The bus swerved into oncoming traffic, narrowly avoiding contact with a red station wagon which passed by on the dark country road. The bus swerved again, sending backpacks and a small trombone player flying, and shaking everyone awake. Screams rose from the back of the bus as the driver sent the bus off the road, down a hill, and into a tree.
“Is everyone alright?” A voice rose from the darkness. The voice belonged to Barry Scronfeld, a strong baritonist and the section leader of low brass. Slowly, bruised and battered students of the Knight Lake Marching Band rose from their hiding places. Some were almost unharmed, while others were covered in bruises. From what Barry saw, no one was badly injured. Everyone was visibly shaken from the crash, but most were in good spirits for having survived the accident.
“Help!” An old man cried. People rushed over to see Mr. Defacio, the lone chaperone on the bus. He was laying on the battered seat, his leg caught between his backpack and the seat in front of him. His daughter, a small but proud saxophone player, pushed through the crowds to get a look at her father.
“Get my leg outta here, Lindsey!” He demanded of his daughter. Lindsey and Barry grabbed the backpack and pulled, ripping the main pocket open and sending papers flying. The chaperone wiggled his leg free and stood. He thanked Barry then began collecting his lost papers.
“Is Kat here?” Barry asked. Kat, the drum major, was the person trained to handle situations like these. She was an avid adventurer and always seemed to be outdoors.
“No. She’s on the other bus,” The small trombonist, a girl named Jeanne, answered.
“Where is the other bus?” He pressed, trying to get as much information as he could. She offered a shrug in response.
“Right then. Any ideas?” He looked at Mr. Defacio, who looked surprised at his acknowledgement.
“Umm.. Section circles outside?” He said, obviously unaccustomed to being a leader, “And bring your bags out there and leave them there overnight. We’ll be stuck here for a while, and we need as much room as possible on this bus.”
“You heard him!” Barry yelled, regretting his decision to give Mr. Defacio leadership. He was the oldest, and the most likely to have experience in this situation. Slowly, everyone shuffled off of the bus, passing by the bus driver who lay unconscious on the floor by his seat.
“Trombones, raise your hands,” Barry ordered. Three trombones: Casey, Jeanne, and Pete raised their instruments in the air. Barry rolled his eyes at them, and moved on, counting the baritones. Two: himself and Jake.
“Tubas?” Two people raised their hands: Jim and Mel.
“So we have seven people. Exactly half of our section,” Barry said, amused.
“Why do we ALWAYS have issues going to the International Falls parade?” Pete, a trombonist with long brown hair and bright green eyes, asked jokingly. Barry smiled and turned around, making his way to the high brass section.
“Is Kira here?” Liv, a quiet trumpet player and Barry’s girlfriend, asked.
“Nope,” said Rob, the narcissistic trumpet player who let the stereotypes about his instrument go to his head. He was once the quarterback for the football team, but quit because he felt like the high brass section couldn’t live without him.
“That means I’m leader!” He exclaimed, patting the belt that held his pants up.
“I think we should vote,” spoke Minnie, a mellophone player who was one of the few people not afraid of Rob. For even though he had a strong, muscular exterior, she knew he was weak inside.
“I’m the only MAN here, so I’m leader,” He yelled, threatening to use his belt on her. She rolled her eyes as Barry stopped by to collect information.
“So Kira’s not here, I guess. Who is your honorary leader?” Barry asked, standing in the center of the circle.
“ME!” Rob yelled, rushing forward.
“Did you agree on this?” Barry questioned, looking around at the mellophone and trumpet players. Rob touched his belt when Barry turned from him, motioning to pull it out. Slowly, everyone except Liv and Minnie reluctantly nodded their heads. Rob glared at them, but eventually gave up and spoke.
“I think we got a majority who voted for me.”
“It’s settled then. You’re honorary leader. How many people do you have?”
“Ummmm…” Rob responded.
“Five trumpets and two mellophones. Seven,” Liv said, smiling at Barry who walked over and kissed her on the forehead.
“Adios then,” Barry said, walking away and wondering why they chose Rob to be leader.
“How many of you hooligans do we got here?” Ralph said, trying his best to impersonate Mr. Veritose, the director of the marching band.
“12. That’s twelve too many,” He said, eyeing one person who stared at him.
“Gosh, Ralph, why are you such a douche?” Em, the only senior saxophone and an all around cool gal, said.
“Because these numskulls won’t listen otherwise,” He responded plainly.
“We get that you’re annoyed that you can’t play clarinet in marching band,” Jon, the lone bari sax player said.
“Calm down,” Ralph yelled.
“Stop fighting,” Barry walked over to Ralph, “How many people do you have?”
“Thirteen, including myself,” Ralph glared at Barry.
Barry walked away, his brain hard at work doing math. Once he was out of earshot, Ralph whispered to the group, “Who put a stick up his butt?”
Barry walked over to the drumline, who were dispersed into their subsections, practicing the show music.
“Have you even talked to the group yet?” He asked Mandy, the center snare and leader of the drumline.
“Yeah. No basses, three quads, and all five snares,” She responded, looking up from the tree the snares were drumming on.
“Thirty five people. About half,” He mumbled.
“Why are you the one taking the final count? I’m older,” She attacked.
“Because I know all you’d do is get into an argument with the winds about how percussion is better,” Barry rolled his eyes at her.
“Get on the bus!” Barry yelled, after about five minutes of chatting with his section.
“Remember, leave your bags out here so we have room to sleep,” Mr. Defacio yelled, confident in his decision regarding bags.
“But won’t..?” Casey started, before being interrupted by Barry.
“Don’t argue. Just go inside and get some sleep.”
Barry walked up the stairs with the rest of the band, passing by the driver who still lay unconscious. He made note of an odd tattoo the driver had on his arm which resembled a white fish hook, but didn’t think too much of it as he lay on the cold gray seat of the bus, his girlfriend and friends nearby.
Within about twenty minutes, everyone was out cold.
