“The Left/Right Game” Scary Stories | Creepypasta | Nosleep Stories
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“The Left/Right Game” Scary Stories | Creepypasta | Nosleep Stories

A few points before we start. Firstly, I am not the protagonist of this
story. I just went to university with her, and though
she went on to become a professional writer, I most certainly did not. She’ll be taking over from me further down
but, until then, please forgive my slightly awkward delivery while I give you guys the
necessary context. Secondly, I don’t know what you will make
of the following events, and I’m sure many of you might consider it all some sort of
hoax. I wasn’t present for any of what transpired
in Phoenix, Arizona but I can vouch for the person who wrote the following logs. She is not, and has never been, a fantasist. Ok so I once knew a girl called Alice Sharma. She was an undergrad at Edinburgh Uni the
same time I was. My educational poison was History, a degree
which has greatly benefited my career as a bicycle repairman. Alice Sharma studied journalism, though perhaps
“studied” isn’t the word. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she lived
and breathed the subject. Editor-in-chief of the campus paper, recognisable
voice of student radio. She was frustratingly tunnel visioned, and
she was a journalist in her own right before anyone gave her a professional shot. We met in student halls and became friends
almost immediately. A meandering waster trying to stay off his
parent’s farm and an intrepid, ambitious reporter may not seem the most obvious pairing, but
I learned not to question it. She was inspiring, and smart and she proofread
all my essays. I’m not too sure what she saw in me. We were eventually flatmates down in London
where she chased her dream and I chased my tail. She got a few jobs here and there, but nothing
befitting of her skills. After months of fruitless internships and
rejections, Alice called a flat meeting, telling us that she was moving to America, accepting
a position chasing stories for National Public Radio. The job had come out of the blue, the result
of a hail mary application she thought had been dismissed out of hand. We threw her a bittersweet going away party
and put the room up for rent. That party was the last time I saw Alice Sharma. She dropped out of contact a few months after
her departure. Complete radio silence. I assumed she was just busy so I carried on
with my small but happy life, and waited for her to pop up on television with some important
words below her name; Chief Correspondent, Senior Analyst… something like that. The radio silence was broken last week, and,
for reasons you’ll glean further down, I’m less happy about it than I would’ve thought. Arriving home from work I found a lone email
in my otherwise bare inbox. An email that would later be described as
“suspicious” by my tech literate friends. Despite being born in the early 1990’s I didn’t
own a computer until uni, and I’ve missed several important lessons in the world of
cyberspace. Lessons like “Don’t call it Cyberspace” of
course and more importantly, “Don’t open emails with no text, no subject and no sender’s address.” I realise most of you would have deleted this
anonymous, blank email immediately, my friends certainly would have, but beyond my basic
ignorance about online safety, something further compelled me to open it. The only thing of substance in the entire
message was a zipped folder, labeled: Left.Right.AS I don’t have to explain what I was hoping
those final initials stood for. Opening the zipped folder I found myself staring
at a stack of text files. Each one titled with a date, continuing sequentially
from the very earliest file “07-02-2017″. (To any Americans in the room this is the
7th of February). I’ve since read the files a few times, and
shown them to some friends. They don’t know what to make of it either,
but they certainly aren’t as concerned as me. They think Alice is just in a creative writing
phase and, if I didn’t know her, I’d have to agree. But the thing is, I do know her. Alice Sharma only cares about the truth and
if that’s the case with these files, insane as it may sound, then it’s very possible
my friend has documented her own disappearance. The people who suggested this forum said you
discuss strange occurrences etc. If you guys have come across anything to do
with the below, or know any of the people involved, then please send any information
my way. Has anyone here heard of the Left/Right Game? The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 07/02/2017 They say great stories happen to those who
can tell them. Robert J. Guthard is an exception to that
rule. As I sit at his table, sip his coffee and
listen to him recount the past 65 years it sounds like he’s reading off a shopping list. Every event, his first job, his second wedding,
his third divorce, none of them receive more than one or two sentences. Rob plows through the years, the curt, dispassionate
curator of his own personal history. Yet the story itself is so fascinating, so
rich with moments and so wildly meandering that it somehow stands on its own merits. It’s a great story, no matter how you tell
it. By the time Rob was 21, he’d gotten married,
had a son, worked as a farmer, a mover, a boat engineer, and grown estranged from his
spouse… Here’s him talking about that. ROB: Course my wife started to get dissatisfied,
I was away a while. AS: For work? ROB:Vietnam. AS: You were in Vietnam? How was that for you? ROB: I ain’t never been back since. That was everything he had to say concerning
his first divorce, and the entire Vietnam war. Rob had four marriages after that, and even
more professions. After the war he worked with a firm of private
detectives, got shot at once by the mob, then he became a courier, which is how a poor boy
from Alabama got to see the world. ROB: I been to most of the continents with
that job. I been to India. You from India? AS: My mum and dad are from India yeah. ROB: See I could tell. He’d been arrested once in Singapore, after
one of his packages had been found to be full of white powder. He spent three days locked up before someone
got around to checking the substance. It was chalk. A friend he made during his brief custody,
Hiroji Sato, invited Rob to stay with him in Japan. Just getting over the breakup of his third
marriage, Rob took the offer. He stayed in Japan for another 5 years. ROB: The Japanese are good people. Good manners. But they got all these urban legends and ghost
stories that Hiroji was crazy for, spent all his free time chasing them down. Like, you heard of Jorogumo? AS: I don’t think so” ROB: Well she’s this spider lady lives in
the Joro Falls round Izu. Meant to be real pretty but real dangerous. Hiroji took us out there to get a picture
of her. AS: Did you ever meet Jorogumo? ROB Nah she didn’t show. None of them did. I didn’t believe at all until we went to Aokigahara Aokigahara, affectionately titled the Suicide
Forest. The next stop on Rob’s adventure. It’s an area of woodland at the base of Mount
Fuji, a notorious hotspot for young people looking to take their own lives. Hiroji, Rob’s ghost obsessed jailmate turned
best friend, took him to Aokigahara to chase “yurei” the ghosts of the forest. AS: Did you find anything? In Aokigahara? ROB: Well I ain’t gonna ask you to believe
me. But I was a PI. Professional cynic. Even I can’t deny there was a spirit in those
woods. From that moment on, Rob’s sentences start
getting longer. A childlike excitement creeps into his voice. I get the distinct feeling we’re moving beyond
background, beyond Rob Guthard’s old life, and towards his new one. The one he wants to talk about. The one that led him to contact the show. ROB: It walked up to me through the trees. Looked like static you see on a TV screen
but it had a human shape almost. AS: Almost? ROB: It was missing an arm. It reached out to me but I bolted outta that
forest so fast. Hiroji never saw it, holds it against me to
this day. Hiroji had good reason to be annoyed. Rob says that Mr Sato had been going to the
forest 2-3 times per year for three decades. To have a rookie come along and claim to have
seen a yurei on his first trip? I’d be more than a little cranky. But Rob didn’t stay a rookie for long. In fact, it was in those woods that he discovered
his current passion. The supernatural, or more accurately, the
documentation and investigation of urban legends. Legends like Bloody Mary, the Jersey Devil,
Sasquatch. Rob has looked into them all. ROB: I figured if one was true then who knows
how many others could be. AS: How many have you proven so far? ROB: Since Aokigahara? Ain’t none of em had any proof to em. Except for one. That’s why I called you guys up. At this point, Rob can’t hope to repress
his smile. The Left/Right game appeared on a paranormal
message board in June 2016. Only a few people frequently visited the forum
and, of these regulars, only Rob took an interest in the post. ROB: The whole thing had a level of detail
you don’t see in other stories. AS: What details grabbed your interest? ROB: Logs. High quality pictures. The guy documented everything, said he wasn’t
gonna play the game anymore. I think he wanted somebody to keep investigating. AS: And you were that somebody. ROB: That’s right. I set about trying to verify his information
right away. AS: And how did it go? ROB: Well… It didn’t take long to realise the Left/Right
Game is the real thing. The rules of the Left/Right game are simple. Get in your car and take a drive. Take a left, then the next possible road on
the right, then the next possible left. Repeat the process ad infinitum, until you
wind up somewhere… new. The rules are easy to understand, but Rob
says their not so easy to follow. ROB: There ain’t all that many roads where
you can turn left and right and left and right and keep going. Most of the time you find yourself at a dead
end or needing to turn in the wrong direction. Phoenix is built on a grid system so you can
keep going left and right as long as you need to. AS: Did you move to Phoenix for the Left/Right
game? ROB: That’s right. I try not to seem incredulous. Selling your house in another state, packing
up and moving your whole life to Phoenix, Arizona just to play a game you saw on the
internet? It seems like insanity. Rob smiles as he reads my expression. I can clearly read his expression too. “You’ll see.” It says. “Just wait.” I wouldn’t have to wait long. Included within the 9 page submission Rob
sent our show, was a long list of suggested items the chosen reporter should bring with
them. Clothes for three days, a pocket knife, matches,
bandages. There were also a set of qualifications the
reporter should have. The ability to drive, basic vehicle maintenance
and its human equivalent… first aid training. He didn’t just want to talk about the Left/Right
Game. He wanted to take one of us along. Rob leaves a short while later to embark on
a few errands, “Prepping the Run”, as he calls it. He shows me to the guest room and we part
ways, on good terms but very much aware of the other’s poorly veiled opinions. He knew I saw him as a charming obsessive,
chasing after a fairy tale. He saw me as a naive cynic, on the cusp of
a new world. All I could think as I heard the front door
close is that by tomorrow afternoon, one of us would be right. More after this. When I wake up the next morning, Rob is in
my room, holding a tray which he’d knocked on the bottom of to rouse me. I don’t manage to record the start of our
conversation. ROB: – I got bananas, strawberries, chocolate
syrup. We got some more downstairs but I wanted you
to wake up to something good. We won’t be eatin’ this stuff on the road.” Rob has made me waffles. He sets them down on the night stand and talks
through the coming day as I eat. I’ll admit it feels a little uncomfortable,
waking up in a stranger’s home to find said stranger already standing over me, but I quickly
move past it. I tell myself that he’s an older man, accustomed
to living alone in his own house, not usually having to think about boundaries. Anyway, he certainly knows his way around
a waffle iron. ROB: We hit the road at 9. I wanted to give you time to get ready before
everyone shows up. AS: There are other people coming? ROB: We got a 5 car convoy on the road today. They’ll be here in an hour. This is the first I’ve heard of a convoy,
and to be honest I’m surprised. The game is Rob’s obsession, and I’m here
at his request. The idea that anyone else would have an interest
in today’s drive is a little perplexing. Half an hour later, sated, showered and dressed
in the “functional clothing” Rob had so painstakingly outlined, I take my pack out to the porch. Rob’s already there, waiting for his associates
to show up. AS: I thought you’d be conducting a few more
errands. ROB: If you ain’t prepared by the morning
of, you ain’t prepared. AS: Hah ok I guess that’s fair. Oh, Rob is the garage locked? The inside door won’t budge and I wanted to
mic up the car. ROB: Yeah it’s locked up I’ll open it for
ya. AS: Thank you. ROB: In fact it’s about time I wheeled her
out. Fair warning Ms Sharma, she’s a thing of beauty. To Rob Guthard, beauty took the form of a
dark green Jeep Wrangler. Rob climbs in and lets it roll out of the
garage, where it dominates every inch of driveway. The car is large; four doors with a roof enclosing
the entire compartment. It’s also been modified extensively, yet
another example of Rob’s dedication to the game. ROB: What’re you thinking? AS: I think you’re two caterpillar treads
short of driving a tank. ROB: Hah yeah I fixed her up good. I put the winch in, heavy duty tires, the
light rig on top is LED’s. They’ll make midnight look like noon but they
don’t use hardly any power. AS: Aren’t Jeeps open top usually? ROB: Not all. This is the Unlimited. I like to have a covered car when I head on
the road. I climb in and stow my pack. Rob had removed the back seats to afford more
storage space. The place is packed to the brim. Jerry cans of gasoline, barrels of water,
rope, snacks and his own neatly packed set of clothes. I wonder if the rest of our convoy would take
the game so seriously. ROB: We got Apollo coming up in 10 minutes. No one else has given me a time. I sent the schedule weeks ago, this always
happens. AS: His name’s Apollo? ROB: That’s his call sign. Apollo Creed I think he said. AS: Why are you using call signs? ROB: Did I not tell you? Oh yeah we’re gonna use call signs on the
road, keep communication clear. AS: What’s your callsign? ROB: Ferryman. AS: … What’s my call sign? ROB: I thought about it. I was thinking London, you’re from London
right? AS: I’m from Bristol. ROB: Bristol? That’s fine I guess. It’s less than ten minutes before Apollo
turns the corner. Rob jumps out of his chair and paces briskly
over to the edge of his property, as his first guest pulls up and steps onto the sidewalk. Apollo vaguely resembles his namesake, dark
skinned, tall and noticeably well built, though it’s clear he couldn’t be less of a fighter. This Apollo Creed is all smiles and seems
to have a penchant for laughing at his own jokes. AS: How far have you come? APOLLO: I’ve come out of Chicago. Took three days hard driving. AS: And you know Rob from the forums? APOLLO: Everybody knows Rob, Rob’s the god! Ahaha Rob walks over to Apollo’s car, gesturing
him over to talk shop. Rob’s clearly impressed with Apollo’s choice
of vehicle, a blue Range Rover packed to the ceiling with kit. I was more impressed with Rob himself. Somehow this 65 year old farmer’s son had
become respected in a vast online community. My dad is Rob’s age and he’s just discovered
copy and paste. The rest don’t take long to arrive. Two Minnesotan librarians, also around Rob’s
age, pull up in a grey Ford Focus. They’re brother and sister, and they’ve
shared ghost hunting as a hobby their entire lives. I find it hard to suppress a smile when they
meekly introduce themselves as Bonnie and Clyde. CLYDE: We would have gotten here sooner we
had to drop by to get some blankets. Pleasure to meet you ma’am. AS: Pleasure to meet you too. CLYDE: Would you be the journalist? AS: That’s right. CLYDE: You used to write for the town paper
didn’t you? He’s talking to his sister there, she nods. Clyde is clearly the spokesperson for the
pair, yet they both seem incredibly shy. Whether they admire the famous outlaws, or
just the name, it’s pretty clear they couldn’t be more different from the real thing. Next to show up are Lilith and Eve, English
Lit students at New York University and proprietors of the YouTube channel Paranormicon. Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, Lilith and Eve have
no issue holding a conversation. As soon as they learn who I am, and what I
do for a living, they attempt to conscript me for an expedition to Roswell. LILITH: We have a friend there, he’s been
seeing some- EVE: -He’s a seismologist LILITH: Yeah and he’s been recording readings
over the years that show subterranean movement. Predictable movement. EVE: We’re going to see him in July, but we
could work it around you if you’re free. AS: I’ll have to check my schedule EVE: OK cool let me give you my email… They quickly hurry off to film an intro for
their latest video, featuring a quick interview with Rob, who seems pretty welcoming of the
attention. The last two cars arrive within a few seconds
of each other. A lithe, strong willed older lady who goes
by Bluejay and a younger man going by the callsign “Ace”. Bluejay has arrived in a grey Ford Explorer. Ace, much to Rob’s annoyance, has arrived
in a Porsche. ROB: Did you think that’s gonna help on the
road? I didn’t write that- ACE: It’s my car. What am I meant to do,? It’s my car. ROB: You didn’t read my itinerary, you got
nothing packed in there. ACE: I did read it sir OK? Calm down. I have a bag, I won’t ask you for anything. ROB: Well I know that’s true. Ace and Rob were off to a bad start. Ace takes a phone call, and despite my best
efforts to get an interview with Bluejay, she doesn’t seem interested in talking to
a journalist. With five cars, and seven travellers waiting
for a green light, Rob hands out radios and charging packs, then launches into a quick
safety briefing. Wear seatbelts. Stay in position. Communicate clearly and often. It’s at this moment I start to feel a little
dismay. I like Rob, and clearly so does everyone else. He’d convinced all of them to drive across
the country to join in with his game. I start to worry what will happen in the likely
event that the whole thing isn’t real. Would Rob lose the respect of his peers? Would he accept failure when it comes? After seeing the effort he’s put into these
runs, the next few hours have the potential to be wildly uncomfortable. With a smile and a few encouraging words,
Rob ends his briefing and beckons me over to the Wrangler. I clamber inside and make myself as comfortable
as possible. ROB: You ready for this Bristol? AS: I’m ready. ROB: Ok then let’s hit the road. The Wrangler pulls out of the driveway, and
the convoy follows in order of arrival. Apollo, Bonnie & Clyde, Lilith & Eve, Bluejay
and Ace keep a steady pace behind us as we come up to the first corner. Rob slowly and deliberately turns left, checking
on the others in his rear view mirror. He looks back to the road as Ace’s Porsche
completes the first turn of the game. Shortly afterwards, Apollo checks in on the
CB radio. APOLLO: This is Apollo for Ferryman. How many to more go Rob? ahahaha ROB: Hah as many as it takes. I can tell Rob wanted the to reserve the radio
for something other than Apollo’s quips. But he seems to like Apollo enough to let
it slide. I’m not sure Ace would have received the same
treatment. We take the next right, then another left. Now safely assured that everyone’s following
correctly, Rob speaks my thoughts aloud. ROB: You’re wondering the same thing Apollo
is. AS: What do you mean? ROB: You’re wondering how many turns we’re
gonna take before we hit some wall or something. Before you find out this is all just a story. AS: Does that disappoint you? ROB: I’d be disappointed if you weren’t thinking
something like it. But now we’re on the road I gotta say something
and you gotta listen to it. AS: OK… ROB: We’re coming up to a tunnel soon. Any time before we reach it you can get out,
walk in any direction you like, and you won’t be in the game no more. Once we go through, you gotta retrace the
route we took to get yourself back out that tunnel. That’s when you’re home. And you gotta convince someone to take you
back in a car coz I ain’t ferrying you back 20 minutes in. You got till the tunnel to skip out on this,
understand? AS: I understand. Though I have to say I’m getting little nervous. ROB: Ain’t nothing wrong with a little nervous. We’ve taken 23 turns by this point. Already I feel like we’re traversing the city
pretty effectively. Rob’s heavily modified Wrangler solicits a
few impressed glances from passersby, as well as several honks of respect from other Jeep
drivers. Other than those few moments, everything seems
completely indistinguishable from a regular morning drive. I even start to worry if there’ll be anything
at all for this story. “Reporter Takes Drive With Interesting Man”
isn’t exactly Pulitzer worthy. Turn 33 leads us onto a short, unassuming
street. A row of small businesses in a quiet Phoenician
neighbourhood; liquor, second hand clothing, tools and, at the end of the street, a little
shop selling antique mirrors. Ten or so people shuffle along the sidewalk,
smiling, talking, planning their weekends. The only lone person is a young woman in a
grey coat.. I briefly glimpse her at the end of the street,
standing on our next corner, the back of her coat reflected in fifty old mirrors. Even from a distance I can see that she’s
sullen, wide eyed and nervous. She shifts constantly on her feet, tugging
at the button of her coat. I look away to write some notes as we roll
down the street. When I look up again, the woman is standing
by my window, staring right at me. She’s smiling, a wide, unfaltering grin
that seems almost offensive in its complete insincerity. GREYWOMAN: Lambs at the gate. Hoping for something better than clover when
all they find are things worse than slaughter. AS: Rob what’s happening? ROB: Ignore her. GREYWOMAN: He wanted to leave me so I cut
him out. The lake was hungry it drank the wound clean. AS: Miss, are you alright? The smile vanishes, it snaps from her face
and suddenly, the woman is furious. GREYWOMAN: What do you think you’re doing?! Have you gone mad?! I reflexively press myself back in my chair
as the woman, wild eyed and gaunt, slams her fists against my window, with every intent
of breaking through. GREYWOMAN: Would you dance down the lion’s
tongue? It will shred you, you whore! It will shred you down to your sins! You fucking bastard! Rob puts his foot down, and the Wrangler rolls
defiantly away from the woman. As we turn the corner I watch her as she wretches,
her every movement cradled in abject hysteria. She yells despairingly at the rest of the
convoy, bursting into tears when the last car passes her by. As she shrinks into the rear view mirror,
I see her turn to a large mirror on the side of the shop, which the owner is in the process
of polishing. I watch as she walks up to it, and with a
convulsant scream, slams her head into the glass. The mirror cracks around her forehead, the
owner jumps back in shock, and as the woman pulls her head from the mirror’s surface,
the fractured spider’s web is dripping red. It all happens in a split second, and she
quickly swerves from my view as we take the next left. AS: Rob, what was that? ROB: She’s there sometimes. AS: On that street? ROB: On the 34th turn. AS: Who is she? ROB: I don’t know. She’s never acted out that much before though. Must be a special trip. I find Rob’s lack of concern a little unpleasant,
and his implication that this woman’s ravings were the symptom of an internet game leaves
me more than a little perturbed. As I see it, there are a few explanations
for what just happened, and none of them lead to a comforting conclusion. If we had just encountered a bonafide crazy
person, then one could argue that Rob is just seeing what he wants to see. Maybe he’d bought into the game’s story
so much that every strange but explainable occurrence would be rationalised as the next
step in his favourite paranormal narrative. Alternatively, the woman could have been an
actor, a more elaborate theory sure, but not unheard of. People have lied to the show before and Rob
was receiving a tonne of publicity for this attempt from Lilith, Eve and I. I admit, Rob
didn’t seem like a liar, but good liars never do. There is a third alternative however. An alternative which, if you put logic aside,
explains the all troubling little details that I couldn’t help but notice. Because as strange as the grey woman was,
isn’t it stranger that no one on the street would react? I couldn’t recall a single glance in her direction
by anybody on the sidewalk. Perhaps that theory falls apart when you consider
the shock on the mirror seller’s face but, when I think about it, he only reacted once
the mirror shattered, and even then, I feel like his attention was on the mirror itself. The radio crackles. LILITH: Lillith to Bristol. Sara… Eve got that on camera! Do you have audio? AS: I think it picked her up. LILITH: My god that was so weird. Can you send us the file when we stop? Can you ask Ferryman when we’re stopping? AS: When’s our stopping point? ROB: For them, in about 30 minutes. For you? Well, you tell me. Rob turns off a busy street just before a
large intersection, onto a much quieter stretch of two lane road. Ahead of us the road slopes downward, leading
into an underpass, which disappears into darkness. We’d arrived at the tunnel. AS: What is this supposed to pass under? ROB: Ain’t supposed to pass under anything,
it’s just there. AS: And if we weren’t playing the game? ROB: Then it won’t show. The question is, are you playing the game
or not? Rob turns to me. It’s the first time he’s taken his eyes
off the road since we started. He pulls the car to a slow stop at the mouth
of the tunnel. ROB: You get out now you can go wherever you
wanna go, but through there you’ll need a car to get yourself home and, like I said,
mine ain’t turnin round for a long while. You understand? It’s a dramatic statement, but unsettlingly,
it doesn’t feel like he’s attempting to dramatise. It feels like I’m having something genuinely
asked of me. Am I ready for what’s to come? Do I accept the risks involved? Do I consent to be taken down this road, and
the next road, and the next? Am I prepared to see this game through, real
or otherwise, to its end? AS: What are you waiting for? Rob smiles, and turns back to the road. He picks up the CB radio holds down the button
on the side. The microphone crackles. ROB: This is Ferryman to all cars. Anyone want to step out then pull to the side
now. Otherwise, stay in formation and have some
supplies at hand. We got a long ways to go. Much like the game I’m so tentatively playing,
my view of Robert J. Guthard seems to change direction frequently. I’d heard all about his life, but I’m
sure that I know him. I like the guy, but I’m not certain that
I trust him. And though I admire his dedication to the
Left/Right Game, I’m not sure I’ll like where it might lead us. Yet as he takes us into the tunnel, his face
vanishing and reappearing under the dim sodium lights, I can that tell he expects this trip
to be a major step in his already impressive story, and this time, for better or for worse,
I’m along for the ride. Hi everyone. I’ve got the day off work and I wanted to
start it by posting up the next log. I also want to thank you all for your responses
so far. A few people have linked me to sites that
Rob J. Guthard may have operated on. Someone even offered to look for the mirror
shop in Phoenix and try to retrace the route to Rob’s neighbourhood. I’m going to spend the day making a few
international calls, and sending emails out but if you guys have any other ideas about
how I could pursue this I’d really appreciate them. In all honesty, I’m going to need all the
help I can get. This whole ordeal has proven pretty categorically
that I am no Alice Sharma. Speaking of which, I’m going to let her
take it from here. Thanks again. Part 1 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 08/02/2017 The next turn comes immediately after the
tunnel. We’d been in the dimly lit passage for almost
two minutes, but at the pace Rob likes to travel it’s hard to figure out how far we’ve
actually gone. When we descended into the underpass we were
just nearing the outskirts of Phoenix. Scrutinising the rear view mirror as we leave,
it’s fair to say we aren’t that much further out. Everything else; the temperature, the time
of day, the weather, all seems exactly like it had been before we ventured into the tunnel. I’m not sure what I was expecting of course,
but it certainly doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere new. The tunnel itself had been similarly underwhelming,
especially considering the importance Rob seemed to place on it. In fact the only thing of true interest since
we passed through was something Rob said once we hit the halfway mark. As the tunnel’s mouth loomed towards us,
Rob picked up the CB Radio transceiver, and issued a casual warning to the convoy. The message itself was straightforward, his
choice of words however was… curious. I decided to ask him about it. AS: Rob, just a second ago, when you told
us the next turn was coming up. Why did you use the word “trap”? ROB: Hmm? AS: I have it in my notes. You said, “Folks we’re coming to the end
soon, first little trap’s coming up. Our next turn is sharp left as we leave. Look out for it.” Is there a reason you used the word “trap”? ROB: Just one of those things. Fella who wrote all the original logs, he
liked to think the road would try and trick you into making a wrong turn. Small roads off large highways, roads obscured
from view, sharp turns like this one. AS: He thought the road was trying to deceive
him? ROB: Yeah pretty much. I gotta say I agree with the guy. By this point, we’ve taken the offending
corner and the next right a little further on. I can’t help but feel that Rob is reading
a great deal into what is, essentially, an abrupt turn in an ordinary road. The level of conspiracy he’s able to place
behind such a simple thing, going as far as to ascribe some mischievous quality to the
asphalt itself… it’s hard to take seriously. In fact, I’m starting to wonder less about
whether Rob can convince me this game is real, and more about whether I’d ever be able
to convince him that it isn’t. Perhaps this story will be less about where
a magic roadway goes after a few zigzagging turns, and more about where the human mind
can go if it invests too heavily in an idea. To his credit Rob has noted my cynicism, he
even seems to welcome it, but if our current surroundings are supposed to convince me,
then he’s going to find me more cynical than he anticipated. Rob keeps his hands on the wheel and his eyes
on the road. Any attempt at an interview receives a pleasant
but curt response. He’s not being evasive, his attention is
just elsewhere. Before I know it, half an hour has gone by
without Rob speaking a word. It seems like a large part of the Left/Right
Game involves driving in complete silence. Once again, I’m not sure what I expected,
but it’s certainly not been an earth shattering start. At least it gives me time to type up my notes. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. We stop here. An uneventful hour and a half has passed since
we left the tunnel. I didn’t notice Rob pick up the receiver,
but before I know it the Wrangler has pulled up at the side of the road, leaving a large
space behind us for the rest of the convoy to park up. The buildings are getting few and far between
now, it won’t be long until we were in the desert proper. With this in mind, I assume Rob is simply
stopping to let everyone drink up. I probably shouldn’t assume when it comes
to Rob Guthard. Though this is definitely a rest stop, Rob
also has some important words for the crew. He gathers us round in a rough semicircle,
talking while we eat our provisions. ROB: Now, I mentioned in the emails that,
at certain points on this trip, you’d need to do some things just because I say so. This is one of those times. Ya’ll understand? EVE: Uh yeah I… I guess… we get to know what it is right? APOLLO: This is when he tells us to give him
our money right Rob? Ahah ACE: Yeah I’d rather know what’s going
on. ROB: And I don’t intend on keeping anything
from you. I just want to be clear, that across this
next stretch you need to follow my orders to the letter. ACE: Yeah we get it, just tell us already. Rob takes a few moments, perhaps to lend gravity
to his point, perhaps to swallow some barbed words intended for the increasingly impatient
Ace. When he does speak, it’s in a measured and
serious tone. He’s clearly adamant that we take his words
onboard. ROB: For about half an hour, the next 13 turns,
we’ll be going one by one. We travel in order of formation. Me and Bristol will go first, then I’ll
radio the next car to follow. When you reach the jeep, you park up behind
me. Then we keep going as normal, now… Rob takes a deep breath in. When he starts up again, his speech is even
more pointed than before. ROB: … there’s a hitchhiker on the road,
a well dressed man with a case. You pick him up, you take him where he needs
to go. You do NOT under ANY circumstances, talk to
the man. To be safe, don’t look at him. Don’t take anything he offers you. Don’t open the door for him or wave goodbye
when he leaves. You do not acknowledge him, in any way. You want my advice, don’t say a word till
you get to the stopping point. LILITH: Why do we have to go one by one? **ROB:”” Guy who wrote all the logs says
he don’t like choosing cars. I don’t know what that means, but I’m
lucky I never had to find out. ACE: Why don’t we just not pick him up? ROB: That isn’t an option. ACE: Well, I mean, yes it is. I don’t see why we… ROB: Goddamn it, you’ll pick him up, whether
you want to or not! The group is silent. This is the first time Rob’s raised his
voice. In the ensuing stillness, Ace looks like he’d
be more than happy to turn his car around and retrace the route back to Phoenix, leaving
Rob in the dust with a few choice words. I can sympathise with him a little, Rob’s
been treating him as an annoyance, a tag along who didn’t do the homework, but at the end
of the day, Ace is doing nothing to fix things. Also Rob is essentially right, he didn’t do
the homework. BONNIE: Well OK I suppose we should get back
on the road then… if everyone’s ready. Deciding he has nothing more to say to us,
Rob marches over to the Wrangler. Bonnie, Clyde, Apollo and Eve sit on the floor
sharing snacks. Ace loses himself in his phone and Bluejay,
still maintaining a noticeable distance from the group, takes to her car with a copy of
US weekly. LILITH: Bristol, can we talk? I turn around to see Lilith, holding her cell
phone with the screen facing me. AS: Yeah sure what’s up? LILITH: Have you tried to make any calls since
we came through the tunnel? AS: No not yet, why? LILITH: Could you try? I pull out my own cell and dial in to the
office. The line’s busy, which isn’t exactly uncommon. Lilith watches intently, waiting for a reaction. AS: I’m not getting through. LILITH: They were busy? AS: … Yeah. Why? LILITH: Everyone is. We have signal, we can make calls, but everyone
on the other end is busy. AS: Don’t you think it could just be coincidence? LILITH: I really mean everyone, Bristol. While Eve’s been driving, I’ve been calling;
my camera’s automated support line, 911… AS: You dialed 911? LILITH: For science, yeah. All of them are busy. I even called this guy at my dorm who has
a serious thing for me and, trust me, he is not fucking busy. This is weird right? It’s like we’ve crossed a threshold and
the world’s suddenly… doing something else. You know? In all honesty, I’m not sure I do know. I don’t want to say it, but it still seems
like a massive stretch. Luckily Rob saves me from commenting when
he calls me over to the car, clearly eager to get back on the road. I tell Lilith we’ll look into her discovery
on the other side and she nods in agreement, retreating to her friend and immediately stealing
a handful of apple slices. I climb into the Wrangler and wave goodbye
to the convoy. We slowly roll back onto the road and set
off on our way. Watching the rest of the group disappear into
the background, I feel noticeably more isolated despite Rob’s presence, or perhaps because
of it, I’m not exactly sure. The hitchhiker shows up about ten turns later. Just like Rob said, the man is incredibly
well dressed, in a well fitting brown suit with a dark green tie, even from a distance
I can see his shoes are expertly shined, as is the varnished wooden case resting on the
floor beside them. He stands on the side of the road and raises
his hand gingerly, wearing a look of hopeful anticipation. AS: Who is he? ROB: The hitchhiker. AS: Is that really all you’re going to say? ROB: It’s all I can say. You understand the rules here? AS: Don’t talk to him. ROB: I’d say don’t talk at all. Not until we stop. When we stop, we’re safe. Rob veers slowly over to the side of the road. The hitchhiker smiles appreciatively, grasping
his hands together and shaking them in thanks. Picking up his case he strolls over to the
Wrangler whilst unbuttoning his blazer. AS: See you on the other side. The back door opens, and the hitchhiker pulls
himself into the storage area. Finding no seating, he settles himself cheerfully
on some of the softer luggage just behind me. HITCHHIKER: Not much in the way of seating
back here huh! I have to admit, I do feel a subtle urge to
respond. Even after the stern warnings I’ve received,
to ignore the man seems almost instinctively rude. I was raised British after all. HITCHHIKER: So where are you all from? I’m travelling in from Oakwell. I glance at him in the rear view. He meets my gaze and smiles. I flick my attention back to the road, counting
the white lines. The stranger persists in trying to start a
conversation. Ten minutes go by. The silence grows palpable, broken intermittently
by yet another cheerful attempt at conversation. Topics include what nice weather we’re having,
our professions, our hobbies. In response, I busy myself with pointless
but occupying tasks. I find myself playing games in my head, thinking
of common phrases and making them into clunky anagrams. It seems to work and, after a short while,
I start to habituate to the man’s small talk. I almost don’t notice that he’s there. Maybe that’s what allows him to catch me
out. HITCHHIKER: You’re just a fucking disappointment
aren’t you. The statement comes out of the blue. It’s sharp, venomous, completely divorced
from the idle questioning I’d been tuning out. I’m daydreaming when I hear it, and before
I can register what I’m doing, I’m turning to face him. My lips are already parting as I go, a reflexive
thought, reflexively vocalised. “What?” I almost say it out loud. The word is on the edge of my tongue, a single
note my vocal chords were all but ready to play. Only the sudden, vice like grip of Rob’s
hand on my forearm anchors me in the moment. I stare at the Hitchhiker, my mouth still
open. He’s different now. All of the warmth, all of the pleasantry,
it’s drained from his face like running makeup. His smile is malevolent, calculating and finally,
it feels honest. HITCHHIKER: You want to know things? I can tell you. Rob keeps his eyes focussed on the road, but
his grip on my arm tightens. HITCHHIKER: I can tell you everything you
want to know. Even the things you never knew about yourself. Even the thoughts you didn’t know you were
thinking… those little critters, all the way at the back. We stare at each other a moment longer, before
I turn round and back to the road. I don’t count the white lines any more. Now I’m focussed intently on anything our
passenger has to say. For the next ten minutes, ignoring him is
going have my full attention. He only tries a few more times, reverting
back to more innocent questioning. Nothing takes. Five minutes later he indicates to a seemingly
random point at the side of the road and Rob drops him off. The man thanks us, climbs neatly out, puts
down his case and waves as we depart. When we disappear around the next corner,
he still hasn’t stopped. Surprisingly, the silence caused by the Hitchhiker’s
presence isn’t nearly as intense as the one left in his wake. I decide to break the tension. Somewhat ungracefully. AS: To be fair, we ARE having nice weather. ROB: Don’t talk. AS: … Are you mad at me? I’m sorry he got to me I wasn’t expecting- ROB You did fine. We don’t talk till we stop. I go back to my notes, making a point to write
down my current feelings. For the record, “Embarrassed but relieved.” Once I put the words down on paper however,
I feel something else. Confusion, mixed with concern. Because, at the end of the day, what was I
relieved about? That I didn’t talk to a strange man who
had tried to talk to me? Was anything really at stake? The more I think about it, the more I realise
that the entire episode with this “mysterious hitchhiker” reduces the Left/Right Game
to two possible states. It’s either real, or it’s an elaborate
hoax, perpetrated by Rob J. Guthard. The crazy woman, the tunnel, the malicious
left turn, all of those could be explained as rationalisations, but the hitchhiker was
far too elaborate, far too difficult to predict. If he was an actor, then Rob is nothing more
than an impressive fraud. If he was genuine? Then I’m not entirely sure where that leaves
us. Something in the corner of my eye pulls me
