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The Cabin in the Woods is a fanfiction written by TheLoneClone. It is going to be focused around several VenturianTale roleplay characters as teenagers trying to survive alone in an eerie cabin in an eerie forest.

Introduction Edit

The Cabin in the Woods (TCITW) is a story that I've been developing in my mind for a while. It has a more serious, and a bit darker tone than other VT content in the past. It follows a group of our favorite roleplay characters as teenagers, all going away for one week during the summer to a cabin in the woods.

You can see the list of characters in the scrollbox in the appearances section and read about them on their pages. This is also a project that I want to collaborate and talk to you guys about. In that I mean you guys may edit character pages and update relationship sections and other parts that pertain to info revealed in this story. (Please do not add anything to their backstory unless, as I said, it was mentioned in the story. You may leave suggestions if you have any concerning backstories in the comments, and who knows, they might just become canon.)

I also want you guys to let me know your thoughts and speculations as the story goes on, be it concerning possible plot twists, deaths, and the like. Speaking of deaths, people WILL DIE in this story...some that are even from the VT roleplay universe.

That out of the way, you may check one of my recent forums in the "Fun and Games" thread section to help me find "actors" to "portray" my three OCs Aaron Martin, Jack Gordon, and Emilia Bates. The thread is called "TCITW characters".

The story will begin production soon, so be looking out for updates in the coming days. Thank you all for your patience regarding this project and your help. I really appreciate it. Your actor suggestions have come in handy and many of them are just as I pictured them in real-life. Until the first chapter rolls out, discuss your thoughts and predictions, read up on character backstories, and let me know what you're excited to see! Until next time.

Rating Poll Edit

What do you think of the story so far?
 
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The poll was created at 21:10 on May 10, 2017, and so far 17 people voted.

Rating Edit

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is rated "M" for "Mature" for the following: strong violence, bloody situations, mild language, and suggestive themes.

Chapters Edit

ONE | The Plans Are Set Edit

Johnny Toast sat with his back facing the wall in the school's library, tipping his back up against the wall as he read the last page in the chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird he needed to read for his school project. As he began to start the next sentence, his best friend--Johnny Ghost--plopped into the wooden seat beside him, letting out a loud sigh.

Toast smiled as he slid his thin bookmark into the book, closing it. "All right, John, what is it?"

Ghost turned to face his friend and arched an eyebrow. "What? What is what, Johnny?"

"You know what," the British teenager said, chuckling. "Whatever it is you're groaning about over there." Ghost let out a slight smile, realizing his attempt at acting nonchalant was failing--miserably.

"I'm not too good at keeping a straight face, am I?"

The older Johnny shook his head. "Not one bit."

Both laughed slightly as Toast glanced up. "What is it, John?" Ghost--who had taken up the shortened name John so as to avoid confusion--sighed again, resting his elbows on the library's table.

"Just...everything."

Toast nodded. "Ah, yes. Very specific. Not at all a broad word." He rolled his eyes when Ghost didn't respond to him. "Please, use a little more detail, John. What exactly is the problem?"

John leaned back, looking to the ceiling. "It's just...different things. My grades aren't the greatest, I got slammed into a locker again and I think I got my senses knocked loose a little, and..." He glanced up slightly to see the third party in the trio that he and Johnny were apart of. "...Her."

Johnny glanced up, smirking slightly as the dark-haired Katrina Evans entered the library, a smile spreading across her face as she caught sight of Ghost and Toast at the library's corner table.

For as long as he could remember, Johnny knew that Ghost was lovesick over Katrina--badly. It seemed almost as if he was going to die if he didn't ask her out or something, but he never did. Johnny felt horrible when he found out that Katrina liked him, of all people.

"Why me?" he had asked himself mentally. "It could've been John, it could've been that Raven-what's-his-face guy, it could've been Fred, but, oh no, it had to be me! Jonathan Toast, Junior. Of all people, why me?!"

Luckily, he had been able to act oblivious to Katrina's feelings to him, being able to avoid any problems between the three of them. Katrina seemed to lost interest--slightly--when Johnny got involved with Mary Petrova, the new girl who had transferred from another school.

And, boy, did Johnny get involved.

In nearly one month, the two had gotten close--very close--and were soon dating. Johnny knew that it might cause a rift in his relationship with Katrina and John, which it did. Thankfully, he was able to mend whatever ties had been broken in the following months and since then they had all been one happy family again.

Katrina walked over to the table, pulling one of the chairs out. She turned it around before sitting on it so she could sit with her black backpack still on, without it rubbing on the back of the chair. "What's going on?" she asked, the slightest hint of a British accent in her voice. Somebody on her mother's side was of British descent, and because of that they had lived in England for a few years as she grew up. When they moved back to America, Katrina's British tones had disappeared for the most part, but the slightest twinge of British tongue was heard as she spoke.

John sat, looking at her for several moments, before shaking his head. "Oh...well...we were just talking about this book!" he said, quickly passing his hand over the cover of Harper Lee's classic. Toast smiled as John acted as if he knew exactly what he was talking about.

"Oh, I love To Kill a Mockingbird!" Katrina exclaimed, snatching it up. "How d'you like the court scene?" she asked.

John's face fell. "Erm...court scene?" He glanced to Johnny for help, but Toast wasn't about to offer any. "Well...it was...very suspenseful."

Katrina's excitement slightly deteriorated. "Oh...that's...all you've got to say about it?" she asked, a sad tinge in her voice. Ghost gulped, tapping the table's surface repeatedly. "Well..."

He suddenly looked to his right and saw Fred Spooker on his knees, reaching for a book on the bottom of a shelf. "Hey, Spook!" Ghost called out.

Spooker turned around, looking to Ghost. "Yeah? What is it, John?" The teenager stepped forward, rubbing a hand across his stubbled face.

"What're you doing here?" Ghost asked.

Spooker brandished the book he had picked out from the shelf. "Oh, just getting a book." He quickly tucked it down, keeping the cover from view.

"What is it?" Johnny asked, his curiosity piqued.

Spooker shrugged. "Just...a book."

"Is it The Fault in Our Stars, by any chance?" Katrina asked, on the verge of laughter.

Spooker's jaw dropped before he snapped it shut again. "How did you--well...I mean...yes, it is." Ghost turned to look at Katrina in admiration.

"How did you know?" he asked.

Katrina shrugged. "Just a hunch. Partly because it is Emilia Bates's favorite book." Spooker was now growing red in the face, shifting from one foot to the other.

"Emilia Bates, is it, Spooker?" Toast asked, smiling humorously at his friend.

Spooker sighed. "All right, fine, you guys win. Yes, I'm getting it because it's Emilia's favorite book. Yes, I like her. Yes, I know it's stupid." He turned away, looking out the window. "Just...please, don't tell anybody. Especially not that...that Jack."

The three friends exchanged glances. "Well...we won't say anything, Spook," John said. "But...just one question. Why is it so important we don't tell anyone?"

Spooker looked as if he was going to answer them before waving them off. "It--it's fine. Just...please, keep it between us, huh?"

Toast raised a palm up, trying to show him all was fine. "Whatever you say, Spooker. We'll keep it under our hats." Spooker smiled quickly, showing his thanks. He then turned around and went for the library checkout desk before exiting the room.

"Well, hello there," a voice sounded from the right of the table. All three turned their heads to the newcomer. Katrina kept her mouth in a thin line, while Ghost flashed a second-long smile and Toast nodded briskly.

"Hello, Jack," Toast said to Jack Gordon, one of the most popular--and most annoying to many--people in the school. He nodded to both Ghost and Toast and smiled suspiciously to Katrina, keeping his eyes glued to hers for several seconds. She just kept looking at him with a steely glare.

Ghost squirmed in his chair uncomfortably as Toast cleared his throat. Since Katrina and Jack had broken up, things were always...tense when he showed up to speak to someone near her. "What...erm...what can we help you with, Jack?" Toast asked.

Jack blinked once, turning his eyes away from Katrina and placing them on Johnny. "I had a suggestion for this coming week. Being the first week of summer, I thought we could...celebrate by having a week out in the woods at my family's cabin, just us and a couple of other friends."

"Like who?" It was John who asked this question.

"Oh, the Acachallas--you know, Billy and Sally. Their brother--," he chuckled, quickly putting in, "--their sister, I guess, Sue, is pretty cool. And I'd assume their little bro Spencer would have to come. Sally's boyfriend, Aaron, said he would as well. Fred, Chris, and Maddie could come as well, and you can bring Mary, Johnny." He lifted his eyes to Katrina. "And I'm referring to all three of you. You're all welcome."

The trio exchanged glances. "What'd you say?" Ghost asked. The question was mostly directed to Katrina, but he asked it as if it was to Johnny as well.

Katrina looked up to Jack, who was smirking at her. "Sounds like fun," she muttered. "I'd be up for it."

Johnny smiled. "Sounds like it's all set then."

Before Jack could speak, the blond-haired Emilia Bates--a girl that several of the guys at school had crushed on before--walked up. "Hi," she said quietly, stopping next to Jack. "What's up?"

Jack smiled. "Oh," he said, wrapping a muscular arm around her waist, "nothing much. I was just telling them about the idea I had, for the week out in the woods."

Emilia's face sparked up. "Oh. Oh! Do you guys like the idea? I think it sounds like we'd all have a good time up there, getting able to bond together more."

Jack nudged her, winking suggestively. "Yeah. I'd even dare to say a great time." John grunted, a bit disturbed by the undertones he sensed in their conversation.

"Well," he started, "I'll have to check with my mom. She'll most likely say yes, though." He looked to Johnny. "I can give you a call, and you can let Jack know."

Jack nodded. "All right, sounds good."

Emilia stepped away from him. "Speaking of moms, mine's waiting outside in the car. I've gotta run. See ya," she said, before Jack leaned forward and planted a kiss on her forehead.

"All right. See you later, babe."

The four watched as Emilia walked away. "So," Johnny started, letting his mouth drop slightly, "is there something going on between you two?"

Jack grinned broadly. "You bet there is. We've gotten along greatly. She's a wonderful girl." He lowered his gaze to Katrina, to see if there was any reaction from her. She was biting her lip, and Jack smiled because of it. "Well, I've gotta go too. Let me know if you all can go. Later." He walked away, whistling happily to himself.

Little did he know that Katrina wasn't gnawing on her lip because of what he had just said. It was because Spooker had walked up to speak to Emilia before he caught drift of what was going on between her and Jack.

And it hurt her to almost hear his heart crack.

+ + +

"Come on, Mom. It'll only be one week!"

Sarah Ghost, a thirty-eight year old widow, sighed, rubbing her forehead in uncertainty. One half of her wanted to show her son that she trusted him enough to let him go off for a week with only his friends, but the other half of her wanted to say no, because she felt that it would be just begging for something bad to go down.

"Well...who did you say was the oldest person there?"

"Sue Acachalla, we think."

"Oh."

"Come on, Mom! He's twenty years old," John pleaded.

Sarah sighed. "But, Johnny, he's fresh out of high school. And I just don't know about those Acachallas...they don't seem like the greatest influence."

"They're not so bad, Mom. Sue and Billy are nice guys, and I'm sure Spence and Sally are too."

"That's another thing," Sarah said, turning around. "How many girls are going to be going on this little trip? Just Sally? Or more than her?"

John scratched his chin. "Let's see..." He counted on his fingers, mouthing each number as he went. "Five have been invited. I'd assume they're all coming."

Sarah muttered under her breath, "Five." She rubbed her forehead. "What do all the other parents say about this whole thing?"

"They're all for it, I'm pretty sure. At least the Acachallas, Jack's parents, and Emilia's. Johnny, Katrina, and the others were gonna ask tonight."

Sarah smirked. "Oh, so Katrina's going?"

Ghost blushed slightly, ruffling his head of brown hair. "Well...yeah, she's been invited."

Sarah laughed quietly. She absolutely loved to tease her son over his crush on Katrina, which she thought was just adorable--which John was upset about.

Sarah sighed and crossed her arms, leaning against a countertop. "Well...I guess you can go." A large grin broke out across John's face. Sarah sent an arm out. "Just...please--be wise, mature, and responsible. Don't do anything with a girl--or with anything, for that matter--that might result in some dire consequences, got it?"

John chuckled. "All right, I won't." He raised a hand in a mock swearing of honor. "I promise." He then wrapped his arms around his mom, hugging her tightly. "Thanks, Mom. For everything. I love you."

Sarah smiled, wishing that that moment would never end. "I love you too, Johnny. More than anything else in the entire world."

TWO | Permissions Edit

Johnny walked into the Toast family home, pushing his car keys into his pocket. "Mum, Dad, I'm home," he called out. He closed the door behind him as he stepped into the house, taking off his shoes and stashing them under an endtable.

He was met by his twin brother, Gavin. The older twin walked into the hallway and leaned up against the doorframe from the living room. "Well, well, well. The brother arrives."

Johnny sighed. "Hello, Gavin." He started to walk past his brother before Gavin stretched out an arm, stopping Johnny from going by him. Slowly, Gavin turned to look at his brother, face-to-face.

"What took you so long to get home today?" Gavin asked. "I got home an hour ago."

"I was with some of my friends."

Gavin snorted. "Oh, right. Mary."

Johnny nodded. "Yes. Mary." He brushed Gavin's hand off of his arm before marching past, going into the living room. Gavin smirked triumphantly before turning on his heel, entering the room after him. "Where's Mum and Dad?" Toast asked.

Gavin shrugged. "I dunno. Dad's off doing some business thing, of course. Mum went to a store I think."

Johnny nodded. "I see." He sat down on the living room's black couch before speaking: "You doing anything this coming week?"

Gavin shook his head. "No, nothing." He paused, flicking his eyes over to his twin. "Are you?"

"Yes. Jack Gordon invited me and a few others over to his family's vacation cabin up in the mountains."

His brother let out a slight chuckle. "Ah." He let the silence build up for a few seconds before saying, "Was...I invited, perchance?"

Johnny lifted his eyes up. "Well...no, you weren't."

Gavin faked a smile. "Oh. I see." He got up from the couch and walked towards the doorway.

Johnny raised a hand to stop him. "Look, Gavin...if you want to come, I can talk to Jack and arrange for--"

"No, don't worry about it." Gavin chuckled, keeping his steely glare on his brother. "I could care less about it. It's not like you're much of a brother anyways."

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Look, Gavin." But his brother was already moving out of the room and up the stairs.

+ + +

Billy Acachalla, his sister Sally, and their brother Spencer entered the Acachalla home, where their adoptive father, known only as "Papa", sat on his couch, lounging as he watched reruns of Jeopardy on his flatscreen TV.

"Hey, Papa," Billy said, taking his backpack off of his shoulder. Papa grunted what Billy supposed was a hello and resituated himself, reaching for his bottle of root beer on the coffee table.

Sally walked past, listening to something through her earbuds, which were plugged into her pink-cased cell phone, her eyes glued to the screen. Much like her phone case, her jacket was of a dark purple hue.

"Hello, Sally!" Gertrude, her adoptive mother, called out. Sally didn't hear her due to the music she was listening to and walked past, marching up the stairs. Gertrude let out a quiet sigh and rubbed her forehead.

Spencer rushed past. "How are you, Spencer?" Gertrude asked.

Spencer skidded to a stop. "Fine, but I must go and conquer the world in World of Warcraft!" he yelled with a lisp before taking off again.

Gertrude laughed, watching her youngest child dart into the family room, quickly powering up his self-constructed gaming computer.

Billy walked into the living room, where Papa slowly turned his eyes to his son. "What is it, Billy?" he asked.

Billy scratched the back of his head. "Well...you see, Papa, this guy at our school...Jack Gordon...he was just wondering if we could...if we could go to his family's cabin for the coming week."

Papa hit the mute button the TV remote, leaning forward. "The whole week?" Billy nodded.

"Yes, Papa."

The oldest Acachalla leaned back, stroking his beard. "I see." He glanced to his son. "Is Sue going?"

Just as he spoke, the oldest of the Acachalla children walked past the doorway. Born a male but wrongly adopted as a female, Sue was often the subject of ridicule at first meetings, but he quickly proved that he was no person to be picked on. "Am I going where?" he asked.

Both Billy and Papa looked up to Sue. "With us to the cabin next week."

"Oh," Sue said. "Yeah, I figured it might be fun. As long as no kids annoy me."

Billy rolled his eyes. "We're not kids. They're the same age as I am!"

Sue smirked. "Like I said: kids."

"Hey, that's not--!"

Papa waved his hands. "All right, guys, calm down! I get the picture." He laughed. "This is fine with me. Just ask your mother and see what she says about it."

Billy smiled, exuberantly, and turned around and darted from the den. He sure hoped that the trip was fine with his mother.

+ + +

Katrina stormed down the hall after her mother. "Look, Mom," she said, trying to make her voice sound more serious, "I'm old enough to go on this trip. I won't do anything wrong."

Karen Evans sighed, turning to face her daughter. "It isn't that, Katrina. It's just that...didn't you say that Jack was going to be there?"

Katrina rolled her eyes, sighing. "Yes, Mom. But he won't do anything -- Johnny and John will be there. Besides, I think the water has calmed between us both. He seemed pretty chill about it in school today."

Karen rubbed her forehead. "Look, sweetheart, I don't know if..."

Her daughter smiled, stepping to her mother. "Mom, I'll be safe. I can guarantee that. Neither one of them -- nor anyone else there, for that matter -- would let anything happen to me." Karen smiled. She was glad that her daughter could place so much trust into her friends.

"Well...if you're sure you'll be fine."

Katrina nodded. "I will. I will!"

Karen laughed quietly. "Very well. You can go. Who do you need to tell about you coming?"

"I'll tell Johnny. He said he would relay all of our answers to Jack."

Karen nodded. "All right then." She patted her daughter's back. "You'd better get packed up then." Katrina beamed at her mother and ran up the stairs of their house to her bedroom.

"Thank you Mom!"

Karen chuckled, shaking her head. "You're welcome!"

+ + +

"Great!" Johnny said, smiling. "I'm glad you can come."

Katrina laughed. "Me too. I'm looking forward to it."

Silence for several seconds. "Look, Katrina, if you feel uncomfortable about Jack at any time --"

"Don't worry, it'll be fine." Katrina sounded sure of her answer. "Besides, I've got you and John there to watch my back." She began to giggle, and Toast let out a light laugh.

"That's right."

"So..." Katrina thought of something to say. "Is John going, then?"

Johnny nodded. "Yes. His mum said he could come, as long as he was well-behaved."

Katrina laughed. "That is the exact same thing my mom said!"

Both of them laughed for several seconds. "Well, I'd better get going. I've got to finish reading this last chapter to finish my school project."

"Okay," Katrina replied. "When do we have to leave?"

"Jack said for everyone to meet at the entrance to the campgrounds. You know where they are, right?" Johnny asked.

"Of course," Katrina said. "I went there once, back when...you know."

"Yeah," Johnny nodded, although he knew Katrina couldn't see him. "Well...I'll let you go."

"All right. Bye Johnny."

"Bye Katrina."

THREE | Arrival Edit

It was the day that the trip began. One week had passed, and school was done. Johnny had finished his book report and got a passing mark, rounding out a job well done overall for his school year. He had just been informed upon completion, however, that he was going to be moving back to London after the summer. He had gotten a little moody towards his mom, dad, and siblings when he initially heard this information, but he soon decided it'd be best to not get too uptight about it.

John, Katrina, and Mary all took the news heavily. They had all grown accustomed to having Johnny there by their sides, and now that he was gone...they didn't know how they would handle it.

Karen pulled her trusty old car up to the entryway of the campgrounds to the Arabon Mountains. At the small station on the road leading into the camp area, a young forest ranger -- Katrina guessed he wasn't much older than her -- was checking visitors in.

When the car pulled to a stop, the ranger smiled and leaned against the wall of his station. "Hello there," he said, keeping his eyes on Katrina. "How might I help you?"

Karen looked from her daughter to the ranger. "Well...I was dropping my daughter off here to meet with some friends. They were going to be staying at the Gordon cabin."

The ranger -- his pin had the name B. Miles printed onto it -- nodded. "Some of them got here ahead of you and let us know you all were coming." He sighed, looking down the road before the car. "Not too many visitors this time of year, the beginning of summer. They usually come about two or three weeks in."

Karen nodded. "I see. How much is the charge to get in?"

The forest ranger crossed his arms. "Oh, no charge. The Gordon family paid for everyone's way into the campgrounds for the week."

Karen smiled. "Oh. Well, that's nice." She put her car into drive and started to go forward. "Well, thank you."

Miles nodded. "Don't mention it. Any time." He waved quickly to Katrina, who waved back to him as her mom drove the car down the road.

As they rode on, Katrina looked out the window into the lush, green forest to her right. She wasn't generally one to be outside very often -- she dabbled in reading or something to do with her computer, most of the time. Johnny and John were the same way. They all enjoyed reading stories involving the supernatural, both fiction and nonfiction.

The leaves rustled. Katrina smiled, picturing some sort of animal -- a squirrel or rabbit, perhaps -- busting through the terrain, rushing home to their family. Wind blew more leaves through the air, piling them up on the ground.

A worn sign, with the numbers "231" written on it, sat near a dark, leaf-covered road. As Karen prepared to drive up, Katrina pressed a hand on her arm. "Hold on, Mom. If you don't mind, I'd like to walk up here." When she saw that her mother was about to ask why, Katrina continued, "I want to get used to walking around in nature for a while. I mean, I'll be doing it the next week, so I might as well get some practice."

