quiet haunted

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  1. The Quiet Haunted
  3. Samantha Richards awoke from her nap in the bed of Philip Conrad’s truck. The morning was made by the somber tones of the echoing rotations within Phil’s engine. She looked back inside the truck, beyond the window covered in condensation, at the forefront of an ever escalating road on the mountainside. Phil and uncle Evan were in the truck. They joked back and forth to each other. Looking at this, the ride didn’t seem any different than a fishing trip.
  4.     Samantha’s long black hair covered her pale face. Her nails were bitten down to the flesh. The truck bed wasn’t big enough for both Samantha and the equipment Phil had planned to use. The thing must have weighed over 150 pounds. It looked outdated too, the screen seemed to be a CRT monitor and worn labels rested on top of sticky knobs. If this trip was going to be turn out well and Phil was going to find Arnold like he promised, the good fortune was disguised as crippling doubt to Samantha.
  5.     The truck had passed into her hometown.
  6.     You are now entering Arden, Kentucky-Home of the World Famous Clecky the Chicken.
  7.     Clecky the Chicken was famous for being the largest chicken on record in the United States. The chicken was long dead, but that didn’t stop the town from using the publicity to try to make a living for its residents. Many stores and museums in the town were dedicated to collecting Clecky memorabilia. Aside from the farms in the town, it was the main source of money. Samantha had always hated the chicken. Her old house was just beyond the sign, one or two miles they would enter the dense town proper. Her parents stayed there while Samantha moved away to her aunt Jacqueline and uncle Evan for a chance to improve her grades at school. They didn’t.
  8.     They passed by the home without a peep. It was barely visible unless you knew it was there. Phil wanted to take the group into the forest to do some tests but Evan must not have told him about her parents. Evan might not have even told Samantha’s parents at all. They didn’t believe in garbage like this. They were Christian, and ghost hunting was satanic. Her friends didn’t know either, kids these days knew ghost hunting was a scam.
  9.     Samantha didn’t care. Evan had shown her newspaper clippings and recalled stories he saw on television. He spoke as if he had done the things himself. Evan had a twinkle in his eye when he would talk about them. It gave Samantha confidence, something she hadn’t had since her brother disappeared. She saved what little money she could earn from her part-time job and Evan paid for the rest of it. Sam respected that about Evan. She hadn’t known him that well for most of her childhood, and Jacqueline was the one related to the family, yet he tried to do what he thought was right.
  10.     The truck pulled over into the closest clearing by the road. It was an age black with a cartoon ghost advertising his business on the hood. Phil’s Spectral Solutions. Phil was a short man with skin stained red by injury and sun and stress. His grey mustache covered a cleft lip, and a hat covered his poor combover.
  11.     Phil hopped out of the truck.
  12.     “Shit, that was a longer drive than I thought. I gotta piss guys. Sorry.” Phil waddled over to the nearest tree and began relieving himself.
  13.     “You sleep okay back there?” Evan asked. He started to pull out the equipment from the truck bed.
  14.     Samantha was quiet. The feeling of home had changed drastically in the short time she was gone.
  15.     “Weird being home? I had that feeling when I first left for college. I came back and everything felt stuck in time. I changed so much and it didn’t.”
  16.     Samantha thought about it for a moment. Evan decided to hug her and console her. It didn’t stop her from thinking about Arnold. This was his home too. Evan’s words stuck with her because if the world had remained so untouched from their tragedy, if the wind had carried the leaves into the places they would always carry, then Samantha and Arnold meant nothing. She didn’t want Arnold to mean nothing.
  17.     They walked for a few miles into the forest until they reached the location Phil had declared as the camping site. It was beside a river Samantha recognized from her childhood. Whenever her dad took her camping, they would make it near that river. He would point to the direction it flowed and he told Samantha, “That leads back to the road.” She had never gained her bearings out here, but that much she remembered.
  18.     The campfire and accompanying equipment for ghost hunting took up most of the flat camp area. The tents and sleeping bags took as little room as possible, but Samantha needed extra privacy and had her tent yards away from the others, behind a shroud of trees.