from my thoughts. A transient, peripheral object that almost
completely passes me by before I turn in a weak attempt to catch it. I only get a few seconds to look before it’s
gone from my field of view. I face forward once more, sit back in my chair,
and let Rob carry us ever further down the road. It’s not too long before we finally pull
over. ROB: You did good, I’m sorry for grabbin
you. I just didn’t want you to do something you’d
regret. AS: No it’s fine. I was going to. Do you know what happens if you talk to him? ROB: Not sure. Came close myself once, a few years back. The way he looks at you when he thinks he’s
got you? I don’t think I wanna know. AS: Rob, I saw something a few minutes ago. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it. ROB: ‘Fraid I had my eyes forward most of
the time. AS: There was a car on the side of the road. It had crashed off the bank. Have you seen that before? ROB: I ain’t never seen that. But random stuff sometimes shows up here and
there. AS: Have people other than you run the Left/Right
Game? ROB: No one I know of. Whoever it was they’d probably just rather
crash than face that damn hitchhiker again. AS: He’s there on the way back too?! ROB: If you’re unlucky. AS: Well, something to look forward to. Rob picks up the CB radio and messages for
Apollo to set off, repeating his warnings concerning the hitchhiker. I feel like everyone’s going to get a similar
speech before they embark. Ace will probably get it twice. Half an hour later, Apollo shows up. Though he laughs about he ordeal, he’s clearly
a little shaken. APOLLO: Guy should call himself an Uber. You can’t shut those guys up. Ahaha. Do you guys have Uber in England? AS: Yeah. APOLLO: Then you know what I mean right? Bonnie and Clyde arrive quicker than Apollo. They pull up at the back, Clyde helps Bonnie
out of the car and they proceed stretch their legs. Once Apollo joins them it’s clear that everyone
has a different story to tell. The hitchhiker offered Clyde travel sweets,
pleasantly but firmly insisting he take one. Apollo almost got talking about his music
tastes, after the hitchhiker asked to play something on the radio. That particular story does leave me curious
about whether we still get NPR on this road. Rob customarily greets Bonnie and Clyde, then
walks off to signal Eve & Lilith. He’s still sitting in the Jeep when I meet
him at the door. AS: Hey what’re you up to? ROB: Just waitin’ by the phone. The girls are on their way. You need anything? AS: Um… maybe. I uh, I think Apollo’s been affected by
the whole hitchhiker thing a bit more than he’s letting on. ROB: He seems just fine to me. AS: I’m not so sure. He’s only smiling when people are nearby. Could you talk to him? ROB: Well, I ain’t much comfort, I got four
ex wives to tell me that. Think it might be better coming from you? AS: I think this is a… man to man conversation. I might just get a brave face. Rob doesn’t look comfortable, but he acquiesces,
climbing out of the car. ROB: Last “man to man” conversation I
had, my son didn’t talk to me for three months. I watch him wander over to Apollo, who is
standing by his range rover, staring into his phone. Rob puts a calming hand on the man’s shoulder. From a distance, it’s actually a sweet moment. I start to feel bad for lying to him. I carefully open the driver’s side door
and climb into the Wrangler, assuming I have around twenty seconds before Rob comes back. Picking up the CB Radio reciever, I stare
at a list of presets, labeled one through nine. I don’t know which button I press to talk
to Eve and Lilith, and I certainly don’t have time to call everyone up. Rob handed us all a transceiver before we
left. It’s what he’s been making the All Car
Bulletins with. Preset One puts him in touch with a transceiver
in each car, I’ve seen that in practice enough times. The rest of the presets must access the transceivers
individually and, if Rob is the man I think he is, he gave our radios out in order of
position. If that’s the case then either Rob or I
could be Preset 2. Apollo would be next, then Bonnie and Clyde. Without knowing where Rob has placed himself
in the queue, the only option which would guarantee me getting through to Lilith and
Eve would be Preset 7. I think that makes sense. With no time to check my work, I press the
button and snatch up the receiver. AS: This is Bristol to Lilith & Eve. Are you guys there? The receiver crackles quietly. I look in the wing mirror and see Rob making
awkward small talk with Apollo. Perhaps his four ex wives were on to something. Lilith: Lilith to Bristol. How is it on the other side? We haven’t seen a hitchhiker. Oh by the way, I just phoned Eve and it went
through, could I have your number to test… AS: Sorry Lilith, I’m phoning about something
else.. Lilith: Why? What’s going on over there? Apollo’s nodding to Rob, I can imagine him
making assurances that he’s perfectly fine. I really don’t have long at all. AS: I have a mission for you but you have
to keep it secret. LILITH: Sounds awesome what’s up? AS: Once you’re past the hitchhiker, there’s
a crashed car on the road, on the passenger side. Whilst you’re going past it, would you mind
getting some footage? LILITH: What sort of footage? AS: Just zoom in and get as much detail as
possible. You don’t need to stop, just… anything
will be useful. Rob’s starting to walk back to the car. I shift into the passenger seat, still holding
the receiver. LILITH: Is there anything specific you- AS: Talk to me later not now. Thank you. Bye. I slam the receiver into its holster a moment
before Rob opens the door. He shrugs at me. ROB: He seem’s fine, unless there’s something
he ain’t telling me. The rest of the day is fairly uneventful. Lilith and Eve pull in, beaming about their
experience with the Hitchhiker and bragging about what the dashcam footage would mean
for their channel. Lilith ends her story by insisting that nothing
else happened for the rest of her journey, whilst directing a highly intentional look
in my direction. I look away and make a mental note to catch
up with her when less people are around. Bluejay seems the least phased by the her
run in with the hitchhiker. We do manage to get a few words out of her,
though perhaps “a few” is an exaggeration. BLUEJAY: I’m tired. After which she goes to sit down on her own. When Ace pulls up to the side of the road,
he almost falls out of his car. His legs are weak, his face gaunt, his breaths
quick and shallow. I try and get him to talk about it on tape
but he shrugs me off, eager to hear about where we’re going rather than talk about
where we’ve been. We travel for a while longer, now at around
486 turns, and nearing our first night on the road. Rob signals our stopping point, a quiet clearing
at the top of a hill. Rob clears a sleeping area in the back of
the Wrangler, leaving a line of luggage as a barrier between us. I appreciate the thought, but don’t really
know how to tell him. In the end, I just say… AS: Thanks for making room. Apollo attempts to keep everyone from going
to bed, issuing vague statements about “making a fire”, but people quickly shuffle off
to their cars. The early start, and the subsequent events
of the day, have taken their toll. I watch Lilith and Eve break away from the
group and head to bed. I suppose I’ll have to talk to them tomorrow
morning, when Rob isn’t around. I still feel a bit bad for lying to him, and
for pulling Lilith and Eve into what could be a blatant act of dumb paranoia. Rob seems like a good man, a reasonable man,
as flawed as any of us but, fundamentally decent. But he fact remains, that when I talked to
him about the crashed car, he clearly said: ROB VO: No one I know of. Whoever it was they’d probably just rather
crash than face that damn hitchhiker again. I want to trust Rob. I want to believe him when he says he didn’t
see the car, that he’d never seen a car on that stretch of road. But for a man of so few words, he might have
said too much. If he truly never saw the car, how did he
know the direction it was facing? I make all my notes concerning this subject
on paper and in shorthand, which I’m hoping, in Rob’s long and varied life, he hasn’t
inexplicably learned to read. Long after Rob’s gone to bed, I stay in
the passenger seat typing up my thoughts on the day. CHUCK: That was “Sister Moon” by Leslie
Estrada, another song to calm you folks down as we head into the evening. It’s Chuck Greenwald and I’m with you
till the witching hour. I decided to put the radio on in the end. I was curious, and I also wanted the company. I turned the volume way down so the noise
wouldn’t reach Rob, and searched around for something to have in the background. There aren’t many stations to choose from
out here. The clearest one is Radio Jubilation, the
local station for a nearby town. The current dj, Chuck Greenwald, has been
playing soulful folk music for an hour. CHUCK: It’s been a busy week in Jubilation
as we welcome in our new School Principal, a very impressive guy who’s bringing some
new and interesting proposals to our community. It’s got a few people talking about funding
for the arts, if you got a view we’d love to hear it. I finish typing up my less clandestine notes,
and just then realise how tired I am. Wanting to sleep, but not yet prepared to
move the single yard between me and the air mattress, I lie back in my seat, listening
to Mr Greenwald address his beloved town. CHUCK: We’ll we’re going to go back to
your requests very soon and I can tell you we’ve got some goodies on the way. For now though, let’s take ourselves to
the new box. CHUCK: They’re going to hurt now. Immediately, at the volume of a whisper, Radio
Jubilation begins to broadcast a cacophony of bone rending screams. The noise shreds the air, what sounds like
hundreds of people, each contributing their own voice to a collective symphony of pain
and torment. I instinctively move my body away from the
radio, suddenly upright and wide awake. The cries are ceaseless, agonising, punctuated
only by half stifled, tear choked pleas for whatever is happening to stop. A moment later it does, or at the very least,
the screaming cuts out as the soft tones of Chuck Greenwald take over. I look from the radio, over to the sleeping
figure of Rob J. Guthard. I can’t help but stare at him as a single
thought runs through my head. I hope this man’s a fraud, I hope he’s
playing me. Because if he isn’t, then there’s something
very wrong with this road. CHUCK: Hope you folks enjoyed that, we’re
going to be bringing you much much more. This is Chuck Greenwald telling you you’re
always welcome in Jubilation. CHUCK: Stay with us. Hello again guys. I’ve finally got round to posting the next
log! I would have put this up sooner but unfortunately
I’ve had bikes to repair, and if I don’t do it the customer’s might go online and discover
it’s not actually that hard. I want to thank you again for the help you’ve
given me in finding Alice. The guy who said he’d track down the mirror
shop is giving me regular updates on his progress, and I’ve received a whole lot of help going
through American missing persons reports. It turns out Alice’s work haven’t heard from
her either, and they’re going through their emails for Rob’s submission to the show. Everyone’s been really helpful, so thank you. I’ve got to say, I’m sleeping worse since
this whole thing began. It’s strange to think that all the time Alice
was out of contact, I was perfectly content. Yet now that she’s got back in touch, every
day I don’t hear from her makes me that much more worried. That’s assuming of course that it was her
who sent me the email. I really hope it was. Thanks again everyone, and please let me know
if you find anything. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 09/02/2017 ROB: Rice; non-perishable. ROB: Soy sauce; non-perishable. ROB: Salt; non-perishable. ROB: Eggs; well they’re perishable but I
bought’em fresh and I got hard boiled that’ll last a week. It’s breakfast time, the start of our first
full day on the road. Rob’s been up since 7 o’clock, cooking
a meal for anyone who wants it. The aroma pulls us out of our makeshift beds,
and arranges us around his portable stove. Our bowls are already full before we realise
there’s a catch. The trade-off for this supposedly free food? A 10 minute lecture from Rob about the power
of rice. ROB: See in the Pacific, our guys used to
be terrified of the Japanese. Whole armies marching on grains? Thought they were super soldiers. See the Japs know the secret. You give people rice in the morning and they’re
goin’ for the whole day. After dropping two large spoonfuls of his
favourite staple into a bowl, and handing it to me, Rob breaks a raw egg over the top. The yolk clouds over as I stir it in. To be fair, the food is delicious, and it’s
fun to watch Rob on his soap box. At least there are some things he’s willing
to talk at length about. I stare across the circle at Lilith and Eve. The latter has spilled rice onto her top,
and her friend is teasing her playfully. Eve sees me looking over, meets my gaze, and
turns back to Lilith, her tone dramatically muted. I return to my food, making a point to seem
attentive to Rob’s speech. A minute later, the two girls decide they’ve
finished their meal and I quickly realise so have I. Devouring the last few bites, I place my bowl
in the small tub of hot water next to the stove and casually wander over to their car. Lilith and Eve are facing away from me, silently
packing up their sleeping bags. They refuse to look at me once I reach them,
in a deeply conspicuous attempt at subtlety. LILITH: Is he watching? I glance over at Rob. He’s still talking at Bonnie, Clyde and
Apollo, asking them to guess what “Breakfast” translates to in Japanese. AS I think we’re fine. So… did you see the car? Without answering, Eve reaches into the back
seat and picks up a Macbook, the repository for all of Paranormicon’s footage. She presses play as Lilith and I huddle around
her, blocking the view of any potential onlookers. The footage depicts a familiar road. Lilith and Eve must have dropped off the Hitchhiker,
and just made the next corner. I can hear them talking about the experience,
both terrified and thrilled at the events of the day. Eve reminds Lilith that they need to look
out for the car, Lilith swears and the camera immediately starts scouring the roadside. EVE (VO): Look there it is! LILITH (VO): I see it. Slow down… slow down! The abandoned car comes into view. With Eve slowing to a crawl, and Lilith maxing
out her camera’s zoom function, a precious few details can be summarily gleaned. The car’s windscreen and driver’s side
window are broken, the keys are still in the ignition and, once Eve overtakes the wreck,
it’s just possible to make out a dark stain soaked into the driver’s seat. LILITH (V.O): Stop the car. Just as video Eve starts to slow to a halt,
the real Lilith shuts the laptop. I glance between them, trying to keep my voice
as low as possible. AS: You stopped the car? EVE: I mean yeah… LILITH: We know you told us not to, but it
was like, really weird so I went over and- AS: You got out of the car?! EVE: For the record I was super against it. LILITH: Anyway, there wasn’t much in there
that we didn’t get from the road, except there was a bag on the backseat. AS: Did you get a look inside? LILITH: Yeah… do you wanna?” Lilith nods her head towards the back of their
car. It takes me a second to realise what she’s
getting at. AS: It’s in the boot?! EVE: It’s in the what? AS: It’s in the trunk?! LILITH: Yeah obviously, we couldn’t just
leave it there. Look, you can watch the rest of the footage
any time, we’ll even send it to you, but you NEED to look in this bag before we hit
the road. I check on Rob once more. He’s washing up the bowls and cutlery, exchanging
small talk with Bonnie, oblivious to what’s transpiring a mere five metres away. Lilith and Eve escort me to the trunk, reforming
our secretive huddle before Eve lifts it open. A brown leather duffel bag sits front and
centre. It looks expensive but worn, probably a few
decades old. The pair gesture for me to unzip it. LILITH: Just to preface this, I want to say…
this whole trip has been fucking weird. The bag isn’t exactly full. I rummage through the loose contents, finding
a few sets of good quality men’s shirts and a pair of jeans. Further down I find a small and well used
shaving kit. I’m starting to wonder what Lilith and Eve
are so bent out of shape over when my hand hits the hard edge of a straight, rectangular
object. Slowly, and with great care, I manage to extricate
it from layers of wool and denim. It’s a package, a heavy square block about
the length of my forearm, neatly wrapped in brown paper. It seems completely unassuming except for
a black wire hanging from the underside, leading back into the bag itself. Lifting the wire, a black plug rises out and
swings slightly in mid-air. EVE: Turn it around. With both girls watching me intently, I turn
the package in my hands. The wire connects to the charging port of
an old Nokia 3210, which in turn is superglued to the package along with a few shards of
exposed circuit board. Last, but certainly not least, are the words
emblazoned on the brown paper, in imposing black typeface; C4 Explosive. My mouth feels dry. AS: … I wasn’t expecting that. LILITH: I know, fuck this road right? There was tonnes more in his trunk too it
was insane. AS: Is this dangerous? EVE: Not right now. It’s basically inert unless you have the
detonator. AS: You’re sure? LILITH: We have Wikipedia downloaded on a
hard drive. It’s the only reason Eve let me bring it
here. She read the article like, three times. Anyway the Nokia’s out of battery. AS: Ok well, I’m not even going to ask how
you know that… I don’t get this why would someone bring
plastic explosive for the Left/Right Game? I mean, what the hell are we heading into? EVE: I have no idea. Do you know if Rob has any? ROB: If I have any what? When I look up, Rob’s only a few steps away
from us. I hide the C4 behind my back, dropping it
into my satchel next to my notebook. I just manage to pull my fingers out of the
way as Eve instinctively slams the trunk shut. AS: Tips for sleeping in cars. These guys had a rough night. ROB: … Well I’m sorry to hear that. Just something you gotta get used to I guess. We’re hittin’ the road in 15/20 minutes. That alright with you guys? EVE: Yeah totally. ROB: Bristol, you mind helping me pack up? AS: Not at all. Painfully aware of what’s hanging at my
side, I step away with Rob towards the now dismantled stove. Looking over my shoulder, I see Lilith and
Eve are watching us go, their faces awash with apprehension. I can’t say I feel the same. Despite my surroundings, and the multitude
of unsettling events, I don’t have space in my head for apprehension just now. All anxiety is slowly being pushed out, its
territory annexed by a bolstering sense of resolve. There are far too many strange things happening
on this road and, even if it kills me, I’m going to find out what they all mean. ACE: Rob, can I talk to you? We’ve packed everything in the back of the
Wrangler, and are about to get back on the road when Ace comes up behind us. Rob turns around, and I sense an icy shield
raising up as he curtly addresses our compatriot. ROB: What is it Ace? ACE: Can I… can I ask you something? It’s… it’s ok if you need me to go home
after… The shield thaws. This isn’t the Ace we’ve seen before and
Rob’s perceptive enough to notice. He engages, albeit cautiously. ROB: What do you wanna ask? Ace shuffles uncomfortably. Suddenly, he seems much younger. ACE: Does the hitchhiker… does anything
happen if you… if you don’t pick him up? ROB: Oh goddammit Ace I told you, you can’t… … tell me what happened. ACE: I… I was making my way down the road and, I was
angry at how you’d been… and when I saw the hitchhiker I thought I should, you know,
do what I said and… just drive by. Ace starts to tremble, unable to meet Rob’s
eye. ACE: A minute later I look in the rear view
mirror and… and he’s sitting in the back of my car. He’s just… just talking about the weather. I mean I swear I didn’t pick him up, but
when I think about it all these memories come back. I start to remember pulling over, letting
him in. It’s like I did it, but I didn’t even… ROB: Did you talk to him? ACE: No, no. No, I promise I didn’t say a word. Rob stares at Ace in silence. Ace hangs his head, like a penitent criminal
facing judgement. ROB: … feel’s awful don’t it? Ace finally looks up, confused at Rob’s
words, searching the man’s expression for clues. ROB: I did the same as you the first time. Just drove right by. Wasn’t gonna let some stranger in my car. Nearly jumped outta my skin when I saw him
in the rear view. Rob grins at Ace, who manages to smile shakily
back. ROB: You ain’t got the right gear for this
Ace. I like to run a tight ship and I gotta say
it pissed me off. If you wanna turn that Porsche of yours around
no one’ll think any less of you but if you wanna keep on this road… how about you try
to listen more and I’ll try to be less of a hard-ass. Rob holds his hand out for Ace to shake. It’s an offer of peace, or at the very least
an offer of terms. Ace accepts it, grimacing only slightly as
he faces Rob’s iron grip. ROB: ‘Bout time we hit the road. Five minutes later we’re rolling into a
deep valley, each member of the convoy appearing over the crest of the hill behind us. Everyone’s present and accounted for, including
Ace. AS: I have to say I’m impressed. ROB: With what? AS: With how you handled Ace. One might presume a guy who’s been divorced
four times isn’t the best at conflict resolution. ROB: Divorce IS conflict resolution. AS: That’s a… good point. He seemed to be saying the Hitchhiker made
him pull over. Is that really what happens? ROB: Yep, he always ends up in the back seat,
and you always remember picking him up. AS: It’s just… that’s not scientifically
possible. ROB: Get used to that. We spend the next two hours in silence, with
me typing up my notes and Rob navigating the sparse few turns that show up every now and
then. Ace’s testimony troubles me, perhaps because
it stretches my favourite theory; that the game is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Rob
Guthard. I was content that the hitchhiker could have
been an incredibly deft performer, but even if the man was a RADA trained thespian, that
doesn’t make him capable of mind control. Ace could be insane, or an maybe actor himself,
but those ideas sound exactly like the idle rationalisations I decried in Rob earlier. I’m not sure what my theory is at the moment. I keep working, hoping to type my way to revelation. A few lone trees have started to show up in
the distance, towering wild pines with trunks as thick as barrels. Without my noticing, the trees grow slowly
more numerous and, in that creeping way that landscapes change, it isn’t long until they
span both sides of the road, encapsulating us in a deep, bright forest. Realising I’ve recorded everything of substance,
and with Rob concentrating on the drive, I have no choice but to lay back in my seat
and watch the world roll by. Despite the pervasive strangeness of the Left/Right
Game, there is beauty on the road. Under the light shade of the canopy, the smell
of pine needles permeating the still air, I actually feel myself starting to relax. It only takes three words to change that. The words don’t come from Rob, he’s as
quiet as always. They aren’t spoken by the rest of the convoy
either. The words are writ large in calligraphic gold
paint, resting on a spotless white sign. Even from a distance, with the letters little
more than a blur, I know what they’re going to say. They’re the words I’ve been dreading since
I switched off the radio, the words I spent a long, troubled night hoping I’d never
see. “Welcome to Jubilation.” It turns out there is room in my head for
apprehension. ROB: This is Ferryman to all cars. We’re going to be heading through a small
town. No rules here, just keep driving and we’ll
be fine. Rob puts his radio back into the receiver,
I try to ignore the distinct knot in my stomach. AS: What does the name Chuck Greenwald mean
to you? ROB: ‘Bout as much as John Doe, why? AS: He’s the radio DJ here. ROB: In Jubilation? How do you know something like that? AS: I was listening to his show last night. What do you know about this place? ROB: Seems like a good town. Folk don’t pay attention to ya, I just head
straight through. AS: You’ve never seen anything… untoward? ROB: Some weird stuff now and again. I like to keep my eyes on the road. The forest clears abruptly, like a parting
curtain, to reveal a picture perfect American town, archetypal almost to the point of self-parody. We’ve arrived in Jubilation. There’s no denying this town is beautiful. We’re welcomed by a row of vibrantly coloured
shops spanning the length of a long, wide street. At the far end, an ornate, grey walled town
hall proudly surveys its domain. The place is immaculate. I fail to find a solitary piece of litter
on the sidewalk, a single smudge on the plate glass shop windows. Every inch of Jubilation is pristine, tranquil…
and noticeably deserted. AS: Where is everyone? ROB: I don’t know, there’s usually some
around. Maybe there’s a game on. We take the next right, then another left. The story’s the same at every turn, a beautiful,
leafy suburban town, entirely bereft of its human population. The cafés are free of bustle, the surface
of the public pool is still. We even see the school, a row of finger painted
faces smiling at us from the kindergarten windows as we pass by. The building itself is locked up however,
which is odd, seeing as it’s noon on a Wednesday. Eventually the Wrangler pulls onto the first
residential street we’ve encountered. The sign on the corner reads Sycamore Row. The quaint shops are replaced by luxuriate
houses, all of them identical; white walls, wide porches and fresh green lawns cut to
a uniform length. The road stretches in a straight line for
about a mile, creating an eerie corridor of copy/pasted buildings. The strangest thing about the street however,
is vocalised by Rob: ROB: Well I guess we know where everybody
is now. In front of every house, a dining room table
stands on the lawn, occupied without fail by a family of four. One husband, one wife, one son and one daughter. They’re sharing a meal together. A unit on the left clink their glasses of
orange juice as they dine on pork chops and salad. The family on the right share a large hunk
of meat loaf, broad smiles on their faces. Staring along the road I estimate upwards
of eight hundred people, in neat subsets of four, all dining at the same time. None of them seem to notice us. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Looks like we’ve come during a town celebration. Let’s not bother these good people as we
pass on through. Rob lets the car roll slowly down the street,
his foot light on the gas pedal, trying to make as little noise as possible. The more families we pass, the clearer it
becomes that every single one of them shares common characteristics. All of them are impeccably dressed. All of them consist of the same subset; husband,
wife, son, daughter. Though their chosen meals vary slightly, they
all share a raucous, almost oppressive happiness. APOLLO: Small town America am I right guys? Ahaha Apollo’s jokes don’t make things any better. I feel claustrophobic. Trapped. Some screaming animal deep within me knows
that it’s surrounded, on every side, by something it doesn’t understand. I don’t know if I’m imagining it, but
as we’ve continued down the road, everyone outside seems to be laughing a little harder,
and celebrating a little more. We’ve successfully crept more than halfway
down the street, a sharp left turn coming up at the end, representing the road out of
Jubilation. Another street comes up on the right, Acer
Road. While we pass by it, I take the opportunity
to glance down this new avenue, curious as to whether every street is like ours. I don’t like what I see. The houses are similarly prestigious, the
walls pristine white, but like a spot the difference puzzle, it’s the subtle changes
that make the picture. There are no tables, and no families on the
wide green lawns. Almost every window I can see is broken. Cars lie abandoned in the road, with one smashed
into a splintered porch. Above every door, an X has been drawn in red
paint, and outside of each house, a small mound of clothes lie on the fresh cut lawn. A huge collective pile of men’s, women’s
and children’s shoes tower at the end of the street… seemingly ownerless. ROB: Great going everybody. Let’s get back out there. We’ve reached the end of the street, I breathe
a sigh of relief as we bid farewell to Jubilation. I vindictively see it off in my wing mirror
as we turn the corner. I immediately wish I hadn’t when, in the
split second before it disappears from view, I glimpse the 800 plus residents of Sycamore
Row. They aren’t smiling anymore, and they’re
all looking our way. I welcome the forest as the trees rise up
around us once more. The indifference of the nature is a welcome
change to the saccharin, faux-civility of Jubilation. APOLLO: Towns like that make me glad I’m
a city boy. BONNIE: I thought it was nice, wasn’t it
like Wintery Bay? CLYDE: I don’t think I’ve been. BONNIE: Oh… maybe it was Shelburne Falls. CLYDE: Oh it was a little like Shelburne Falls. ROB: Guys we gotta keep this channel clear. We hurry along the next road, and turn right. The further we get from the eerie town of
Jubilation, the higher our spirits seem to be. AS: How long until we stop? ROB: ‘Bout another four hours. Nothing big in between us and there though. Shouldn’t be a problem. AS: Good to hear. So… what does “Breakfast” translate
to in Japanese? ROB: You heard that? AS: Yeah, I’ve been curious all day. Does it have something to do with- I jolt forwards, sharp pain in my neck as
my head recoils back against my seat. Rob has stamped his foot onto the brake, bringing
us to an immediate and shocking halt. Before I can ask why, my question is answered,
as one of the colossal pine trees slams into the road ahead of us, blocking our route forward. ROB: Goddamn it! You alright? AS: I’m fine. Massaging my neck, I look towards the base
of the felled tree. The low end is covered in straight, sharp-cut
marks. Someone has brought this tree down, timing
its fall in an attempt to cripple the Wrangler. AS: Rob what’s going on? ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Full reverse. Watch out for the people behind you. The convoy pulls away, back down the road
towards Jubilation. Rob waits for Apollo to start moving, then
backs up himself. There’s a second jolt as Rob abruptly stops
the car, surveying our means of egress. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Road’s done for but there’s a gap at the
end. Be careful. Rob’s right. Though the tree has fallen across the tarmac,
only the thin treetop lies over the grassy bank between the road and the forest. There’s a bit of a valley between the edge
of the road and the grass, and Rob wastes no time in showing the others how to negotiate
it. Twisting the wheel, Rob dry steers towards
the gap and proceeds cautiously towards the roadside. I watch the asphalt disappear beneath us moments
before the tell-tale bump. The Wrangler drops down the small bankside,
and turns around the fallen tree. I watch the needle covered tip brush against
my window as we roll past. With a second bump, Rob brings us back onto
the road and pulls us over to the far edge, turning the Jeep to face towards the convoy. ROB: Ok Apollo make your way. APOLLO: On it Rob. As Apollo swerves towards the gap, I hear
something. The sound of a running engine, at first so
quiet that it’s almost impossible to isolate it from the convoy’s own rumblings. It’s since grown louder however, and it’s
growing steadily more noticeable. AS: Rob, someone’s coming. ROB: Apollo get yourself over here right now. All car’s you’re on double time. Get moving! Apollo accelerates towards the gap. His Range Rover shudders, banking on the grassy
decline, but it’s hardly any effort to pull himself around the tree and back onto the
road. The noise in the distance grows louder. I can picture the vehicle careering towards
the corner, just one turn away from having its windshield locked on the convoy. Though I have no idea what it might be, I
don’t want to share road space with anything coming out of Jubilation. The rest of the convoy can hear the noise
now. Bonnie and Clyde roll over to the gap, and
quickly but tentatively push themselves down onto the side. It’s clearly harder than Rob and Apollo
make it look. After a few moments they travel across the
bank, bringing themselves out on the other side. The vehicle turns the corner. A white truck skids into view, its tires shrieking
against the road. A metal beam sticks up behind the driver’s
compartment, and a hook swings with the momentum of the hard right turn. It’s a tow truck, though something tells
me it’s not here to lend us assistance. ROB: All cars, once you’re on the other
side, drive. Wait around the left turn. I’ll radio if I they get by me. APOLLO: What about you guys? ROB: I’ll come once everyone’s across. Now ain’t the time for questions. Eve and Lilith get over here now. We still have time to get everyone across,
but every passing second feels like a precious, fleeting loss. Eve and Lilith are impatient for their turn. Dropping onto the roadside and coming back
up in a matter of seconds. The truck is gaining with incredible speed. I can just about make out the words “Jubilation
Recovery” scrawled across the hood. Though the letters are rapidly becoming easier
to read. Bluejay takes her time dismounting the road. In fact she’s almost casual in how she maneuvers,
whittling away at the remaining seconds we have. A swell of anger wells up inside of me as
her wheels hit the road again. If she’s calm about this situation then
good for her, but I can see Ace drumming his fingers frenetically against the steering
wheel, now stranded alone on the other side. I watch Bluejay follow the rest of the convoy
to the next turn, displaying none of the urgency anyone else has shown. ROB: Take it easy Ace. You ain’t built for this. Ace takes the corner, heeding Rob’s plea
for caution but unwisely taking it almost head on. His front wheel thuds over the edge of the
bank, and the chassis hits the tarmac. The drop is just a little too steep for the
Porsche’s clearance. Rob’s warnings ring in my ears as Ace accelerates
on three wheels, his car engaging in a slow turn with little forward motion. ACE: Rob, what do I do?! Rob?! The pickup truck maintains its speed and aligns
itself with Ace’s Porsche, its thunderous velocity defying all logic, all concern for
Ace’s or their own safety. ROB: Get outta the car Ace! Get out of the goddamn car!! Ace struggles with his seatbelt, stress overpowering
his motor functions. He unclasps it, and throws the belt to the
side. He grabs the door and pushes. It swings open slightly, then immediately
slams against the bark of the pine tree. For a moment that lasts all too long, he shares
with me a look of pleading terror. The door is slammed shut, crumpling as the
tow truck collides with the passenger side of Ace’s car. Ace is launched against the the door, his
head smashing against the window. The ungodly racket of shrieking metal suddenly
gives way to silence. ROB: Shit. Rob climbs into the back of the car. AS: Rob what can I do? ROB: Stay here. I hear Rob rummaging among the luggage as
the tow truck reverses out of Ace’s Porsche. The hood of the tow truck is completely and
impossibly unharmed by the impact, as are its two occupants. They park the truck side on to us, the hook
hanging a few metres away from the back of the Porsche. The the words Jubilation Recovery appear again,
now accompanied by a slogan “Here to Help”. Two men in white shirts and blue overalls
climb out and wander over to the ruined Porsche. They barely seem to register the situation
at all, casually chatting together as they throw open Ace’s passenger side door. The stunned Ace looks like he’s battling
a concussion, only barely cognisant as he’s pulled out of the car. He quickly grows more aware as the mechanics
grab him by each arm, struggling against them as his captors talk amongst themselves. ROB: Let him go! When I turn around, Rob is stepping out of
the Wrangler. Apparently, hidden within those neat stacks
of luggage, was a loaded hunting rifle. Rob raises the stock to his shoulder and repeats
himself. ROB: LET HIM GO!! The mechanics pay no attention to Rob. They continue to frog march Ace over to the
truck. One of them making a quiet joke to the other
as they go. They laugh. An awful bang erupts beside me, and a deep
red hole bursts from one mechanic’s torso, blood slowly seeping out of the wound. Inexplicably, the mechanic does nothing more
than look down at his wound, up at Rob, and then back to the matter at hand. He hardly breaks stride as he continues towards
the truck, bleeding freely onto the floor,. I hear Rob set about reloading the rifle. The mechanics arrive at the back of the truck
with Ace. There are two short loops of thin chain hanging
from the lowest of the hook’s chainlinks. The mechanics feed Ace’s arms through one
loop each, until he’s hanging by the armpits in front of the hook itself. Rob fires another shot that goes nowhere. The mechanics grab a handful of Ace’s hair,
chatting as they do so, and lift Ace’s head up until his lower jaw is just above the hook. In that moment, despite everything, despite
all my journalistic ideals, my pursuit of truth, my duty as an observer… I close my eyes. The visual disappears into darkness, but the
sound doesn’t. The impact and the sorrowful, obstructed groan
that follows penetrates my bones, reverberating throughout my very being. Another gunshot, and the sharp twang of a
metallic ricochet. Ace’s cries continue as the engine starts
up and carries him off back to Jubilation. I hear another gunshot, that sounds like it
hits nothing but air. As the engine, and Ace’s whimpers, grow
quieter, a few moments pass before one final, measured gunshot echoes around the car. ROB: … Goddamnit. GOD-FUCKING-DAMNIT!!! The Wrangler’s chassis clangs as Rob kicks
the side with all his considerable might. I open my eyes to see a fallen pine tree,
a ruined Porsche, and an otherwise empty road. When Rob climbs into the car, it’s clear
he’s trying to regulate his breathing. An internalised rage lighting him up, barely
under his control. ROB: We have to go. Rob turns us around, pointing the Wrangler
back down the road. The quiet of the car echoes in my ears, along
with other noises I can’t hope to forget. I watch the fallen pine grow smaller in the
rear view mirror, overwhelmed by a feeling that I’m leaving more behind on this road
than I can currently imagine. Bereft of conversation, of logic, of any semblance
of comfort, Rob and I do the only thing we can. We take the next left. Hi Guys, Firstly, I want to apologise for not being
at my laptop for the past few days. I had to attend a wedding in Scotland for
one of my uni friends. They booked it in mid-week and, between you
and me, I don’t think it’s going to last which means not only have I neglected you
guys, but I’ve also wasted money on a rental suit and a John Lewis tea set. As always thank you for your help in my ongoing
attempt to find Alice. I’m now in full contact with the radio show
she was working for, and they’ll be sending over Rob’s submission to the show as soon
as they can. I’ve also looked up every town named Jubilation
and have contacted residents from each of them. None of them have the particular junction
mentioned in the previous log, “Sycamore Row” and “Acer Street”. I even combed google maps to make sure. I’m not sure what town Alice passed through
last February but it doesn’t seem to exist on public record. The guy who promised to retrace the route
from the mirror shop came through, and has sent me a few possible addresses for Rob. He also mentioned looking into the game itself
more. I’m not sure what he means by that but I
want to be clear, please don’t play this game on my behalf. I don’t want that on my conscience. Ok, without further ado, here’s the following
log. Thanks again. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 10/02/2017 (Possible Opening) (I want to address you,
the listener, for a moment, with an advance notice concerning the following episode. I’m sure it’s not been lost on you that
every installment of the series so far has played host to some strange, unexplainable
occurrence, and spanned a great many miles of travel. It goes without saying this has been by design. I’ve been summarising the countless hours
of uneventful meandering and taking extra care to document the strange phenomena we’ve
encountered along the way. I wanted the story to be fast moving, to have
a real feel of progress with every chapter. If that sense of exploratory intrigue is why
you’re listening to this show, I completely understand. I’m certain it’s a primary draw for almost
all of you; the twists, the turns, the mysterious, strange encounters along an impossible road. But if that is the case, I feel it’s my
duty to inform you that, apart from a few notable exceptions, there will be almost no
ground covered in this segment, and the monsters we encounter will be all too human; stress,
divisiveness, discomfort and, as one might imagine, grief. If you want to read the synopsis of this episode
on the website and wait for the next part, then you’ll be all caught up and I’m sure
we’ll be back on our way, heading once more into the great unknown. But I feel it’s important to give the aftermath
of Ace’s capture its own episode, in part due to the significance of the revelations