Karen smiled. "All right. You sure you'll be fine?"

Katrina nodded. "Yes, Mom." She reached into the back seat, pulling out her black backpack and slinging it over one shoulder as she got out of the car. Karen did so as well as Katrina walked to the back of the car, her mother following suit. Once they got there, Karen popped open the trunk and Katrina reached inside and grabbed another small bag, tossing it over her other shoulder.

Karen walked over to her daughter, resting both hands on her shoulders. After several seconds, Karen leaned forward and kissed her daughter on her forehead. "I love you so much," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around Katrina. Her daughter returned the embrace.

"I love you too, Mom," she replied. They both pulled apart and Karen smiled broadly.

"If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me."

Katrina nodded. "I won't, Mom. Goodbye." She turned and started walking up the trail, her bags slung tightly against her back. As she started up the steep hill, she turned to her mother and gave her one final wave before embarking on her march along the trail.

She was tempted to pull out her cell phone, but decided against it. If I'm going to be getting used to nature this week, I might as well get started and not have my eyes glued to my phone.

She continued up the path, her hands wrapped around her backpack straps. The leaves rustled -- from animals or wind, she didn't know, but she still enjoyed the sound of it. As she walked she heard a heavier thud in the leaves. A loud crunch.

She stopped in her tracks, turning around. It sounded like...a footstep. She stared into the woods, looking for any sign of something larger than the average squirrel in the midst of the trees and brush.

She stared for several moments, but she didn't hear a thing. Must be my imagination, she thought to herself, turning back and continuing up the path.

As she walked, she heard a humming come from the path down below her. She turned and looked, spotting a black SUV driving up the path. She smiled, recognizing Johnny's vehicle. As the car rode on the road, it came to a stop and the passenger window rolled down. John was sitting there, smiling. "Hey, Katrina. Need a ride?"

Katrina smiled. "Hi John. Johnny. I was thinking I'd walk up the trail and enjoy the peacefulness of the moment. God knows I won't be able to the rest of the week."

Both inside the car nodded. "Would you want me to walk with you? So you won't be alone?" John asked. Katrina thought for a moment before shrugging.

"Sure. Come on."

John stepped from the car and shut the door. "I'll get my stuff into the cabin once we get there," he told Johnny. The older teenager nodded.

"All right. I'll see you both there."

As Johnny drove away, John reached to Katrina's bags. "You want me to take one of those? Or both?"

Katrina nodded. "Sure," she said, handing him the larger of the two. "Here you go."

John slung the bag over his shoulder, motioning forward with his hand. "After you, miss."

Katrina chuckled, stepping forward. John followed closely behind. As the two walked, John thought of something to say. "So...how's your day been?" he asked.

Katrina shrugged. "Oh, it's been fine. I had to wake up at six, so that was fun."

John laughed. "I can imagine. I got up at six-thirty myself, so I don't know how bad getting up at six is."

"Trust me, you don't wanna find out."

The two walked on together up the hill. As they went, Katrina looked down and saw a small pothole in the road. "John, look out!" she shouted, but John missed what she was saying and turned to look at her.

"What is --?" he started, only to step at an angle on the hole's edge. One edge of his foot landed on the higher part of the hole and the other part twisted, and John's face lit up in pain.

"Oh God --" he started, stumbling forward. He was able to catch himself, but he grunted as he supported himself with his right ankle. He loosened his grip on Katrina's bag he was carrying and rubbed the throbbing ankle. "I think I twisted it."

Katrina nodded. "I'd say you did. I'm sorry, I tried to warn you, but it was too late and --"

John offered his best excuse for a smile. "No, don't worry, it's fine." He continued to rub his ankle as Katrina bent forward, raising the cuff of his jeans slightly.

"Eh, it looks pretty good, considering," she said. She squeezed softly on the injured part of his leg. "Does that hurt?"

John shook his head. "No, not really."

Katrina smiled. "It mustn't have been hurt that bad."

"That's good."

"Yeah. We'd better get on back as soon as we can so you can get off of that foot for a little while."

John nodded his consent. "Sounds like a good plan." The two continued up the path, John putting more pressure on his left leg to lighten that of his right. As they came to the top of the bend, John saw the cabin a little bit off.

He smiled. The thought of sitting down had never sounded so good to him.

+ + +

Johnny was standing outside as the two walked up. Jack, Emilia, Spooker, Colon, and Mary were already there, waiting. As they came over the bend, Jack sniggered. "I wonder what took them so long." Sensing the implication he meant in his statement, Johnny rolled his eyes.

John staggered over, lifting his right leg after every so often. Johnny blinked his eyes, wondering what was wrong with his best friend's foot.

"John!" he called out, rushing to his friend's side. "What happened?"

John pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "I twisted my ankle a way's back. It doesn't hurt that bad, though."

Katrina nodded her consent. "Yes, it looked like just a light sprain. It should be better in no time at all!"

Johnny smiled, letting out a slight sigh of relief. "I was beginning to get worried. I had no idea what was wrong when you came limping up here."

John nodded, offering a slight smile. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get inside. The pressure on this ankle's getting to me."

"Of course." Johnny stepped forward, helping his friend into the cabin. Mary and Katrina both followed while Spooker, Colon, Emilia, and Jack all stood together.

Jack turned to Emilia. "You wanna go for a walk?"

His girlfriend smiled. "Yeah, sure." She glanced to Colon and Spooker, who stood there, unsure of what they should do. "Do...erm...do you guys wanna come?"

Spooker opened his mouth to speak before Jack cut him off. "I think you two should wait here and make sure that the others all know where to go when they get here," he firmly stated. "Don't you guys think so?"

Colon's face twisted up into a quizzical look. "But the cabin's right here out in the open..."

"Just make sure they know where to put their stuff," Jack said, placing a hand on Emilia's back. "Come on, let's get going. There's a smaller guest cabin where we can stop by and see how it looks. I've got the key."

As they walked off, Colon and Spooker exchanged glances before shrugging their shoulders, turning and walking into the cabin.

+ + +

Sue pulled his burgundy car up to the cabin, parking it outside of the small wooden building. To his right was his youngest sibling Spencer. The seat directly behind them held Sally, her boyfriend Aaron, and one of Billy's closest friends, Maddie Tyler. Billy himself was seat in the open trunk, where he was packed in between the luggage.

Gertrude had asked Sue if they could possibly be pulled over because Billy was sitting in the trunk with no seatbelt, yet Sue replied that they wouldn't as long as they weren't caught. Papa accepted it as a plausible answer and no more was said of it.

Sue popped open the trunk and Billy clambered out of it, tossing his backpack onto his shoulder. He lifted his duffel bag up from the bottom of the trunk as the others all came to the back to gather up their own luggage. Spencer had a small backpack that held all of his gaming equipment that he wouldn't be able to use, as well as one holding his other, more essential items.

Sally had two bags as well, as did Aaron. Sue had three bags to carry in, and Maddie only had one. When she was questioned as to why she brought so little, she told them that her bag was "larger than most others" and could hold more, and the others didn't question her.

Spooker and Colon both exited the cabin to meet their friends. "Hi, Billy," Spooker said, smiling and nodding to each of the newcomers. "Everyone's here except for Jack and Emilia. They both went to check out the ranger station a little further up the trail."

Billy nodded as Sue came to a stop. "This is my brother Sue," Billy spoke, introducing his oldest sibling. "I'm sure you've seen him before."

The bearded Acachalla nodded to his brother's friends. "Hello," he said, scratching the back of his neck. Both Spooker and Colon introduced themselves before Colon motioned to the cabin.

"We'd better get on in there. John can't really walk that well."

"What happened?" Aaron asked in a quiet, reserved voice.

"He twisted his ankle," Colon responded. "It's not too bad though. He just wants to give it as much rest as he can."

"That makes sense," Sally commented.

Spooker, Colon, the Acachallas, Aaron, and Maddie all entered the cabin. It was a cozy little abode, with a mid-sized sitting room that had two long couches, a love seat, and two recliners, all fitted in worn leather that smelled of the hardwood that walled and floored the cabin. A kitchen with a tiled floor was in the next room, where the food that had been brought was stored.

A staircase dipped down into a lower level, which held two bathrooms and one bedroom. The bedroom held Sue, Billy, Aaron, and Spencer. The two upstairs bedrooms had Mary and Katrina in one and Sally, Maddie, and Emilia in the other. Johnny and Jack slept on the couches, John was to be on the love seat, and Colon and Spooker were both on the recliners.

As a perfect bookend to the whole cabin was a fireplace, which was not yet crackling with the roaring blazes that a few finely cut blocks of wood would soon begin. A small stash of lumber was in a cramped shed outside, which Jack had visited and brought a few blocks in from.

"Not too bad," Sue said, nodding. "I'm actually impressed. I figured any friend of my siblings would have a trashy cabin. I was wrong." Billy playfully socked Sue on the arm with his fist.

"Ha ha," he laughed mockingly, trying to act as if he was humored by Sue's comments. "Come on, let's get our things unpacked."

FOUR | Fatality Edit

Brandon Miles sighed, rubbing his forehead free of sweat with his ranger's hat. The time to enter the campgrounds was over -- if anyone came to the station, he'd have to turn them down. He flipped the switch that lowered the barrier to block any traffic from entering the road to the cabins. If someone needed to leave, he'd simply raise the barrier.

Ranger Miles leaned back in his cushioned chair, turning on the small, ancient TV the rangers had in their station. The picture was all right, and he was able to catch the closing scenes of some super soapy soap opera.

A shadow passed over the window of the small station. Miles flicked his eyes up. "What the..." he muttered, getting to his feet. He leaned over and opened the glass of the small opening, listening closely. There was only silence.

However, a few seconds later, there was a quick snap. His eyebrow arched in curiosity, Miles closed the small grate and went to the door, opening it up. He stepped outside and flicked on the flashlight he kept hitched on his belt. He shined the light around the woods, keeping his eyes peeled for anything. "Hello?" He waited a few seconds before adding, "Is anyone out there?"

There was no answer, only silence. He shrugged his shoulders, turning back to the small outpost. As he reached the door, several twigs and leaves snapped and crunched in rapid succession. He spun around, flipping his flashlight on again. Still, nothing.

He cursed himself for being so jumpy as he turned back and walked into the small outpost. He shut the door and locked it, sitting down to view the remaining moments of the show on the vintage television.

The thoughts of the incident he had experienced were drifting from Miles's mind as a crime drama was opening up on the TV. As he sat back in his chair, reaching for the bottle of water he kept to his side, Miles heard a faint scratching at the door, then a rattle of the doorknob.

Miles leaned forward, sitting his bottle down. He got up and unlatched the case where the scoped rifle was resting in the small station. He opened the door and hissed, "Who's out there?!"

More twigs snapped. Miles twisted his mouth into a snarl as he removed the rifle from the rack, stepping outside. He cocked the rifle once, leveling it. If anything came at him, he was ready to fire.

Several moments passed before Miles lowered the rifle and calmed himself. He let out a sigh as he turned walked into the outpost. As he laid the rifle down and went for the doorknob, he heard the shuffling of feet behind him and, before he could even turn, he knew that it was too late.

A sharp object punctured his back and he let out a shriek, sending a fist out behind him. As he spun, Miles felt the weapon tear from his back, watching the silhouette of blood spray across the door. He slumped down, engulfed in pain, while he glanced up and saw a shadowy figure rush him, plunging the knife down. And down. And down. And down.

With each stab Miles let out a scream of pain as he lost more and more blood. Within ten seconds, the ranger was on the ground.

Dead.

+ + +

Jack and Emilia walked, hand in hand, down the leaf-covered trail. They were both laughing at a story they were recalling from the final week of school. "Only JJ could be so crazy as to say random comments like that in class," Jack said, shaking his head.

Emilia nodded her agreement. "Although I think Nic got him back pretty good," she added as an opposition to Jack's statement. He shrugged.

"You got a point there."

They came to the top of the hill and looked down. The guest cabin -- used by rangers if needed -- was smaller than the main cabin; that, as Jack said, made for it to be better in some situations.

"I bet I could beat you in a race to get in it," Jack remarked, smirking. He knew that Emilia couldn't stand being challenged about her speed, having been on the girls track team in school for all of her high school years.

"Really? You're on," she shot back.

Jack got into a mocking ready position. "Ready?" he asked, acting as if he was in a marathon that he needed to win for some grand prize.

Emilia laughed at his imitations. "Ready...set...go!" Quickly, she took off down the trail, Jack coming up on her rear in quick succession. He had been on the football team since middle school, so he had more than made up for a good bit of running speed during his athletic training for the sport.

Emilia couldn't help but giggle at the little race that both she and Jack had conducted amongst one another. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her until she saw the stairs leading to the cabin's porch. With one swift jump, she brought her feet up and over the bottom step and landed with a thud on the wooden planks, tipping over slightly as she rushed to the wooden door.

She could hear Jack's heavy breathing and laughing mixing together as he rushed up behind her, his own feet thudding on the pinewood. She came to a full stop at the door and sent a hand to the handle, twisting it. As she did so, she realized she had fallen for Jack's little game.

"I said I could beat you to get inside of it," he said, chuckling with glee.

"You and your damned sense of humor," she tried to speak with venom in her tongue, but she couldn't get it to sound believable enough. Jack laughed as he reached to the key to the guest cabin in his pocket. He reached up and slipped the key into the lock, turning it. Before he opened the door, he pressed his full weight against Emilia, finding her mouth with his own.

Jack gripped his girlfriend's hips with his hands, holding to her as he kissed her for several seconds. As he pulled away, Emilia gave him a satisfied grunt, smirking. "Not too bad," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"It shouldn't be. I've had practice."

Emilia offered up a slightly fake laugh, wondering how much of the practice had been given to him from her. She pushed the thoughts aside from her mind as she stepped from the door. Jack opened it up and led the way inside, flipping the light switch on.

As they both stepped inside, Emilia let out a sigh of relief. "Finally, inside. The heat is killing me," she said, fanning herself with her hand. She walked over and flopped onto the couch. Jack nodded, pulling his thin jacket off of his body. He tossed it into a leather chair, stretching.

"Me too. I wonder if there's anything good stocked in here," he commented, stepping to a wooden cabinet, opening it slowly. "Cereal...chips...cookies...ugh, nothing good." He went to the fridge and opened it to the delight of finding a few cans of Coke inside. He picked two of them up and went over to the couch, sitting down beside Emilia. Both popped open their sodas and leaned back, taking deep, refreshing drinks from each of their cold beverages.

Jack let out a sigh. "So, how'd you like the place?" he asked.

Emilia nodded, finishing her sip of soda. "I like it. Very nice, well kept, small and concealed..."

"...cozy," Jack added, smiling.

"Cozy," Emilia agreed. Jack sat his Coke down and leaned forward, kissing Emilia once again. She sat her own drink down and leaned into the kiss before they broke apart. "And very nice." The two leaned forward once again, embracing passionately.

+ + +

The shadowy figure pulled the ranger's dead body behind him, by one leg. Brandon Miles's back had been sliced up badly from the cuts it had received, but that wasn't the worst of the damage done. His face had been horribly mutilated, unlike any horror that the murderer had committed before.

And he had done some dark things before in his past.

He pulled the body to the edge of the lake, reaching down and picking the corpse up in both arms. With one swift toss, he sent the dead man into the body of water, watching as it was soaked in the liquid and drifted further down the pond, disappearing into the dark shadows cast by the overhanging trees.

The murderer let out a light chuckle as he turned, walking away. He then began to whistle quietly, spinning a bloodied knife in his hand.

FIVE | A Good Night's Rest Edit

John let out a sigh. His ankle was feeling well again, after he soaked it in the bathtub. It was swollen a little bit, but nothing that wouldn't heal in time. The group already inside the cabin had welcomed the Acachallas warmly, and they were soon all seated on either the chairs in the sitting room or on the floor.

Spencer, the moment he had entered the door, was blabbering about his newest items he gained in World of Warcraft. It took nearly an hour for Sue to explain to him that they had no Internet access in the cabin, so the youngest Acachalla had gone to the lower levels of the cabin, presumably to pout.

"Either that or he's planning on creating his own Wi-Fi signal down there," Billy had joked.

"What do we have to eat?" John asked. "I'm starving."

Johnny snorted. "How can you think about food? We ate just before we left."

His best friend shrugged. "I dunno -- something about walking makes me hungry."

Before Johnny could shoot back a smart retort, Colon blurted out, "I'm hungry too! Come on, Spooker, let's go check out the cabinets in there and see what we've got."

Both friends got up and rushed into the kitchen. As the group heard them slamming the cabinet doors and eventually make their way to the fridge, Katrina piped up. "I wonder where Jack and Emilia are at."

"They must've found the guest cabin," Mary said.

"Well," Johnny started, "I guess we can expect them back late."

Mary rolled her eyes. "Johnny..."

The British teen stuck his hands out. "Well it's true! Look, we're talking about Jack Gordon. He's not gonna just go into a private house with his girlfriend and look around for snacks or something." He looked to Katrina to bring her into the conversation, but when he saw the look on her face, he decided not to. "I don't know, maybe they'll be back early. I personally could care less."

"That goes for me too," Katrina muttered with a grunt. John shifted uncomfortably.

"Anyways...what do we have planned for tomorrow?"

Sue shrugged. "Didn't their website say they've got a shooting range somewhere on a trail?"

"I think so," Billy said.

"We could just go walking," Maddie said. She turned her eyes to Billy. "In pairs or something." The second oldest of the Acachalla children glanced to her before clearing his throat.

"I...I think I like the idea of shooting guns. Papa's been helping me out with my aim a lot!"

Sally groaned. "I sort of feel just like staying here." She turned to Aaron, who was sitting on the floor with his back against the side of the chair. "What do you wanna do?"

Aaron shrugged. "Whatever you guys decide on is fine with me."

"Let's go swimming!" Colon yelled from inside the kitchen.

John mumbled, "How did he hear us?" Johnny mouthed an "I don't know" back to him before calling back.

"I didn't think about swimming. I left my bathing suit at home. Anyways, I get sunburned easily! My skin is very pale, if you haven't noticed!"

"You just need more sun!" Colon yelled again. "And anyways, I have an extra pair of swimming trunks. You take 'em!"

Johnny turned and looked to each of his friends. "What do you guys think? Do you wanna swim?"

John shrugged. "Sounds good to me. I just hope there aren't any crocodiles in the lake," he said, half joking.

"That would be nearly impossible," Spencer spoke with a lisp, coming from downstairs. He leaned against the wall. "American crocodiles are not native to North Carolina. Alligators, on the other hand, still frequent lakes and ponds."

"Great," Johnny said slowly. "I feel so much safer."

Spencer ignored his comment. "Does anyone feel up to playing Dungeons and Dragons with me? No Internet is available, so I must resort to means concerning lesser technology."

"I think I'll pass," Sue said, looking to his younger brother. "And I think I speak for everyone else," he added. The others in the room all nodded very quickly.

"Very well," Spencer replied. "I shall combat myself in this battle of wits and wisdom." He turned and went down the stairs, taking two at a time. As he closed the door to the bottom floor, all of the older teens chuckled, humored by his actions.

+ + +

Jack opened the cabin's door. A chilly breeze blew through the small house. "Woah...it got really cold," he commented. Emilia shivered, standing up.

"Yeah," she agreed. She pulled on her coat and handed Jack his. As he pulled it on, he kissed her once more before leading the way out the door, pulling it closed behind him. With a turn of the key he locked it and was on his way, walking hand-in-hand with Emilia down the trail.

As they walked, the cool wind brought leaves up off of the ground and wisped them around the air. The pine needles and leaves crunched under their feet as they walked down the path. Emilia stopped in mid-step, letting go of Jack's hand. He stopped as well, two feet ahead. He turned back to look at her. "Em? What is it?" he asked.

Emilia shook her head. "I -- I don't know." She turned and looked over her shoulder. "I just have the strangest feeling...like we're being followed."

Jack chuckled. "Hey, don't pay it any mind. You're probably just paranoid." He stepped back to her and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, pulling her against his side. They started walking again. "Besides, who wouldn't want to follow you? You're beautiful."

Emilia blushed as they both walked. While they moved down the path, they heard a soft rustling of leaves on the trail behind them. This time, Jack stopped first. "Now don't tell me that's paranoia," Emilia shot at him. Jack shook his head.

"I'm not saying anything," he said, watching with open eyes on the trail behind them. In the distance, a wolf howled deeply. More leaves rustled.

"Come on, Jack. I want to get back to the cabin."

Jack nodded. "Yeah. I do too." The two turned and walked down the path briskly, not losing any time at all as they stalked through the woods towards the cabin. When it came into sight, neither one had been happier to see a familiar sight.

+ + +

Jack and Emilia entered the cabin at the same time. "Hello," Emilia said, waving to those within the sitting room of the cabin. Jack nodded with a smile to the Acachallas.

After the two settled down, Jack said, "It's freezing out there. Do you guys mind if we get a fire going?" No one objected, so he got a few blocks of wood and sat them within the fireplace, setting it ablaze. As he leaned back against the wall, letting the heat of the fire warm him, Emilia sat down beside him, cradling herself against his chest. Jack reached his arm down, wrapping it around her waist.