  19.     Phil had started reading his notes and took a sample of the dirt in the site. Evan had started a campfire at the center of the site, with the allure and warmth of the flame drawing Samantha out of the tent.
  20.     Phil fiddled around with some gadgets and knobs before deciding to settle down at the campfire as well as make some notes. Samantha tried to peek over Phil’s shoulder out of curiosity. His handwriting looked closer to hurried scratches than legible work. It was difficult for anybody to understand the writings.
  21.     “They’re notes on the Bible.” Phil stated out loud. He had to have known she was looking, so he didn’t mind divulging his notes.
  22.     “I didn’t know you were religious.” Evan said, becoming more alert from the conversation.
  23.     “I’m not particularly. It’s just research. Which reminds me...” Phil closed the book. “...Before we drove here I had to research Arden and the history of this forest. What have you heard about it?”
  24.     Samantha and Evan looked at each other.
  25.     “Other than the infamous Clecky, nothing really.” Evan joked.
  26.     Phil shook his head. “This forest is bad news. Not a lot of recorded deaths happened here, but in the thirties a violent gang used to hide out here in little shacks and hollowed trees. They’d sneak into the nearby towns and kidnap people and bring them to these woods. The list of missing persons in that decade is staggering. Mostly women and children.”
  27.     “They didn’t find anyone?”
  28.     “No. Years later after they busted the gang for a robbery, they never sold out the location of the bodies. The only evidence of it occurring here is someone stumbled on a hollowed tree carved with the words ‘I am Still Here-A.R.’ Which were the initials of one of the earliest captives, Amanda Rucker. They never found her either.”
  29.     “So what does that mean for us? Are there ghosts of those bodies now or something?”
  30.     Phil nursed a toothache that had been bothering him and numbed the pain with a taste of bourbon out of his flask.
  31.     “No. That’s not how it works. Point is, history repeats itself. Ghosts or not. You gotta know about something before you walk in. Doing otherwise, you might never have the chance to learn your lesson. Pretty sure somebody famous said that once.” Phil’s breath carried the stench of a cheap bourbon even Samantha could smell. They knew what he meant, but thought about how stupid that sounded.
  32.     Evan didn’t like the bourbon smell either.
  33.     “Phil, listen we didn’t pay you to drink on this-”
  34.     “-Listen, hey I’ve got nothing against you. I don’t tell you how to do your job. It’s just a little bit to keep me warm. My ol rusty gears need to turn. What’s it to you how I get the kid back?” Phil responded as if he had done nothing wrong. He responded as if Evan was in the wrong for questioning him.
  35.     “I mean, if you don’t find the kid you still run off with two thousand dollars for retainer.”
  36.     Phil smiled. “You know I’m glad you remember that. You should keep remembering it next time you want to annoy me.” Then, Phil walked back into the tent.
  37.     Samantha’s heart sank. Her eyes stared at Evan’s. Evan felt like he had just betrayed a little girl’s trust. He felt as if he had thrown any hope away.
  38.     Evan knew he had to do something.
  39.     He started back toward Phil’s tent.
  40.     “Phil, you can’t talk to us like that. There’s somebody out here that needs your help.”
  41.     Phil poked his head out of the tent, “Yes? There’s always somebody that needs help. No offense Evan. I’m sorry about what happened to Arnold. But I’m going to do things the way I always do them. I promise I’ll find something. You might not like what I find, but I’m professional okay? You all couldn’t find the boy for four months. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but if you had hired me within the first week maybe I’d be more hopeful in finding anything other than a dead body.”
  42.     Evan knew he couldn’t say that back to Samantha. When he turned back to the fire and Samantha awaited a good sign, he just smiled something weak. It was all he could do.
  43.     The sunset was uneventful other than the shades of of plum that emerged when the orange sun fought back against the unending tide of the sky. At a certain point in time, Phil had taken a stroll around the river to look for clear signs. He took multiple soil samples and read results from an electronic meter he wouldn’t explain to either Evan or Samantha.
