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The Storyteller

 Part One

“The End.”

       Alex looked around the campfire. Some of his neighbours were looking at their feet, their shoulders shaking as they hunched over. Some weren’t hiding their laughter at all. Marlee, his newly divorced neighbour three doors down and five drinks in, was the loudest of them all. She took a breath between her maniacal laughter to spit out:

       “Who ends a story with The End? How ridiculous!”

       Alex furrowed his brow - how else were they supposed to know he’d finished? Alex’s next-door neighbour, Daryl, cut in before he could ask. 

       “Come on Marlee, it is his first time here.”

       “Yeah, but is it his first time telling a story, ever?”

       Alex was about to pipe up and say it was his first time. He’d never even heard someone tell a story before - he thought maybe someone else would go first so he’d know what to do. 

       “It’s not easy with such a bitter audience, Marlee. You’re the one who insisted he told the first story of the night.”

       This was Bev - Daryl’s wife. And she’s right, Marlee did insist Alex go first. Maybe she intended to embarrass me, Alex thought. He shook it off. His neighbours were nice - they invited him to their secret campfire club, after all. It seemed an odd thing to do at first, telling ghost stories around a fire like teenagers, but it was fun and definitely more adult. 

       “Right, let’s move on,” Daryl said as he grabbed the empty bottle of bourbon, the one the group drained before storytime started, and put it to the left of the fire. With a twist, the bottle span - but who would it land on next?

***

Who goes next?

Options

Marlee - winning option

Daryl

Bev

***

Part Two

The bottle slows and gutters around one more time before stopping directly in front of Marlee. She grins with delight but her eyes glitter with malice. Tendrils of flame from the campfire dance on her face, leaving behind sinister shadows. Bev pushes out an exhausting breath.

       “Don’t take all night about it, Marlee. And no vampires this time, we are sick of them.”

       Marlee cackles, apparently already getting into her role. “I am the original Storyteller, Bev. I can take as long as I want. And what’s wrong with Vampires? They are sexy.”

       Marlee gets up and shimmies around the campfire, bending slightly to her right and blowing a kiss at Daryl as she goes past. Bev bristles but knows better than to rise to the bait.

       “Are we ready for a real scare then everyone?” 

       She stops in front of Laura - a new neighbour, but not as new as Alex - and bears her teeth with a hiss. Laura falls back off her little camping chair. Marlee cackles louder as the neighbours next to Laura help her up.

       “Enough of the theatrics Marlee, just get started already.” This was Daryl now, chipping in only after a sharp elbow to his ribs and a scowl from his wife.

       “Theatrics are the best part of it, my dear. In fact, for this story to work, we all need to spread out into the woods.”

       The circle of neighbours stay seated. They sit and look to their left, right, and across the campfire, asking silent questions. Does Marlee usually do this? Are you going to get up? I will if you will.

       “Come on you bunch of losers. Get up, let’s go!”

***

What do the neighbours do?

Options

Go into the woods

A mix - some stay, some go - winning option

They all refuse

***

Part Three

Bev is the first to stand.

       “You can all do what you want but I am not sticking around and dealing with all your shit, Marlee.”

       Bev walks off, back up towards the cluster of houses. From a distance, the group hear her bark her husband’s name. Daryl stumbles upright and away towards Bev’s voice.

       “Fine, they were weak links anyway. The rest of you up for some real fun?”

       Laura timidly gets to her feet, apparently still suffering from her fall. She shuffles away from the campfire, muttering under her breath.

       “What was that, Laura? Brave enough to share with the group?”

       Laura stops muttering, turns to Marlee and flips her off. Everyone snickers as Marlee's face goes beetroot. 

       “Go home already, you miserable bitch. No one likes you anyway.”

       Laura huffs and walks off slowly, carefully trying to control the vibrations of rage and adrenaline that comes from standing up to someone like Marlee.

       “Right then, the rest of you, to the woods!” 

       She looks around at who is left as they disperse with hesitance into the woods. Her eyebrows raise at the sight of Alex walking into the tree line - he didn’t seem the type to do anything fun. Everyone else she knew well enough to know they’d buy into her game. They were as bored and miserable with suburban life as she was. Any chance to spice up the daily grind was firmly grabbed by both hands in this neighbourhood as long as it didn’t interfere with big sporting events, Yoga with Randy, or any number of their kid’s extra-curricular activities. 

       “Five. Four. Three. Two. One! Ready or not, here I come!”

       Marlee pulls up her oversized sweater and slips out a knife from her belt.

       “OK then. Let’s play."

***

Is the knife real?

Options:

Yes,  but she is kidding around - winning option

Yes, and she intends to use it

No

***

Part Four

Marlee presses her index finger against the tip of the knife. She pulls it away and inspects her finger, but she can’t see the blood blossoming out of it. A small lick deposits a tangy, metallic taste on her tongue. Marlee always liked the taste of blood. But that’s not what tonight is about. 

