Randy’s old Ford bounced with the bumps in the old dirt road, and I was amazed that none of us had been knocked unconscious from the shity suspension. I held onto the safety handle tight, to the point where I could feel my fingernails push into my palm, as we drove deeper and deeper down the country lane. From the back, I could hear Troy and Jane talking to each other about how much they hated the new Annabelle movie, and how they took way too many liberties with the actual story. I could just barely hear them over the sound of the red truck’s horrible motor screaming, and I was thankful that we were getting close to the lake.
“Randy!” I yelled over the tortured truck engine, “When the hell are we stopping, man?! I’m starting to get a headache!”
“What?!” Randy yelled back. He pulled the sunglasses off his face, acting like it would help him hear me better, “One second man, where’s almost there!” I sighed and shook my head before looking out the passenger side window. Randy couldn’t take care of a car to save his life, and his dad knew that. I think that’s why he had bought himself a new Ford Focus, and gave Mister Football Captain his shitty F-150. After a few more minutes, Randy killed the engine, and slapped the wheel like he was finishing up a drum solo, before jumping out of the driver side door. I looked to the pair in the back seat, and they just met me with a shrug.
“Guess we’re here.” Troy finally said, unbuckling his seatbelt. Troy was a big guy, mostly because his mom cooked like an old Italian lady. Whenever I went over for dinner, it was always spaghetti, fettucini alfredo, meatballs, homemade pizza, and maybe some frozen veggies on the side. His weight didn’t exactly make him the most popular guy in school, but Randy made sure that anyone who tried to fuck with our friend got a ‘talking to’.
I followed Troy out, and heard Jane’s door slam behind her. I watched as Randy and Troy started carrying firewood from the back of the truck to a small fire pit on the gravelly shore of the lake, three half cut logs circling it like when the four of us went to Camp Kupugani as kids. I was honestly amazed that Randy had set this up for us, but he did say he wanted to do something nostalgic for our last summer together. That’s the one thing I liked about Randy, the guy was an asshole, but he never really changed from that mop headed dork in middle school, who freaked out over losing his Filigree Angel card to some neckbeard at Friday Night Magic.
The sound of a few birds calling to each other were the loudest sounds out there, followed by the sound of the small waves of the lake lapping at the rocky shore. It was completely different from Romeoville, where the sounds of traffic and bass boosted rap were almost everywhere. Peaceful, it was utterly peaceful, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I turned to Jane, and I could tell she felt the same way. Randy’s voice finally broke the silence when he yelled for us to carry our weight, and it didn’t take long for us to grab the cooler from behind the tailgate. I would’ve asked what was in the thing, if I hadn’t contributed a bottle of Tito’s to the booze the grey YETI held. It wasn’t long after that when the sun set, and Jane dumped half a bottle of lighter fluid onto the fire wood. Everyone stood back as Randy handed me a barbeque lighter from the glovebox of his Ford.
“Thanks buddy.” I said sarcastically, making my three oldest friends snicker. I carefully held the lighter out after striking it, and pulled back the second the fire flared from the chunks of store bought birch.
“Fuck! Keith, you ok man?” Jane asked, her half drunk bottle of water at the ready.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I said, reaching up to make sure my eyebrows were still there. I looked over to her and snickered, “Don’t think Deja Blue’s going to help stop a forest fire though.” Jane narrowed her eyes and tossed the last of the water in my face, then we both started laughing.
“Get a room.” Troy scoffed, getting the bags of food we got with the wood out of the floor of the truck. I went over and helped him out a bit, while Randy just sat and stared at the fire with Jane. Once I passed the cooler, Randy raised up his hand.
“Yo dude, beer me.” he called out, the fire shining in his hazel eyes. I shook my head and grabbed a couple of Buds out of the YETI, before handing one to him and sitting next to him.
“You can drop the bad eighties movie jock act, dude,” Jane said from her own log, as Troy helped her get a couple of marshmallows onto a stick he got from nearby, “we’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s not like Brandy is going to see you hanging out with a bunch of nerds.” Randy’s smile fell from his face, and he popped open the beer before downing it quickly. I knew in an instant what the next words out of his mouth would be, and I took the first move.