that are unearthed in its wake, but also as a gesture of deference to the man we lost. This is the story of our second night on the
road.) As we make the left turn, the horrifying space
behind us is quickly replaced by a quiet emptiness ahead. The Wrangler crawls, defeated, toward the
waiting convoy. The remaining four cars are parked haphazardly,
taking up more than half the road. Rob drifts to the far end of the tarmac, looking
to overtake and resume formation. Both of his hands rest on the steering wheel,
his eyes fixed on some distant point in space. It’s not hard to imagine that behind the
focus and the quiet control, there’s a man in turmoil, a man who can’t bring himself
to say anything, in fear of saying too much. AS: This is Bristol to all cars. We’re heading back on the road. Get yourselves in formation and make way for
those around you. We’ve got a while to drive before we stop
for the night. LILITH: Bristol where’s Ro… Ferryman? AS: Ferryman’s here. APOLLO: Where’s Ace? AS: Ace is… Ace didn’t make it across. APOLLO: Uhh what? LILITH: What the fuck? Bristol where is he? It would be simple to describe what had taken
place, or at least summarise the barest facts; what happened to Ace, where he is now, why
he isn’t coming back. But for some reason, I can’t utter a word
about what’s transpired. Something about the event itself makes it
impossible to retell, as if the requisite phrases have been locked behind glass. AS: We need to get to the stopping point. It isn’t safe to stay here. Shortly after we’d turned the corner out
of Sycamore Row, Rob implied that the rest of the days’ drive would be uneventful. Had he waited just a few minutes longer, he
would have been entirely correct. We’re on the road for another four hours,
both of us quietly attending to our own preoccupations as the forest gradually thins out. The landscape gives way to rolling cornfields,
that stretch out beyond the horizon on both sides. Nothing notable happens, which is ironic,
as I find myself typing up a lot more notes than I need. With the sun descends through an orange sky
as we pull into a clearing, beside a wild grove of apple trees. Rob turns off the ignition and the two of
us sit in silence. Rob’s need to concentrate on driving had
been a good excuse to stay quiet, a good excuse to not face each other. Now the wheels aren’t turning however, and
the true reason for our mutual reticence is all too clear. AS: Do you think he’s dead? ROB: I don’t know. Rob’s response isn’t reassuring, and I’m
oddly grateful for that. There are no comforting words he can give
me, and any attempt would have seemed horrifically insincere, a mockery of the situation’s
onerous gravity. Anyway, given the circumstances of Ace’s
capture, I’m not even sure which answer I want to hear. Lilith appears at my window, rapping her knuckles
against the glass with an aggressive impatience. I’d expect nothing less about now. Everyone in the convoy has been made to follow
a unilateral order, my order, without explanation. They’ve been travelling for hours accompanied
by the glaring absence of another human being. Looking in the wing mirror, I glimpse the
rest of the convoy, standing by their cars, watching the Wrangler expectantly. Rob’s hands still haven’t left the wheel. With a sharp intake of breath, I push the
door open and step out onto the grass. The ground is soft below me as I walk over
to the group. There’s recently been rain. I begin to address the rough semicircle, it
almost feels like one of Rob’s briefings. EVE: What’s happening Bristol? APOLLO: Did Ace turn back? I meet Apollo’s eye. For the briefest of moments, I consider telling
them all exactly that. Maybe it would save them from the slow, heavy
ache that’s currently weighing down my chest. Maybe it would just save me from a difficult
conversation. Either way, I know I can’t lie to them. They deserve the truth, however unpleasant. AS: No he didn’t turn back; they crippled
his car. LILITH: The tow truck? Did he get out? The answer doesn’t come easily. I’m being pressed to say the words aloud
and, in doing so, to fully acknowledge what happened. It feels like I’m being driven to a funeral,
like I’m being verbally marched towards an open casket. EVE: What happened to him?… Bristol… ROB: He’s dead, Eve. I hadn’t heard Rob step out of the car when
he reaches the group. It’s hard to hide my relief as he takes
over proceedings, addressing the group matter-of-factly. Now it really is like one of his briefings. ROB: Two guys in the tow truck coming outta
Jubilation. They got him. They took him back with them to the town. Way they were treatin’ him he won’t last
long. BONNIE: Oh goodness… EVE: What? Rob what’re they going to do to him? ROB: I can’t tell you. Nothing like this ever happened before. LILITH: Well we need to go back. ROB: That ain’t gonna happen. LILITH: We’re not going to fucking abandon
him. AS: Lilith… LILITH: We’re going back! ROB: No we’re not. APOLLO: Me and Rob can go. You know the place right Rob? ROB: The kid’s dead Apollo. LILITH: But he was alive when you last saw
him? ROB That’s right. LILITH: So what point did you decide he was
dead? ROB: When I saw him being carried away with
a fucking tow hook sticking out his mouth! Goddamn it. Rob shouldn’t have said that. I understand his reasons of course; he wants
to convey an important truth, that nothing can be done, or could have been done, to save
Ace. His ghastly choice of words does the job,
but it also sends a ripple of disturbance through the crowd, planting in everyone’s
minds the gruesome image I’ve been trying all day to uproot. Bonnie covers her mouth in shock and sorrow. Eve turns noticeably pale, and even Lilith,
who is intent on leading the questioning, is taken aback. LILITH: Did… did you see this Bristol? I nod solemnly. The group bristles at my affirmation. AS: I saw enough. I had to close my eyes when it happened, Rob
tried to save him until… Before I can finish my statement, my words
are cut off by something truly unexpected. In spontaneous response to my words, a harsh
outburst of mocking, sarcastic laughter rings out from within the convoy. One by one, we turn towards its source, until
we all find ourselves staring at Bluejay. Her unapologetic chuckling fills the silent
night air. AS: Is something funny, Bluejay? Bluejay tries to speak through her, all too
slowly, waning laughter. BLUEJAY: It’s just… you call yourself
a journalist… Hah you closed your eyes, my god… there
it is! There it is. AS: I’m sorry? BLUEJAY: Do you close your eyes for magic
tricks too? EVE: What the fuck Bluejay? APOLLO: Come on, this isn’t the time. BLUEJAY: Oh the time is well fucking overdue. Seriously are you all morons? The Left/Right Game is a hoax. It’s fake! Rob Guthard’s played you all like fucking
children! Ace is fine, he’s probably an actor! Like the hitchhiker was an actor and those
towns people too. I mean, come on. The group is taken aback by Bluejay’s incredulous
tirade. She’s clearly been holding her tongue since
day one; our reaction to Ace’s capture representing just one step too far. AS: I saw Rob shoot one of those townspeople
with a hunting rifle. I saw the wound. It was real. BLUEJAY: It was a blood filled squib. The rifle was probably loaded with blanks. You can buy both from any good theatrical
retailer. Seriously what the fuck is wrong with you
people? LILITH: Ok firstly, I don’t like your fucking
tone. Secondly, have you noticed that we’ve been
the only cars on the road for almost two days? And what about Jubilation? Are you suggesting Rob hired out a whole town? That would be fucking impossible. BLUEJAY: Oh yeah sure, THAT’S impossible,
but it’s totally believable that we’re driving on a magic road. Maybe this is the highest budget scam I’ve
ever seen but that’s all it is, a scam. And Al Jazeera here is giving him all the
publicity he wants. I mean these people are sheep but you, you’re
a fucking sycophant. My mother used to tell me that you can’t
strike a person from the high road. Staring down the barrel of Bluejay’s darkly
self-satisfied grin, I’m more than tempted to make the descent. AS: Ok Bluejay fair enough. I’m not going to pretend to know what’s
going on here, for all I know you could be right. But why would Rob spend the production budget
of a Hollywood film to trick a radio journalist and two vloggers. Trust me, our website does not get enough
traffic for- BLUEJAY: Oh don’t be so self-important. It’s not YOU he’s trying to fool. Bluejay turns to Rob, fixing him a glare of
pure, unadulterated triumph. BLUEJAY: Admit it Rob. Admit that this is all a fucking farce. Admit that you knew who I was before I even
got out of my car. Rob’s face looks like it’s been carved
from granite. The group looks to him for an answer, but
he delivers his response directly to Bluejay, his eyes locked with hers. ROB: It’s true… … I know who you are Denise. The atmosphere changes, and for a moment,
the night erupts into a foray of whispers. Rob’s answer clearly means something to
everyone but me. EVE: Denise? LILITH: Denise Carver? APOLLO: No. You serious? AS: Sorry, who’s Denise Carver? LILITH: She’s the biggest killjoy in the
hobby. BLUEJAY: Oh fuck you, you fucking air-head. ROB: Denise here is a member of the Skeptics
and Rationalist Institute of America. She likes to get herself invited on ghost
hunting expeditions under a false name so she can debunk them publicly. You may’ve gathered she don’t believe in
the supernatural. BLUEJAY: Actually I do believe in the supernatural. I believe that it’s a billion dollar industry
built on selling comfortable lies to the gullible, and it thrives on shitty journalists and attention
whore bloggers who are willing to spread whatever shit they think will get them clicks. AS: That’s why you took so long getting
around the pine tree. Even when the truck was coming for Ace. You didn’t think any of it was real. BLUEJAY: Uhh… did you? As condescending as her delivery may be, her
words spark a sudden realisation. It’s true, that with an unspeakably high
budget and a few deft stooges, you could probably replicate most of what we’d seen on the
road. Yet, without realising it, I’ve found myself
agreeing with Rob’s version of events, personally defending the Left/Right Game’s validity
against its decriers. I’d set off on this journey much like Bluejay,
as a staunch, confident skeptic, but somewhere between the tunnel and this moment, I’d
become a believer. Bluejay notes my lack of protest, and turns
back to Rob. BLUEJAY: I’m flattered you went to all this
trouble. I didn’t know my work was so offensive to
you. ROB: I admire your work Denise. Always have. That’s why I brought you along. BLUEJAY: That is bullshit. Tell your friend Ace he can’t act for shit. Bluejay pulls a pack of Marlboros out of her
coat, lighting up immediately, and goes to sit on the hood of her nearby car. Her demeanour clearly signals that her part
in the conversation is over, though her words leave a bitter aftertaste for everyone involved. To sympathise, it must be exhausting, spending
two days with people whose opinions are diametrically opposed to your own, having to listen in silence
while they corroborate their own seemingly preposterous views. Having said that however, I’m incredibly
glad she’s stopped talking. It reminds me of a time when we got on much
better. The next question comes from Eve, her voice
quivering. EVE: Can… can we die here Rob? The quiet force of her words turn everyone’s
heads back towards Rob. It’s clear that others have been thinking
the same thing, and they’re looking to Rob for an answer. ROB: It’s possible. The road ain’t ever killed no one before. Not so long as everyone followed the rules. LILITH: But you said in your emails it was
dangerous. ROB: That’s right. LILITH: But you didn’t feel like telling
us that we could die out here? Rob turns to Lilith, clearly offended by her
accusation. ROB: In the 1920’s Jon Ebenrow killed 36
people and violated their bodies. In one of your videos, you guys went to his
home in Virginia looking for the man’s ghost. Bonnie & Clyde once spent $500 to stay at
the Iowa Murder House, a place that’s supposed to possess its victims and force’em to kill
each other. ROB: If you all honestly believed in what
you were chasing, you should be accepting death as an outcome every time you step out. We are looking for evidence of another world. What we’re doing here has the scientific
significance of the moon landings, the cultural significance of Columbus reaching the Americas
and a whole lot of people died doing both. If you accepted the risk chasing down the
ghost of a two-bit serial killer, you should be willing to accept the risk for this. Lilith looks like she’s been scolded by
a parent. There’s a fire in her eyes as she observes
Rob, meeting his criticism with scorn. LILITH: Oh so it’s Ace’s fault? He should have “accepted the risk”? ROB: He did accept the risk. Ace made his decisions. He saw the dangers of the road first hand
and he kept on goin’. I told you this place could be dangerous,
and maybe you didn’t take that seriously. But you are NOT gonna treat me like I lured
any of you here under false pretenses. We stand for a few moments in the uncomfortable
void left by Rob’s words. No one’s quite sure where to look. APOLLO: Well what do we do now Rob? Do we turn around? ROB: I ain’t gonna make that decision for
you. If you want to split off and head back, I
suggest you wait till mornin’ and stagger your leavin’ times by an hour or so. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like what happened
back there before, but this is the most people I ever played the game with. Maybe that’s doin’ somethin’. AS: What do you mean by that? ROB: Well it’s the only thing that’s changed. Truth is, this ain’t our world, by all rights
we shouldn’t be here. Even when it’s one car the road always tries
to discourage you. Maybe it’s like bacteria in a vein. One or two might slip by unnoticed but once
it hits a certain point it’s like a uh… AS: Like an immune response. You think the road’s pushing back on foreign
objects? ROB: And the bigger the group- AS: The more violent the response… It makes sense, until Bluejay laughs once
more. Hearing her reaction, I reassess what I’m
saying and I can’t help but feel a little foolish at the idea. ROB: Maybe. It’s just a theory… I don’t know. Rob collects himself, regaining his composure. ROB: Either way, you all have the morning
to decide if you want to keep on the road. Bristol, if you want to go home, you gotta
find someone to take you. I ain’t ready to head back yet. He turns away from the group and marches to
the Wrangler. I don’t see him again for the rest of the
evening, and I have no intention of bothering him. Eve and Lilith immediately crowd around me,
asking if I’m alright and taking it in turns to disparage Rob’s actions. I can’t bring myself to join in. All I can bring myself to say is… AS: Can I charge my phone in your car? The group has very little to say for the rest
of the night. A deep solemnity hangs in the air, dampening
any semblance of good cheer like wet leaves on a dwindling fire. No one offers any conversation, Apollo’s
reservoir of quips has run dry. Everyone’s wondering where they’ll be
going from here, pondering the sort of person they are in circumstances such as this. Do they press on towards danger, or back towards
safe and familiar ground. It’s a question they’ll have to figure
out for themselves, ideally before sunrise. I already have questions of my own. About an hour after Rob’s departure, bidding
fair well to the rest of the group, I walk over to Lilith and Eve’s car. My bag is resting on the front seat, a black
wire leading inside from the charging port. I’ve decided not to tell the pair that I’ve
been charging the detonator for a military grade explosive less than ten metres away
from them. Perhaps it will come out during broadcast. If you’re listening to this, sorry girls. I pick up my bag and, checking that no one’s
looking, make a beeline for the apple grove. I march through the small wood, the air growing
still, the sounds of the convoy quickly fading behind me. In the late evening darkness, with the moon
shrouded by legion of crooked trees, I’m puzzled that I’m not more afraid. I’ve seen what happens on this road and,
as I pass through the grove and into the neighbouring field, intentionally isolating myself from
the rest of the group, I’m quite aware that help won’t be coming for me. Even so, as the corn rises up in every direction
around me, I find myself almost incapable of fear. The day’s events have drained me of emotion,
and I’m now with everything else pulled away, I’m left with only one driving directive;
an overpowering urge to figure this road out, regardless of what that entails. Judging the distance I’ve traveled to be
acceptably out of range from the convoy, I take the block of C4 out of my bag and place
it on the ground. Gritting my teeth, my body cringing with self-inflicted
dread, I press the power button on the Nokia and wait for something to happen. My worries of instant disintegration are allayed
slightly as the grainy image of two outstretched hands comes into view, swiftly replaced by
a menu screen. I work fast, the words on the brown paper
package constantly reminding me of what I’m putting at risk with every passing second. Firstly, I type my number own number into
the phone, assuming, or at least hoping, that the mechanism isn’t activated by outgoing
calls. A few seconds later my cell phone rings, giving
me the Nokia’s number. Checking the call logs, I find a second, different
number, which seems to have made a call to the phone three times in quick succession. If I were a betting woman, which I sometimes
am, I’d suggest that this number belongs to whoever built the bomb, the calls representing
an attempt to test the trigger prior to its implementation. If I’m right, then this should be the personal
number of whoever was driving that crashed car. My third discovery, is a little bit more puzzling. No texts have been sent from this phone, however
there is one solitary message residing in the phone’s inbox. It’s from a third, separate number, and
it reads thus: “Please don’t do this Rob.” I stare at those four words, the new information
grating uncomfortably against my already preconceived theories. If this text is to be believed, and my previous
deductions are at all accurate, then that means Rob Guthard was driving the car. That the C4 in the trunk had belonged to him. All this time I thought Rob may have been
responsible for something terrible, but what if he was run off the road himself? If that is the case, it leads to an entirely
new question… who was responsible for his crash? As I begin to think it over, the air explodes
around me. I’m jolted out of my examination by a powerful,
echoing voice which reverberates the very air. The corn is thrown into a frenzy as the noise
echoes from every direction, as if spoken by the air itself. VOICE: I’ve watched you questioning. Without a second’s hesitation, I turn off
the Nokia and throw the block into my bag. I jump to my feet and scan the cornfield for
whoever spoke the words, backing away towards the convoy. Suddenly, realising how far I am from my friends,
I break into a run, my boots pounding the dirt as I flee back to the woods. Less than a minute later I burst out through
the trees, my bag swinging with the weight of the block. Everyone’s in their cars, seemingly fast
asleep. I’m starting to think they’re onto something. With no one to talk to, and a long day ahead
of me, I suppose there’s no further recourse but to catch my breath, write up my immediate
thoughts and then, finally, get some much needed rest. I feel a dull pressure behind my eyes as I
step towards the Wrangler. Quietly opening the back door next to my sleeping
area, I carefully hide the block under my luggage. Then, silently closing the door again, I wander
around to the passenger side, where my notes are waiting to be typed. I reach out and grab the handle, gripping
it tightly. I don’t open the door. In fact, after a moment staring through the
glass, I let go. The pressure behind my eyes gives way, and
before I know it I’ve slid down to the damp ground, my back against the cool, hard metal
of the door. A whine catches in my throat as ugly tears
stream down my cheeks. My breath shudders as I inhale, and my attempt
to breathe out plays to the world as a quiet, declining sob. The tears take me by surprise but I don’t
wipe them away. In a bittersweet way, they’re welcome, necessary
even. They carry with them a familiar sense of heartrending
release. By the time they’ve run dry, I feel like
I might just be able to move on from the events of the day. The sounds in my head are just a little quieter
now I’ve paid them their due. BONNIE: Are you ok honey? I’m picking myself up when I see Bonnie
walking carefully over to the Wrangler. I brush myself off, a little embarrassed at
being caught. AS: I didn’t know you were awake. BONNIE: I’m a light sleeper, and Martin… Clyde snores. Do you need someone to talk to? AS: I think I just need to sleep. Thanks Bonnie. BONNIE: My name’s Linda, if you’re wondering. AS: … Alice. BONNIE: That’s a beautiful name. Well Alice, I know I don’t talk much, but
I know how to listen… if you ever want me to. For the first time since the pine fell, I
find myself smiling. It’s a weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. AS: Thank you Linda. I might take you up on that. Have a good night. BONNIE:** Have a good night. Bonnie starts to walk back to the car, before
pausing and turning round. One last piece of comfort to offer. BONNIE: And remember, everything will all
be alright once we get to Wintery Bay. I frown a little, unsure what Bonnie means. She smiles back blankly, then resumes the
path back to her car. She’s mentioned that place before, upon
leaving Jubilation, in what seemed like a moment of idle reminiscence. How she mentioned it just now doesn’t seem
like reminiscence at all. After everything that’s gone on, all the
suspicion I’ve been directing at Rob, all my worry for Ace. Is something the matter with Bonnie? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, perhaps Bonnie
misspoke, but all the same, the brief comfort her words afforded me has already faded away,
leaving a familiar feeling of confusion and paranoia in its place. I let myself into the passenger side, type
up a few pressing notes and then climb through onto the air mattress. Sleep doesn’t come easily. I close my eyes and try to convince myself
that tomorrow will be better than this harrowing day. Yet every time I make that particular argument,
a voice in my head responds: “That may depend on which way you turn.” Hi Guys, It’s been a long week, but I’ve finally
got to my computer to post the next log. I’ve been working overtime to afford both
London rent and Christmas presents. Hasn’t been fun. Anyway I can’t say much more since this
log’s one of the longer ones. I’ll try and get the next one up a little
sooner. Thanks for all your help. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 11/02/2017 The next morning, everything’s the same. It’s strange. We’re usually so blind to the quiet consistency
in our everyday lives, only really taking notice once something changes. Yet, as I stir a spiral of honey into my oatmeal
and glance around the group, it’s the notable lack of change that truly stands out. Since the previous evening, the atmosphere
surrounding the convoy, and the demeanour of each member, doesn’t seem to have altered
in the slightest. The night has fallen short in its role as
a grand meridian, failing to partition the past and future, and bringing with it neither
perspective nor closure. It’s as if yesterday has spilled, like a
toppled brush pot, into the next morning, colouring everything with the same temperaments,
fears and divisions. Lilith and Eve sit facing each other, their
legs crossed on a plastic groundsheet. Neither are saying very much, albeit for vastly
different reasons. Lilith is still preoccupied by her own smouldering
indignation, whereas Eve looks overcome with a subtle but pervasive dread. Neither have taken food from Rob’s stove,
a decision I suspect Lilith made for the both of them. Apollo, Bonnie and Clyde are across from me. Apollo is making conversation, attempting
to revive his usual good humour. Bonnie and Clyde help him out, laughing at
his jokes, and smiling along with his stories. Bluejay hasn’t stepped out of her car all
morning, eating her own rations and maintaining a welcome distance from the rest of the group. Her eyes meet mine as I look her way, and
I’m treated to a sharp, sardonic dismissal. And Rob? Rob is attending to the practicalities of
the road; serving breakfast, then topping up the Wrangler from one of the hulking jerry
cans. It’s clear the routine is comforting to
him. I can easily imagine this is how he deals
with a great many problems. Compartmentalising. Recasting himself as a blunt instrument engaged
in a set of necessary processes. He’s made himself too busy for grief, and
will likely remain so until the feeling fades. As coping mechanisms go, it isn’t remotely
healthy. I should know. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing. AS: Clyde, could I get a few words? Clyde looks up from his food, a little surprised. CLYDE: You want me? AS: Hah, yeah… if that’s not too much
trouble. CLYDE: Oh no no, no trouble at all. You want to do it now? I’m not too hungry. AS: No me neither. That would be great thank you. Would you mind if we moved away from the stove? Clyde nods keenly. Putting my bowl to one side, I take Clyde
to the edge of the apple grove. Nobody looks after us. CLYDE: How are you holding up Bristol? AS: Getting there. How about you? CLYDE: I’m uhh… yeah I’m getting by. AS: So can I ask… why did you choose Bonnie
and Clyde as your call signs? CLYDE: Hah well it came pretty easy. We used to play outlaws when we were kids,
one time Bonnie stuck up a bank. AS: Really? CLYDE: Well, no it was an ice cream parlour. But Bonnie was pretending it was a bank and
then she ran in, holding her hand like a gun. Told Mrs Gilford it was a stick-up. AS: Wow, that doesn’t seem like her. CLYDE: Oh no she was a wild child. Always living in a story. Anyway, we got free sundaes and a new nickname
in town after that. When Rob told us about the call signs it was
the first thing we thought of. AS: It’s a good choice. I pause, letting the previous subject fade
before launching into the next one. All things considered, this may be the last
time me and Clyde are on such casual speaking terms. AS: Bonnie told me she talked to the hitchhiker. Clyde’s disposition shifts. There’s sudden alertness that wasn’t there
before, rushing to the fore in immediate response to my words. In the following silence, at the centre of
his wide eyed stare, an educated guess suddenly becomes much more. CLYDE: Wh.. when did she tell you? AS: I’m sorry Clyde… she didn’t. You just did. I can almost see the stone fall in Clyde’s
throat. The deep, burning embarrassment and hurt that
comes from being deceived, from a close secret you held getting out into the world. I don’t feel exceptional either. Lying to Clyde, bringing him away from Bonnie
under the guise of an interview… beyond the personal abhorrence, it also flies in
the face of everything I’ve tried to be as a journalist. Clyde can’t bring himself to talk, so I
press forward. AS: I think it might be best if you call Bonnie
over here. Nodding vaguely, Clyde wordlessly shuffles
back to Bonnie, whispering in her ear. She puts a hand on his shoulder and helps
herself up. Whatever he’s told her, she doesn’t seem
angry as she joins us beneath the shade of the apple trees. BONNIE: I didn’t want to cause any trouble,
a… and Clyde’s been looking forward to this trip for so long I didn’t want us to
turn back. I’m sorry. AS: What happened Bonnie? BONNIE: I just said two words. I wasn’t talking to him; I was doing what
Rob said but then he… I just said “Bless you.” That’s all it was. AS: That’s it? BONNIE: Well I… he thanked me and then he
was just… so easy to talk to and I thought, “Well I’ve already talked to him, what
will a few more words do?” CLYDE: She hardly said anything else. AS: What about him? Did he say anything? Bonnie starts to smile, the same way she did
last night. A dreamy, enthused expression glowing with
reminiscent joy. BONNIE: He told me about this wonderful place. Wasn’t it wonderful Martin? CLYDE: Bonnie- BONNIE: Just a few houses by the sea, but
he made it sound so nice. CLYDE: Bonnie, please… BONNIE: What’s wrong? I can talk about it right? When I look back to Clyde, his lips are firmly
pressed together, his facial muscles tight. He’s holding something back, but what slips
through betrays a poignant dismay. CLYDE: It’s all you talk about Bonnie. You… you mentioned it a few times after…
and since Jubilation you ain’t stopped. AS: Are you guys talking about Wintery Bay? Clyde grimaces, and Bonnie grins, when they
hear the name. AS: Bonnie are we heading there? BONNIE: The hitchhiker said it’s on our
way. I’m so looking forward to seeing it. I can’t say I feel the same, and it’s
safe to say Clyde agrees with me. Before now, I’d only heard Bonnie mention
Wintery Bay on two occasions, but it sounds like she’s talked about it a whole lot more. I sympathise with Clyde for what he’s had
to deal with. However, the gross irresponsibility of his
actions aren’t lost on me either. AS: Does Rob know? CLYDE: I didn’t want to- AS: You didn’t want to trouble him? Or did you just not want him to turn you around? BONNIE: I’m alright, really. AS: Well either way, you need to tell Rob
before we hit the road. Clyde shuffles uncomfortably. AS: I’m not going to do it for you. But too much has happened on this trip already. Ace is… this place is dangerous ok? There’s no place for lies any more. I hope that Clyde doesn’t see the irony,
given that I’ve roundly deceived him in the past five minutes. He nods, takes Bonnie’s hand, and walks
slowly towards the Wrangler. Rob is loading the last of the fold up chairs
into the back of the car. The conversation doesn’t last long, but
by the end of it, Rob rests his hand on Bonnie’s shoulder and sends them on their way. He doesn’t look mad. Perhaps he just has other things on his mind. That’s the second thing I’ve done today
that’s inherently non-journalistic. I was supposed to be a fly on the wall for
this story, a passenger, recording events with objective detachment without my own influence
seeping into proceedings. In many ways I wish I still was. But the stakes are higher now, and though
secrets make for good editorial, they’re also potentially damaging to the safety of
the group. Following the incident with Ace, I’m slightly
less concerned with an unbiased story than I am with getting home to tell it. Rob looks like he’s about to make his morning
address. The group wanders over, some more reluctantly
than others, and gathers around the Wrangler. ROB: First things first, I want to say that…
well… tempers got a little heated last night, and that I’m sorry for my part in all that. I wanna thank you for coming with me this
far, and if you wanna turn back, well that’s just fine. The group stays quiet. ROB: If you are headin’ back. I’d say if you travel one by one, be sure
to stay on the radios, retrace the route and follow all the rules that applied when you
were gettin’ here. Now can I get a show of hands, who’s wantin’
to keep goin’ on the road? I observe my compatriots closely. The definites will be Bonnie & Clyde, who
have already implied that they want to continue, and also Bluejay, who feels she has nothing
to worry about from the road. Apollo is in the wind, and Lilith & Eve are
probably a split vote. All in all, this could be the moment our convoy
splits in half. Bluejay throws her hand up lazily. Bonnie and Clyde, predictably, raise theirs. Apollo raises his a few moments later. APOLLO: Hey, I’ve come this far. That leaves Lilith and Eve. After sharing a brief glance with her friend,
Lilith raises her hand and Eve follows suit, albeit with an air of trepidation. I’m surprised that no one’s turning back,
after everything that happened yesterday, but it’s clear everyone has their own reasons. I’m just glad I don’t have to say goodbye
to anyone. I set about trying to divine everyone’s
motives for continuing on the road, but I quickly stop when I realise everyone’s looking
at me. AS: Oh sorry. Yeah I’m in… I’m going… that way. I gesture to the road ahead and raise my hand
redundantly. ROB: Well ok. I guess that’s everyone then. We got a fair way to travel today but there
ain’t much to see. Just follow the rules and take things as they
come I guess. As we pull out, I start to feel a little restless. The sedentary nature of travel is beginning
to take its toll, and I’m starting to feel overfamiliar with the Wrangler’s passenger
seat. I’m glad that I got a chance to stretch
my legs last night. Rolling, Elysian corn fields span the roadside
for the next five hours. Turns are few and far between, but Rob’s
attention never wavers. I only manage to grasp his attention briefly. AS: Aren’t Jeeps supposed to have poor fuel
economy? ROB: They ain’t the best. That’s why I always bring gas along. AS: It’s just… the fuel gauge has hardly
moved since we left this morning. ROB: Haha. You noticed that huh? I was wonderin’ if you were gunna. AS: Why, what have you done to it? ROB: Nuthin’. It’s the road. Makes fuel burn slower. AS: Seriously? ROB: Ain’t just that either. You finish your food this mornin’? AS: No… why? ROB: Hardly anyone did, ‘cept Apollo. More you go, less you need to keep goin’. AS: Ok… wait you said the road pushes against
you. ROB: Yep. AS: But now you’re making it sound like
it’s helping us along. ROB: Yep. AS: So it’s hostile whilst also incentivising
us? That sounds odd to me. ROB: Sounds like life to me. Reasons to stop, reasons to keep goin’. I suppose that makes sense. Despite his well-documented obsession with
the secrets of the road, Rob seems to have a strangely laissez faire attitude to its
internal logic. It’s like the road doesn’t need to make
perfect sense to him, or at least he doesn’t expect it to yet. As the fresh rural air drifts in through the
windows, I lose myself in the hypnotic endlessness of the passing fields. I wonder how many eyes have seen these vistas. I wonder where we are, not geographically,
but in a grander sense. Are we still in the world as I know it? Are we beyond it? Below it? Or have we just slipped through the cracks,
into some intermediate domain? Rob slows the car down to a crawl, a precaution
he takes before most corners. My eyes wander gently back into the Wrangler,
finally resting on the rear view. There’s something behind us. A humanoid figure, shrouded in the soft focus
of considerable distance. It staggers quickly toward the convoy, unsure
on its own feet. AS: Rob what is that? Rob follows my gaze to the rear view mirror. His brow furrows. ROB: Somethin’ new. Rob grabs the receiver. Before he can make an announcement, the speaker
splutters with static, followed by Eve’s frantic voice. EVE: Guys there’s something behind us…
guys? Something’s coming after us. Bluejay can you see it? Bluejay doesn’t answer. I doubt she considers it worth her time. A squealing panic rings out over the radio
as Eve calls again. EVE: Is it from Jubilation? Guys? Guys?! ROB: Stay calm everyone. Let’s pick up the pace a little. Rob lets his foot rest heavier on the gas. The Wrangler gently accelerates, with the
rest of the convoy eagerly matching our speed. APOLLO: Who is that Rob? ROB: I ain’t so sure, but we got a turn
coming up. Let’s just get ourselves off the road, see
if he follows. The figure continues to stumble towards us. Its arms hang crookedly in the air and, as
it comes into sharper focus, I can just make out that there’s something wrong with its
face. EVE: Guys speed up, please. Please. LILITH: Calm down. EVE: It’s coming for us! I can sympathise with Eve’s panic. I’ve had the luxury of travelling at the
head of the convoy. I was the first across when that godforsaken
pine was dropped across the road. Eve is now second to last, relying on three
other cars to make their escape before she can follow. Ace had to wait for the rest of us, and it
cost him everything. Now Eve & Lilith are one car closer to being
where he was. EVE: It’s face. Oh my god! Oh my god. Guys please! BLUEJAY: Jesus, shut up! APOLLO: Hey that is NOT helping. Rob it’s movin’ pretty fast we- ROB: We stay the course. It ain’t caught up yet just- EVE: Oh god. Oh god, oh GOD! Rob’s warnings are cut short by the screeching
of tires. Eve swerves out of the convoy’s neat, single
file line, and onto the empty stretch of road beside us. The car accelerates past Bonnie & Clyde. Past Apollo. I get a brief glimpse of Eve & Lilith as our
windows align. Lilith is yelling at Eve, trying to get her
to calm down. Eve is screaming into the air, the puppet
of her own frenetic terror. The car shoots past us and down the long road
ahead. Rob swears and picks up the radio. The figure continues to lurch towards us. ROB: Ferryman to Eve & Lilith. Stop the car right now. LILITH: Eve slow down! ROB: Eve goddamnit you’re gonna- I stare through the windshield as their car
stops. Not a slow, grinding deceleration, but an
unequivocal, immediate halt. Their bodies are thrown forwards against the
safety glass as the car becomes utterly motionless. AS: Rob what’s happening? ROB: I told’em to be careful! AS: Why what’s- I no longer need an answer. I realise that it’s written right in front
of me, etched into the side of the road. A brief gap in the endless rows of golden
corn, only a little wider than the Wrangler itself. A dirt track the leads off to the left, about
ten metres ahead of us, about fifteen metres behind Lilith & Eve. I now understand why Rob was being so careful,
and why Eve should have been as well. They’ve missed the next turn. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. I’ve found the turn, let’s make it quick. Eve and Lilith you stay in the car. I’m coming back to get you both. Rob flicks on his turn signal, preparing the
group for the sharp left corner, and slams his foot on the accelerator. Lilith and Eve disappear behind a wall of
corn as we pull down the dirt track. Rob keeps driving, until enough space is left
for the rest of the group. Once they’re all safely pulled in, Rob climbs
into the back of the car, grabs his rifle and jumps out onto the path. I quickly climb out and follow behind him. When we arrive on the main road, the figure
has covered a considerable distance, finally drawing near enough for me to see what’s
wrong with its face. At a certain point, midway across the crown
of the head, running in a straight line down past the cheeks and under the jaw, the head
simply stops. It’s like the foremost section of his skull
has been sliced cleanly off, and has bent inwards, his entire face concave and shrouded
completely in a deep shadow. A ghastly, organic hood, that seems deeper
than physics should allow. That isn’t all that’s wrong with the picture
however. The man’s outstretched arms are bent in
several places. Dark purple contusions blossom at every unnatural
joint as if his arms had been broken multiple times. His leg is also bent to one side, the reason
for the irregular walk that still carries him towards us. Rob looks shaken as he raises the rifle to
his shoulder, bidding the figure turn around. The man ignores Rob’s demand, continuing
its march. Even when a bullet hits it square in the chest,
the figure hardly slows down. We’re forced to jump out of the way as it
continues down the road, Eve and Lilith cowering in their locked car as it approaches. Fear shifts into confusion as the creature
passes them by, and continues down the road. It’s as if it doesn’t even know we’re
here. Rob breathes a sigh of relief, lowers the
gun, and runs back to the rest of the convoy. The moment he leaves, my mind notes something
peculiar. It’s an utterly bizarre observation, especially
considering the many otherworldly facets of the retreating creature, there’s something
familiar about it. Specifically, its fashion sense. The shirt, the dirt covered jeans. They aren’t dissimilar to the ones I found
in the brown leather duffel bag, resting atop the block of C4. Reaching into my pocket, pulling out my phone,
I scroll through my list of contacts. As the man heaves himself down the road, I
call the second number I discovered last night. The one in the Nokia’s received calls list. The number that likely belonged to whoever
created the bomb, and whoever was driving the car that day. After a few moments, a ringtone disrupts the
creature’s silent walk. I end the call, realising how reckless I’ve
been and praying that the strange figure doesn’t see my action as an excuse to turn around. I’m lucky, this time at least. The dial tone cuts out, and the figure continues
to stumble its way toward the horizon. The next thing I hear is a scream. Scanning for its source, I see Eve, her door
open and with one foot out of the car. She’s frantically pulling at her leg, seemingly
unable to lift it from the tarmac. AS: Eve what’s going on? With shaking fingers, Eve clumsily unties
her shoelace, and lifts her leg back into the car. Her boot stays in place, and it’s possible
to make out a slight elasticity to the road below it, a depression in the tarmac around
its base. Slowly, and steadily, the sole of the boot
disappears into the road. Eve watches as the dark tarmac slowly sucks
the boot down, enveloping the heel and dragging it beneath the surface. The thought comes to Eve the same moment it
does to me. We both fix our eyes on the back of the car,
where same, soft indent is gradually developing around the tyres. Eve’s terrified scream is drowned out by
the blare of revving engines. I jump out of the way as the rest of the convoy
reverse out of the corner and back onto the main road. Bluejay, Bonnie & Clyde, Apollo and finally