"So, how did the guest cabin look?" Johnny asked.

Jack shrugged. "It was pretty warm and cozy. Small, but convenient. They had some snacks and stuff inside. Nothing too extravagant, but it's nice."

"Maybe we can go there tomorrow, after the swimming," Mary said, leaned up against Johnny's side.

"Swimming, eh?" Jack piped in. "Sounds like fun. Doesn't it, sweetheart?" he said, kissing Emilia on the cheek. She smiled, nodding.

Katrina rolled her eyes in disgust. "I don't mind telling you all, but I'm getting a little tired. I may hit the sack." John nodded, voicing his agreement.

"I'm getting drowsy too." He got up to his feet from the loveseat. Katrina, seated beside him, did the same. "Well, goodnight you guys."

Each of the teenagers exchanged farewells as they broke up into their appropriate sleeping arrangements. The girls filed out into each of the bedrooms they had chosen on the first floor, while the two Acachalla boys and Aaron all went downstairs to sleep in the second floor bedroom with Spencer. Johnny and Jack each sprawled out on their couches, while John laid on the loveseat and Spooker and Colon each took a recliner.

Before too long, they were all fast asleep.

+ + +

The shadowy figure stood outside, looking in through the window. The two girls were both lying down on their beds, fast asleep. The dark clothed man simply stared at them both. He reached down with one hand and laid a small, sapphire-blue rock on the windowsill before turning, disappearing into the shadows of the forest.

SIX | Lake Edit

Katrina got up with a yawn, stretching her arms out. Mary was asleep on the next bed over, still wrapped tightly around her pillow. Katrina smiled, ruffling her head of long, dark hair. She pulled her feet from the bed, placing them down onto the cool planks of wood making up the floor.

As she got to her feet, she looked down to the clothes she was currently wearing, a pair of athletic shorts that stopped at her thighs and a pitch black t-shirt. This should be fine, she decided with a shrug, moving to the bedroom's door. She cracked it open and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. As she walked deeper into the sitting room, she looked and saw Johnny, John, Colon, and Spooker all fast asleep on their appropriate places of rest.

She began to wonder where the missing sleeper was at when all of a sudden...

"Well, well, well, what have we here?" Jack's voice sounded softly from the kitchen.

Katrina bit her lip as she turned around, finding herself looking at the smirking face of her ex-boyfriend. "Hello Jack," she said, a hint of venom in her half-British, half-American voice. She offered a fake smile. "Sleep well?"

Jack, holding a glass, nodded. "Yep, pretty good." He looked her up and down. "You look good." With a slight chuckle, he said, "I mean, you look like you slept good."

"Slept well," Katrina corrected, ignoring Jack's intended meaning. "And yes, I did, thank you for noticing." She took slow, careful steps towards the bar where a jug of orange juice and a bottle of some alcohol -- How did that get here? -- were resting.

"What would you like to drink?" Jack asked. Katrina reached past the alcohol and grabbed the carton of juice and poured it in a red plastic cup. She turned without looking at him and walked to the living room, sitting down on the brick fireplace, taking a deep drink of the orange juice.

Jack shook his head, still smiling, as the other bedroom door opened up. Emilia, Sally, and Maddie all walked out together, hair a mess on each of their heads. Each of the teenagers already awake exchanged greetings. They quickly began to discuss the dreams each of them had had, from Emilia's readiness to go swimming to Sally's hopes that it would rain for a full day sometime.

Before too long, the rest of the teens were soon waking up as well. After everyone said hello and embraced their appropriate significant others, Katrina announced that she was going to go ahead and take her shower. Spooker got up quickly. "I call dibs on the second bathroom," he yelled excitedly.

"Yo, man, why are you in such a rush to get ready?" Colon asked, quizzically looking up to his best friend. Spooker shrugged.

"I dunno. I just like to be ready before everyone else."

No one argued with the two, so they went downstairs with their changes of clothes and each entered the bathroom they had chosen.

Katrina sighed, placing her set of clothes on the counter. She looked at herself in the mirror, mussing up her hair as she turned to the shower. Pulling her shirt off of her body, she yanked the shower curtain back -- and let out a scream.

In moments, fists were banging on the door. "Katrina?" "Katrina!?" "Katrina!!"

Yells filled the house in seconds. "C-come in," Katrina got out, sunk back against the corner wall of the bathroom. The door flung open and John, Jack, and Mary all entered first. All eyes -- both from inside and outside of the bathroom -- were trained on her.

"What happened?" John asked, getting on his knees at her side. Mary got down too, wrapping an arm around her friend.

Katrina pointed up to the shower. Johnny turned first, uttering a curse as he saw the crimson writing on the wall, reading the writing:

I'M COMING FOR YOU

Katrina wiped her eyes as John rubbed her back and Mary patted her.

"W-who could have written that?" Aaron stuttered. Johnny stepped over the edge of the tub and into it, sticking his index finger into the substance smeared on the wall.

"Johnny!" Mary snapped.

Johnny shrugged. "What? I've gotta figure out what it is."

"Well...is it?" Billy asked.

"Is it what?"

"Blood!" Spencer shouted for his brother.

"Oh," Johnny spoke softly. "Well...I can't tell for sure. It certainly looks like blood, but it doesn't necessarily smell like it. And I'm not about to lick it and taste it to find out what it is exactly. One of you can do that if you're desperate enough."

"I'll pass," Jack said in awe, speaking for all of those present.

Katrina slowly got to her feet. "I...I'm sorry. I guess I overreacted. It wasn't much of anything," she said, offering up a fake smile.

The others all smiled back, although they couldn't say for sure whether or not it was something to be worried about or if it wasn't that big of a deal. "I guess we'd better get those showers," Spooker said, to which Johnny nodded and quickly cut on the shower, washing the red writing off of the wall.

+ + +

Everyone had taken a shower except for Mary and Johnny. John, Jack, Spooker, Colon, Sue, and Emilia were all standing outside -- the others were all waiting inside. As they stood there, speaking amongst themselves, Jack began to laugh quietly. The others all exchanged glances and finally John asked, "What's so funny?"

Jack stopped laughing. "I was -- I was just thinking about the whole Katrina thing." He laughed again.

"What's so funny about that?" Sue asked.

Jack shook his head. "You guys -- you guys didn't really fall for that, did you?"

John slowly got his back from off of the side of the cabin. "Wait...you mean that you wrote that stuff on the wall?"

"Well...yeah. What's the big problem, John? It was hilarious."

"I...I don't think it was that funny," John said under his breath.

"What was that? Huh? What'd you say, lover boy?" John's cheeks lit up red.

"W-what do you mean?"

"You know what I mean," Jack said, stepping closer to John. "It's pretty obvious how you feel about Katrina, man."

"It is?"

"Of course, John!"

"But I...I just don't find it that funny. She was hurt by it. Whenever something hurts someone, it isn't funny, Jack." His voice was taking a serious tone. A hint of anger was in it somewhere.

Jack shook his head. "I can't believe this. It was just a joke, John, nothing to get uptight about."

"Just...just don't mess with her anymore. I...I mean it," John said firmly. "Don't hurt her again."

Jack shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."

The six stood in silence until John said, "I think I'll go inside." He eyed Jack cautiously. "The others need to know all about this." He strode into the cabin, leaving the others all alone.

+ + +

As expected, nearly everyone agreed with John that Jack's joke wasn't the best. Katrina huffed and got up, going to be alone for several minutes before returning. "So, what are we planning on doing today?" she asked when she returned, acting as if nothing had happened. Jack, Emilia, Sue, Spooker, and Colon all reentered the cabin, and Katrina acted as if she hadn't noticed that Jack had entered with the others.

"I think we had decided on swimming," Mary replied. Katrina nodded.

"Sounds good," she said. "Do we want to do that now, or should we do it later?"

"Now is as good a time as any," Jack cut in with a smile after several moments of silence. "So much for getting into this clothes I guess!"

The teens all went and changed into their bathing suits. Spencer refused to take off his shirt, saying that the brightness of his skin would blind all those present at the lake. The girls all had longer t-shirts covering their bathing suits, while the boys all had t-shirts or tank tops on.

"So, are we ready?" Johnny asked. Everyone said they were, so they stepped out the cabin door.

"Let's put the key under the mat," Katrina suggested, motioning the welcome mat on the ground outside the door. "That way, if someone gets here before everyone else, they can go on in and not have to wait for the key to come along."

"Good idea," Johnny said, sticking the door's key under the mat. "All right. Let's get going, shall we?"

+ + +

The lake shimmered before all of the teens, allowing many of them to let out sighs at the beauty of the body of water. "That...is...beautiful," Mary muttered. The others nodded their agreement.

"I bet it feels beautiful, too. Let's go!" Spooker shouted, taking off down the path. Colon shook his head, running after his best friend. Emilia turned and tugged on Jack's arm.

"Come on," she said, and Jack nodded, pulling his shirt off as they both ran to the edge of the lake.

The others all moved at a slow pace after them. When they got to the lake, Spooker, Colon, and Jack were all already in the water. Emilia was shedding her t-shirt. "Wow," Jack jokingly remarked as she stepped into the water, smiling.

She shook her head. "Shut up," she shot back before he reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her reluctantly into the water. "No, Jack, do-!" she started, only to be cut off as she was splashed into the water.

Jack let out a loud laugh, as the others all chuckled as she pushed the wet strands of hair from her eyes. "You aren't funny," she said, trying to sound pouty.

Jack let out a mocking "aw" before leaning forward, kissing her deeply.

The others all took off their shirts and jumped into the body of water. Sue let out a sigh as he leaned back. "This feels great," he said. "I could stay in here all day."

"Be my guest," Jack replied. Further down the lake, Spooker was attempting at floating, failing miserably. Colon shook his head as Emilia moved closer to them.

Spooker glanced to her. "Oh. Hi Emilia." She nodded back and greeted him.

"What's the problem?"

"I can't get myself to float," Spooker replied. "I just can't grasp it."

Emilia placed a hand on his wet back. "Here, just lean back casually and calmly. Don't force yourself on top of the water -- just let yourself go."

Spooker's breath caught in his throat as he leaned back, exhaling slightly. Moments passed before Emilia removed her hand from his back. He lay there for several seconds, letting his eyes flutter closed. "Wait a minute -- hey! I'm floating! I-I'm really doing it!"

"You don't say," Colon muttered, chuckling.

Aaron stepped into the water slowly. "Oh, I hate swimming."

"Really? Why?" John asked.

"Well, not swimming, just getting into bodies of water like lakes and stuff. I just hate the feeling of the mud and dirt all squishing against your feet and between your toes -- and you also never know what's in the water."

Spencer, waist-deep in the water, froze. He peered through the murky liquid. "Thanks for nothing. Now I fear that a sea creature may drag me into the dark underbelly of this lake!"

The others in earshot all laughed. Sally looked down to her feet. "Now my feet feel weird." She playfully socked Aaron's arm. "Thanks for nothing. Now your philosophy of lakes is making me feel awkward."

Aaron shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault."

+ + +

For nearly an hour, the teens all played various games in the water -- Marco Polo, among others. Aaron and Sally announced that they planned to take a walk around the lake and in neighboring areas. As the two got out of the water, they dried themselves off before picking up their shirts and putting them on over their bodies. Hand in hand, they walked off on the edge of the lake.

Currently, four of the guys were having a chicken fight, with Colon on Spooker's shoulders and John on Johnny's. Amidst the water wrestling, they were debating on how hard it'd be for more than two teams to participate.

"Not that hard, I'd imagine," Johnny commented before taking a foot to the face. As he wiped his mouth free of any germs that might have been smeared over it, he added, "Just get in here. Let's see how it works."

Billy was soon put on Sue's back and Spencer was put on Jack's back. The four pairs of boys were soon locked in wrestling combat. As expected, Spencer was sent off of Jack's back first. Both of them went underwater. Those watching all laughed. As Colon quieted his laughter, he wasn't paying attention to his partner as Spooker shouted, "Colon! COLON!"

Just as the teen in question looked up, he saw Billy coming in and knock him down. Colon's foot swung up and smacked Spooker in the face, sending him down too.

"It's been an honor knowing you," John jokingly bode farewell to Billy and Sue. The two Acachallas went forward, and in a brief struggle, it was the two Johnnys who went down first.

"How in the actual heck did that happen?" John asked, spitting out water from his mouth.

"You let your guard down," Billy got out amidst his laughter before the hands of Maddie, Katrina, Mary, and Emilia sent both he and Sue tumbling down into the water. It was their turn to laugh now.

As they spoke of the match they just had, Emilia's smile slowly disappeared. She looked behind her, only to see nothing. She then looked down, realizing she was in the deeper part of the lake. Her feet couldn't find the bottom. "It felt like something just touched me," she said. Jack drifted towards her.

"Eh, don't worry about it. Probably just a piece of plant life or a fish or something."

Emilia's mouth twisted into a frown. "A fish?"

She quickly began to swim away towards the edge of the lake. "Come on, Em!" Jack yelled. "Fish are nothing to swim away from! They are just little things in the water, nothing scary or dangerous." He shook his head. "I don't know about you all, but I'm getting a bit tired of swimming."

Sue nodded. "I'd agree with that."

Johnny stretched out. "Why don't we go back to the cabin, then?"

"Let's do it," Jack said, swimming towards the shore. The others followed suit before drying off, putting their shirts back on, and then making their way to the cabin.

SEVEN | The Cave Edit

Sally and Aaron walked down the trail along the edge of the lake. The wind whistled bitterly. Confused, Aaron glanced to the air. “Is it just me or did it get windy all of a sudden?” After a few seconds, he added, “And darker?”

Sally looked up and saw he was right. The sky was a dark gray, the color of a dark cloud ready to unleash its watery vapors upon the world.

“You’re right. I wonder if it’s gonna rain…” Sally muttered.

Her answer came quickly. Raindrops started to patter on the cobble pathway, causing both she and her boyfriend to rush down the stone path, their flip-flops clopping on the rocks as they ran. As they rushed, Aaron pointed to a rock outcropping in the mountains. “Hey, I think I can see a cave up there!”

Sally let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s go for it.”

The two ran as fast as they could to the cave. The rain began to pour down as they ran to the small, carved chamber in the mountain. They came to a stop, huffing and dripping wet.

Sally let out a laugh, looking at Aaron’s face, plastered with wet strands of his long, dark hair. “You’re soaked.”

Aaron nodded, laughing. “I wouldn’t say too much.”

For several seconds, they stood there, catching their breath. Aaron cleared his throat and turned to the exit of the small cave. “That rain came on all of a sudden.”

“It sure did.” Sally stepped closer to him. “Maybe we’ll have to stay out here for a while.”

Aaron shrugged. “Maybe so.” He turned to her and slowly placed both hands on her hips. “I wouldn’t mind it, though. I’d be with you.” He leaned in slowly and kissed her deeply. Sally placed her open palms on his cheeks, kissing him back. After several seconds, they pulled away from one another.

Smiling, Aaron turned and walked deeper into the cave. “It sure is dark. I wish we had flashlights or something.”

“Um…cell phones?” Sally suggested.

“Oh,” Aaron mumbled. “How silly of me.” He reached into his pocket and pulled his phone out. As he tapped the button to ignite his beam, Sally did the same with her purple-cased one. The two looked on.

For several meters, the cave went on like normal. At the end was a narrow circle, which appeared to have been cleared of rock. The two stepped closer to it, warily. When they got to it, Aaron peeked inside. “What is it?” Sally asked.

“I can’t tell,” he whispered back. “It looks like it could be an old mine shaft of some sort, or just another cave. It isn’t natural, though—someone had to have made it themselves.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Wanna go down?”

Sally was unsure. “I don’t know…should we tell the others?”

Aaron chuckled. “How? We have no signal, and I’m not about to run out through the rain just to come back and let them know we’ve gone into a tunnel.” Without waiting for her answer, Aaron squeezed through the narrow opening.

“Aaron,” Sally pleaded in a whiny voice. “I don’t think we should go down there.”

“Come on, Sal, what else are we gonna do?” Aaron asked. “It’s pouring outside and it’s boring just to sit in the cave.” After several seconds of silence, he slipped back down the hole, leaving Sally to let out a grumpy sigh. Shortly after, she gave in and crawled down the hole after him.

After several moments of climbing, the two found themselves on the next level of the rocky terrain. “This is pretty cool,” Aaron commented, lifting his eyes up to look at the whole new area he had come across. “Come on, let’s go deeper.” Reluctantly, Sally followed him, looking about cautiously.

As they rounded a bend in the tunnel, they spotted a lit lantern sitting on a wooden table. The four-legged piece of furniture was obviously old—cracks split the wood in certain places, and it was clearly rotten. A map of what appeared to be the tunnel and its offshoots sat under the lantern.

“It looks like someone was in here recently,” Sally commented. Aaron nodded. He turned around and looked deeper into the tunnel.

“Let’s go down a bit farther.”

Sally gripped his arm tightly. “No, Aaron. I don’t feel comfortable going any farther. Someone else is probably down here, and we have no idea who he is or what he is up to—”

Aaron pressed her shoulder tightly. “Come on, Sally. It’ll be fine. I’m here with you.” Sally offered a slight smile as Aaron leaned in and kissed her lightly on the cheek. He turned around and let his jaw drop as he saw the horrible sight before him.

“Dear God…” he let out, looking in horror at the mutilated corpse hanging from the roof of the cave. The man’s head was missing, and gore was dripping from his severed neck. Both arms dangled down, and one was missing half of its fingers. Sally let out a gasping noise as she sent her hand to her mouth.

“I feel like I’m gonna be sick,” she groaned.

Aaron nodded. “Yeah, me too. On second thought, we’d better get out of here.” The two stumbled over their feet as they rushed to the hole leading out of the cave. As Aaron helped Sally climb up, they heard something—someone—walking towards them.

They both turned around and saw a tall figure, standing at the end of the tunnel. Something jagged was in its hand—a blade of some sorts, it appeared. Both of their mouths fell open. “Get going, now!” Aaron barked, pushing Sally up the hole. The figure stalked closer to them.

As Sally clambered through the hole into the entrance of the cave, the figure was mere meters away from Aaron. He turned around and examined the nearby rock wall, looking for any sort of weapon. A rusted pickaxe was leaning on the wall. Better than nothing, he thought, rushing to it.

He brought the tool up in a defensive position, but he was no match for the brute force of the towering person. He reached out and knocked the old mining tool aside. Aaron sent his arm up, his fist balled up, and swung it at the man before him.

The tall person pulled the old knife up, slamming it into his shoulder. Aaron cried out in pain as Sally yelled, “Aaron!”

He looked to her, tears welling in his eyes. “Sally—run!” She looked on in horror as the figure reached its hand up and placed it over Aaron’s face, glowing in a mix of black and red. Aaron screamed in pain as his face was engulfed in a blend of fiery colors, before the tall attacker’s hand exploded in flames. Aaron’s head was no more in seconds, and his body toppled over onto the floor.

Sally began to cry, panicking, as she turned and tripped on the rock floor. She stumbled to her feet and darted from the cave’s mouth, running for the cabin. She didn’t look back.

EIGHT | Repulsion Edit

Sue walked out of the bathroom, pulling a clean shirt down over his muscular body as he exited the small room. He quickly traveled up the staircase, being the last one to change. Everyone else was seated in various spots across the cabin’s sitting room.

“Sally and Aaron aren’t back yet?” he asked as he walked into the room, noticing his sister and her boyfriend were still absent. Billy shook his head.

“Nope. They must’ve found shelter somewhere else.”

Spencer groaned at his laptop. “I cannot believe that we have no Internet connection out here! Now I’ll never reach my next level in time to participate in the battle!”

Sue chuckled, ruffling his youngest sibling’s head of hair. “Don’t fret, bro. You’ll be able to catch up when we get back.”

He stepped to the wooden door to the house, glancing out. The rain was pouring down, and the two missing teens were no where in sight.

“Come on, Sue, relax,” Jack commented. “They’ll be fine, wherever they are.”

Sue sighed. “Yeah, I guess so.” He walked over to the group and sat down on the floor, arms crossed. “What’ll we do for now?”

“I have no idea,” Colon said. Spooker nodded his agreement.

“We could…tell funny stories that have happened to us in the past,” Katrina offered. She looked to John to see his reaction.

He shrugged. “Sure. Why not?” He glanced over his shoulder to Johnny. “Hey, Johnny, remember that time when we tried to prove to the whole neighborhood that one time that there was a mutated rodent living in the sewers under the road?”

Johnny smiled broadly, reminiscing. “Oh yeah…” He chuckled. “I remember that very well.”

Mary grinned. “What is all this? You never told me about a mutated rodent!”

Katrina’s mouth fell open. “I never heard of this either. When did you two find a giant rat?”

“Well, we were playing out in the street one day when we saw something pass by in one of those viaducts. It looked big and furry. So, as any curious nine year olds, we ventured into the sewer to find out what it was.”

“You actually went in the sewer?” Emilia asked, in shock. Her face was one of disgust.

John nodded. “Well…yeah. You see, it wasn’t one of those nasty sewers, it was just one filled with water.”

“That’s probably carried people’s sh…never mind,” he said, glancing to Spencer. He held his tongue and continued. “It sounds pretty disgusting, yeah.”

