Series I: Stand Off – Chapter 5: Darkness Leads

Thomas embraced the cool midnight air as he gently closed the door on his way out. He stepped forward after closing the door and raised his head with taking a deep breath. He glared at the moon taking each breath in. Its gleaming light illuminated the dark sky along with the thin dispersing clouds and as he scanned the dark expanse, he remembered the last time he went camping. It was the kind of sky he was under when he went with his three friends back in South Jersey. Of course, the light pollution forbade the pleasure for him to marvel at the stars where he knew they rested in constellations among light-years away, but the night along with the moon’s glimmer still felt the same as it did in the middle of the Pine Barrens with those friends. It was the weekend after he received Kristen’s number that week when they first met.

“Hey guys, wait up!” Darren yelled through the cigarette hanging from his mouth. He was flicking the lighter at its tip and as the flint sparked, the cigarette trembled.

Ashley and Kurt were ahead of them on the trail, kicking the dirt underneath their shoes and catching the nearest tree trunk for support against the rugged terrain.

“Hey!” Thomas called to them as he stood in between Darren and Ashley and Kurt.

“Yeah man, we are just scoping ahead.” Kurt yelled back. Ashley was laughing and slapping his shoulder. He handed her a joint and she took it without hesitating to inhale it.

Thomas walked toward Darren and raised his hand to his shoulder. “Are you alright man?” he asked, “you know, I told them not to bring it.” He tilted his head and then looked back ahead of the trail toward Ashley and Kurt.

“It’s fine,” Darren muttered through the cigarette, “I just have to get used to it.” He finally lit the thing and the smoke danced in front of his face until it dissipated among the piney canopies.

Thomas looked at the ground and caught a spider scurry over and underneath the leaves. “No man,” he said. He brought his eyes up again to see that Ashley and Kurt were walking toward them, still laughing.

“Guys, why did you bring weed?” Thomas asked as he walked to meet them half way. They kept moving forward, passing Thomas. He walked back toward his friends until they all were close enough together.

“So, why?” he asked again.

Kurt looked at Ashley and she looked back at him nudging her elbow into his arm. Well,” Kurt seemed troubled trying to speak, “what’s wrong with a little weed man?” He lifted his hand to the back of his neck.

“Yeah Darren – besides, no one is out here.” Ashley said. She had her hand clasping her elbow of the arm that extended down with the joint between her fingers.

Thomas looked at the joint then at Darren. “Should I tell them or you,” he said.

Darren just looked at Thomas then reached for the joint with one hand while taking the cigarette out of his mouth with his other hand. “Let me have a hit,” he said.

“Tell us what?” Ashley asked as she handed him the joint. Darren pierced his eyes into Thomas’ before he conjured the words to answer Ashley.

“Nothing,” Darren said, “I just have a drug test in a few weeks for a job, but I’ll be good.”

“Then what’s the problem,” Kurt said, “smoke up man!”

“Whatever.” Thomas said. He lifted his hands to his head and stretched his back as Darren took a drag.

“Take a hit man, Kurt said to Thomas, “You’ll feel – he cracked a smile – nature-fied!” He extended his arms out and moved them like frequency waves.

“Nah, I’m good,” he said, looking into the trees.

“Whao, check that eagle out!” Ashley pointed at a soaring bird that was extending its claws to perch itself on a branch just up and beyond where they were standing.

Thomas looked up and noticed that it wasn’t an eagle, but a hawk. He alone also noticed a nest closer to the trunk of the tree at which it was moving toward.

“Come on let’s go, we are almost to the campsite,” he said.

They continued to walk into the sun’s glow as it was on the brink of its dusk. Thomas led with Darren close behind, and Ashley and Kurt covering the rear a few feet from Darren. Intervals of exhaled smoke trailed them as they hiked for three more miles into South Jersey’s wildlife of the Pine Barrens. The trees were stacked so close together in nothing but mucky shallow marsh and the spacing in between them only revealed more trees as they appeared in the backdrop. As the night settled in, the trail was the only thing capable of seeing passed them and with the disappearing of the sun came the looming light of the moon, casting a glow that highlighted the silhouette of the trail and the shimmer of the marshes surrounding it.

