A small fire crackled into the cold air, flickers of embers cooled to a soft ash that floated away on the upwards draft. Around the small fire two friends sat with a drink in hand, and a joint resting in the corner of one of their mouths as the other searched through the bag for a lighter.
“I can’t see it.” They said as they started to dive through other pockets. “Are you sure you packed it into this bag?”
They kept their head down in the bag, but when they got no reply they called out again.
“Mike? Which pocket?”
They turned around to see Mike lighting the joint with a stick which they had pulled from the fire.
Mike puffed the joint alive and grinned.
“We are in nature Jules.” He muttered as he took the joint from his mouth. “And nature always finds a way.”
“Fuck off.” Jules said as she took the joint from Mike.
“That and it turns out the lighter was in my pocket.” He said as he pulled the small green lighter out, waving it around with a smile.
Jules rolled their eyes as they took a deep breath, blowing smoke straight up she looked to Mike, “So now that we are out here, what are we going to do? Or was this trip more of just a change of scenery for the same old shit?”
“Change of scenery, really. I was tired of staring at the same grey blocks whenever we did this shit. Isn’t it nice to be around this much green?”
“I mean, sure. But I gotta be honest, since it has turned night, I can’t really see much. All looks brown-y-ish. That and the obvious red and orange from the fire.”
Mike smiled and raised an eyebrow as he took back the joint, taking a long drag he held it in as he spoke, handing it back over at the same time. His voice was strained as he kept the smoke in while he spoke.
“That is already like eight more colours than we get in the city.”
“I only said like, at most, four colours.”
Mike exhaled heavily with a chuckle.
“Eight, four, same thing really.”
“I feel like that defeats the purpose of numbers having two separate ones that are just, synonymous.” Jules said back with a smile.
“I am sorry but who is the engineer here?”
Jules looked around baffled. With great exaggeration she gestured to the woods around them.
“Well unless there is some third person around here, stalking from the woods, no one. Unless you’ve been hiding a good five years of your life from me. Because I sure as shit don’t have an engineering degree.”
“Okay that is a fair point.” Mike sat up. “But do you want to hear a story from my job?”
“Oh god, I really don’t know how I feel about your job right now. If you had gotten it like five years ago, I would have called you crazy, but now, now I am lowkey thinking you might be the most sane person for taking it.”
“God no, there is a reason I am not sober at home, I have seen some fucked up shit. But it is also how I got the weed for tonight, one of my workmates is a literal hydroponics doctor or some shit, all the plant crap, grows the most potent shit.”
Jules nodded with agreement, “On that note, lets put a pause on this.” She said as she put the joint out on the log next to her. “And tell me about your work story Mr ghost hunter.”
“Oh that title has changed, due to the amount of just downright oddities that happen we have re-branded as abnormality investigators, or A.I for short.”
Jules mimed jerking someone off. “What a wanker, I bet you have some kind of suit you wear to work too.”
“God no, Kit is a great boss. They don’t give a fuck about any of that. But also, you may laugh, but since we changed our title, work has gone up like three-fold. So must work for some people.”
“Whatever, tell me your story ghost boy.”
Mike rolled his eyes before getting comfortable.
“Again, don’t repeat any…”
“Anything I say, this is actually something I can get in trouble for, blah blah blah. Yeah I get it.”
“All right, chill. I just need to say that, so you can’t say I didn’t.”
“I agree to all terms and wish to continue, and yes I am over 18.” Jules joked as she slumped down against her log.
“Sweet, so the other day I went to work, and everything was normal, or at least as normal as my job gets, and before I could even put down my helmet, Kit’s office opened up and Charlie came out in a full stride. He pointed to me and was like.
‘You, let’s go. We are going out.’
“That is the worst Charlie voice I have heard you do. You need to step up your story game.”
Mike sat up straight and began to annunciate clearly.
“You, let’s go. We are going out.”
“Worse, but please continue.”
Mike’s chest deflated a little, and his hunch returned.
“Whatever.” He said back with a smile. “So, he grabbed me, and we left. And I was fucking nervous, because Charlie is the guy that deals with all the hectic shit, like man is scarred, physically and mentally. Which now that I think about it, makes him your type.”
“Boring, we have done this joke too many times. Carry on UN-funny man.”
“But yeah, we are going out, and he is driving very fast. Which is hilarious, because he knows where all of the speed cameras are, so he will be hooning his way around the city, then suddenly slam his brakes on and slow right down for like twenty seconds, then zip off again. But then after all the crazy driving he slow drives for the last five minutes of the drive, like not back down to the limit, but actually like ten under. It was bizarre, and when I asked him about it, he just rolled his eyes and acted like what he was doing was normal.”
