Knowing that they would be outside for potentially a long period of time, Stephanie and Nicky had the foresight to put on an extra layer of clothes before heading out. They also both grabbed flashlights. Stephanie had suggested that they bring the tent with them in the event that they were unable to return back to the cabin, but Nicky shot down the idea. Tent aside, the two were wildly more prepared than the friends they sought, well, wildly more prepared for everything excepting any kind of activity involving a tent. They did not have that tent. Stephanie couldn’t really let that go.
“Just think Nicky, if we had the tent, we could just set it up right now and have a shelter,” said Stephanie.
“Tell me exactly what good that would do right now?” Nicky replied.
“Well, we’d have shelter.”
“We don’t need shelter. We’re on a search mission.”
“A search mission severely lacking a really cool tent.”
The two began by walking the trodden paths of the festival. Though, as they continued, Nicky began to question the legitimacy of Patrick as a festival runner. Not in the ‘Patrick is a witch!’ way, but in a ‘why would you run a music festival that doesn’t have any kind of activity at this hour. There should at least be a few drunk people wandering around’.
“I am not nearly drunk enough for this cold,” Stephanie said.
“Enough?” Nicky asked.
“What, you think I was drinking Red Bull without vodka like a child?” Stephanie asked back. “Of course I’m drunk. But not enough. It’s absolutely freezing.”
The cold was giving Stephanie flashbacks to the horrible two years she used to live in Wisconsin. Nicky sighed. There wasn’t much that she could do at this point. She was also a little jealous of Stephanie? Like, Stephanie did have a point in that being drunk did make the cold a little more bearable, and right she was shivering like maraca.
The walked the paths as far as they thought reasonable, and then back tracked them once again. They did not find who they were looking for, nor did they find anyone at all. They found cold, they found dirt, they found wet grass and mud, but nothing else.
“Forest time,” Stephanie said, turning her flashlight to the trees.
The fog in the air articulated the beam of her flashlight, but once it hit the line of trees, the beam cut off abruptly.
“Excuse me, what?” Nicky asked.
“It’s time that we check the forest.”
Stephanie gave a slight chuckle. She liked Heidi as much as the next person, but she didn’t like Heidi ‘run into the forest at three am’ much. But before Nicky could voice her dissent, Stephanie made a full force sprint into the trees, like really booking it. This shocked Nicky, just the suddenness of it all. Stephanie had a long history of running track and field, so the ease at which she absolutely booked it was not shocking to Stephanie, just the part where she abandoned her friend and bandmate immediately for the trees.
“I lied!” Stephanie shouted. “I’m much drunker than I suggested!”
Stephanie’s voice faded as she ran—it was fairly quiet to begin with as she was facing the opposite direction of Nicky—and it all but dropped when she passed through the first line of trees. Nicky swore a little, then swore a lot, and then marched her way right after Stephanie.
It was not long before Stephanie was lost and Nicky too was lost. Unfortunately for the two of them, they were not lost together. Upon entering the forest, the ooky spooky feeling that both had had when crossing into the festival ran through them once again, corresponding with an immediate malfunctioning of their flashlights. Stephanie ceased her sprinting when the trees became too thick, and Nicky unknowingly followed perhaps 100 paces behind.
“I’m so cold, I am so so very cold,” Stephanie sang out. “I am so so very cold, I’m the coldest one I know.”
Stephanie’s song was not joyful. It was distressed. While she was wearing a large down coat, Stephanie had neglected to wear any gloves. She was also mentally holding onto the hope that her flashlight may start working again, and because of that hope she was still physically holding onto the flashlight, and it was one of those heavy duty metal flashlights that they sell to ‘real campers’, the important part here being the metal. Cold metal on bare skin. Stephanie’s hands were getting to that ‘can’t even text using one’s thumbs due to lack of mobility’ cold.
As she continued into her second verse “I am so very cold and I personally blame Heidi for this cold” Stephanie tripped and fell straight on her face. And what she tripped on shouted. It shouted loudly.
“The fuck?” Stephanie said, scooting away quickly.
She was both afraid of the sudden sound, intrigued by the sudden sound, and doubled down in her own misery after any heat she may have had stored in her body got sucked out into the cold hard ground.
“I’m working! I was going to find more wood!”
Stephanie grabbed her flashlight and tried to flick it on again, unsuccessfully. Stephanie strained her eyes and saw the faint outline of a twenty-something young man rising off the ground, wearing a long billowing cape.
“Dracula!” Stephanie screamed, scooting backwards with her feet, succeeding only in kicking up some leaves and smacking her back against a tree.
“What? Maria?” the voice shouted back.
Stephanie took a deep breath and calmed herself. If it truly was Dracula, he would not have been able to pronounce the word “What” without replacing the ‘w’ with a ‘v’. Those was the only rule of vampires that Stephanie understood. It was also becoming more and more clear that the cape was actually just a blanket that the man was holding over his shoulders.
“Grant?” Stephanie asked. “Is that one of the kids?”
“Are you not Grant?”
“No, I’m Caleb.”
Huh. Must be one of the kids from the other car, Stephanie thought, and approached the figure.
“Do you know where everyone else is?” she asked.
Caleb flinched and took a step back. He was not used to such forwardness that wasn’t a kick to the face.