The Next Morning…
“Good morning, sleepyheads,” A voice soothingly said. Mr. Defacio.
“What time is it?” A drowsy student asked.
“About nine thirty,” He replied, glancing at his watch.
“Jesus, that’s late,” Barry jumped up.
“Before you guys have too much hope about our future, I’ve got some bad news: the driver is gone,” Mr. Defacio said, moving out of the aisle to reveal an empty seat where the driver once lay.
“What?!” Collective gasps filled the bus.
“I’m afraid I’ve got more bad news. Go outside and look,” He said, falling into his seat.
“Uh oh,” Casey said, slowly moving out of his seat to get a peek at what the bad news was.
“Our backpacks, they’re ruined,” Barry announced, anger and fear in his voice.
“Wolves,” Mr. Defacio concluded, looking at the damages.
“All my food is gone,” Liv cried.
“My.. my music’s gone too,” Pete said, alarmed. He pulled out a card which had not been in his bag before. Barry ignored him and continued assessing the damages. It seemed all of the food that people had brought to enjoy on the bus had been taken. Some wrappers lay around the area, but most of the food had vanished.
“So, all of our food is gone, and five people have claimed to have lost their music. Who or what could have done this?” Mandy asked, confused.
“Each of us who lost our music now have a card in its’ place. Maybe that means something?” Pete asked, walking over to the four others who stared at the cards with bewilderment.
“We have more pressing matters, Pete,” Barry said, walking to the other leaders.
“The cards, they have to mean something…” Jon said, scratching his short blond hair.
“Each of them has one letter on it. Maybe they make a word?” Pete asked, holding his card out to reveal an ‘A’.
“No. There are two T’s, a D, an R, and an A. No words can be made out of that…” Miranda, a quad player, said.
“DARTT? ATRTD? TADRT?” Jon exclaimed.
“No… What do they mean??” Pete yelled out of frustration. They began brainstorming, only to be interrupted by Barry and the leaders.
“We have decided to split up and try to get help. Low brass, we’re going this way,” Barry yelled, pointing north.
“High brass, you’re going that way,” He continued, pointing east.
“Saxes, stay here and build a fire. Someone needs to keep this place safe for us,” Ralph said, visibly disappointed.
“Drumline, we’re going that way!” Mandy yelled, pointing south.
“And what do I do?” Mr. Defacio asked.
“Stay here and watch over the saxes. You’ve already done enough,” Barry solemnly said.
“Let’s get going!”
“Pete and Jeanne, let’s grab our instruments before we go. Just in case,” Casey said, running over to the instrument trailer.
“Good idea,” Jeanne said. Pete put the card he was staring at in his pocket and ran to the trailer to grab his trombone. Once they had their instruments, they rejoined the section and began their grand adventure.
After about five minutes of walking in complete silence (Aside from the songs of birds and the sounds of water rushing down a hill), Casey spoke up.
“So what is our goal?” He asked, kicking a rock into a tree.
“To find food. Or help,” Barry responded, scratching at one of many mosquito bites he had acquired the night before.
“Fair enough,” Casey responded.
After what seemed like hours of walking to Barry, the group came across a river and couldn’t travel straight any longer.
“Which way?” He asked.
“Downstream. Maybe it’ll lead to a lake which could have a cabin by it…” Jeanne said.
“The same might apply if we went upstream….” Pete responded.
“Just decide,” Mel yelled.
“Let’s go downstream!” Barry exclaimed. Jeanne did a small victory dance and began walking.
About five minutes later, Casey began losing his mind and singing camp songs he learned from his time as a boy scout. Jeanne tried to strangle herself with her long black hair, and Barry grabbed a rock and threw it at Casey, but he kept singing until he ran out of breath.
“Aggaflaggafleegaflaggaitchkanitchkanagganaggaaggaflaggafleegaflaggabirdie!” He screamed, his voice dry and raspy.
“That’s enough,” Barry yelled, unplugging his ears.
“I actually enjoyed it!” Pete yelled, defending his buddy.
“Stop bickering…. Hey, what’s that up ahead?” Jeanne asked, peering off into the distance. About 500 feet ahead, a four legged figure was bent over, drinking water from the river.
“A wolf…” Barry said, gulping and backing away, “Let’s go.”
“Too late…” Jeanne said. The wolf was slowly walking towards them.
“Run!!!” Barry screamed, running into the woods. The wolf chased after him, its’ mouth foaming and its’ eyes glaring. Pete, Jeanne, and Casey ran after them, their instruments flailing in the air. The other members just sat down and chewed their fingernails.
“HELP!!!” Barry screamed as the rabid wolf neared him.
“We’re here, Barry!” Jeanne screamed. The wolf looked at her, but continued nearing Barry as he backed into a tree. It was at that moment that Casey had an idea.
“Pete! The trombones! Hold them like this!” Casey yelled, putting the tuning slide and a third of the bell under his arm, and letting the slide protrude from his body at a 90 degree angle. Pete replicated Casey, and just as the wolf was about to pounce and kill Barry, the two charged at the wolf, the slides hitting its’ side and pushing it away from Barry, giving him enough time to escape. He ran to Jeanne, who stood there with her hand over her eyes in a disappointed manner.
“Idiots. You’re just making it angry!” She screamed. The wolf, now very angry, regained balance and began running at the group. Quickly, Jeanne threw the outer slide off of her trombone, revealing the silver inner slide. She charged at the beast, and when it pounced at her, she pierced through its’ skin with her slide, stabbing it to death. Its’ bleeding body lay directly in front of her. She fell over in horror at what she had just done.
“No.. no….nononononono I can’t… I can’t have killed it,” She cried, stroking its’ fur and wetting it with her tears.
“You did the right thing, Jeanne,” Barry walked up to her, “Either we had to kill it, or it would have killed us. We’re in the untamed wilderness now.”
“But there’s always another way,” She yelled. Barry tried to get her away from the corpse, but to no avail.
