Updated: May 25
April 2019. 17:30.
Later that evening, the sun lingered close to the horizon, creating a slight orange tinge in the atmosphere.
The window in Kiri’s room was open a crack. She sat in front of it with her head resting on her desk. She listened to the sounds of the evening birds emerging from the trees. In the distance were the sounds of children bouncing a ball on the street and laughing.
She lazily dragged her phone that rested at the corner of her desk towards her. Pressed a button on the side and the screen lit up.
She sighed. “I guess I’ll be off then.” She dragged herself off the chair.
After exiting her room and sauntering down the stairs to the living room, she left her phone on the charger on the side table. Saluted Uncle Jim who was still reading. After he saluted back, she headed out of the house, grabbed the thick-wheeled bike that was leaning against the side of the house, and rode east towards the plains.
The town was quiet despite it being a Friday. Most people probably hit the bars downtown. This place was quiet and motionless, pressed down by the day’s remaining spring heat and drowsy with a sense of lingering nostalgia.
When Kiri arrived at the gate, a group of about 20 people already stood around with their bikes, socializing. She slowed her bike to a stop just outside the circle of people. No one seemed to notice her except Gabe who gave her a brief wave and smile. She smiled awkwardly and almost lifted her hand to wave back, but he had already turned away toward some other people.
She waited for what seemed like an eternity until everyone finally began to move. They hopped onto their thick-wheeled grass bikes and began to funnel onto a middle makeshift trail of flattened grass leading into the plains. She followed, putting some distance between her and the group.
The sky was becoming redder. The heat didn’t let up. They rode out to the bonfire pit that was about two or three miles from the town. The pit lay as a large metallic circle within an even larger circle of dirt and rocks. Around the pit were stumps covered in lichen and leftover wooden logs. Beer bottles and plastic pieces from previous parties littered the area. People lay down their bikes. Threw down bags of food and logs. Some began to pitch tents.
Kiri looked hesitantly at the bags, then went to find Gabe.
He stood by the fire pit talking with some of the girls from class. Kiri lightly tapped his shoulder. “Um…”
He turned to her with his usual grin plastered to his face. “Yeah?”
“Should I have brought food or something?”
“Nah, you’re all good!” He turned back to the group and continued talking with them.
Kiri nodded slowly and averted her eyes. “Ah—right.”
As the evening progressed, she skimmed the crowd of people, going around to different clusters and attempting to make small talk. People were friendly to her and seemed to become even friendlier as the alcohol migrated around. However, she mostly found herself on the sidelines just listening to the conversations.
At some point when the night had fallen and the fire had grown large, she stood by a group where Gabe conversed. Though she didn’t think much of it at the time, another group of three people who sat on the logs around the fire some meters away seemed to be glancing at her.
Along the furthest perimeter from the fire pit, a long blanket covered with snacks, pizzas, and hamburger fixings had been strewn lazily on the ground. When the conversation from Gabe’s group that she’d been listening to changed to a different, albeit less interesting subject, she inconspicuously made her way to the food. It happened to be behind the logs where sat the three people who had been looking at her earlier.
As she gathered come chips on a paper plate, she caught a whiff of their conversation.
“I just don’t get why Gabe invited her to this party. Like, she’s so boring and when she’s not, she’s just plain weird,” said the girl sitting at the right end.
“Dude, it’s Gabe. He’ll be nice to anyone,” replied the boy at the left end.
“I don’t know, though, this is the first party he’s invited her to.”
The girl in the middle chimed in. “Maybe she’s become less weird over the years? Not talking to herself and doing crazy shit like acting like there are spirits?” She laughed.
“Yeah, and maybe she just realized what she did is weird so now she stopped and became just plain boring,” said the boy.
The two girls laughed. One of them said, “Ouch, I didn’t think you actually hated her. I thought you even liked her in middle school.”
“What? Why the hell would I ever like someone like that. Maybe she was a little cute just because I like round faces but hell would I ever care about her personality.”
The rest of the conversation morphed into just a blur of laughs and vacant words. Kiri had been paused that whole time, hand lingering over the salsa and eyes pinned downward onto nothing.
The flame of the bonfire began to flicker intensely as a cool breeze picked up.
Her hand began to shake for some reason. Her surroundings seemed to pulse.
What brought her out of this trance was a group of young men who gathered around the food blanket talking obnoxiously loud. She snapped out of her steady, pulsing environment and looked over at them. After a moment, she realized that tears were welling at the bottoms of her eyes. Quickly turned away and stood up before they could notice.
