I continued to stare at the empty desk where Ava used to sit. I couldn’t even pay attention in the classes I didn’t have with Ava. We were juniors. My brother was a senior. When the bell for recess rang, I swear it felt like it went on forever. I covered my ears with my hands and put my head on the cold desk. The ringing didn’t stop until Mr Jones, my Physics teacher put his hand on my shoulder, startling me.
“Sorry, Vivien, I didn’t mean to scare you. I called out your name but you didn’t respond. Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, Mr. Jones, it’s just a headache, I’ll be fine.” I wasn’t going to be fine.
“It’s recess, go to the cafeteria, eat something and I’m sure you’ll feel better.”
“Okay.” I said, and left the classroom hurriedly leaving my professor at my desk absolutely perplexed.

I had my food tray in my hands but I was afraid that it would fall any minute, ‘cause my hands were terribly trembling. I looked around the cafeteria, hoping to spot Ava, but there was no sign of her. I found an empty table and put my tray down; my hands were about to give up all responsibility any second. I called Ava’s home number this time. Her mom is a freelance photographer so I knew she would answer.
“Hey Mrs. C! It’s me, Vivien.”
“Oh, hey, Viv! How’s it going?”
“Everything’s A-okay. What about you? What’s up with you?” I was anxious and the fact that there was a lump in my throat was easily obvious through my voice.
“Nothing much, kid. Was just deciding what new show to start on Netflix. Got any suggestions?”
“Erm, yeah –“
“Wait! Aren’t you at school? You shouldn’t be on the phone. Come over today after school with Ava if you want. I’ll bake you girls something. Say Hi to Ava for me, okay? And tell her I missed her last night,” she said, with a harmless giggle.
I nervously gulped and said “Okay, Mrs. C. See you soon.”
With the help of that phone call, I deduced that Ava wasn’t home, wasn’t even at home last night, and she wasn’t obviously in school, which meant something was seriously wrong. I could feel a panic attack coming. I had already started sweating and I could feel my heart racing. I stood up, looked around, found Martin sitting with his friends, including the pervert Gary Graham, and I walked to his table.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, tucking on his plaid shirt.
“What is it, tell me?” He was so fucking calm, I felt like slitting his throat.
“Come with me, please, it’s important.”
Martin agreed and walked with me to where I was sitting. Gary Graham passed a lewd comment as we left the table but I was too anxious to actually listen to what he said. Once at the table, I told Martin about the conversation I had with Mrs. Collins, Ava’s mother. Martin didn’t say anything, and it didn’t seem like he was going to, either.
“Say something, Marty! Her mom thinks she’s at school with me, but she’s not here. The last time I saw her was when you guys left for the party. I told you to not take her. I have a really, really bad feeling about this, Marty. Like something bad is going to happen, or maybe it has already happened.”
He put his hand over mine. “Okay, I’ll tell you what happened last night.”
“I’m listening.”
“We were at Jeremy’s house and I told her I wouldn’t leave her for even a second; we even made out for a while in a bedroom upstairs, but when we came back downstairs to the party, I asked her to get us some drinks but Jeremy talked me into going to his house’s study with him, where he was, along with some of his older cousins, trying a new drug. I was pretty strung out from that drug and when I next saw Ava; she was drunk and super pissed with me. My car keys were with her, so she handed them to me and told me she was leaving. I asked her to stay until I was stable enough to at least drive her home, but she said she already had a ride. And then she left. I don’t remember what time it was, but it was late. And that’s the last I saw of her,” he said, with his head bowed down.
I was speechless.
“Say something, Viv!”
“I don’t know what to say to you. She’s your girlfriend, and your sister’s best friend, and a family friend too, I mean how can you be so fucking irresponsible?”
“I swear, Viv, if I could, I would’ve driven her home, but it wouldn’t have been safe.”
“And it was safe letting her go on her own? I mean did you even bother to check who she was going with?”
“I was really high.”
“That is always your excuse for everything. ‘I was high’. Did you even ask Jeremy for the Quaalude or were you too high?” Tears had started rolling down my cheeks.
“Hey, don’t cry, Viv, please!”
“MY BEST FRIEND IS MISSING, MY BROTHER IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE PIECE OF SHIT, AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE THE DRUGS TO COPE WITH THIS SHIT, SO WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?????” I shouted. Everyone was looking at me but thankfully the bell rang and everyone dispersed. Of course the Guidance Counselor Mr. Murphy called me into his office to discuss my ‘outburst’ and what I meant when I said ‘drugs’ and why I shouldn’t do drugs. I cooked some bullshit up and left his office. I just wanted to be done with the day and go home but I was also supremely scared because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep or even slightly relax.

But then something very weird happened during the last class of the day, Literature. We were reading Fahrenheit 451 that semester and that very day, we were in the middle of discussing some important part of the book, but I was busy staring at the empty seat in front of me; it was Ava’s seat. And then there was a loud knock on the door, and everyone’s eyes turned towards the figure that was standing in the doorway. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought all the stress was making me hallucinate, but everyone else was looking at her too. It was Ava! I wanted to get up and hug her but I was feeling too stiff and numb. Also, something was terribly off. She was wearing the same clothes she wore to Jeremy’s party, the same navy blue tank top with white shorts, but both were stained with mud, or some kind of dirt, and she was barefoot. Her hair, long and straight, were a mess and her eyeliner, and lipstick, was smudged all around her face. She stood in front of the class, looking like she wasn’t even present in the room, while Ms. Tanya, our professor, said some stuff to her I couldn’t hear ‘cause I was too busy being horrified by Ava’s appearance. When she reached her seat, she sat immediately down without even looking at me. She smelled awful, and unusually distant. The class went on as usual but I couldn’t concentrate at all. I kept staring at the back of Ava’s head. Finally, I gathered some courage and tapped on her right shoulder. There was a long pause and just as I was about to tap on her shoulder again, she turned her head around and looked at me. Her skin was pale, and there was ruined makeup all over her face. What bothered me most were her eyes; there was something different about her eyes, they didn’t look like what they usually looked like. I tried to say something but words were trapped somewhere in my throat and refused to come out. She didn’t even smile at me; she just stared at me with a blank expression on her face, and weird eyes. In a few seconds’ time, she turned to her normal position and that’s when I knew. She was Ava, but she wasn’t really Ava. What I didn’t know back then, however, was that she was never even going to be the real Ava again. In fact, none of us were ever going to be the same.


 

Proceed to Part II.

