As Zack and Jordan emerged from the cramped car, they were met with a breeze of frigid air. Roaming down the nearest path, they trekked on for 5 minutes until desperately needing a break.
“Aw... I forgot to pack my phone charger,” whined Jordan, out of breath, as he dug through his backpack.
“There’s no use for a phone charger out here anyway,” countered Zack, unconcerned, “what are you gonna do, plug it into a rock? You should have charged your phone before we came.”
Jordan scoffed at that and continued moving down the trail.
As they walked, Zach looked around the trial and couldn’t help but think the setting seemed somehow familiar to him. Though he didn’t remember ever being here before. How weird, he thought. He felt uncomfortable in the open area, like someone was watching him- or worse- following him.
“It’s getting late, we should set up camp somewhere,” said Zack. The sky had indeed changed color in the time it took the boys to find their desired camping location. Surrounding the area are patches of dry bushes and a dusty covering over everything. They set up their old tent under a rocky overhang which leads into an ominous black cave. There's a leaky pipe that seems to come from underneath a pile of rocks; a dark trail of fetid seepage spills out of it, trailing onto Zack’s shoes.
“Disgusting,” muttered Zack with a grimace, while attempting to wipe his shoe clean on a rock.
“This place is amazing,” marveled Jordan in awe. His attention drifted down to a flower which seemed out of place in the dry area. “Ooooh, It’s a peony!” exclaimed Jordan, “They usually never grow under these conditions; this must be magical ground.” Jordan was a rosarian; his eyes practically shined when talking about flowers.
“Not so much a magical place as supposedly haunted. Ghost sightings and even disappearances have been reported in this very spot!” Zack was substantially more interested in ghosts than flowers, and took amusement in the fact that his friend wasn’t.
Crawling into the small tent, Jordan and Zack arranged their blankets next to each other and pulled some food out of their bags. They planned to wait until it was completely dark outside before venturing on.
“Chips for dinner,” said Jordan thoughtfully, “my mom wouldn’t be happy with me.”
“Well, she would be even less happy if she knew where we’re sleeping tonight,” responded Zack with a smirk.
“What if we get kidnapped or lost or killed by a ghost? No one would even know where to look for us.”
“I guess we just have to hope for the best then,” mumbled Zack as they drifted off to sleep in the eerie silence.
The stars were shining fiercely as it approached midnight; complete silence encompassed the dark. A guttural growl came from deep inside the cave.
Zack’s eyelids sprung open immediately.
“Did you hear that?” whispered Zack reaching out to shake Jordan awake, however, as he reached out, his hand came to rest on an empty blanket. Feeling blindly around the tent, Zack found his flashlight and turned it on; Jordan wasn’t there. Maybe he went on a walk without me, thought Zack, shivering slightly.
Stumbling out of the tent, Zack retrieved the flashlight from his pocket.
(Staying in that place makes you lose your mind and anyone exposed to the air suffers hallucinations. An arm like the friend’s on the side of the trail.)
Running toward a small hill, Zack stopped abruptly to focus his vision in the darkness. He could have sworn he saw a figure standing on the other side of the rocks a second ago. He called out, but was afraid of making too loud a noise in the soundless dark. Zack searched around with the beam of his flashlight but there was nothing different in his surroundings. All at once, he noticed an amass of blankets covering the ground that hadn’t been there before. How did all of these get here? he wondered urgently.
The sand to the right of him started to move, spinning slowly in a circle but steadily grew faster. Something was coming out of the middle of the sand; a familiar head appeared. Jordan rose casually out of the sand, using his now-visible arms to emerge. Just as he was halfway out of the sand, Jordan froze unexpectedly. His finger bent back slowly until two dull pops sent his head crashing into the ground writhing and crying out in pain.
Picking his sand covered head up from the earth, he attempted to claw his way out of the hole he was stuck in. Another scream of pain escaped Jordan’s lips. A bone chilling scream, though nothing appeared to be wrong. Then Zack saw it; something was moving in Jordan’s eye. A black beetle crawled out of Jordan’s eye, down his cheek, and into his open mouth, silencing his agonizing cry.