“You know, like Finn and your friends. I think Patrick was looking for them.”
Caleb jumped at hearing the name Patrick. Not seeing this, Stephanie grabbed the blanket from Caleb and wrapped it around the two of them. Caleb jumped for a second time.
“My this is much warmer than just being out here with my coat,” said Stephanie. “Now let’s go look for the rest of them.
Bound to Stephanie by the blanket and with no energy to fight, Caleb continued on with Stephanie as they walked through the forest.
Further back, Nicky picked up her own speed. She had heard a singing voice that could not have been anyone but Stephanie, but the blasted darkness was making it so she couldn’t go too fast without smacking into more trees now and then.
“Stephanie!” Nicky called out wildly. “Stephanie! Where are you!”
“Polo!” another voice shouted.
That voice was definitely Stephanie, and Nicky pursued, immediately into a tree. There were so many trees in this forest, and Nicky was having none of it.
“Marco!, I mean, Polo!”
Nicky followed the voices until she reached a moon lit clearing with, thank goodness, fewer trees. There were so few trees that the moonlight was able to reach the ground without any interruption. Nicky stared up at the sky, admired it for a moment, and then screamed a scream louder than she was comfortable admitting. Out from the trees came running a heaping mass the height of a person but twice as wide.
“Monster!” she shouted, falling backwards onto the ground.
“It’s okay! Dracula isn’t here!” shouted the mass, which had the same voice as Stephanie.
“Stephanie? Is that Stephanie?”
Nicky strained her eyes and was able to make out the face of her counterpart, but she could also make out the face of someone that she didn’t recognize. He looked kind of sort of like Finn, but it definitely wasn’t Finn. Then again, Nicky wasn’t well versed in the ins and outs of Heidi’s life. Heidi was both a friend and a coworker, but more of a coworker-friend than a friend-coworker if you will. Like, she had gotten drinks after work with Heidi on a couple of occasions, but she had never been over to Heidi’s place before and Heidi had never been over to hers. They were at that level of friendship where she knew a lot about Heidi’s boyfriend and some intimate details of their arguments, but not at the point of friendship where she would be able to ID any of Heidi’s son’s friends in the dark at 3AM.
“Where’d you get the blanket?” Nicky asked, getting back on her feet.
“This kid,” Stephanie slurred. “Finn’s friends are so prepared.”
Stephanie grabbed at Nicky and with great difficulty, managed to wrap her in with Caleb and herself. Caleb was uncomfortable only on the grounds of being forcibly smashed against too complete strangers, but it was also the warmest he had felt in months, and the closest he had come to human touch that wasn’t a strike across the face. A strange mix of emotions, but not entirely unwelcome.
“Oooh, and guess what, Nicks,” Stephanie said. “Guess guess what?”
Stephanie shimmied the backpack she was wearing over to her front (a difficult task given their bound-as-a-trio positioning) reached in and produced a flask.
“I have extra provisions!”
Nicky smiled, and sighed. She smiled because she loved her friend. She sighed because Stephanie was drunk and ridiculous. She sighed because she knew that Stephanie was going to try to get her drunk. She sighed because she knew she also wanted to get drunk. She sighed because she knew she was going to get drink. And she smiled because she too had reached the point of ‘I am so done being sober.’
“See, before we left I checked my flask and I told myself ‘damnit Stephanie, you drank that empty’ but then I remembered that that was my road flask, and that I had two backup flasks,” Stephanie said. “Sadly I left the second backup flask back at the cabin. But for now we got this one.”
Stephanie began opening the flask, a difficult task for someone with frozen fingers.
“What do we have?” Nicky asked.
“It’s either whisky or Everclear,” Stephanie said, still fumbling
“Why the hell would you bring a flask of Everclear?”
“As a mixer. I’m not a monster,” Stephanie said, successfully unscrewing the top.
The tilted her head back and let a healthy stream of liquid fall into her mouth. She immediately coughed and gagged, but in a controlled attempt to keep everything down.
“Shit, that’s the Everclear. Jesus fucking shit that’s the Everclear.”
Stephanie swallowed and gave the flask to Nicky. Nicky prayed a quick secular prayer and took a chug herself. It was, as anyone who has taken a shot of Everclear will tell you, absolutely awful, disgusting, something you never want to do again, but something you know you’ll probably do again.
“You 21?” Stephanie asked, taking the flask back from Nicky. “Oh hell, doesn’t matter.”
Stephanie pressed the flask against Caleb’s mouth and tilted it back. Caleb had a similar reaction to Stephanie the first time, but succeeded in spitting out most of what Stephanie had tried to pour down. Disappointed, Stephanie forced a round two on him, which he downed more successfully.
“Okay. Now we search for the kids,” Stephanie said, taking a few shaky steps forward.
“Right, right, the kids,” Nicky replied.
The two waddled their way further into the forest as a trio, which was both more difficult and easier than as individuals. More difficult in that they were now three times as wide as before and were more likely to hit trees, but helpful in that if one of them were to fall over due to tree smash, root trip, or general drunkenness, the tension of the blanket would keep them up. That is if only one person fell over. Any time it were two, the whole lot would fall over, and that did happen at least twice within the next half hour.