I'm not going to lie - I was shitting myself. The forest was drowning in blood and I'd been struck with a massive case of candy-ass.
I was told I'd be safe sat inside the stone circle. I felt anything but safe while a boiling river of red made its way through the trees along a creeping shadow - a shadow that watched me as it spread.
The slow moving ooze was hotter than was comfortable and I wanted to run, but candy-asses don't run - they can't because their asses are made of pathetic candy. Closing my eyes made no difference either, I could still feel the moving shadows of red watching me, staring me out. I shivered when the smoke appeared and raged at me like a screaming mental-case, forcing its heat into my lungs – making me choke like I’d dragged on a cigarette.
I imagined this was Hell with creatures lying in wait to eat me, enough was enough.
Indie had gone too far, leaving me here, caught between two worlds.
No more waiting.
I shook her while manically praying to a god I didn't believe in, just so she'd come back RIGHT NOW.
I didn't want to leave her here, but I didn't want to get eaten either, so I watched as the shadows inched closer, shaking my friend roughly to wake her up. I needed her to leave that other world behind - I needed to go home.
It had seemed like forever, sitting there in the creeping darkness, alone and swearing like a bitch every time a twig snapped. Indie had been gone too long, though I wasn’t complaining. I was back in the woods, no more weird shit and at least the darkness only wanted to eat me, not rip me limb from limb. The relief was immense when my friend coughed and she began blinking. She was coming round and that counted for a lot. Almost four hours had passed, and more than once I’d imagined us being caught here like rats in a trap when I’d witnessed her leaving me. Never again, I never wanted to see that shit again! I took a long breath and stared at her, listening to the welcomed silence around me. Now the owls had come out to feast and the moon was raised to play.
Indie sat hunched and cross legged as I watched the light brush her face, lifting her cheekbones higher than usual and casting a shadow which made her look older than her sixteen years. Sweat poured from her and she looked in pain, but at least she was back here, with me. The blinding red flashes had gone; I had to be grateful for that. They'd left no trace at all, and, instead the moon washed my friend with a pale light – as white as her hair.
“Indie? Can you hear me? It’s Burgess – something’s not right. Wake up, please.”
She stayed silent.
I’d tried to bring her back from the trance she’d put herself in. I’d tried to give her my energy, but this was all new to me and way out of my league. I hadn’t wanted her to go in the first place, but she’s the most stubborn swine I’ve ever known – Indigo Moriarty does exactly what she wants. I’d never seen her like this before and to be honest – it scared the shit out of me. Disappearing into another world, as she’d put it, sent shivers through me – and not the good kind. I’m not comfortable with anything unnatural, least of all a world beyond my limited perception. Not that I’d thought any of it was real up till now. But I didn’t interfere. Instead, I waited patiently, watching that beautiful face of hers screw into a knot then relax again while she woke, and I quickly came to the conclusion that Indie may have been telling the truth about the things she’d seen in her dreams.
I licked my thumb and index finger to pinch out the candle I’d gouged my fingers into. But I never took my eyes off her – not once.
A cool breeze wafted through the wood, bringing with it the sudden smell of damp pine, it smelled of dead stuff too, something rotten. Least it wasn’t me I s’pose. I turned my head away to avoid the stench. This forest was no place to be after dark and I didn’t want to be reminded of death, not under a full moon. The heavy, woollen blanket I’d wrapped around me wasn’t enough to stop the sudden cold settling as the wind picked up, or the fear. I desperately wanted Indie to be on her feet, so that we could leave.
“I need water… Burgess, are you there? Are we alone? Please say
we’re alone!” She spoke, at last!
Leaning forward, to reach for the bottle of water by my bag, my legs buckled under me and my clumsiness scattered the perfect stone circle. Nice one, Burgess! I caught the opened water just before it spilt and handed it to Indie while I put the stones back. I wasn’t taking any chances and I certainly didn’t want to break the protection it apparently gave.
I prayed we’d be safe, shuddering as the wind built momentum, listening as the trees whispered to each other like they wanted to snatch us with their bare arms. I heard, too, the faint sound of rain upon the dense roof of pine and oak above, tap, tap, tapping the leaves with gentle thumps. These were the only sounds I could hear, none of the usual scurrying of nocturnal feet, no hoots or snuffles, just the wind and the rain and the empty drone of things I couldn’t see. A dark feeling passed over and I checked to make sure no eyes watched from the shadows – you never know what’s watching in a place like this. Damn, this place spooked the crap out of me. It definitely felt like time to go.
“Indie? I’m here; keep your eyes open if you can - I’ve got your water.”
She blinked at the warmth of my hand when I pushed the glass up to her mouth. I watched her glug the water so fast that it ran down her chin and bounced off her lap. Funny how some things amuse, even at a time like this.