Before Zack had time to process, he heard a whisper; his name. Someone whispered his name but he couldn’t see anything.
Zack’s flashlight started to flicker out as he began to panic. He spun around the dying beam desperately and whispered his friend’s name for help. A startling breeze came in and knocked him off his feet. He rolled toward the edge of a cliff and was nearing a 20 foot drop to rocks below. His foot caught in the crack of two rocks and lodged deep; he was stuck. Tugging uselessly on his foot, he attempted to escape from the rock. He heard what sounded like footsteps running towards him, but no one was there.
The rocks seemed to be moving closer together as he screamed out in pain. He saw stars; not the ones in the sky, but just behind his vision, brought on by pain. The bones in his toes slowly crumpled. Zack’s entire foot was now encompassed in rock; the rock grows up his foot past his ankle and slowly makes its way up his knee. Urgently shouting for help as he watched trickles of blood run down his ankle, he fell back on the ground. Struggling to keep his eyes open, he succumbed to his injury.
Opening his eyes, he saw the other ghost in all its entirety, clearer than ever before. Zack recognised the ghost immediately as Jordan. He asked the ghost about the reason for its death and how he got to be there, but the ghost didn’t remember. Zack took a step closer to get a better look.
The ghost- Jordan- slowly remembered something and pointed a shaky finger at him. “YOU,” shouted the ghost, “It was you who killed me. I remember everything now.” Zack must have unlocked memories of the night when the ghost died when he returned to the spot.
Zack wore an expression of complete shock on his face, “I... I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen you before. Maybe you have me confused with someone else.” His voice was rough from the lack of water.
The ghost, with a grimace of disgust and anger on his face, replied, “I KNOW IT WAS YOU. I REMEMBER YOUR FACE.”
Zack smirked, finally letting his surprised facade drop. “Fine, yes,” he said moving closer to the ghost, “I killed you. But that was only because I had no other choice. You were in my way-”
Zack opened his eyes and sat up abruptly. It was still nighttime and his foot was still stuck in the rock, but there was no sign of the blood that encompassed him before. Tugging lightly on his leg, he bent down to untie his shoe and slipped it off. Finally freed from the rock, he stood up and began to think about what really happened in his dream. Maybe he was going crazy. He had imagined that the ghost was Jordan; that couldn’t have actually happened... right?
Zack buried his face in his hands and sighed. There is no way this is real. Nothing bad is happening. Everything will be fine. The lies seemed to comfort him for a moment, so he stood there alone thinking about anything but his present situation. He heard heavy footfalls approaching and turned his head to the sound, though his eyes were cast to the ground. Zack wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was coming next. His gaze trailed upward and he noticed a familiar dust-covered pair of shoes. His breath caught in his throat as his eyes trailed up the body of his best friend. Jordan’s eyes were closed and he looked relaxed.
Swallowing his fear, Zack took a step closer to this pale figure who had once been so full of life. His best friend was going to do amazing things, but that seemed impossible now. He studied his face once more before turning on his heel and running back to camp.
Stepping through the tent, Zack saw Jordan bundled in his blanket as if nothing happened. Confused, Zack ripped the blanket off and threw it across the tent, revealing a scene so horrific he was forced to turn away. Blood was even on the ceiling, smeared there as if someone used the tent to wipe their hands. Zack looked down at his own hands and gasped; they were covered in blood. He took a deep breath and turned around, expecting an answer, but saw his friend was nowhere in sight. Two empty blankets side by side just as he had left the tent earlier that night.
“Now do you see what you did to me?” said Jordan.
Zack reeled around in the direction of that voice; glancing ahead of him, only a pale outline of his friend was visible. Taking a closer look, he realized why his friend seemed weary.
“I brought you out here,” said Jordan, “to show you what could happen to me if your dreams become reality.” Becoming ever-so-slightly more translucent by the second, Jordan communicated his final thoughts to his former best friend in a simple, “Goodbye.”