“We won’t let it go to waste. We can use it as food,” Barry suggested.
“I guess,” Jeanne said, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Actually, we probably can’t. It had rabies,” Casey chimed in.
“Now’s not the time,” Pete pulled him away.
“No, he’s right. We.. probably put it out of its’ misery,” Jeanne said, still choking up.
“You’re right. Come on, let’s go back to the bus. We need a better plan.”
“Why do we always get stuck with the lame tasks?” Em asked, dropping a pile of rocks on the ground. She arranged them into a circle, creating a makeshift fire pit.
“Because Barry’s a douche,” Ralph responded, “He and I don’t get along, so we get stuck with the stupid stuff.”
“Why don’t you and him get along?” Em asked, looking up at him.
“We were best friends in middle school. Then he discovered marching band and started hanging out with his section rather than his best friend. And when I needed him the most, he diverted any time he spent with me to his girlfriend,” Ralph responded, his face solemn.
“You can talk to anyone about your issues,” She said, patting his back.
“He doesn’t understand emotions. He’s like a robot,” Ralph continued.
“Wet,” She said, throwing a stick (and the subject) aside, “Any other luck over there??”
“No, everything is soaked,” A tenor player replied.
“That’s odd. I don’t think it has recently rained,” Ralph pondered.
“I’m gonna go up the hill and look up there!” Mr. Defacio called from within the woods.
“Okay!” Em screamed in return.
“Lindsey, come with me!” He yelled. His daughter, a redhead alto player, obediently ran to him, and the two disappeared.
About five minutes later, the tenor player returned with bad news.
“We couldn’t find anything. There’s not a lot of sticks, and they’re all damp. It’s like a swamp in there.”
“Not good…” Ralph said.
“Any other ideas?” Em asked. Ralph thought for a moment.
“Actually, yes,” Ralph turned around and grabbed a backpack. He pulled out a drumstick.
“We have a lighter and a knife. We can shave wood off of these drumsticks and use backpacks to get the fire going. Then maybe the wet wood will burn?”
“That’s actually brilliant!” Em smiled, grabbing another backpack and pulling out more sticks.
“Leave them each one stick, so they can still drum a little or use them as a weapon” Em continued, grabbing more backpacks and ripping off cloth from them.
“If people have any socks in their bags, use those too.” Ralph pulled his black marching socks from his bag, and threw them in the makeshift fire pit. Em began creating tinder from the drumsticks, and the others went and gathered logs. When it was decided there was enough, Ralph lit up a sock, and threw it in the firepit.
“Now we’re cooking with gas!” He yelled triumphantly, as the fire engulfed the wood.
“Throw some more drumsticks in, to help grow the fire and make it hot enough to burn the wet stuff,” Em said, throwing three drumsticks in the fire.
“They’re going to be so pissed when they get back,” Jon yelled.
“I don’t care. They’re all pretentious a-holes, and we have to survive,” Ralph responded, reverting back to his nasty self. A series of loud noises covered his voice, however, meaning no one heard him. He shrugged it off, though.
“Collect more wood! NOW!” He yelled.
“I think we have enough,” Barry said, emerging from the woods.
“Holy hell!” Ralph screamed, “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“I see you got a fire going,” Jeanne said to Em, who nodded vigorously.
“And what’d you get for us?” Ralph said, with a sarcastic tone to his voice.
“We got attacked by a rabid wolf,” Barry responded, glaring at Ralph.
“Sounds like fun,” He fired back.
“Ladies, stop,” Em said to the arguing boys.
“Anyways, where is Mr. Defacio?” Casey said, “And Lindsey?”
“They went to go get wood, and still haven’t come back…” Em responded.
“Like thirty minutes ago,” Ralph said, biting his lip.
“We better go find them. Which was did they go?” Barry asked. Ralph pointed up at the road, and stood up to guide the search party.
“Ralph, Em, Jeanne, Pete, and Casey, let’s go. The rest of you, keep the fire blazing.” And they were off, into the woods towards the road.
“Nothing. There’s no sign of either of them. No blood, no tracks,” Ralph said, after about five minutes of walking.
“Let’s go up to the road, and see if we can see them from that high up,” Barry said, pointing upwards towards the street.
“Right,” Ralph quietly responded.
After a few minutes of intense walking, the group reached the road.
“Nothing. No one’s here!” Pete kicked some sand into the road.
“Wait, there’s a note here,” Em said, picking up a small piece of notebook paper, and read it out loud.
“I’m sorry, but I saw something I can never unsee. We had to leave.
High brass is in trouble.”
“If anyone steps out of line, you’ll receive no mercy from me,” Rob said, swinging his belt at a nearby tree, knocking off some loose bark which fell to the floor, “That could be you next.”
“You’re all talk and no fight,” said Minnie, stepping out from behind her tall friend Rose.
“Try me,” He said, grabbing the end of the belt which was dangling from his hand.
“Honestly, why do their fathers let them out of the house? They’re too stupid to know who their leader is,” Rob turned and said to his only friend Bob, who smiled a fake smile, knowing he had to smile or risk being murdered.
“We heard that!” Liv said from ahead. Minnie clenched her fists, preparing to punch Rob. Rose grabbed her arm, telling her that it’s not worth it. The group walked on in silence, following a small clearing in the woods which twisted and turned for miles.
A little while later, the group stopped to rest, and Liv spotted something.
“Is that a road?” Liv asked, peering off into the woods. About five hundred feet in, a road began, its’ old, cracked cement baking in the sun.
“Yes it is!” Rob yelled, running into the woods to examine the road, “Follow!” The group followed, keeping their distance as to not appear in the same group as Rob if they found help. Once at the road, Minnie bent over and examined the pavement.
“It must lead to somewhere. Otherwise, why is it here? We’re pretty far from another street,” She pondered, ripping a piece of loose cement from the road and tossing it aside.