“Fuck… I’m sorry man.” I said, patting my best friend’s shoulder. He stopped drinking and looked at me, and that’s about the time Jane and Troy caught on. Both of them stood up and moved to consol Randy, and we could all tell he was holding back tears at this point.
“I just… I don’t get it.” he said, looking back into the fire, “I did everything right, I treated her like a queen, but she just-”
“Hey,” I said, putting my arm around him, “don’t worry about it man. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, and you’re going to North Western next year, right? You’ll find someone better than her.” Randy leaned back and looked at all of us before wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
“You guys mind if we talk about something else?” he asked, tossing his empty beer can into Wal-Mart bag we had for trash. I hadn’t seen Randy this messed up since the divorce, his parents hadn’t even talked to him about it until the week before the papers were finalized. Randy’s dad asked us if he could stay at one of our places and Troy volunteered, but we all stayed with him for about a week. I think the break up was the real reason Randy asked the three of us to come camping with him on the lake that weekend, and even if he told us the truth we would’ve said yes. We were his friends, and we knew that college was going to make it harder for us to keep in contact. Randy was going to North Western, Troy had gotten a scholarship to ICC, Jane had applied to a few places out of state, and I was heading into JJC for two years before switching over to SIU to get a European History degree. There was no real way for us to keep in close contact if anything major got in the way, and I knew that I would’ve came along at the drop of a dime.
We went through the usual list of topics that the four of us usually talked about on Fridays, starting with the new cards Troy had gotten from the draft tournament he was in the week before. We all played Magic still, but Troy was the biggest fanboy out of all of us. He would’ve sold his soul for a Black Lotus, and swore that he would be buried with his best decks like some sort of pharaoh. Out of habit, we had all brought the decks we would take to the card shop on any other Friday night, and Randy’s expression lightened up when he and Troy beat Jane and I in a game of Two-Headed Giant.
After that, I brought that Mr. Davis, our English teacher, had told me I was going to be the debate team captain, and Randy nearly threw my back out with how hard he slapped it. He knew I had been gunning for it since Jeremy Pettis got expelled last year, after getting caught with Lilly Benson on her knees in the back of the library, but he never thought I’d get it. I told him how I was so happy to have a friend who had so much confidence in me, and he just laughed and said how he could see the sarcasm floating around each word. I couldn’t help but laugh at how stupid that sounded.
I checked my phone as we started talking about how Troy’s cousin was going to be trying his hand at DMing some Dungeons and Dragons, and saw that it was already midnight. I had to interrupt, mostly because of something Jane and I had talked about at the checkout line at Walmart while Troy and Randy where drooling over the new Magic set that had come out.
“Jane,” I said without warning, cutting Randy off in the middle of a joke, “it’s time.” Jane cracked a huge smile at that, and looked to the other two.
“So boys,” she started, leaning forward and rubbing her hands together, “have either of you heard the stories about this part of the woods.”
“Oh god dammit, Jane, not again!” Troy called out, “The last time you told us about one of these, I couldn’t sleep without the light on for a month.” I chuckled as I remembered how Jane told us about the pale, long limbed monster that sat at the end of a couple’s bed and whispered for the husband to kill his wife.
“Dude, calm down.” Randy said, taking another swig from his fourth beer of the night, “All the shit Jane talks about are just made up, like that dude in the suit, or the clown asshole.”
“Doesn’t matter man, every time we talk about horror stuff I can’t sleep, and I’m not exactly comfortable with how we’re going to be sleeping tonight anyway-”
“So,” Jane interrupted, “you shouldn’t have a problem with a little fireside spooky story, since you’re already afraid of a bear eating you, or whatever, right?” Troy looked to me, expecting me to say something in his defense. I just shrugged, from what Jane had told me in the store, I wanted to know more about this. Once Troy resigned himself to not sleeping tonight, Jane went on, “Anyway, years ago,” she paused for suspense, “there was this family who lived out this way, close to Channahon. A couple with two boys, named Jeff and Lew, who were new to the area. So, the boys meet up with these a couple of bullies who pull knives out on them-”
“Wait wait, how old are these kids?” I asked, a smore in one hand and the bottle of vodka I brought in the other.