I remembered her telling me that water ‘breaks the spell’. Let’s hope she was right.
“Burgess.” She croaked. “It’s dark. How long have I been gone?”
“Nearly four hours, it’s night now. Take your time, but make it swift… I feel like we’re being watched.”
“Ah… the infamous Burgess contradiction! Take your time and hurry up?” She smiled with her eyes still flickering. I was grateful for her sarcasm; it meant we would be home soon and away from this wild place, with its magic.
“Did you put out the candle?”
“Yeah. I did that first, just like you said.”
I’d remembered her words - ‘Don’t let them follow me back, Burgess’ - and I’d needed no further encouragement. I came from a world where black was black and white was white. Indie’s world was very different to mine – and I definitely didn’t want to meet ‘them’.
“Good, in fact that’s great. Time to pack up then, and get out of here, I think. Help me put all this stuff in these blankets, will you?
We may need it again.”
She grabbed the blanket from around my shoulders and I froze, staring above her head.
Indie turned her head upwards.
“What are you looking at, Burgess?”
“You tell me!”
We looked into the air between us, towards the blackness.
Only inches above our heads, the rain had suspended in clear, crystal droplets. Perfectly formed pools of silver water held tight in the air, only moving from side to side when the breeze caught them. The moon light shone through them, creating a kaleidoscope of an even brighter light which seemed to make the forest move closer each time the light flashed back and forth.
“Burgess? Did I do this?”
“I have no idea, but I know it ain’t natural. Maybe now would be a good time to LEAVE?”
For once she didn’t argue, neither of us spoke as we rushed to gather up our things. We slung the bags on our backs and ran along the boggy path that led us back to the main road. I didn’t dare to look behind. “This is more than I signed up for, Indie, way more.” I didn’t bother to tell her about the weird, red light which had filled the forest while she’d been gone – I decided I’d rather forget that one myself, too.
“I know it is, Burgess. And I’m sorry.” Indie turned to face me, a white lock of her plaited hair falling over one shoulder. The look in her eyes offered me no reassurance that things were going to be okay after this. I was fuming, but I kept that to myself as well.
“I’m afraid this is just the beginning, Burgess. I’ve unlocked something; at least, I think I have. What’s done is done. I’m sorry.”
She ran two steps in front of me but glanced back to finish what she was saying.
“We have to speak to Aishe, tonight! We have no choice now. I’m so, so sorry; I shouldn’t have dragged you into this.”
Three sorrys in a row? What the hell had she done? I’d known that we’d be playin’ with fire when she’d asked me to come. Even my empty-headed friends had warned me that messing with this occult stuff was going get me in some deep shit and, maybe, if I hadn’t had such a thing for this girl, well… I just wanted to get the hell out of here now. Thankfully, I saw that we were nearing the road when I spotted the orange glow of a street light poking through the trees. We’d run off course slightly, needed to bear right, so I grabbed Indigo’s sleeve and glanced behind to see if we’d been followed.
“This way, Indie. There’s a small mud bank up ahead, if we get beyond that then we’ll be on the road, and safe, hopefully.”
I wasn’t totally convinced, but I wanted to look calmer than I felt. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew where we were headed, to see Aishe, who in my opinion - should have been sectioned years ago. Things were going from bad to worse.
I jumped the bank and stepped out, into the relief of artificial light, giving my hand to Indie. The air behind us had changed, gotten even colder, and although it was probably fuelled by my growing paranoia, it made me feel uneasy. I couldn’t get out of this place quick enough, but Indie held back and stood facing the black wall of the forest behind, her face empty and her breathing all weird and raspy.
“Come on; stop being stubborn for once and just take my hand, will you?” Now was not the time, especially as we’d both begun to slip back down the bank.
Her tone wavered as she spoke and then she glared.
“I CAN do it on my own, you know. I just feel like I’ve left something behind.”
“I’m not sure, it’s weird. Maybe I should go back and take a look?”
“I don’t bloody think so, get up here now and stop being an idiot! Two more steps and we’ll be out of here.”
I think she got the message when she grabbed my hand, scowling. I didn’t want to be so rude but why the bloody hell do women have to be so awkward! I couldn’t explain to her how I knew we needed to keep running, I just did. Something had gone wrong back there, I felt it and I wasn’t hanging about to see what it was.
“Come on, we have to get to Aishe’s like you said, remember? Shouldn’t take us long, only half an hour if we run quickly.”
“Yeah, sure.” She had that look again. “Did we forget anything? I feel like we did.”
“We’ve got everything, Indie. Just get your arse up here and get moving!”
She nodded vacantly and I knew I had to get her away from this place before she disappeared back into the woods. I disliked Aishe with a passion; she was a bitter old cow in my opinion. But for once, I would be more than glad to see her and let her bitch at me. Maybe then she could tell us what was happening, what had already happened…