The Path by Rachel Carpenter

“Hey! Wait for me!” I said jogging to catch up with my friends.

“Evelyn, why are you taking so many pictures? We know you like photography, but you’re taking pictures of everything,” said my roommate from college, Christine.

“Leave her alone. It’s her passion,” said my boyfriend, Daniel, wrapping his arm around me. I showed him the pictures I just took.

“Ewww, doesn’t she have cooties?” Charlie said, chuckling under his breath.

“Shut up, Charlie,” I replied, cracking a small smile. We were on our usual hike. We try and find new places, but today we all wanted to go to one of our favorite spots in L.A. We were almost at the top of the mountain when we heard a spine-tingling scream.  We all froze with fear, not wanting to mention what just happened, but we could not pretend what we just heard wasn’t real.

“What was that?” Christine asked, her voice quivering with fear.

“I have no idea, but I think we should get out of here,” Daniel replied. He grabbed my hand and started pulling me back down the mountain.

“Wait, what if that person who screamed is in trouble? What if we can help that person?” I pulled away from Daniel.

“I don’t want you to get hurt. We can call the police and they can help whoever is up there. It’s not our job to save people we don’t know,” Daniel said walking toward me.

“Daniel is right. We should get out of here,” replied Charlie.

“Christine, back me up here. You know leaving is wrong,” I said, trying to get Christine’s attention, but she was already walking up the mountain.

“Christine, let’s go, you know this is super dangerous. You don’t know what’s up there,” Charlie said running to catch up with her. Daniel and I ran to catch up with them both.

“I’m not going to let someone die because of me,” replied Christine still walking up the path. As we were walking, we looked in the forest while still being on the path to see if anyone was in distress.

“Hey, guys, what do you think that is?” Charlie asked pointing to a lump by a tree.

“I don’t know, and I don’t have a good feeling about it,” I answered. We walked over to examine the lump. “It looks like a dummy covered in fake blood.” I put my camera around my neck.

“It looks like a dead body,” Daniel replied.

“I think it is,” Charlie said.

“What are we supposed to do? Do we check to see if that thing is still alive?” I asked.

“No, what if it was a murder? We don’t want our fingerprints on the thing,” answered Daniel.

“Daniel, what if it’s still alive?!” I shouted.

“It doesn’t matter! If it’s still alive then we should get down from the mountain and call for help,” replied Daniel.

“Why don’t we call now?” Christine asked reaching for her phone.

“There’s no cell service up here, but we should get moving and get help,” answered Charlie.

“That won’t be necessary,” replied a voice from behind the group. We all jumped with fright and turned around. We saw a figure in an all-black suit with a black fedora to cover his eyes. “Here’s the deal. You weren’t supposed to find this guy, but you did. I don’t want to kill you, but I can’t have any witnesses.”

“Don’t hurt the ladies. Let them go,” Charlie said.

“Well, how about this. If you can make it out of the forest, I’ll let you live,” said the strange man.

“No deal. Who are you?” Daniel asked stepping in front of me.

“Well, since you ask I’m Jack. If you have any questions about our game just ask,” replied Jack with a twisted smile.

“We aren’t going to play your game,” I said stepping out from behind Daniel.

“If you don’t play there’s definitely no way you’ll live, and that would be such a shame. You have five minutes to decide what you’re going to do,” Jack said, walking away. We looked at each other in fright not knowing what was going to happen next.

“Maybe we should stick together,” Daniel said, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, we should start heading down. We don’t know when he’s going to come back,” replied Charlie.

“I’m having a hard time believing this is real. I mean, I think it’s real, but there’s a small part of me that thinks this is some type of cruel joke,” Christine said shaking her head.

“I definitely think this is real,” I said looking everywhere.

“What if only one of us makes it down?” Charlie asked.

“We tell the police what happened so they can find the man doing this,” replied Daniel. We kept walking and Charlie’s watch went off, marking the five minutes Jack gave us to make up our minds.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do? I’m assuming you’re going to play because you’re trying to leave,” Jack said walking onto the path in front of us. “Before any of you fools talk, I’m going to take someone from your group now. The question is who’s it going to be? Should I decide, or should I let you decide?”

“You’re not going to take anyone!” Daniel shouted.

Jack laughed and said, “Do you really think you have any say in the matter? Are you stupid? Maybe I should take you.”

“No, please!” I shouted, holding onto Daniel’s arm.

“Well, I’m taking someone. Who’s it going to be?” Jack asked.

“I’ll go,” answered Christine.