“Like middle schoolers.”
“What the fuck are middle schoolers doing with knives?!” Troy asked, his mouth half full of chocolate and marshmallow.
“Guys, let Janey tell the fucking story.” Randy said, he was on the edge of his seat. The four of us had been bullied in middle school, so I’m guessing he was hoping for some sort of revenge plot. He wasn’t disappointed, and as Jane went on she talked about how Jeff had almost killed the bullies with their own knives. She talked about how Lew had taken the rap for his brother, and how he got sent to juvie, and how the bullies came back and nearly killed Jeff at some little kid’s birthday party. She was graphic about it too, talked about how they pour bleach onto Jeff’s skin, and how Jeff set one of them on fire.
“Then,” Jane started to wrap up, “when Jeff woke up at the hospital he saw his face. It was completely fucked up: white as snow, his hair was black like a crow’s feathers, and his lips were as red as blood-”
“Bleach wouldn’t make his hair black.” Troy shot back, completely unfazed by the story so far. “Jane, whoever told you this story didn’t know how to make shit scary.”
“Fine then!” Jane snapped at our bigger friend, “Let’s see how you deal with the other stories I’ve heard about Jeff.”
“What do you mean other stories?” Randy asked, his voice slurred as he tossed another beer into the bag, “Like, is this just a bunch of things you’ve heard at school, or online, or what Jane?”
“Wait, you guys have actually never heard of Jeff the Killer?” she asked up, which we all shook our heads to. “You’re kidding right? I’ve heard all sorts of stuff about him! Some people say he’s some sort of cyber demon, who attacks and kills anyone who says his name!” She lurched at Troy, who’s fear finally broke through, “I’ve heard that the bullies tried to threaten him with a flare gun, and it went off as he was kicked their asses, so the left side of his face is scared and burnt!” I took a step back, remembering how hot the fire was when I first started it, “But each time, every story ends the same.”
We waited for Jane to keep going, looking to each other before Jane pulled a pocket knife from her purse and stood in front of Randy.
“Jeff always kills his father, and his mother,” she kneeled down, her face inches from Randy’s and her knife pointed right at his throat, “and he tells them to go. To. SLEEP!” With that, I poured the entire bottle of cheap vodka on Randy’s head.
None of us could help but laugh, and we were thankful that Randy was a fun drunk. Even Troy looked more relaxed, even if he was looking out into the woods every five seconds. It didn’t take long for us to start talking about hitting the hay, and who would set up the tent with me since I was the least drunk out of the four of us. As Jane grabbed a bucket out of the back of the truck for water, Troy and I started to set up the four person tent Randy’s dad had gotten for us. Randy had started to try and help us, but he wound up falling on his ass one too many times so we just old him to sit and try and sober up a bit before bed.
“I’m just gonna, gonna go take a piss, kay?” he asked like we were his parents, before heading off towards some bushes without even waiting for an answer. It didn’t take long for the three of us to finish setting up camp for the night, and I felt myself drifting off as the three of us waited for Randy to get back. As Troy started to go into detail about his newest D&D campaign, looked off in the direction our buddy stumbled off in.
“Hey guys, Randy’s been gone for awhile, I’m gonna make sure he hasn’t fallen into the lake or something.” I stood and started to walk down the the gravelly shore, pulled out my phone, and turned on my flashlight as I headed into the foliage. The dark green leaves of the trees and bushes where so bunched up that I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me, and my brain started to fuck with me as thoughts of Jane’s killer story mixed with my own exhaustion. Every time the leaves rustled, and every time I took a step, I felt they were coming from someone following me as my head darted around to try and find Randy. “Hey, asshole! You’ve been pissing for like an hour man! You get lost?!”
My foot pushed against something hard, and I pulled back quickly to keep from tripping over whatever it was. Out of reflex, I moved the light to get a better look at what I thought was a rock or a fallen log, and I had to clasp my hand over my mouth tight to keep from screaming out. Randy was laying face down in the dirt, his eyes wide open and a long slash cut into his mouth. From the back of the old white shirt he had on was a large, red stain and in the center was a carving knife. I felt my heart beat faster and faster as I started to step back, only to see the bush in behind of Randy’s body move and the white of a long sleeved shirt poke out from the leavy wall. I didn’t wait to see any more, I turned tail and rushed back to the campfire screaming at the top of my lungs.