John ignored his remark. “Anyways, we went down there and saw something big and brown going down one of the cutoffs in the sewers. We were so freaked out that when we tried to run back out, I slipped and fell into the water!”

Several of the listeners made faces of disgust while the others—primarily Spooker and Colon—sat still, waiting for more of the story’s juicy details. Johnny chuckled. “Yeah, he smelled awful!”

“I’d bet,” Jack said. John ignored him again and carried on.

“Well, we went back to our parents and tried to explain to them how I was dripping wet and why it smelled like sewer water. We both pleaded with them that we were chased by a large rodent—which, some would say, was stretching it—but we kept on and kept on.

“Finally, Johnny, his brother Gavin, myself, and our fathers all ventured down below once more. We found the ‘large rodent’, which turned out to be one of those little capsule things that turns into something when it’s in water. Apparently, it was also one that grew larger the longer it was soaked, so it grew to a gigantic size.”

The friends all laughed. Johnny started up again. “There was this other time when John, my siblings, and I—”

Suddenly, cutting him off, the door slung open and Sally stood in the doorway, drenched in rainwater. She was panting, her face showing clearly that she was either distressed or worn out. “Sally!” Sue shouted, getting to his feet. He and Billy moved to her side, helping her to a chair.

“Where’s Aaron?” Billy asked her. Sally looked up to him before she fell apart, tears flooding her face.

“We—we were in a cave near the lake, and—and--oh, dear God!” she cried.

Sue exchanged glances with the other boys. “They must’ve been off in a cave doing who knows what and he may have fallen or something.” He nodded to Johnny. “Johnny, you come with me. We’ll go have a look. The rest of you stay here and take care of Sally.”

As Sue and Johnny turned to the door, Billy got up. “Sue. I want to come with you too.” Just as he was about to object, Sue smiled and placed a firm hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“All right Billy. Come on, we need to hurry.” The three threw on their jackets and rushed out the door, running for the lake.

They had no idea what they were in store for.

+ + +

Sue, Johnny, and Billy came to a stop inside the cave. “This must be the one,” Johnny said between gasps. The run had left them out of breath. “There’s no other in sight.”

The others nodded in agreement. “Then Aaron’s in here somewhere.” The three trekked into the cave, turning on their phones’ flashlights. They quickly came upon a hole in the cave wall.

After looking inside, Sue turned to the others. “I think I can see Aaron in there. He’s out cold, all right. He’s laying down on the ground.”

He crawled down, followed quickly by his brother and Johnny. The three gathered around Aaron’s body before their jaws all dropped. “I’m gonna be sick,” Billy muttered, looking in horror at the beheaded body of his sister’s boyfriend.

Johnny looked up. “Who could’ve done this?” he got out after moments of silence.

Sue glanced around the cave. “I have no idea. Whoever it is, I don’t wanna meet them.” He lifted his light up and saw another decapitated body, hanging upside down from the roof of the cave. “And apparently Aaron isn’t the only one that this has happened too.”

Shouts were heard from the cave behind the second dead body. The three inched back, slowly. “That doesn’t sound good,” Johnny commented.

“I agree,” Sue added. “I think it’s time that we leave.” One after another, the three exited the cave hurriedly.

+ + +

“He’s dead?” Emilia exclaimed.

The girls all were crowding Sally, comforting her. Sue nodded. “Yes. We heard something—or someone—further in the cave, but we weren’t about to go digging deeper.”

“Well—we should—I mean, I guess we’d better go and get help. Like the police or something,” John suggested.

“I second that,” Maddie said. Emilia grabbed her cell phone and dialed 911, only to be met with an endless buzzing sound.

“Well isn’t that lovely,” Jack muttered. “No signal.”

“We’d better go ourselves,” Johnny said, standing up. “Let’s get out of here. The sooner the better, I say.” The teens all rushed outside, leaving behind their belongings. In the situation they were in, they could care less about material things.

They all hurried into the three vehicles that they drove to the cabin in. The Acachallas and Maddie got into Sue’s car, while Johnny, John, Katrina, and Mary all got into Johnny’s SUV and Spooker, Colon, and Emilia all joined Jack in his car.

They sped off, one after another, towards the exit of the campgrounds. Johnny, in the lead, slammed on the brakes when he reached the ranger’s guardhouse. “W-what in the world…?” John asked aloud, looking in surprise up to the world beyond the gated camp area.

There was a coal-black wall surrounding the campgrounds. There was no escape visible to the human eye. Johnny cursed as he smashed the steering wheel with his fist. “Something doesn’t want us to leave the cabin. Something is toying with us!”

He flipped the hood of his jacket on his dark-haired head and quickly announced, “I’m going to let the others know that there’s no way out. If something happens while I’m out, John, you take the wheel.”

He quickly jumped out of the car before anyone could plead with him to do otherwise. He rushed to Sue’s car. The oldest Acachalla was already rolling down his window. “There’s some sort of wall blocking us in,” Johnny explained hurriedly. “There’s no way out.”

Questions were scrawled all over the look that Sue made, but he asked none of them. “What do we do?” he asked.

Johnny motioned back towards the cabin. “The only option I see is to go back and lock ourselves in the cabin for the night.”

Sue nodded. “All right. We’ll see you there.”

Johnny ran over to Jack’s car and told him the same. As he pulled away from the guardhouse and drove to the cabin after Sue, Johnny rushed to his own vehicle and sped away, following them.

None of them saw the dark, misty figure standing in the woods, watching their every move. He cackled wickedly before he fizzled away into nothing.

NINE | Calm Before the Storm Edit

The teens regrouped in the cabin. With no way out, there was only one option that seemed visible to them: stay in.

The door was locked tight and the windows were all covered in shutters. A search was made of the inside of the house to make sure no “unwelcome visitors” had made their way inside.

“It all looks to be under lock and key,” Sue reported as they all sat in the living room. The rain quietly beat on the roof of the cabin and the windows, resulting in a pleasant rhythmic clop-clop noise of the drops splattering on the surface.

Emilia was seated on the couch, curled into Jack’s chest. As they embraced, Spooker and Colon played the slowest ever game of go fish, unsure of what might happen next. Sally was still silent, in shock, with her closest friends and family gathered around her—all except Sue. He was standing by the window at the front door, peeking through the cracked blinds.

John and Johnny made their way over to him. “What exactly are we gonna do?” John asked. Sue shook his head.

“I have no idea. We can’t go anywhere, since that wall thing is around the campgrounds. And with no signal, we can’t phone anybody. Nobody even knows we’re in trouble. For all we know, the world outside of this camp could be frozen in time.”

The three shuddered at the thought of a world that wasn’t advancing. It was just so unnatural.

As the group got quiet, besides the monotone whispers to one another, the group was surprised to hear a loud thump, and then the shattering of a window. Everyone sprang up, silent as could be. Slowly, Sue moved towards the dark, shadowy cranny where the noise came from.

Of course we have no sort of weapon here, he thought to himself, looking around for any sort of protection he could use. The closest thing he found was a steel pipe stuck alongside the refrigerator, which must’ve been used as some part of the cabin’s frame that had fallen off and never been replaced.

Sue crept towards the window; glass shards were all over the floor before it. He stepped over them carefully and peeked outside the window. For a moment, he saw nothing. Then he saw a misty figure stalking in the distance. Sue sighed, turning around. “It’s all clear,” he called softly. The group quickly got to work boarding up the broken window.

+ + +

“You tell me you have no reason being here?”

The tall, dark figure stood, towering over the exasperated old man. “N-no…we’re just here doing some landscaping work!” he got out, shaking in fear.

The creature let out a humming noise before he reached down, grasping the old man by the throat. He lifted him up into the air, resulting in a slight sound of quavering fear in the man’s voice. “W-what are you doing?!”

“If you have no purpose here, you mean nothing to me. Then, you are just a waste of my time.” His voice turned into a growl. “And I hate wasting my time.”

He squeezed tighter on the old man’s throat, allowing for the miner to let out a choking noise. “H-hold on!” he begged, causing the creature to loosen his grip.

“What is it?” There was venom in his voice.

“I…I can tell you something…” the old man finally said.

The creature smiled slightly. “I’m waiting.”

“We…we were sent here by a scientist…a professor…to find something—an ancient relic!”

The silence prompted the old miner to continue.

“Well, we found it—a blue orb, nearly crystalline in appearance! He told us to go further, to dig deeper—and when we did, well—you showed up…”

“Because you have awakened me, you fool. You’ve done your race a great disservice, but you’ve done me a great service.” The man’s face lit up in confusion, causing the creature to continue. “I can summon to my side any being from the Dark Dimension. Since you have released me, I can now continue with a project I started many, many years ago. And it is all thanks to you and your master.”

Before the old man could ask another question, the tall creature threw him into the rock wall, and as the miner clambered to his feet, the creature rested a firm hand on the man’s shoulder before ramming his other hand into the man’s gut, punching through the skin.

Blood poured from the old man’s torn stomach, and he was dead in seconds. The tall creature removed his hand from the corpse’s insides and let go, allowing the limp body to fall over. He turned and stroked his chin, ignoring the running blood on the cave’s floor.

“Now the time has come to continue with my mission.” His eyes glistened as he thought of the teenagers he had encountered earlier. “But I have something to deal with first. And it shouldn’t take very long.”

+ + +

Nearly everyone was asleep. Emilia was peacefully lying on her bed until she felt a shifting beside her. She rolled over, popping her eyes open, only to see Jack lying their beside her. “Hello,” she mouthed quietly before he leaned to her and kissed her firmly.

After several seconds, he rolled back over and whispered, “I love you.” She repeated the same to him and the two kissed again.

“You’d better go to sleep. You need some rest for tomorrow,” she said.

He shook his head. “I can’t get to sleep. Besides, I’d rather be with you.” He kissed her deeply again. She rolled into him and pressed her body firmly against his, reaching her hands to his back and holding him tightly. He did the same, hugging her in a deep embrace.

One of the other girls in the room shifted, causing Emilia to pull her lips away from Jack’s and glance over her shoulder. “We might disturb the others,” she said, turning back to Jack. He shrugged.

“So what?” he shot, smirking devilishly. As he leaned in to kiss her again, she held up a hand to his lips.

“We’ll have more time together tomorrow. And we’ll be alone.”

Still smiling, he nodded and slowly got to his feet. “All right. I’ll be waiting.” She blew a kiss to him which he accepted graciously before stepping quietly away from the room.

TEN | The Hunt Begins Edit

Sue was awake when everyone else came to. He was waiting for them all when they entered the kitchen, scavenging the food supply to eat. “I see you’re all up. I think our first action is to try and find a way out of here. I believe that is the priority here.”

The others voiced their agreement. “But how? We have no idea how we are going to get out of here,” Jack asked.

“We have to search the whole camp, then,” Sue advised. “The two places that I say we should check out first are the guardhouse and the cave. If the ranger is at his station, then he can be of help. He should have a gun there too. The cave is the only place where we’ve seen any clues leading to the whole matter.”

“How will we be split up?” Johnny asked.

“Sally should remain here—she still must be in shock after Aaron’s death.” He made the statement with a bit of uncertainty—it was unreal to think that someone so close to them was dead, and in such a brutal way.

“I think Emilia and Spencer should stay with her.”

Jack started to voice his protest, but Sue didn’t let him cut in. “Emilia has the personality to keep Sally calm during this. Spencer is just too young to be out in all of this.”

Spencer hadn’t spoken much since the whole thing had started. Aaron was the first person he knew well that had died, and it had left him in shock too.

“I then figured that I would go with John, Katrina, and Jack to check the guardhouse, and afterwards we’d meet up with the rest of you in the cave.”

No one protested, so Sue took it upon himself to break the silence. “Sound good?”

The others nodded. Sue turned and glanced out the window, stroking his bearded chin. “We’d better get started then. You all do what you need to—then we’ll be on our way."

+ + +

Johnny and Mary both had to conveniently go the bathroom at the same time. As they each exited the two separate bathrooms, Johnny stood by her and pressed his hands firmly against her shoulders. “No matter what happens, always remember that I love you,” he said to her.

She nodded and stood on her tiptoes, kissing his pale lips tenderly. After nearly twenty seconds of being locked in the kiss, they pulled away and embraced passionately. “Oh, Johnny, I love you too.” They kissed deeply once more, each wishing they had more time to do this—to hold one another, hug one another, kiss one another.

They both went up the stairs together, hand in hand. Unlike Jack and Emilia, they preferred to consummate their relationship in private. They felt that it was more appropriate that way. The two came to a stop at the top of the stairs, where the others were all waiting.

“We ready to go?” Sue asked. Everyone nodded, and Jack gave Emilia and firm kiss goodbye and the Acachalla siblings all parted emotionally. They had no idea whether or not they would see each other again after they left the cabin.

Johnny pulled John aside. “I’m not one for getting emotional, John, you know that. But I want you to know that…well, that I love you as my brother, John. And I mean that.” John straightened up, taking the moment for its worth.

“I feel the same way, Johnny.” After several seconds of silence, the two hugged for a brief three seconds before pulling away, not wanting to make the situation too awkward.

“All right,” Sue said, opening the door. “Let’s get to it.”

+ + +

Sue led John, Jack, and Katrina to the guardhouse. Surprisingly, the door was wide open, the light inside still on. The four crept up slowly and carefully, unsure of what they might find inside.

Blood was smeared on the doorway. Katrina’s stomach churned inside as she pictured some hideous beast gutting the helpless ranger, dragging him off into the woods to do to him whatever it is that it does.

Sue cursed under his breath. He stepped past the blood, avoiding the stench to the best of his ability. He looked inside and saw the ranger’s rifle, lying on the counter inside the small guardhouse. “We’re in luck,” he called back, picking up the scoped weapon. “The rifle’s here. The ranger isn’t, though.”

Everyone had a pretty good guess at what happened to him.

“We’d better circle back around and find the others,” Katrina suggested, and the others all agreed.

“Come on,” Sue ordered, leading the way from the murder scene.

+ + +

Johnny, Billy, Mary, and Maddie all stopped short of the cave, turning on the flashlights they had picked up from the cabin. One by one they entered the cave, looking about for any clues.

“See anything?” Johnny asked after they searched for several minutes. No one had turned up anything, so they kept on looking.

The group slowly entered the hole into the tunnel where Aaron had been killed. Surprisingly, his body was gone, a trail of blood going deeper into the cave. Billy couldn’t bear to think why they might take his body with them.

There was a cutoff of pathways at this intersection. One passage—where the dead miner’s corpse had been hanging upside down—was obviously the passage that called for investigation the least, although it probably held more answers to the whole matter.

Mary turned, her light hitting a desk of old materials. “Hey, guys—look over here!” she said, pointing to the desk. The four ran to it, looking around. Spotting a lantern, Billy found a matchbox nearby and struck one of them, lighting the lantern. It sent out a ray of light, allowing for an easier form of searching the desk and its contents.

The four took turns opening drawers, searching inside. After rifling through various schematics and blueprints for mineshafts and other forms of excavation for the tunnels, Johnny found an old hardback book. The title read: Notes on Creatures from the Dark Dimension.

“Look at this,” Johnny said, holding the dusty volume before him. The front cover was just like any other hardback book, colored brown with images of various dastardly creatures scrawled on it.

“I wonder if it could be of any help to us,” Maddie muttered aloud, looking up in interest to Billy. He shrugged.

“I don’t know. Take a look, Johnny,” he said, tapping his older friend on the shoulder.

Johnny nodded, flipping the book’s front cover open. He saw a name scribbled on the title page, but he couldn’t make out the handwriting. He also caught a glimpse of the book’s publication date: 1943.

“This is one old book,” Johnny commented to no one in particular, flipping to a marked chapter. He began reading aloud:

“Chapter 3: About Krr’Sa’Thu’Tin, Master of the Dark Dimension

Krr’Sa’Thu’Tin is the leader of the forces of the Dark Dimension. He generally appears in a mist-like form, with glowing orange or red eyes and a black body.

The demon is known to kill his prey by using his bare hands, transmitting dark energy to flow through his fingertips and either steal life from his targets or to simply kill them using pressure or amassed energy.

He is also recorded as having entered the body of one of his targets, controlling their mind for an extended period of time. So far, no cure is known of as to how to be rid of him if he enters you. You must simply wait until he has left from you.”

“That sounds just lovely,” Billy cut in. Johnny nodded, voicing his agreement before continuing down to the next highlighted passage of the chapter.

“There are only a few recorded ways to defeat Krr’Sa’Thu’Tin. (1) Use weaponry derived from those of who have visited the Dark Dimension. The smiths who have ventured there have met with opposition from demons there from time to time, and they have acquired materials that can be used to put an enemy from that realm in their place.

(2) Give him some sort of sacrifice or mutual gift to please him. This tactic can only be used if he is actually looking for something. He has been recorded as having attacked in order to get either a specific item or—in some cases—a specific person. When this happens, hand the object in question over to him. (3) The third and, as of now, final way of defeating Krr’Sa’Thu’Tin is to trap him in a vessel called the Safe Box. It is shaped as a pyramid and has enough power inside of it to contain the demonic evil if he is within the Box’s vicinity. However, the current location of the Box is unknown, so this tactic is the most unforeseeable of the three.”

The four sat in silence for a period of time as they took in what they had just read. “So,” Maddie started, “there’s technically no way we can defeat him without a box or a weapon from the Dark Dimension, other than sacrificing something or someone to him?”

Johnny let out a sigh of defeat. “That sounds about right.”

There was silence again. “How, exactly, would we find out what it is he wants—if he does, indeed, want something?” Mary asked.

“We’d have to arrange a meeting with him—but I have a feeling that those would be on his terms only.”

ELEVEN | Exhaust Edit

Sue, John, Katrina, and Jack walked down the trail. The sky was still dark, a storm brewing again in the beyond of the clouds. Katrina wrapped her dark jacket around her tighter, keeping the cool air from her skin.

“It’s pretty cold out here,” she muttered, shivering slightly. John nodded his agreement.

“Surprising, being summertime and all.” After several moments of silence, he slowed down and turned to her. “Do you want to use my jacket?”

Jack, before both of them, sniggered. What a terrible attempt at flirting, he thought to himself, looking over his shoulder. Katrina waved John off. “Oh, no, you’d need it. I’ve got mine, after all. How would it look, me wearing two jackets and you not having one?”

John nodded his understanding. “Yeah, I guess so.”

The four kept walking when Sue held up his hand suddenly. “Hold it,” he whispered. “I think I hear something.” He leveled the rifle, looking about suspiciously. The other three stood in silence, glancing around the woods surrounding them.

“What do you think it is?” John asked no one in particular.

“I’d be willing to bet that it’s Mr. Creepy,” Jack retorted. John ignored his response and looked around. He turned to Katrina and stared for several seconds, gulping. He felt a tugging within, to talk to her, but he knew that now wasn’t the time to do so. I’ll have another chance. Yeah, I’ll get another opportunity to tell her.

All of a sudden, the sky grew dim. Leaves picked up as the wind swirled through the air. The four backed up towards one another. Sue readied the rifle—Papa’s hunting lessons had taught him how to handle a gun expertly.

Out of nowhere, the dark, mist-like figure came into view, directly before Sue. He quickly raised his rifle up, sending a shot off. The gun’s barrel was aimed in a split-second directly at the creature’s heart. The bullet shot from the rifle, smashing into the beast’s chest and sailing right to the ground.

The tall figure cackled, watching as Sue’s gun flew from his hands and onto the dirt floor. The oldest of the group looked on in awe. He stepped slowly to his discarded weapon, but the creature held his hand up. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, friend.”

“Who…who are you?” Katrina blurted out.

The misty figure looked to her. “My name is Krr’Sa’Thu’Tin. Some simply like to call me the Demon.” He laughed deeply. “Seems to fit, don’t you say?”

“You’re a monster,” John spat out.

“Now, now, no need for name-calling. That isn’t very nice.”

No one decided to bring up the fact that killing at least three people wasn’t very nice either, afraid of what he’d do. Instead, Sue asked, “What do you want from us?”

“Nothing particularly—you’re just in the way. It’s just that—” He paused mid-sentence and looked to John. “Wait a moment—you there. Who are you?”

John looked up. “Me?”

“Yes, you!”

“John Ghost.”

“Ghost? You say that your name…is Ghost?” he asked slowly.

John nodded cautiously. “Yes…”

Suddenly, the Demon disappeared and, in seconds, reappeared mere centimeters from John. “At last, the descendant of my nemesis! That cursed Thomas Ghost—you must be his son.”

John gulped. “He…he is my father, yes.”

The Demon spoke some ineligible curse and murmured some words under his breath. The four teens stepped back slowly, unsure of what was going to happen. Before they could get too far, the ground shook and they all stumbled. “Run for it!” Sue yelled, and they all took off.

The Demon was in pursuit in moments, his sights set on Ghost. As the Demon pursued John, he and Sue took off one direction, leaving Jack and Katrina to go down another path.

Sue darted around a cropped line of bushes, dropping to his knees. John did the same. They sat still, not moving a muscle, until the Demon rushed past, not noticing them. The two let out their breath, looking around.

“Where’d Katrina and Jack go?” John asked.

“We must’ve gotten separated. We took some sharp turns back there, so it isn’t surprising.”

John slowly got up, but Sue gripped his arm. “We need to go get the gun. It’s our only form of defense.”

“We’ve got to find the others!” John said, rather impatiently.