Red

“I love you, Violette.”
It wasn’t the first time he had ever said those words to me, it wasn’t even the first time in the entire day that we had spent together. But when he held my left hand and surreptitiously slipped a ring in my ring finger, as we stood and stared at the lake beneath us, those words hit harder than they ever had. He held my hand tightly and we turned towards each other. Oh, what a truly beautiful evening it was. Families who were on picnics were packing things up while their children spurned to leave the swings, innumerable couples were walking hand in hand, stopping every now and then for a quick laugh, a punch on the arm, or a kiss, the ducks in the seaweed lake underneath the little bridge we stood on were quacking about, in twos and threes, and Kris and I, we couldn’t stop blushing. Love was in the air all right, on that fine Valentine’s Evening, in 2016.

“Yes!” I said, smiling really wide. I had answered a question that was never put into words. My jaw had started to hurt. I knew Kris felt the same way I did, because when I hugged him, with both my hands tugging on his black sweater’s neckline, I could feel his heart beating right next to mine. I don’t know if this usually happens, but the pace felt almost the same. It was just the right amount of unusual. I kissed his ear and looked up at the sky, while still hugging him. It was getting darker – the azure sky with clouds scattered like little balls of cotton we were admiring only a while ago. With one final squeeze, we let go of each other. I placed my left hand from his neck on to his face. I stared at the ring. The oval amethyst in between shone alongside its diamond studded border on a silver plated band. He turned his face and kissed my hand. I put my right hand on his left-side cheek, and pulled him in for a kiss. My hands went into his hair and he held me tightly around my waist. Neither of us wanted to let go but the fact that we had just got engaged hit us both at around the same time; we pulled apart, looked at each other, grinned, jumped and kissed each other again. When we finally stopped kissing, he held up his right hand for me to hold, while I still had my arms around his neck. I just didn’t want to let go.
“You know it’s time to go,” he said with a smirk.
“Fine!”
I put my fingers between the spaces his fingers left for me, and we both let our hands down.
“Oops!” I exclaimed. “Gotta be careful with that.”
“What happened?” Kris asked.
“I think you got the wrong size, hon.” I shifted the ring in my finger. It slid easily in and out.
“WHAT? Oh man, I had one job! Argh! You’re not an eight?”
“Seven, love. Seven.” I said, with a smile, with my right hand’s index finger and thumb still playing with my engagement ring.
Kris put his hand over his mouth and didn’t say anything for a while.
“Relax! It’s no big deal. We’ll go get it exchanged,” I told him. When he still didn’t speak up, I asked, “We can get it exchanged, right?”
“Yes, yes we can. That’s not an issue. I just can’t believe I screwed this up. This day was supposed to be perfect!”
“It is! Relax, it’s just a ring. I had a lovely day today, Kris. The lunch was amazing, so was the make-out session in the car when we pulled over on that empty street on our way here, the walk in the park with the crisp air in our hair, and now this,” I flashed my new ring; “you’ve no idea how thrilled I am to go show this to Mumma. She’s going to love it!”
“No no no, give it back to me. I’ll get a size seven and bring it to you tomorrow. Don’t tell Joanna just yet, please.” Kris looked depressed.
“No fucking way!” I put my hands behind my back.  “I’m keeping it. It’s mine now. We’ll go get it exchanged together and the argument ends here, this is it, this is the finish line,” I said, and brought my right hand in front of his face and with the index finger, traced his lips from left to right, something I’ve always done, and still do, which signifies that it’s time for him to seal his lips.
Before he could even try and say another word, I gave him a quick peck on his lips, which signifies a final seal on the seal, held his left hand with my right and started to walk. I had stuck my left hand’s thumb between the ring and the middle finger, to prevent the ring from falling off.

 

It was warmer inside the car once the heating had started to take effect. I removed my coat, folded it a little, and kept it on the car’s back seat. I put my hands out so Kris would give me his coat as well, but I could tell he was still kind of morose about the ring size fiasco.
“Kris, honey, you’ve got to let it go. I promise you. First thing tomorrow, okay?”
“The place doesn’t open until 11, and we’ve to be at work by 10, you know that, Vee.”
“Okay well then, lunch time. We’ll drive to the place during lunch hours. We can do that, right?” I put my hand on his shoulder, the hand with the ring.
“Yeah, but Vee, Joanna is going to hate me. She’s already not a fan or anything and she’s probably going to say ‘Oh he can’t even get your finger’s size right and you agreed to spend the rest of your life with that loser?’ or something like that.”
“Hey okay, first of all, bad imitation. Second, in all these years, she has hardly ever liked any guy that I’ve been out with. But I know her and I know that she likes you. Dad turned out to be a total jerk which is why she hates men and the only date of mine she would prefer over you would have to be Marion, I think, when I had the whole ‘I might be bisexual’ phase going on in college.”
We both chuckled.
“Seriously though, Kris, listen to me,” I held his face and looked into his eyes. I love doing that. “It’s been more than two years. And you’ve even been to our stupid extended family parties Aunt Karen can’t stop throwing. And do you remember that one time an old couple had cornered Mumma about her not having a job and raising me alone and shit, and you had come to her rescue?”
“Yeah,” Kris smiled. I was relieved to see him smile. “I could see her getting extremely uncomfortable and gulping down her wine like a maniac and I just went over to ask her to help me find you, even though I knew you were throwing up in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Alright, we didn’t have to remember that part.” I rolled my eyes and continued, “Besides, Mumma’s not the only one who hates Aunt Karen’s parties. Those things are day-time nightmares; they suck all the ‘thanks’ out of Thanksgiving.”
He laughed and said, “Oh man and I thought my grandmother was the crazy one.”
“Oh, we both know your grandmother is much much much better than Aunt Karen,” I spoke and waited as he removed his coat, then folded it and kept it on the back seat next to mine.
“I remember Joanna took me to the backyard and we talked about how irritating most of your family members are. And then you joined us after around fifteen minutes, looking and smelling like total shit and your mother stroked your hair while I rubbed your shins.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking out the window. “Helena didn’t even bother offering me another dress. So much for being a first cousin. Not like I expect too much out of her, considering the kind of sister Aunt Karen has been to Mumma. An absolute shitfest, this family has become ever since Dad left us and my grandmother died.”
“Hey, let’s not open doors to territories we can at least avoid in our heads, okay?” Kris held my chin and kissed me.
He started the car and soon we were out of the parking lot and on the road.
“I’ll have to make it up to Joanna though, right? We’ll also go to that fancy liquor store and get her a bottle of wine tomorrow.”
“Red!” We both said at the same time, and laughed.
“Erm, excuse me, Kris? What about making it up to me?” I raised my left hand and made a puppy face, to show how hard it was for me to keep my thumb sticking between two fingers.
“Alright! Let’s find that empty street again, I’ll pull over and take you to the back seat, or the woods, whatever you prefer, your majesty,” he winked at me.
“Shut up and take me home,” I couldn’t stop blushing. I stared out the window looking at the different people in different cars, trying to guess what they were talking about and then I zoned right out until Kris turned up the volume of the stereo.
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was playing, and we suddenly started to sing along. We held each other’s hand tightly and kind of started dancing – bobbing our heads, and tapping our feet. It was the first song we ever danced together to. It played at a work party and we were both very drunk and back then we didn’t even know what song it was but we knew that it was fine as hell. And so were we, together.