Rob, park themselves chaotically around me. Rob jumps out and approaches. ROB: They ain’t pulled back yet? As soon as he asks the question, he sees the
sight before him. Only the neck of Eve’s boot remains above
the ground, sinking ever further into the tarmac. The road gradually but voraciously churns
at the car tyres, consuming the rubber, and swallowing the lowest edge of the wheel cover. In the midst of such an impossible sight,
all I can say to Rob is: AS: They’re trying. Lilith & Eve hit the gas hard. The engine growls at the road as it furiously
attempts to reverse, the undercarriage creaking and groaning from the sheer mechanical strain. The wheels themselves, however, don’t rotate
an inch. The tyres belong to the road now, taken by
the unknowable forces that continue to drag them into the earth. The engine chokes, defeated, and I can see
Eve screaming into her fists as the roadway calmly continues its work. ROB: Goddamn it we can’t reach’em. Tell’em to get on top of the car. APOLLO: What the… What’s happening Rob? ROB: Bristol! Tell’em to get on the roof! Rob marches off to the Wrangler. The rest of the convoy gather on the road,
just in line with the left turn, where we assume it’s safe to stand. Everyone, saving for Bluejay, looks on in
anxious silence. AS: Eve! Lilith! I need you to get on top of the car ok? Guys? EVE: We’re sinking! Oh fuck… oh fuck we’re- AS: Eve! I’m trying to help you. Rob’s working on something, but you need
to climb onto the roof of the car. Don’t think about anything else. Open the door, wind down your window and use
it as a foothold. Eve is still deaf with worry. Lilith doesn’t hesitate. She places one hand on the upper rim of her
open door, one foot on the base of the open window, and her free hand palm down on the
car’s roof. The door rocks on its hinges as she puts her
weight on it. In one strong motion, she pushes herself backwards
until she’s sitting atop the car. The tarmac has swallowed its way to the car’s
lower chassis. Eve stares, transfixed by the road as it pulls
her ever closer towards it. LILITH: Sarah look at me! Lilith is crouching on the car’s roof, her
hand reaching down to Eve. Her friends voice seems to be the only thing
that can break Eve’s fearful commune with the waiting abyss. She turns around, Lilith’s hand a few inches
from her face. LILITH: Get up here. Her eyes brimming with tears, fought back
by rapid, shallow breaths, Eve grabs Lilith’s hand. Lilith gets a solid handhold around the lip
of her own doorway and heaves Eve up and onto the roof of the car. Eve shrieks a little as the door swings, putting
all her trust into Lilith’s grip. She joins her friend on the roof just as the
road consumes the lower edge of the door, spilling inside the car’s cabin like magma. ROB: Damnit they’re too far away. Rob has returned from the Wrangler, rapidly
uncoiling a braid of long, light blue climber’s rope. I’d seen it resting in the back of the car
during the trip, never once thinking that I’d see it used. Rob threads one end of the rope through a
carabiner and secures it in place with a tight knot. He holds it to his side as he shouts to Lilith
& Eve. ROB: Ok listen, we only got one shot at this. I’m gonna throw you the hook and you’re
gonna catch it and yank it taut ok? Then you can hook it onto somethin’ and
climb your way over. Don’t let it fall. Ok? Lilith looks pale. She nods before clambering to her feet, and
stepping to the back of the car. Eve watches on, her hands wrapped around her
legs. ROB: Well, here goes nothin’. Rob begins to swing the rope over his head,
a large undulating circle that quickly levels out as the weight of the carabiner eases the
rope onto a flat plane. I instinctively shrug down as the rope passes
over my head, swinging faster and faster. Gritting his teeth, his face reddening with
the towering pressure of this single throw, Rob lets the rope fly. It arcs in the air, like a cast fishing line,
towards Lilith’s outstretched hands. I watch it pass in front of her, the metal
of the carabiner glinting in the sun as it falls. She catches it, grasping the rope in her shaking
hands. Despite her victory, I see her face contort
with sudden and striking panic. She holds the rope high over her head, staring
wildly down at the road between us. Following her eyes, my heart falls. She caught the rope, but she didn’t pull
it taut fast enough. Even with Rob continuing to hold his end above
his head, the rope had too much slack when it landed in Lilith’s hands. It’s fallen in a sloping arc, the lowest
point of which has scraped against the tarmac. It only rests a few precious seconds before
Lilith finds herself unable to pull it free. It sinks into the ground. The rope starts to brush gently against Rob’s
fingers before he throws it to the ground. ROB: Goddamnit! Ok… if I just got somethin’ else. Somethin’ we can put down. AS: The empty jerry cans? They could step on- ROB: Too unstable, and we’d have to throw
them perfect. Ok… ok. The road has claimed almost half the car now,
eating up the licence plate as the vehicle sinks lower and lower. Lilith looks helplessly on as we deliberate,
Eve crying her eyes out behind her. CLYDE: We could get a ground sheet. ROB: We ain’t got one that’ll stretch. AS: Well what about- APOLLO: I’m going out there. Apollo’s blank statement catches us all
by surprise. Turning in his direction, I note a direct
and powerful confidence in his manner. APOLLO: They aren’t gonna last much longer. It takes a second for the road to get you,
that’s how they got so far ahead before they stopped. I drive out, they jump onto my car, then we
climb back. ROB: I ain’t got more rope. APOLLO: You got the winch right? If I drive out with it bunched up on my lap
I can make sure it never goes slack. Then I hook it up to my roof bars and we get
the hell outta dodge. ROB: You got the best car for it. But I should drive out there. APOLLO: You need to work the winch. Bonnie & Clyde can’t climb back. He skips over his rationale for not choosing
Bluejay, not wanting to waste time on a foregone conclusion. AS: What about me? I’m lighter, the climb back would be easier. APOLLO: But you can’t help them when they’re
jumping over. We’re wasting time, you know it’s a good
idea. Rob takes a moment to consider it, his mind
fighting for a better solution. ROB: You’d better get back here Apollo. APOLLO: Don’t plan on hanging around there
Rob. Apollo grins before sprinting to his Rover. Rob, wasting no time, runs to the winch, switches
it to manual, and unspools the heavy duty rope. His hands cross over as he drops each new
length onto the ground. I turn back to Lilith. AS: Did you hear that Lilith?! Lilith is huddled next to Eve, attempting
to comfort her as the car’s headlights disappear into the depths of the road. Her head snaps round when I call. LILITH: What’s… what’s happening? AS: Apollo’s coming out to you. You have to jump onto his car and climb back
over ok? LILITH: … Ok! She hurries back to Eve, grasping her friend’s
shoulders as she relays the plan. ROB: Ok that’ll hold. Rob’s climbing down from the hood of the
Wrangler. He’s fed the winch cable around and through
the lighting rig, ensuring a good level of clearance on the way out and, more importantly,
for the climb back. The rope has already been fed through Apollo’s
driver’s side window. Bonnie and Clyde are helping to throw Apollos’
baggage out of the trunk and onto the rode behind him. The less he has to lose on this trip the better. ROB: All set up over here. APOLLO: Ok. See you on the other side Rob. Apollo slams his foot onto the accelerator. The Range Rover bolts forwards, and powers
toward the threshold. The engine roars as he rockets past the left
turn and keeps on going, into the territory beyond. In the few precious seconds he has, he crosses
the distance towards the two terrified girls. The winch rope streams through the window,
and then suddenly, pulls tight. Apollo is thrown forwards as the car comes
to an uncompromising stop, roughly a metre’s distance from Lilith & Eve. The impact looks brutal, but Apollo somehow
manages to keep a hold on the rope and, inexplicably, his sense of humour. APOLLO: I don’t think I got the insurance
for this. Clumsily, still feeling the aftereffects of
the sudden stop, Apollo throws open his door and starts to climb out. APOLLO: Take in the slack Rob! My attention fixed on Apollo, I hear the mechanical
whir as the winch kicks into life. As Apollo climbs out of his car and up onto
the roof, he affixes the hook at the end of the winch to one of his roof bars, securing
it in place. A few moments later, the rope is pulled straight. Apollo steps down onto the hood of his car,
his arms outstretched to the girls. It’s a short jump, but they’ll have to
make it from a lower elevation, the trunk of the car already sinking to ground level. APOLLO: Ok come on I got you, we’ve got
to move fast now. Lilith stands up, helping Eve to her feet
before stepping down onto the rapidly disappearing trunk. LILITH: Ok… ok… Lilith yelps as she throws herself towards
Apollo. Her front foot plants itself on the hood of
the car, her other leg flailing in the air behind her. Apollo grabs her by the arms and yanks her
onto the car, holding her close to him as she gets her bearing on the smooth metal of
the hood. When she’s stable, he lets her crawl up
onto the roof, where she immediately looks back to Eve. APOLLO: See Eve, nothin’ to it. Come on now. Eve paces back, her hands shaking as she contemplates
the jump. Fighting against her screaming instincts,
Eve squeals as she steps across the trunk and makes the leap across. The toe of her shoe lifting off the car mere
seconds before it descends into the murky, black pitch of the road. Eve lands short of her destination. One desperate, grasping arm makes contact
with Apollo’s as her legs bang and scrape against the Rover’s grill, scrambling for
any conceivable purchase. Apollo is wrenched sideways by the force of
Eve’s landing, thrown off balance by the unexpected application of her whole weight. In the gut churning moments that follow, Apollo
tugs Eve up to his chest and wraps an arm around her, his centre of gravity passing
over the edge of the car. The fall takes a lifetime. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Eve and Apollo
tumble forward towards the patient, ravenous ground. In the split second before he leaves the hood
of the car, Apollo uses his last inch of footing to push himself into a slow turn. The twist continues as they fall, until Eve
is looking to the road, Apollo to the pale blue sky. In one final action, Apollo pushes Eve’s
waist, holding her at arms length. Apollo’s back thuds into the asphalt, his
head smacking audibly against it. Dazed and concussed, he manages to hold Eve
aloft, keeping everything but her feet from joining him on the hard ground. APOLLO: Get back up… quickly get back up. Her face shredded by fear and guilt and sorrow,
Eve stares into Apollo’s eyes and whimpers. Collecting herself, she pushes herself off
him, ripping out her laces, and leaving a shoe and a sock behind as she clambers back
on to the Range Rover. With every movement she whispers a quivering
apology. APOLLO: It’s ok. It’s ok. Go on. It’s ok. He repeats those two words over and over,
until I’m not even sure who he’s talking to. The road elasticates around him, dragging
him down into its depths. Eve looks back to him, her face cringing in
misery. Bonnie buries her face in Clyde’s chest,
unable to watch the next few moments unfold. EVE: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. APOLLO: It’s… it’s alright. Just get going ok? It doesn’t hurt… it doesn’t hurt, really. Apollo’s ears sink beneath the road. Entering a new world of perfect silence, Apollo
sees the end nearing. APOLLO: Oh god. Rob! ROB!! I won’t play his final moments, for your
benefit and, ultimately, for his. Before he sinks into the road, Apollo asks
for Rob to talk to his family. He wants Rob to tell them that he loves them. Rob nods, knowing that Apollo won’t be able
to hear his response. After a few cries of panicked despair, Apollo’s
eyes and mouth are enveloped by the road. His screams are drowned by the thick, churning
asphalt. Eve watches the rest of his body sink, while
Lilith tugs at her sleeve, pulling her towards the roof. LILITH: Come on we’ve got to go. Sarah we’ve got to go! EVE: I’m sorry. Whispering one last heartfelt apology to the
air itself, Eve steps up with Lilith and stares at the cable. AS: Ok guys just let yourself down until you’re
hanging from the rope and work your way across. LILITH: I got it! You ready? Eve looks to her friend. EVE: I… I don’t… LILITH: Just watch me ok? Follow right behind me. The Range Rover’s wheels have now disappeared. With every passing second, the cable’s clearance
diminishes, and the angle between the roof bar and the Wrangler’s lighting rig becomes
steeper. They need to start moving now or not at all. Eve looks across the length of the rope. I can feel her mind kicking back at the prospect. EVE: I can’t. LILITH: Sarah… we fucking have to ok? Follow behind me. Lilith wraps her arms around Eve, hugging
her stiff, shivering frame, before letting go and crouching down to the rope, slowly
working her way under it. Her hands clenching the cable, her legs wrapped
securely around it, Lilith starts to pull herself along the rope, shifting her feet
up every few seconds behind her. She fixes her eyes on me as she drags herself
to the halfway mark. LILITH: Is she following?! The asphalt swallows the Range Rover’s lower
chassis. Eve hasn’t moved a muscle. The stretch of black tarmac might as well
be a bottomless ravine, the Grand Canyon. The idea of hanging herself over it mortifies
her. AS: Sarah! Sarah it’s not as bad as it looks, please! Please come on. Lilith crosses the threshold. Her knuckles are white as she continues to
cling to the rope. Rob marches up to her and helps her down into
his arms, coaxing her hands free by telling her that she’s safe. As soon as her feet hit the ground again,
they give way beneath her, and Lilith sinks to the ground crying out. LILITH: Sarah! Come on please!! EVE: I can’t! I can’t… I… LILITH: Please Sarah… I need you here. Her shallow breaths quaking with anxiety,
Eve slowly crouches down and grips the rope. Slowly but surely, as the asphalt consumes
the car’s licence plate less than a metre below her, Eve lowers herself down and, with
clumsy desperation, drags herself along the rope. She’s left it late. Her back hangs mere inches from the hungry
ground as she shuffles unevenly towards us, lifting her feet and scraping them up the
rope, her arms straining to stay locked. EVE: I’m not going to make it! LILITH: You are! Keep going! The Range Rover’s window is now disappearing,
inside the dashboard has been submerged. With every yard that Eve manages to climb,
the lowering rope ensures she stays close to the ground, even over the final few feet. My heart breaks the moment her foot slips. It happens almost too quickly to register. As Eve erratically shuffles her feet along
the rope, her bare left foot gives way, swinging underneath her and kicking down onto the ground. Eve tries to raise it in time before discovering
that she can’t. LILITH: No… no no no please. Thrown entirely off balance, Eve tries to
pull herself up. However, with her lower leg seeping into the
dark tar, her position can’t be maintained. She falls, her body twisting, as she falls
onto the road. Lilith releases a terrible shrieking cry. Eve whimpers as the side of her head rests
against the tarmac, her cheek already subsumed. EVE: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. LILITH: No. No. Please don’t be sorry. EVE: I.. love you. I love y… you Jen. LILITH: I love you too… I’m sorry I didn’t… I’m so sorry. Eve tries to reply, but half of her mouth
is sealed shut, encased in the creeping asphalt. Her short breaths finally melt into one long
inhalation, as her nose and mouth are sunk entirely. One remaining eye takes a final, fleeting
look at Lilith, before vanishing. I look away from what is still to sink. The important things are already gone. Lilith collapses on her knees, a screaming
of torrent of grief expelled from her burning lungs. Rob is completely immobile, likely searching
for something practical in which to bury himself. Bonnie & Clyde simply look lost, as they turn
their backs on the sinking Range Rover. Bluejay’s reaction surprises me. She stares into the tarmac, the smirk ripped
from her face, replaced by a familiar look of shellshock. She repeatedly mutters something under her
breath, something that sounds like: “It’s not real… It’s not real.” We stand in silence for what seems like an
age, accompanied by the breeze and Lilith’s gradually waning laments. After she’s exorcised the immediate torment,
her screaming descends into a deathly stillness. Rob makes the first step to approach her. ROB: I… I can take you back home if you want to- LILITH: No… No. Lilith wipes her eyes, as tears continue to
fall freely down her cheeks. When she turns around, she looks enraged. LILITH: No. I’m still going. I’m going to get to the end. ROB: You know I can’t tell you when that’ll
be. Lilith stands up and glares at Rob, then looks
over to Bonnie & Clyde. LILITH: Are you guys still going? Do you have a seat free? The siblings look to one another. Bonnie nods. CLYDE: You got a place with us if you want
it. LILITH: Is the door unlocked? CLYDE: Uhh yeah. LILITH: Then what the fuck are we waiting
around for? Lilith marches to Clyde’s Ford and climbs
into the back seat. She waits for us impatiently to finish up. ROB: Anyone else want to turn around? Rob looks to me and Bluejay. Bluejay sends a look of deep scorn his way
before marching off to her own car. ROB: Bristol? The Range Rover has finally sunk. The road has settled back into a hard, permanent
surface. It isn’t like Rob to offer me a ride home,
and I feel overwhelmingly like I should take him up on it. But there are too many questions unanswered,
too many unchallenged mysteries weaved into the fabric of this journey. Going back now wouldn’t be a return, it
would be a retreat. AS: I’m still going. A few minutes later, the three remaining cars
roll down the dirt track. Leaving another incomprehensible atrocity
behind us. There’s a part of me that can’t believe
I’m still continuing down this road, a greater part of me is astonished that no one took
the opportunity to turn back. As Rob carries me on to the next turn, and
the one after that, I realise we all have our reasons. I’d become obsessed with chasing the truth,
as had Bluejay in her way. Bonnie had her own, unsettling motives for
carrying on, and Clyde wasn’t about to abandon her. Lilith had directed her smouldering anger
and grief toward the road itself, seeking deliverance at its end. And Rob? As far as he’s concerned, there’s only
one direction to go. Still, when I think of the sorrows that have
already befallen us, and the potential for unspeakable ruin that lies ahead, I realise
that no one in their right mind would continue down this road. I suppose no one is. Hi Guys, Sorry it’s taken a while to get this posted
up. I’ve been busy chasing leads with US missing
persons. I won’t waste more of your time. Log is below. If you have any information then please send
it my way. Thanks for your help guys, it means a lot. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 12/02/2017 Silence used to be an absolute. That’s something I definitely miss. Back in the real world, it would stand as
self-evident that a group of people saying absolutely nothing, by definition, could not
be saying any less. Maybe things are different on the road, maybe
I’d just never encountered it before, but it’s clear to me now there are degrees beyond
silence. A pervasive realm of deafening quiet which,
following the loss of Eve and Apollo, our group has unreservedly embraced. Constructed out of our collective trauma,
cemented with a cruel mixture of grief, guilt, and harrowing self-doubt, it quickly becomes
apparent that this silence is stronger than all of us. The challenge of breaking it remains unmet
for the rest of the journey. We spend the next few hours burrowing through
a featureless corridor of maize. The stalks rise far above the Wrangler, leaving
only a thin strip of clear sky visible like the painted ceiling of a renaissance church. I find myself glancing intermittently at the
CB radio, half expecting, half hoping, for Apollo’s voice to crackle through the speaker,
bringing words of comfort, or a much needed attempt at levity. After I catch myself staring at the radio
for the fifth time, I decide it might be best to get on with my work. I plug my headphones into my notebook, bring
up the audio files I’ve recorded thus far, and set about creating a very rough cut of
our first day on the road. APOLLO (VO) Everybody knows Rob, Rob’s the
god! Ahaha I listen through Apollo’s first interview,
making notes for the closing paragraph I’ll now be forced to write about him. When I have everything I need, I listen to
the interview again, and then once more. It’s not lost on me that I just want to
hear his voice, to lose myself in a pleasant digital echo, far removed from the frantic
screams that followed him into the asphalt. I listen to Eve’s interview next. She bristles with excitement as she talks
about her upcoming visit to Roswell, steadfastly attempting to recruit me to the effort. She had no idea what she was heading into
when she stepped out onto Rob’s front lawn. Then again none of us did. The thin strip of sky is turning deep orange
as I reach our encounter with the hitchhiker. It’s chilling to hear his voice after the
fact, to revisit the conniving, veiled pleasantries he employed against us. I cringe as I hear Rob’s hand grasp my arm,
ashamed that I let myself fall for the hitcher’s trickery. ROB (VO): You did good, I’m sorry for grabbin’
you. I just didn’t want you to do something you’d
regret. AS (VO): No it’s fine. I was going to. Do you know what happens if you talk to him? ROB (VO): Not sure. Came close myself once, a few years back. The way he looks at you when he thinks he’s
got you? I don’t think I wanna know. AS (VO): Rob, I- I pause the audio file, clicking back ten
seconds before pressing play again. AS (VO): No it’s fine. I was going to. Do you know what happens if you talk to him? ROB (VO): Not sure. Came close myself once, a few years back. The way he looks at you when he thinks he’s- I certainly didn’t notice that at the time. I’d been so shaken by my run in with the
hitcher, and so curious about the abandoned car that I’d been completely blind to anything
else that had come my way. Maybe Rob misspoke, maybe he meant to say
weeks or months. But if it wasn’t a mistake, if it was a
truth carelessly uttered, then Rob has some explaining to do. The Left/Right Game was posted online in June
2016, less than a year ago. I glance sideways at him, a wall of corn rushing
past us as we approach the rest stop. Throughout this trip, every emotion Rob’s
displayed has seemed genuine. The sadness, the anger, the concern. They tell a story of a man who cares deeply
about the welfare of those around him. Yet at the same time, it’s strikingly clear
that there’s something he isn’t telling me. With every new piece of the puzzle, the car,
the text message, the faceless creature with the ringing phone, I’m left with the dilemma
of when to confront Rob Guthard with what I know. I feel I’ve gathered enough to bring before
him, enough to demand an explanation, but there’s no way I’d be able to truly verify
his answer. I have a collection of strange and perplexing
notions, lacking in the common thread that could bring me to any workable conclusion. If I am going to confront Rob, I need to uncover
that thread. Much like the greatest journalists of our
time, I should know the answer before I ask the question. The jeep pulls up onto a large green space. Staring straight ahead, I find myself puzzled
by the way the ground seems to stop, as if the horizon lies only twenty metres away from
the car. As soon as the engine cuts out, I unbuckle
my seatbelt, climb out and walk towards the grassy verge. The rest of the convoy pulls up behind me
as I go. I stop a few steps short of the edge, realising
we’ve found our way to the top of a sheer cliff. A sudden swaying vertigo takes over, forcing
me to take a few steps back. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been heading
uphill, the road has been level since Jubilation, yet somehow I’m standing at the edge of
a 400 ft. rock face, descending straight downwards, the distant earth shrouded by stalks of corn. That’s the truly strange thing about this
monolithic precipice. On either side of me, the maize runs to the
very edge of the cliff and, at its base, the endless harvest continues until it stretches
beyond the darkening horizon in every direction. It feels like I’m standing on the cliffs
of Dover, staring over a golden ocean, its waves governed by the evening breeze. I wonder for a moment where it ends, then,
taking consideration of the world I now occupy, I start to wonder if it ever does. A belligerent scream rips me from the view. The source of the noise is blocked by the
Wrangler and the first thing I see as I circle around are the shocked, wide eyed faces of
Bonnie & Clyde. Once I make my way past the Wrangler’s hood,
my expression mimics theirs. Lilith has pinned Bluejay up to the side of
the Jeep, a locked forearm pressing her chest against the door. Her other arm has been grasped in Bluejay’s
hands, desperately stopped before it can strike her across the face. The two of them yell through gritted teeth
as Lilith struggles furiously against her, vying to cause her any conceivable harm. BLUEJAY Get the fuck off me you bitch! Get off! I take a few quick steps over to Lilith as
Bluejay attempts to kick her away. AS: Lilith, we can’t do this… Jen… Lilith doesn’t even register my presence
as she continues her assault, deafened by the bubbling vitriol in every growling breath. AS: Jen! We are not doing this now. Not after- Before I can comprehend what’s happening,
I’m staring at the sky, my head knocked back by the force of Lilith’s flailing elbow. A hot, raw ache radiates across my lower lip
as I stagger back, raising my hand over my mouth. Before Lilith can continue her assault, Rob
swings open his door and takes two short strides over to her. He puts one arm around the girl’s waist
and picks her up, carrying her safely, but firmly, over to Bonnie & Clyde’s Ford, and
planting her back on the ground. I seem to always forget how strong he is. ROB: Damnit this is not the time. LILITH: Take it back! Bluejay has lost her usual snide demeanour,
yet her aura still radiates an unbridled scorn. In response to Lilith’s demand, Bluejay
walks back to her car and sits on the hood. She takes the Marlboros out of her pocket
along with her lighter, and ignites a cigarette. I imagine the burning embers are the only
company she’s comfortable to accept right now. By the time I look back to the rest of the
group, Lilith has stormed away. AS: What did she say? BONNIE: I didn’t hear it all. AS: What did she say Bonnie? BONNIE: I heard something about… she said
Lilith was… that we were complicit. ROB: Ah goddamnit… Bristol can you… I watch Lilith, as she sits on the grass and
looks over the cliffside. She begins to cry, yet I get a strong notion
that it’s not something I should interrupt. It feels like something between her and Eve,
a final act of reactionary mourning reserved for them, and them alone. AS: Yeah… don’t worry. I’ll handle it. ROB: Ok. I’ll cook us somethin’ up. An hour passes. Lilith grows slowly calmer, drifting from
cathartic release into a cold, wordless melancholy. Finishing up my dinner, I make my way over
to her. AS: It’s a strange view. Lilith looks up at me. Her face falls. LILITH: I cut you… I’m so sorry. AS: It’s fine. You should see the other girl. LILITH: Hah, yeah, I bet she looks like shit
right about now. I help myself down onto the cool ground, staring
alongside Lilith into the ocean below. LILITH: Bluejay thinks I’m complicit…
in what happened to Eve. AS: I heard. LILITH: She used to think we were morons,
now she thinks we’re all in on it… doesn’t make sense. AS: I think she he has to believe this place
is a lie. She needs it to make sense, and the harder
it gets for her to rationalise the more she… Anyway, she shouldn’t have said what she
said. She’s just… I guess the word is “troubled”. LILITH: She’s a fucking thundercunt. AS: Umm… uh… ok. LILITH: She’s right though… I killed her… and I killed Apollo too. I look to Lilith, concerned, not quite sure
what she means. Her eyes remain locked on the impossible horizon. LILITH: Sarah… she wasn’t cut out for
this, and she knew it. She wanted us to turn back this morning…
but I didn’t want to. AS: That wasn’t just your decision Lilith. LILITH: Yes it was. She uh… she followed my lead. Always. Through everything. And I knew why she was doing it. I knew. But I let it continue, because it was convenient,
because it was easy…. because deep down I liked having someone around who… who’d
jump through fucking hoops for me… god it’s so fucked. Lilith rests her head in her hands. LILITH: She was weak. She was anxious and shy and… but that should
be ok, right? You’re allowed to be weak that’s… but
I made her come here. I dragged someone who couldn’t swim into
the fucking deep end. And the last thing I did was lie to her and
she fucking knew it. Lilith takes a few deep, frayed breaths. AS: What do you mean? LILITH: I’m not uh… I didn’t, I… I loved her, you know as a… as a friend. It was always this fucking one-way street
and… I don’t think she minded but. Then suddenly she’s vanishing right in-fucking-front
of me and she said what she said… I mean how else was I supposed to respond
to that? I had to say it back right? Lilith maintains her composure as a steady
stream of tears roll down her cheek. AS: I don’t know what I’d do in that situation. LILITH: I could see it in her eyes that she
didn’t believe me. Fuck… I wonder how many people have died while being
told like… comforting lies. How many of them fucking knew? AS: I think you did the best you could Jen. I think you did better than most. LILITH: You don’t need to tell me that just…
are you tired? Do you need to go to bed soon? AS: No, I don’t need to. LILITH: There are some beers in uh… in Apollo’s
bag. Is that like… looting? Or is that ok? AS: I think he’d want us to have them, as
long as he got a toast. Lilith laughs briefly and finally smiles. She walks over to Bonnie and Clyde’s car,
returning a moment later with a four pack. We spend the next hour and a half slowly drinking
them. Lilith can’t muster the right words for
a toast so we just say thank you to Apollo, raising out cans to the open air. We talk about his tireless humour, his attempts
to keep us all up during our first night on the road, how caringly he spoke to everyone,
even at the edge of death. We talk about Eve as well, about the pair’s
misadventures, awkward college parties and the future of Paranormicon. Lilith smiles, and tells me there’s always
a place for me once radio dies out. After everything that’s happened on the
road, the night can’t help but feel bittersweet. But for once, on a solitary cliff side in
the middle of nowhere, it’s more sweet than it is bitter. That may not be much, but at the end of an
awful day it’s more than either of us could have hoped for. The next morning goes quickly. It’s amazing how efficient a group of people
can be when none of them feel like talking. Not only that, but breakfast has become a
noticeably brief affair. I manage to get through half a bag of trail
mix before I find myself uncomfortably full. Rob’s words about the road’s sustaining
properties ring in my ears as I look around the group. Everyone leaves their bowls half empty. Lilith hasn’t eaten a bite. By this point, the launch protocol has been
drilled into us. Despite our preoccupations, and the fractious
rifts developing between us, the cars line up like clockwork as they merge onto the road. In fact, the mood of the group seems strangely
procedural. All radio contact starts with the stating
of a call sign, followed by that of the recipient. The cars maintain an even, careful distance
between one another. We’ve seen all too clearly what happens
when the rules are neglected, and no one wants to take chances any more. AS: How far away are we? ROB: From where? AS: You haven’t got to the end of this road
right? I mean… you’re still charting it? ROB: That’s right. AS: Well, how long until we get to… you
know to… uncharted territory? ROB: To be honest, not too long. AS: What’s going to happen once we reach
that point? ROB: We’re gonna keep drivin’. AS: Until we get to the end? ROB: That’s the plan. You know I won’t judge you if you wanna
turn around. I’m sure you can talk someone into it. AS: Could I talk you into it? Rob smiles. ROB: ‘Fraid not. This trip ain’t like the others. Road’s kickin’ back like never before. I think it knows I’m comin’ all the way
this time. AS: … What is this place Rob? Rob sighs as he slowly takes the next left
on a quiet, rural T-junction. ROB: I think it’s a stray thread… runnin’
off the spool. The radio crackles. BONNIE: Rob you just took the wrong turn. An instant drum of fresh panic hammers in
my chest. I stare at Rob, and he stares right back. I know he’s feeling the same thing I am,
though he’s doing a much better job of keeping it off his face. He thinks carefully for a moment. ROB: No… no. I been down this road before. We took a right last time. AS: Uhhh… yeah. Yes. The turn before this one was a right, I remember. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Thanks Bonnie for giving us the fright of
our lives. We’re on the righ… we’re on the correct
road. BONNIE: No no that can’t be its… that’s
wrong… Martin tell them… CLYDE: Our mistake Rob, let’s keep going. LILITH: Bristol… There’s concern in Lilith’s voice. I lean over to my wing mirror, attempting
to gauge the atmosphere in the car behind me. There’s clearly some commotion between Bonnie
and Clyde, with the latter attempting to gently remove the walkie talkie from his sister’s
hands. There’s something else however. Past Bonnie & Clyde. Past Bluejay. An old, dilapidated road sign made of weathered
timber stands by the side of the road behind us. I can’t read all of it as the peeling letters
grow ever smaller, but I can piece together what it probably once said. “Wintery Bay – 5 Miles” BONNIE: We’re going to turn around right? AS: Uhh one second Bonnie, I’ll… check
the map. I promptly switch off the radio. AS: Are we not passing through Wintery Bay? Rob turns to me, a puzzled look in his eyes. ROB: Through where? In the wake of those two, innocently inquiring
words, my mind reels back to the morning of our third day on the road. Watching Bonnie and Clyde wander over to Rob
to confess their transgressions with the hitchhiker, the quiet conversation that passed between
them, Rob’s seemingly comforting response. I’d felt wretched in those moments. A few minutes prior I had tricked and deceived
Clyde… yet I’d never once considered he might have done the same to me. AS: Is it safe to pull over? ROB: What? Why? AS: Is it safe Rob? ROB: Uh, yeah should be. AS: Then pull over. I switch the radio back on and grab the receiver. As I make a connection to Bonnie and Clyde’s
car, it’s clear that an argument is brewing. Lilith is asking for me, a helpless passenger,
caught in the middle of something she doesn’t understand. AS: Bristol to all cars. We’re stopping up ahead. Rob seems acutely aware that I’m not messing
around. As soon as we roll to a halt, I throw my door
open and jump onto the dusty roadside, striding over to the rest of the convoy, who are just
starting to get out of their own cars. I’m conscious of a driving anger behind
each step I take. AS: You didn’t tell him. CLYDE: Bristol, I… ROB: What’s goin’ on Bristol? Rob’s marches up behind me, more than a
little restless to get a grip on my motives. AS: Clyde? Clyde looks around a circle of expectant eyes. When he delivers his answer, he’s unable
to meet any of them. CLYDE: Bonnie… Bonnie talked to the hitchhiker. Rob’s expression shifts, his confusion degrading
into a solemn understanding. ROB: God… ahh Goddamnit. You knew about this Bristol? AS: I told them to tell you the morning of
the third day. I saw them go over to you I… I thought they did. CLYDE: Bonnie… thought you’d… turn us
around. ROB: Well she’s was damn right. You seen what happens when the rules get broken. You shoulda told me as soon as you saw me
and headed right back home. CLYDE: That was before Ace… before everything. I didn’t know this place was- ROB: The rules are the rules Clyde! Is anything even wrong with Bonnie? You said she gets confused… was that a lie? Clyde doesn’t answer, avoiding Rob’s glare. As I process what Rob’s just said, I have
to say I’m surprised by the deviousness of the two siblings. When I thought they were telling Rob about
the hitchhiker, it appears they’d instead told him that Bonnie was, to some degree,
senile. It was a simple lie, but one that would adequately
explain her odd behaviour, draw sympathy from Rob and, most ingeniously, prevent him from
telling me about their conversation. A truth buried beneath an unpleasant lie,
its subject matter just uncomfortable enough to head off any chance of discussion. Still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. CLYDE: We can head home if you want. BONNIE: No. The group turns to Bonnie. She speaks in a tone more decisive than I
thought her capable. BONNIE: He… the hitchhiker… he was talking
about a… about the village we just passed. I was looking forward to seeing it, that’s
all. I’m ok really. AS: You’ve been talking about it a lot Bonnie. BONNIE: It just sounded like a lovely place,
I was sad that we passed it by. I’m sorry for worrying everyone. Please don’t make us turn around Rob. Rob stares at them both. His position has been made crystal clear. ROB: We’re stopping a little early today. Come the rest of the way with us, rest up…
then tomorrow you both go home. You should count yourselves lucky you get
the chance to turn around. Rob marches back to the Wrangler, signalling
that the discussion is over. ROB: Lilith, you’re with us. Lilith doesn’t even try to hide her relief
as she shuffles away from Bonnie & Clyde and climbs into the back of the Jeep. It’s a little heart warming that Rob still
has the awareness to look out for her, angry as he may be. As well as his surprising strength, I also
tend to forget how perceptive he can be. Bonnie, Clyde and Bluejay climb back into
their respective vehicles. I catch Bonnie’s eye, the moment before
she returns to the Ford. She appears truly disappointed, but otherwise
resigned to keep going, satisfied to let Wintery Bay fade into the distance. It’s comforting to hear that she’s ready
to put the place behind her. It’s just a pity I don’t believe a word
of it. LILITH: It was fucking weird Bristol. Lilith seems happy to be in the Wrangler,
enjoying the sense of security the modded behemoth affords, and also greatly relieved
to be away from Bonnie & Clyde. She’s spent the last five minutes detailing
the thirty second argument that unfolded between them, charting its disturbing nuances as well
as it’s eerie conclusion. LILITH: … but I swear she was basically
like crying like… she didn’t understand how we could be going the wrong way. But then like, as soon as you pulled us over
and she just stopped. Like I mean… stopped. AS: That must have been disconcerting. LILITH: You have no idea… So Rob, when are these cornfields gonna fucking
end? ROB: Soon. We’re gonna rest up for the night in a few
turns. Then tomorrow it won’t be long until we’re
on a track through the woods. LILITH: The fucking woods? Are you kidding? Are we talking like… Sleepy Hollow bleeding trees or what? ROB: Hah, wish I could tell ya. LILITH: Wait, what do you mean? ROB: I ain’t been that far yet. It’s new territory. LILITH: Oh… great. Maybe the cornfields aren’t so… Lilith goes quiet, transfixed by something
in the rear view mirror, before quickly turning around to get a better look out of the back
window. The car behind us is out of control. Bonnie is fighting to wrest the steering wheel
from her brother. The Ford swerves erratically behind us, driven
mad by the dynamic power struggle taking place inside it. Rob sharply accelerates out of the way as
the car behind lurches drunkenly to and fro before skidding to a shuddering halt. Rob hits the brake hard, and by the time I’ve
turned in his direction, he’s already slammed the door of the Wrangler, storming across
the tarmac to Bonnie and Clyde. ROB: Cut the engine! The Ford’s engine goes silent and in the
absence of its rumbling growl, new sounds emerge. The sounds of a struggle, and of wild desperate
screaming. Stepping out of the car for the second time
today, I jump onto the road and cover the distance between us. Rob is attempting to pull a screeching Bonnie
from the car. Even with his impressive strength it seems
to be a challenge. Bonnie claws at the walls, trying with all
her might to regain her grasp on the steering wheel. BONNIE: Please! PLEASE! Let me go! Let me go! Rob extracts Bonnie from the car and attempts
to subdue her amidst a flurry of flailing hands and elbows. She writhes and kicks as he pins her arms
to her sides. AS: Bonnie! Bonnie. Calm down ok? Let’s talk this through. BONNIE: He told me it was on our way! He said we’d pass through! ROB: He lied Bonnie. BONNIE: No… no we’re going the wrong way. We’re going the wrong way! Bonnie lashes out again, striking at Rob’s
legs with her own. Rob holds her firmly, hit teeth gritted through
every impact. It’s clear that Bonnie isn’t going to
let up. I run back to the Wrangler and open up the
trunk. After a few moments of rummaging through my