“We will,” Sue replied, trying to calm him. “We need to get the rifle first though. If we run into something, we won’t do Katrina and Jack any good if we just get killed trying to find them.”

John sighed, realizing that Sue was right. “That makes sense.” He motioned around the bushes. “Go on, you lead the way.” Sue got up after checking the corners, darting for the location where he lost the rifle. John took off after him, sticking close to his side.

+ + +

Jack and Katrina stopped near a cluster of old trees. Katrina was standing, her back pressed up against a tree, huffing as she collected herself. She wasn’t used to using all of her energy in one quick burst of time.

Jack was near another tree, resting both hands on his knees. “That was close,” he commented, glancing up to Katrina.

She looked at him for several seconds before replying, “Yeah, it was.”

He stood up straight, taking a few steps towards her. “We need to catch our breath.”

She started to walk past him. “I already have.” Jack stretched his arm out, blocking her path he walked towards her, reaching his other arm around and placing it on the tree she had been leaning on.

Katrina looked down at his arms, realizing that he had her blocked in. She turned, rolling her eyes up to him. She twisted her mouth into a frown. “Let. Me. Go.” Her no-nonsense tone of voice and death stare told Jack that she wasn’t playing.

“Come on, Katrina. You know we had fun.” He stepped closer, stroking her dark strands of hair against her cool cheeks. “I bet you miss it.”

“Not one bit.”

She tried to push past him, but he put a hand on her shoulder and pressed her up against the tree. “Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not,” Katrina said, venom in her voice. She looked with what was nearly hate at him. “I said let me go.”

Several seconds passed in silence when she opened her mouth to tell him to move again, although he moved in and claimed her lips with his. She grunted in disgust and pressed her arms against his chest, pushing him off. He smirked. “Come on, don’t get rough,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and leaning in again.

She sent a hand out and scratched his face with her nails, allowing blood to dribble down his cheek. His smirk disappeared and he reached up, rubbing the wound. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said, lowering both arms. She looked up in what was now fear. She had no idea what he was going to do.

He stepped closer, only to suddenly be lifted up into the air. He blurted out a curse, looking around, before he was sent flying into a nearby tree. The breath was knocked out of him as he fell to the ground, rubbing the back of his head. He got up and looked to the Demon, who was calmly approaching them. He sent a fist at the creature’s face, only for the misty hand to shoot up and catch his own fleshy one.

Katrina stumbled off, knowing she wouldn’t have another chance. As she took off, she threw a glance over her shoulder and saw Jack get thrown into a tree again, tumbling to the ground.

This time, he didn’t get up. And the Demon didn’t follow Katrina.

+ + +

Sue bent down and snatched up the rifle, holding it high. He scanned the surrounding area, but caught no sight of the Demon, Jack, or Katrina. He cursed and turned to John.

“All right, looks like we’ve got a bit of searching to do.”

The two started out back the way they came, keeping at a quick pace. They looked all around, afraid of finding either of the two lying dead in a clump of bushes somewhere. As they both looked to the left and right sides, they heard feet shuffling in the leaves before them.

Both shot their heads up, seeing Katrina running towards them. She skidded to a stop, kicking up leaves towards them. She ran to John and wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, dear God, John, it—it got him!”

“Got who? Jack?” Sue asked immediately. She nodded, fear evident in her eyes. Sue looked up, gripping the gun tightly. “We need to find him.” He glanced back to her. “Where did this happen, Katrina?”

She pointed to a cluster of trees in the open. “Over there,” she said quietly, pointing to them.

Sue took the lead, John and Katrina following closely behind. Before too long, they reached the trees and sure enough, Jack was lying on his back, out cold. The three looked to one another, knowing that it’d be a while before he’d come to again.

+ + +

Colon and Spooker were nearing the guest cabin. They both were moving at an even pace, looking over their shoulder every other step. They both let out sighs of relief as they saw the cabin in the distance.

“Finally,” Colon said, smiling. “I thought we’d never get here.”

As they made their way to the cabin’s door, they heard rustling in the leaves behind them. First, it was afar and quiet, but it began to grow louder…and closer.

They stopped in their tracks and turned around, seeing a small horde of hunched creatures scrambling down the path behind them. Both stood in fear, their jaws dropping in surprise. “Run…run!” Spooker shouted, shoving Colon on to the cabin, almost toppling over.

The two bounded to the cabin. Spooker glanced over his shoulder at the wrong time, running into the porch’s rail. He staggered back, rubbing his gut where the post smashed into him. He turned back and saw the beasts rushing at him and took off onto the porch, running to the door as Colon fiddled with the lock.

As the door burst open, both ran inside and slammed the door shut, turning the knob and barring it tightly. They sank to their knees on the ground, huffing and puffing as they collected their energy, unsure of what to do next. They simply sat in silence, listening to the pounding on the door and wall.

TWELVE | The Demon's Message Edit

Spooker and Colon stood up, having caught their breath. Colon went to the fridge, popping open the door. Spooker rolled his eyes. “Can you really be thinking of eating at a time like this?”

“Dude, I’m hungry!” Colon shot back, rummaging through the stock in the fridge. Spooker rolled his eyes and turned around, beginning to search the cabin.

“While you do that, I’ll find something important,” Spooker yelled to him, checking the far wall.

“That is an arguable statement,” Colon replied, not taking his head out of the fridge. “Hey, ham. Let’s make a couple sandwiches.”

Spooker shook his head. “Don’t get me one,” he said.

“What do you mean? A couple for me.”

Spooker ignored him and went over to the fireplace, sitting down. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, turning the flashlight on. He stuck his head in the chimney, looking around.

“What the heck are you doing?” Colon asked, stepping over with a sandwich in each hand.

“I remember seeing this in a video game before,” Spooker replied. “There was a switch to a hidden room hidden in the fireplace.”

Colon rolled his eyes. “Yeah, like someone’s gonna hide a room and a switch in this cabin. Sure.” As he said “sure,” Spooker flipped a switch and wall paneling slid open.

“Ahem,” Spooker cleared his throat, motioning to the open passageway.

Colon slowly turned and looked over his shoulder. “Oh,” he said slowly, “never mind.”

Spooker stepped towards the new pathway. “Come on,” he commanded, stepping forward as Colon took a bite of a sandwich. “And please, don’t bring the sandwiches.”

Colon shrugged and sat them both down on the coffee table, rushing down the passageway after his best friend. “Where do you think this goes?” Colon asked, pulling out his own phone and turning its light on.

“I dunno,” Spooker commented. “It could be another entrance to that cave Sally and Aaron found.”

Colon froze. “This is a bad idea. A very bad idea.”

+ + +

There was a rumbling deep in the cave. Johnny got up from his seated position, gripping the book tightly. “That didn’t sound good,” Maddie muttered.

“Yeah,” Johnny said slowly. “Let’s get out of here.” He, Billy, Mary, and Maddie slowly crept from the desk and towards the exit of the cave. Mary, in the lead, skidded to a stop as soon as she saw the Demon standing before them.

“Hello there,” he nonchalantly spoke.

Johnny came to the front of the group. “Look—we don’t want any trouble. We haven’t done anything!”

The Demon didn’t take kindly to the response he gave. “It’s not about you specifically—just that Ghost boy.”

“John,” Mary let out in a gasp. She and the others exchanged glances.

“If I were to have him, then you’d all be free to go.”

“I hope you don’t mind if I don’t take your word on that,” Johnny retorted. The Demon snickered at that response.

“No, honestly, I wouldn’t either. But it is your best chance.”

“I’d rather not. John’s one of my oldest friends, and I’m not gonna hand him over to you.”

The Demon shrugged. “Suit yourself. You’re just digging a deeper grave for you and your friends. Each of them.” He then whistled, and a pair of hunchbacked creatures hobbled to him from the shadows. “Take care of our guests. I’ve got other matters to attend to.”

As the Demon fizzled away into nothing, the two creatures let out horrid gnashing sounds, stalking to the four teens. “I think now would be a good time to run,” Billy suggested.

Johnny nodded his agreement. “Yeah. I think you’re right.”

THIRTEEN | The Demon's Strike Edit

When Jack came to, Sue led him, John, and Katrina back to the cabin. They were there quickly, and after Emilia unlocked the door, they were ushered inside. Emilia cupped Jack’s face in her hands, brushing under the injury he had received from Katrina’s hand.

“What happened?” she asked.

Jack flicked his eyes to Katrina, fumbling for words. “I—uh—the Demon guy threw me into the tree, and…erm…my face got cut.” He could see Katrina utter some curse under her breath at him, but he didn’t pay her any more attention.

Emilia smiled. “It isn’t too bad.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the lips. She pulled away and the two went to sit down. John and Katrina also sat, while Sue leaned his rifle up against the wall.

Sally had gotten over her shock at Aaron’s death. “Where are the others?” she asked curiously.

“They must still be at the cave,” Sue replied without thinking.

“In the cave?” Sally spat out. “They can’t go in there! They’ll be killed! Maybe even worse.” She got to her feet, but Sue rushed to the couch before she could get any further than the couch.

“They’ll be fine. We just saw the Demon. He couldn’t have gotten to them that quickly.”

Sally huffed, showing her disbelief in his statement.

Sue shook his heard, turning around. “We found the ranger’s rifle, but he was gone.” He glanced to Spencer. “How are you holding up, bro?”

Spencer shrugged. “Good, I guess. This is all just so…sudden.”

Sue smiled, nodding his understanding. “Yeah, bud. It is to me as well.”

He turned to John. “Hey, John, go check all the windows. Make sure they’re locked.”

John nodded, standing up. “Will do.” He went to each one, making sure that the locks were all turned tightly. He turned around, smiling. “All done. Nothing to worry about.”

Just as if on cue, the window behind him was smashed and shards of glass were sent flying on the floor and onto John’s back. He let out a screech as the glass cut through his shirt, having taken off his jacket. He turned as he saw the Demon kneeling on the ground.

“You can’t run from me,” he snarled, reaching to the ceiling. John found himself levitated into the air. He sent his legs and arms flailing, unsure of what exactly was going on. The Demon sent his arm as far out as he could, watching as John was thrown across the room and into the wall.

All of the air knocked out of him, John groaned in pain as he rubbed his injured ribs. Katrina rushed to his side, rolling him over. “John! Are you okay?”

He wanted to shoot back a “what do you think?” but decided against it. He nodded, rolling onto his feet. Sue rushed to the gun, lifting it up and firing two quick shots at the Demon.

He watched as the bullets went through his misty body. Sue cursed again, tossing the gun down and rushing to the pipe that had been wrenched off earlier. He swung it quickly, smashing it into the Demon’s body. He was surprised when they actually caught something—the Demon’s shoulder.

The Demon cackled, sending his hand out and knocking the pipe to the floor. He reached out and grasped Sue by the throat, pushing him down onto his knees.

As Sue gagged, his fingers tearing at the Demon’s wrapped hands, Emilia, Spencer, Sally, and Jack stood in awe. “Jack! Help him!” Sally yelled.

Jack, frozen in place, nodded. “Yeah—right.” He rushed to the discarded pipe, snatching it up. He smashed it into the Demon’s skull. The creature slumped over, turning around.

“That was your first mistake, boy.” He grabbed Jack’s arm, twisting it back. As Jack screamed out, the Demon sent a fist into Jack’s chin, sending him sprawling to the floor.

Sue tried to scramble to his feet, reaching dazedly for the discarded hunting rifle. He missed it and the Demon grabbed Sue’s shirt collar, pulling him onto his knees. As the Demon reached for the pipe, he looked to John. “This is for not coming easily, Ghost. For that, you—and your company—must pay the price.”

He pulled his arm back, aiming the pipe directly at Sue’s face. The oldest of the group watched in fear, his jaw dropping. He closed his eyes, awaiting the brief speck of pain to come.

But it never did.

As soon as the Demon jerked back, Sue popped his eyes open and saw Spencer pawing at the foe with his arm raised. “Spencer!” someone—Sally, Sue thought—screamed out.

The Demon knocked Sue to the ground and focused his attention on Spencer. “Foolish child,” the Demon spat out, slamming Spencer’s body into the wall. Each person watching stood helplessly, their mouths forming “o” shapes as the Demon smashed in with the pole, impaling Spencer into the cabin’s wall.

The fourteen-year-old yelped in pain, although he fell silently in seconds. His head lolled over and the Demon sniffed, stepping back. Spencer’s body hung helplessly from the wall as the Demon turned, staring at each of those still living. “If you don’t give me him,” he said, pointing at John, “then this will happen again…and again…and again. Until you are all dead.”

With that, he disappeared once more, this time leaving the room sorrowful and morbid.

+ + +

The process of moving Spencer’s body from the spike in the wall was a very long one. It was something one never thought of before—how do you pull someone off of a pipe in the wall? Do you yank them off, or slide them off?

It wasn’t something they wanted to dwell on in thought either. Sally was crying again, and Sue fought the tears as much as he could, although he helped Jack and John pull his body off of the pipe. They couldn’t make him do it alone.

Now, Sally and Sue were staring at their dead brother’s corpse. Sue was busy blaming himself: “I should’ve died, not him. It’s all my fault.”

John stepped forward. “No…it’s my fault, Sue. He wants me.” He sighed, looking down. “I just don’t know what for.”

Jack broke the silence. “You’re right. He does want you.” He stepped forward. “I say we give you to him.”

Katrina looked up from the floor. “What? Are you insane?” Jack turned and looked at her. “He’s our friend. It’s just like killing him ourselves. He didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“But why should we die for what is clearly his fault? The Demon wants him, not us—I say we let the Demon have him!”

Sally was thinking deeply suddenly. “Spencer…Spencer’s dead.” She glanced up to John. “He’s right. The Demon wants you, not us!” She curled her lips into a sneer. “You killed my brother!”

“Sally!” Sue shouted, standing up. “All of you! Just shut up. John didn’t mean for this to happen—no one did. It is that Demon’s fault—he wants us to fight one another. It’s his plan. To beat him—and avenge Spencer—we must work together to defeat the Demon.”

Sally was still thinking, unsure of what they should do. Jack shook his head, sneering deeply at John. “I say we hand him over to the Demon. That’d solve the whole problem.”

He turned and stalked away, blowing off his steam.

FOURTEEN | The Demon's Trap Edit

Johnny, Mary, Billy, and Maddie took off down the twists and turns of the cave, uncertain as to what they may come across in their running through the tunnels. “Don’t fall behind!” Johnny yelled, keeping a level pace with Mary. She nodded, letting out a sigh. She wasn’t used to running this much, unlike Billy (who was part of the JV football team in high school) and Maddie, who took up jogging as a hobby early in the morning.

The four came to a fork in the cave. “Which way do we go?” Billy asked. Johnny thought quickly before giving an answer:

“Mary and I will go left. You two go right. Hopefully at least two of us will find our way out.”

Billy nodded and led the way as he and Maddie took off down the right fork, while Johnny led Mary down the left side of the tunnel.

Johnny ran quickly, looking over his shoulder, only to hear Mary shout out: “Johnny!”

He skidded to a stop, looking to a five foot drop before him. “Wow,” he said, huffing. “That was close.” He heard the shuffling of one of the creatures behind him. He carefully bounded down the drop, reaching up a hand to Mary. She grabbed hold and he helped her down, carefully setting her down.

Another drop was before them, followed by a narrower one. Two large slabs of rock were about three or four feet apart from another, horizontally.

Johnny pulled his phone out and flipped on the light. “Stay here. I’ll check out the next level.” He jumped down and examined the nearby area. “All right. It looks clear.” He turned and sat down his phone, reaching out to Mary. “Come on.”

She sat down and began to slide out, only to feel a clawed hand wrap around her shoulder. She let out a shriek and began to squirm towards Johnny. He jumped up and tussled with the mottled arm, only for another one of the creatures to yelp out, diving onto him.

He wasn’t expecting the force of a creature his size to pummel him to the stone floor. He let out a cry of pain as his head impacted with a jagged rock, and he felt blood oozing from the scar forming on top of his head.

The creature slashed its jagged claws at him, skimming the top of his face. The claws tore down to his chin, leaving a thin jagged scar on his face. He angrily reached up and grabbed the creature by the neck, holding it back as it snapped its jaws at him.

Suddenly, a gunshot sounded from behind Johnny. The creature’s head splattered, bits of gore and brain splashing onto Johnny’s face. He couldn’t help but make a face of disgust, brushing the chunks of the monster’s head off of his body. He tossed the mutilated corpse of the beast aside, wiping the blood off of his face.

He rushed to the area where Mary had been grabbed, but she was nowhere in sight. “Hey, kid,” a grizzly voice sounded from behind him.

Johnny spun around, raising his hands, only to see an old man with a light strapped to his forehead standing there, a shotgun held tightly in his hands. “W-who are you?” he asked slowly.

“Not one of those critters, if that’s what you’re wondering,” he said, lowering the shotgun. A strap kept it held around his chest. “The name’s Walter. As far as I know, I’m the last member of the mining team sent here to uncover something.” He motioned towards the crevice where Mary had been dragged off. “Those things were what we found.”

“We need to go get my girlfriend—I can’t leave her!”

Walter shook his head. “No, no, you can’t, but you can’t go chasing after those things unprepared either.” He wiped his grimy face with his equally grimy glove. “I’m low on supplies. Not much can harm those beasts but a shotgun blast to the face. Their leader, that mist guy…haven’t found a way to harm him yet.”

Johnny nodded, looking over his shoulder. “Come on, we need to hurry,” Walter said, nudging him. He gripped his shotgun. “That is, if you wanna save your friend.”

“Of course,” Johnny replied, following Walter as he grabbed a backpack holding his gear.

“You staying at a cabin here on the campgrounds?” Walter asked. Johnny nodded. “Good. You take me there and I’ll give you a rundown on how we can stop those blasted things.”

+ + +

Billy and Maddie rounded the corner, coming to a quick stop as two figures stood before them. Both yelled out in fear, although familiar voices calmed them down. “Hold on guys! It’s us, Spooker and Colon.”

Billy and Maddie looked at both of the figures’ faces, satisfied with what they saw. “How’d you get down here?” Billy asked.

Maddie rolled her eyes. “That’s the least of our worries, Billy.” She pointed down the corridor. “Those…those things are still after us, you remember!”

Billy nodded, turning to Spooker. “You know how to get out of here?”

“Sure do,” Spooker nodded. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” The four took off down the pathway, rushing for the exit. The lights of the guest cabin shone down a rustic stairway that looked like it had been thrown together in under a minute.

They bounded up the stairs. As Maddie, the final one, entered, Spooker rushed to the fireplace and pulled a switch inside, closing the secret passage. “How’d you find that?” Maddie asked.

“You won’t believe this,” Colon said, shaking his head. “He saw it—”

“In a video game!” Billy answered. “I saw it too. Pretty ingenious.”

Colon looked in awe. “Has everyone seen this video game but me?”

“That’s not the most important thing we should be wondering about,” Spooker said. “We’d better get back to the main cabin and let the others know what’s going on.” Suddenly, Spooker’s eyes lit up. “Wait, where’s Johnny and Mary?”

Billy shook his head. “They took another path. Hopefully they found the way out before those stragglers found them.”

Maddie chuckled. “Huh. Stragglers. I like the sound of that, Billy.” She smiled to him, and he looked at her oddly.

“Uh…thanks?” It was more of question than an answer. Spooker and Colon both exchanged glances before turning away.

“All right. I think it’s time we go to the cabin.”

FIFTEEN | Spearhead Edit

Johnny and Walter hurried from the cave, through a second exit that the latter knew of. “Which cabin are you staying at?” he asked, cradling his shotgun carefully.

Johnny pointed to the trail before them. “The first one off this trail. I don’t think anyone else is even staying in these campgrounds.”

“Eh, not surprising. Not many people come around this area.” Walter snorted. “Makes it easier to do our job, though.”

The two took off down the trail, keeping an even pace. Johnny was surprised to find that Walter was actually a rather quick-footed individual for one of his seniority. As they trekked down the path, Johnny asked, “What, exactly, is your job?”

“My buds and I are excavators, hired out to the highest payer. This one guy came along and offered us a pretty penny to mine out this cavern in search of some ancient artifact. Well, a job’s a job, so we took it. Little did we know that this…thing that the guy was searching for was supernatural.

“As we mined for it, we must’ve triggered it or something and it released that demon guy. He summoned a horde of those other buggers and trapped us down in that mineshaft. It was a miracle we found that second exit. When we went back to let the others know, though, they were all dead and my buddy was carried off.”

Walter sighed, stopping to catch his breath. “I can’t believe they’re all gone.”

Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I can’t imagine losing my best friends either.”

Walter glanced up. “They weren’t only my best friends. One of them was my brother.”

Johnny’s eyes widened. Sure, he and Gavin weren’t the best of brothers, but he sure couldn’t imagine him getting killed, especially by some creature right out of old fairy tales.

“What’s your name?” Walter asked, changing the subject.

“Huh? Oh, Johnny.” He stretched out a hand. “Johnny Toast.”

Walter eyed him with suspicion, taking his hand. “Nice to meet ya, kid.” He readied himself up to run again. “You’d better get ready. We need to make for that cabin.” He surveyed the skies, which were already turning a dark hue of blue. “Looks like a storm’s brewing tonight.”