 

“You sure you don’t want to come in and say Hi?”
“Oh no. I’m not walking through that door without a bottle of your mother’s favorite red, okay? Just tell her my grandmother called with an emergency or something,” Kris kissed me on the cheek.
I grabbed my coat from the back seat and we both got out of the car. All the lights downstairs were on, save the ones of the study, and the lights in my mother’s room were also on so I guessed she would either be downstairs watching T.V. and drinking, or upstairs in her room reading a book and well, drinking.
I hugged Kris and we kissed passionately. The lipstick must have come off entirely, I thought to myself.
“All okay?” asked Kris.
I chortled. “Yeah! Now drive away before my mother sees you without a bottle of wine in your hand.”
He held my left hand, touched the ring and the ring finger and said, “I really love you.”
“And I, you, Kris. I love you.”
A final peck on the lips and he was back in the car. He drove away and I walked towards my house. I don’t know why but I decided to be on my own for a while and I sat down at the top of the staircase on the front porch. I wrapped my right hand around my left, felt the ring and my hands, my feet, and my face getting cold. When I couldn’t take the cold anymore, I got up and rang the bell. No answer. I rang it again; and again, and again. Finally, I got out my keys from my coat’s pocket and unlocked the door. The wind was getting more vigorous and cold with every passing second.

Once I was inside the house, I removed my boots and went looking for my mother. I went to the living room. The T.V. was off. The kitchen was empty too.
“Mumma?” I shouted as I took to the carpeted staircase. There was a red stain on one of the steps that wasn’t there in the morning when I left for the date, so I deduced that Mumma had poured herself some wine and took it upstairs while already tipsy, dropped a tad on the stairs, and must’ve passed out in her room reading.
I knocked on her door. “Mumma?”
No answer.
I opened the door and went inside. The light was on, her bed was made, The Scarlet Letter, the book she had been reading, lay in perfect condition on the bedside table. My heart was beating really fast. I noticed that her phone and her earphones weren’t in the room so I thought she must be taking a bath. I knocked on the bathroom door.
“Mumma? Are you in there? You’re freaking me out okay?
Hello? Mumma?”
I thought she couldn’t hear me because of the music in her ears, and I didn’t want to walk in on my mother taking a bath. So I decided to call her but I remembered I kept my phone on the island top downstairs. It was a habit. I ran downstairs and phoned my mother. I was just walking up the staircase when I heard her phone ringing somewhere in the living room. She had left it on the sofa. I dropped my phone next to hers, her phone still ringing. My heartbeat was shooting up and my throat was getting really dry. I slowly walked to the foot of the staircase. My mind was stuck on Mumma’s phone’s ringtone. When the phone finally stopped ringing, I ran upstairs. The ringing continued in my ears though.
I knocked on her bathroom door one more time.
“Mumma, I’m coming in!” I felt choked up but somehow got those words out of my mouth.
I turned the knob and slowly opened the door. I peaked inside. She indeed was in the bath. But it was red.

I stood at the door a long while. There was an empty wine bottle on the bathroom floor, with a broken glass lying next to it, and some spilled wine. A blade lay on top of the pool of the spilled wine so I knew it wasn’t just wine. My mother’s head was resting on the edge of the bathtub. Her face, her neck, and her breasts were pale. The rest of her body was immersed in the red water. My eyes ran from the mix of water and blood to the mix of wine and blood. A chill went down my spine and as much as I wanted to move, I couldn’t. I was frozen. I don’t remember how long it took me to walk over to the bathtub, but when I finally did, I sat beside her and just glared at her. Her hair was still wet and the tips were dipped in the blood water. I knew she was left handed so the cut had to be on her right hand. I placed my own right hand on her cold, deadpan face, and with my left hand, I reached into the bathtub and pulled out her hand. It was a straight cut – vertical. She knew what she was doing. I couldn’t look at it for too long so I let her hand go. I reached in for her other hand and held it tight. I kissed her wet hand and tears had started seeping down my face, dropping straight into the bathtub. I wanted to scream but I obviously couldn’t. I let go of her hand and looked at my own. My ring was missing. Frantically, I put my hand inside the water again and after a bit of fiddling, found the ring. It was right next to my dead mother’s hand. I touched it, was about to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Instead, my hand moved on to hers, and I traced the vertical cut she had marked herself with. I touched the swollen skin around it and I thought of the amount of blood she must have lost. Not that I needed to think about it at all, it was pretty clear because of the color of the water in the tub. I took the water and splashed it on my face. To this day I don’t know why I did that. It stank of my mother. I splashed some more on my face and let my hands stay there. I got up and walked over to the sink. I looked at the mirror, my hands still on my face. The kohl had spread around my eyes and my fringes were wet. I removed my hands. I was still crying. My lips looked like they never had any lipstick on in the first place. I took the towel beside the sink and wiped my hands and then my face. I let it stay there for a while because I wanted it to soak up all the water on my face. Or maybe I let it stay because I didn’t want to look at my mother. Nevertheless, if not directly, once I threw the towel on the bathroom floor, I looked at her, but only because she existed in my peripheral vision. I turned around and walked out the bathroom door. I opened the first drawer of her bedside table, seized the bottle containing her sleeping pills, left the drawer open and walked out of her room. I went downstairs straight to the kitchen; I was shivering. I swallowed ten of her pills with water, went to the living room and picked up my phone. I didn’t look at the time but there were around five missed calls from Kris and a lot of messages. I could feel my insides twisting but I knew I couldn’t return his calls or reply to the messages. I threw my phone on the floor. I then picked up Mumma’s phone and dialled 911.
“911. What’s your emergency?” Emergency, Ha! I sighed.
I told them where I lived and hung up the phone. I had started to feel drowsy. I threw my mother’s phone next to mine on the floor, put on the T.V. and curled up on the couch. I don’t even remember what program or what channel was on or if it were just advertisements. I closed my eyes and the picture of my mother and I swimming in Aunt Karen’s swimming pool, from one afternoon when I was a teenager and had recently learned how to swim, came to me. We were holding hands and we were under the water, smiling at each other. The swimming pool water in the picture behind my closed eyes soon turned red, and I’m positive a deep sleep must have arrived that night, long before the police did.

The Eerie Town of Alp Curie (Part IV)

If you’ve read Part I, Part II, and Part III, you may proceed.


