Alex and Harold went straight from Books of Shadows back to the hotel to recover and try to come up with a new strategy. It was something of a relief that it was only Sunday. It was also time to eat, in Alex’s opinion. They had been on the move all day, running on little sleep, he’d had to run from a crazy bookstore employee with a shotgun, and they’d possibly tipped off the guy they were trying to follow. As far as Alex was concerned, French fries and a drink were in order, as soon as possible.
“Should we head down to the restaurant here and get something for dinner?” Alex asked Harold.
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay here and keep digging through these books,” Harold said.
“When is the last time you ate, seriously? You have to be starving,” Alex said.
“Thank you Mr. Minor. If I get hungry, I’ll order something from room service,” Harold said. “I’d like to use the time to read, and I’m not especially hungry. Please go ahead and eat.”
“OK, if you say so,” Alex said. He was pretty sure he hadn’t seen Harold eat or sleep in twenty four hours. At some point, Harold was going to either wig out or collapse from hunger and exhaustion, which wouldn’t do either of them any good.
But it wasn’t like he could force Harold to eat or sleep, either. He was going to have to hope Harold knew what he was doing.
Alex made his way down to the restaurant. He didn’t recognize any of the staff from breakfast that morning, which was a relief. There were several seats open at the bar, so Alex sat down there. Several seats down from him was an older couple, and that was about it for other patrons at the bar.
The bartender had close cut blonde hair, and carried himself like a Marine. “Good evening,” he said. “What can I get you?”
“Jack Daniels and Coke,” Alex said. “Can I order dinner here, too?”
“Jack and Coke, you’ve got it. Sure, let me grab you a menu,” the bartender said. He hustled off to the other end of the bar, grabbed a menu and was back in a flash. After he’d handed Alex the menu, he had filled a glass with ice, whiskey and topped it off with Coca-Cola in a matter of seconds. Just watching the bartender work made Alex realized that he was completely exhausted.
He had a look at the menu, and realized the main thing that he wanted was French fries. He contemplated just ordering a big plate of fries, with a side of more fries, before deciding that he should probably have something else along with his fries. Figuring out what, though, was too much work. He decided a burger would be fine.
It seemed like the instant he’d decided, the bartender was there in front of him again.
“Have you had a chance to decide what you’d like to eat?” the bartender said.
“Burger and fries. And can I get an extra side of fries with that?” Alex said.
“Extra fries, no problem,” the bartender said. “I’ll have that out for you in just a few minutes.”
As the bartender left to put Alex’s order in, someone sat down on one of the stools next to Alex. It was a young guy, wearing a fleece jacket, cargo pants and hiking boots.
“How are you doing tonight?” he said to Alex.
“Bone tired,” Alex said. “How are you?”
“About the same, thanks man,” the guy said. “I’ve been camping the last few days, this is my first night back in civilization. I’m looking forward to getting some decent sleep tonight.”
“I hear that,” Alex said.
“So what are you doing here in Eureka?”
“I’m just on vacation. Seeing the sights. It’s pretty up here,” Alex said.
“It is pretty up here, no doubt about that. They’ve got some weird folks up here though, and I’m from L.A., so that’s saying something,” the guy next to Alex said.
“Is it? I thought L.A. was all musicians and movie stars,” Alex said.
“Have you met any musicians or movie stars? I’m telling you, they’re weird.”
The bartender came back with Alex’s food then. The burger looked totally decent, but more importantly, there was a mountain of perfect looking French fries alongside the burger.
“Dang, I’ll have what he’s having,” the guy next to Alex said.
Alex didn’t waste any time getting to work on the French fries. They were exactly as good as they looked, and exactly what he needed.
“So, the folks up here are weird?” Alex said, once he was able to slow down a bit between bites of fried potato.
“Yeah, seems like I bump into some odd ones every time I’m up this way,” the guy next to Alex said. “The odd ones are part of the reason I didn’t get much sleep camping.”
“Oh yeah? What happened?” Alex said.
“Well, it was this neighboring campsite from mine. No idea how it was that out of all the empty campsites in this campground, we ended up right next to each other. I probably should have moved after the first night, but it seemed like a lot of work to pack up camp just to move a few hundred yards away.”