+ + +

Billy, Spooker, Colon, and Maddie came to a stop on the doorstep of the cabin, banging on the door. “It’s Billy! Let us in!” Billy yelled to the others inside. Quickly, they heard rushing footsteps and the door cracked open. Sue peeked outside and then slung it open, seeing his brother and friends safely.

“Thank God you’re all safe.” He welcomed them all inside.

John stood up. “Wait—where’s Johnny? And Mary?”

“We got separated looking for a way out of the cave. We can only hope they made it out safely.”

Billy looked at each of the faces in the room before his face fell grim. “Wait…where’s Spencer?”

The others all nervously glanced to one another. Billy shifted from one foot to the other, uneasily. “Sue?” he said, turning to his brother. “Where is he?”

Sue gulped, looking to his feet. Billy turned to his sister. “Sally? Won’t someone just tell me where Spencer is?!”

Sue placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “He’s gone, Billy. That creature…the Demon…it killed him.”

“Dead? Spencer, dead?” Billy stepped back in unbelief, running his hands through his hair. “Why…why…” No one answered his questions; no one had any answers.

+ + +

Walter and Johnny made it to the porch just as the rain started to fall. Johnny rapped on the door to the cabin. “Guys, it’s me, Johnny!”

The door slowly opened up and Sue was standing there, ushering him in. His eyes blinked when he saw Walter standing there, a stranger. “Who is he?” he asked.

“Name’s Walter,” the old man said, although it clearly made no difference to Sue.

“I found him in the cave. He was part of the mining crew that found the artifact that held the Demon.”

“Where’s Mary?” Emilia asked, standing up. Johnny sighed.

“One of those creatures grabbed her. I don’t know what’s happened.” He turned to Sue. “I’ve gotta go back and find her. I can’t just leave her there to whatever fate the Demon has in mind.”

Sue nodded. “I’ll come too.”

Walter offered his hand in assisting Johnny. “I’ve got a couple scores to settle with that beast.”

Billy stood up. “I want to go too. For Spencer’s sake.”

Johnny looked around the room. “What? What’s happened to Spencer?”

“Dead. The Demon got him.” Sue spoke with a somber tone.

“Oh.” It was all Johnny could say. “I-I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now.”

Sue smiled. “We’ll get through it. We’ve just gotta get back at that demon.”

“We’ve got to be able to trap the Demon though,” Katrina said. “And open the wall to get out of here.”

Walter stepped forward, speaking up on the matter. “I had a book on the creatures of the Dark Dimension—our employer supplied us with it. It said that there was some sort of ‘box’ that could trap the Demon, if we could find it.”

Everyone looked to him cautiously, unsure of whether or not he could be trusted. Johnny nodded. “He’s a pretty reliable source.”

“We found the book,” Billy said. “It said that the box was like a pyramid in shape.”

“That’s it! We found that when we accidentally unleashed the bugger. It’s actually what he came out of,” Walter explained to the group.

The others all nodded. “But what about opening the wall to get out of here?” Walter sighed, stroking his white-bearded chin.

“I don’t know of that off the top of my head.” He turned to Billy. “Has one of you got the book?”

Maddie nodded, slipping it from her coat. “Yes, here.” Walter took it hastily, flipping through the worn yellow pages, crinkling them as he skimmed over most of the knowledge within until he came to a certain spot in the pages of the old hardback.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, pointing to a chapter heading. “Here it is.” He read to himself before slapping the book closed. “It seems that there’s a certain series of words that must be uttered to break the spell that has created the wall.” He looked down at the page before reciting a sentence in some ancient dialect.

“Are we really supposed to say that?” Emilia asked, disbelievingly. Walter shrugged.

“It’s what the book says.”

Emilia stepped forward, taking the book from his hands. “I’ll look over it and see if I can memorize it.”

“And while she does that,” Sue said, “we’d better get started.” He turned to Johnny, Billy, and Walter. “You guys ready?”

Johnny sighed. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” Sue looked at the ranger’s rifle. He had grown accustomed to using it, although he knew he couldn’t leave the others unarmed. “Here. You guys take this.”

The others all looked to one another, unsure of who should take the gun. “Thanks,” John said, stepping forward and taking it carefully. “We’ll make sure that it gets put to good use.”

Walter reached to his mining pack. “I’ve got my trusty old revolver,” he said, removing it from a leather holster hanging from his pack. He handed it to Sue. “You take it.”

Sue nodded his appreciation. “Thanks,” he offered, taking it in both of his hands. He examined the old firearm, inspecting the aged steel. Looks like something Papa would’ve had in his collection of weaponry.

Johnny zipped up his jacket. “I want all of you to go for the exit and use that sentence to get out of here and find help.”

John shook his head, placing the rifle on the sofa. “No. We can’t.” He stepped towards his best friend. “At least…I’m not going anywhere without you all. If we all don’t go, then I’m staying until you get back.”

Katrina stepped forward. “Me too.” The others also chimed in with the same defiance against Johnny’s suggestion.

Johnny knew when he was going to lose an argument. “All right. Just stay indoors.” He clamped a firm hand on John’s shoulder. “Keep the others safe.”

John nodded. “Don’t worry. I will.”

With that, Johnny turned as Walter opened the door. “Come on. We need to get started if we are to get to the cave in a quick fashion.”

SIXTEEN | Rift Edit

The rain began to pit the ground in puddles of mud, clopping over the shoes of all four as they traipsed across the land to the cave. Billy had his jacket’s hood pulled tightly over his head and Walter had a toboggan snugly fitted around his crown, although both Sue and Johnny had nothing to cover their heads and were left susceptible to the rainfall.

“The cave’s right up here,” Walter muttered, rushing towards the passageway into the cave that he and Johnny had left through when they escaped the creatures. “Let’s move.”

The four scrambled over the rocky entrance into the cave, flicking on their lights. “Stick close together,” Sue ordered. “We don’t know how many of those things there are and where they’re at.”

Walter pumped his shotgun, leveling it as he led the way. Sue kept his borrowed revolver close at hand, held upwards towards the roof of the cave. Billy and Johnny followed closely behind, unarmed but wary of any sudden movements around them within the darkness of the cave.

Several small pebbles slipped and clattered to the ground, causing all four to lurch forward. Sue’s finger snapped to the trigger, although he didn’t pull it. A good thing, too—there was nothing there, just the cave settling.

“Whew,” Billy sighed, huffing heavily yet quietly. “That got me.” He smiled, looking to Johnny. He wasn’t smiling, and Billy couldn’t blame him. If his girlfriend was missing, held captive by who-knows-what, he’d probably not smile until he found her and held her in his arms again.

Suddenly, from the depths of the cave, a screech sounded and one of the stragglers, as they became known, dove from beyond the shadows, although it was quickly put down by a blast from Walter’s shotgun. As the creature slid past the four on the stone floor, pooling in blood, Walter turned back as more hissing sounded from the shadows. “Get ready,” he said. “Sounds like more of ‘em are coming.”

Walter and Sue raised their guns as Johnny and Billy slunk back. Three more of the creatures lurked from the shadows, their jaws snapping and voices screeching at the four intruders. Sue fired his gun, sending the first of the beasts to the floor, its leg limp. Walter blasted the other twice with his shotgun as the third leapt over his wounded companion flailing its arms wildly.

It tackled Sue to the ground, his revolver clattering away into the shadows. Walter turned to help Sue before Johnny shouted out, “Walter, behind you!” The old miner spun around, face-to-face with the third straggler. Walter fired away, blowing the creature’s head clean off.

Sue struggled with his opponent, using his strength to hold the creatures slashing claws from his eyes. He had a pretty good idea what damage they could do to them.

Billy rushed to the discarded pistol, struggling to find the weapon. He held it up with both hands, aiming it carefully at the creature fighting his brother. As he readied the weapon to fire, Billy pulled the trigger, watching as one of the shells smashed into the creature’s skull, killing it. The limp body was easily shoved aside by Sue as he crawled to his feet.

He looked to Billy with a smile. “Thanks, Billy.” Billy only responded with a smile of his own, handing his older brother the sidearm. Sue took the cold metal in his opened right hand, cradling the barrel in the other as he turned to Walter. “All right, we need to get moving.”

+ + +

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

All eyes in the room turned to Jack. “What?” Sally asked in confusion.

Jack’s eyes stared coldly at her. “I said we’re leaving. Get your things together.” He turned to John and Katrina, who both watched him in awe. To his right, Spooker and Colon did the same. Emilia stepped closer to Jack.

“You can’t be serious, Jack. We can’t just leave the others! They’ve got to get back here with Mary.”

Jack rolled his eyes, cursing. “Come on, Em! You know as well as I do that she’s probably dead. They’ve just gone on a suicide mission. They may even be dead too, for all we know. Our best bet is to just leave now and go get help.”

Katrina’s brow was furrowed. “You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still as stuck-up, conceited, and selfish as you were when we were dating. I hoped that scratch would maybe convince you of something.”

It was then that Jack remembered the scar on his cheek. He reached up and felt with his fingers. When he pulled them back into view, they were lightly painted in crimson blood. He bit his lip slowly as he lowered his hand, rubbing the blood away.

“Wait…what happened? How’d you get that?” Emilia asked, resting a hand on each of his arms. Seconds of silence passed by. “Jack? Answer me. Right now.”

“It—it just happened when we ran from the Demon.” He offered a sly smirk to Katrina, begging her not to speak out of turn. “Right, Katrina?”

Katrina huffed, building up words inside her mouth. Finally, she broke the silence. “No.”

His smile died away. “What?”

“No. The Demon didn’t do it.” She clenched her teeth. “I did it.”

“You?” She didn’t know who all had said it, as several people did.

“Yes. He had me up against a tree.” She still felt the tingle of his lips on hers. “And he kissed me. I told him to stop, and he didn’t. So I scratched him.” She leveled her eyes at him. “I swear to God, that’s the truth.”

Emilia turned to Jack. “Is it, Jack? Is that the truth?” Jack didn’t answer her. “Answer me right this second, Jack. And I want the truth.”

Jack turned to her and let out a slight chuckle. “Look, Em, I didn’t know what came over me. Who knows, that demon may have done something to me. He did come up behind us and knock me out. It must have been a trick!”

Emilia turned to look at Katrina for any sign of whether or not Jack was telling the truth. Katrina’s mouth was hanging open slightly, appalled at Jack’s attempts to shift the blame of his actions onto the Demon. A lot could be put on his lap, but this certainly wasn’t one of them.

“Come on, Em,” Jack said, taking both of her hands in his. He leaned forward. “You can believe me.” Before he could kiss her, she pulled away.

“No. You’re lying.” She pulled her hands free of his grasp. “I can’t believe you. You came here not to spend time with me or any of the others. You came just to try and get her back!”

Tears began to well up in her eyes as she stepped away, turning and moving to another of the rooms in the cabin. Jack’s brow furrowed as he stepped towards her, although John stepped before him. “That’s enough, Jack.” His eyes were set sternly in a stare at Jack as he rested his open hand on Jack’s shoulder.

Jack slapped out with his hand, knocking John’s hand from his shoulder. “Don’t ever touch me again.”

Jack turned around. “Wait, Jack, I’m not done. You can’t—” John reached his hand out to grab Jack’s arm again, ignoring Jack’s threat. He cursed John as he spun around, sending his fist out. A loud crack sounded as John fell to the wooden floor of the cabin.

“I said do not touch me again!” Jack yelled. John rubbed his jaw, a mottled bruise forming below his lip. Spooker and Colon both stepped forward as Jack flung open the cabin door.

“What’re you doing?” Colon yelled. “You can’t just go out there by yourself!”

Jack ignored his remarks and slammed the door shut. Colon shook his head as he walked to the door, snapping the lock tightly closed. “He’ll probably come back once he cools down,” Spooker said calmly. “I’m sure of it.”

SEVENTEEN | The Rescue Edit

Walter was the first over the rock, shotgun in hand. As he clambered to his feet, Walter clicked on the flashlight that had been taped to the barrel of his gun. A provisional attachment, of course, but one that needed to be done while he was searching the caves.

“All clear,” he called down, his eyes flicking all around the cave as Johnny and Billy climbed up, followed by Sue, who covered their flank. “Let’s move,” Walter said finally, creeping along the cave’s wall.

The small group moved along slowly, flinching at every small sound they heard. Before too long, they heard a cool voice coming from a chamber within the cave. All four did their best to hear the voice.

“You aren’t being of much help, my dear. I’ll ask you one last time: where is the book?”

Johnny’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened as he heard Mary’s quivering response: “I…I don’t know.”

“This is only going to get harder and hurt much worse if you keep lying to me.” The Demon’s voice took a deep tone, a faint growl echoing from the back of his throat. “Now tell me the truth.”

Johnny crept down past Sue, who was currently in the front. Walter stretched out and snugly grasped Johnny’s shirt sleeve, although the teenager yanked his arm free, getting on his knee outside of the cave’s mouth. He could see Mary’s face now, a stream of tears beneath each eye. “I’m telling you the truth, I don’t know!” She was crying harder and harder, her eyes pleading with the Demon.

“Please, don’t hurt me! I’m not lying.”

The Demon growled ferociously, five misty, jagged claws extending from his right hand. He snarled, stepping forward, driving his clawed hand straight at Mary’s face. She screamed out as Johnny closed his eyes, resting his forehead against the cave wall.

+ + +

Mary’s scream stopped short as the claws rested against her cheek. They skimmed her smooth skin, drawing a slight circle around her cheek. “It’d be a shame to harm this beauty,” the Demon mumbled, reaching up with his left hand. He cupped her chin in it. “One last chance.” His eyes coolly stared into hers, two pools of black. “Tell. Me. The. Truth.” Moments of silence passed by, seconds ticking away on the universe’s clock. “Now.”

Mary closed her eyes, biting her lower lip. “I am.” The Demon gritted his teeth, bringing his clawed hand back, ready to slam it into her face.

Just as Mary closed her eyes and uttered a silent prayer, a shotgun blast sounded from behind the Demon.

He whirled around, sending her to her face on the rock floor. One of the stragglers that flanked the Demon was on its face, writhing in pain as blood poured from the gaping hole in its face. Standing in the open pathway were four figures.

And Mary was glad to see them.

“Go get her, lad,” Walter said through gritted teeth, an intent stare focused on his enemy. Johnny stumbled over to Mary, tears pooling in his own eyes. Mary smiled as best she could, fazed over the whole action. Johnny got on his knees and placed a hand on each forearm, lifting her up. He tugged her tightly to one side as he turned and helped her away.

Walter took a firm stance before the Demon as Sue flanked him, revolver aimed at the nearest straggler. It was reared up, ready to strike upon the word of its master.

“You. The last of the miners.” The Demon looked with intensity at Walter. “It was a pleasure to kill your companions. It will be pleasing to finish you and have the whole bunch done with.”

Walter gritted his teeth, fingering his shotgun. He cocked his head to Sue ever so slightly. “Get the others out of here. I’ll hold ‘em off.”

Sue blinked quickly. “Wait—what?! We can’t just—”

Walter hissed, “Shut up! Just do as I say.”

Sue had another slew of words on the tip of his tongue, but he knew Walter was right. He nodded as he stepped back. “Come on, let’s go. All of you.” Johnny and Mary led the way, followed by Billy and, finally, Sue.

“You wish to die alone? A noble gesture, but a pointless one at that.”

Walter sniggered. “Why don’t you just shut that cursed mouth and fight?”

“Very well.” The Demon flashed a wicked smile. “Prepared to die?”

“Do your best.” Walter couldn’t fire off a shot before the Demon flung at him, sending his clawed hand at the miner’s throat. Walter’s head collapsed from his neck, falling to the floor as his body dropped to the floor.

The Demon turned to the straggler at his side. “Get after them!” The beasts were already on the move as he spoke to himself: “I’ve got an important matter to attend to.”

+ + +

John rubbed his sore jaw. He heard the floorboards of the cabin creak to his right. He turned to see Katrina standing there, arms crossed across her chest.

John smiled slightly. “I never knew he had such a good punch.” Katrina smiled back before her mouth returned to a thin line. John chuckled. “Not that it would’ve stopped me if I did know, it’s just that—”

“Thanks, John.” Katrina cut him off. “For…for everything.” John smiled.

“It’s nothing, Katrina. I’m just glad I could help.”

“It isn’t just about that,” she said, moving to sit beside him on the couch. “It’s for everything. Since I broke up with Jack, you were always there, giving up all of your free time to be with me and help me.” She smiled as she stared at him. “I guess I never really thanked you like I should have.”

John felt a hint of color heat up his cheeks. “Aw, it’s nothing, Katrina,” he repeated. Katrina let out a light chuckle as she leaned forward, kissing him lightly on the cheek. John’s face reddened even more as she hugged him tightly.

“Thanks.” John hugged her back for roughly a dozen seconds before she stood up, walking away. John smiled goofily as his eyes followed her slim figure as she exited the room.

EIGHTEEN | Treason Edit

“Keep running!” Sue yelled as he spun taking quick aim with the revolver as he fired a shot that echoed in the cave. One of the stragglers fell to the ground, writhing in a growing pool of blood as the others chased the four teens.

Johnny reached down and wrapped his left arm and Mary’s legs and lifted her up, cradling her with both arms. He ran, holding her tightly, as Billy held back to keep his pace with them. Sue held their flank, keeping his weapon trained on any opponent that dared peek from cover.

It wasn’t long until they reached the cabin door. Billy pounded on it, having reached the porch first. Colon flung the door open. “Thank God,” he muttered as Johnny rushed past, carrying Mary in his arms. Billy and Sue followed them both as Colon shut the door, locking it.

“Where’s that old guy?” Spooker asked.

Sue sighed as he laid the revolver on a nearby table. “He’s dead.” He motioned to Mary as he added, “He held them off so we could get out.”

The others all nodded. Billy looked around, checking to make sure everyone was still there. “Where’s Jack?” he asked.

“He got pretty steamed and gave John a nasty hit,” Spooker said, pointing at John with his thumb. John nodded, rubbing his bruised jaw gingerly, flinching at the slightest pang of pain. “He left after he did that, and we haven’t seen him since.”

“You mean you just let him leave, on his own?” Sue said, turning around and looking out the window.

“Well, you see, he and Emilia got in a bit of an argue—”

“I don’t care about any of there teenage drama! We just can’t leave someone behind ‘cause they’re pissed off.”

Johnny was sitting on the sofa with Mary beside him. She was clearly exasperated from all that had gone on, and she was a bit bruised from the whole experience. Half a dozen small scars decorated her face, and Johnny was gingerly wiping them clean. When he stopped, she looked up to him. “Johnny…thanks,” she said, tears pooling in her eyes.

Johnny smiled. “Don’t mention it. You know I couldn’t leave you behind.” He pulled her close and hugged her tightly.

+ + +

Jack couldn’t contain everything going on right now. He had lost Katrina, he had lost Emilia, and everyone else probably hated. “I could care less,” he muttered, kicking a rock. He instantly regretted it, but he had to kick something and the rock was the nearest thing.

He stopped as he leaned against a tree, wiping his brow. He knew it was stupid to come out into the woods by himself, but he just had to get away from the cabin for a little while. And besides, the Demon was probably focused on getting Johnny and the others, not him. “He probably doesn’t even know I left!”

“Think again,” the Demon’s cool voice sounded behind him. Jack spun around and sent a fist at the villain, who quickly just knocked it away and sent Jack flying for a tree without even touching him. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to help you.”

Jack groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “You’ve got one heck of a way of showing it,” he said, slowly clambering to his feet. “Why would you help me?”

“I saw how your friends treated you. That’s no way for a friend to be treated.”

Jack snorted. “Their no friends of mine. Not anymore, anyways.”

The Demon chuckled before he stepped closer. “I want to help you get back in their good graces.” He stretched a hand out. “Just trust me.”

Jack eyed the Demon warily for a few seconds before barking, “There’s no way I’m gonna trust you.”

The Demon shrugged. “Very well.” Jack then rose into the air, completely still. The Demon then flung him into the nearest tree and, before he fell to the ground, shoved him on his knees. “You will submit to me, boy!” He placed his full hand around Jack’s face and, when he removed it, Jack’s eyes put off a green hue.

“Now that’s much better.” Jack got to his feet as the Demon added, “Go to your cabin and get that one, John Ghost, to the caves. Any way possible, do you understand me?”

Jack nodded. “Good,” the Demon said, smiling. “Now be gone! Don’t spend all day.”

NINETEEN | Captured Edit

Everyone had their things—their essentials—packed up and ready to go. Johnny was going to drive his SUV to the exit of the campgrounds with all but Sue, Billy, Colon, and Spooker who were going to wait and see if they could find Jack and leave in Sue’s car. Everyone else was against the idea, but because of Sue’s adamant attitude towards the situation, no one argued with them.

“Are we ready to go?” Sue asked, and everyone nodded in response. He had just turned around when a knock sounded at the door. “Hopefully that’s Jack.”

“It’s about time,” Billy grumbled as Sue unlatched the door’s lock, his hand ready to snatch up the revolver if need be.

Jack was standing in the doorway, a bit dazed. Sue reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Jack, are you all right?” Spooker was just about to make a witty remark about how he maybe shouldn’t touch Jack, but he decided now may not be the best time for a joke.

Jack looked up to Sue, an odd and, honestly, terrifying smile plastered on his face. Sue was unnerved and stepped back. “Jack. Are you all right?” he repeated, and Jack responded by striking out, knocking Sue to his rump on the floor.