Troy and Jane ran up to me, asking what had happened, but all I could do was yell at them to get in the truck. They didn’t move, I think they thought it was some sort of joke Randy and I had cooked up after I found him. I didn’t wait for them, I ran to the truck and only stopped to pull out my phone and start dialling 911. As I slammed the door to Randy’s truck, I heard Jane scream. Troy’s body fell to the ground as the same knife that was stuck in Randy’s body sliced his neck, and the guy holding it was just staring at Jane. The guy was lanky, and his white hoodie was covered in huge splatterings of blood across the front. I jumped out of the car and reached into the back, pulling out one of the leftover chunks of firewood we had bought.
“No way, no way, no way, no way…” Jane said, her voice getting more and more quiet as she stepped away from the killer, “You’re not real. You’re just a story, you can’t be here. Troy!” Jane looked toward our friend, blood pooling from his open wound, “Troy, get up! Please! It’s a prank, right? Just get up, please… Please!” I inched closer to the guy with the knife, as he took a few steps towards my last living friend.
The guy didn’t say a word as he flipped the knife in his hand, gripping it so that the blade was facing down. He moved his hand up, the first thing coming to my mind was the scene of Norman Bates stabbing Marion in the shower, and I felt adrenaline burst through me as I ran at the man who killed my best friend. I felt the wood almost fly from my hand with how hard I slammed it into the back of his head, and slammed it down on his nose when I saw that he still had the knife in his hand. I heard Jane fall to the ground, gasping for breath as she stared at the blood flowing from the guy’s nose, then back up to me.
“T-take the hood off his head.” she said, her voice shaking as she pulled her knees up to her chest. I kicked the knife away from him, then kneeled down. Before pulling the hood from the guy’s face, I turned my head to Jane. I could see her foot bouncing, and her teeth where nibbling into her bottom lip.
“Jane, does it matter who this guy is?” I asked, keeping one eye on the body, “I understand why you want me to do it, but we need to call the cops.” She nodded, stuck in her own head as I pulled my phone from my pocket, and dialed the police again.
It took what seemed like forever for the sirens and flashing lights of the cops to reach us, they brought up a pair of blankets as they took us to the side to get our testimony. I watched as they covered Troy’s body, and as a group of C.S.I. looking guys went into the woods to find Randy. The officer who was talking to me, Officer Walker, asked me if I knew the guy who attacked us. I told him I didn’t, and he said that it was some guy from JJC who they were investigating for a few girls disappearing from off campus. Officer Walker told me Jane and I were going to be taken to a hospital while they called our parents, then he apologised for my loss.
That was three years ago, and I’m still living in Romeoville with my mom and dad. After they picked me up, they begged me to go to the Rasmussen College in town, and I couldn’t help but agree. I didn’t want to go too far from town, especially after Jane was admitted into the psych ward of Saint Joseph’s. I didn’t want to leave her behind, not after what we had to go through together, and I couldn’t risk losing another friend. I still woke up screaming at night, that last camping trip was still playing in my head every time I tried to close my eyes.
I visited Jane as much as I could, told her about everything that was going on, but all she cared about was the guy who killed our friends. She swore he was still out there, waiting for us to lower our guard, so that he could push his knife into us. My friend wouldn’t listen when I told her that I saw the police stuff Troy and Randy’s killer into a body bag, and after about a year I stopped going to see her. The last time I headed in there, one of the aids had told me I couldn’t even go into her room. Jane had tried to kill herself the night before, with a pen the doctors had given her to help with some sort of dream journal. When I asked about the journal, the nurse said it was blank, aside from one page that just said ‘he is real’.
I didn’t want to revisit any of this until last week, when I got out of class for the day. I decided to go into criminal justice, for obvious reasons, and I was talking to one of my classmates when he stopped and pointed to me car.
“Dude, someone keyed your Impala.” he said, and when I turned I dropped the books in my arms fell to the concret. Scratched into the side of my white Chevy were three words that I only heard once, that day in the woods.
Go to sleep.