“It’s really old…” Rob said, trying to sound intelligent.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Minnie snarled at him. His face turned red and he reached for his belt, before calming down and walking away.
“Let’s follow the road, I guess. Hope it leads somewhere,” Liv said. Slowly, the group followed
“Why aren’t YOU section leader?” Minnie asked, running up to Liv.
“I couldn’t lead anyone,” She responded.
“You’d be better than Rob,” She smiled.
“You talking about me? Don’t make me use the belt!” Rob yelled from ahead. The girls laughed and kept walking, following the road.
They kept walking until the road ended at a T intersection. Rob decided he needed a break, so the group took a moment and stopped.
“I’m hungry. Anyone got any food?” Rob complained, sitting down on the hot cement in the middle of the intersection, which bordered a shallow pond.
“No, Rob. If we had food we wouldn’t be out looking for food,” Minnie responded.
“Shut up,” He demanded. She rolled her eyes and whispered something to Rose.
“Which way should we go?” Liv asked, looking down the road on either side,
“To the right,” Rob ordered.
“I think we should go to the left. I think I see something off in the distance,” Liv responded, peering off into the distance.
“Nonsense. I am an intelligent MAN. I know the way,” said Rob, not even looking at Liv or the intersection.
“Bull****,” Minnie yelled, “If Liv sees something that might help us to the left, let’s go to the left.”
“When will you women learn? Men are better than you. Smarter, stronger, and more intelligent. Honestly, why do your fathers ever let you stop cooking and cleaning for them and leave the house?” He snapped, grabbing his belt and standing up.
“That’s enough!” Minnie yelled, she grabbed Rob by the shirt and shoved him into the pond. People laughed as he struggled to his feet in the shallow water.
“We’re going left. You can swim to the end of the lake and join us there if you want,” Minnie continued. The group began walking again, to the left towards the sign. Rob shouted some expletives as he swam to the left, eventually joining the group.
“Grove – Ahead” Liv read the sign aloud.
“A town!” Minnie exclaimed, “What are we waiting for… Let’s go!”
After a few twists and turns of the road, they reached the town. A metal arch reading the name greeted them, but the aesthetic of the town was not inviting. The buildings were wrecked and covered with mold, plants, and graffiti. Windows were smashed, and doors were missing. At the center of the intersection was a fountain that hadn’t been turned on for decades.
“It’s… it’s… abandoned,” Liv said, in shock.
“What’d you expect? The road has no traffic on it and was incredibly random,” Rob said, smirking despite his condition.
“Oh, by the way, you owe me a new belt. I lost it while in the pond YOU pushed me into!” Rob said, glaring at Minnie, who laughed in response.
“Let’s explore. Maybe there’s still someone living here,” Liv said, ignoring Rob entirely.
“Guys, look at the road,” a trumpet player said. Five letters were written in red in front of them: T, A, T, R, D.
“The same letters that were on the cards,” Minnie said, pulling out the card that she found in her bag. T.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this place,” Rob shuddered, “Let’s go back to camp.”
“For once, I agree,” Liv said. Almost in unison everyone turned around to leave. But as they began to leave, the trees shook.
“You don’t get to leave. The fun is just getting started…” A menacing female voice said, shaking the brush as it spoke.
“Who are you?” Minnie yelled, scared for her life.
“I’m surprised you haven’t figured that out yet,” it said. As it spoke, dozens of hooded figures stepped out from the bushes, surrounding the group. They wore grey robes with hoods that covered their eyes, revealing only their mouths. The robes had the sleeves ripped from them, revealing arms covered in tattoos of a white hook.
“Who is your leader?” One of the hooded figures spoke.
“ME!” Rob pushed his way forward to face the hooded figures. The hooded figures reached into their pockets, and each pulled out a gun, firing at Rob. All thirty of them hit Rob in the head with their bullets, killing him instantly. They then used the black bags they were holding to kidnap the remaining six people. The last thing Liv saw as a black bag engulfed her face were two people, a father and a daughter, running for their lives in the distance.
“Did anyone check and see if we can get service anywhere?” Mandy asked, holding her phone in one hand and her girlfriends’ hand with the other.
“I checked a couple minutes ago,” said her girlfriend, a snare player named Brianna. The two led the drumline through the woods.
“We should have grabbed our sticks. In case we need them,” Miranda said, looking around at the woods that surrounded the group in all directions.
“Hindsight’s always 20/20,” Mandy responded, letting go of Brianna’s hand and scouting their path.
“If anyone sees a river or a lake, tell me! We’re supposed to find water for the band,” She yelled, trying to get everyone to look up at each other. The drumline was faced with the issue of subsection separation more than any other section in the band: The people in the drumline preferred talking to people in their section, usually people who played the same instrument as them, rather than anyone else in the band. This led to them being isolated, and sometimes forgotten. Mandy and Brianna fought hard to change this by talking to others, but they couldn’t get others to do the same. It was especially apparent today, with all five snares being present and separated from the quads by about fifteen feet.
“We’re all a team, guys! Talk to someone new,” She started, before being startled by a series of loud bangs, which sounded like gunshots or cannon fire.
“What was that?” Brianna asked, running up to Mandy, who turned around towards the direction of the sound.
“It came from the other way,” Miranda said as the quads caught up to the snares, “So it’s probably not worth investigating. One of the other sections that’s closer to it will probably figure out what it is.”
“You’re probably right,” Mandy said suspiciously, squinting off into the distance. But, after seeing nothing she turned around and led the group forward.
“I’m actually surprised,” Mandy spoke, after a few minutes of silent walking, “No one here has complained about being hungry. We haven’t eaten for at least 12 hours.”
“I think it’s just because everyone knows complaining about it will do nothing. I mean, I’m hungry but I know ranting about it will just make everyone mad,” Miranda responded.
“That’s pretty responsible of you,” Mandy said, smiling.
“Mission report: we’ve walked for centuries, and still haven’t found clean water, food, or help. All seems hopeless up in the dense woods of northern Minnesota,” Brianna spoke into her phone, breaking a long period of depressing silence.
