I woke up to the smell of oats wafting into the tent on a gentle breeze. While I could feel no wind, the soft fluttering of the entrance provided the proof of the quiet presence. Either that or the tent is haunted. Which considering we stole the shelter from demon worshippers, is entirely possible.
The blankets next to me are empty. Mike had been using them when I fell asleep. There were only two tents in the cultist’s camp. The girls did not even humour a discussion on sleeping arrangements and just took one of the tents for themselves. I think Mike wanted to argue the point a little though.
Getting up I put on some clothes we found in the camp. Mine were covered in blood and ripped apart for bandages. The shirt is a simple throw over tunic. Quite long but good in that the sleeve does not stress my shoulder too much. That area is still sore and difficult to move.
After putting on the pants, while thinking that the tunic is so long I could go without, my eye is caught by one of the things in the corner. The others found a lot when they initially ransacked the camp. There were many books among the items, mostly on demons and rituals, but there was a stand out in the number.
“Beginners Introduction to the Magic of Ice.” It is cold to the touch. I wonder if it could be used for food preservation. I grab the book for now, and tuck the tome away in a perfectly book sized pocket hidden inside the tunic. The clothes did belong to a cultist afterall. The loose clothes hide the book nicely, and there are even more pockets sown randomly inside the shirt. I exit the tent into the bright morning light. The sun has fully risen and graces the land with warmth. A welcome change from the dreariness of yesterday evening.
Mike is preparing food in a pot over the campfire. He is a tall dark man lacking the density to fill out his own form. The smell of oatmeal grows stronger with each stur of his spoon. He grimaces with each rotation a little. Most likely having to do with the large bruises covering his right arm from when he broke through the barrier. He has not complained about the arm though.
“Good morning.” I say with a bit of chipper in my voice, and a smile on my face.
“What’s so good about it?” He responds with some mild distain for the world at large.
“Not being strapped to a ritual alter, watching your heart pulled out while it beats in a demonic hand. Feeling your eternal soul pulled down into a fiery abyss from which nothing may escape. Never ending torture to the point where nonexistence is prayed for. Compared to that, this is great.” I say, my grin growing wider.
“That did nearly happen!” He is scowling. Not seeing the humour and fortune in our situation.
“Fine then. I take that back. Nearly being sacrificed is just as bad as being sacrificed.”
“Shut your ass up.”
“Cheer up, we’re pretty lucky. I mean, it could be raining. There is that better, or am I just tempting fate now.” I slightly laugh at my own antics.
“Stop messing around! We are up to our necks in shit! How are you okay with this!” Mike is angry. Little veins popping on his forehead. Teeth clenched in frustration.
“We will probably be fine. We have a camp of supplies and a handgun.” I give him a smile and a light chuckle. “Better off then most people lost in the woods.”
“The two other guys could come back.” He is trying to harden his face. Appear stoic and strong enough to give his words the needed weight.
“So shoot them. Or fire up into the air to give us a warning.” I try to break through his negative outlook on the whole situation. We are in a pretty good situation, relatively speaking. Especially since we found a lot of old silver coins in the cultists’ backpacks. They are in English, but I have no idea who is the woman on the coin. We just have to get out of here and see what they are worth.
Mike just looks down into his cook pot. Stirring slowly and looking guilty like the cat that killed the canary. Looking closer, he is missing something very important.
“Mike, where is the gun?” I say trying to sound gentle.
“I have it.” He is not looking at me, so I go across the fire from him and bend down to eye level.
“Can I please see it?”
“It’s fine.” He scowls slightly. I stand up and amble over to the log that I knew was used by the nightwatch. I was healing and did not take a shift, but the other three watched the camp in turns to allow us sleep. Mike’s shift should have been the last one. However, now I see the pistol, that should be protecting us, sitting on top the old fallen tree. Just in the open. Abandoned.
“You really should be keeping an eye on this. It is just idiotic to leave this sitting around.” The sloppy, stupid nature of this is infuriating, but I remain composed and smile like I am only mildly amused.
I pick up the pistol feeling the cold metal slip into my grip easily. Keeping my finger off the trigger, and the weapon pointed down. The safety is still on from when I gave the gun to Jess for first watch.
“Put that down. You’ll hurt somebody.” Mike stands up, letting his superior stature attempt to intimidate me.
“You just left it here. Anybody could have taken it.”
“I was watching it.”
“Why weren’t you holding it? You need to watch the forest, not your weapon. You need to be able to respond fast.” Mike just looks down at the question. Avoiding eye contact. No not eye contact, gun contact. He is turned away slightly, trying to look at me but avoid the weapon.