  44.     Evan practiced shooting soup cans on a log with his gun. Samantha had known he carried but she never asked him about it. She thought guns didn’t solve problems. She mainly just sat in her tent and read. The sounds of gunshots made her twitch between the spaces of words. Just BANG like BANG any other BANG sort of trouble BANG in the BANG world.
  45.     The bullets stopped, then Evan asked Samantha if she wanted to follow along while he and Phil looked at the river itself.
  46.     “No thanks.”
  47.     He shook his head, “I’m sorry if I bothered you. Here, I don’t want you to be alone at camp without this.” Evan offered her his small unloaded handgun separate with the magazine right next to it.
  48.     “Just set it down. Thank you.”
  49.     She tried to lose herself wherever she could. It became harder and harder to follow the lines and sentences of the page. Her thin, small finger slid across and landed at every period. Her eyes became heavier and heavier. The wind gently shook the tent outside the ambiance of the forest made her put the book down and just relax.
  50.     The forest swallowed the night. The trees splintered the sky like daggers, and the overwhelming feeling of a predator hiding in the dark almost paralyzed Samantha.
  51.     It took a child’s scream to bring her back to reality. She couldn’t tell if it was a boys or a girls. If it was Arnold or not.
  52.     She took out her flashlight and unzipped her tent. She saw a thousand round, grey nubs sticking from the ground. Samantha leaned in to look closer to the little sprouts. She bent down and felt one. It was fleshy. She pulled on it and it came out easily.
  53.     It was a finger.
  54.     She immediately dropped it.
  55.     The fingers curled and erected still, like unholy grass following a foul wind.
  56.     She ran into camp on the tips of her toes.
  57.     “Evan? Phil?”
  58.     Their tents weren’t there. The campfire was dead.
  59.     She circled around herself to see if there was any sign of activity.
  60.     Then, another scream.
  61.     She followed the noise, but the flashlight was starting to dim. She yelled in hopes there would be a response, but in truth she wanted to feel anything in the senseless dark.
  62.     A few steps closer to the sound of the river’s rushing water and she felt the presence of a figure. The flashlight gave her just enough to see a trail of blood from the dirt below her. The trail led to a body, she couldn’t tell whose it was. Over the body was a pale, hairless creature rubbing its body over with the bloody dirt. Its hands held onto clumps of the soil and would open its mouth to eat what fell through his thin fingers. It never noticed her.
  63.     Samantha dropped her flashlight and ran as fast as she could the opposite direction. She couldn’t even tell if anything was chasing her. It didn’t matter when she tripped and fell her heart sank into terror.
  64.     She realized she was in a nightmare and tried desperately to wake up. The dirt had another surprise for her, as thin black talons wrapped around her limbs. She tried to wrestle free and in the darkest of night saw what looked to be a mountain lion’s head outlined in the black. It was waiting for her to stop struggling. She closed her eyes and prayed.
  65. Samantha awoke from her nightmare. She ran her fingers across her skin and found the cold sweat over her was thick. She heard noise outside the tent. The fire was still going, it seemed Phil had just returned to camp.
  66.     “Hey there you are. I thought it best to let you nap. You wanna eat some hot dogs? Boiled in beer.” Evan smiled.
  67.     Samantha joined the two at the fire and they talked about numerous things. Mostly, they asked Phil questions about ghost hunting.
  68.     “So are there any things other than ghosts?” Evan asked.
  69.     “What do you mean?”
  70.     “Like werewolves and stuff?”
  71.     “I mean, people don’t turn into wolves if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t do that.”
  72.     “How many of these jobs are false or turn up with nothing?” Samantha asked.
  73.     “Almost all of the jobs I take end up being non paranormal. I know what you mean, and I don’t usually turn up with nothing. If you’re worried about your brother, don’t be. We’ll find him.”
  74.     Phil seemed completely different, that answer had more hope to it. Maybe he found a lead. Maybe he put down the flask. Maybe Evan and Phil talked about it while she was sleeping.
  75.     Samantha stared beyond Phil. The darkness of the forest didn’t seem to be there.
  76.     “Do you think his disappearance is paranormal?” Evan asked.