bag, I find the first aid kit and pull out an unopened pack of white zip ties. AS: Clyde, open the back door. Rob sees me standing with the zip ties. Even in the midst of Bonnie’s incessant
struggle, he looks at me with an almost questioning air, as if he’s wondering how we ever arrived
at this point. As if he’s asking whether we can really
do what I’m wordlessly suggesting. Bonnie answers the last question for him. In the slim few seconds of distraction, she
slams her head back into his nose, eliciting a disgustingly loud thud and a pained growl
from Rob. Dazed and confused, his nose immediately fountaining
blood, Rob manages to keep his arms wrapped around her. But it’s clear this isn’t going to be
sustainable, and that she isn’t anywhere close to calming down. Clyde has opened the door, stepping back and
looking on like a frightened child as we carry Bonnie over to the back seat of the Ford. I lean in before him, adjusting the headrest
until it’s pressed against the ceiling, ensuring that it can’t be removed from the
bracket. I then loop a zip tie around each bracket
and fasten them. BLUEJAY: What the fuck is going on? Bluejay has stepped out of her car, making
her way towards us. I realise that, to someone who is fighting
to not believe in any of this, the following scene would appear at best as a melodramatic
farce, and at worst, as the attempted detention of an innocent and distressed woman. Sadly, I don’t have time to field her questions. I climb into the car. Bonnie working constantly against us as Rob
eases her in after me, his hand on her head to prevent it bumping against the top of the
doorframe. Once she’s inside, I loop a second zip tie
around the one I’ve already fastened on the right bracket, forcing her right hand
inside it. I pull the plastic tab over the sleeve of
her jumper. I hope it’s not too tight, but at the very
least it’s secure enough to keep her in place. Bonnie continues to pull against the zip ties,
but it’s clear her strength has been sapped from her spirited battle with Rob. Not quite able to look her in the eye, I push
a pile of luggage out of the way and climb out the other side of the Ford. Rob and I are both getting our breath back,
the former pinching his nose and adjusting stoically to the fresh pain. BLUEJAY: Hey what the fuck are… you’re
not going to leave her like that are you? AS: Get back in your car Bluejay. I walk back to the Wrangler, tuning out Denise’s
coarse protests. Rob reaches into the Jeep’s still open trunk,
and pulls out a pile of blankets and pillows. In the rear view mirror, I can see him placing
them on Bonnie’s lap, giving her a place to rest her elbows. She leans her forehead against the back of
the headrest. Even with her face blocked from view, I can
tell that she’s crying. We arrive at the rest stop some twenty minutes
later, the vague outline of a deep green forest blooming on the horizon. It’s earlier in the day than we would usually
stop. Rob tells us he wants the entirety of tomorrow
to chart the woods, as well as good time to turn back before night fall should the need
arise. I’m not complaining, I’m glad of the chance
to rest up following today’s events. For the rest of the day, we take it in turns
to keep an eye on Bonnie, making sure she has everything she needs. When the Ford pulled up alongside us, Lilith,
Rob, and I expected to see a quivering wreck, tugging ceaselessly against her bonds. We were all surprised, and more than a little
disturbed, to find her smiling. By the time my turn comes around, the sun
is already dipping in the sky. Rob has prepared a small pot of miso soup
in case anyone can bring themselves to eat. I finish my bowl, all too aware of how unnecessary
each meal now feels, and pour out a helping for Bonnie. I find her in good spirits. BONNIE: How are you doing Alice? AS: I’m fine. How are you doing Linda? BONNIE: I’m ok. Sorry for giving you all such a fright earlier. I feel terrible. AS: It’s fine honestly. I’m sorry about… about all this. I gesture to the zip tied restraints. Rob has reapplied them, fastening bandages
underneath the straps to afford Bonnie a modicum of comfort. Still the scene rings with a sinister barbarity
which no kind consideration can make up for. BONNIE: It’s ok. I wasn’t myself. AS: I brought you soup. I know you might not be hungry. BONNIE: No no I’d love some, thank you. Everyone’s being so lovely. AS: Well, we just want to make sure you’re
alright. I submerge the spoon, drench up a measure
of warm broth, and begin to raise it towards her. BONNIE: Oh no you don’t have to… I can feed myself… She gestures to her bound hands, the clear
implication hanging in the air. AS: No I… I don’t mind. I think it’s- Bonnie throws her weight sideways, her elbow
jabbing outwards and hitting the bowl out of my hands. Soup spills over my fleece, just a little
cooler than scolding hot, and soaks immediately into the fabric. I back away reflexively, and watch Bonnie’s
expression flicker like a faulty lightbulb from kind tranquility to utter, burning contempt. It’s gone as quickly as it appears, just
in time for the rest of the group to look our way. BLUEJAY: What are you doing with her?! Bluejay storms across from her car, angrily
drawing from a Marlboro and forcing the smoke draconically back into the air. AS: Nothing. Just an accident. BONNIE: It’s ok Bluejay, it was my mistake. BLUEJAY: Did she get any on you? Bluejay leans in placing her hand comfortingly
on Bonnie’s, before turning to fix me with a murderous stare. It’s almost impressive how, even when caring
for someone, Bluejay still manages to be simultaneously venomous to those around her. BONNIE: No no it’s ok it was my fault. It’s fine. I’m sorry for causing trouble. Bluejay laughs at Bonnie’s submissive apology,
unable to believe what she’s thinking. Her eyes remain fixed on me. BLUEJAY: You’re a fucking coward. Look what he’s making you do. Look! My eyes follow where she gestures. I have to admit the helpless figure of Bonnie,
restrained in the back seat of the Ford, rings with an innate inhumanity, and being forced
to stare my actions in the face makes me feel utterly ghoulish. The choices I’ve made must seem insane to
Bluejay, but that doesn’t mean hers are not. Despite her pretensions of rationality, I
can’t help but feel that Bluejay’s actions are simply being governed by a different insanity. An insanity borne out of the desperate need
to explain the unexplainable, which has morphed into an ugly cocktail of paranoia, self-grandeur,
and fervent antagonism. Bluejay notes my silent expression, most likely
taking it as a personal victory. Without another word she returns to her car
and shuts herself inside, festering silently and alone. BONNIE: Do you want to know what’s wonderful
Alice? Bonnie leans towards me, lowering her voice
so no one else can hear. BONNIE: He told me there’s a house… waiting
for me. My home by the sea. AS: I’m sorry Bonnie. I don’t think there is. BONNIE: It’s going to be a such a beautiful
place. Such a beautiful place. Bonnie flashes me a broad grin. BONNIE: It’s been lovely knowing you Alice. Bonnie turns away from me, placing her forehead
back on the headrest. The grin doesn’t fade as I turn away. I walk back to the Wrangler, faced with the
choice of changing into new clothes or my thermal pyjamas. After removing my fleece and lying down for
a just a moment, I end up sleeping in the clothes I’m wearing. When I wake up, the Wrangler is moving. The air mattress reverberates and my body
rocks as we make a sharp U-turn. I sit bolt upright, Lilith waking up next
to me, similarly bleary eyed and confused. Rob is behind the wheel. The gear stick shakes as he transports us
down the road at incredible speed. AS: Rob what’s happening? ROB: Bonnie got herself free. She’s headed for the turn. I pull myself into the passenger seat, suddenly
wide awake. LILITH: What? How did she get free? AS: Is she with Clyde? ROB: She hit him over the head, dragged him
outta the car. I couldn’t wait for him, but he’s catchin’
up. Lilith and I turn around. Bluejay’s car is gaining on us, a distant
pair of high beams steadily drowning the rear window in light. LILITH: Why’s Bluejay helping him? AS: She probably wants to keep an eye on us. Rob, do you think we’ll catch up with Bonnie? ROB: I’m workin’ on it. The Wrangler continues to rocket through the
darkness. We keep our eyes fixed forward, scanning the
very edge of the horizon for any sign of Bonnie’s Ford. When Bluejay pulls alongside us, I get a look
at the pair. Bluejay is nought but steely determination,
dedicated to reaching Bonnie before we do. Clyde looks mortified, rocked by his sister’s
actions, a small contusion on his head to mark her vicious betrayal. Rob screeches to a halt once we arrive at
the junction. Bluejay’s headlights are already illuminating
the road to Wintery Bay, and Rob’s lighting rig coats the entire area in an artificial
twilight. In the middle of it all, we see Bonnie, standing
next to her car, smiling. She’s already beyond the threshold of the
turn. CLYDE: Linda! Linda, please… come on back now, ok? BONNIE: You can all come with me. There’s a place for all of us. He told me. There’s a place for everyone. CLYDE: Please Linda. You have to come back. A strange trail of black dust is streaming
off Bonnie’s skin, rising into the air and dancing in the breeze. After a moment, it becomes clear that the
edges of Bonnie are slowly degrading, converting quietly into dark ash and drifting into the
atmosphere. BONNIE: I love you very much Martin. You’re always welcome. CLYDE: No please… please. Bonnie turns around and climbs into the car. Without looking back, she pulls away down
the road to Wintery Bay. The trail of black particles rise from the
Ford as she goes, with greater and greater volume as the entire car starts to wither
away before our eyes. Less than a minute later the Ford, with Bonnie
inside it, gradually dissolves into dust and scatters to the winds. Clyde doesn’t speak. His entire being is quiet. Lilith immediately runs back to the Wrangler. Rob waits a while, staring at he dancing cloud
of dust, before putting his arm around Clyde and gently escorting him to the Jeep. As I turn away from the road to Wintery Bay,
I take note of Bluejay’s reaction. She looks absolutely petrified, more so than
I’ve ever seen her. She impulsively removes the pack of Marlboros
from her pocket and holds them in her hands, before quickly returning them, unsmoked. The night passes slowly after we return to
the rest stop. All of us are exhausted, and more than willing
to surrender to the escapism of sleep. Rob rests in the driver’s seat, giving up
his space on the air mattress to Clyde. Everyone drops quickly enough into a quiet
slumber, leaving me awake with only my thoughts for company. I find myself thinking of Bluejay, of how
she could possibly hope to rationalise the disintegration of Bonnie and her car. I wonder how I’d feel if the Left/Right
Game were exposed as some unparalleled magic trick. Would I feel foolish? No I don’t think so. Impressed, maybe. Relieved? Most definitely. In fact, the more I think about it, the more
I miss the innocent days when I believed the game was a hoax. I suppose I see why Bluejay is so adamant
about dismissing this place; trickery however elaborate is almost always a preferable alternative
to genuine horror. The Jeep’s door opens and shuts Part of me tries to ignore it, to wash my
hands of any other developments in this harrowing night. However, exiled as I am from the kingdom of
sleep, I slowly find myself sitting up, quietly putting on my boots, and letting myself out. I step out into the cool night, observing
the figure before me. AS: Where are you going Clyde? Clyde turns to face me, I initially interpret
the look he gives me as one of resignation, but the word doesn’t quite fit. Resignation is a defeat, the world exacting
compliance from you against your own wishes. But the man before me is as calm as the night
air around him. His wishes are clearly his own. There’s no defeat in his eyes, but something
else entirely… peace, maybe. CLYDE: You know where I’m going Alice. Clyde speaks softly, a quiet conviction behind
every word he says. I briefly glance towards the Wrangler, wondering
if I’m really equipped to handle this on my own. CLYDE: Don’t call Rob. I made a mistake coming back to the rest stop. I shouldn’t have done… please. Just let me go. AS: Clyde, just wait for tomorrow ok? He’ll understand. He’ll turn us around and take you home. CLYDE: It won’t be home anymore. Clyde’s gentle stare renders me silent. CLYDE: Linda had a husband once. He was a good man. Died young. She could never bring herself to go looking
again and I… I never found who I was looking for. We’ve been by each other’s side for sixty
years. Sixty years. I gotta be honest, even after all we’ve
been through, everything you and I have seen, I never felt like I was in a new world until
now. AS: I don’t think I can’t let you do this
Clyde. CLYDE: I’m sorry Alice, but it’s not up
to you. Clyde breathes in the cool night air, exhaling
through his nose. CLYDE: I yelled at her to come back, when
she ran off to rob that ice cream parlour. I kept calling out and calling out. I spent so much energy trying to get her to
come back to me. After a while I realised she wasn’t coming
back… that I’d have to follow her. I should’ve realised it earlier. That’s all I can do…. follow where she
goes. Clyde looks at me, almost apologetically. CLYDE: Goodbye Alice. He turns away from the convoy and wanders
back down the road. AS: Clyde. He turns around one last time. AS: Do you want company? It takes roughly an hour for us to walk back
to the junction. In the time we have, I’m treated to the
story of Bonnie and Clyde. The warmest fragments of their life together,
the moments that built them, the waves that rocked them and the places they once called
home. I don’t think I’ll ever agree with what
Clyde is doing, but the more he talks, the more I understand. His stories span more than half a century,
supported by a transient cast of acquaintances and friends, but at the core of each tale
is a pair of siblings who meant the world to one another. The pair existed as two relative souls, quantifiable
only in relation to each other. In the absence of one, the remnant was indefinable. A drifting point, unanchored in space. The story ends just as we reach the junction AS: I hope she’s out there. CLYDE: I hope so too. Thank you for coming with me, I know it’s
late. AS: No… it’s never a bad time to see a
friend off. Clyde smiles at me one last time before turning
to face the road. He steps over the threshold, past the old
wooden sign. In the silence of the night, I hear nothing
but his soft footsteps and the quiet breeze, which after a few minutes carries the last
of him into an open sky. It’s a long walk back to the convoy. My mind is numb to fear as I make my way through
the dark, the corn rustling in the wind beside me. It’s been four days since I arrived at Rob
Guthard’s house, sat down at his table, and listened to him speak about the new world
he’d discovered. In that time, I’ve seen things I can’t
hope to comprehend, sights that exist beyond the spectrum of our reality. Things I wouldn’t have deemed possible. For all I know there is a Wintery Bay, and
Bonnie has already arrived at her house by the sea, standing at the door, waiting with
quiet confidence for her brother’s arrival. I may never know. But I do hope they find each other, wherever
they may be. Hi Guys, Apologies for the delay in getting this post
up, events conspired against me it seems. Please let me know if you have any information. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 13/02/2017 I’m followed back from the junction by an
overture of birdsong. I’m grateful for the company. In the wake of Clyde’s departure, I’m
welcoming of any sound that distracts me from my own solitary footsteps, grasping for any
conceivable antidote to the palpable silence he’s left behind. I’m am not, however, as welcoming of what
the shrill, melodic warbling represents; the first symptom of impending daybreak. I’d only been up at this hour a few times
before, stumbling back from Niddry Street and down Sweetmarket after an unexpectedly
heavy night out. My housemates Molly, Craig and Tom would spend
the walk joyously discussing the evening’s scandals, leaning against one another as we
all stumbled away from a night of horrific excess. This time around, the circumstances couldn’t
be more different. I’m quite alone as I make my way up the
road, and the only excess in my night has been a relentless torrent of stress and melancholy. There is one similarity however, resting in
the back of my mind as much now as it did then; the nagging feeling that the day ahead
will be one of bitter and immediate consequences. As somber as this night has been, I still
find myself clinging to it, reluctant to witness the harrowing developments that sunrise will
bring. In a few hours time, the convoy will wake
up to find they have suffered yet another loss. It won’t be the brutal, heart wrenching
feeling that they experienced with Eve or Apollo or Bonnie, who perished in front of
our eyes, but a muted sensation of gross unfairness, less immediate yet all the more insidious. As much as we hate to face the horrors in
our lives, it can be far worse when they strike us without our knowing. To find out only the next morning that you
have been affected by cruel forces acting in complete disregard of your presence and
taking without concern for you. It’s not going to be a pleasant morning. Nevertheless, I glad to see the convoy when
it finally comes into view. The hulking Wrangler rests by the roadside
like an old relic. Right now, I can think of nothing more comforting
than climbing into its secure, rugged shell. For a moment, I find it strange how an object
built for transit has become the one fixed point in my world, then again, it’s not
exactly the strangest thing that’s happened on this road. Bluejay’s car is parked sideways on, laid
out across the tarmac. The windows are shrouded in darkness, yet
for the briefest moment I think I see the red dot of a smouldering cigarette, igniting
behind the glass, glowing momentarily before dropping out of sight. I fix my eyes on the Wrangler and keep walking,
resolved to ignore the ominous flicker of embers, and attempting to ignore its uncomfortable
implications. Even still, I shudder to think of the grim
conclusions that are being drawn within that acrid, smoke-filled echo chamber. I rest my hand on the Jeep’s passenger side
door, pausing briefly to gauge the sun’s progress. I probably have less than two hours before
I’ll be expected to step over that nascent horizon, to let Rob carry me into unknown
territory, onto the unexplored section of the Left/Right Game. Whatever lies at the end of this ordeal could
very well be two roads over… then again it could take a whole lot longer. I suppose there’s only one way to find out. I climb quietly into the car and gently position
myself next to Lilith. It’s cramped, and now that she’s had the
space to move around it takes a modicum of contortion to properly lie down, but it still
feels more comfortable than the prospect of resting on the open space that had been reserved
for Clyde. For tonight at least, it would feel like a
little too much like resting on a fresh grave. The morning does come quicker than I’d like. Surprisingly, once I awake from a blissfully
dreamless sleep, I realise I’m not tired at all. Perhaps it’s going to hit me later in the
day, or perhaps the need for sleep is yet another casualty of the road’s odd sustaining
quality. It’s unsettling to think that the road is
exerting some metamorphic influence over me, however convenient the effect. After losing most of my need to eat and drink,
and now starting to require less rest, I can’t help but feel that something wants us to continue
on the road, removing everything else that might distract us from the journey. It’s a notion that intrigues and terrifies
me in almost equal measure. When I open my eyes, I find myself staring
directly at Lilith, who has turned to face me in the night. I can tell she’s already awake, quietly
resting her eyes, understandably reluctant to face the morning without someone at her
side. AS: Hey. LILITH: Hey, good morning. AS: How’d you sleep? LILITH: Uhh… yeah… not too bad. This place isn’t so comfortable. AS: Hah yeah. You get used to it. A moment of silence passes between us. I’m already aware of the empty space on
the other side of the Jeep, hidden just beyond a pile of luggage and jerry cans. It would be easy for me to act surprised at
Clyde’s absence, to say that I had slept through the night, to throw myself into a
fruitless search effort and to realise the truth alongside everyone else. Part of me wants to avoid the weight of recent
events, to step aside and let all blame fall against the road. Yet even if I wanted to, I know it wouldn’t
be right. I’m not going to contribute a new set of
secrets to this journey. Anyway, for all I know, Bluejay saw me return
from the junction. I wouldn’t want to give her the satisfaction
of catching me in a lie. If I am going to tell them what’s happened,
then the conversation will need to happen immediately. Certainly before they have a chance to discover
Clyde’s absence themselves. The words don’t come easily. They’re impossible to form into a delicate
order, and I quickly realise that any attempt is just delaying the inevitable. In the end, all I can bring myself to say
is… AS:Clyde’s gone, Lilith. It takes a few seconds of quiet comprehension
before Lilith sits bolt upright, alarmedly peering over the luggage to Clyde’s side
of the Jeep. LILITH: Rob. Rob! AS: Lilith- ROB: Wh… What’s goin’ on? LILITH: Something took Clyde. Rob is suddenly wide awake as he twists around
to view the back section of the Wrangler. I can see the realisation dawn on his face
as he understands what’s happened. He turns back around and fumbles with the
ignition. His eyes in the rear view are burning with
desperate intention. He still thinks he can catch up with Clyde
before he crosses the threshold. ROB: Nothin’s taken him Lilith. Hold on. AS: Rob he’s gone. ROB: We don’t know that we just gotta- AS: Rob! He’s gone. He already passed the junction. Rob’s eyes flick to the rear view mirror,
meeting mine. The engine stays running as he turns around
to face me. ROB: How do you know that? The urgency has drained from the car, replaced
instead by a palpable air of inquiry. Lilith and Rob are both looking at me intently
and for the first time on the road, I feel like a figure of legitimate suspicion. AS: I was with him when he crossed over. LILITH: … What the fuck? When was this? AS: Last night, about 3… 4 AM. He said that he- In response to my words, Rob swings the drivers
side door open and leaves the Wrangler. I watch him march out into the centre of the
road, his entire body tensed and strained by a swell of anger. I quickly climb out behind him. ROB: Goddamnit! Damnit Bristol why in hell did you let him? AS: You weren’t there Rob. LILITH: We were fucking yards away Bristol! You didn’t think to wake us up? AS: Of course I did. He told me not to. LILITH: OH oh ok well that’s just fine then
is it? AS: He`d made his decision, Lilith. None of us were going to stop him. LILITH: Well I certainly wouldn’t have let
him just fucking kill himself! You tie Bonnie to the fucking headrest but
you let Clyde waltz over the road without even telling us? AS: That’s a… that’s a false equivalency. LILITH: A false… Are you serious?! AS: Yes, of course it is, Bonnie wasn’t
herself… Clyde was capable of making an informed decision. LILITH: His sister had just died! Of course he wanted to join her. That doesn’t mean you let him fucking die! You might as well have helped him blow his
fucking brains out! ROB: Lilith! Rob speaks the name harshly, forcing its owner
into an immediate silence. After letting the group breathe for a moment,
he speaks calmly. ROB: Bristol… are you sure there was nothin’
we could do? I look Rob in the eye. His words hit me harder than Lilith’s impassioned
tirade. Standing before the both of them, at the intersection
of their expectant stares, I feel first inkling of doubt creep into my mind. What would have happened if we’d talked
Clyde back into the Wrangler, if Rob had forced him to stay. Could he have found some reason to move forwards
if we had kept him for a night? A day? A week? All I can do is hold onto my recollection
of the night before, reminding myself of the sense of calm finality that radiated from
Clyde when I confronted him. All I can do is trust that I made the right
call. AS: No. No there wasn’t. ROB: Ok… well.. Then there ain’t nothin’ more to say. Rob walks to the back of the Wrangler, cutting
the conversation short through the quiet resumption of his usual morning routine. Lilith storms back to the car and shuts herself
inside. I’m left standing in the centre of the road,
wondering if I could feel any more wretched. BLUEJAY: I know what you did. Well, at least that answers my question. It seems that, while I had been struggling
to defend the validity of my actions to Rob and Lilith, Bluejay had very quietly climbed
out of her car, waiting patiently for the rest of the convoy to scatter before directing
a victorious smile toward me. AS: Can we not do this Bluejay? She responds to my words by ignoring them
completely. BLUEJAY: I was up in the night, watching you
all. What a surprise when I saw you leave with
Clyde, and come back alone, calm as a fucking grave. I don’t know if Clyde was in on your little
game but he sure as fuck wasn’t happy with how far you’ve taken it. He had to go didn’t he? I don’t want to dignify her words with a
response. In point of fact, I’m not entirely sure
what I’d say to such an absurd accusation. Her statement rings with all the trademarks
of paranoid conspiracy; the unnatural confidence, the vague language, the frenetic conclusions
which are so obvious to her, yet seem impossible for me to grasp. In the end, Bluejay doesn’t wait for my
response. BLUEJAY: I just want you to know, that I am
not falling for your fucking game. But you will not turn me around, and if you
try ANYTHING like that with me… I. Will. Fucking. Kill. You. I stare at the woman before me. Her pupils two dark pools of venom, her smile
curled into a crooked smirk of unadulterated contempt. AS: Why didn’t you talk to the hitchhiker
Bluejay? Bluejay’s brow furrows, the smirk degrading
from her face. I don’t wait for her response. AS: I mean… now that we’ve seen what happens,
to people who spoke to him… it’s fair to assume you didn’t. Or am I wrong? Bluejay presses her lips firmly together,
glaring at me, the veins at her temples embossed against her taut skin. AS: It’s alright Bluejay. I was scared too. I walk to the back of the Wrangler where Rob
has pulled out the stove and four camping chairs. After helping him set them up in the middle
of the road, and allowing him to cook me a bowl of steaming hot rice, I sit down next
to him and eat what I can. We can’t think of anything to talk about,
and the two remaining chairs stay empty for the rest of the meal. When I climb back into the Wrangler, Lilith
seems quiet. She’s less angry now and, as I’ve seen
before with her, is now being forced to confront the feelings her fury had been overshadowing. She shares a look with me in the rear view
mirror, a look of being genuinely lost. I find myself reflecting the same expression
as I stare back at her, and in that small sliver of glass, I think we both find a glimmer
of understanding. An understanding that there have been no easy
choices on this road, and that we should forgive each other, and ourselves, for the decisions
we’ve had to make. After all, I wouldn’t be surprised if there
are harder choices ahead. It takes us less than an hour before we reach
the woods. The drive has been predictably bereft of conversation,
however as the cornfields merge into deep green woodland, and the thin opening we’re
supposed to take draws nearer, Rob breaks the silence with a customary all cars address. ROB: Ferryman to all cars. Just want to say it’s an honour taking this
next corner with you all. From here on out we move slow, report anything
unusual and stay on the lookout for the next turn ok? Alright… here we go. Rob twists the steering wheel. We turn in a slow, deliberate arc towards
the gap in the forest. The tarmac disappears below us, giving way
to a rough dirt track. A towering legion of knotted trees eclipse
the convoy, the sun all but disappearing behind their thick canopy. The significance of this small turn in the
road isn’t lost on me. We had finally crossed the threshold, into
the unknown reaches of the Left/Right Game. For all we knew, we were the first people
to ever have come this far, the first explorers of an entirely uncharted world. I’m not surprised when I realise I’ve
been holding my breath. I examine my compatriots closely. Lilith isn’t even looking out the window,
lost in her own tumultuous thoughts. Rob is reacting exactly as I expected, looking
out of every window with an air of mystified wonder. ROB: Well I’ll be. It’s beautiful ain’t it? As I look away from him and back out the windshield,
I find myself smiling. Even after the stressful morning we’ve all
had, and the uncertain day that lies ahead, Rob’s statement rings with a joyous sincerity
which I can’t help but appreciate. I also can’t help but agree with him; in
its own eerie way, it’s a beautiful place. The Wrangler moves at a crawl for the rest
of the day. The woods are vast and untameable. Thin, swooping branches hang lazily over the
road, clattering against the light rig as we pass beneath them. Many of the trees stand at strange, crooked
angles, their various disparate inclines making it impossible to see too far in either direction. Rob spends every moment scanning the sides
of the road. The trees that flank us are so thick, so tightly
packed together, that it’s easy to denote an upcoming turn. I suspect Rob simply doesn’t want to take
any chances, paranoid as he is about the road’s deceptive qualities. He needn’t have worried. There are only four turns across the entire
afternoon. Each one is identified far in advance and
navigated perfectly. Before I know it, we’ve entered the early
evening, with no discernable end to the woods in sight. We’ve been travelling uphill for a short
while, plateauing onto a thin stretch of road, an endless expanse of forest to our left,
and a dangerously steep bank to our right. With one less side of the road to look out
for, Rob seems a little more comfortable holding a conversation. AS: So what are you going to do, if you get
to the end of the road. ROB: Document it, bring it home, hand it over
to the world. AS: And after that? ROB: I guess I might take a vacation. Maybe I should visit London. You want to show me round? AS: You’ve never been to London? ROB: I just passed by, carryin’ packages. Never liked cities so much, try to stay outta
them when I can. I’d go if I had a tour guide though. AS: Hah ok, well that’s my next story then. Rob Guthard Takes On London. ROB: I don’t think folk would wanna listen
to that. AS: I dunno I think people would tune in,
or are you just worried you’ll grow to like the place? ROB: Hah, Junior would never let me hear the
end of that. AS: Fair enough. Wait… sorry? ROB: My son wouldn’t let me forget it. He’s always been a city boy. I stare out into the pitch black forest, suddenly
thinking back to my arrival in Phoenix, Arizona just five days before. I recollect my formative meeting with Rob
Guthard, and how I’d been treated to the briefest overview of his life. I hadn’t pushed for too much detail, wanting
to hear the story in his own words and under the assumption that I could get more background
after a short stint on the road. After four days of intrigue and horror and
stress I haven’t had time for a follow up. In all honesty, it’s only now I think back
on it that I realise just how little ground we covered in our first interview, how eager
he was to skip past the formative details of his existence. I didn’t know the names of his ex-wives,
or anyone who wasn’t directly involved in his work with the paranormal. For example, I didn’t know he referred to
his son as Junior. Often used as a general nickname for a child,
it can, every so often, mean something much more specific. AS: Is… does your son share your name? Rob turns to me, confused. ROB: Yeah, did I never- LILITH Look out! Rob snaps forwards as a fleeting blur darts
across the road, before tumbling down the steep verge to our right. Over the engine, we can hear rustles and thuds
as it disappears down the steep hillside and into the deep forest below. AS: What was that? Was that a deer? ROB: That’s what it looked like, LILITH: It went straight off the edge why
would it do that? ROB: Ain’t too bright is all. AS: Guys can we get moving, this is- I’m interrupted by the sound of faint rumbling,
emanating from the woods on the left side of the road. LILITH: What is that? ROB: We ain’t waitin’ around to find out. Rob kicks the car into gear and pulls down
the track. Less than five seconds later, he slams the
brake on once more, stalling the car as a small group of three or four deer burst out
in front of us. A few more can he heard skittering behind
the Wrangler, slamming against the back of the jeep as they hurriedly negotiate the gap
between us and Bluejay. As Rob works to restart the car, I stare out
of the window and into the forest, finally aware of what I’m hearing in the trees. The thunderous sound of hooves hammering against
the earth, brushing past the undergrowth, struggling over rocks and branches on their
way towards us. In no time at all, the forest erupts from
empty darkness into chaotic, violent life, as an unbroken horde of frenzied deer burst
out from the trees. Rob tries to tell us to hold on, but he doesn’t
have time. The path ahead floods with hundreds of stampeding
deer, an unbroken torrent that blocks out the headlights’ beam. Lilith jumps back from the passenger door,
as deep, thudding knells vibrate through the Wrangler. The deer, locked in a desperate sprint with
little space to maneuver, are running head first into the side of the car. One of the smaller deer bolts out of the forest
hits the deep green metal just below my window, the reverberation shaking the glass. I think I hear its neck snap. The ones that get past the car aren’t fairing
better. Locked in a frantic state and forced along
by their equally desperate cohorts, I can only watch as they spill over the edge of
the steep hillside. Countless bodies crash into the darkness,
carried down into what I can only assume is a quickly developing mass grave of twisted,
interlocking bodies. LILITH: Rob get us out of here! ROB: We ain’t movin’ through this just
stay down! BLUEJAY: What the fuck is- Somebody help! Bluejay sounds terrified. The Wrangler is taking a beating from the
onslaught of desperate creatures, but is still managing to hold firm. When I look back towards Bluejay, I see a
different story entirely. The car is lying at an angle, pushed towards
the edge of the hill by the sheer force of the herd’s collective impact. The passenger side is on display, riddled
with slick red marks and heavy, craterous dents. The creatures rush past her, clumsily clambering
over the hood, and hammering into the doors of the car. Bluejay screams into the receiver, placing
a hand over her eyes as one of her front tyres passes over the edge, the car’s chassis
dropping down into the dirt. Luckily for her, when I turn back to the forest,
I can see it’s emptied dramatically. The flood has subsided, and the last few deer
are pelting through the trees and across the road, their position at the back of the herd
providing them with more than enough space to manoeuvre around the convoy. ROB: Ferryman to Bluejay, get yourself over
here we gotta go now. BLUEJAY: What the fuck was that? What the f- ROB: It was just a herd of deer, Bluejay,
but they were runnin’ pretty hard and I ain’t lookin’ to meet whatever they were
runnin’ from. We don’t have time to get you back on the
road, get over here NOW! Nothing more can be heard from Bluejay’s
radio except for static and a few intermittent gasps of breathless fear. ROB: Ah Goddamnit. Stay in the car you two. Lilith, hand me the rifle, I ain’t takin’
any chances out here. Lilith finds the rifle and hands it over to
Rob. Grabbing some supplementary ammo from the
glove compartment, Rob climbs out and slams the door, marching through the dirt to Bluejay’s
ruined car. I clamber into the back of the Wrangler, struggling
over a pile of empty jerry cans and surveying the scene as it unfolds. In an almost herculean effort, Rob wrenches
the passenger side door open and holds his hand out for Bluejay to take. I look on as she unbuckles her seatbelt, climbs
out unassisted, and immediately launches herself at Rob. Crying her eyes out, and lashing at his chest
with two clenched fists. She looks distraught, terrified and violently
angry. Rob stands there and takes it, whispering
vague assurance to her as she unloads her terror and frustration into every wailing
blow. LILITH: Come on Bluejay we gotta go. Lilith talks under her breath, willing Bluejay’s
catharsis to speed itself along. I look at her, silently sharing her impatience. Then something catches my eye, something in
the distance behind Lilith, slowly making its way through the trees. I turn around, and scramble to the front of
the car, returning with the radio transceiver. AS: Rob, get back here. There’s something in the forest. Hearing my warning crackle out from Bluejay’s
car, Rob turns in my direction before alarmedly staring into the forest where a pale figure
is winding its way towards the pair. From what I can ascertain as it briefly leaves
the obscuring undergrowth, it seems to be small, tremendously thin, and crawling unevenly
on its hands and feet. The creature stops in a clearing ahead of
Rob and Bluejay, in view of me and Lilith, but shrouded from everyone in the shadow of
the forest. Bluejay separates from Rob, pulling a head
torch out of her bag. Slowly, and with trembling fingers, she points
the beam towards the creature and switches it on. The resulting sight is incomprehensible. The beam instantly illuminates the light frame
of an thin, almost emaciated child. It’s barely over a year old, deathly pale,
covered in dirt, it’s skin stretched taut over frail limbs. It stares up at Bluejay, reflexively holding
one arm over its eyes to shield itself from the bright LED light. LILITH: Oh my god what’s happening to it? I know exactly what Lilith’s talking about. My hand raises to my mouth as I watch the
child struggle through the stream of harsh, white light. With every step it takes, the child’s form
starts to shift and change. Its limbs elongate, in jagged, lurching bursts
of growth. Anything exposed to the beam develops with
grotesque rapidity. It’s as if the child is aging before our
eyes. Letting out a tortured cry, the creature darts
towards Bluejay, angrily swatting the torch from her grip. Bluejay screams in shock and pain as she holds
her stricken hand, her attention transfixed on the child, who has seemingly aged almost
three years in a matter seconds. Even in the fresh darkness, with her head
torch fractured on the ground, I can tell that Bluejay is paralysed with an abject,
consuming horror. Rob doesn’t hesitate. He reflexively grabs Bluejay and pulls her
backwards into the path of her headlights. The creature reaches out for them as they
go, one hand passing after them into the light. It pulls back quickly, its eyes full of heart
wrenching, juvenile tears. The fingers of its left hand aged beyond the
rest of its body. Its cries begin anew. As ghastly as it seems, the child doesn’t
seem malevolent or demonic. In fact, as it looks back towards Bluejay,
it seems genuinely upset, unable to comprehend the actions of those around him. As it stares sorrowfully back at its newly
malformed fingers, it’s not much of a stretch to assume the transformations are as painful
to endure as they are disturbing. ROB: Stay in the light Bluejay. Keep movin’. Bluejay breaks away from behind Rob and sprints
towards the Wrangler. As soon as she begins to flee, the child lets
out a high pitched scream, and strikes the hood of Bluejay’s car. The impact of the blow is impossibly forceful. In less than an instant the chassis crumples
into a mass of jagged metal, the one remaining headlight disappears from view as the car
is launched off the path and rolls into the valley below. With Rob and Bluejay now returned to the darkness,
the child skitters quickly towards Bluejay, grabbing her foot as it lifts off the ground,
and yanking it backwards. With all her momentum immediately halted,
and one foot taken out from beneath her. Bluejay has nowhere to go but down. She slams into the earth, her chin bouncing
off a sharp rock. Bluejay looks up at us with stunned, pleading
eyes. Lilith and I have only a few seconds to meet
her gaze before she is dragged backwards along the ground. She screams in pain, her ankle caught in the
child’s iron grip. It doesn’t even break pace as it walks back
towards the woods, pulling Bluejay along like a ragdoll. Rob reaches out for her, snatching for Bluejay’s
hand as she writhes and thrashes against an unstoppable force. They connect, briefly, but Rob’s effort
to keep a hold of her is futile, dashed immediately as she is pulled effortlessly from his hands. Bluejay resorts to clawing at the ground,
dragging thick, dark soil and pulling loose rocks free from the dirt. Rob somberly unstraps his rifle, swinging
it around to his front. He reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket
and chambers a single bullet. Bluejay looks on as Rob raises the rifle to