“What are you doing?” Mandy asked, looking at her girlfriend.
“Vlogging our demise. That way, when a group of hikers finds us, they’ll know what happened.”
“We’re not in a horror movie,” Mandy rolled her eyes, smiling.
“Bri… We aren’t in a horror movie. There’s no one here who wants us dead,” Mandy said, shaking various horrific thoughts from her head.
“Whatever,” Brianna said, continuing to recap the events to her phone.
“Do you have service?” Miranda asked.
“Nope. Just using my camera app,” Brianna responded.
“Shoot,” Miranda snapped her fingers, her plan foiled.
“Hey, guys, what’s that up ahead?” Mandy asked, peering off into the distance at a yellow blob.
“I don’t know,” said Brianna curiously.
“Let’s go over there, I guess,” Mandy said, taking the group on a small path that led to the blob.
“It… almost looks like a school bus?” Miranda said, as they approached the blob, which turned out to be wreckage of a yellow school bus, covered in leaves, cobwebs, and rust. Faint words which read ‘Richmond Bus Co.’ could be read on the side of the bus, which had crashed into a tree in a manner similar to the demise of their own bus.
“It is…” Mandy said, exiting the woods into the clearing created by the bus wreckage.
“It’s been here for a while; a lot of the bus is rusted,” Brianna pondered out loud.
“What are we standing on?” Miranda asked, looking down to her feet. Underneath them was a layer of crushed white sticks, which almost resembled wood chips.
“Wood chips, maybe. But why would there be wood chips out here?” Mandy responded, looking at the white sticks.
“These aren’t wood chips. I… I think they’re bones,” Miranda picked one up and examined it.
“Are these human?!!” Brianna screamed, prompting the rest of the drumline to look down at their feet.
“I can’t tell,” Miranda vomited in her mouth at the thought that she had been stepping on, and probably inhaling, the remains of humans.
“We have to get out of here!!” Mandy screamed, holding back tears. She pushed through the rest of the drumline members which had not stepped into the clearing, and ushered for them to get out of there.
“They were a marching band… Look at their uniforms. And the trailer,” Brianna pondered to herself, being the only person left in the clearing.
“It wasn’t a coincidence we crashed. We’re here for a reason. Someone is playing a sick game.”
“How could they just leave us?” Em exclaimed, crumpling the note left by Mr. Defacio, and throwing it aside.
“Cowards…” Ralph spat on the recently paved tar.
“Yeah, they’re cowards, but if high brass is actually in trouble…” Jeanne said.
“We need to help them,” Barry said.
“You just want to help Liv. You’d leave everyone else in a heartbeat if it meant you survived,” Ralph fired at Barry.
“Eff off, man,” Barry fired back, “Anyways, we should go find high brass and make sure they’re okay.
“You’re probably right. We need to stay as one group just in case they need our help,” Em said, continuing his thought.
“Let’s go back to camp, get everyone else, and go the way high brass went,” Barry commanded. On their way back, Ralph glared at the letter and stepped on it, crushing it deep into the dirt shoulder aside the road.
“We’re going to find high brass!” Casey ran ahead of Barry, screaming at the other marching band members who lazily stood by the bonfire, which continued to rage at dangerous levels.
“What?” Jon asked, as Barry appeared from behind the trees.
“Thanks, Casey,” Barry snickered and rolled his eyes at the sophomore, “Mr. Defacio and his daughter ditched us, leaving a note saying high brass is in trouble. We’re going to go check on them as a large group.” A few gasps were let out, followed by the shouting of extremities towards Mr. Defacio.
“What’s that dick do the high brass section?” Someone shouted from the angry group.
“What? I doubt anything. Rob probably got them lost. I don’t know why they elected Rob to be their leader…” Barry responded. Em rubbed her hands on her face, mumbling that they didn’t elect Rob into her palms.
“Gosh, you can be such an idiot sometimes,” Ralph mumbled. Barry ignored him and continued.
“They went east, which is the way the bus is facing. So let’s go!”
“What about the drumline?” Jeanne asked, remembering that many of her friends were a part of the drumline.
“Oh, right. Them… Pete, stay here and watch for them. When they come back tell them where we went. And keep the fire going,” Barry turned to Pete, who nervously nodded in response.
“Shouldn’t I have a partner? Buddy system?” Pete spoke up.
“You’ll be fine,” Barry said, walking away and leading the group off to find high brass.
“Why do we do so much walking?” Casey complained as the group marched through the dense woods, the ground covered with leaves and animals no one in the band had ever seen before.
“What else are we supposed to do? Sit around and wait for rescue even though no one knows where we are and we don’t have cell service to tell anyone?” Barry responded, clearly flustered and angry.
“We’re all getting hungry though. We do need to find food soon,” Em chimed in. Her stomach rumbled.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation if the coward didn’t tell us to put our bags outside so our food could get stolen,” Ralph yelled out.
“Calm down, we’ll find food. We may be far up north, but there’s gotta be someone around,” Barry said, realizing he himself was hungry.
“We need water, too,” Em said.
“If the drumline did their job, we’ll have water waiting for us back at camp,” Barry said, “We have more pressing matters now: do we follow the road that begins ahead?”
“Considering Rob is an idiot, yep. I’m guessing it leads nowhere, though,” Em said.
“Don’t say he’s an idiot. You don’t know the guy,” Barry said.
“I dated him for two weeks. He’s an idiot,” Em rolled her eyes and began talking to Ralph.
Once on the road, the low brass and saxophone section walked onward, not stopping to gawk at the lush green plants that grew to the sides of the unkempt, abandoned street.
“There’s a T intersection up ahead,” Casey said, looking into the distance at the end of the road.
“Crap,” Barry exclaimed, reaching the T intersection, “Which way?” He looked at Em.
“I don’t know,” She shrugged.
“There’s a sign to the left. Maybe they went and read the sign?” Jeanne suggested.