“No! Christine, you can’t just give yourself up!” I shouted grabbing her by the arm. I held on as tightly and as long as I could, but she broke free from my grip and went to him. We stood there until she was no longer in sight.

“We can’t just leave Christine!” I said, sobbing into my hands.

“Look, the best thing we can do for Christine is to get help. Do you understand?” Daniel said holding onto my face.

“Okay,” I replied. We started sprinting down the path, trying to move as fast as possible. We ran into an older couple on their way to the top of the mountain.

“Don’t go up there! There’s a murderer at the top and he’s already got one of our friends. We all need to go back to the bottom,” Daniel warned. They looked at us like we were crazy and just kept going.

“We need to stop them. They’re going to die,” I said to Daniel.

“I tried. They aren’t going to listen no matter how many times we warn them,” he replied.

“We should keep going. We told them what was going on and they didn’t listen. That’s their fault. The only thing we can do now is getting down to the bottom of the trail and call for help,” Charlie said. We kept running down the trail, each of us looking to see if we could spot Jack. After a few minutes of straight running, heavy breathing, and feeling my camera pounding against my chest, we heard two more screams. We looked at each other all hoping that it wasn’t Christine.

“You know what’s weird about this? We never hear any gunshots go off before the screams,” I said.

“We need to keep moving,” Daniel snapped. I grabbed Daniel’s arm and stopped him.

“I know you’re frustrated and scared, but being snippy toward me isn’t going to do anything.”

“I’m sorry, but we need to keep moving. I can’t lose you,” Daniel replied moving in to kiss me.

“Wow, isn’t that so beautiful and romantic?” Jack asked, interrupting and clapping slowly.

“Get out of here,” snapped Charlie stepping in front of Daniel and me.

“I think I’ll take you next.”

“You guys go ahead, I got this,” Charlie said facing us. “You both have great lives ahead of you.”

“What about you?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about me,” Charlie said taking the camera from my hands.

“What-”

“Don’t worry about it,” Charlie said putting the camera around his neck.

“Charlie, don’t go,” Daniel pleaded.

“Goodbye you guys,” Charlie said walking away. “I wish you the best.”

“Let’s go,” Daniel said, pulling my arm. “We’re almost at the bottom and we can get help.” After a few minutes of walking, we arrived at the bottom. Relief came flooding over us because we had escaped Jack’s game.

“I see that you’ve made it out alive. Congratulations,” Jack said with a wicked grin.

“What are you doing? What do you want? We made it out and you can’t touch us,” I said.

“I have two people who want to say congrats to you as well.” As he said that Christine and Charlie walked out from the forest and stood behind him.

“Charlie! Christine! You’re alive! How is that possible?” I asked.

“Eve, turn around please,” Daniel said. I did and saw him on one knee.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I know you love to prank me all the time, but it was my turn. I love you and couldn’t imagine myself with anyone else. So, Evelyn Smith, will you marry me?” Daniel asked, pulling out a small box. He opened it and inside was the most beautiful ring I had ever seen.

“Wait, so all of this was a prank?”

“Yes, Charlie and Christine were in on it and I hired an actor to play Jack.” My mind was filled with confusion and chaos, I had forgotten Charlie and Christine were even there. I turned to look at them; Charlie was taking pictures with my camera and Christine was taking a video on her phone.

“You did all of this to propose to me?”

“Yes,” Daniel replied. “So, Eve, will you marry me?”

“Yes, of course, I’ll marry you,” I said laughing. “I totally thought we were going to die. After all the years of me pranking you and you trying so hard to get me back you finally did.” Daniel slid the ring on my finger and we started hugging. All of a sudden, we feel other bodies joining in on our hug. I look to see and it is Christine and Charlie.

“Wait, what about the older couple? What happened to them? And what was that thing used for a body?” I asked, breaking away from the hugs.

“Eve, I hired them too and we used a dummy with fake blood. There were a few times I thought this wasn’t going to work, but Christine and Charlie were there to help.”

“I hate to interrupt, but when are you going to pay me the rest of the money?” Asked the actor.

“Yeah, sorry,” Daniel said handing the guy the money.

“Wait, what’s your real name?” I asked.

“Oh, my name is Kevin,” He answered. “I have to go because I’ve got another gig tonight. It was nice to meet you all, and here’s my card,” Kevin said, handing everyone business cards.

“I think I’ve had enough adventure for today. Let’s go home,” I said, holding Daniel’s hand. We walked to our car and said goodbye to Charlie and Christine.

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