 

Even with her back to the bar’s entry gate, she can tell someone has just entered the place. Eloise turns around in her seat to check, with her half burned cigarette lingering lazily between her fingers. Upon his entry, the man moves straight towards the bar and fixes himself a drink. He has hair similar to Tom Cruise’s in the movie The Last Samurai, only, Tom Cruise pulled it off better.
“Hey, you! You want a drink?” the man makes Eloise an offer.
“No, thanks, I’m good.” Eloise continues to pull hard on her cigarette.
The man is now walking towards Eloise’s table, where she is smoking away her time, unwelcomed.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
Eloise looks around at all the empty tables in the bar. “There are, as you can see, a lot of empty tables here. Why do you want to sit with me?”
The man with the long hair, wearing a batman t-shirt, pulls out a seat and sits in front of Eloise anyway.
“We have business to discuss,” he says after getting comfortable in the seat, his drink in his hand.
“Business? I’m sorry but who are you again?”
“Ah, of course, introductions are due!”
The man takes two long gulps of his drink and extends his hand towards Eloise and sings with a sly smile, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”
She’s definitely not in the mood for jokes anymore, she has brimming questions that need to be answered, and conversing with another strange creature from this town is the last thing she wants. She ignores the man’s extended hand, puts out her cigarette on the table, gets up, and starts to pick up her stuff.
“Okay! Okay! Relax! I’m Gavin. I’m the one who phoned you, Eloise.”
Eloise freezes and looks hard at Gavin. Her feet had given up, but she feels better now. Gavin is finally in front of her.
“You’re Gavin? The ‘House for Art’ Gavin?”
“Yes! Can you sit back down now please?”
Eloise had lost all hope, but it’s all coming back to her. She can speak to Gavin, the man she had been waiting to see all day, and finally get started with her new career. She sits back down.
“I love your work!” Gavin put his hand on Eloise’s portfolio bag. “You’d be a star with us. You will finally be able to ‘express and impress’, as you had mentioned in your letter to us.”
Eloise can’t think of anything to say, so she manages a gentle smile.
“I know it must’ve been a tough day for you; new town, different people, peculiarities walking on the street, peculiarities climbing up the walls. This place is fucked up, but we call it home. And maybe soon you’ll be comfortable enough to do the same thing.”
“What?” Eloise’s heart’s beating faster now. “Call it home? I already have a home. And that’s where I want to be. I want to go home.”
“I – I’m afraid you can’t now, but hey – ”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Just, stop freaking out and listen to me!” Gavin’s voice is louder now, carrying more depth. “I faced similar problems when I arrived here. It was a sheer shock. It felt like someone had abducted me from everything I knew and dropped me on a land where nothing made sense. I was in denial for several months. But then one day, I thought about how important my work and passion is for me. And since then, my life, if you could call it that,” he stops for a slight chuckle, “my life has never been better. You can give this a shot too, Eloise.”
“Look, Gavin, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And you are freaking me out. My legs are cold and I feel like my body’s going to give up any minute. Just tell me how to go back home. Do I take the bus again? From where it dropped me?”
Gavin starts to talk but both their heads turn to the bar’s entrance. A beautiful woman with her green hair tied in a bun is walking towards them.
“Hey there! Remember me?” Betsy asks.
“OF COURSE!” Eloise replies gleefully.
Betsy turns to Gavin, “enough for today, okay?” and back to Eloise, “sweet pea, why don’t you come home and stay with me tonight, and we can all have a nice long chat about things tomorrow?”
“Betsy, no! I need her to get the art gallery going.” Gavin stands up to face Betsy, “And now that there’s no going back, we might as well just tell her the truth.”
“The truth about what?” Eloise is also standing up now, looking at both Gavin and Betsy, one by one.
“The truth about you, Miss Eloise. And the truth about this place,” says Gavin.
“And that is?” Eloise is shuddering now. She doesn’t want to know because she knows she probably does not want to hear what these people have to say, but the words have slipped out anyway.
Gavin looks at Betsy.
And finally, in a low voice, Betsy looks at Eloise, and says, “You’re dead.”

There’s a pause now. It’s like time has stopped for her, and so has every sensation a human body is capable of experiencing. Her heart is sinking, and her limbs have gone numb. The bulb outside the restrooms has stopped flickering. It has gone out. There’s darkness there, and there’s darkness here, slowly creeping into Eloise’s gut. She can’t move, she can’t think; there are so many questions she wants answered, things she wants to scream, but there’s a lump in her throat totaling her incapable of making any sound.

“The people who run this place – you will be taken to them eventually – established this town a long time ago,” Betsy continues to speak. “Their vision is simple. Not everyone who dies has to actually die, they can just live again, in a normal, small town like this one.”
Eloise shoots a look at Betsy, “NORMAL?!”
“Well, we’re trying,” says Gavin. “For the longest time nobody wanted to do anything. The whole place was just like a zombie land. People were depressed and had absolutely nothing to do. We can survive for years without water and food because, well, we can’t die anymore now, can we? But we’re changing that. We’re trying to make something out of this. So that there’s actual life and jobs and food and parties like in the real world. And hey, bonus! We’re all immortal now.”
“I still don’t get it,” Eloise sits down in her seat. “How and when did I die? How do people come here, what the hell is going on?”
“We get them here,” replies Gavin. “We have a chemical factory here, which I’m sure you must have come across. A genius brewed a lethal fragrance once and the people here carry it on now. They say he’s the one who opened this place, like ripping reality and making what’s unreal a part of what’s real.”
“Nobody knows the whole truth about this place,” interrupted Betsy, “and you don’t need to either.”
“The car! The lady in the car! A lady dropped me to the town’s entrance and the car smelled great and I thought I had taken a nap but had I actually died?” Eloise turns her gaze towards the cigarette buds on the table.
“Lucy, yes! That’s Lucy. She works for us. We asked her to pick you up, and well, rest I think you’ve already figured out,” Gavin takes his drink’s last sip. “I think I’m going to make myself another one of this. Anyone wants a drink?”
“No thanks, Gavin,” Betsy replies.
Eloise prefers to remain silent.
“Honey, we have figured everything out for you,” Betsy sits next to Eloise and out of thin air, conjures a key in her hand and presents it to Eloise. “Here, this is your apartment’s key. I live in the same building so if you don’t feel like staying alone tonight, you can stay with me.”
Tears are rolling down Eloise’s face. She’s still staring hard at the cigarette buds.
“Take her with you, Betsy.” Gavin is back at the table.
“She won’t even move, look at her.”
“So why don’t you touch her hand and take her with you?”
“Misuse my gift, you mean?” Betsy looks at Gavin and Gavin shrugs in return.
Eloise can hear everything. She can hear the witch and the art gallery owner talking, she can hear her heart beating faster than she thought it was capable of, she can hear herself running out of breath, as if any moment she would have a panic attack and collapse. But she can’t move.
“Hurry up, Betsy. She needs rest,” Gavin puts his drink down on the table.
Betsy closes her hand in a fist and the key disappears. She puts her hand over Eloise’s. “Look at me, Eloise,” she says.
She doesn’t think she has it in her to look at anybody but Eloise’s face turns and she looks directly into Betsy’s eyes.
“Let’s go,” Betsy says, gets up, and pulls Eloise up by her hand.
“I’ll take care of the portfolio bag and see you girls tomorrow,” Gavin is back in his seat and drinking again.
The girls reach the bar’s gate, holding each other’s hands and Eloise turns around to look at Gavin opening her portfolio bag. She wants to scream. She wants to run away. But Betsy’s hand is warm and it’s too cold outside. She looks beside her at Betsy, with tears streaming down her face, tightens her grip on the witch’s hand, and walks with her into the mist, to a place she has to now call home.