“Hey did any of you bring a flashlight?” Thomas asked. He kept his head on the path and was attentive to the ground on which he was stepping.

A voice came from behind him, “nah.” Thomas discerned it to be Kurt.

“Ashley?” Thomas followed up with asking.

“I was counting on Kurt to bring one, I was supposed to bring the lighter,” she said. Thomas looked back and saw her flicking that lighter to keep it burning for the little light that she needed.

“That’s not going to help Ash,” Thomas said as he turned around. Darren started to pass him.

“No light Tom?” he said as he took the lead on the trail.

“I forgot ok?” Thomas said, following the light of Darren’s cigarette. He grabbed him by the arm, and as he stopped, Darren looked at Thomas. “We should stop here, find a clearing and settle by a fire, and sleep. We’ll head out in the morning.”

Darren jerked his arm out from Thomas’ grasp of it. “Yeah . . . hear that Kurt and Ashley?”

They weren’t far off from the lead Thomas and Darren had on them and they caught up momentarily through the thicket of the night, bumping into Thomas. “Yeah, I can’t see jack,” Kurt said while finding his balance in the darkness.

“Please,” Ashley insisted, “I’ll roll another once the fire is started.” She walked to the closest tree and leaned against it and started to flick her lighter again for some light.

“Alright, I am going to see if there is a clearing passed these trees.” Thomas brushed against Ashley only to pass her to move into the woods.

“Hey, easy there cowboy,” she said as she shoved herself off the tree trunk.

“Relax, it’s only me.” Thomas said. Darren flicked his lighter to his face and as the small flame formed, he moved it toward Ashley.

“Nah,” he said, “these woods are alive.” he let out an evil laugh that had Kurt kick the dirt around his feet in an attempt to shake the fear off.

“Shut up man, you’re freakin’ me out. . . no damn flashlight, how are we gonna find fire wood without a flashlight?” Kurt said.

“That’s a good point Thomas.” Darren said as he moved the lighter to his face.

“I have an idea,” Thomas reached down to the ground. They watched him as best as they could in the dark, then Darren followed him to the ground crouching with the lighter still on in his hand.

“I’m trying to find a stick.” He said to Darren and the others.

“Ahh, a torch! Nice,” Kurt said. He moved closer to Darren and the lighter.

“Two’s better than one,” Ashley said as she moved toward the ground while flicking her lighter, until she truck the flint to catch the gas.

“How about that one,” Kurt said as he pointed to the first stick he saw.

“Nah, it’s too thin,” Thomas said, “I need something that I can wrap my shirt around.”

Darren stood back up and looked off into the darkness. “I guess it’s worthless to say that we should have brought our phones, huh?” he said.

Thomas stood back up and faced Darren. “Well this whole trip lost its worth when those two brought weed,” he pointed to Kurt and Ashley, “and you smoking it, come on man!” Thomas said with his teeth grinding in between breaths.

“Wait,” Kurt stood up, “what are you guys talking about,” he said scratching his head.

“Yeah,” Ashley chimed in still searching for a stick with her lighter, “I thought we were going natural with this trip; no technology, just good times.”

“I also said no drugs, and you brought drugs.” Thomas said, still searching for a sturdy stick.

“Hey, weed’s not a drug man,” Kurt said, throwing his long blond hair back and out of his face.

“He’s got a point,” Darren said.

Thomas shook his head and paused to wipe the fatigue from his eyes. Then, a ding noise came from his pocket.

Darren’s lighter went out, but his eyes still fell upon Thomas. “But you brought your phone, uh?” he said.

Thomas kept looking at the moon with his mind on that time and off of the throw up on his leg and shoe. He reached into his back pocket and drew his wallet to find that he had just enough cash for a trip down to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. The cement steps felt harder than usual as he joggled down each one with his soles clapping against them, and upon hitting the sidewalk, his arm swung out with the rest of his momentum where the clapping form his soles hitting the cement turned into short thumps.

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