  77.     “Hard to tell with this sort of stuff. I think if everything we know about how he left is the truth, yeah it’s possible. It’s probably just the forest confusing him. When I was a kid, and I was really bored and poor growing up, I would curl up like a fetus and wiggle around in my bed until I wasn’t sure what side I was on. I felt lost in my own home, my own comfort. That disorientation is probably what he’s going through- in a way I mean.”
  78.     Samantha did not lie to Phil about what happened. Samantha was entertaining a phone call in her bedroom while she was babysitting Arnold and Arnold had went outside to play. Samantha noticed he never came back inside and when she went to check on him he was nowhere to be found.
  79.     Evan started to feel ill and retreated back to his tent for a moment. Samantha and Phil just endured the silence and crackling of the fire before Samantha decided to ask him.
  80.     “Hey Phil, can you just be honest with me? I mean, you have your money. Is all of this bullshit?”
  81.     Phil opened his eyes and gave Samantha a long look, as if he was calculating precisely what to say.
  82.     “I’m serious about my job. I seriously think there’s a chance he’s still out here. That being said, just because a place has some weird noises and a mysterious background doesn’t mean it’s haunted. Most places are not haunted. Usually, people are haunted.”
  83.     The response irritated Samantha.
  84.     “It was a yes or a no.” She stood up and started to leave the fire.
  85.     “Did you have a dream while you were napping?” Phil asked.
  86.     She turned around.
  87.     “Yes.”
  88.     “What was it about? If you don’t mind me asking.”
  89.     “I don’t remember most of it.” She struggled to recall any detail.
  90.     “I remember it was a nightmare. I was scared. I was lost here in the forest. Nobody was around to help me.”
  91.     Phil nodded his head and opened his book and scribbled a note down.
  92.     “I’ve got another question for you. Are you on your period?”
  93.     Samantha’s face turned red.
  94.     “Fuck you.”
  95.     “Hey hey hey. Stop. Sit back down. I’m sorry. I was out of line asking that. It was more important than you think, I’m a man of science. That wasn’t meant to be anything other than a question. You don’t have to answer.”
  96.     Samantha kept going in the opposite direction.
  97.     “Come back, please. Hey, I’ll tell you a real, honest to God ghost story.”
  98.     Samantha’s ears perked up.
  99.     “What?”
  100.     “I don’t tell people what I’ve done often. Most of the time I just keep my mouth shut on these jobs. If it will make you feel better about all of this and the money, I’ll tell you this story. Maybe you’ll start to understand me.”
  101.     Samantha sat back down at the fire.
  102.     “See, there was a time where we weren’t considered frauds. It was around when your uncle back there was a kid. Way before your time. It didn’t used to be a thankless job. We were celebrated. We were treated like rock stars and war heroes. If you killed an actual ghost, that was a big deal. You saved lives. You probably almost got killed in the process too. Other times you could be mentally disturbed from the ordeal. None of it was weird to me though, just tough. Except maybe the fame. That was weird. My chapter in Chicago actually got a cereal based on our likenesses. They drew me with about thirty more pounds than I had back then so I could be the fat one. I guess I grew into it. The cereal itself was absolutely gross though, I mean it had skull corn pellets and the marshmallows were little ghosts. The marshmallows turned the milk green, oh lord it was disgusting.” Phil grinned at the absurdity of it all.
  103.     “I used to think we deserved that fame too. The danger, the importance. It was intoxicating. I felt like me and my guys were the front lines to saving the world. All it takes is one moment to fuck up that fame for you. Just a single slice of reality to sober you up. Ghost hunters across the nation lost their careers in a single night: June seventh, 1984. The New York chapter was caught pumping hallucinogens into the water. Making everybody near them report paranormal events that didn’t exist. Caused nine seizures, one death. The trial was a circus. After that moment, everybody thought ghost hunting was no different than selling insurance if the insurance agents deflated your tires.”
  104.     Phil continued after a long sigh.
  105.     “I still kept going though. The reputation never mattered to me. I was getting out of my second divorce and any money was good money. What sobered me up was my first real, category five encounter.”