The Eerie Town of Alp Curie (Part III)

If you’ve read Part I and Part II, you may proceed.


 

Eloise couldn’t help but wonder how a town as odd as Alp Curie could possibly feel even slightly comforting. Maybe it’s because of Betsy, she thought.
She was the only passenger in the bus and even though it was quite frightening, Eloise found the strength to relax and look out of the window. She had expected the bus to go as fast as a monorail, since it already looked like one, but it didn’t. A lot of realizations hit her psyche like bullets as she stared out of the window – there was absolutely no traffic on the road, no signals, no bumps, no uphills, and no downhills. The roads were straight as a line. The town looked like it was fading away. The bright colors were getting darker, the quirky shapes were getting banal and the overall landscape shifted from being pleasing, to sour. A little while later, barren land on either side of a perfectly paved road was all Eloise could see. And then the bus stopped. Eloise’s heartbeat shot up.
“Why are you stopping in the middle of nowhere?” she shouted at the bus driver and a chill went down her spine.
“Relax, lady,” the driver laughed, “I’ve only stopped to pick another passenger.”
Relaxing was the last thing Eloise was capable of while in this town. A really thin figure with closely cropped head boarded the bus after a few seconds. The figure stood and talked to the bus driver and from the voice, Eloise deduced it was a woman. She was wearing a trench coat and carried a very lady-like purse. The bus had started moving again but the woman and the bus driver were still talking. Eloise closed her eyes and rested her head against the window. She took a deep breath and imagined what her life as an artist would be like. She visualized the art gallery she had not yet seen, and an exhibition of her art. She pictured Bree and herself, standing side by side, with wine glasses in their hands, laughing over something trivial. Eloise had dreamed of this since she was in high school, had been sketching and painting since, but had never thought of it as a profession. Growing up with Dali and Munch and Magritte, all Eloise ever wanted was to be recognized for what she was good at and for the longest time only a few friends took interest in her work and she was thankful for them. But everything was about to change for Eloise. Perhaps not in the way she had imagined it to be, but a change was about to materialize nevertheless.
She slowly opened her eyes. What she saw on the window, where she rested her head a few seconds ago, sent shivers down her spine, fierce enough for her to jump up. The window bore the reflection of the face of the woman who had been talking to the bus driver. The woman had an average sized oval shaped face with full lips and a sharp nose. Her eyes, however, were precariously, unusually, big, and she was looking right at Eloise with them. She turned to look at the woman directly. That was probably the most uncomfortable gaze Eloise had ever been at the receiving end of. In a hasty attempt to maintain her distance, Eloise hit her head on the window.
“Ouch!”
The strange woman’s straight face gave way to a smile.
“Err, hi! I – I’m Eloise!”
The woman leaned her face closer to Eloise’s without a word.
Eloise swiftly stood up.
“If you could, err, excuse me; that would be –” Eloise picked up her portfolio and briskly made her way through the woman’s perfect long legs, to the front of the bus. She couldn’t help but wonder why the woman chose to sit next to Eloise when the entire bus was blatantly empty.
“What’s wrong, lady?” The bus driver asked.
“Could I just stand here for the rest of the ride? I feel kind of queasy sitting down.”
“Sure, suit yourself.”
“How much time until we’re there?” Eloise bent to look outside the window.
“We’ll be there in a heartbeat.”

And indeed, they were. The bus stopped under a vintage lamp post where a woman stood with an umbrella in her hand, waiting to get on the bus. It looked like it had rained in that part of the town.
“Oh, hello there! I love your dress.” The woman said to Eloise, as she descended from the steps.
“Thank you, ma’am. And thanks to you too, sir,” she said, over her shoulder, to the bus driver.”
The driver smiled, and so did the woman with the umbrella. The strange woman with the big eyes never got off the bus and within a minute or so, the bus was on its way to wherever it was going.
Eloise stood underneath the damp lamp post and looked around. Betsy was right. She did like this part of town better. It wasn’t over-the-top quirky or unnaturally different; it was normal, slightly vintage, but normal. There were people in the streets, walking and laughing and talking. She started walking in the opposite direction of from where the bus came. The sidewalk was wet and people were walking on the roads once the bus had left. There were no cars or bikes or cycles in sight. A middle-aged man stood behind a kiosk on the sidewalk, handing out free popsicles to the people passing by. Eloise stared at him, contemplating if approaching him would be worth it. The next minute, she walked up to him. The man wore a hat with visible droplets of water on it, a three piece suit, and a very wide but genuine grin.
“Hello, young lady!” He greeted Eloise, handing her a pop. “Hope you’re having a lovely evening.”
“Err, no, thanks,” Eloise stammered, “I – I was wondering if you could help me look for a place.”
“Why, sure!” The man said, putting the pop back in the ice box. “Where is it that you wish to go?”
“I need to see Gavin at the House – ”
“Oh! Say no more!” He stepped out from behind his kiosk and limped towards where Eloise stood, with his hand pointing east.
Eloise stared down at the man’s legs while he continued to speak, “Go as far straight as you can until you reach the carmine colored factory tower – very noticeable – there should be no trouble finding that. Take a left when you’re facing the tower and you’ll find a dark alley in your way, the graveyard alley, and once you’re out of the graveyard alley, the art gallery’s huge neon sign will undoubtedly attract you to itself.”
“Thank you, sir. Thanks a lot. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s wrong with your leg?”
The man lifted up his trouser to reveal a tin leg, “I lost it in the war.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry. I’m sure the war story you have to tell must be an intriguing one. Anyway, thank you for the directions,” Eloise smiled and prepared to walk away.
“Perhaps someday I will tell you it. After all, the Vietnam War was full of flashing tales.”
“I’m sorry, did you say Vietnam War?” Eloise asked, turning around to look at the man in the hat.
“Yeah, why?” he asked with a smile.
“How old were you during the war?”
“Let’s see, the year was 1968,” the man clearly gave it a genuine thought, “therefore I must have been 22.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Eloise stared at the man. “If you were 22 in 1968, you should’ve been 71 by now, but you honestly don’t look a day older than 45. And I don’t mean to sound flattering, I’m honestly wondering how it’s possible for you to have served in the Vietnam War.”
The smile had vanished from the man’s face. “Listen, lady! I am one of the oldest inhabitants of this town. Just because I sell popsicles for free doesn’t mean you can say whatever bullcrap you feel like to me.”
“I bet you are, sir, but that gives you no right to lie about serving in one of the most important wars in the entirety of history as we know it,” Eloise had started walking again.
“I’m not lying! I have medals to prove it!” the man shouted in his adenoidal voice but Eloise paid no heed and continued walking in disbelief, shaking her head.