his shoulder, and aims for the back of the oblivious child’s head. LILITH: Oh god. Lilith turns away from the window, cowering
away from the insanity outside the car. I can barely watch myself, as Rob places his
finger on the trigger. The shot never comes. Bluejay shrieks as the child reaches the treeline,
pulling her into the undergrowth. Robs hands are shaking, unable to do what
needs to be done. Cursing loudly at the air itself, Rob lets
the rifle fall to the ground. He stands immobile as Bluejay’s screams
continue to emanate through the trees. His expression has been worn by everyone on
the road. Like all of them he’s no longer present,
lost to a realm of hopelessness and bewilderment. But unlike many others, he doesn’t stay
that way for long. Unlike the rest of us, Rob Guthard manages
to bring himself back. ROB: Bristol! There’s a torch in the green bag. Get it now. I don’t have time to hesitate. I scour the contents of the Wrangler desperately,
Bluejay’s screams growing increasingly distant with every passing second. Locating a large green bag in the far corner,
I crawl across the Wrangler, unfasten the straps and spill its contents into the car. A heavy duty LED torch clangs against the
cabin floor and I snatch it up before it can roll away. Returning to Rob, I swing the back doors open
and jump out onto the dirt track, throwing the torch toward Rob’s outstretched hand. As soon as he catches it, Rob sprints out
into the forest, leaving me and Lilith behind. The events that unfold among the trees are
told to us in sound and light. After almost a minute of silence, the torch’s
rays burst through the trees. Bluejay’s distant screeching intensifies
as the child breaks into a gut wrenching cry. A large crash echoes through the night air,
the sound of bark cracking as the very trees shatter into splinters. The light dances chaotically, as Rob lets
out a cathartic, damaged roar. Suddenly, the child’s desolate wailing grows
more distant, retreating deep, deep into the woods. Then, suddenly, silence. LILITH: Bristol… what’s… what’s happening? AS: I don’t know. Stay in the car. We wait for what seems like an age, lost in
worry, before the gentle rustling of undergrowth calls our attention back to the treeline. A moment later, Rob emerges from the trees,
holding Bluejay’s arm around his shoulder LILITH: Oh thank god. Oh thank god. The pair stumble over to us, slowly and painfully. Bluejay walks with a limp, her ankle is already
horribly bruised. Rob sports a series of cuts across his face,
but seems otherwise unharmed. He calls back to us, utterly exhausted. ROB:… Nothin’ to it. An irrepressible smile grows across my face,
a pained grimace of sincere joy. I raise a hand to my mouth as tears of unbridled
relief start to roll down my cheeks. It’s a brief, fleeting moment in an otherwise
dark night, but for once we’ve managed to pass through the storm, battered and broken,
but at the very least, still together. Bluejay falls to the floor, slipping free
of Rob’s grip and unable to hold her own weight. Rob turns around to look for where she’s
fallen, and finds her crawling slowly towards the steep verge. ROB: Bluejay? Denise, you ok? Bluejay stops crawling, places her hands on
the ground and rises unsteadily. I suppose she can stand on her own after all. When she’s finally upright, she turns back
towards Rob, raising his rifle to her shoulder and fixing it on his torso. My smile vanishes. ROB: Denise. What are you… put it down. BLUEJAY: It was a child, Rob. It was a child it… what did you… LILITH: Oh my god Bristol what’s happening? AS: Stay in the car Lilith. ROB: Denise… you seen it just as much as
me. You saw what it did. BLUEJAY: It…it tore at my… it broke the
skin! How… why are you doing this?! ROB: Denise. Denise. You know what you saw, OK? You know this is real. We ain’t doin’ this to you. It’s happening… to all of us. It’s- Rob stares at Bluejay, then down to the rifle,
the sights boring into his chest. ROB: Ok ok. How about we turn the car around. Right now. I’ll turn us around and I’ll take you
back home and I’ll drop you off outside the tunnel… safe and sound. I just want to get you home safe… what do
ya say? Bluejay looks into the Rob’s eyes, the rifle
quivers in her hands. We all wait, scarcely taking a breath, for
Bluejay’s response. BLUEJAY: … I don’t believe you. The shot echoes around us. Rob falls to his knees. A look of surprise and disbelief carved into
his face. A plume of dark red blossoms around his shoulder. There’s no air in my lungs. My entire body is paralysed by the shock,
by the rank unfairness, the sheer impossibility of the scene before me. I still don’t understand how it could possibly
be happening. LILITH: OH MY GOD! Oh my god! No! Bluejay quickly paces up to Rob, snatches
a handful of ammunition from his breast pocket, and reloads the rifle with practiced efficiency. She’s stopped shaking, in fact, there’s
a calm conviction to her movements which convinces me, with shocking immediacy, that I might
be about to die. I dive back into the Wrangler, slamming the
door shut behind me. I find Lilith gripped by an immediate, immobilising
shell shock. AS: We need to go. Lilith? We need to go ok? LILITH: I don’t… I don’t understand. BLUEJAY: Get out of the car, both of you! I’ll kill him! I will kill him! LILITH: Do you think she’s going to kill
us too? AS: No. No… she was going to shoot Rob in the chest,
but she aimed away at the last minute. She’s just bargaining. LILITH: Bargaining? AS: She wants us out of the car. I think she’s going to take the Wrangler. LILITH: If she leaves us here we’ll die
anyway. AS: I know. LILITH: Well we… we can’t fight her…
one of us will… BLUEJAY: Get the fuck out of the car, both
of you! I want your hands where I can see them! AS: It’s ok. It’s ok. Here, take this. I reach down and grab the walkie talkie, pressing
it into Lilith’s hands. AS: It’s a short sprint to the tree line. We need to get round to the hood of the car,
then we get into the woods as soon as there’s an opening ok? LILITH: I… I can’t do this, Bristol. AS: I’m sorry Lilith. You’re going to have to. I gently open the driver’s side door, climbing
out and edging along the muddy verge, keeping low to avoid Bluejay’s line of sight. Lilith climbs out after me, closing the door
softly behind us. Without making a sound, conscious of every
rustling leaf that passes underfoot, I gesture for us to make out way around to the Wrangler’s
hood. Lilith goes first, staying below the windows,
working her way to the front of the car and passing around the corner. From the hood of the Wrangler, we’ll be
able to make a beeline to the trees. BLUEJAY: Don’t play fucking games with me! Before I can make my way around to join Lilith,
Bluejay’s impatience boils over. I can hear her footsteps on the rough ground
as she makes her way over to the Wrangler. The situation rapidly spiralling further from
my control, there’s only one thing I can do to stop her discovering the both of us. AS: We’re coming out! I raise my hands and stand up, making my way
to the back of the Wrangler. Bluejay stops walking, before she gets far
enough to notice Lilith. She turns to face me, raising the rifle to
her shoulder. A moment later, I hear Lilith burst out from
her hiding place, sprinting into the trees. Bluejay quickly realises what’s happened,
and with a yell of violent frustration, turns the rifle to face the treeline. Lilith has already disappeared into the dark
forest, out of range and out of sight. I choose not to attempt to rush Bluejay in
the midst of this distraction, and I’m right not to. Realising Lilith is lost to her, Bluejay quickly
spins back towards me and levels the rifle at my chest. BLUEJAY: I knew you were all in this together,
you fucking monsters! Her eyes are practically bulging from their
sockets, her entire face contorted in malicious, sickeningly righteous hatred. After all these days on the road, I’ve never
seen something quite like this. AS: You’re not well Bluejay. BLUEJAY: No. No. I’m just not willing to fall for your fucking
tricks! AS: How could this all be a trick Bluejay? How? Apollo, Eve, Bonnie. You saw what happened to them. It’s beyond our understanding, mine and
yours. BLUEJAY: There’s no such thing as fucking
magic. Only fools and FUCKING frauds. There it was. In one sentence, the trigger for Bluejay’s
creeping insanity. The inflexible belief that had broken her
mind against a maelstrom of contradiction. With every impossible event she had witnessed,
every brutal death that had unfolded in front of her, Bluejay’s unwavering skepticism
had barred her from blaming the supernatural, from blaming the road. Instead she had blamed us, a swiftly dwindling
pool of conspirators, whose crimes had swiftly spiralled from deception, to reckless endangerment,
to outright murder. As far as Bluejay was concerned, we were the
only monsters on this road. This wasn’t madness. It was self defense. AS: It doesn’t matter anymore. You can go home ok? But just… at least take Lilith with you. Please. She isn’t part of this. BLUEJAY: I’m not a fucking retard Alice. Don’t you think I’ve been watching? You are all complicit, and as far as I’m
concerned you can all fucking walk! AS: I’m sorry… I just don’t think I can let you do do this. She laughs, a sarcastic, ugly chuckle. Holding the rifle tight against her shoulder. BLUEJAY: I can’t see how that’s your decision. AS: Well… that’s always been your issue
hasn’t it Denise? You lack imagination. I step backwards, allowing gravity to carry
me over the threshold of the steep, dark slope. In the last few seconds before I topple into
the darkness, I clench the fingers of my left hand. When I’d been holding both my hands up,
my empty palms faced vertically towards her, Bluejay could have easily mistaken the band
around my finger for jewellery. As I fall backwards, Bluejay’s eyes fix
on my now closed fist, as she sees what’s attached to the other side of the ring. A bottle opener, a small LED torch, and the
ignition key to the Wrangler. I disappear over the edge, bracing myself
for what’s to come. With nothing else to do, I surrender myself
to the long fall, followed into the darkness by the enraged screams of Bluejay. Hi Guys, Apologies for the removal of this log a second
ago, not sure why that happened, and I should also apologise for the delay in posting recently. If I could dedicate all my time to finding
Alice, then I would. Sadly, I need to work as many Christmas shifts
as I can get my hands on, especially now I’ve decided that I can’t continue the investigation
effectively from my flat in North London. I’ve been thinking about it for a while
and I’ve decided that, after Christmas, I’m going to be flying out stateside to
follow up on the leads you guys have provided. Hopefully once I’m there I might be able
to make some real headway. In the meantime, please keep any and all insights
coming, however small. I really do read all of them. Ok, here’s the next log: The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 14/02/2017 In the brief interlude before I hit the ground,
I find myself alone with the stars. As I fall backward towards the slope, my gaze
rising to meet the night sky, I feel a sudden weightlessness take hold, as if I’m being
granted an audience with the heavens. The rich and endless firmament shines down
through the canopy, with no earthly light to dull its glow. Despite everything that’s happened, I’m
unable to ignore how magnificent it all is, how gracefully detached from the ugliness
below. Though the moment lasts no more than a second,
it feels longer, like I’ve been gifted some fleeting respite, a transient sliver of time
in which to appreciate the calm and quiet cosmos. A moment to escape, however briefly, from
the events that are to come. I don’t know how much longer the moment
might have lasted. I suppose I never will. It’s with a sense of genuine sadness that
I turn myself away, twisting my body around in mid-air. The stars disappear from view, and I am left
staring down the slope into the valley’s dark, uncompromising depths. My commune with the heavens has ended, and
I’m returned to the cold, unforgiving earth. It doesn’t welcome me back. I hit the slope, immediately bouncing off
one shoulder and landing on the other, barrelling forcefully and unstoppably downhill. My entire body is thrown into chaos, tossed
into a frenetic, uncontrollable dance, swept along by the rushing earth towards the impatient
valley floor. The back of my ankle flails against a hard,
jagged rock. My face rolls into a small bloom of stinging
nettles, their caustic leaves scraping against my cheek. I battle to bring order to my descent, my
hands grasping at the undergrowth, clawing through loose soil in a frenzied search for
stability. Rocks and dirt cascade around me as I pull
myself onto my back, finally managing to descend with my feet pointed downhill. I’ve regained control just in time, looking
ahead to see a large tree, bursting out of the hill a few metres below me. A split second before I would have collided
with the thick, knotted trunk, I throw myself to the side, my wrist ricocheting against
the bark and sending a shooting pain down my arm. The valley’s base comes into view, hurtling
towards me as I plummet through the rushing undergrowth. I can make out the bodies of the deer who
made this hazardous journey before me. I can hear the pained braying of the survivors,
moaning in hollow resignation as they struggle to stand on broken legs. A moment later, I join them. The slope doesn’t level out gradually. Just before the bottom, the sharp incline
I’ve been hopelessly traversing drops off into a sheer rock face. Before I can stop myself, I’m launched from
the slope, kicking dirt into the air. I spend the final three metres in freefall,
before landing on my hands and knees, my whole body subject to a complete, bone rattling
halt. My body tensed and aching, I pick myself up
off the valley floor. The second I stumble onto my feet, a harsh
beam of torchlight strikes the ground to my right. My muscles groaning, I jump back against the
natural rock wall as the light swings my way, sweeping directly over the spot where I just
landed. Bluejay is looking for me. I would have expected nothing less. The beam glides along the ground, scanning
the base of the slope, lighting up the twisted bodies of countless deer. Fortunately, the shadow cast by the rock wall
offers a measure of sanctuary, shielding me from the torch’s restless glare. About half a minute after it arrived, the
beam rises through the trees and cuts out. I don’t expect her to come after me. I certainly don’t expect her to drop down
the slope. Perhaps she could walk back down the road,
taking a gentler route downhill, and pursue me through the valley once it levels out,
but that walk would probably take half an hour each way. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to leave
the Wrangler unprotected for that long. Despite the fact that she’s showing no signs
of entering the valley, Bluejay is clearly eager to locate me. The torch suddenly illuminates the damp soil
ahead of me as she points it back down into the valley. I suspect she turned it off just long enough
for me to feel overlooked, allowing me to consider stepping out into the open. I also suspect that, should the torchlight
find me scrambling around on the valley floor, a bullet will quickly follow it, putting me
down to lie with the deer. From that point, all she’d need to do is
walk down and slip the Wrangler’s key from my cold, limp fingers. Catching my breath, my back pressed against
the rough rock wall, I run through my current priorities. I need to stabilise Rob, I need to lure Bluejay
away from the Wrangler, and, most pressingly, I need to contact Lilith. I reach to the back of my waistband, my hand
searching for my personal walkie talkie. My fingers touch denim, finding an empty space
where the transceiver should be. My stomach drops as I search along my back. It’s gone. I’d had it with me when I dropped onto the
slope, but at some point during my furious descent, it must have gotten away from me. The torchlight swings back around once more. Though it’s something I never thought I’d
have to do, I find myself making a mental inventory of the convoy’s radio transceivers. Before we set out on the road, Rob handed
a walkie talkie out to each of us. Since then, it’s safe to assume that those
belonging to Ace, Apollo, Eve, Bonnie and Clyde are no longer in play. Lilith must have lost hers when her car sank
into the ground, which is why I gave her Rob’s before she ran into the forest. That just left mine, which could be anywhere
on the hillside, and Bluejay’s. The torchlight disappears once more. I cautiously lean out from the shadows, scanning
the forest around me. Bluejay’s walkie talkie had been in her
car when the child pushed it from the road. If I’m correct, then her transceiver is
the only one left that I can use to contact Lilith. The car itself doesn’t seem to be anywhere
around me, but as I turn my head and scan the dark hillside, I can see it resting on
the slope. The entire car has been stopped mid-fall,
resting precariously on its side, the vehicle’s crooked undercarriage crumpled around the
trunk of an old and battered tree. If I’m going to get in touch with Lilith,
I’m going to have to climb up there. I edge along the rock until Bluejay’s car
is almost directly uphill from me. Turning around, and running my hands against
the damp, shrouded wall, I’m able to discern a few passable handholds. Placing my fingers into a large groove above
my head, I jam my boot onto a small outcrop just above the wall and push myself upwards. It isn’t an easy climb. My hands are cold, my arms are tired and I’m
certainly not wearing the right shoes. My boots repeatedly slip from their holds,
causing my arms to throb as they’re forced to bear my weight. After painstakingly scraping up the first
two metres, I run out of places to put my hands, my outstretched fingers falling roughly
10 inches short of the top. I take a quick breather, letting both arms
straighten as I lean back and observe the wall above me. As the torch sweeps past overhead once more,
it illuminates a small twisted root on the very edge of the cliff. I have no idea if I can reach it, and there’s
every chance it will give way immediately, causing me to topple helplessly back to the
earth. However, I can already feel my grip weakening,
a noticeable ache running up my forearms. I’m not going to be able to stay where I
am much longer, and I suspect I won’t have the energy to make it this far again. Edging my feet up, scrabbling the side of
my boot against the wall until it sticks in place. I bend my legs slightly, poising myself to
make the jump. Gritting my teeth, and with a sharp, tentative
intake of breath, I swing myself up into the air and let go of the wall. I feel grossly vulnerable, hanging in the
air with nothing but a harsh fall below me and a harrowing climb waiting above. I throw my arms forward as I hit the peak
of my jump and just manage to catch the root with both hands. A heavy jolt wrenches my shoulders, threatening
to yank me back to the ground. Fear and adrenaline alone sustain my desperate
grip, my arms on fire as I swing my leg up to the ledge, hooking my heel over the top
after a few clumsy attempts. I force myself over the edge and onto the
soft soil, just in time for the torchlight to start circling back towards me. With one final surge of effort, I push my
aching body upright and struggle over to the nearest tree, falling at its base and pressing
myself against the bark. The light travels quickly. The tree’s darkening shadow swings over
from the right, covering me, and then fading again as it stretches out to my left. The light leaves me in darkness, certain to
return soon as Bluejay continues her frenzied surveillance. It’s started to rain a little. A few sporadic droplets fall through the sparse
canopy and land on my outstretched palm. It doesn’t take long before these scouts
are reinforced by a steady downpour, drumming against the leaves and grass, soaking through
the loam. The already punishing incline is going to
prove completely unclimbable if the rain has enough time to slicken the grass and pound
the soil into mud. I also doubt I’ll be able to make the initial
climb again, especially if the rock wall becomes coated in a layer of cold rain. As much as I have to move quickly up to the
car, I also need to move carefully. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this
will be my only attempt at reaching the radio. The vehicle is only a short climb away. I can see its undercarriage laying against
the tree, the entire left side of the vehicle pressed into the ground. Only now I’m nearby do I hear the ominous
creaking sound that emanates from the car, as it rocks almost imperceptibly around a
thin focal point. I wait for the torchlight to swing past me
once more before pulling myself out from the shadow of the tree. My dirt covered hands grasping at any conceivable
purchase, I crawl up the bank towards Bluejay’s vehicle. My feet slip on the grass with every other
step as the rain seeps into the ground, soaking through my fleece. I’m completely exposed as I make my way
on towards the car. Though it remains a constant concern, the
torch seems to be exploring another section of the hill as I arrive beneath the chassis,
the undercarriage looming imposingly over me. I briefly glance up to check on Bluejay’s
movements then, slowly, steadying myself against the incredible incline, I climb out into the
open once more and pull myself up until I’m in line with the warped, twisted hood. Bluejay’s transceiver is still fastened
within its dock. Despite the car’s battered condition, the
windshield is frustratingly intact, with nothing more than a small jagged, irregular hole near
its centre. It will take a bit of manoeuvring, but it
should be just big enough to reach through and pull the radio free. Slowly, and tentatively, I thread my arm through
the centre of the opening, shards of serrated glass encircling my skin. My hand reaches the dashboard, slowly brushing
along its surface towards the walkie talkie as I lean into the car. The torchlight starts to swing back across
the hill. Bluejay is walking along the ledge in a frantic
mission to find me. In my current position, out in the open and
trapped in a slow and delicate procedure, there’s no way I can get out of the way
in time. My hand grasps the transceiver as the light
reaches me. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, for a brief
moment, drowned in the revealing glare of the torch’s beam, I’m stunned into inaction. The light has stopped moving, fixed directly
on me, casting my stark shadow down into the valley. I can imagine Bluejay’s triumphant glare
as her desperate search is finally rewarded. Returning to my senses all too late, I grit
my teeth, and wrench the walkie talkie from its dock. With no time for grace or care, I retract
my arm from the windshield, inhaling sharply as an aberrant shard of glass scrapes across
the back of my hand. It turns out I have greater things to worry
about, as I hear a loud bang from up the top of the hill, followed instantaneously by a
disgusting zipping sound that flashes past my ear. I flinch instinctively from the noise, my
sudden reaction causing my boots to give way beneath me. I slam into the earth and career down the
hill. What little control I have over the slope,
I give away in a desperate bid to roll into the car’s shadow and out of the light. I don’t have time to right myself as I’m
dragged chaotically down towards the valley, and cast over the edge once more. The base of the valley flashes into view mere
seconds before my body slams into it. The air is ripped out of my lungs, my pained
cry forming a visible plume of steam that dissipates into the cold night air. I lay on my side, cradling the walkie talkie
in my hands. At the very least, I’d managed to keep a
hold of it. The torch dances erratically around my position. I pick myself up and drag my body the last
few metres, collapsing against the wall as torch beam lights up the ground in front of
me. As I raise the radio, I realise my hands are
violently shaking. I don’t think I’ve ever been as close
to death as when that bullet passed by me, and although the noise itself died quickly,
it’s horrific implications echo in my skull. Bluejay shot Rob as a bargaining chip, to
drag us out of the Wrangler. It was a show of force. A power play. The bullet that she just fired in my direction
had no nuance, no pretence, no objective other than its primary function. Bluejay’s prepared to kill me, which means
she’s prepared to kill any of us. I raise the transceiver, and switch through
the channels until I find Rob’s frequency. AS: This is Bristol to Lilith. Bristol to Lilith. Do you copy? The radio crackles as I release the button. I wait twenty interminable seconds for Lilith
to respond. She doesn’t. AS: This is Bristol to Lilith, can you hear
me? This time I let a minute pass. Still nothing. Everything I’ve been struggling for since
I jumped into the valley has come up against a wall of silence. I feel a swell of frustration inside me. It isn’t fair. AS: Jen? Jen… are you there? Another minute goes by. I sit in silence the whole time, watching
as the radio I risked my life to collect transforms into a useless hunk of plastic. After a while I loosen my grip and let it
drop into the wet soil. I bring my legs up to my body, wrap my arms
around them, and rest my head against my knees. In a moment of rest, my breathing becomes
shallow. A set of fresh tears well up behind my eyes,
spilling out down my face. The rain falls around me as I quietly cry,
sitting in the middle of a dark forest, muddied, injured, and alone. I’m ripped out of my melancholy as the rain
is blasted in every conceivable direction, whipping against my face, and splattering
against the rock with incredible force. The air is whipped into a furious maelstrom,
and a familiar, booming sound crashes through the ether. VOICE: I’ve watched you struggle. As soon as it arrives the voice is gone. The wind quiets down and the rain begins to
drop vertically once again. AS: Hello?! Hello?! Who is that? The air is still, absent of everything but
the rain. I wipe the tears from my face as I call out
to the air. AS: Can you help me? Please can you… just… The voice has disappeared, and I suspect I
won’t be hearing it again any time soon. Perhaps it just wants me to know that it’s
watching. One thing is certain, if the voice is attempting
to bring me comfort, or make me feel less alone, then its methods are horribly misguided. LILITH (VO): Alice are you there? My eyes fixate on the crackling radio. LILITH (VO): Alice are you still there? I’m sorry I couldn’t… AS: Jen! Jen, are you ok? Are you safe? LILITH (VO): Yeah I’m ok, I thought you
were… what happened to you? AS: I uh… I jumped down the hill, got Bluejay’s walkie,
she shot at me… how’ve you been? LILITH (V.O): She’s gone fucking crazy. I made it to a clearing in the woods. It’s straight on from the car, or at least
I hope it is. I still haven’t seen that… that thing
anywhere. AS: Well, it’s a big forest. Maybe it’s gone. Can you stay near the clearing? LILITH (V.O): Yeah I can keep hidden nearby. What are you gonna do? AS: I’m going to make my way to you and
we’re going to get Bluejay away from the Wrangler. LILITH (V.O): How? AS: I’m still working on that. I’m about half an hour away. Keep your volume down but stay in touch alright? LILITH (V.O): Yeah. Ok… ok will do. I’m glad you’re alright Alice. AS: Yeah, you too Jen. I fasten the radio to my waistband. My body still aches from the fall, blood dripping
slowly from my hand, and my fingers are almost numb from the cold. Yet hearing Lilith’s voice on the other
end of the radio has brought back something I lost in the valley. A sense of resolve that jumpstarts my tired
muscles, pushes me to my feet and sets me off to rejoin road. I’m still stuck in the middle of a dark
forest, I’m still muddied, bloodied, and injured, but I’m no longer alone. It isn’t long before my boots hit asphalt. I follow the road, sticking to the tree line
as I work my way back up the hill. I’m reluctant to place myself within sight
of the Wrangler, where Bluejay will almost certainly be camped out and waiting. Unfortunately, it’s the only point of reference
in an otherwise unknowable forest, the only location from where Lilith’s location can
be divined. Once the road levels out, I take the precaution
of heading deeper into the trees. The road is almost impossible to see now,
but I’ll need the cover if Bluejay is still on the lookout. Even though I’m only a few metres deep,
the woods fill me with a palpable sense of unease. Every shadow feels predatory, every twig that
snaps under my foot sounds like the crack of a whip. When the Wrangler comes into view, Bluejay’s
nowhere to be seen. Curiosity getting the better of me, I creep
closer to the road, observing the scene as the trees thin out. The place is deserted, with neither Bluejay
or Rob anywhere to be seen. I have no idea what could have forced her
to move him. Perhaps he managed to get away. Something feels wrong. Creeping up to the Wrangler, I find the passenger
side window broken, a thousand splinters of glass spilled across the ground, trodden into
the mud. The glovebox has been left open, the boxes
of ammunition either emptied or removed. The next thing I notice makes my blood run
cold, and forces me to curse my own stupidity. The light on the CB radio is on. When I’d reached the bottom of the hill. I’d correctly calculated the number of active
radios, arriving at the conclusion that only me and Lilith would be able to communicate. Technically I’d been right, we were the
only two who could talk, but that didn’t mean we were the only ones who could listen. I’d forgotten that the CB radio in Rob’s
car had its own independent battery, and in-built speakers. Most importantly, he’d been using it throughout
the trip to broadcast and receive across all our frequencies. I switch the frequency of the walkie to a
random channel, lift the receiver to my mouth and hold the talk button. AS: Bristol to all cars. My voice crackles out of the CB radio. Bluejay must have known I was going to contact
Lilith, and she’d broken into the Wrangler to spy on the conversation. I can’t believe I didn’t think about it
before now. I switch the radio back to Lilith’s frequency. AS: Lilith you need to get moving. Bluejay heard us. She’s not listening now but she knows I’m
meeting you near the clearing. Get yourself back here ok? Lilith can you hear me? BLUEJAY (V.O): Bring me my fucking key Alice. My heart sinks. Now it makes sense why Bluejay wasn’t guarding
the Wrangler. She’d eavesdropped onto my conversation
and, instead of waiting for me to get back up the hill, she’d gone after Lilith. Despite all my efforts, all my good intentions,
I led Bluejay right to her. AS: Bluejay, where’s Lilith? BLUEJAY (V.O): She’s here. I hear a refrain of quiet sobbing in the background
of the call, I can hear Lilith meekly calling my name. AS: Ok… ok let me speak to her. BLUEJAY (V.O): Hah what?! No no. No you’re not going to trick me again, Alice. You don’t get to confer. You get to bring me the key to my fucking
car, and then you get to walk yourselves back home. Now what about that do you need to fucking
discuss? AS: Bluejay this is ins… we’re not your
enemy Denise ok? Please… please you have to believe me- BLUEJAY: You think I’ll ever believe a fucking
word you say?! Bring me my fucking keys and if you pull ANY
more tricks I will put a bullet in your fucking skull. Now, do you believe that? She waits patiently for my answer. I suddenly feel like we’ve entered an entirely
new realm. Bluejay has the upper hand, and under the
threat of fierce, unthinkable consequence we’ve become the subjects of her domain. Reason, diplomacy, and sanity no longer hold
sway over proceedings. As long as she has Lilith remains at the end
of that rifle, I’m beholden to her madness. AS: Fine. Ok. I’m on my way. BLUEJAY (V.O): Good. You need to remember Alice, I didn’t want
any of this. You brought ME here. Bluejay lets go of the button, returning me
to a familiar silence. If I keep the keys from her, Lilith will be
at her mercy, and although Bluejay can’t really afford to kill her bargaining chip,
I have no doubt she’ll be willing to hurt her as much as she needs in order to force
my compliance. If I let her take the Wrangler, however, we’re
both dead anyway. I take a moment to think through my options. It doesn’t take long. There aren’t that many left. My journey through the forest is uncomfortable,
and rings with an unsettling finality. Like a guilty child heading towards an unavoidable
reckoning, I’m overcome by a pervasive dread which builds with every shuffling step. I do my best to keep the Wrangler behind me,
carving a straight line through the woods. All in all, it takes less than five minues
before the clearing opens up ahead of me. Bluejay is planted in the very centre of a
large glade, leaving too much exposed ground in every direction for me to even contemplate
an ambush. Rob’s torch lies at her feet, as she keeps
both her hands firmly wrapped around the rifle. Lilith kneels beside her, the barrel of the
gun placed against her temple, her tearstained face contorted by a mixture of despair and
vitriolic anger. Her hands rest against her lap, her wrists
bound by same brand of cable ties I’d used to restrain Bonnie. I can imagine Bluejay bristled with poetic
justice when she ordered Lilith to fasten the band around her wrists. They both see me as soon as I step out of
the trees. BLUEJAY: You’re late. AS: I got turned around. Lilith are you ok? BLUEJAY: Stop walking. Stop walking! Bluejay grips the rifle more tightly, sending
me an unignorable message. She’s keeping me at a good distance. She knows it takes her a second or two to
reload the rifle, and she wants me far enough back to allow time for at least two consecutive
shots. Everything she does, every action she takes,
demonstrates that she’s preparing to act swiftly against us, should anything untoward
take place. AS: Lilith, are you ok? LILITH: I’m… I’m ok. I’m ok. BLUEJAY: Hand over the keys, Alice. AS: Bluejay, take her back with you. Please. You don’t have to let her… you can drop
her off at a police station as soon as you’re home. But just… take her home. BLUEJAY: Hand me the fucking keys. AS:… Fine. I have them in my bag let me- BLUEJAY: Hey HEY! What are you doing. Bluejay snaps at me as I reach into my bag,
pointedly jabbing the rifle against Lilith. Lilith cries with distress as the barrel repeatedly
prods her temple. I take my hand out of my bag, and slip it
slowly from my shoulder. Every move I make is being considered a potential
act of subterfuge. AS: Fine. Fine. Here. I swing my bag in a slow arc and throw it
over to Bluejay, it lands in the wet dirt about a meter in front of her. BLUEJAY: That’s better. Bluejay steps forward, momentarily letting
the gun’s barrel slip from Lilith temple. She quickly bends down and places the bag
over her shoulder, reaching in, extracting the key to the Wrangler and placing it in
her jacket pocket. In the fleeting seconds of distraction, I
watch Lilith raise her hands high above her head and swing her elbows down to her sides
in a single fluid motion. The zip tie snaps open, and without wasting
a second Lilith launches herself at Bluejay, grabbing her waist from behind and trying
to force her to the ground. Shocked at the suddenness of it all, but aware
that this may be our only chance, I find myself sprinting across the clearing towards the
pair of them. Bluejay is taken by surprise following Lilith’s
assault, but she adapts to the situation quickly. Planting one foot in front to brace her sudden
momentum, she stops herself from being brought down. At the same time, she swings the stock of
the rifle down to her side, where it meets Lilith’s face with a sickening crack. BLUEJAY: You fucking bitch! Lilith is knocked onto her back, dazed and
hurt. Without hesitation, Bluejay swings the rifle
down and fires a shot into the girl’s stomach. I find myself trapped in the moment, as if
reality itself is stunned by the madness taking place before it, unsure how it will continue
on. The sound of the shot thunders through my
consciousness, yet at the same time seems distant, otherworldly. I can’t bring myself to speak, my lips uselessly
parted as Lilith’s fitful cries resound, uninterrupted, throughout the clearing. AS: What have you done… what have you- Bluejay is backing quickly away from Lilith,
putting space between the two of us while she struggles to reload. She was right to keep me at a distance early
on, she’s given herself more than enough time to drive a second bullet into the chamber,
and click the bolt into position. BLUEJAY: No more tricks Alice. Before I know it, I’ve broken into a final,
desperate sprint, casting wet mud behind me as I dash towards the shelter of the treeline. I can imagine Bluejay levelling the rifle,
lowering her eye to the sights. Another shot echoes through the cold air,
flying wide and perishing with a distant thud. As I reach the edge of the clearing, I throw
myself behind the thick trunk of the nearest tree. My back presses against the rough bark, as
I listen for any movement behind me. Twigs snap beneath Bluejay’s feet as she
advances towards me. BLUEJAY: You did this to yourselves! You did this with your lies and your tricks
and your fucking games. Well I’m not FUCKING playing any more! A shot grazes the tree, ricocheting off into
the woods, I can hear her beginning to strafe around my position, poised and ready to fire
as soon as she gets an angle. BLUEJAY: You kept lying right until the end. Everything you’ve done, everything you are,
you fucking monster! I will put a bullet in your skull and I won’t
feel a fucking thing!! From the moment she’d first opened her mouth,
spilling her bitter, dogmatic cynicism into our group, I’d been waiting for Bluejay
to realise she was wrong. Every so often, in a quiet moment, I’d catch
myself fantasizing about the stark and esoteric phenomenon that would stop her tongue and
force her to accept the truth. I realise now there was never going to be
such a moment, that nothing lies beyond her powers of self-delusion. She was lost to us, lost to the road; a twisted
woman, driven mad by her own rationality. My hand slips into my pocket. AS: You know what Bluejay. I believe you. The next thing I hear is a faint, nostalgic
ring tone, a sudden, deafening bang. In the brief time I was afforded, following
my tense call with Bluejay, I had taken one of Rob’s knives to the block of C4, cutting
away almost everything around the blasting cap. The block was less than a pound in weight
when I’d slipped it into a compartment of my satchel and buttoned it up. When Bluejay had asked for the key, I’d
made sure to reach into my bag enthusiastically, I had a feeling she’d see my eagerness as
a potential trap, allowing me a chance to throw her the satchel. She didn’t trust anything I did, and it
had made her predictable. I step out from behind the tree and look towards
Bluejay, lying broken on the forest ground, a large section of her abdomen removed by
the blast, her arm, shoulder, and upper thigh virtually non-existent. She struggles to breathe as blood fills her
air way. BLUEJAY: I was ri… I was- I turn away from her, and run towards Lilith. I drop to my knees beside her, grasping one
of her hands. She grips my fingers weakly, her eyes are
starting to drift shut, opening again for briefer and briefer intervals. AS: Hey Jen… LILITH: H… Hey Alice. She speaks softly, her words hardly making
it through the intense ringing in my ears. AS: Try to stay awake Jen. You’re going to be alright ok? We’ll stop the bleeding and we’ll get
you patched up… back at the Wrangler. We’ve got Roswell… in the spring. Once you’re better we’ll go there together
ok? Jen? Jen… When she manages to open her eyes once more,
the look she gives me is kind, and heartbreakingly knowing. I can’t help but think back to our time
on the cliffside, overlooking the vast ocean of fields. She’d asked how many people had died being
told comforting lies. She asked how many of them knew. I can’t speak for anyone else, but as she
stares up at me, hushing me with a look, I can tell that she does. LILITH: I wish we could have been friends
for longer. I can’t bring myself to speak, every word
seems too small, too insubstantial, too wholly insignificant to be the last thing she might
hear. All I can do is stare into Lilith’s eyes
as her faltering breath rises in clouds of pale steam, clouds that grow slowly thinner,
and thinner, until nothing rises at all. I lay her hand on the ground, and let her
fingers slip gently from my grasp. My legs carry me over to Bluejay. My hand reaches into her pocket and lifts
out the key to the Wrangler. The metal is irreparably bent, with no hope
of fitting back into the ignition. This was the potential outcome which had rendered
the C4 as a last resort, only to be used if my life was in imminent danger. It had done its job, I was alive, but I was
also stuck in this forest. I can’t bring myself to care about that
right now. My mind is numb to the concept of future suffering,
with no space left to contemplate tomorrow’s potential trials. The horrors of the present are hard enough
to face, my mind eclipsed by more darkness than I can process. The only glimmering shred of solace I can
muster, comes from the wishful belief that I’ve now seen all the terrors this night
has to offer. As I turn towards the Wrangler, I find myself
proven wrong once again. I stand stock still as the child’s crooked
form staggers out from the treeline. It looks markedly different, now a patchwork
malformation of adolescence, adulthood, and old age. The face however, is still juvenile and filled