“So they were bad neighbors?” Alex said.
“More just weird. Well, I guess they were bad neighbors, since they were up and making noise way past dark.”
“That’s not cool,” Alex said. “Just sounds like they were noisy to me, though. What made it weird?”
“The chanting. And the robes.”
“Chanting?” Alex said. He was suddenly a lot more interested in this conversation.
“Yeah. I couldn’t really hear what they were saying, but I’ll tell you what – when you’re camping alone and only other people in the campground are in the next site over, chanting for hours, it’ll freak you out a bit.”
“I bet,” Alex said. “And they were wearing robes, you said?”
“Yeah. Weird stuff,” the guy said, and shook his head.
“Were there a lot of them?” Alex said.
The guy next to him thought for a minute, and said, “I think there were about five. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was five of them. That’s how many I saw, anyway. There might have been more of them who just weren’t standing up. They got in late the first night and I didn’t go over to introduce myself after all the weirdness.”
“I don’t blame you,” Alex said.
Holy crap, Alex thought, that might just be them. Man am I glad I came down to the bar tonight.
He looked at his watch. It was getting close to seven o’clock. It wouldn’t be dark for a while yet, but he and Harold were probably going to have to pay this campground a visit tonight.
“How was the campground otherwise?” Alex said.
“Nice, really nice. It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, even though it’s not far from here at all, believe it or not. I’ll probably go back, though I think next time I’ll bring a friend,” the guys said.
“Awesome,” Alex said. “What was the place called?”
“Twin Pines Campground. Kind of a funny name, there wasn’t a pine tree to be seen. It was all redwoods, as far as I could tell. Maybe it was a joke of some sort.”
“Could be. Sounds like a nice place, I’ll have to try to check it out sometime,” Alex said. Like tonight.
“Definitely. So what about you, man? What cool stuff have you found while you’ve been here?”
Alex wondered what this guy would think if he told him he’d been haunting the local occult bookstores, following the people who might have been chanting in the neighboring campground, and getting threatened with a shotgun, all while trying to figure out what the deal is with his weird co-worker.
“Not much, to be honest. I’ve been checking out Eureka and Arcata a little bit. They’re cute towns. It seems like a nice place to live,” Alex said.
He’d finished his burger, and polished off the last of his French fries. When the bartender came by, Alex asked for the check. He paid, and turned to leave.
“Time to turn in,” Alex said to the guy next to him. He wanted to thank him for possibly making his life much, much easier, but couldn’t figure out how to explain it. Instead, he just said, “Have yourself a good night.”
“You too, man. Have a good time while you’re here.”
Alex walked casually out of the bar, but once he was out of the restaurant (and out of sight), he nearly broke into a run on his way back to the room.
Harold was sitting exactly where he’d been when Alex left for dinner. He wasn’t surprised to see that Harold was hunched over one of the books, with several of the others spread out around him.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Alex said after he’d shut the door behind himself. “Some guy in the bar seems to have been camped out next to Noah and his friends for the last few days in a local campground.”
“You must be joking,” Harold said.
“I’m not,” Alex said. “He said he’d had trouble sleeping for the last few nights because of the weird people in the next campground over. He said they were chanting and wearing robes, in a group of five. I can’t imagine there are all that many people trying to work magic in the redwoods every day.”
“No, I imagine not. Very interesting, Mr. Minor. Did he tell you where the campground is?” Harold said.
“Well, he didn’t tell me how to get there exactly, but he gave me the name. It’s called Twin Pines Campground. That should be easy enough to look up,” Alex said.
Harold set his book down and stood up. “Yes, I expect so,” he said. “Let’s get some more information and head over to this campground.”
Five minutes later they were back in the car, and on their way out of town to the Twin Pines campground. Alex hoped they would find Noah and the rest of his group there. Presumably, then it would just be a matter of finding the opportunity to recover the artifacts, and they’d be on their way back home.
It was getting dark when they reached Twin Pines campground. Just as the guy in the bar had said, most of the sites were unoccupied. Alex and Harold cruised through the campground slowly, looking for Noah or, barring that, at least a group of campers that seemed ready to don robes and start chanting.
There was a family with two kids and their dog, a retired couple with an astonishingly large RV, and a couple of college kids. That was it.