The pain in her legs was stronger than ever. Even though in the morning Eloise had no idea she would have to do an excessive amount of walking, she had put on her pair of fairly comfortable boots. Her decision of the same paid off for almost the whole day, but it had started to get dark, and her legs were gradually giving up. She kept walking on the sidewalk, vowing to not stop until she reached the carmine building the old man selling popsicles told her about.

It wasn’t a very long walk – Eloise realized when she finally stopped in front of the tower that was a slightly faded shade of carmine. The place looked abandoned, but a very sweet smell exuded from the area. She stood there a while, closed her eyes, and effortlessly breathed in the familiar scent, trying to recall where exactly she crossed paths with it. When she opened her eyes, she felt a little drowsy but almost immediately realized that she had an important place to pursue and should not be wasting any more time. It was growing darker by the second. She remembered the old man’s words and took a left while facing the tower. Gradually, she entered the dark, lifeless alley the old man called the ‘graveyard alley’. The path was narrow, and felt like it had been waiting just for Eloise. As she came closer to the tall graveyard gate, she picked up her pace. All she wanted was to be done with this alley as soon as possible. Two long strides and Eloise’s foot hit something. She looked down at a soccer ball that went rolling towards the opposite side of the graveyard’s entry. She fixed her gaze at the soccer ball, quivering with a certain indistinct fear.

“Sorry, excuse me!” A small figure brushed past her and Eloise let out a little scream. It was a little girl wearing a blue frock and a matching headband over her black shoulder length hair with bangs on her forehead. The girl picked up the soccer ball and took a nice and long look at Eloise, whose heart was beating out of her chest like she had stopped running halfway in a marathon she never wanted to run in the first place.
“Excuse me, miss? Are you okay? Are you new here? You look like you’re new,” the girl said in her sweet voice.
“I – I’m just, I don’t know. Yeah, I guess. This is my first time in this town.”
The little girl’s eyes beamed, “Wow! Do you like it so far?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Eloise said, clutching the strap of her sling bag at irregular intervals.
The little girl smiled at her and walked past her to the entry of the graveyard.
“You know, I would ask why you’re going into the graveyard, or why you even came out of there, but I’m going to guess the kids of this town are simply, weird.”
The girl stopped walking and turned around to face Eloise. Her face fell.
“Weird? I’ve never been called that,” the girl said in a low voice.
All of a sudden, Eloise realized what she had done.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean it like that. What’s your name?”
“Charlotte”, the girl replied, her face still a little sullen.
“So erm – ” Eloise prepared herself for a small talk, “why are you playing in the graveyard?”
“That’s where we live,” the little girl replied.
Eloise either gasped or sighed upon hearing that, or let out something similar to a gasp or a sigh, but whatever it was, didn’t help much with the chill running down her spine.
“Where are your parents?” Eloise asked, inches away from giving up on the child and walking away in disdain.
“I used to live with my mother in a really small town, smaller than this,” she sat down on the concrete and continued. “After the fire, both of us moved here, my mother and I. And ever since, she has been working directly with the authorities and I’ve been living here with the rest of the kids.”
Before Eloise could speak, a boy came out of the graveyard screaming Charlotte’s name.
“I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!” She shouted and stood up to face the boy. He was only a tad taller than Charlotte, but must’ve been of the same age.
“How many times have we told you not to chat with the newcomers?” the boy whispered to Charlotte just loud enough for the entire empty alley to hear.
“Really, Dan, it’s not a big deal. Look at her, she’s just lost and scared.”
“Yeah, and not our problem to deal with.”
Might as well just ask them, Eloise thought to herself.
“Kids, I can hear you! Sorry for the lousy interruption during your playtime, but tell me something, are you ghosts? Why do you live in the graveyard?”
Charlotte opened her mouth to say something but the words flew faster out of Dan’s mouth – “We’re all ghosts, here. We’re all ghosts.”
He put his hands on Charlotte’s shoulders and took her back inside the graveyard. Neither of the two kids turned around for a last look at Eloise who was now standing in the middle of the dark alley, cold, and befuddled.

Eloise had started to feel a bit under the weather, but she continued walking towards the end of the alley, where she could faintly see a clearing. Once out of the alley, Eloise heaved a sigh of relief. She could finally see the place she had been meaning to reach since morning – The House for Art Gallery. It was a small building, its neon sign flashing the name ‘House for Art’ in a rather grandiose fashion. It was pitch dark inside the building but Eloise tried her luck with the door anyway. She didn’t want to accept that the door to the gallery was indeed locked. Frustration had settled inside Eloise’s gut, rendering her incapable of letting it out. She looked around, with tears rolling down her cheeks. All for nothing, she thought. She then spotted a cozy little bar, wiped her tears off her face and walked towards the bar with the open, welcoming gate.

There was no one in the bar – no bartenders, no kids, no spiders or clowns or witches – Eloise was all alone. She sat herself down at one of the tables, lit a cigarette, her second since morning, closed her eyes, and took as long a drag as she could muster. The gallery was closed. Her chance was gone. All she wanted then, was to go back home. And so she thought to herself –

How the hell do I get home?


 

Proceed to Part IV.

The Eerie Town of Alp Curie (Part II)

If you’ve read Part I, you may proceed.