       She descends into the forest. If she can make at least one of them soil herself tonight, it’ll all be worth it. Creeping through the woods, she listens for the scuffle of a misplaced foot, a nervous shuffle, a heavy breath as the night cools down and the darkness gets heavier.

       “There was once a woman. She was loved, and rightly so. She was smart. Funny. Beautiful. Her life was as perfect as she was. Until…”

       She stabbed the tree in front of her. It groaned in pain. 

       “...it wasn’t.”

       A small yelp emanated from the adjacent tree. Marlee’s mouth twisted into a cruel smile - her theatrics had worked.

       “Is that you, Bea?”

       Bea had been in the neighbourhood almost as long as Marlee. She hadn’t been sure about a move from the city, but Marlee took her under her wing and showed her how to live life in a place where life stands still. Bea stepped out from behind the tree.

       “I’m sorry, Marlee. I really am. So, so sorry. Please… please put the knife down.” 

       Marlee can’t see the fear in Bea’s eyes, but she shakes so hard that her shadow vibrates. The tremors of her distant friend were so violent that Marlee thought she might shatter. 

      She drops the knife to her waist, swinging it loosely, and wonders if this was perhaps a bit too much for story night. 

       “It’s just a game, Bea. Calm yourself.”

       Bea doesn’t seem to hear her. She keeps saying sorry, that it was all a mistake. Marlee’s ex-husband’s name passes her lips in a whirlwind of words.

       “Stop. What was that? About Cory?”

       Bea stopped rambling. Her silence was enough.

       “It was you, wasn’t it?”


Further into the woods, Alex finds a tree sturdy enough to climb. He can’t see anything in the darkness, but he can hear Marlee start her story. Then silence. Then a scream. One that shakes you right down into the marrow of your bones. He scrambles back down the tree and back towards the campfire. The rest of the group slowly emerges from the woods. All but two of them.

***

What happened?

Options

Marlee stabbed Bea

Bea stabbed Marlee - winning option

Someone else stabbed them both...

***

Finale

The neighbours congregate silently around the fire, using it’s dying light to determine who is there and who is not. Alex is the first to speak.

       “It’s Bea and Marlee. They aren’t here.”

       Everyone looks at their feet, letting the quiet stretch out into the night. 

       “What? What am I missing?”

       He doesn’t know the remaining neighbours at all. He only knows what Daryl and Bev had told him when he first moved in. Eloise, the neighbour who he has only heard speak when shouting down her phone on the way to her car every morning, finally breaks the mutual silence between the group.

       “We should have known what this is about. Marlee must have found out about Bea and Cody.”

       Alex takes a moment to think through Eloise’s words - what they could mean. One thing he has learned through life is that the obvious explanation isn’t always the right one.

       But the secrets can wait until later, Alex determined, they needed to find the two women first.

       “We should go look for them.”

       Eloise laughs. “I’m not getting involved in their drama. Let them fight it out.”

       “You aren’t serious?”

       “I’m deadly serious. Not my problem.” She sweeps her arm across the fire and adds “Or theirs.”

       Everyone shrugs in agreement and trudges home, grumbling about how Marlee has to ruin everything and inviting each other over for more drinks.

       “Come on. This is ridiculous. They could be hurt.”

       No one even turns around.


“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Bea whispers as she pulls off her sweater and presses it onto Marlee’s abdomen. 

       For what? Stealing my husband or stabbing me? Marlee thinks. She tries to say it out loud but her lips won’t move. She tries to push Bea away but her arms are dead weight. Her mind spirals as she realises that she can’t move at all - she can’t even wince when Bea pushes down harder on her wound. 

       “Shit. What am I going to do?” 

       Call an ambulance you idiot! Marlee tries to scream. A bubble of blood bursts from her mouth instead.

       Bea jumps as someone shouts their names from a distance.

       “I’m sorry. I have to go. I’m sorry.” Bea pulls away her sweater, letting a river of red burst free from the cashmere dam.

       No! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! 

       Bea is gone for what feels like hours when Marlee hears footsteps.

       Thank God. I’m here. I’m here! 

       A shadow approaches and looms over her. She thinks of death and shakes the thought away. No - it’s a person. A real person, here to help.

       The person crouches down beside Marlee and touches her stomach, their hand coming away slick with blood.

       “It’s ok, Marlee. I’m here to help you.”

       Marlee recognises Bev’s voice and cries. Bea didn’t abandon her after all. She closes her eyes and lets herself drift in the calmness of knowing that she’ll be ok. Bev will know what to do. Bev knows everything.

       Bev hand caresses her forehead, her cheek, and finally rests over her lips. Her eyes shoot open as the hand tightens around her nose and mouth. As the darkness around her deepens bev leans in close and whispers, “Goodnight, Marlee.”

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