with an innocent sorrow as it lurches towards Bluejay on uneven feet. It doesn’t seem to have noticed me. I back away from Bluejay and step slowly towards
Lilith, where Rob’s LED torch still lays on ground. The child reaches Bluejay, observing her silent,
mangled frame. Through my dampened hearing I can just make
out a heartbroken whine. I continue to back away as it lifts Bluejay’s
limp arm, shaking it wildly as if attempting to imbue it with some semblance of animation. Frustrated tears dripping freely from its
chin, the child throws Bluejay’s wrist back down against the ground. As it looks away from her broken body, and
turns its face to me, I watch as the soft innocent features contract into a scowl of
juvenile rage, signifying the inceptive throes of a tantrum that could eviscerate anything
in its path. In the last few seconds of calm, I feel my
boot brush up against the torch. Bending slowly, keeping my eyes on the child
for as long as I can, I reach down with my right hand and lift it from the ground. My hopes that I wouldn’t have to use it are
dashed instantly. The child drops onto its hands and legs, letting
out a tortured, furious scream, and races towards me with staggering velocity. I dodge out of the way at the last possible
moment, hitting the soft dirt as the child skitters to a stop behind me. In the time it takes to turn itself around,
I’ve already switched on the torch. Once again, the child is hit by a powerful
beam of light. It’s body lurches and spasms, its skin pulling
and stretching over elongated bones. Crying out in pain, its voice deepening with
every passing second, the disjointed figure dashes in my direction, clasping my right
arm in its hands and slamming me down onto the ground. The torch swings wildly as the creature climbs
on top of me, tearing the fabric from my right sleeve, digging its nails into the skin just
above my elbow. It doesn’t stop at the skin. I feel the hot, electric agony of scraped
nerve endings, hear the sickening snap of breaking bone. Before I lose my chance forever, I throw the
torch weakly from my right hand, and catch it in my left, pressing the beam directly
into the child’s face. It screams a scream of decades. The child’s eyes roll back into its head,
overpowered by the brutal onslaught the light has wrought. I look on as its face melts and flickers through
adolescence, through adulthood and middle age. The tortured scream grows hoarse and weak
as its skin wrinkles and sags, rushing beyond human years into an untouched realm of decrepitude. Eventually its eyes glaze over, and its once
powerful scream becomes nothing more than a grating rattle. I let the pitiful, lifeless creature fall
to the ground beside me as I roll myself onto my knees. I stumble along the ground towards Bluejay,
falling repeatedly, a stream of red soaking into the soil behind me. Once I reach her, I use my left hand to unfasten
the rifle’s leather shoulder strap. I clumsily form the strap into a loop, passing
it beneath my right shoulder. My head feels light, struggling to maintain
focus. I grab a stick from the ground and place it
through the knot of the loop, using my teeth to draw the knot securely closed around it. My left hand twists the stick over and over
again, each turn tightening the leather strap until it bites into my skin. The bleeding lessens, but not nearly enough. Picking up my tired frame, barely able to
keep myself upright, I place one foot painstakingly in front of the other, struggling over the
damp ground, out of the clearing, and into the trees. I need to get back to the Wrangler. I can feel everything starting to fade, even
the ringing in my ears is dulled, my vision blurry. I lock the stick under my armpit, freeing
up my left hand to brace me as I start to stumble against the trees. The more I lose of my faculties, the less
capable I am of perceiving their decline, but I know they’re slipping away all too
quickly. As I struggle further through the woods, a
figure steps out from the trees, stopping me in my tracks. I sway on my feet, as I try to identify what
I’m seeing, the very act of standing now requiring constant, dogged attention. I have never seen the figure before. It seems to be composed of a constantly shifting
maelstrom of crackling monochromatic sparks. An electric cloud of black, white, and grey,
formed into a humanoid shape. As soon as it sees me, the humanoid creature
falls backwards, scrabbling away from me across the ground, more terrified of me than I am
of him. I don’t know if the entity is malignant
or benign, but in my current state, my mind softly screaming against the dying light,
I can’t make the distinction. As it backs up against a mound of earth, I
try to ask it for help. The requisite words have already been lost
to the advancing fog, and all I can do is reach out my hand towards him. Attempting to entreat some spark of humanity
within the fizzling, shifting figure. In response to my vague plea, the entity scampers
off into the forest, tripping over itself before disappearing from view. As I watch it leave, a single dim beacon ignites
in the far corners of my swiftly vanishing mind. A single light, whose implications kick-start
my fading reason, and force me on through the forest. I can see the Wrangler through the trees. It’s close by, yet at the same time, impossibly
far away. There’s something wrong with my eyes. The car shifts in and out of focus, but every
time it comes back in view the image is less sharp, until it exists as a pulsing dark green
blur against a dull, slowly swaying backdrop. My boot’s kick up against one another, a
final stumble that brings me down to earth. When I try to get up again, I find that I’m
completely unable. There’s no strength left in my body, and
no amount of resolve can raise me back to my feet. Though it may be my imagination, I think I
can hear a steady rustling through the undergrowth, as if something were making its way towards
me. Soon after my senses start to die away, leaving
me with nothing more than the cold and the silence for company. The dim light shines until the end however,
the single strand of revelation, a solitary thought that I attempt to hold aloft from
the all-consuming fog. It’s a memory, a vague recollection from
my first interview with Rob J. Guthard. It was the day we met. The day he told me about his long and meandering
life, Japan, Hiroji, Aokigahara, and the strange phenomenon he saw which sparked his obsession
with the supernatural. The singular event that started him down the
road to the Left/Right Game, that led this excursion… the moment that brought us here. ROB (V.O): It walked up to me through the
trees. Looked like static you see on a TV screen
but it had a human shape almost. AS (V.O): Almost? ROB (V.O): It was missing an arm. Sorry I’ve not been in touch guys. It’s been a busy month. However, I’m pleased to announce that, as
of yesterday night, I’ve finally touched down in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m posting this log from my first American
hotel room, which offers a gorgeous view of both the state hospital and a local prison. Auspicious times. Drop me a line if you’re in the city or
if you have any information at all. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 15/02/2017 As the darkness closes in, I find myself dragged
deeper and deeper into the depths of my own subconscious, until I sink through the back
of my mind into an indescribable place. A featureless, directionless, timeless void
that exists at the weakest point of life. I can feel myself drifting away, surrendered
to an almost imperceptible tide, carried slowly but inexorably from the world. The rest of the night unfolds in fleeting
snapshots. I briefly feel my body lift up from the ground,
gravity pulling at my limbs as I’m conveyed through the forest. An unknowable stretch of time later, I feel
a distinct burning sensation to my right. In the world I currently inhabit, only an
echo of the pain reaches me, but I can tell that it was once substantial. Unable to divine its purpose, I let the sensation
fade away, before descending once more into the placid darkness. When my eyes finally work themselves open,
the sun is beginning to rise. Without an ounce of strength left in my body,
all I can do is peer through my eyelashes, taking in the vague scene before me. I’m in the back of the Wrangler, propped
up against a soft pillar of luggage. There’s somebody kneeling beside me, tugging
at my right shoulder. When I try to address them, I discover that
my voice has withered to a spectral whisper, so frail that it hardly exists at all. AS: … Rob… Hearing my voice, the figure shuffles round
and kneels before me, staring into my eyes as they slowly regain their focus. ROB: You just lay back Miss Sharma, I just
finished patchin’ you up but I gotta make sure it’s good work. AS: Wh… what happened to you? ROB: Denise had me at gunpoint, had to act
like I was all but dead. When she into the forest, I got free, took
the med kit into the trees, fixed myself up a little. I was comin’ to help when I heard this awful
noise. Went to check it out… that’s when I found
you. AS:… Is the engine running? ROB: Wanted to warm up the place for you. You were in shock, and since the battery don’t
run down anymore I thought- AS: No I mean… how? The key, it got- ROB: You think I’d risk gettin’ out this
far with only one copy of my car key? Rob seems almost insulted, and thinking back
to everything I’ve learned about him over the course of this trip, I can see why he
might be. Even in my weakened state I can’t help but
laugh; though it admittedly comes out as stilted wheezing, diffusing quietly into the air. AS: No that’s… that’s actually very
“you”. I think Bluejay would’ve appreciated that
information last night. ROB: Yeah well, she didn’t ask. AS: … I’m glad you made it Rob. ROB: Glad you made it too. They build’em tough down in London. I rest my head back against the luggage. AS: I’m from Bristol. ROB: Of course… yeah of course that’s…
sorry… Rob tries to recover his smile, but it slips
quickly from his grasp. In its absence, his features cringe into sudden,
uncontrollable sadness. ROB: Miss Sharma I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Rob Guthard’s weathered face bursts into
a heaving mess of tears. He repeats those two words as he lumbers towards
me, throwing his arms around my waist and resting his head on my left shoulder. My hand feels like lead as I raise it up and
brush it against his hair, holding him against me. As the man continues to sob, I let my head
roll slowly to the right, observing the damage to my arm. Last night, lost in the muddled throes of
shock, the harm had been unquantifiable, the details drowned out by the encompassing haze
of severe blood loss and a blaring, primal alarm which had forced me to move without
questioning why. Now that I’m on the other side, bathed in
the quiet warmth of the Wrangler, I’m able to fully assess the extent of my injury. Everything below my right elbow is gone. It feels almost like a dream. My upper arm is practically unblemished, save
for a few dark bruises from last night’s fall, yet it descends an impossibly short
distance before ending in a blunt, surreal stump. The wound itself is hidden from view, swaddled
in fresh white bandages. I can’t seem to figure out how I should
feel and, consequently, I don’t seem to feel anything. AS: It’s ok Rob. It’s ok. ROB: I never… I never meant for any of this to- AS: I know… I know. Rob pulls back, his eyes still watering. ROB: I’ll take you home, ok? I’ll find somewhere to turn around and we’ll
get you home. I can tell Rob’s offer is genuine, and to
be honest I’m a little surprised. I still remember our verbal agreement, forged
at the mouth of the tunnel; that he would not be turning his car around until he reached
the road’s end. I never expected he’d be the one to renege
on the deal. I’m aware this could be my best chance to
leave it all behind; to flee from the horrors of the road, before they take even more of
me. I know the way back. I know that it leads to safety, to family,
to blessed normality. However, as an insidious voice in the back
of my mind quietly notes, it doesn’t lead to answers. AS:… I’m still game if you are. Rob sends me a heartbroken smile, which I
would return if I had the strength. In that moment, a sombre understanding develops
between us. An understanding that after everything we’ve
seen, everything that’s happened, we’re both still choosing the secrets of the road. The decision reveals something about us, exposing
a driving force behind our actions that negates our concern for survival, and overshadows
the imagined protests of our loved ones. It’s a decision only two broken people would
make. Rob spends the morning packing up the Wrangler,
giving me time to rest. The fact that he’s walking around at all
is remarkable, let alone conducting his usual routine at his usual pace. As I begin to feel life crawl slowly back
into my veins, I wonder whether the strange force that has sustained us both, as well
as the Wrangler’s fuel tank, could also have a mild restorative effect. The notion should bring me comfort; instead
it makes me feel like a lobster in a tank. A few hours later, Rob carries me out of the
car, letting me rest in the doorframe. In front of me lie three mounds of dirt, raised
slightly from the surrounding earth. Two are headed by crosses, formed from knotted
sticks bound tightly together. The grave on the far left lies bare, bereft
of any religious affiliation. AS: Is that… Bluejay’s? Without the cross? ROB: Didn’t think she’d want one. AS: She wouldn’t have done that for you,
you know. ROB: Good thing I ain’t her then. I buried what I can, but that was some state
she was in. Did the child kill her? Rob goes to throw a foldable spade into the
back of the car. For a brief moment, I consider letting his
statement go unanswered. AS: No, it didn’t… I did. Rob immediately marches back round, his brow
furrowed in confusion. AS: I hid a C4 charge in my satchel. When she took the bag I… well… I gesture to the bare grave. Rob looks as if he’s seeing me for the first
time. ROB: Where did you- AS: From your son’s car. I watch as my quiet assertion strikes Rob’s
ears, as its meaning burrows through his consciousness, its implications contorting his features into
a look of shame and damning revelation. I can tell from his reaction that I’ve got
it right. We haven’t had a chance to speak since I
learned his son’s name. That piece of information formed the crucial
thread, stringing together the strange and seemingly incongruent discoveries I’d encountered
on the road. Earlier in the week I may have been worried
to confront him with this information, but things are different now. We’ve come too far, we’ve been through
too much and, if he’s truly ferrying me somewhere with malicious intent, I’m powerless
to stop him anyway. I raise a weak hand towards him; a quiet request
for assistance. AS: I think it’s time we had a second interview. Following a tense and guilty silence, Rob
simply nods and helps me into the passenger seat. ROB: It wasn’t military. It was commercial. The Wrangler continues to crawl through the
forest. I’ve stayed quiet for almost half an hour,
letting Rob formulate a response in his own words, and in his own time. AS: Commercial? ROB: Yeah, explosive charges for controlled
demolition. Bobby was in the business, had his own firm. AS: You must’ve been proud. ROB: Yeah… yeah he built that place up from
nothin’. Tourin’ his office was one of the best days
of my life. AS: So… how did he end up out here? Rob grows quiet, reluctantly accepting that
he’ll have to start from the beginning. ROB: … Bobby was a smart kid… smarter
than I ever was. He coulda run the farm at 15 but, country
life didn’t take. Instead he moved away to Phoenix, picked up
a college degree, got himself a steady career. AS: A steady career? That’s pretty rebellious for a Guthard. ROB: Hah… well we were pretty different
people… didn’t always get along. I was still a courier in those days, always
jettin’ off somewhere new. ‘Course I went to Japan, stayed there a
while. Then… AS: Aokigahara. ROB: That’s right. Changed everythin’. Came home after five years with a new hobby. Bobby didn’t care for the stories but…
his ma had died sudden while I was away; we both wanted to start over, be in each other’s
lives more so… he came with me to the Pacific North West, trackin’ down Sasquatch. Creature didn’t show, but Bobby had a good
time campin’ so he kept joinin’ me. Before long he was doin’ the research himself,
organisin’ trips, pickin’ up rumours of strange stuff all across the country. AS: Sounds like a nice time for you both. ROB: It was. AS: So… was it Bobby who discovered the
Left/Right Game? ROB: … He called me up one day, outta the
blue. This was about three years ago. Said he’d found a set of rules; said we
should try out. To be honest, I thought our trippin’ days
were over; I was back in Alabama and he was startin’ up a family of his own, but suddenly
he’s tellin’ me to meet him in Phoenix so, of course I went along. AS: And this time, you both realised it was
real. ROB: Bobby knew as soon as we reached the
tunnel. He passed that way every day, knew it wasn’t
supposed to be there but… there it was. He said that was the most amazing thing he
ever saw. We charted it over the next year, whenever
we could get the time together, but we moved slow, mapped the place out, turned back on
the regular. It took us a while before we got the courage
to stay on the road overnight, both of us were terrified the tunnel would disappear
or somethin’. I can tell Rob is replaying the events in
his head. The reminiscence almost makes him smile. ROB: Bobby’s wife was a real doll. Used to work in his office. Kindest girl I ever met, funny too. There was a decade between’em but you could
tell they were good for each other. He shared everything with her, including the
road. In fact, once Bobby got a little more secure
with the rules, they started to map it together…explorin’ their own little world. After a brief pause, Rob’s expression sinks
slightly; the reminiscence is growing darker. ROB: Few months go by, I’m hearin’ from
Bobby a little less but, I expected that. Then one evenin’ I get a call from the hospital,
tellin’ me my boy had walked into some ER in Phoenix. AS: Was he ok? ROB: No. He was in a bad way. Leg all busted up, delirious, askin’ for
Marjorie. They found her bag in his car but… she was
nowhere to be found. AS: Bobby lost her on the road. ROB: Yeah, that’s right. AS: On our second night here, after we lost
Ace, you told me the road had never hurt anyone before. ROB: Well, that wasn’t a lie at least. It wasn’t the road that got’em. AS: … What do you mean? ROB: They made it to the forest. None of us had got that far before but…
this time they pushed a little further than usual. AS: Do you know why? ROB: They were gonna have a kid. Marjorie was almost due… wasn’t travellin’
so well. I think they knew they wouldn’t be hittin’
the road for a while. It was like a uh… like a last hurrah I guess. AS: But only Bobby came back? ROB: They explored the woods till nightfall. When Bobby said they had to turn back… Marjorie didn’t want to. He never told me why, never told me what happened. By the end of that trip, Marjorie was still
out there and he was in a hospital bed. Rob takes a moment to collect himself, to
put the facts in order. The trees are starting to grow thin, sunlight
bursting through the widening gaps in the canopy. It looks like we’re nearing the forest’s
end. ROB: Bobby took a month or so to recover. Boy was desperate to get his wife back, and
of course he’d become a suspect in her disappearance. Needless to say the first thing he did was
head onto the road to find Marjorie. AS: But he didn’t. ROB: Nope… No he found her. Just uh… a little sooner than he thought. I take a moment to process Rob’s implication. Suddenly I feel a stone drop in my stomach. AS: She was on the 34th turn. Rob nods solemnly. ROB: Wasn’t the woman he knew of course. Stood there all day, just mumblin’ about
the road. Didn’t even recognise him. I remember he called me up right after he
first saw her there, his heart breakin’. He tried almost every day from then on, always
stoppin’ at that turn. He’d yell, he’d plead, he’d bring pictures
and gifts but… she never responded. Don’t know if it was really her but, whatever
was on that corner, it belonged to the road. ROB: Bobby lost somethin’ of himself on
that corner. After a while, his fascination with the game
turned sour, turned to hate. He thought the road was somethin’ evil,
that it had no place linking into our world. ROB: I was checkin’ up on him at that point,
every few days or so. One weekend he said he was doin’ better,
even said he’d been in to work. I thought maybe things were turnin’ round
but… then he went quiet; didn’t pick up his phone for three days. I had my place in Phoenix by that point, and
a spare key to his house. That’s where I found the note; tellin’
me he’d gone back through. One last bid to find his wife… and if he
couldn’t bring her back well- AS: He was going to destroy the tunnel. ROB: Cut the road off from the world. I played the game in Phoenix, Chicago, a few
different places, but that one tunnel is what links you to the road. I looked around his garage, found the box
for a phone, lot of electronics all over the place… pretty clear what he’d done. So I jump in my car. We pass out of the forest, onto a long narrow
road. In the distance, I can see our route winding
up a towering wall of sandstone, disappearing into a set of rolling mountains. ROB: He passed me on his way back, just before
I hit Jubilation. Thunderin’ down the road at full speed,
drivin’ like crazy. That’s when I knew he hadn’t found her…
that he was goin’ to take out the tunnel, end the game once and for all. AS: But he never got that far. ROB: I tried to talk to him. Called his cell, tried the radio frequencies,
there was a number on the sim card documentation that he had, god help me I even messaged him
on that one. In the end it was just me and him, racin’
back to Phoenix. He was faster than me but I was drivin’
better. After few bad corners I caught up… AS: You ran him off the road. Rob stares out at the faraway ridges, his
hands grasping the steering wheel. ROB: Cell service don’t work through the
tunnel. He knew that. He was either goin’ to blow it up on this
side… or while he was in there. AS: So you were trying to save him or save
yourself? ROB: Neither. I was tryin’ to save the road… Say what you want about this place Miss Sharma,
but it’s a doorway out of everythin’ we ever known. It’s the road out of… out of reality. It may be the most significant frontier we
ever cross and that’s… part of me knew, that was too important for one man to take
away. For the second time today, Rob battles back
tears, and for the second time, he fails. They roll silently down his cheek as he continues
on. ROB: He was more injured than I thought. He’d hurt himself bad before he reached
me, that’s why he was headed to the tunnel so quick. He wanted to destroy it while he still could. ROB: The road had taken almost everythin’
from him, and then I took the rest… I denied him his hope, took away his chance
to leave the world on his own terms. In the end he didn’t even seem angry…
he just asked after Marjorie. Asked me why she did it, why she left. I laid him to rest there, visited the place
often but… I never had a good answer for him. That’s when I started preppin’ the next
run. AS: So you posted his logs online, and pretended
to discover them. ROB: Thought people would ask less questions
that way. AS: And where did we all fit in to this? Why did you bring us here with you? ROB: I guess… I thought it was time the world knew. Didn’t want all this to end up an old man’s
secret. Honest to God, if I knew the road was gonna… I swear I never woulda brought you here. Rob’s features tighten, all his shame and
guilt rising to the fore. I can’t say it isn’t deserved. Despite his intentions, despite his penitence,
the man had blinded himself to clear dangers, hurt those closest to him and, on a road where
secrets had killed so many, he’d kept the most significant one of all. Well, perhaps not the most significant. AS: You didn’t bring us here Rob. Rob turns to me, confused. AS: I met someone in the forest last night,
a figure, just like the one you saw in Japan, “looked like static you see on a TV screen”
… I think it was you Rob. I think I saw you and I think that… all
those years ago… In my current state, the mechanics of the
event, and their stunning implications, lie beyond my explanatory capacity. In the end, I just raise my lost right arm,
and wait for Rob to make the connection. A moment later the car screeches to a halt. Rob stares straight ahead, his knuckles white
against the steering wheel. I’m aware that beneath his stone-set features,
every square inch of grey matter is fighting to process the fresh revelation. If it’s true that, in those quiet woods,
I somehow reached across the decades to a young Rob Guthard, then it changes everything. The twisting narratives that led us to this
point, Rob’s burgeoning obsession, his son’s tragic fate, they all took root in that single
moment. More than a decade prior to my own birth,
I’d placed us on the path which would lead me to his door. As chaotic as the road often seems, that moment
in the forest hints at something deeper, something intentional. Rob steps out of the car for a while, before
wordlessly climbing back in and firing up the Wrangler. From that point on we continue as two silent
passengers, lost in thought, disappearing into the sandstone mountains. We travel across the thin mountain road for
the next two hours, a wall of crooked rock hemming us in. When we pass onto the other side, and the
outcrop falls away, the landscape below us has changed completely, and we’re treated
to a strange and breath-taking sight. The Wrangler is traversing the cliffs above
a vast, flat desert; a tundra of vibrant orange stretching as far as the eye can see. I can just make out the road, cutting a meandering
path through the sand far below us. At the centre of this otherwise featureless
expanse, a collection of monolithic structures, towering columns of glass and metal, rise
from the ground, connected by a web of long perpendicular streets. AS: There’s a city… there’s a city on
the road. Rob keeps his eyes forward. Despite the epic majesty of the cityscape
below us. I can tell that his mind is elsewhere, that
he’s still digesting the contents of our interview. In the end, I think it best to leave him alone
with his thoughts. We stay on the mountain for another twenty
minutes, before finally winding down to the desert floor. The space ahead of us is two-tone; the sharp
saffron of the desert and the deep blue sky, separated by a thin, even horizon. The only objects that cross this perfect boundary,
are the hulking grey towers of the city, rising from the sand, and bursting through into the
heavens. We snake along the desert road, the city looming
ever larger as we make our tentative approach toward the border. There’s an eerie contrast to the threshold
as we cross it; the cupreous glow of the sand switches to grey, the scorching heat instantly
cools, and perhaps most notably, what little sound there was is negated entirely. As we delve down an empty, perfectly maintained
throughway, I realise that I can’t hear anything at all except for the Wrangler’s
steady rumblings. AS: It’s quiet. ROB: That’s fine by me. AS: Who do you think built this place? ROB: I don’t know. Maybe whatever brought us here. Could be that no one built it… maybe it
just is. I wonder if he’s right. It’s hard to think such a place would exist
for any practical purpose. The city looks off somehow, as if it was built
from conjecture, by an architect who had only heard of cities through poorly translated
rumour. All the broad features are present, skyscrapers,
lampposts, window cleaning platforms, but nothing deeper. It’s an empty shell. An ornament in the middle of the desert. As we turn down the next few roads, I stare
up at the monolithic structures, each one standing at least a hundred stories tall. My eyes track back down the countless strata
of dark windows, as I contemplate what it might be like to live in such a place. When I reach the ground floor, I’m presented
with my answer. There’s a young man standing at the ground
floor window, his hand resting against the glass. He’s wearing a dark grey suit, and a look
of almost mesmeric shock. His mouth open, his hands shaking, his unblinking
eyes staring past us as the Wrangler rolls by. My eyes quickly track back up the skyscraper’s
glass facade, scrutinising each row of windows in turn. I’d naively hoped the buildings would be
empty, that this place would be nothing more than a colossal ghost town. Now that I know otherwise, each pane of glass
feels like a dark pool of water; still on the surface, but with sinister potential lurking
within its depths. A few seconds later, more of them arrive. There aren’t many at first; just a few scattered
figures stepping up to their windows, pressing themselves against to the glass. However, like a light sprinkling of rain that
erupts into a downpour, the frequency of their arrival quickly doubles, then triples, until
not a single space lies unoccupied. The Wrangler shrinks, subject to the scrutiny
of countless individuals, on every floor, in every window, all of them clad in the same
monochromatic formalwear and staring down at us like the emissaries of a grand tribunal. As the Wrangler passes by, they continue to
stare straight ahead, though it’s clear they’re aware of our presence. AS: Rob. Rob there’s- ROB: I see’em. Rob puts his foot down, shedding the weight
of a thousand pairs of eyes as he leaves the building behind. As the final column of windows slips by us,
I glance back, hoping to see them return to the depths of the building. Instead, in those last few moments, I witness
their collective demeanour fracture into a desperate frenzy, their mouths opening in
a silent scream as they slam their fists against the glass. Turning back around, I stare into the buildings
that currently flank our vehicle. The figures have already arrived at the windows,
and their calm is already fading. AS: Rob, we need to go faster. ROB: I’m on it. The Wrangler growls with renewed ferocity
as Rob plants his foot onto the gas. We lurch towards the next corner, accelerating
down the road as Rob scans for any hidden turns. I achingly shift in my seat, keeping an eye
on the scene developing in our wake. Shards of broken window begin to rain onto
the asphalt. Watching the shattered pieces tumble through
the air, it’s apparent that the quiet in this city isn’t simply due to a lack of
activity. The torrent of splintered glass is completely
silent, even as it crashes against the impervious ground. Nothing in this city makes a noise. Nothing except us. The thunderous engine of the Wrangler has
never sounded so loud. Looking up, I witness hundreds of hands gripping
the shattered window frames, unable to turn myself away as thousands of polished black
shoes step over the threshold. The figures stream out from every floor, forming
an incomprehensible deluge of humanity. The first wave strikes the ground, with more
and more landing against them; a heap of tangled figures struggling to separate themselves. Much like the residents of Jubilation, and
everyone else we’ve encountered on the road, they appear impervious to the fatal harm such
an act should impart. Those that landed on their feet hardly even
stop, turning towards us, and sprinting after the Wrangler. It doesn’t take long for the rest of the
writhing mass to resolve itself, its constituent individuals joining the frantic stampede,
their chaotic charge and desperate screams bereft of any perceivable sound. Even in the midst of the frenzied pursuit,
as a foreboding shower of glass falls from every building we pass, the world outside
remains silent; the chaos made even more incomprehensible framed against the ungodly stillness in which
it takes place. Rob screeches around the corner, drifting
onto a long and open street. The roadway ahead is flanked by skyscrapers
disappearing to a narrow vanishing point. As we race down this next stretch of road
towards a large intersection, the ever growing mob bursts onto the street behind us, taking
the corner with supreme coordination and continuing tirelessly in our direction. A split second later, I’m struck by an abrupt
and pervasive idea. It feels unlike any thought I’ve ever had
before, less of a notion, and more a prescient hybrid of intuition and de ja vu, as if the
course of action we must take is obvious to me, despite my not knowing why. I force my voice above a grating whisper. AS: Rob. We need to drop something behind us… something
loud. ROB: What’re you thinkin’? AS: I uh… you just have to trust me ok? We still have most of the plastic explosive
could you- ROB: Nah, if you took out the blasting cap
I ain’t got time to make a new one. Rob’s glances into the rear view, then back
to the road. I can almost hear the gears turning in his
head. ROB: But that the only explosive on-board. Think you can drive? AS: I guess we can find out. The car thunders across the tarmac as I clumsily
grasp the wheel, shifting myself over and working my foot onto the accelerator. Rob lifts himself away and climbs past me
into the back of the Wrangler. In my weak state, every shuddering motion
makes my bones rattle. With each subsequent gearshift, I’m forced
to take my remaining hand off the wheel and reach across to the stick. The effort is precarious and awkward, my aching
limbs puppeteered by will power and adrenaline, every passing second a battle to maintain
control. The windows up ahead are starting to fracture. The noise of the Wrangler is carrying, and
the entire city is starting to pre-empt our arrival. Behind me, I can hear the ripping of duct
tape, the tearing of fabric and the clattering of falling luggage. I’m not sure what’s taking place behind
me. I just have to trust that Rob has a plan. I hear the back door swing open just before
we reach the intersection, a metallic scraping along the Wrangler’s floor, and a pained
grunt from Rob as he throws something onto the road behind us. Reaching the crossroads, I slide my hand along
the wheel and twist it sharply to the right. As the car lurches round, and onto the next
road, I feel my heart sink dramatically. We’ve been overtaken. The windows ahead of us are shattered, the
front doors lay broken on the street, and the building’s desperate inhabitants are
rushing towards us, blocking off our only means of escape. I slam my foot onto the break, and the Wrangler
shudders to a halt, the engine stalling and cutting out. The streets are now spilling over, an overwhelming
swarm converging on our position from four directions. I look back to Rob, and he meets my gaze,
his eyes brimming with dismayed finality. An explosion shudders through the air behind
us. I look out the back window to see a shattered
jerry can, one of Rob’s now superfluous fuel reserves, its dark green shell violently
compromised, its contents spilled out across the road and cast alight. Now that the engine isn’t running, the echo
of the blast and roar of the primal, balletic flame fills the afternoon air. The trajectory of the maddened crowd changes
instantaneously, the silent Wrangler has fallen from their collective attention, as they refocus
onto the smouldering flames. Those up ahead continue to rush past us, streaming
around the Wrangler as they scramble to the spilled pool of gasoline, digging their hands
into the blaze, grasping hopelessly at the fire. Delicately, careful not to make a single shred
of noise, I climb out of the driver’s seat, joining Rob in the back of the Wrangler. He addresses me in a confused whisper. ROB: Why don’t they care about us? What are they doing? AS: … It’s the sound. They want it for themselves. I don’t how I’m so sure, but I know that
it’s the case. The jerry can creaks and screams as the city
dwellers tear it into smaller and smaller pieces, frantically examining every jagged
scrap. With each passing second, as the fire dies
down, the crowd grows increasingly distressed, as if a precious commodity is slipping through
their fingers. AS: They don’t understand it. They’ll pull it apart trying to figure it
out and they’ll never get any closer… and then it’ll be quiet again. ROB: Where you gettin’ this from? AS: I don’t know, just a uh… just a feeling. ROB: Well… pretty sure they woulda pulled
us apart too. I’d say we’re pretty lucky. AS: Hah, yeah… pretty lucky. As the last of the gasoline is eaten up, and
the fire dies away, the city dwellers remain in the streets. Devoid of their momentary sense of purpose,
their prize vanishing into the ether, the crowd’s desperation fades into a hushed
despondency. I watch them as they pass by, countless faces
wracked with sorrow, their aimless shuffling forming a lonesome sea, a grayscale ocean
that spans the desolate city. The Wrangler is now adrift in the centre of
that ocean. It’s clear that any attempt to start the
engine would bring the entire city down on us, reigniting their futile hope, causing
them to tear through the car, and anything inside it. For the foreseeable future, we’re completely
stranded. ROB: Don’t worry about it, ok? AS: I don’t think they’re going to leave
Rob. ROB: They’ll leave. AS: Ok… and what then? They’ll still be everywhere. ROB: Hey, we’re a smart pair. We’ll think of somethin’. In the eerie, pervasive calm that surrounds
us, I sit myself down next to Rob and lean back against the wall, with nothing else to
do but wait for our situation to change. After watching the figures outside for over
an hour, the only thing that’s different is a strange needling sensation that feels
like it’s emanating from now absent forearm. AS: My uh… my arm hurts… how’s that
possible- ROB: Don’t worry that’s uh… it’s called
Phantom Limb. You got some sensation right? Like you still got somethin’ there? A lotta people get that after amputations. Here… Rob reaches into his medical kit and retracts
a blue jar of tablets. Twisting off the cap, he shakes two pills
free. ROB: You’re gonna need these for the pain. I stare at the tablets for a moment, before
collecting them from his open palm. He passes me his canteen and I swallow them
down in two weak gulps. AS: You have a lot of experience with amputations? ROB: … More than you’d think. My brow furrows. Though I’d meant my remark as a passing
jibe, Rob’s response rings with a strange sincerity. It takes me a moment to realise why that is. AS: I forgot… you were drafted. You never talked about it. ROB: Been thinkin’ about it a lot though. Bunch of strangers brought together under
false pretences, told that we were servin’ a grand purpose by some old liar. Guess it’s interestin’ how time repeats
itself. Now that I think about it, he drove a Jeep
too. AS: Rob… I told you, you didn’t bring us here- ROB: That don’t change nuthin’. Don’t change what I did… to you, to Bobby,
to any of ‘em. Maybe you were there in the forest but I was
the one who started this, the one who kept askin’ what was at the end of the road. AS: What do you think is at the end Rob? ROB: Startin to think that ain’t for me
to know. I been movin’ from place to place so long,
seen everyone else settle down. Far as I can see, the end of the road is just
wherever you decide to stop. I rest my head on Rob’s shoulder. He gently places his arm around me. It isn’t long before medication starts to
take effect, quietly overtaking my already weakened constitution. The pain subsides, dulled along with the rest
of my senses. The sun is still streaming through the windshield
as my eyes begin to drift shut. I watch the figures pass the window, my eyelids
getting weaker. AS: I don’t want this to be the end Rob. ROB: I know Miss Sharma, I know. The last thing I see before I fall into a
dreamless artificial sleep, is Rob Guthard’s hand reaching for the rifle. When my eyes work themselves open, the sun
is beginning to set. I’ve been moved. As my vision adjusts, it becomes clear that
I’m still in the Wrangler. My head resting against a pile of fresh clothes,
a soft travel blanket laid across me. I glance around to find that Rob’s nowhere
to be seen. Momentarily forgetting the situation outside
the car, I attempt to call out for him. The syllable catches in my throat as a shambling
figure passes by the window, wringing its hands in despair and casting a long shadow
through the car. With a renewed sense of caution, I slide the
blanket to one side, and slowly make my way to the up front. The cabin is similarly empty, except for a
single scrap of paper, torn from my notebook. It lies on the driver’s seat, a small object
hidden within the fold. When I open it, I find my headphones and five
neatly written words: “Channel One To All Cars” My hand starts to shake as I rest the note
on the dashboard, slowly climbing through and placing myself gently into the driver’s
seat. My heart in my throat, I insert the headphones
into the jack of the CB radio, take a single, quivering breath in, and press the first button. AS: Rob? ROB: I’m uh… I’m sorry Miss Sharma. AS: Rob, where are you? ROB: Down the road a little. Got myself to one of the rooftops. I know I always hated cities but, once you’re
above it, the view’s really somethin’. AS: Come back Rob. Come back… please. ROB: I wish I could. I do. But we both know those things ain’t leavin. And you need the car to get where ever you
gotta go so… best I can do is make some ruckus, draw’em outta your way. I rest my head against the steering wheel,
bracing myself against the weight of his words. AS: I can’t do this without you. ROB: I don’t think that’s true Miss Sharma. I think whatever’s on this road… it wants