 

Fight or flight, both alternatives wise in their own stead. But making a choice between the two is where wisdom truly lies. Eloise Sanchez is a strong woman who in spite of being scarred by what she witnessed at Barb’s café, decided to fight to find the art gallery. In all probability, she regrets to have chosen fight over flight now, but in the morning when she took on the misty path, repentance was non-existent. With the images of one hundred spiders crawling amidst their webs in her head, she trod on the road, hoping for better things to come her way. Apart from the lingering mist, the path was also slightly crisp, making her wish she had brought an extra layer of clothing. She could hardly see because of the mist which grew thicker with every step. The street was quiet and filled with empty kiosks and Eloise’s footsteps were the only source of noise; that, and the occasional laughter of the little boy that Eloise intended to follow. She was moving forward but she couldn’t tell where she was going. It felt like clouds had descended onto the land and had covered Eloise from all sides, preventing her from seeing anything at all. She took out her cellphone to check the time but it was dead.
The battery was 100% this morning, what the hell is happening?
She put her phone back in the bag and continued walking. There was something queerly peaceful about the path; enveloped by the thick mist, she wondered if that was what heaven looked like. Her divine thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind her. At first she thought it were her own footsteps but she stopped where she stood to listen intently. The boy laughed again for six seconds and everything fell silent. The moment Eloise started walking, she heard the footsteps again.
“Who’s there?” she stopped and shouted.
The distant sound of the footsteps came closer in reply.
“Hello? Who are you?” Eloise turned towards the sound and slowly moved backwards, clutching her bag’s strap, desperately wishing to see something other than the white mist.
Almost suddenly, from behind her, someone grabbed her portfolio. They were trying to wrest it but Eloise’s grip was too tight to let the bag go.
“What the hell?” Eloise screamed and jerked her portfolio out of the captor’s hands. He was an old man wearing a dark grey watch cap with eyes as red as fresh blood, wearing rather dilapidated clothes.
“Give that to me, you stupid girl,” the man reached for Eloise’s portfolio again.
“You wish!” Eloise smacked her portfolio against the man’s shoulder causing him to fall on the road. “I didn’t mean to – err, I’m sorry.”
The man, still on the road, started laughing.
“What do you want this for, anyway? It’s my work, a few drawings on a paper. How’s it going to help you?” Eloise asked.
“Alright, you can give me the little bag then,” the man had stopped laughing and was struggling to get up.
Eloise reached out her hand and helped him get up.
“I can’t, sir. This bag is even more important than the big one, but I could lend you some money, if you want.”
“What the fuck will I do with your money, girl? Money might be the language in your world but it isn’t one here.”
With that, the old man walked away and Eloise wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t, for some reason uncharted.

The boy’s laughter became clearer, indicating that he wasn’t too far. The mist was beginning to thin for she could see the beautiful sight of the town again. The sky was clear and an excellent shade of a happy true blue. The road she trod had buildings in the shape of fruits on either side which made Eloise rather joyous. A wide smile started to appear on her face, but it vanished as quickly as it came when she saw the little boy standing right in front of her, his gaze fixed on Eloise. He must have been somewhere between eight to twelve years of age, Eloise guessed. The boy had hair as golden as the sun, and wore a plaid shirt with a white bow-tie and denim bottoms; with his hands held back, he flashed a canny smile.
“I see you met Odd Todd,” the boy spoke in his sweet velvety voice.
“Err, yeah, I guess I did.”
In the past Eloise has had some excellent relations with kids. Her sister’s children love her and every weekend they want to go to the mall with their Aunt Eloise. She never had a problem with any kid the three years she was a kindergarten teacher at the public school. But there was something imprecise about the kid that stood in front of her. She couldn’t read him, and the smile was nothing short of intimidating.
“What’s your name, lady?”
“Eloise,” she spoke, flabbergasted. “What’s yours?”
“I let people call me whatever they want.”
“I could call you Blaise,” she said with a smile.
“As you wish, ma’am,” came the reply.
An unusual period of silence followed. The kid continued to stare at Eloise, smiling all the while. Eloise wanted to stay and read the boy but there was no time.
“So, I am looking for a place, an art gallery. It’s called the House for Art. Do you happen to know where it is?”
The boy’s smile widened.
“It’s on the other side of town,” he said, “where the children live.”
“What children?”
“Children, kids, tots!”
“Aren’t you a child yourself?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re very much one,” Eloise giggled.
“Are you sure?” And with that, the boy’s eyes narrowed and his smile turned into a grin and within seconds, he started laughing.
Even though Eloise had heard his laugh before, this time, up close and personal, the laughter pierced her ears. She had a feeling that if the boy didn’t stop laughing, her ears will start to bleed.
“Stop! Stop laughing!” She screamed, covering her ears.
“I can help you if you help me.”
“Help you with what?”
“A project,” the boy replied. “If you would just follow me, please.”
“Err, no, I won’t. It’s okay, I’ll find my way to the gallery on my own.”
“No, please, I need your help. Nobody would help me,” the boy’s smile had vanished.
And for the first time, Eloise saw the little boy as a little boy and not a creepy kid.
“Okay, what is it?” Eloise gave in to his smile-less innocent face.
The boy took Eloise to a building which resembled a watermelon slice to perfection, juicy red with recurrent black dots for seeds. The building looked exceptionally real; Eloise had to touch it to believe it wasn’t really a watermelon slice.
“I hope you’re not afraid of clowns,” the boy said with his hands on the doorknob, the canny smile back on his face.
Afraid? Eloise laughed to herself. Her mind drifted to the memories of the day she dressed up as a clown for her nephew’s birthday and how very truly each and every kid loved her.