“Okay so one of my favourite things about your job is that the people that are in it are weird as shit. No wonder they know where all the weird shit is going to happen, they are probably drawn to it.”
“Well funny you should say that.” Mike replied, pointing a finger at Jules. “Everyone that works there is really normal, slightly introverted, and mildly socially anxious like most adults these days. But Charlie, Kit and Alex are all bizarre.”
“Trust a trio of weirdos to start a ghost hunting company.”
“Yeah, I don’t really see Alex or Kit, but Charlie is in and out all day. I swear to god that guy does not sleep. Like I have seen him start a job on Monday, then finish it late Tuesday, and immediately go onto another, like I have no idea where he gets the energy from.”
“Coffee, energy drinks, cocaine, meth?” Jules listed off in quick succession.
“I would usually agree, but I have never seen that guy drink anything other than tap water.”
“Ew gross. Where does he get his tooth decay and sugar fix from?”
“Oh the guy inhales candy haha.” Mike frowned a little as his eyes darted around a little. “Actually I don’t think I have seen him with his candy bag recently.” Mike stared off into the distance before shrugging away his efforts to remember.
“Shake it up, I wanna know where you guys went.” Jules said as she leant in a little.
“Um, yeah.” Mike struggled to rack his brain, snapping his finger he started to talk again. “Yes, so zoom zoom driving, then like really slow driving and I am weird for asking why. Then finally we pull over, and we are sat outside a church that was currently in session. Doors all closed, and the sound of people singing coming from inside. Charlie cracked his neck and took a couple of deep breaths before telling me to get out of the car. Which I would like to say made me fucking terrified that he was psyching himself up, but we both got out and I asked what was up, all he said back was that he was certain that in that church there was going to be an incident. So we both walked inside, his face changed from that permanent scowl to a soft expression. He literally had to stretch his face out to achieve it.”
“Really? Wait is this just the shit the popped up the other day about he stabbing in the church?”
“Yeah, but this was way more than just a stabbing, it is so much more complicated, and much longer than what was posted on the news.”
“Alright, I am interested. I will allow you to continue through the boring parts I know. Just to get your flair.”
“Essentially, we rocked up and, and Charlie was being very suspicious, he was looking around heavily, almost like he was looking for a pet or something. But after a minute of looking around he just stood up like nothing was wrong and looked back to me with a smile and told me to hurry up in a friendly tone, like we had just rocked up to a party and he was excited to go in. Never the less we head in and we are respectful, we apologise entering late, we are quiet, and we take a seat at the back of the church. Up the front was the preacher, the one that was stabbed.” Mike shuffled in his seat, he grabbed the joint and started to light it again. “Now, what do you know about the preacher? I don’t want to have to go over any more details than I need to about this guy.”
Jules turned their vision upwards, their eyes naturally locked into position as their mind tried to recall through the haze of the weed cloud in their mind.
“Not much, I literally don’t even know his name. But just the generic crap, preacher, started the whatserface church, lots of weird money donations, dude now has a big house and a luxury car. All that, and he has a model looking wife who seems a little simple in the head, and a couple of children that are like still small enough that they still can do adorable singing and make him look wholesome.”
“Sweet, that is perfect. I definitely wont be passing this on to you though.” Mike said holding the joint up. “ Because there weas so much delay between you opening your mouth and speaking that I ma concerned you wont be able to understand me at all.”
Jules laughed, a little too loud and shyly recoiled.
“Alright you might have a point there, the shit you get from work is other-worldly. I have no idea how you handle it, I am on like two puffs.:
“Honestly, I did worse than you when I first got this strain, actually messed me up so hard after one toke.”
“Pft, lightweight.” Jules said jokingly.
Mike laughed at them and raised their eyebrows rapidly as they took a heavy inhale.
“Alright. More story. So dumb money-grubbing preacher is standing at the front of the church. This church was nice too. Like no shit, speakers from floor to ceiling, the long seat-y things with the most comfortable cushions you ever experienced. Total fucking luxury, and there we are sitting in the back row, sitting patiently. I leant over to Charlie and asked him what we are doing. He spoke really quiet, but pretty much from what I heard, we were waiting on someone to reveal themselves, because apparently the fucking weird machine that Kit has been working on actually works, sort of.”
“Wait hold up, what machine?”
“Shit, Kit has been working on this machine to locate these anomalies that are around the place, it can’t predict when one is going to happen, but it can track when one is on the move.”
“What is the difference?” Jules asked, her face scrunched and slightly tilted.
Mike groaned as he liked his lips a little, his eyes rolling all through his sockets. Jules watched as he went to take another toke and pulled the joint away.
“No hey-ing me. I want details before you green out.”
Jules took a tiny puff and then put it out on the log next to her.
Mike stared at Jules with a cartoonishly upset face for a short moment before laughing.