“What’s the matter?” I try to sound soft and gentle, but my smile just makes the voice come out mockingly.
“Nothing.” Short, simple, and an obvious lie.
“Are you afraid of guns?” He scowls slightly. The man has such an obvious tell.
“Were you threatened with one?” No response.
“You get shot?” His eyebrows furrow. Closer.
“Somebody you know get shot, killed, filled with lead and left for the fishes?” Now that is a nasty furrow, but I do not think I am there yet.
“Somebody blasted out their own brains?” Now that is pure anger on his face.
“Shut up.” He tries to maintain a normal tone.
“Did you see?” My voice has a mocking edge.
“Shut UP!” He gives into some of his anger.
“Did you watch?!”
“I am going to pound you’re brains in!”
“It would be easier to blast my brains out, but you don’t have a gun.” I am just now purely mocking him.
“SHUT YOUR ASS UP!”
“Alright, alright, let’s be civil. While I regret to hear about your unfortunate experiences, you need to get over this. Others are counting on you.” Mike quiets down. His rational mind fighting with his irrational anger and fear. Making a face as if twin dragons are fighting in his mind. He knows he did a stupid and dangerous thing afterall.
“How about I help you then.” I give him a friendly smile. “As long as you follow the basic rules of firearms nothing bad will happen.” Mike narrows his eyes, unsure if he wants my “help” but deciding to see were this goes. I have to hand it to him, he can reel in his anger pretty fast.
“The first rule of firearms is to only point them at something you are absolutely fine with obliterating. It is dead when you point your gun. Your suicide guy would have known this.” The man is looking at me. Furious. Ready to pounce but not daring to charge. Oh, this will be a fun lesson.
“I always make it a point to follow the first rule.” I raise the gun to my head. I feel the barrel rest on my temple. The cold steel against skin. Even though my finger is off the trigger and the safety is on I receive the desired effect, because this is real. I am serious. But still smiling. And he is quiet, anger giving way to listening.
“I don’t care if I die. I will one day or another. I already tried once.” The chef is silent. Actively working to keep his face neutral. Probably not wanting to upset me. Too bad, I wanted to feel his reaction.
“Death is always an option. An out.” I move the gun from my head and point the barrel at him. He tenses and lowers ever so slightly to the ground. Ready for some stupid bullet dodge he most likely saw in a movie.
“There are conveniently four bullets left. We could all leave.” I move the gun in a pass over the tent with the two girls. “This could end. Death is always there. But then what would we miss. Life is fascinating. Life is wonderful. And I want to see it through. If I die, I just finish what I started. Finality. A boring finality. But inevitable. But it is the person’s choice, not the gun’s.” I lower the pistol. My smile fades slightly, but still beamingly present to anyone who did not watch in that moment.
Mike walks over to me. He stretches out his hand.
“You’re insane, and need help.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” I give him the gun. He points it at me. Right at my head. I can see down the barrel, but I still smile.
“Nice threat, but remember you just killed me with that.” I say with my ever present smirk.
“You are wrong. Death is not an option. It is failure.” Mike lowers the weapon. His face now as hard as stone. Eyes locked in reminisce.
“You are right in some aspects, but let’s hold onto this for another day. Breakfast is burning.” I say with some glee at the situation, but still genuinely concerned for my meal.
“Shit fuck!” Mike runs over to the fire and starts stirring the mush. “It looks fine, just caught it. Wake the other two.”
“Fine.” I walk over to the tent, and open the flap just a bit. “HEY! Wake up can’t spend all day sleeping! Breakfast is done!”
After some grumbling, a mild curse, and another wake-up call, the two women are up. A bit worse for wear. Angie had shoulder length hair and no make-up. At least no noticeable make-up. A little water to wash up and she would still look like she slept outside. But at least appear like she planned for the occasion.
Jess, however, had layers of well done make-up. Which was now smudged and running down her face. She had cried in the night which was quite noticeable. Her long hair was tangled up like a squirrel had used the strands as a nest. The fibers begging to be brushed. She quickly excused herself to go to the stream, which is when I noticed she actually had her purse. Jess came back looking better than all of us combined, but I wonder how long her supplies can last.
She was only gone about ten minutes, and the wait was interminable. Mike has already dished out the food, but Angie insisted on waiting for Jess until we could eat. I am not sure why I am so hungry. I nearly gave in. Just wanting to dunk my head into the pot.
But now she is back, so we can start eating. The meal is quiet. Mike and I grab seconds and finish off the pot. He is actually a good cook. The simple food is surprisingly delicious, even with the limited seasonings and additions.
But this momentary peace cannot last. When the meal is over, we will have to talk about our plans.