“Rob wouldn’t have thought of it,” Em responded.
“But Liv would have. Let’s go that way.”
They turned to the left, and walked onward.
“Isn’t that Robs’ belt?” Jeanne asked, pointing to a brown piece of leather floating on the pond to the right of them.
“I think it is. They must have thrown it in there after he hit someone, I’m guessing,” Em said, looking at the belt buckle which featured an X with stars inside the lines.
“Then we’re going the right way, I guess,” Barry said, surprisingly cheerfully.
“We’ve gone pretty far. What do you think happened to high brass?” Em asked, after a few seconds of silently walking towards the sign.
“I’m honestly not sure. Defacio could’ve been bluffing, too. We’re just making sure they’re okay,” responded Barry, “Once we get past the sign, start yelling for them. Maybe they’re lost and they’ll hear us.”
“Or we’ll attract murderers. But that’s fine too,” Casey joked.
“So, the sign says there’s a town ahead! Grove – Ahead!” Em yelled from in front of the sign, about twenty feet ahead of everyone else.
“So if High Brass made it there, they’re safe. WTF was Defacio talking about?” Ralph said, annoyed with the cowardly chaperone.
“Just to be sure: HIGH BRASS!!!!” Barry screamed. Nothing.
“Okay, let’s go to Grove,” Em said excitedly, ushering the group forward.
“We’re here,” Jeanne said as the group approached an arch signaling entrance into the town of Grove.
“There’s something wet on the floor,” Casey said, stepping on a sticky liquid that was near the archway.
“It’s probably nothing,” Barry said, walking to the arch and examining the city.
“It’s abandoned….” He said, looking at the broken, rotting buildings.
“There could still be something here,” Jeanne said, walking into the town, which smelled of sewage and rotting garbage.
“Guys, Barry led us astray. He’s gonna get us all killed because all he cares about is his girlfriend, and not his friends. You let everyone down. Including your dad, that’s why he left you,” Ralph snapped, yelling insult after insult at Barry, who looked at Ralph with cold, sad eyes, “You can’t do anything right. Not keep friends, not keep people safe, not keep your family together. You’re an a**hole and everyone knows it. You’re a failure.”
“You do realize no one here likes you? You’re pretty much the embodiment of a crazy aunt: we have to pretend to like you, when in reality we wish you’d just leave, and end our suffering,” Barry retaliated, losing his cool.
“Fine?! You want me to leave? I’ll leave,” Ralph yelled, storming away.
“What are we gonna tell them?” Brianna asked Mandy, who shuddered at the thought of the human remains.
“The truth. That we need to get out of here,” Mandy responded, slightly stuttering. Most of the journey back was complete silence, as everyone couldn’t bring themselves to speak after what they just saw. Occasionally a person would ask a question, but the conversations were short lived.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” Miranda said, speaking up after a particularly long period of fear induced silence.
“I think so,” Mandy said, trying to find a clue as to where they were, but wherever she looked she found nothing but dead leaves, and trees.
“So what do we do now?” Brianna asked, taking Mandy by the hand and hugging her, trying to calm both of them down.
“I.. I don’t know,” Mandy said, hugging Brianna with all of her strength. Just as the drumline began to break down into tears, a loud scream of agony filled the quiet forest, echoing in Mandys’ ears.
“I guess we can go the way the scream came from,” Miranda suggested, standing up and dusting the dirt off of her legs.
“Got no better ideas, so I guess let’s go that way,” Mandy said, wiping a tear from her face and pointing towards the direction the scream came from. The few who were sitting stood up, and the rest began moving, more depressed than ever. The voice screamed again. This time they were closer, and kept moving to the place of origin: their campsite.
“Well, that worked I guess,” Mandy said, spotting their bus and their bags, which were ripped up.
“They burned our sticks!!” Brianna screamed, looking in the firepit which had recently been doused. Some remnants of drumsticks could be made out, but most were nothing but ash.
“Some of them are still here,” Miranda said, pulling one stick from her backpack.
“If we’re here, than the scream must’ve come from here too,” Mandy said, scouting the campsite for a cause of the scream.
“G…g…g..guys, i…i…it’s…f…f…fine,” a trembling voice said from the shadows. Pete emerged from behind a tree, his face battered and bruised.
“We… we… we’re gonna…. Be…. alright. The…. the others…. Left you,” Pete trembled. Before he could finish his thought, a robed figure appeared from behind him and shot him in the said, splattering blood on Mandy who ran forward to examine Pete, and sending Pete to the floor.
“Thank you puppet. You got their attention well enough,” a menacing voice boomed.
“Who are you?” Mandy screamed, holding back pure rage as well as tears.
“How rude of me. My name is the Innkeeper, and all of you are my Guests,” she spoke, emerging further from the shadows.
“You killed my friend!!! How could you!!!” Miranda screamed, running forward with her drumstick in hand, preparing to stab the Innkeeper. Five more figures, all dressed in slightly less fancy robes, emerged from the woods and shot Miranda before she could near their master.
“Miranda!!!!” Brianna screamed, kneeling down to look at her deceased friend.
“How could you do this?” Bri looked up at the Innkeeper, who loomed above them.
“It is my job to introduce you to Death, and while you may not like it now, you will learn to embrace his cold touch,” She boomed, “Moving on from that terribly unfortunate death, we need your strongest two people. The rest of you may leave. You have five minutes to decide.”
“What?” Mandy asked, crying.
“You heard the Innkeeper. Go on the bus and DECIDE,” Another robed figure yelled, his voice angered by the disrespect shown by the drumline. The bus filed onto the wrecked bus, and sat down on the beaten seats.
“Our only option is to fight. There are seven of us, and six of them. We can take them,” Brianna said, laying out her battle plan.
“Yeah. But we should think of two people to go. Just in case,” Miranda said.
“Bri and I,” Mandy chimed in, “I’m section leader, and she’s my girlfriend.”