Colon went for the nearby revolver, but Jack was too quick for him. He spun and lashed out, sending a loud crack through the air as Colon buckled, blood streaming from his nose. Spooker dove at Jack and tried to pin his arms behind his back, but to no avail.

Jack ran backwards, slamming Spooker into the wall. The teenager grunted as his foe shoved him harder and harder into the wall. He could feel splinters of wood tearing through his shirt and into his back, and he could’ve sworn he felt blood trickle down his skin.

Johnny grabbed the scoped rifle and ran towards Jack, the gun’s butt facing his friend. Johnny slammed with it into Jack’s gut and the attacker grunted, toppling over. Spooker tumbled to the ground alongside him, clambering to his feet before Jack struck again.

“Is he out?” Colon asked, wiping his nose free of blood.

Sue nodded. “I think so,” he said, rubbing his sore backside.

“Why do you think he attacked us?” Katrina asked Sue.

“I don’t know.” He sighed, biting his lip. “I’m debating on whether or not we should take him, or leave him here. I don’t him to endanger anyone, but we can’t just leave him to his fate. It’d be cruel…”

Jack blinked his eyes open, still lying on the ground. As the others discussed what to do with him, he jumped up, almost inhumanly, and plucked the revolver from its resting place. He held the weapon high, aiming it directly at Sue’s forehead.

“All right. If anyone moves, Sue dies.”

Sue gulped, looking into Jack’s eyes. They seemed glazed over, as if they weren’t his own. Why is he doing this?

“Put the gun down, Jack,” Sue said, raising his hands slowly. “This is crazy.”

Jack shook his head. “No. I...I have my orders!”

“Orders? What’s he talking about?” Maddie asked.

“Orders from whom?” Johnny asked, confused as much as the others.

Jack shook his head, teeth clenched. “It doesn’t matter.” He fixed his eyes upon John. “John. You need to come with me. Right this second.”

John let out a light chuckle. “Come with you? When you just beat Sue, Spooker, and Colon up, and when you’re holding a gun on us? No offense, Jack, but you either took a nasty hit to the head again or you’re just downright stupid.”

Jack cocked back the revolver’s hammer to answer John’s response. John’s eyes widened as he raised his hands. “Never mind,” he said slowly.

Johnny stepped before Jack, blocking him off from John. “You aren’t taking him,” he said coldly.

“Get out of the way, Johnny,” Jack said, eyes fixed upon his prize.

“I said you aren’t taking him.”

Jack’s eyes were two solid orbs, completely black. Quite frankly they terrified Johnny, but he didn’t let it show as Jack responded with an equally terrifying and sinister voice. “I said get out of the way.”

Johnny stepped forward to relieve Jack of the revolver, only to reward himself with a crack across the skull with the butt of the revolver. Johnny cried out in pain as he staggered backwards, clenching his forehead in pain.

Katrina stepped to Johnny’s side, although she strayed too close to Jack. He reached out and clamped a hand around her wrist, pulling her close to him. He leveled the barrel of the pistol against the side of her head. “It seems Katrina here wanted to alter the plans.” Her back to his chest, Katrina’s eyes were opened wide, her jaw open equally as wide, staring to John for any help.

“I’ll take Katrina with me. If anyone besides John follows me, then she gets it. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence.

“I said, do I make myself clear?” Jack was yelling at this point.

“Yes,” a few of the group mumbled. Jack smiled, nodding to John as he gave a mockery of a salute to the teenager.

“Let’s see how brave you really are, Mr. Ghost. Come after me, if you dare. I’ll be waiting for you in the caves.”

Jack stepped from the cabin, flinging the door shut as he took off, his captive in tow.

+ + +

John zipped his jacket up tight as he grabbed a flashlight and held it close. “You can’t go after him alone,” Johnny said, his head still throbbing from Jack’s knock across his skull.

“I have to. You heard what he said. If someone else comes with me, he’ll kill Katrina.”

“He could be bluffing,” Sue interjected. “Though that’s highly improbable.”

John nodded to Johnny. “I’ll be fine. Trust me: I know what I’m doing.”

“It’s the times you say that I get worried,” Johnny said, laughing lightly.

John chuckled as he moved to the door. He turned back to Johnny and stepped towards him. The two reached out and clutched one another’s right hand, coming together for a brotherly embrace. John looked up to his best friend. “Please, Johnny: just trust me.”

Johnny’s mind was wrestling with itself as he answered, “I do.”

John smiled as he turned to the others. “I expect all of you to be gone when I get back with Katrina. Just be sure to have that forcefield-thingy down!” And with that, he turned and briskly exited the cabin and headed after Katrina’s captor.

TWENTY | Day of Reckoning Edit

Katrina was fumbling all the way up into the caves, where Jack shoved her onto the stone floor. She let out a grunt as she fell to her knees, her open palms skinned against the rough surface. “The girl? I said I wanted Ghost, not the girl, you imbecile!”

Jack opened his mouth to argue with the Demon before the towering creature sent his arm out, sending Jack flying back into the wall. He fell to the floor as the Demon stepped towards Katrina, lifting her onto her feet with one strong pull.

He cupped his hand around her jaw tightly, scrunching up her face as he examined her features. Brow furrowed and teeth clenched, Katrina swung angrily, to no avail. “It seems that young Ghost has…affection for you, my dear.” Katrina’s brow furrowed even deeper. “That affection will be his downfall.”

“You’re…you’re a monster!” Katrina spat out.

A deep laugh thundered from the Demon’s gullet as he loosened his grip on her. “Seems a shame that he is ignorant of your feelings for that other boy…Johnny Toast.” He smirked. “Or are you simply masking your true feelings?”

Katrina’s face reddened. “Ah! I’ve touched on a sensitive subject.” The Demon turned to a pack of stragglers, hunched over the ground. “Don’t get too flustered over this matter, Miss Evans. It will all be over in just a little while.”

+ + +

John stepped cautiously into the caves, his flashlight’s beam peering into the shadowy depths of the earth’s entrenchment. “Katrina?” No answer came to his ears as he stepped closer, the sole of his shoe shifting on the stone floor. “Jack?”

As he entered the cave, he noticed it grow considerably darker. He looked over his shoulder. Dark clouds filled the sky, blotting out the sun’s rays of light. He sighed as he turned to the cave.

No turning back now.

Slowly, steadily, he breathed the next name that came to his mind. “Demon?”

On cue, the creature fizzled into view before the teenager. He smiled to John but received no such gesture in return. “Greetings, friend.” As silence filled the gap between the two, the Demon spoke once more, “Do you not know me?”

“Where’s Katrina?” John ignored the Demon’s question.

“I will answer your inquisitions when you answer mine. Do you know who I am?”

“Beyond what I’ve learned since you’ve struck us? No, not a thing. And I don’t care to learn any more than I have to.”

The Demon chuckled. “Quite spunky. Just like your charming friend here.” From the shadows behind the Demon Katrina flung out, landing on her knees before John.

“Katrina!” John shouted, stepping forward. The Demon cut him off by raising his hand.

“Come no closer, Ghost, or she gets it.”

As John gritted his teeth, a host of stragglers appeared from the passages behind the Demon and Katrina. “Find his friends,” the Demon muttered, coolly. “Kill them all.”

The beasts took off on all fours towards the cabin. John eyed them before turning to the Demon, hands raised. “Why are you doing this? You’ve killed two of us, turned one of us to your cause, and now you’re going to slaughter the rest of us like animals? For what?!”

The Demon chuckled. “Because of your father, John Ghost. It’s your father’s fault that all of this has happened.”

+ + +

Dark clouds filled the sky quickly. Johnny and Sue were all but glued to the windows, peering into the darkness before them. Almost immediately after the sun’s light was blotted out, rain began to patter the roof of the cabin. Before too long it was a thunderous exchange of claps across the shingled roof.

Johnny was leaning against the cabin window, his head resting on his wrist. After thinking on it, he pounded his fist into a beam and grimaced as he felt a splinter or two slice through his flesh. “I need to go after John. He won’t stand a chance against the Demon on his own.”

Sue turned around. “Wait—you’re going to go there alone? That’s idiocy.”

Mary nodded. “That’s right. I’m going with you.”

Sue slowly nodded his agreement before his mouth dropped open quickly. “What—no, no! That’s not what I meant!”

“Johnny and I can do this alone. The rest of you need to get out of here and get help.”

“But Mary—” Emilia started to object before Mary cut her off.

“The longer you guys wait here the harder it becomes to get help to us. For all we know the Demon can be planning an offensive at the wall of the campgrounds.”

Sue sighed as he bit his lip. “Fine. I’ll go with Johnny and Mary to find and rescue John, Katrina, and, if we can, Jack. The rest of you are to go and get out of here—no objections.” He directed the final interjection to his brother as Billy began to speak.

“Understood?” Sue asked, his eyes fixed upon his brother.

Billy nodded. “Understood.”

Sue smiled to his younger sibling. “Good.” He handed the scoped rifle to his brother. “Papa’s taught you how to use guns now that he thinks you’re old enough. I want you to prove him right and show him his teachings didn’t go unheeded.”

Billy grinned. “All right, Sue.” He turned and examined the rifle with anticipation to use it and slung his backpack over his shoulder. The others all had their belongings packed and ready to jam into Sue’s car. He gave Billy the keys.

“Take good care of it. I’ll want it back.”

Billy nodded. “Okay, Sue.” He opened the door and led the way towards it as the others followed close behind. He jumped into the front seat as Colon climbed into the passenger’s seat and the others opened the back doors and climbed inside.

It didn’t take Spooker long to realize there were only three seats left and there four people who needed to get in. “Wait—where do I sit?” he asked.

“Take a guess,” Billy said as he nodded to the trunk. Spooker groaned as he clambered over the back of the seats and plopped into the trunk, landing with a thud and a groan.

After everyone was in the car, Billy started it and took off towards the exit. As he drove off, Sue checked Walter’s revolver and turned to Johnny and Mary. “Okay, you two. Let’s go get John and Katrina and get outta here.”

TWENTY-ONE | The Final Conflict Edit

John stood there, frozen, as Katrina looked from his ashy face to the fiery eyes of the Demon. “What do you mean my father? He’s been dead since I was four, and that was because of an accident at his work. He’d have no ties to someone like you.”

The Demon cackled with insane laughter. “That’s what your mother’s told you, boy. Your father was a member of a band of”—more laughter—“heroes who fought beings from paranormal worlds. Ghost hunters, they called themselves. He tore our ranks apart until we were a feeble few of phantoms, unable to stand against him and his companions. One of our kind was able to put him in his grave in a ‘work’ accident. Ha! To think people fell for that.”

John’s face took a look of disbelief, although he would’ve been making the same face if someone had told him he’d be face-to-face with a demon from another realm, the life of the person he cared the most for at risk. “I…I don’t believe you.”

“Believe it or not, boy, it’s the truth. I wouldn’t have any reason to lie. I am a demon, after all.”

Katrina sniggered. “You aren’t helping your case very much.”

“Quiet, girl, before you lose your head.” To John, he said, “All you need to do for me to call off my henchmen is to surrender yourself to me—forever. Through you, I might be able to finally bring peace to my soul after what your father did to me and my people.”

“How do I know you won’t just kill me and then do the same to my friends?” John asked, fists clenched.

The Demon laughed. “Come on, Ghost, I’m not that evil that I’d go back on my word. But, if you don’t succumb to my wishes, then I may have to kill a few of your friends to prove to you that I’m serious.”

The jagged claws ejected from his splayed fingers as he slowly caressed Katrina’s throat with the sharp barbs. “Starting with this dear girl. And, of course, you don’t want anything to happen to her.”

Johnny gritted his teeth as he lunged forward, smashing the flashlight across the Demon’s head. He didn’t know if it’d do anything to the demonic beast, but he figured it was worth a try.

And it actually worked!

“Run, Katrina!” John yelled, helping her to her feet as he darted past the Demon, pulling her with him.

The Demon doubled over as shards of the flashlight were embedded into his face. Shrieking, the Demon said, “After them! Don’t let them get away!”

Two stragglers emerged from the darkness and Katrina, now ahead of John, came to a swift stop as her shoes skidded across the stone floor. John gripped her wrist tightly, pulling her to the passage at their right. “Wrong way,” he uttered beneath his breath as they both took off.

+ + +

Billy drove the car as steadily as he could across the plains, which would normally be considered off-road driving. In this present scenario, he could care less about the city’s ordinances concerning driving and was merely focused on getting out of this death trap.

Billy turned to look at the others in the back seat. “Emilia, have you got the book ready?” he asked as Emilia thumbed through the worn pages of the volume in her hands.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got it,” she said, mouthing the words silently to herself over and over. Billy turned his eyes back to the road and, moments later, he saw a trio of stragglers before him.

Yelling out a curse, Billy turned the wheel of the car as he steered to the left, ramming the front tires both right in a ditch. The passengers all jolted forward and Spooker nearly sailed from the trunk as the car landed on its left side.

Colon turned around as much as he could and saw the stragglers rushing the car. He screamed a bit more unmanly than Spooker would’ve wished as he yelled, “Here they come!”

He flung open the door of the car as he climbed up and dove to the dirt floor. “Billy! Give me the gun, give me the gun!”

The rifle came flying from the open door as the back door opened up. Colon scrambled for the rifle as the first straggler came into view.

Colon took careful aim as it came directly before him. He pulled the trigger and the gun’s stock sent him back to the ground, although the shot sliced tendons as it sent the straggler flying onto its back. Colon looked in surprise at his accuracy and the gun’s might, exclaiming, “Ooh! I like this thing!”

Billy climbed from the door as Sally, Emilia, and Maddie all came from the back seat and Spooker tried to get through the maze of the turned over car, finally coming up from inside.

Colon fired at another of the stragglers, missing with two shots. “Don’t waste all the ammo!” Billy yelled, snatching the weapon from his friend. Steadily, he took aim at the approaching beast and, when the time came, pulled the trigger and watched as the second attacker fell in a heap on the ground. One more shot and one more kill was marked to the great scoreboard of time by Billy’s name.

“Wow” was all Spooker could say as Billy turned to Emilia.

“Have you got the book still?” he asked. She nodded and turned to the page she needed to recite in order to escape the campgrounds. And the wall was just within sight.

“Come on, we need to hurry,” she said, running past the downed car. And just as she did so, a straggler plowed into her and snapped into her shoulder with its jaws. As Emilia screamed and fell to the ground, Spooker’s jaw dropped and the others watched in shock.

+ + +

Johnny, Mary, and Sue arrived at the mouth of the cave on foot, not bothering to drive the SUV. The rain had soaked their clothes, sure, but they didn’t really notice thanks to the overarching danger involved with their situation.

“Come on,” Sue said, leveling his flashlight and the revolver together as they entered the cave. After a quick examination they found a mild pool of blood in the middle of the cave.

“Hopefully that isn’t one of theirs,” Mary said as she glanced up.

Johnny nodded. “Yeah.”

Screams sounded from further in the caves and they recognized their friends’ voices. “That doesn’t sound good,” Johnny commented.

“We need to hurry,” Sue answered, picking up his pace into a run.

+ + +

John and Katrina came to a stop as the pair of stragglers stopped them in their tracks. Both screamed out when the two jumped in front of them, hissing and swiping their clawed hands.

“Stay back,” John warned as he got between Katrina and the enemies before one slashed out, clawing John’s raised right arm. He grunted in pain as blood trickled onto the floor and he grasped his wounded arm.

As he hunched back, he looked up in time to see Katrina hurl a rock at one of the stragglers. The large stone crashed into the creature’s skull and it fell to the floor, writhing in agony. The other looked from Katrina to its dead ally and hung back before it turned and ran the other way.

“Whoa…” John slowly said, looking in awe at Katrina. She turned and looked at him as a dim light broke through the rocky roof of the caves. John glanced up as rain began to drizzle in through the natural gap, just then realizing that the crack itself was there.

Katrina smiled as John stared at her, enamored by her rescue.

“Come on, we need to keep moving,” she said as she brushed past John, who followed closely behind her. The two continued to run through the caves until they came into a large clearing, where all they could see were the shadowed forms of the rocky outcropping of the terrain. The large crack continued to run into the roof of this cave as well, and they heard the patter of raindrops on the stone floor.

+ + +

Johnny, Sue, and Mary continued to run through the caves until they saw the corpse of a straggler strewn across a cave floor. A rock was smashed into the fragments of its skull and a pool of blood was growing below the thing’s destroyed cranium.

“They must’ve been this way,” Johnny said, carefully stepping over the dead corpse.

Mary’s face scrunched up as a foul stench entered her nostrils. “I really hope they didn’t kill any more along the way…I can’t stand this smell!”

The three continued through the path as a raindrops began to dampen their clothing. Sue looked up to the crack in the roof of the cave just as a drop of rain fell directly in his eye, causing him to rub it free. In moments they entered a large, open cave, and before them stood John and Katrina.

“Thank God you’re both all right,” Sue said as he lowered his revolver. Johnny and Mary rushed to their friends’ sides as Sue added, “Is Jack nearby? Or any of those stragglers?”

John motioned down the path they had just come from. “We ran into two down there. Katrina killed one and the other ran away.”

“Katrina killed it? Where were you, John?” Johnny asked.

“He was taking a nap,” Katrina chuckled, causing John to blush.

Just as the others began to laugh, a deeper one sounded from the middle of the opening in the rocky terrain. Accompanying it, the Demon materialized out of thin air. “It’s truly nice to see how you all stick to one another like glue. Too bad it’ll be your undoing.”

TWENTY-TWO | Awakening Edit

“Emilia!”

She wasn’t sure who had called her name. The only thing she was sure of was the fiery pain in her shoulder. The straggler sat on her side, pinning her into the grassy floor of the earth.

Spooker was the first to act. His face fixed in a look of intensity, he dove at the straggler and knocked it off of Emilia and held its chest down as the creature squirmed, burying itself in the dirt. It got its right arm free and slung up, pounding the balled appendage into his head.

A throbbing pain arose in his head as Spooker gripped it tightly and the straggler leapt to its feet, grabbing Spooker’s head with both hands. It shook him back and forth until it slammed his head into the overturned car. The metal of the fender scraped his forehead and blood began to thinly coat his forehead.

As Spooker fell to the ground, covering his injury, Billy raised his rifle and fired, sending the creature sprawling in a bloody heap on the ground. As he ran to Spooker’s side and Sally and Maddie rushed to Emilia, a second straggler climbed atop the car. Billy aimed and fired once more, although the shot missed as the beast jumped onto its attacker.

Billy doubled over as he landed on his back and his foe jumped on him, slapping with its clawed hands. One scratched his face, leaving a bloody streak dribbling crimson fluid down his face. As Billy pushed the straggler back, a gunshot crackled and the creature fell to the left. Standing over its dead body was Colon, holding the rifle in both hands.

“Thanks, Col—look out!” As he screamed the warning, Colon turned as a straggler jumped, kicking the teenager in the face. He fell to the ground as Billy dove for the rifle.

Spooker tore his shirt sleeve free and wiped the blood free from his forehead, leaving the cloth stained in red. A striking pain coursed through his head as he tossed the sheet of cloth on the ground, turning to the girls. He ran to their side and pulled his button-up shirt off, wearing only a t-shirt now. “Here,” he said, shaking, “put this on the wound and keep the blood from coming out. I-I’ve gotta help them!”

He turned and ran to the rifle as Billy grappled with the straggler on him and Colon regained his footing, looking to the gun as Spooker snatched it up, holding it high. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger, watching as Billy’s opponent arched its back and fell to the side.

He lowered the rifle and smiled. “Thanks, Spooker,” Billy said. As he got to his feet, a pounding noise sounded to the right, behind Spooker. He spun and a third straggler scrambled on the car and dove at Spooker, knocking him to the ground. The rifle spun away into the shadows as the straggler raised its hand back, claws splaying from its fingers.

Before Spooker could throw up any defense, the jagged spikes tore through his shirt and were injected into his stomach. Air escaped from his lips as he rested his head on the ground as Billy took up the rifle, firing it twice. The shots sliced through its head as the creature fell over.

The five teenagers rushed to his side as he laid there, blood pooling from the wound in his stomach. “Spooker!” Colon cried as he looked at the torn flesh in his friend’s stomach. Billy closely examined his friend’s injury.

“This isn’t good,” he said quietly. “Not only is the obvious danger of a loss of blood here, but that creature had some poison coating its claws.” He inhaled as he looked up to the others, all waiting with bated breath. “There’s no cure for it. Not now, anyways—even if he survived until we got him out, there is no cure for something like this in the medical field. Trust me, I’ve studied it, and if there was any hope, I’d be the first to suggest it.”

Everyone looked to Spooker, who was already beginning to lose consciousness—and, they knew, life as a whole. “So…you mean he’s going to die?”

Billy nodded, holding back tears in his eyes. “Yeah…he is.”

Spooker gasped as he slowly blinked his eyes open. “I-I tried, Billy…you just…you all just need to keep safe and…and get out of here…”

He turned and glanced to Emilia, her shoulder wound covered by his shirt. “How…how’s your shoulder?”

“It-it’s fine,” she said, offering as much of a smile as she could. She looked down as she slowly gripped his hand tightly. “Thanks…thanks for saving me, Spooker.”

He gave her, and the others, a tight-lipped smile. “It’s…all right…” As his eyes closed one final time, Emilia leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his lips as he died.