“Well, shit,” Alex said. “Of course it couldn’t be easy.”
“Indeed,” Harold said. “Let’s park the car and walk through.”
Alex didn’t see what possible good that would do, but he shrugged and said, “OK, what have we got to lose?”
They drove the rest of the way through the campground, and parked near the exit back to the main road. Then Alex and Harold got out of the car, and started walking back through the campground.
Harold produced a small flashlight from one of his pockets and turned it on. Alex was amazed at how bright it was for its size.
“Wow, look at you, prepared for anything. Man, that thing is bright. I’ve got a big Maglite at home, but I don’t think it produces that much light,” Alex said.
“Yes, it’s bright, but it goes through batteries very quickly. I try to save it for special occasions only,” Harold said.
They walked in silence after that. Apart from the sounds of laughter and conversation coming from the other campers, it was remarkably quiet.
The two of them were about halfway through the campground, when Harold stopped abruptly.
“This is where they were,” he said.
“Really? How can you tell?” Alex said. He looked on the ground where Harold’s flashlight was aimed, and didn’t see anything unusual there, so he looked into the campsite that was closest to them. He didn’t see anything unusual there, either.
“I can just tell,” Harold said. He walked into the campsite slowly, sweeping his flashlight back and forth across the ground. “There,” he said.
Alex looked where the light was, but just saw gravel.
“What’s there?” he said.
“They’ve smoothed the gravel down, erasing the marks they made on the ground. See? There’s a circle that has been raked clean. Everywhere else around here is lumpy, but it’s perfectly flat there,” Harold said.
“I don’t think that’s really conclusive,” Alex said.
Harold sighed, and said, “Can’t you feel that they were here, Mr. Minor?”
Alex wondered if this was Harold’s exhaustion and hunger kicking in. However, he still mostly seemed to be his usual, kind of spooky self. So rather than argue, Alex got quiet, and paid attention to see if he could feel anything weird.
He slowed his breathing and closed his eyes. He listened.
Nothing. He felt nothing unusual at all.
“Sorry Harold,” Alex said. “I want to believe this is where they were, but I’m not feeling anything...”
Just then all the hair on his arms stood up, and he broke out in goosebumps. It felt like a chill and a cloud of static electricity had passed through him.
“Whoa,” Alex said.
“I take it you felt it too, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Alex said. “Wow, that was weird.”
“It is a strange sensation,” Harold said. “They’re making remarkable progress now that they have the artifacts.”
“Progress?” Alex said. “What are you talking about?”
The wave of cold and odd, charged, feeling passed through him again.
“Well, like they said in the forum, they’re trying to continue Thomas Smith’s work. And they’ve come remarkably far,” Harold said.
“If you say so…” Alex said. “Do you think there’s anything here that will lead us to them?”
He was anxious to get moving again. This had gotten too weird, too quickly, and it was freaking him out.
“I think there’s something here that could lead us to them, if we knew how to listen,” Harold said.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Alex said.
“It means no, Mr. Minor, I don’t think they’ve left any clues behind for us. We can leave,” Harold said.
“Great, let’s get back to the hotel. I think I can use some sleep,” Alex said. He was already walking quickly out of the campsite back to the road that ran through the campground.
“I’m sure,” Harold said.
They drove back to the hotel in silence. Harold seemed to be back to waiting patiently for whatever comes next, while Alex was trying to make sense of what he’d just experienced.
He was certain that he hadn’t just gotten spooked in the woods. That felt different, and more like panic. He’d been freaked once he felt it, for sure, but he hadn’t felt panicked. This had been a definite sensation of cold, and of some kind of energy. He wondered if the energy had been good or bad, before abandoning that train of thought as irrelevant and merely acknowledging that whatever it was, it was strong.
When they got back to the hotel, Alex made a beeline for his bed. At least, it was his bed now. He and Harold hadn’t really discussed which of the two beds each of them would be taking.
“It’s been a long, weird day. Let’s get some rest, Harold,” Alex said. He crawled under the covers and shut off the light on the nightstand next to him.
“You go ahead, Mr. Minor. I’m going to stay up and read for a while longer,” Harold said.
Alex might have questioned Harold about that, except for that he’d already fallen asleep.