“Fair enough. We need to try to fight though. Use your sticks to stab them if it’s necessary,” Brianna said, agreeing to the plan. After a few questions, the plan was created, and put in motion.
“We’ve decided,” Mandy said, leading the group off of the group. The group inconspicuously lined up with each member, with Mandy and a quad player lined up in front of the Host.
“And?” The Innkeeper asked, pulling her hood down to cover the rest of her face.
“No one!” The drumline members each ran at the member in front of them. Distracted by the quad player running at the Innkeeper, two of the robed figures were stabbed by Brianna and Mandy after shooting at the host attackers. The quad player was shot and killed before she could reach the Innkeeper, and the snare player was shot soon after. Brianna ran at Mandy as the tides turned and as the other five drumline members were shot and killed by the four robed figures. The two looked to each other and hugged, before linking hands and attacking another robed figure with their drumsticks, beating and killing him.
“Enough!!” The Innkeeper ordered, “Two remain. That’s all we needed. The strongest drumline members.” She walked over to the two, who bared teeth and threatened to use their sticks.
“Lovebirds. How sweet,” She took her hood off, revealing a sneer and a scar between her malevolent green eyes, “Drop your weapons.” The two looked at her, and dropped their weapons, accepting that their plan failed and they were now going to die.
“We’re not going to kill you yet. You killed three of my men. You’re going to suffer for that,” the Innkeeper cackled. She bent over and picked up a stick that Mandy had dropped. Using a nearby tree, she ripped the smooth tip of the drumstick from the stick, creating a jagged edge.
“So, you’re the drumline? The only fitting punishment is this then.” The Innkeeper stabbed the stick into Mandys’ hand, piercing the skin and traveling directly through Briannas’ hand. She left it lodged in there as the girls screamed in pain.
“Together forever….” The Innkeeper cackled as the remaining two men gagged Mandy and Brianna, then covered their face in a black bag before forcing them to walk onward, to the town of Grove.
Walking as far away from the others as he could, Ralph stumbled into an abandoned post office, envelopes and letters strewn everywhere. He paced the empty store, angrily reminiscing on the events that just occurred. His face was as crunched up as a crumbled page from a broken story. He thought of what Barry said, and then wondered if it was true: could Em and all of the people he thought were his friends, be faking it? He thought that people in marching band were supposed to be open, kind people, but Barrys’ words proved him wrong. But, what Barry said didn’t compare to the words thrown from his mouth in the raged frenzy. Regret filled his insides like a plague.
“What have I done….” He put his hands on his forehead, realizing the huge rift he created between himself and Barry, a person who was once his friend, after all.
He quickly stood up and turned around, hoping the group was still nearby. An empty street greeted him, and silence filled the air.
“Barry!” He called. No response. His voice echoed through the empty building and the unkempt street, “Guys!! Anyone?”
Upon hearing no response, he began walking down the street he guessed was once main street: shops with broken windows lined each side of the street, and places of worship were peppered throughout the road. After walking down the eerily empty road, he decided to look in a store where the door had been left open. Stepping inside, he kicked an old snowglobe and fell into a cobweb. He saw footsteps in the dusty carpet which led further back in the shop. He followed them, tracing them to an old table with a map on it: a map of the once prosperous town of Grove, Minnesota. He looked at the map, which had recently been moved, as the dust had been disturbed, and decided to take it with him. He quickly vacated the shop, for a feeling that he was being watched filled his already terrorized soul. He signed up for marching band, not creepy band. He studied the map, looking for a place they could have gone.
“This town has a mall? Huh,” Ralph pondered, “Barry used to love malls. If they haven’t gone there yet, they certainly will soon. It’s a good start I guess.” He began walking down the street, towards the mall which lay on the end of the road.
“Why was this place abandoned? It seems so nice,” Ralph thought, staring at the incredibly detailed shops and homes. When he reached the mall, the design didn’t disappoint: grand marble pillars shielded the entrance, and a nice stone walkway led from the road through the parking lot to the grand entrance.
“Whoa…” Ralph said, looking at the mall which took his breath away. He walked on the stone to the grand entrance, where he was greeted with the name of the mall, Grove Mall, covered with graffiti which read TATteReD. He pushed on the door, which was slightly stuck but eventually gave way to his strength. Upon entry, he was greeted by a huge stone statue of a hooded woman, and a grand brown fountain in front of her. The fountain had long been turned off, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Behind the grand statue and fountain were dozens of empty storefronts, each covered with a chain fence. He started down the hall, the floor squeaking underneath him.
“Anyone here?” He called, his voice echoing. Down the hall, he heard a muffled cry for help. He began running towards the sound, which grew more desperate with every footstep he took.
“G.. guys??” Ralph yelled. The marching band was locked up in one of the empty stores, behind a chain fence and a large padlock. Barry, tied to Jeanne and Casey, motioned with his head to the left of Ralph. He looked pretty bruised, and seemed unable to talk.
“I’m so sorry for what I said, Barry. I didn’t mean any of it,” Ralph began apologizing. People began trying to yell, but Ralph couldn’t make anything out. He didn’t notice when a huge man grabbed Ralph and dragged him to the other end of the mall.
“Where are you taking me!!” He kicked and screamed, but the man kept moving with his iron grip on Ralph.
“Well well well, if it isn’t the last person outside of a cage,” a strong female voice, the Innkeeper, boomed from on top of the grand fountain, “I’ve got a fun game for you to play.”
“What? Who are you?” Ralph yelled, rubbing his shoulder after finally being released by the strong man.
“I’m the Innkeeper, master of the TATRD Gang. Here’s the deal: your friends are locked in that cell, and the only way to get them out is via a key. I’ve hidden the key somewhere in this mall. It’s your job to find it. Simple enough. Here’s the catch: every five minutes, we kill the weakest of your friends,” She explained, maniacally rubbing her hands together.
“And what if I say no? What if I run right now?” He asked.