you to make it all the way. All I was meant to do was bring you this far. Now you don’t have to listen to it, you
can turn around and head home… but either way only one of us is drivin’ outta here. So I guess the only question left is… which
way d’you wanna go? AS: Well… are you ahead of me or behind
me? ROB: I can be anywhere. It’s your choice Miss Sharma. In the wake of Rob’s words, in the shadow
of the decision, I’m cast into silence; not because the choice is hard, but because
I’m ashamed that it’s so easy. It was made the moment I first stepped into
the Wrangler, and renewed in every perplexing moment since. The need to know, to comprehend, to uncover
the truth has been with me all my life, but I never knew its roots ran so deep, that it
would endure so ardently when everything else, everyone else, had been stripped away. I stare into the rear view mirror, seeing
myself for the very first time, and I have to admit I’m scared. AS: Stay where you are Rob. ROB: Hah… ok Miss Sharma… you ready? AS: … Yeah. I’m ready. ROB: Alright then… suppose it’s about
time this thing did some good. The shot explodes through the radio, before
a faint booming echo reaches me on the quiet city air. Its effect on the city dwellers is immediate. Their collective melancholy shatters in an
instant, replaced by a renewed fixation. Before I know it, the disparate crowd unites
once more into a stampeding horde, rushing past the windows of the Wrangler and back
down the road towards the source of the noise. ROB: They on their way? As the last of the city dwellers disappear
behind me, I run my hand across the steering wheel, and down to the ignition. AS: Yeah… yeah they’re on their way. ROB: Ok then… what’re you waitin’ for? With a fateful twist of the key, the Wrangler
roars back to life. The wheels kick against the asphalt, transporting
me through the streets of the city. As I barrel away from the intersection, I
see a small contingent of pursuers rushing around the corner behind me. Rob fires the rifle again, maintaining the
attention of the majority. The stragglers fall away in my rear view mirror,
losing ground against the Wrangler. I take the first left, then the next possible
right, then another left, a few minutes later I eventually find myself on the last stretch
of road, leading me back into the vast and empty desert. ROB: So, you gonna make it? AS: Yeah, I’m gonna make it. ROB: Good. That’s good. Miss Sharma, if uh… if you find Marjorie,
if you get a chance to let me know… well it’s more than I deserve but-. AS: Of course… of course I will. ROB: I appreciate that. Ok, they’re gonna be here soon so… I’m gonna go radio silent for a while. If I call, you’ll know I made it out. If I don’t call… you just assume I made
it out, ok? AS: Please tell me you’re going to be alright,
Rob. ROB: … It’s been a real honour drivin’
with you Miss Sharma. The sound of a final shot reverberates through
the radio, its echo drowned out by the roaring engine of the Wrangler. The world shifts around me as I burst out
of the city, and back onto the desert road. The way ahead is laden with immense possibility,
yet as I disappear into the vastness of the desert, I can only think of what I’ve left
behind. Rob J Guthard had his flaws, marked by loss,
driven by obsession, his good intentions often paving the way to tragedy and heartbreak. As the tears begin to roll down my cheeks,
I decide to remember him differently; as a valued friend, a good man and, above all else,
a great story. No matter how you tell it. Well then… here we are. I have to be honest; when I posted the first
of these logs from my bedroom in North London, I didn’t think it would go very far. After all, why would it? I wasn’t a regular contributor to this site,
nor a seasoned veteran of the paranormal. I was just a man who missed his friend, seeking
a few words of wisdom from an online message board, open to the idea that it wouldn’t
lead anywhere. Suffice to say I couldn’t have been more
wrong. Over the past two months, the incredible advice
I’ve received from this forum, and the amazing leads you’ve sent my way, have opened up
entire worlds of possibility. It’s thanks to all of you that I’m where
I am now; sitting in a rental car on a quiet street in Phoenix, Arizona, posting the last
of Alice’s records. I realise I’ve written more than usual for
my part. Apologies for this. If you want to skip straight to Alice’s
section, that’s fine. Otherwise, please consider this the prologue
to the epilogue. It’s very, very early in the morning over
here, with only the gravest of the graveyard shift out on the streets. By all rights I should be in bed, and not
wasting petrol on an aimless drive through the city. The ritual helps me think however, and I’d
recently been given a lot to think about, courtesy of a young woman at a local bar. She was a forum member, who’d contacted
me over Direct Message. When we met up earlier in the night, it was
clear she’d done a great deal of research; charting every mirror shop in Phoenix in an
attempt to reconstruct the route Alice took on February 7th 2017. We spoke for quite a while; about the game,
about Alice, and about life in general. Once closing time rolled around, she handed
me a printout of the most likely route, with all the key locations circled. Then, in the final minutes before we parted
ways, she nervously asked me two questions. The first put me in a rather sour mood. The second provided the fuel for my 3am drive. Question One; Are you sure she wants you to
find her? I’ve been hearing the same query from a
few of you recently, especially since Part 9 was posted. People commenting that Alice made a clear
choice when she left Rob behind in the silent city. That I was searching for someone who wasn’t
seeking return. I’d like to take a moment to respond to
this, as I responded to it earlier tonight. To be clear, the Alice I know wouldn’t do
that. She was planning to come back, she’d told
us as much. I’m not going to waste your time with my
theories, but we’ve seen what the road can do to people’s minds, how it can carry them
away against their better judgement. I understand why it’s being asked but if those
sorts of questions are all you have to offer, I’d kindly ask you find another way to help. Question Two was less clear cut; what are
you going to do now? It’s something you guys have also been asking
me, but that was the first time I’d heard the question out loud. In the awkward silence that followed it became
obvious to her, and in some ways to me, that I didn’t yet have an answer. I decided to take a drive while I figured
it out… I’ve been in my car for the rest of the
night, After an hour of aimless meandering, I realised
I was close to one of the marked locations; the alleyway where Alice first entered the
underpass, the point at which she first disappeared into the road. Turning into the side street, just after a
large intersection, I was briefly relieved to see no sign of the tunnel. The part of me that still hoped this game
was a fiction swelled at the sudden lack of evidence. My reaction was short lived of course, as
I quickly realised that the tunnel wouldn’t have shown itself to me anyway. Even if the game were real, I’d hardly been
sticking to the rules on my way here. There was no denying that the place resembled
Alice’s descriptions however, and with a long time to go until I’d feel remotely
tired, I decided to work my way back along the route, retracing Alice’s steps towards
Rob Guthard’s street. OK so I have to admit at this point, I suffered
from a momentary lapse in intelligence. In a fog of distraction, residual jetlag and
general dullardry, I drove for longer than I’d care to admit under the misconception
that I wasn’t playing the game. I thought this because I was heading in the
opposite direction, and had started my run with a right hand turn, when the rules explicitly
state that you begin by turning left. Of course, as I’m sure all of you would
have realised immediately, that didn’t mean I was out of the game, it just meant I started
playing with my first left turn, one road later. Alice was always the smart one. What I’m trying to say is that, due to this
fairly mindless oversight, I wasn’t exactly looking out for the Woman in Grey as I drove
past what should have been her corner. There wasn’t a mirror shop this time of
course, that’s only the 34th turn when you’re coming the other way, in fact I’m not sure
which of the many passing streets it was. It is strange though, as I think back through
my journey, I feel like I would have noticed her. The streets were practically deserted, so
much so that any pedestrians stood out immediately. I know I should’ve been looking more closely
but, if you asked my honest opinion… I don’t think she was there at all. The moment I realised this, I felt it again;
the faint perverse, hope that I’d been misled, that the entire story was nothing more than
a twisted, elaborate fabrication. It wasn’t long until I passed an old mirror
shop and, 34 turns later, arrived on what must have been Alice’s starting street. It was an inner-city neighbourhood whose residents
were all fast asleep. From the moment I realised that the game was
in play, I’d been thinking less and less about this particular road, and more about
the one directly after it, resting just beyond the crossroads. I’d come halfway across the world on the
strength of Alice’s account, but I’d seen no first hand proof of the Left/Right Game. If the whole thing was a hoax, then the next
road should just be another street. If it was real, then I’d know soon enough. I crawled up to the junction with my heart
in my throat. With every inch of road that passed under
my tyres, I found myself hoping more and more that it wouldn’t be true. Let someone be playing a prank on me, let
the logs be counterfeit… let Alice be anywhere else but on that road. I took the corner in a wide arc, parking myself
in the centre of the crossroads, my headlights facing down the next turn. Ahead of me was a quiet residential street;
lines of neatly parked cars, rows of well-kept yards and squarely drawn windows. Yet at its centre, in utter defiance of the
modest surroundings, the road sank into a deep and dimly lit corridor, cutting beneath
the street, and disappearing into complete darkness. I’d always known it was true. In the presence of grim confirmation, the
question I was asked earlier that night started to ring in my ears, as if echoing out of the
tunnel itself. After an entire night’s driving, after two
full months of searching, I still didn’t have a response. In the end I just left the engine running,
as if turning it off would somehow be a sign of retreat, and decided to type up the notes
you’re reading now. I thought maybe the process of putting it
all down on paper would bring me clarity, and leave me with either a note of farewell
or a note of apology to Alice, for not having what it took to find her. And now… here I am; still undecided, still
writing, still sitting in this rental car on a quiet street in Phoenix, Arizona. Though perhaps the street’s not as quiet
as I thought. I’ve just looked back to the previous road,
down the street where Alice began her journey. As I type this very paragraph, I can see a
figure standing on the sidewalk, just outside one of the houses. It isn’t the woman in grey this time. Though it’s almost too dark to make out,
I can tell the figure is an older male, well built and imposing, the rugged features of
his weathered face half lit by moonlight. I’ve never seen this person before, yet
he bears a striking resemblance to another man; a man whose description has been well
recorded within the pages of Alice’s logs. He watches me in silence, staring through
the window of my still running car. I wonder if he can help. The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 20/02/2017 The Left/Right Game was once nothing more
than a 9-page document, peeking out of a yellow envelope, resting quietly on my desk. I remember reading it on my lunch break. I remember it made me laugh. The submission had arrived with the first
post, quietly making its way around the office, treated by everyone as a short-lived novelty
of little journalistic value. The story was easy to dismiss, appearing all
too similar to the rambling ghost stories and blurry UFO sightings that filled our mailbox
on a daily basis, and which most of the senior staff had learned to instinctively ignore. Doomed by association, the document was quickly
passed over, my desk merely a pit stop on its way to the rejection pile. I was curious however and, after an uneventful
few months in my new role, I had no compunctions about fishing from the scrap heap. Placing the envelope in my satchel, alongside
a misfit crowd of similar rejects, I slipped away to a local coffee shop, reading it in
an armchair by the window. Somewhere around page three, between the description
of the game’s rules and the exhaustive list of “Required Skills”, my mouth started
to curl into an irrepressible smile. They’d been gloriously wrong about this
one. It wasn’t some paranoid diatribe, nor a
sensationalist plea for attention. Within those pages lay an introductory glimpse
of a man’s passionate obsession. As I read on, something about his earnest
eccentricity, incredible thoroughness, and unquestioning confidence made it impossible
to put down. When I turned the final page, reading the
last of Rob Guthard’s charming and refreshingly well formatted submission, I knew that this
was the story I wanted to tell. Later that day, I found myself in the editor’s
office making a case for it. They didn’t quite see what I saw, but I
was intent to win them over regardless. I told them the story would be characterful,
colourful, thought-provoking and, at the very least, that I wouldn’t be gone long. It’s been twelve days since then; ten since
I first entered the Wrangler in Phoenix, Arizona, five since I commandeered it myself, leaving
Rob behind in the silent city. I haven’t updated much recently, save for
a regular set of notes made for my own benefit. In all honesty, after I finished writing up
my account of the city, I was struck by an overpowering sense of needlessness. There was no one left to receive these logs,
no friends to proofread, no editor to hand them to. It seemed pointless to maintain the same prosaic
format as before. I still largely agree with this assessment. It’s only due to a set of exceptional circumstances
that I’ve chosen to type up the following account in full. Whoever this reaches, I want to thank you
for reading up to now. I’m quite sure this will be my final instalment. The moon has broken, and in my entire life,
I’ve never witnessed an evening so still. The air is cool and quiet, and the Wrangler
cuts cleanly through it as I glide down a stretch of even tarmac. The scene is defined by calm and absence. Not a cloud in the sky, not a solitary whisper
of breeze, not a single blade of grass stirring on the dark green banks beside me. Yet even on a night as peaceful as this, I
can’t help but feel far away from home. The city had served as a turning point in
that regard. Before we reached those titanic monoliths,
the landscapes we passed through generally resembled the world I once knew. A few obvious exceptions aside, there was
nothing about the environments that looked truly divorced from reality. That’s all changed now. The aberrant aspects of this new world are
unignorable, constantly hanging at the corner of my eye, passively injecting a sense of
wonder and disconcertion into the otherwise silent night. A few days ago the moon started to crack like
old porcelain. I hardly noticed at first, my eyes fixed on
the road as it loomed above me, quietly splintering into three jagged pieces. As of tonight, the empty space between each
fragment has significantly increased. If I focus on the sky for a little while,
I can almost see them falling away from each other, charting infinite and lonesome trajectories
through a barren cosmos, against a backdrop of foreign constellations. The stars themselves fall further than they
should. The night sky travels down past the horizon
and continues below it, wrapping underneath the grassy bank. It’s as if the road, and the narrow plains
on either side, are suspended in the middle of a vast abyss; a platform in the middle
of open space. At least that’s what I thought it was at
first. It didn’t take long before I noticed the
broken moon was appearing twice in the sky, both above and below me. A pair of orbiting satellites; identical and
in perfect alignment. That’s when I realised that there were no
stars below me. I was merely staring across a flat surface
so flawlessly mirror-like as to cast a perfect reflection of the heavens above. I was driving through the centre of a lake. The water is impossibly still. Since leaving the shoreline proper yesterday
night, I’ve seen neither a wave, nor a ripple across its placid surface. It’s also undeniably vast, reaching beyond
the horizon in every direction and continuing further still. Without being sure how I know, I’m aware
that the waters carry on for an unspeakable distance, that I would sooner reach the stars
themselves before setting foot on its opposite shore. I lean over and switch gears. The act of driving the Wrangler was a daunting
one at first, but after the first two days I’ve managed to make do. An old scarf wrapped tightly around the steering
wheel serves as a makeshift handle, allowing me to navigate corners one handed. I don’t have an elegant solution for the
gearshift, but I’ve quickly grown used to the process. If I’ve learned anything from the road,
it’s that grace is the first casualty in the fight for survival. Adaptability, no matter how clumsy, outlasts
it at every turn. A few minutes later, the Wrangler pulls up
to a spacious verge. A large circle of land surrounded entirely
by dark waters. At the far end, the grass seems to fall away,
dropping sharply into the lake with a dead stop. The road continues of course, but it’s the
only thing that does. With nothing on either side, it forms a narrow
bridge of perfectly flat asphalt, raised on a bed of mud and rock. I press my boot onto the brake pedal, easing
the Wrangler to a steady halt at the centre of the clearing. For the first time today, I open the car door
and climb out of my seat. The dull tap of asphalt shifts to a soft rustling
as I make my way over to the lakeside. There’s something on the shore, a barely
discernible object, almost entirely concealed by a shock of verdant undergrowth. It’s a miracle I’d managed to spy it from
the road, though perhaps something about the stark uniformity of the landscape had made
it stand out. As I advance towards the water, and the object
draws near, its indeterminate form solidifies in my mind. It’s a human arm, reaching out from the
water and onto the bank. I crouch down to examine the few pertinent
details. The fingers are still embedded firmly into
the soil. The thumbnail is broken, coloured by a peeling
coat of faded varnish. There’s a pallid, emaciated quality to the
skin, spreading down the arm until it disappears beneath a thick, woollen sleeve. At the point it meets the surface, the water
soaks into the fabric, turning it black from the original grey. With a sad exhalation, I rise to my feet and
lean over the water’s edge. The body of Marjorie Guthard lies against
the silt, her cheek resting on the lake bed, her wide bewildered eyes staring out into
the open lake. She’s been almost perfectly preserved. Save for the striking tautness of her skin
and its mottled, grey pallor, she looks exactly like the woman I saw on the 34th turn, who’d
tried to repel me from the road, who’d spoken of a lake drinking her wounds clean. It seems her ramblings weren’t completely
void of fact. It’s clear to see that Marjorie has been
exsanguinated, so completely in fact that the only evidence that blood ever flowed through
her veins, is a large dark stain across her shredded blouse. It doesn’t take long before the perpetrator
makes itself known. As I stare into the water, a steady stream
of formless whispers sink up through the depths of the lake. The softly spoken murmurings drift up to my
ears, taking root in the back of my mind and instantly blooming into a flurry of deeply
persuasive promises. I find myself entirely transfixed by the still
water, as a myriad of generous offerings unfold in throughout my consciousness. The whispers suggest an end to the phantom
pains in my absent arm, perhaps even a completely restored limb, stronger than it had been before. Furthermore, it shows me a glimpse of its
incomprehensible span, its furthest bank reaching across countless worlds, its deepest point
lying below everything. I’m offered total knowledge of every league,
every fathom, every inconceivable shore. My hand reaches down as the whispers continue,
every bargain steeped in sweet beneficence. A moment later, my outstretched fingers brush
against the soft grass, and wrap around Marjorie’s exposed arm. Digging my heels into the ground, I lean myself
backwards and pull. The water ripples and splashes as I drag Marjorie’s
lifeless body slowly onto the bank. I feel the voices in my mind grow louder,
erupting in anger as I back away from the lake. The promises had been convincing, each quiet
solicitation undeniably persuasive. But after seeing Marjorie’s wretched fate
and the look of eternal betrayal in her vacant eyes, I found myself aware of a subtle undercurrent
behind every syllable, a sense of desperation and timeless hunger emanating from beneath
the lake’s surface. I already have a clear understanding of what
would have happened if I’d lost myself to those waters. I suspect it’s no coincidence, that of the
countless shores it showed me, all of them appeared to be deserted. Marjorie wouldn’t have stood a chance. She’d left the forest alone, grievously
wounded and without a vehicle. She’d walked the whole way here, bleeding
endlessly, the road’s rejuvenating power battling every moment against her body’s
natural inclination to die. I suspect the road’s influence wasn’t
strong enough, and when a whispering voice promised, ever so sweetly to mend her, she
would have been in no position to refuse. Her other sleeve brushes against dry land,
her body leaving the water for the first time in decades. I keep pulling until my boots hit asphalt,
laying her down on the grass just beside the Wrangler. After a moment of sober vigil, I walk to the
back of the car and fetch Rob’s foldable spade. A long few hours follow. I’ve never dug someone’s grave before,
and my injury is hardly conducive to the task. My fleece tied around my waist, pearls of
sweat running down my brow, I manage to slowly chip away at the damp earth. Five hours later, my back cramping, my hand
raw from gripping the shovel, I attempt to lower Marjorie into the rough pit with some
semblance of grace, her legs dropping limply into the soft soil despite my best efforts. It takes over an hour to shovel the soil back. It’s a sobering and ugly task. As a layer of dirt covers her face, I realise
this will be the last time a living person lays their eyes on Marjorie Guthard. Burying her suddenly feels disrespectful,
as if it’s an act I don’t have the right to perform. Once it’s done, I drop onto my knees, a
dull ache in my muscles as I smooth out the disturbed ground with the back of the shovel. MARJORIE: You. Even before I turn to face her, I can hear
a scowl in her voice. There’s an odious depth to that one acrid
syllable, a potent witch’s brew of contempt and accusation that feels like it’s been
festering in her drowned lungs for decades. Reluctantly, I rise to my feet and turn around,
finding myself face to face with the woman I just buried. She looks different now, her clothes are dry,
her skin clear, with nothing to be seen of the deep, dark gash in her blouse. AS: Marjorie. Unlike the empty vessel below us, the woman
in front of me is by no means at peace. She shakes and wretches with the same indignant
fury I witnessed when we first met. When she speaks, her words shudder under the
weight of her own turbulent emotions. MARJORIE: I chased you. I ran to you. I… I gave him up for you. AS: I’m… I’m sorry Marjorie, I don’t know what
you mean. Tell me what you mean. MARJOIRE The things I saw, things so beautiful. And I saw her, walking alone through the new
worlds. I gave everything up for you!! I don’t know quite what to say. It’s pointless to ask her what she means,
to try and understand her frenetic ramblings. In the end, I can only try to speak her language. AS: Marjorie I… I didn’t mean you to. Marjorie’s trembling breaths burst into
a despairing fit of laughter. MARJORIE: Oh… oh yes you did. Yes you did. And now… now you’re here. Marjorie’s wild and volatile demeanour shifts
once more, her laughter degrading further into a desperate crying panic. MARJORIE: And what do I do now? What- What do I do?! Marjorie cringes with the terror of the self-imposed
question, placing her head in her hands and repeating it over and over again. As I watch her wrestle with despair, I’m
struck by an idea I’ve never before considered. The disconcerting notion that, in death, we
are not transported to a set destination by some ethereal attendant. That in fact, nothing is decided for us. Perhaps the manner in which we spend our afterlife
is down to us, a decision we have to make ourselves. Marjorie is standing over her own lifeless
body, still lost, still entirely unmoored. There’s no sign of boundless paradise, inescapable
damnation or everlasting nothingness, and the common thread they share, a final release
from the weight of our own agency, is similarly absent. Perhaps we never get that freedom, perhaps
we continue like we always do, accompanied by all our imperfections, uncertainty and
discontent. Perhaps we must choose our eternity. After all my time on the road, that’s possibly
the most terrifying notion I’ve encountered. AS: He never stopped looking you know. Marjorie snaps out of her wretched despair,
instantly aware of who I’m referring to, staring up at me with an expression I’ve
never seen her wear before. AS: I saw him, walking on the road. He didn’t stop. He was never going to stop. I think he was looking for you Marjorie, he
still is. Marjorie stares through me. For the first time since we met on that quiet
Phoenician corner, I can see the faint spark of something other than misery and rage across
her tear stained face. I hold her gaze for a moment more, before
pulling my phone from my pocket. In a single sweep of my contacts, I delete
every number except for one. A number I pulled from the Nokia during our
second night on the road. A number that connects to a lost wanderer
of the road. AS: I don’t know if this can help but…
stranger things have happened. As she stares up into my eyes, I feel like
we’re finally meeting for the first time. Without a word, Marjorie reaches out a quivering
hand and takes the phone from my outstretched fingers. Before I can say anything more, Marjorie Guthard
is gone. A few moments later, a refreshing breeze lands
against my cheek, a soft zephyr, cooling my still warm face. It’s a welcome sensation, and the first
movement I’ve witnessed in the air since I set out onto the lake. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I stare
quietly along the bridge, the breeze picking up around me. It’s a subtle wind at first, brushing stray
hairs across my forehead, chilling the perspiration on my neck. Yet as I reach my hand out, and feel the air
slip between my fingers, I’m witness to a steady rise in both strength and magnitude. The sound of the wind grows from a whisper
to a howl, Seconds later, the hanging sleeves of my fleece begin to stream sideways. My hair lifts from my back, billowing in the
throes of a developing gale. I back up against the Wrangler’s hood as
the air finally erupts into a roaring, cacophonous cyclone. My hand reflexively seeks the sturdy frame
of the Wrangler, my fingers wrapping around the grille, my arm tensing as the unrelenting
wind threatens to drag me from the road. Squinting through the violent tempest, I focus
on a single point in space, just above the threshold of the bridge. In the midst of the storm, a jagged line of
white hot light bursts out of the ether, tearing through the night’s fabric, a crackling
fissure that widens and yawns, forcing apart the curtains of reality as they frenetically
struggle to recombine. Staring through the shuddering fracture, I’m
subjected to the briefest glimpse of a boundless, and impossible vista. It is a faraway place in both distance and
time. An achingly beautiful and gloriously terrifying
dreamscape, enduring on the majestic shores of infinity. Every moment there spans a millennium and
unfolds in countless directions at once. Every passing shadow holds a darkness beyond
measure, their edges burned by the glare of a waking sun which looks across every conceivable
world with a hollow, rancorous intent. In the midst of this maddening landscape,
a singular entity approaches, gliding towards the portal with the clear intent to pass through. As it breaches the shuddering gateway, and
the wind dies down around it, I stare up at its grand celestial form. The being is unlike anything I’ve ever seen;
composed entirely from electric arcs of brilliant, magnesic light which burst from a volatile
and blinding central core. It sounds like a lightning storm, its plasmatic
tendrils snapping and crackling, bursting chaotically through the night air before collapsing
in on themselves. As they fall back into the creature’s centre,
they emit pale clouds of vaporous fractals that fade softly into the air. Somehow, even as my eyes barely adjust to
the stark light, I realise that the entity usually burns much brighter. It’s dampened its glow for my benefit, so
that it can appear before me without scorching my eyes from their sockets. AS: It’s you… isn’t it. You’re the voice I’ve been hearing. You’re the one who brought me here. The bristling maelstrom of light hangs in
the air, crackling and shifting, its transient limbs strobing with chaotic incandescence. Part of me wants to hide, part of me wants
to run, but neither are an option anymore. Releasing my hand from the Wrangler’s grille
I take a single step forward, standing on my own and staring up into the entity’s
smouldering core. AS: Can I get an interview? The creature doesn’t react. In the following silence, I feel it observing
me. When it finally responds, its voice ruptures
the night, echoing through my skull. VOICE: There is little time, but you may ask
what questions you have. Each reverberating syllable forms a string
of literal shockwaves in the surrounding lake, emanating outwards from the being in a perfect
circle. I watch the waves roll into the distance,
showing no sign of ever diminishing, and I think about what question to ask first. In the end, it comes to me quickly; a promise
is a promise after all. AS: What happened to Marjorie? Why did she do what she did? The being pauses, as if considering its response. When it does reply, it speaks with a calm
sobriety. VOICE: She glimpsed an echo of the future,
dreamed of the road, of the things that it passes through. AS: Like whatever’s through there? I gesture through the gateway, which is now
almost entirely blocked from view by the creature’s spiralling form. VOICE: She dreamed of untold frontiers. She saw a lone woman walking them. Over time, the fulfilment of that vision became
everything to her. AS: But it wasn’t her… she thought she
was seeing her own future… but it was- VOICE: It was you. Those three words, as they burst into the
open air, casting three narrow waves across the boundless water, hit me with a deep and
heavy force. Unbeknownst to myself, decades before I was
even born, Marjorie had been driven insane by dreams of maddening grandeur, of a life
of boundless possibility and true significance. She had given everything up to chase a shadow…
a shadow that eventually turned out to be mine. I hadn’t just pulled Rob into this game,
I was the reason for everything. I was the cause for the tragedy that befell
his entire family, AS: She didn’t just dream those sights. You influenced her. You let her see them… the same way you made
Rob see me in Aokigahara. You pushed and you prodded wherever you needed
so that I’d end up here. Are you the reason Bobby got the rules in
the first place? VOICE: Yes. AS: But… why? You toyed with so many lives across… across
decades. Why me? Why does it matter that I travel the road? VOICE: Because across all humanity, across
every conceivable permutation, you are the one who makes it the furthest. It speaks plainly, as if the statement were
a foregone conclusion. Yet its words strike me into silence. The creature continues. VOICE: I’ve watched you work your way here,
through skill and through tenacity… and undeniably through luck. You were brought here because of these qualities,
and they will carry you further along the road than any other. AS: Then why didn’t you just bring me here? All that influence and you didn’t lift a
finger… after everything that happened- VOICE: Events transpired as they needed to. AS: As they… needed to?! People died! Marjorie. Bobby. Ace. Apollo. Eve. Lilith. Everyone. They’re all gone. Do you not care at all? In response to my words, the entity remains
silent for longer than usual. VOICE: I care more than you know. There are things greater than your understanding,
forces that exist beyond the realms of your comprehension that you would consider a threat
to everything you hold dear. My actions were guided by a higher standard
of knowledge. Your protests are predicated on false understanding. AS: You’re saying I don’t understand death? VOICE: You don’t. AS: … That still doesn’t make it right. VOICE: Regardless, my influence is necessary. That which is necessary must be. AS: What even are you? VOICE:: I cannot answer that question in any
way you’d understand. AS: That’s not good enough. The creature doesn’t respond, as if it doesn’t
feel it needs to. So far it’s returned my every argument with
impenetrable certainty. From the domain it occupies, knowing what
it knows, my arguments must seem entirely facile. Even if it did feel the need to justify itself,
after seeing the place it hails from, I wonder if there’s any way I could ever comprehend
its motives. Still, that doesn’t mean my arguments are
invalid, and the creature’s lofty dispassion does little more than stoke my desire to oppose
it. AS: And what if I don’t want any part of
this? VOICE: You are travelling the aberrant strand;
a singularly stable flaw in the fabric of reality. As it carries you further from the world you
know, you will be freed from the influence of the old laws. You have already noticed the effects in those
who settled the road, those who were lost to it and in yourself; energy without consumption,
knowledge without requisite experience. You are shedding entropy, and causality and
in time you will reach realms of understanding you cannot currently fathom. You will find answers to questions you never
thought to ask. You will discover absolute truth. For this reason, you will carry on. AS: That’s the only reason? VOICE: Do you need another? It doesn’t come across as a question, but
rather another blunt statement of fact. I understand the effect it’s speaking of. Ever since the city, I’ve been encountering
vague notions and fragmented ideas that occur to me randomly and without announcement. New avenues of thought leading to revelations
that would otherwise lie beyond my mortal reach. I’ve started to comprehend things I could
barely have conceived of back home, and though the onset of these notions had been terrifying
at first, they grow less so with every passing day. AS: No… no, I don’t trust you. I don’t- VOICE: Your trust is immaterial. You will travel the road regardless. The creature’s already stark glow starts
to intensify. VOICE: I’ve watched you, on every turn … across
every moment of your journey. One of the creature’s countless protrusions
lashes out at the empty air, forming another harsh, glowing fissure. It wrenches itself open in a few stilted jolts,
a transparent, almost crystalline membrane stretched across the gap. Through it, I can see myself, in the centre
of a cornfield, examining a block of C4 explosive. It’s as if I’m staring into the past through
a jagged shard of one-way glass. VOICE: I’ve watched you questioning. Though we can’t be seen through the aperture,
I see the glasslike membrane shake with the force of the creature’s voice. As the window collapses, I can see the rows
of corn thrown into a frenzy. A second arc lashes out at the sky, forming
a second aperture. This time I’m expecting the sight before
me. I see myself, crying in the forest… a silent
radio by my side. VOICE: I’ve watched you struggle. The second window closes. The creature has made its point. VOICE: I’ve watched you fight… to make
your way here. VOICE: You will not turn around. AS: You make it sound like I don’t have
a choice. VOICE: You do have a choice Alice, but you
have already made it. As much as I’ve grown to detest the creature’s
presumption, in that moment, I know it’s right. What it’s saying is true. I’ve done things I never would have imagined
in order to get where I am now. In fact, if this being hadn’t arrived at
all, I’d already be heading out over the bridge. I’m not proud of what drives me; that same,
ugly impulse that led me to refuse Rob’s offer of return, that made it so easy to leave
him behind in the silent city. But there’s no denying the impulse is there. It’s been with me the whole time, long before
I ever arrived in Phoenix, Arizona… and it’s buried deeper than I’ve ever wanted
to admit. AS: Can I… do I get to say goodbye? The entity says nothing. It hangs in the air, flickering and coursing
with rupturing bolts of light. The next thing I hear is a faint mechanical
hum emanating from the Wrangler behind me. Turning around, I pace briskly back to the
car, opening the door and reaching into the passenger seat. My notebook is booting up, seemingly of its
own accord. Picking up the laptop, I lift the lid as I
march back towards the bridge. I stare up at the silent being before me. When I look down to the laptop, my email client
is already displayed on the screen. AS: How… how long do I have? VOICE: Long enough. The entity begins to regress, its arcs diminishing
as the being at its core turns away. Its message has been delivered. There is nothing more to discuss. As it passes through the gateway, into an
unknowable world far removed from my own, I call out after it. AS: I’m still not certain I trust you. The being focusses on me once more, as the
fracture begins to close. A final set of waves pass across the surface
of the lake as it solemnly replies. VOICE: … I remember. A moment later, the being is gone. I stand motionless in the middle of the road,
the entity’s final remarks washing over me, its curious choice of words echoing in
my head. In the renewed silence, the faint stirrings
of an overwhelming and terrible revelation start to form in my mind. It could have simply said that it knew of
my mistrust, that it heard the overtones in my voice, saw the disdain across my face or
otherwise sensed it in the space between us. Instead, the being spoke as if my current
feelings were a memory, dwelling somewhere within its depths. It was undeniable that my time on the road
was changing me, but in all this time I’d never truly considered how those changes might
evolve as my journey continues. I’d never thought about what I might gain,
what I might lose… or about what I might inevitably become. A short while passes before I lower my eyes
from the empty space above the bridge, to the screen of my notebook. Lowering myself down, I cross my legs and
rest my back against the Wrangler. If you’ve been reading from the beginning,
you’ve finally caught up with me. I hope you’ll allow me a few personal messages. To Rob. I hope you’re able to read this someday,
and I am so, so sorry for everything I’ve done; for everything I may do. I hope you understand that I didn’t know,
and that none of this was your fault. You did the best you could, and the days I
spent with you were the most significant of my life. It was an honour to know you and I hope that,
among these pages, you find the answers, and the peace, that you deserve. To my mum and dad, I’m sorry I won’t be
sending this to you. In the end, I was carried along this road
by a profound selfishness, and I just can’t bring myself to face you. I can’t imagine the pain I’ll be putting
you through, and I won’t try to justify my actions. All I can say is that I love you and I’m
sorry that my last act towards you was one of cowardice. And finally to you; the person to whom this
message will be addressed. I’m sorry. I always thought I’d see you again someday,
that the roads I took would eventually lead me home. That doesn’t look so likely now. Though I could say a lot to you, I’m not
going to. But I wish we could have been friends for
longer. It feels like a lifetime since I first arrived
at Rob Guthard’s quiet street. I remember the uncertainty as I waited for
him to open his door, with no concievable idea what was about to transpire. Like so many other things, that’s now changed. Despite being in an entirely new world, further
from home than anyone’s ever been, I know exactly what’s going to happen next. I’m going to take a drive. Take a left, then the next possible road on
the right, then the next possible left. I will repeat the process ad infinitum, until
I wind up somewhere new. And from there I’ll keep driving, beyond
worlds, beyond time, beyond the bounds of my imagining. To a place where the lake runs dry, where
the broken moon drifts away, and the stars disappear in the rear view. To a place where everything has fallen away,
and the road is all there is.


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