  106.     Phil’s hands tightened.
  107.     “I was able to convince of what I had left of a team to work with me all over the east coast. Plenty of good work opened up across the country because it became such a toxic business. Six people joined me. Six people whom I loved. I would’ve died for. Whom I should’ve died for.”
  108.     Samantha knew where this was going.
  109.     “What happened?”
  110.     Phil started to grind his teeth.
  111.     “We were contracted by the state of West Virginia to investigate some disturbances within the Big Bend Tunnel. The tunnel had been closed down for about ten years. People would wander into the tunnel and not come out the other side. That’s a spectral red flag. Our mission was to go into the tunnel and exterminate whatever was in there. Ghost, person, werewolf, the damn Hamburglar. Anything to make the people happy. The tunnel was two miles long. It cut through an immense mountain. It was the tunnel- I don’t know if you know about John Henry, I don’t know what you’re taught in schools anymore- but they say that was the tunnel John Henry died picking through. The tunnel bends at just the right arc in the mountain to have a dark spot. Right at the center? A place where light isn’t seen from either side.”
  112.     Samantha was holding herself to keep warm.
  113.     “It was a terrible job. We didn’t think about it. We were cocky and thought we could handle anything. I was working that job for eight years before that moment. I thought I seen it all. That’s what I’m trying to tell you though, it’s not about what you see and hear. Ghosts don’t work like that. It’s about everything you don’t see. In that tunnel, in our team’s infinite ghost hunting prowess, we had four people managing the equipment two up front holding the torch ends.”
  114.     Phil stood up and took a hose attached to the hunting equipment they had brought in off the truck. He pointed at the end of the hose, then his finger traced along to the rig it connected to.
  115.     “This is a glorified Bunsen burner. It’s a little phosphorus cocktail that can burn anything. Even spirits. It’s extremely dangerous with an intense light. It digs into your retinas without proper protection.”
  116.     He handed Samantha the hose. She felt how heavy it all was. She felt like a child again, listening to a grown up explain their job.
  117.     The tone of the conversation changed again when Phil started to choke up and count his words. He coughed up the first.
  118.     “Ronny. Michael. Paul. Brian. David. Those were my teammates. My brothers. We all knew each other better than our children or wives. We always had something to joke about. For Ronny it was the fact that we knew he was gay and just wouldn’t admit it. Michael, he lied about an allergy to shellfish.” Phil chuckled to himself. “We saw Michael eating a bucket of oysters on a day off when he thought nobody was going to go to the bar.”
  119.     Phil felt his throat dry. “Brian was the religious one. We’d make fun of him for praying before every mission. We were all spiritual in our own way, because hey, there’s proof of something after life. Brian had the necklace, had the scriptures memorized. The works. He’s the reason why I read the book now, mind you.”
  120.     Samantha set the torch down. Phil was absorbed into his own world, completely unaware of everything around him. He wasn’t telling the story for Samantha anymore, he was telling it to relive the moment.
  121.     “Every step inside that tunnel echoed. Every breath drawn felt absolutely necessary. We got to the center of the bend, it was darker than the night right here let me tell you. It was a shroud of something beyond the absence of light. Darkness is a thing, I always tell people. I get asked all the time, what does a ghost look like? Well it’s hard to say because they never look the same. Every encounter is something absolutely new. It’s a new shape, a new scent, a new sound. They can turn into the nerve that makes your hairs stand on edge, they will try anything and everything to scare you.”
  122.     Samantha was confused.
  123.     “Ghosts usually just manifest in little omens to scare people off. This one didn’t. A category five will murder you. It introduced itself with a screech louder than a train whistle. We immediately lit our torches-- just on the lowest setting-- so we can sense possible movement. It’s little things, like the bend of the flame, the hesitation of the ghost, or an unnatural movement of shadow. Maybe we get lucky and scrape the damn thing. But we weren’t lucky. We were far from lucky. It went after Michael first. With Michael we saw how it worked. It starts with paralyzing you. Then it rolls your eyes in the back of your head. Your blood boils. Your skin melts. You beg for death. You beg for a salvation or mercy that never comes. You’re left a lifeless husk, still screaming on the inside.”