“We’ll kill everyone here.”
Ralph looked around for another way, but after accepting there wasn’t an easy way out, he agreed to the deal, and the game began.
Slowly, the fences covering the abandoned storefronts opened, the chains squealing as rusted metal rubbed against faded walls. Ralph began running, skimming through the dark storefronts for any signs of a glimmering key.
“It’s not going to be that easy. The key is hidden behind a closed door,” The Innkeeper boomed through the sound system, which miraculously still worked. Ralph stopped for a moment, eyeing the stores. He ran into one, kicking up papers and dust as he moved. He whipped open a door behind the cash registers, revealing a shattered window and a set of bunk beds, sheets flailing in the wind. Grunting, he turned around and exited the store. He ran down the hallway, his heart racing faster than the sixteenth notes in his solo.
“Five minutes!” The Innkeeper said, laughing. A loud bang followed by screams filled the otherwise silent building. Ralph let out a yelp as he heard their pain. He ran into another store, a Yoga studio this time, and began searching. He kicked down a store which has been blocked by a small desk, only to reveal a mess of cobwebs and mold. He heard laughter from outside as his mind began to wander. He thought of what Barry told him: if no one liked him then why should he save them? He could very well just sit in the chair in the center of the Yoga studio and wait for them all to die, then just walk away. He kicked himself for considering it, and pushed the thought to the side. Running out of the store, he quickly ran into another, a tech store. Pushing past brown tables and broken TV screens, he ran to the door, and opened it. Inside were a few old cell phones, and no key. One of the phones was on. He ran to it and read the notification: ‘they don’t like you. Why are you trying to save them?’ He shook his head and deleted the notification. Another appeared in its’ place, reading: ‘your suffering is enjoyable. Here’s a hint: pretty phar from you.’
“Pretty phar? What is that supposed to mean?” Ralph pondered, grabbing the phone and leaving the store. His mind was hard at work deciphering the code: did it mean he wasn’t close? Was the misspelling of ‘far’ supposed to mean something? He put the clue to the side and began looking for a store that started with a ‘ph’. To his right was a store labelled ‘Phil’s Tech’. He started entering the store as the sound system started playing a timer.
“Ten minutes!” The Innkeeper boomed, her voice cackling through the static. He heard a loud bang, and another person was gone. Walking into the tech store, he smelled smoke. A TV, which had not been taken when the mall closed, was smoking and playing a short clip on repeat. He walked to the TV, and watched what it was playing. It was a clip of Em on the bus, talking to her friend Miranda. The camera zoomed in, and Em spoke: “I hate Ralph. I pretend to like him, but I hate him”. Ralphs’ heart stopped. He may have similar words from Barry just a few minutes ago, but hearing Em talk behind his back hurt. Em was the one person in the marching band he considered to be his friend. She seemed like she liked him and he liked her. This hurt. He walked out of the store, ignoring the game. He heard laughter from the Innkeeper, but ignored. His mind was mush, his feelings were dead. Ralph was broken. He began crying as he walked over to the cell Barry and the others were being held.
“Are you really my friend?” He asked, looking at all of the distraught faces that stared back at him.
“I’ve heard everything you’ve said behind my back. How you hate me, how no one likes me, how you wish I’d quit something I thought I loved,” Ralph said, wiping tears from his drained face. He looked at Em.
“What are you talking about?!” Barry yelled, “Just save us!!!”
“They’re going to kill all of us if you don’t!!” Em shouted.
“You’ve all stabbed me in the back. I’m just going to sit here and stab you in the back in return.” Ralph sat down, facing the opposite direction. Minutes passed, and soon another person was killed.
“RALPH… Help us!!!” Barry screamed, watching as a TATRD member took his recently deceased friend away.
“You stabbed me in the back. I thought you were my friend. Now I’m returning the favor,” Ralph responded, crossing his cold arms.
Five more minutes pass. The sounds of guns, laughter, and screams fill the mall once again. This time Ralph turned around, and studied the scene as it unfolded: A TATRD member walked up to Jon, and shot him. Watching this triggered a realization within Barry: he was doing the wrong thing.
“Just because one person stabbed me in the back doesn’t mean I should take it out on all of you. What am I doing?” Ralph said, standing up. He took one last look at the marching band, and turned away.
“Pretty phar… Pretty phar. Phar,” He pondered, exploring the ruins of a children’s play area in the center of the hall.
“Pharmacy!” He shouted, running. He glanced left and right, looking for something that resembled a pharmacy.
“Twenty five minutes!” The Innkeeper screamed, killing another person. Ralph ran faster, determined to not let another person die. He glanced right, noticing a corner store which closely resembled the pharmacy near his home. He silently cheered, and ran inside, almost tripping over a translucent bottle of expired pills. He quickly explored the store, taking note of the turquoise neon signs which covered the flowery walls. He opened the only door in the pharmacy, and inside were a gun, a table, Mandy, and Brianna.
“Congratulations. It took you twenty nine minutes. But you aren’t done yet,” The Innkeeper applauded, walking into the grey office and standing directly behind Ralph. He spun around and looked at her face, which was covered with a hood.
“I found the key. Now let them go!” Ralph demanded, his entire body shaking.
“You haven’t found the key yet. One of the two lovebirds has the key. You have three options,” The Innkeeper explained. Ralph looked at the girls in horror: they were chained to the well with dog collar, and purple rings the size of quarters surrounded their eyes. Their mouths were covered in duct tape to keep them from screaming.
“What are my options?” Ralph said, picking up the gun, which was loaded with one bullet.
“Kill one girl and hope the other has a key, kill the other and hope they don’t have the key, or kill yourself, which would save both girls and the rest of the band,” The Innkeeper said, her grey hood rustling. Ralph glanced around, looking at the girls, then looking at his hands, which were covered in blood and sweat from his various wounds.
“There’s always another option,” Ralph yelled. He spun around and shot the Innkeeper.
CONTINUED IN PART THREE…