Billy gulped as Emilia let go of his hand and he stood up. “We need to move if we’re to get out of here.”

+ + +

Sue clenched his jaw. “Not today, you wicked thing. You may be able to strike a blow at us, but we won’t be stopped.”

The Demon laughed a guttural chuckle. “That’s what you say now, Mr. Acachalla. But what about your brother? You couldn’t save him. What makes you think you can save your friends?” Another laugh as Sue began to fume. “Your other siblings may already be dead now, if my minions carried out their task to their full extent.”

Sue screamed something—he didn’t think of what it was as he did so, he just screamed—and raised his hand, firing off bullets from the revolver. The Demon staggered back with each shot as he yelled to those behind him, “Go on! Get moving!”

Johnny, Mary, John, and Katrina all turned tail and rushed from the cave as Sue continued to fire before he turned and ran after his friends. Johnny and Mary took a turn as they rushed to the path towards the guest cabin, Sue joining John and Katrina as they ran down the rocky corridor towards the exit of the cave. The Demon stalked them, bent on catching John.

Sue heard the pattering of the Demon’s feet on the stone floor and turned around, seeing the creature ahead of him. He calmly raised his pistol, saying, “No further. Or I’ll shoot.”

The Demon cackled. “There’s no way you can defeat me with some weapon crafted by your own kind,” he said calmly. Sue, ignoring his statement, fired four successive shots, all of which had no effect on his opponent.

“Put it down and step aside, and I’ll let you live,” the Demon said, smirking.

Sue, realizing the gun was empty, dropped it. He stood, fixed in the path directly before the Demon. “There’s no way I’m letting you go through me.”

The Demon shrugged. “Your wish.”

He raised his hand as Sue’s feet shot out from under him and he was lifted into the air. “If you’d have been more willing to help me, then this wouldn’t have had to happen.”

With that final statement, the Demon threw Sue’s levitated form at a sharp, upturned rock. One swift slice broke through Sue’s spine as he shrieked out and smashed into the rock wall, falling to the ground.

“Now look what’s happened—you’re going to die here, all alone, with no way to move—you’re paralyzed.”

Sue didn’t need him to tell him that. He just sat there, his back torn from one arm to the other, blood spilling on the ground. He couldn’t feel anything below his neck, and he knew why.

“I’ll leave you with this, though, so you don’t die completely in sadness. If I catch Ghost before he reaches the wall, than I’ll let your other friends and siblings go.”

+ + +

John and Katrina rushed through the path until they reached the mouth of the cave. They both stopped and panted for breath, out of energy. “We…we’d better get moving,” John said in between breaths.

Katrina nodded her agreement. As John turned to begin to move again, she reached out and gripped his arm. “Hey…John,” she said, stepping close to his side.

“Yeah, Katrina?” he asked, gulping as he turned to her.

“I…I just wanted to say thanks. For all you’ve done for me, both on this trip and every time before.”

“That’s fine, Katrina, I know how you feel. It’s just that—”

“Wait, John, I’m not finished. You’ve been there with me ever since we were twelve, and I can’t forget that.” She quickly inhaled breath and looked up to him. Before speaking further, she ran into his chest and grabbed his jacket collar, pulling his face down to hers and quickly capturing his mouth with hers in a passionate kiss. After the initial seconds passed with her gripping his collar tightly, John reached down and slowly rested both hands on her hips and held her in a tight embrace, kissing her back.

This was where he’d wanted to be for years, holding Katrina like this and kissing her. He loved her, and, now he knew, she loved him too.

TWENTY-THREE | The Beast Flees Edit

Billy assessed everyone briskly. Despite Emilia kissing Spooker, the one most broken up over his death seemed to be Colon. After all, the two had been best friends for who knew how long. Sally and Maddie weren’t as saddened as them, but they were still in shock.

Billy kept the rifle lowered. “Come on, we need to hurry. When Sue and the others get back, they’re gonna be ready to get out of here.”

The others nodded and kept a steady pace behind Billy as they ran for the wall. In minutes they were at the edge of the wall. Billy turned and looked behind them. He could’ve sworn he saw the silhouettes of some stragglers in the distance, but none were very close to them or closing in on them.

“Emilia, read the passage from the book,” Sally said, turning to the blond-haired teenager. She glanced to Sally, her eyes red from crying. Sally let out a breath as she turned to Billy. “She’s too broken up to read the book.”

Maddie stepped forward. “Here, I’ll do it,” she offered, reaching out for the hardback volume. As she took the aged book in her hands, she flipped it open to the marked page and clicked her tongue as she began to recite the words to free them from the Demon’s grasp:

“Soo’ka’teer o’soa’kur jersteel oro’taka’n brast’egian opan’akthe’ul, sto’bathur’yan yatstaka un’yolin.”

Despite some butchering of the pronunciation of the words, Maddie got the recitation out very nicely. In moments, dust began to rise from the bottom of the transparent-blue wall and it began to fizzle away into nothing as everyone smiled, turning to one another and letting out exclamations of joy.

Billy stopped amidst the applause and turned back towards the caves. “I just hope the others can get here soon. I’m ready to get out of here as soon as possible.”

+ + +

Johnny and Mary ran down the winding stone path, hearing the patter of the stragglers’ four appendages on the rocks behind them. “Keep moving, Mary! We’re almost there!”

Up ahead, they saw the cracks of light beaming from the secret passageway in the guest cabin. As they bounded up the stairs, they burst in through the secret passageway and Johnny snapped the switch, watching the secret door rumble to a close as the stragglers began to scratch on the doorway.

Mary had already fallen on the floor, exhausted. Johnny stepped forward, dropping to his knees before he sat down beside her. Mary got close to him and curled up as he held her in a tight embrace.

“Do you think John and Katrina got out okay?” she asked slowly, resting her head on his shoulder.

Johnny sighed, looking to the floor. “I don’t know. All we can do is hope.”

Seconds ticked away on a large grandfather clock resting against the rustic wall of the cabin. Mary suddenly became engrossed with something outside the cabin. “What is it? What’re you looking at?” Johnny asked, looking to her.

“The light.” Mary pointed to the window and Johnny followed her index finger. “It’s back. The clouds are gone!”

Both scrambled to their feet as they ran to the window, staring outside. Sure enough, the clouds had cleared, the rain had stopped, and—best of all—the wall had dissolved.

“I can’t believe it,” Johnny said, smiling. “We’re…we’re free.”

+ + +

John slowly lowered his hands from Katrina’s back as she kept her hands clasped behind his neck. The two pulled apart, breathing softly. Smiles were plastered across both of their faces.

“I…well…what I mean to say is…um…well” was all John could say as Katrina smirked and red came to his face.

“I think I get what you mean,” Katrina said slowly as they pulled apart.

John fumbled for words after he gulped, saying, “Does this mean…what I think it means?”

Katrina nodded, slowly lowering her hands. “Yes, John.” After taking a deep breath, she spoke the words he’d longed to hear for years. “I love you, John.”

He opened his mouth to speak to her before someone else’s voice filled the air. “How quaint. It’s a shame your romantic escapade has to be cut short.”

Both John and Katrina turned to face Jack, who was standing before both of them.

And in his hands was a knife.

John stepped forward and Jack raised the small blade. “Don’t come any closer, old friend, or I’ll cut your throat just as sure as I’m standing here.”

Katrina’s face showed her desperation for empathy from her former partner. “Jack, please—we haven’t done a thing to you! Why are you doing this?”

Jack smiled. “Because I can. And because I want to.”

He turned his full attention on Katrina. He stepped forward as John eyed him cautiously, reaching up with his free hand to her fair face, fingering her cheek. “You don’t know how much it’d please me to carve your face right here, right now, Katrina.”

“That’s enough, Jack,” John said firmly. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I will not let you lay a hand on her.”

Jack snarled as he turned on John, slashing with his dagger. John ducked back as the knife missed him, scraping against the rock wall of the cave. John struck out with a balled fist, sending him careening into the cave’s wall behind him.

Jack dove out and slashed with the knife as John reached up to block it and suffered a searing pain as his opponent sliced his arm, from the pisiform down to his elbow. His jacket sleeve flapped from the cut and blood dripped onto the ground as John flung the knife away, gripping his wound as he grunted.

Jack jumped on him and wailed into him, fist after fist, until John lay on the ground, the right side of his face bruised and slightly swollen. His nose hurt too—it may have been broken.

Jack stood up, limbering his fingers for one more punch. “Y’know, it’d be real easy to kill you—with my bare hands. And it’d be a real pleasure to do so.”

As Jack reared his hand back to punch the battered John one last time, a slice was heard behind the attacker and he let out a stifled cough, staggering for somewhere he could hold and stand firm. A burning pain sliced through his back as he turned and fell to the floor, looking up to Katrina, who had let go of the knife now stuck in his back.

Before he could say anything to her or John, Jack’s eyes blinked shut and he slumped over. Katrina’s eyes began to pool with tears as she dropped to her knees in shock. John whimpered slightly as he got down on his knees at her side. “It’s okay, Katrina,” he said softly as he wrapped his arms around her. His voice had a slight lisp from the beating he had taken in the fight.

Katrina sobbed into his shoulder as she threw her arms around him, crying bitterly until she was able to speak. “I…I killed him, John! He was just standing there, about to punch you to death, and I just…I…I…”

“Shh, Katrina, it’s all right,” John said, lightly patting her back. “It’s fine. You did what you had to do. If you hadn’t done it, he’d have killed me for sure and probably you, too.”

“But what about the others? They’ll hate me, John, and they’ll not trust me! I killed one of us!”

John gulped. He wasn’t sure how the others would take the news of Katrina being the one to kill Jack, but he knew he’d do anything to make sure she wasn’t hurt in any way.

TWENTY-FOUR | Escape Edit

The Demon stepped into the corridor, gazing over Jack’s fallen body to John and Katrina, huddled together in a warm embrace.

“You two have taken care of my associate single-handedly.” The Demon slowly stepped forward. “Perhaps he and my minions have failed to capture or kill you, but I will fare better than they.”

The jagged claws returned once more as he stepped forward, drawing close to the teenagers. “Your other friend—the oldest Acachalla—bravely gave his life for you and the other two. It’s touching to see how you all care so much for one another to do as much as die for each other.”

As he stepped close, a voice rang out from outside the cave. “John! Katrina!”

+ + +

The voice. It has a British accent. I’ve heard it once before, or one much like it. The ghost hunters. Together they came and they tracked us down. Hunted us like animals. Captured us. Caged us. Killed us.

This one…the British one…Toast. He was more successful in his attempts on us than the other one…Ghost. He’s the one who killed the Master. The one who banished the rest of us to the Dark Dimension.

This one is too powerful for me to handle alone. It certainly can’t be the one I faced years before, but he has to be the son. It’d be too coincidental for a descendant of Ghost and a British boy to be together without them being the sons of the ghost hunters.

I can’t face him alone. I need help.

And when I have it, I will return. And I will kill them all.

+ + +

“Toast!” the Demon yelled, pointing its jagged claws at Johnny. “You may have defeated me once before, but never again! I will return with whatever it takes to put you down once and for all. I will do to you what you did to us so many years ago! I will kill you, and all of your friends!”

The Demon disappeared into nothing as John and Katrina got to their feet and stumbled out the cave’s entrance. “What was that about?” Mary asked.

“I have no idea,” Johnny said, confused over the whole matter. He glanced to Jack’s corpse. “Who’s that? Sue?”

“No, it’s Jack.” John glanced to Katrina, who was looking to the ground as she bit her lip. “I killed him. He tried to kill both me and Katrina, so I had to.”

Johnny looked to his best friend, nodding. “I…I understand. Have you seen Sue?”

John shook his head. “The Demon said he killed him. And, so far, he’s kept his word on everything. A little odd, but at least we don’t have to worry about him lying.”

Johnny nodded his agreement. “We…we’d better get moving.” He glanced to the light in the sky. It was still a little dark, but definitely not pitch black like it had been. “Come on. The wall’s down, so that means we can leave.”

The four walked close together. Johnny and Mary had their hands joined in a firm grip and, for the first time, John held Katrina’s hand in his as all four shuffled across the open campgrounds to the wall.

+ + +

“Guys!” Johnny recognized Billy’s voice as he glanced up, seeing the teenager run towards him. Billy held the scoped rifle in his hands. His smile slowly faded as he saw that he and the others were alone. “Where’s Sue?”

Johnny sighed as he turned to John. “The Demon…he got him, Billy. Jack too. I’m sorry.”

Billy’s lip quivered as he turned, gripping his forehead tightly. Johnny figured he must’ve felt terrible, losing both of his brothers in the same day. Or was it even the same day? He’d lost track and, honestly, he didn’t care either way. At least they made it out alive.

“The Demon left, though,” John said, glancing up to the others. They all crowded around him. “He and his minions realized something when Johnny arrived. He must’ve scared them off.

As moments passed by and the others stood in silence, John looked around. “Wait…where’s Spooker?”

Colon was the one to offer a response. “They got him, too.” He nodded to Emilia, a bit of blood smeared on her cheek. “He did it to save her.”

The group took a brief moment to mourn the passing of all of their companions in the encounters they had with the paranormal on their vacation.

Johnny let go of Mary’s hand. “I’ll go get my SUV. What happened to Sue’s car?”

Billy motioned across the field before them. “It went off-road up there somewhere. Totaled.”

“All right. You guys stay put—I’ll be right back.”

+ + +

Johnny pulled up to the others in his SUV. They all piled in, Mary alongside him in the passenger’s seat. John and Katrina took the middle seat alongside Colon as Billy, Sally, Maddie, and Emilia filled the backseat.

As Johnny started up the SUV, he drove down the gravel road away from the campgrounds at as fast a pace he could. He headed straight for the hospital, to check out Emilia’s wound and any injuries anyone else might have suffered.

TWENTY-FIVE | Conclusion Edit

“What do you mean you don’t believe me? Why would I lie about something like this? My friend’s had her shoulder nearly devoured, for crying out loud!”

Officer Tucker, arms crossed, nodded slowly. “Sure. I bet that’s the truth.” He reached for his radio before Johnny grabbed his arm. “Look, go to the campgrounds. I’m telling you, you’ll find several dead bodies, some of them were our friends.”

Tucker sighed. “Look, bud, we’ve got a couple of units heading to the campgrounds. If they find anything, we’ll let you know. Got it?”

Johnny slowly nodded with a sigh. “Yeah. I’ve got it.”

He turned away as Tucker exited the hospital waiting room. Moments later, he heard a familiar voice behind him. “Johnny!”

He spun around to see his mother, Bethany Toast, rushing to him, arms wide open. “Thank God you’re all right,” she said, smiling as she hugged her son tightly.

Johnny nodded. “Yeah.” He sighed as he turned to his friends who had already been checked on. “The cops…they…they don’t believe us. We told them what happened—five of those who came with us died out there, Mum. These creatures…they came after us. They wanted to kill us.”

Bethany swallowed silently. “Are you sure it wasn’t just some wild animal, Johnny? This all seems…rather far-fetched.”

“Yes, Mum, I know it does, but it’s the truth. I promise you.”

She sighed as she pressed a hand firmly on his back. “Let me take you him, dear. You need some rest, no matter what happened.” She looked to Johnny’s friends. “Do any of you need a ride?”

Mary stood up as she walked towards Johnny. “I’ll come with you,” she said as the others all stayed seated.

“We’ll just stay here and see how the others are,” John said, smiling. “Thanks anyways.” As Bethany led the way towards the door, John nodded to Johnny, stepping towards him. “I’ll talk to you later, Johnny.”

Johnny smirked. “Yeah.” He nodded towards Katrina, who was seated at a cushioned chair in the waiting room. “And congratulations on you and Katrina.”

John’s jaw dropped. “Wait…how’d you know?”

Johnny chuckled. “It’s pretty obvious, bro. Besides, your goofy grin you wore the whole ride her, given the circumstances, said something concerning it.”

John smiled as Johnny clapped his shoulder. “I’ll see you, John. Thanks…for everything.”

John nodded. “Same here.”

+ + +

Three days had passed. With school out, the teens had nowhere to be during the week and therefore stayed home. Billy and Sally did their best to explain what had happened to Sue and Spencer to their father and mother, yet their parents had suspicions about the authenticity of the whole business.

Sarah Ghost had the same response to John. She gave her son whatever comfort she could, although he was still upset over nearly everyone’s disbelief of the incidents. There was one shining light from the whole matter, though—and that was John and Katrina’s relationship.

Johnny checked up on the police investigations of the campgrounds and found that, as he feared, there was no uncovered evidence concerning the deaths of Jack, Sue, Spencer, Spooker, and Aaron—their dead bodies were all gone, the corpses of the stragglers were missing, and all signs of struggle were gone.

Johnny was sitting in the chair in his bedroom, slouched back in his chair. He had one piece of unfinished business left to do, something he didn’t want to tell the others about that he knew needed to be brought up. Sighing, he got to his feet as he stepped from his bedroom, car keys in hand.

As he closed his bedroom door, Johnny stopped and turned to Gavin’s room, right next to his. Something had been gnawing at his conscience, something he needed to get cleared up. He was searching for a way to handle it, but there was no other way than to get it out of the way, straight to the punch.

He walked to Gavin’s bedroom door and knocked on it softly. He didn’t want to disturb his sister, who was doing who-knows-what in her room with her best friend. Gavin’s calm voice sounded, “Come in.”

Johnny slowly opened the door as he entered, swallowing silently. “Hey, Gavin.” His twin looked up and nodded back to him.

“Hi, Johnny.”

Johnny sucked in a breath as he reached out to his brother’s bedpost. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to say, Gavin, and I don’t know any other way to say it besides just putting it right out in the open.” Gavin arched an eyebrow as he leaned forward.

“Yes?”

Johnny sighed. “I know we’ve had our quarrels, Gavin, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry for all I’ve done. I haven’t been the best brother and…I’m sorry.” He offered a slim smile as he said, “I just wanted to let you know that I love you.”

Gavin gulped and sat in silence for a few seconds, flicking his eyes up to his brother. Finally, after several moments passed, he said, “Thanks, Johnny. I…I love you too.”

Johnny smiled as he stepped towards his brother and the two embraced tightly. After they let go of one another, Johnny turned and exited the room. As he walked down the stairs, he pulled his cell phone out and dialed John’s number. “Hey, Mum, I’ve gotta go out for a little bit. I won’t be too long.”

“All right, Johnny,” Bethany’s voice rang out as Johnny rushed out the door.

+ + +

Johnny, John, Mary, and Katrina were all seated around a table at a McDonald’s. It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so the four had just gotten some milkshakes and enjoyed them as Johnny prepared to state something he hadn’t wanted to but knew he had to.

“I…I need to tell you guys something. It’s the reason I asked you to meet me here.” He gulped as he pushed his drink aside. Mary was at his side in the booth and Katrina and John were in front of him.

“What is it?” Mary asked. “You’ve been acting rather different today.”

Johnny clicked his tongue as he looked up. “Next month…my family and I are gonna be moving.”

He took a breath as the sentence took its sting. Everyone stopped mid-action, their eyes on Johnny. “What do you mean? Where to?” John asked.

“To Pennsylvania. It’s got something to do with my father’s job.”

John, Katrina, and Mary all exchanged glances as they fixed their gazes upon him. “I…I can’t believe this. After all we’ve been through, you’ve gotta move!” Mary said, exasperated.

“Nobody even believes us.” John gulped as he looked up to his best friend. “You…you said next month, right?”

Johnny nodded. “Yeah.”

The others all looked to the table in sadness. “It won’t be like it’s over, though, our friendship. You can all come up around Christmastime and stay for a week or so.”

The others nodded. “Yeah. That sounds good,” Katrina said.

They all tried their best to put on a smile as Johnny take a long gulp from his milkshake. They drowned in their sorrows for nearly a half-hour until they broke it up and went home.

It was that day that they all knew things were going to be a lot different.

EPILOGUE Edit

He walks into the cave, his feet clapping on the stone floor. Three black-clothed agents, holstered pistols at their hips, walk at his flank. The man in the lead stops and examines the surrounding area.

“The book’s gone,” he says after examination. “Those teenagers must’ve gotten their hands on it.”

One of the agents steps forward, the dim light glinting on the badge he wears on his shirt. The NOVA logo is displayed prominently above his last name, Tanner. “Do you want me to look after into it, sir?”

“No, Tanner, I’ll handle it myself. My son’s with them. He’ll be able to get it if they have it.”

Tanner nods. “Yes, sir.” The man and Tanner walk towards a female agent who is down on one knee, examining a patch of stone, as the two agents behind them stop.

“Parker. Have you found anything?”

One of the youngest members of the NOVA organization, Michelle Parker, stands up as she smiles, her dark hair drooped over her pale skin. “No, sir. The artifact is gone all right.”

The man nods. “Very well.” He turns to the group of agents examining the cave. “Attention, all of you. We’re packing up and moving out. Our business awaits us in Pennsylvania.” He turns to Tanner. “You take the agents to our new headquarters in advance. I’ll be there with my family next month.”

Tanner, a dark-haired agent, nods to his superior. “Yes, Mr. Toast. We’ll be ready for you.”

Tanner gathers up the men and leads the way out of the cave as Jonathan Toast takes a long, sweeping look of the cave before he turns, following after them. “It’s time to go home.”

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