  124.     Phil started to tear up. He ran his hand through what was left of his hair.
  125.     “It went after the engineers in the back. That’s how I know the monsters are smart. That thing knew the guys in the back powered the weapons, without them the torch doesn’t burn. I notice this and shut mine off, keeping a little trace of the chemical left in the hose and the tip. Just enough to have the torch be able to burn for an instant. Brian tried to help them, but it was so fast. I run it back in my head all the time, there was no possible reaction that would’ve saved them. Brian got it the worst of them. Brian of all people. The guy begged forgiveness every day of his life. If God exists, he wasn’t with us in that tunnel. As the thing seizes Brian, all Brian does is speak the Lord’s Prayer until his pain is so unbearable he can’t fathom any feeling other than torment. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Poor bastard.”
  126.     Phil exhaled. Samantha hadn’t noticed his breathing and wasn’t sure the last time he took one.
  127.     “The spirit went after me last. I made every muscle movement count, I yank my torch right to where it was going and I flick the switch back on. A flash of light comes from it in an instant and burned into the thing and my eyes so brightly the creature could never come back and my eyes never got better. Even today I can still remember the tunnel frozen in time, and the face of death staring right at me.”
  128.     “So it died?” Samantha asked.
  129.     “I think that’s what happens to them, yes. I was the only survivor. I walked all that equipment back myself a mile into the light of day. Longest mile I will ever walk. During that walk I just thought about what I was doing, about God, about ghosts, and about Brian. I realized, Brian wasn’t blessed. He was cursed. We were all cursed. God doesn’t see what I do as a righteous thing. I might save people, I might risk my life to help people, but what I’m doing goes beyond those kinds of morals. I’m exterminating something that is meant to be eternal. I’m desecrating the fabric of nature. I’m committing the worst sin of all: I’m destroying a soul. Something so pure, just wiped away by the unchecked power of man? The Lord can’t see me as redeemed. Someone like me can’t be forgiven.”
  130.     The crackle of the fire got louder. Phil felt the heat warm his face, and the light of his eye remained as bright as the flame.
  131.     “I don’t regret what I’m doing though. If the Lord was allowed to commit to his mysterious ways, Arnold would be missing forever. No one would ever know what happened to him. The forest would swallow up everything it wants. The Lord’s best use of a beautiful intelligent little boy is a cautionary tale for the woods and a broken family is left to pick up the pieces. That’s a rotten deal. I don’t like grand plans. Mysterious ways are for the birds. Your brother needs somebody, and if I’m the only person that can find him… My own forgiveness is more important than the Lord’s, and I don’t think I would be able to forgive myself if I didn’t try.”
  132.     Samantha thought for a while about the story. Samantha had a feeling something was off. About the story, about the camp, about everything. Phil probably just told her the same campfire story he tells every client wanting to listen. She fell for it, hook line and sinker. She stood up and asked for Evan.
  133.     “Evan? I think he’s still back there.”
  134.     Samantha stood up from the fire and walked towards Evan’s tent.
  135.     “Thanks for that story Mr. Conrad.” Samantha said.
  136.     Phil knew when to let the conversation die. He nodded and let Samantha check on Evan.
  137.     “Hey, uncle Evan? Are you okay?” Samantha said right outside of his tent.
  138.     Nothing.
  139.     She looked around for signs he was out anywhere.
  140.     She peeked inside the tent. It was empty.
  141.     She then walked around looking for him. The darkness of the forest she had seen in her dreams was finally visible for her in reality. She wasn’t sure what to do.
  142.     “Evan?”
  143.     Then she heard her name. It was Phil screaming for her. She looked back at the campfire and saw two men attacking Phil.
  144.     “Samantha! Run!” Phil yelled out loud, as they were struggling over Phil’s arms and the hatchet in his hand.
  145.     Samantha made a turn to the other direction and ran into a third man. The third man grabbed her by the arms and wrestled her down to the ground. She screamed for help. Her cries went unheard.
  146.     They had bound Phil and Samantha and escorted them to the river. They had wondered what happened to Evan, but to their horror they saw him lying beside the river with his throat slit. A blood pool collected around him and coated the dirt beneath.