The inside of the building was much like the inside of Barb’s café, dark and sketchy, completely antithetical to its exterior. But like Barb’s place had chairs and tables and a slab to make coffee on, the watermelon building was abandoned in entirety save a single chair that sat right in the middle and the person who sat droopy on it. Eloise surveyed the whole place, closely inspecting both the walls and ceilings for any shocking creatures that might be crawling, waiting to attack her. To her relief, there were none.
The moment the little boy closed the entrance door behind them, utter darkness fell.
“Hello, Twinkle!” the boy said, and the top hat placed meticulously on the head of the person sitting on the chair, lit up. It tried its absolute best to illuminate the entire room and to some extent, it succeeded. Then, the person gradually stood up, and straightened himself, to face Eloise and the boy. Eloise stared at whatever was in front of her, with horror. It wasn’t a person; it was more mechanical than natural but it wasn’t entirely mechanical either. Half-machine half-man, perhaps? She tightened her grip on both her bags.
“Twinkle, this is Eloise,” the boy broke the horrific silence.
“Eloise, this is Twinkle Death, my project.”
Maybe Twinkle didn’t look like a twinkle, but he definitely looked like death. The face was painted stark white and around his eyes were huge circles of black. The mouth wasn’t painted, but masked. The masked mouth was widespread, just like that of an average clown, but the teeth were rotten mustard yellow with red paint in between them painted to represent fresh blood. The eyes of the clown were definitely those of a real person, Eloise could tell from their innate movement, but the body moved like it was some kind of robot.
“This is my project,” pride lurked clear enough in his voice.
“Project for what?” Eloise couldn’t take her eyes off of Twinkle Death.
“HALLOWEEN, of course!” the boy sprung up with acute enthusiasm.
“Alright, great!” Eloise hadn’t loosened her grip on the bags. “I’m gonna go now.”
She started to turn around but the boy grabbed her wrist. His hands were probably colder than ice, or so Eloise felt.
“Not yet!” the boy’s gaze penetrated her skin.
“Leave. My. Fucking. Hand,” she jerked her hand out from the boy’s grip, but at the same time, the machine-man-clown grabbed her other arm with his extremely hot, gloved hands.
“Aah! Thank you, Twinkle!”
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?” Eloise shouted with all her might, at the boy.
“Are you scared yet?”
Eloise didn’t know what to say. She was furious, but the fact that she would probably have been shivering if Twinkle wasn’t holding her arm, was sturdy proof of her fear.
And then the front door opened and in walked a lady donning a long skirt, a tank top, and a scarf. Her hair reached slightly above her knee and were a blaring coral green.
“NOT YOU BETSY! NOT AGAIN!” the boy cried with fury and Twinkle let go of Eloise’s arm, leaving a torn sleeve behind.
Eloise hit Twinkle with her portfolio bag once and just as she was about to hit him a second time, he turned around and sat on his chair, his top hat ceasing to glow.
“Enough, Ubel! This is the fifth time you’ve troubled a newco-” she stopped to look at Eloise, “a visitor, and this will not go unnoticed by the authorities.”
The boy wasn’t listening to the lady who looked only a little older than Eloise.
“Twinkle! TWINKLE!” Ubel shouted at his ‘project’. “What have you done to him, you witch?”
“What I should’ve done to you in the first place,” the lady replied.
This was all very new to Eloise; she couldn’t understand what was going on. She looked from the resting clown, to the furious boy, to the righteous lady, but failed to make any sense of her situation at all.
“Woman, if you will, please come with me, let’s get you some air,” the lady said to Eloise.
Eloise was panting. She looked at Ubel, who was suddenly in tears. Eloise had absolutely no sympathy for the boy and her lack of it was totally justified.
Just as they were about to step out of the place, the boy started laughing in between his tears; he laughed the same, sinister, laugh.
“Betsy the witch,
when your magic fails,
horror will enter your bones,
and we will all hear your wails.”

What Ubel said and the way he said it, with incessant laughter, sent a firm chill down Eloise’s spine, but seemed to have absolutely no effect on lady Betsy.
The moment they were out in the open, the door automatically shut and Eloise followed Betsy to a path that, she suspected, went further inside the town.
“What was all that about?” Eloise spoke when she finally found the courage to speak.
“You just met a bad apple, sweetpea.”
“Feels like I’ve been meeting only bad apples since morning. The café lady, the old kleptomaniac, and if that wasn’t enough, the sinister kid. And he called you a witch so if you really are a witch, I won’t be surprised if you turn out to be an evil one,” Eloise was clearly exhausted of even the anxiety that chilled her nerves.
“Do I look evil to you?” Betsy laughed subtly. “The kid you just met was Ubel. He’s unlike the other kids, who live on the other side of the town. I think you need to relax for a while. Come with me.”
“How do I know you’re not going to take me to a sketchy place filled with spiders or clowns, or worse, the walking dead?”
“Aren’t we all the walking dead?”
Betsy said it followed by a wink but Eloise didn’t quite understand what the joke behind it could possibly be.
“I would rather you help me find the place I’m looking for and really help and not play tricks on me.”
“I’ll help you; let’s just go sit on the bench for a while, okay?”
Eloise could swear there was no bench on the sidewalk but there was, a midnight blue bench just wide enough for two people. The girls sat on the bench and while Eloise sat tense and straight, Betsy relaxed and tied her long hair in a bun.
“What’s in the big bag?” Betsy asked, trying to make conversation.
“Sketches, a few paintings.”
“Oh! Going to meet Gavin, are we?” Betsy’s face lit up.
“Everyone knows Gavin in this town. He’s famous or something?”
“It’s actually a small town, err, what’s your name again?”
“Eloise,” she replied.
“Right, Eloise. It’s a small town in the sense that the inhabitants aren’t great in number, therefore on some level, we all know each other. But you’re right, Gavin is famous. He’s the town’s visionary,” Betsy spoke with a gleam in her eyes.
“How so?”
“Well, he came here from a big city so for the first few months he sulked and wouldn’t come out of his apartment. But then one day, he woke up and he felt like a change had transpired overnight, and he made some really big plans with the people who run this place and has wowed to make this place come to life. As you can see, it’s pretty dull right now.”
“That’s one of the most odd things actually, the streets are utterly deserted. There are kiosks with beautiful tents but no people, no hotdogs or burgers or souvenir shops.”
Betsy chuckled, “Those are mainly for aesthetical architectural purposes. And you’ll like the South of the town much better. That’s where Gavin lives.”
“I was supposed to meet him at 12 in the afternoon at the gallery and I have no idea what time it is now because my phone wouldn’t start and maybe I should just go back but this could also be my only chance of being recognized as an artist and I don’t want to give up on that,” Eloise was in tears. “Only bad things are happening to me in this town. I never should’ve come.”
Betsy wrapped her hands empathetically around Eloise.
“I’m sorry; it’s just that, I’m kinda tired of staying strong.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable sometimes, as long as you carry the hope to be strong again. Even if it’s buried deep inside you, don’t give up, my friend. Hope can always be dug out.”
There was something copiously comforting about Betsy’s smile.
“Now, let’s get you to Gavin. The gallery is also where he lives so he’s practically available all day long. He lives South side so you’ll have to take the bus.”
The two walked on and took a sharp turn to a street narrower than the others, also less colorful, and finally reached what Betsy claimed was the bus stop.
“The bus should be here any minute now.”
“You’re coming with me, right?”
“Oh, honey, I’m really sorry. I sure wish I could but I need to stay here. Not a lot of people live up here and most of the ones who do belong to Ubel’s category and they often frighten the visitors and that upsets the authorities,” Betsy explained.
Eloise could hear the bus approaching but all she could see was smoke.
“Oh, looks like the bus is here,” Betsy remarked.
Betsy stuck out her hand and in place of the smoke stood a bus which looked more like a monorail.
“Hop on, now,” the man on the wheels said in a husky voice while adjusting his baseball cap.
“Thanks,” Eloise said awkwardly to Betsy who replied with a wink.
Upon reaching the second step of the bus, Eloise looked back. Betsy hadn’t moved an inch.
“Are you really a witch?”
The man chuckled a husky chuckle in the background.
Betsy smiled and motioned her right hand towards Eloise’s torn sleeve which immediately fixed itself.
The doors closed and the bus began to move, but Eloise took her time. She stared at Betsy until she no longer could, and then turned to the driver.
“How much for the ticket?”
“Just go sit down, lady.”
Eloise thought it best not to engage any further in a conversation and walked towards a window seat in the back of the empty bus, lost in an utterly preposterous thought.


 

Proceed to Part III.