“Yeah that is fair. What were we talking about again?”
“The machine, difference between tracking and predicting.”
“Oh right, that is easy. So a prediction would be like catching them as they arrive in our world, tracking can follow the weird energy that they exude.”
“Arrive? Are the anomalies not from here?”
“God no, are you kidding me. Do you think that just randomly after all this time that shit just started to get weird because these weird things from caves just started to emerge?”
“I mean, it might explain so shit with history.”
Mike put a finger to his nose and pointed to Jules with wild eyes.
“Fuck that is good. I need-a say that at work.”
“Damn you are cooked you fucking druggo. Got enough brains in their to finish the story?”
“Baby I got enough to start it again.” Mike cleared his throat. “Sweet, so I went to work the other day…”
“No, stop. Just continue the story!”
Mike and Jules laughed a little and then Mike suddenly snapped himself into a serious demeanour.
“Right so we are sitting in the church, and unknown to me at that time. But the machine tracked movement, which means someone in the church was an anomaly, unfortunately the machine is not that accurate, and occupies, like, the whole second story of the building, not really a portable thing. I think Charlie had Kit in his ear while we were driving, telling him where it was going kind of thing, but whatever. Anyway, we were sitting there, just hoping that someone would reveal themselves, and the fucked up thing is they did. Like what I thunk was like most of the way through the performance.” Mike paused and scowled. “That is not the right word, but you get what I mean.” Mike drifted off, his eyes staring far off into the distance before sniffing and returning to the world. “But so, yeah. So this preacher was doing all the wrap down words for his performance and this dude stands up from one of the long seats, he didn’t look homeless, but he was close, ya know?”
Jules nodded. “Annoyingly, yes, yes I do know.”
“Yeah, dude was borderline, but he stands up and starts shouting this crap. Then the preacher replies, and the dude says more, then the preacher tried to continue, but the dude stabbed him. Aint that wild?”
Jules looked to a failing Mike with disappointment.
“I am not letting you end the story there you sorry sac of shit. Wake up, I want story!”
Mike groaned, pulling out his phone he started flicking through menus, played an audio file and rolled over.
“Listen. I am comfy, don’t wanna story anymore.”
Jules took his phone, the audio coming from it was the close messages for a sermon.
“We are in uncertain time friends, that is why we must rely on the church, we must rely on our god. By sharing what surplus we have with the church we can pass it on to those in need in the community. The news has been filled with dark news of late, and we believe that we may be reaching the time of prophecy we just need faith from those in our ranks, and we…”
The preacher was interrupted by who Jules assumed was the homeless man. He spoke as a foreigner, someone that learnt the language.
“What kind of fake preaching is this? You run a whole church off faith that there may be a god out there?”
“I am sorry child, but the evidence is all around you. Look at the community that has amassed for our lord.”
The audio recording could hear the hushed words around them in an inaudible chatter that filled the silences.
“Evidence? This is a building, and these are people sitting in it. There is nothing divine about that. I have seen larger gatherings in your schools. Are there a god of education too?”
“I know it may be hard for you to understand, but faith comes in many forms.”
“Where I come from this building would be burnt for the very insult it presents to the gods. False worship is nothing more than a farse.”
“Now listen here sir, there is no false worship here. I encourage you to come on this stage, kneel before me and let me pray over you, let our gods presence surround you.”
There was a long pause and the phone started to clank and creak as if Mike was moving with the phone, then the sounds of his footsteps picked up as the speaking on the stage got clearer.
“You must kneel though, it is how worship happens.”
“I am expected to prostrate myself before the god has even shown me their value? What kind of backwards worship is this?”
“If you don’t kneel, you want feel his hand.”
“Oh to the hells with this, you kneel.”
There were screams from the preacher, then the crowds, then the sound of a collapsing body, and heavy breathing.
“Don’t worship idle deities. They will consume you, take your worth, then spit out a husk of an individual.”
The audio recording caught an altercation, then there was a thud that was louder than the rest and Charlie’s voice came through.
“Don’t run, we need that audio.”
There was a tense moment of clothes rustling then the audio of the fighting on stage became clearer again.
“Tukon, where are you? I have lost you, I am on Earth, Hollow has gone. I need your guidance to return.”
Gunfire was heard and Mike cursing, followed by the heavy foot falls that had to be his, then the audio cut out.
“Damn Mike, sleep easy.”
Jules sat down and watched as Mike cuddled up to his own blanket. She took the joint, ignited it, and breathed deep.
“Stay safe friend, I will miss our fire side chats if you go.”
Jules skin crawled as the heat from the dying fire started to recede. She pulled up her own blanket, taking another deep inhalation she laid back against the log she was sitting against, staring up at the sky she let loose a torrent of smoke before her eyes fell heavy, and she passed out.