  147.     They forced them to kneel down beside the body of Evan. Evan’s eyes had rolled back into his head. His jaw removed.
  148.     The men varied in size. The man who had subdued Samantha was the largest. He looked older too, she guessed he is around his fifties. The men that fought Phil were young and athletic. They had energy. They all wore black cloth hoods. Their voices sounded intentionally masked as well.
  149.     “So fat one first?” One asked.
  150.     “Yeah, I think so. He looks angry. Gives me weird vibes.” Another replied.
  151.     They were slightly behind two of the criminals. Phil whispered to Samantha.
  152.     “It’s okay. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. A calm head makes all the difference. If you get out of this, run to the road. Get help. Come back. Find your brother. If you don’t, pray for forgiveness. Even if you don’t believe.”
  153.      Out of the corner of their eyes, they noticed the two whispering.
  154.     “What are you doing?” The big one shouted.
  155.     Samantha stumbled over herself and started running. Phil went for their legs.
  156.     “Run! Run!” Phil screamed. The smaller two started to beat Phil with hatchets. The big one chased after Samantha.
  157.      She was able to get a couple hundred feet away and hid behind a tree. She peeked behind her and couldn’t see past the darkness.
  158.     She thought about giving up. She thought about holding her breath and hiding until sunrise. She even thought about taking the gun and pulling the trigger on herself. Her chapped lips and dry throat struggled to even swallow her spit.
  159.     Yet, she knew she had to push herself out of hiding. She ran. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew it was opposite the carnage.
  160.     She eventually made her way to the camp, with a dead fire at the center. She searched for anything to help her. She realized Evan left his gun in her tent and she frantically searched for it. She felt the weight of it. It was heavier than she could ever have expected. She tried to load it, she felt her inexperience immediately.
  161.     She decided to start another fire for a distraction. She started up Phil’s torch. It made a hissing, choking sound until she clicked back on the choke pin. Then a new noise of steady rhythm from a generator took place. The torch’s head started to vibrate intensely, something Phil did not explain to her. She felt a knob where her thumb conveniently fell. Messing with it changed the different intensities of the torch. She took it and started putting it back towards the general camp. Papers, wood, tents. Nothing mattered. The bright white light of all that is holy pierced everything and when she felt that enough was done, she ran over to Phil’s tent, stole the Bible, and continued to run towards the road. She never turned the hose back off.
  162.     Then she looked forward and noticed the black night moving around without her. Every slight step the man made, every disturbance, she could feel it. The light from the fire felt divine. She could hear the men shouting from every direction. The distraction worked, so she turned to the back of a tree and let the light surround her. She knew she was invisible, but she had no idea where any of them were either. Then, she saw a looming shadow cast over several trees. She moved in closer.
  163.     Her movement was practically weightless. When he finally stopped running and started to look around, she held her place and breath again. She didn’t need to try, this had become effortless.
  164.     Samantha took a moment to analyze his behavior. To calculate the risk. When his back was at just the right location, at just the right time, she pulled back the hammer, turned out of cover, and shot him in the head mere feet away. The image of the fire burned into her brain with the silhouette of the first man she had ever killed.
  165.     She heard yelling of the two men in the distance. She searched through the big man’s pockets for any source of identification, anything. In truth, it was curiosity. She started to wonder if these men were what happened to Arnold? How did the police not see these men in their search? How long have they been here?
  166.     Samantha didn’t look back. She only worried about the present and the steps she could see ahead, and each breath was a gift. She knew that.
  167.     It was a few miles before she even realized the trees had skipped a section. Then she realized she couldn’t even see the road with such intense fog. When she finally found her feet on the road itself and realized what she had accomplished, she let out a sigh of relief. Only now, she didn’t recognize which direction was what, was a right the town? Was a left her parents house? She closed her eyes for a moment, and realized the image from the fire remained. Her heart sank. That image was going to stay with her now forever.
  168.     She picked a direction. Then, Samantha started to walk the longest mile she would ever walk in her life.
  171. End.
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