As she made her way to the other side of the fire pit, she felt a hand land on her shoulder. She jumped, almost losing a few chips on her plate. She looked behind her.
It was Gabe.
“Hey, come over here! We’re playing truth or dare,” he said. His voice cut through like a fresh, cool wind.
Kiri’s eyes remained locked on him for a few seconds, but then she looked away quickly as she feared the tears would stream out.
He leaned over to see her better. “Hey, you alright?”
She took a few seconds to collect herself and dampen down a new pulsing that had begun in her chest. She fiddled with the ends of her hair. Looked back up at Gabe and nodded. “Yeah, I’ll join.”
He watched her concernedly for a moment, but then grinned widely. Turned away and walked back to the group of people by the fire pit. Kiri followed cautiously.
When they arrived at the pit, the group was silent except for one boy who spoke with a mysterious tone of voice. He leaned close to the fire and his eyes were wide as to enhance an effect.
“No, guys, this is a story I heard from my grandma, literally a relative of the person from the story. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of it!” he said. Glared at one of the girls.
The girl rolled her eyes. Other people chuckled.
“Oh, you’re telling that story again?” Gabe said with a laugh. “I thought we were gonna play truth or dare.” He sat down on the edge of a stump, then looked up at Kiri and summoned her to sit on the stump beside him.
Kiri hesitated. Nervously walked to the stump and sat down as implored.
The boy continued, “No, no. We’ll do that after. Alicia hasn’t heard the story! I have to tell it.”
Gabe leaned over to Kiri and asked quietly, “Have you heard of the legend of the carriage in the plains?”
Kiri shook her head, keeping her eyes focused on the fire.
“Oh really? Though you’ve lived here all your life? Well, you’ll really enjoy this.” Gabe sat back up straight and turned his attention back to the boy.
It was a lie, actually. Kiri’s uncle had told her the legend many times. She didn’t know what had prompted her to lie. But hearing Gabe mention how long Kiri had lived in this town was like a jab to the stomach. She pulled her knees into her chest and made herself as small as possible. Whatever. It wasn’t like it mattered.
The boy started. “Okay so… This is the legend of the carriage in the plains.” He gestured out towards the plains. “They say that far into the Eastern plains, there is a broke down carriage that appears every once in a while at random times somewhere in these plains. However, no one has been able to find it for a long time—at least not yet. So the story goes that a long time ago before this town was officially settled, a crazy old man ran away from the settlement. The police were chasing him, okay? He had murdered his wife.
“So he happened to have a carriage. He harnessed his horses up and rode far into the plains. The plains are really damn big as you know, so he decided to camp out for a night. However, something was strange about these plains.
“He set up camp and as the night fell, his horses got spooked and ran away. ‘Cause he saw nothing, he kind of just shrugged it off and went to sleep.”
The boy paused for a moment and clapped his hands together. Looked somewhat sinister into the fire, then continued slowly. “But over that night, something strange did happen. When the police who’d been tracking him arrived at where the tracks stopped the next day, both the man and the carriage had disappeared. All that was left was a blanket, a makeshift fireplace, and a mug.
“They were really puzzled. I mean, they’d seen his horses running off on their own earlier. But still, they never found that carriage nor him. For several years after that, people scrutinized these plains, looking for the lost carriage and man, but to no avail. The citizens of this town believed the plains to be haunted.
“After several generations passed, people began to be less paranoid about the plains, however, this story remained as the local legend. That is, until about 50 years later when a traveler spotted what looked like remnants of a carriage in the plains. When news got around, people had many theories about what could’ve happened. My personal favorite is that it was transported into a parallel universe. But anyway, when people went to look for it the next day, it was gone again. Still, no one knows why until this day.”
The boy concluded the story by clapping his hands twice and standing up abruptly. “The end!” Now let’s play truth or dare. Who will be my first victim?”
The circle of college students looked around at each other as if emerging from a trance.
One of the girls spoke. “Ooh, I don’t know if I want to be dared by you. Your dares are scary.”
“Guess that means you’re the willing volunteer,” Gabe said and laughed.
The boy ignored this and looked around the circle. Then his eyes landed on a particular person. “I know!” he blurted. “I dare our newest recruit!”
Kiri’s eyes widened. Everyone turned their heads to look at her.
“Looks like you’re on, Kiri,” Gabe said with a smirk.
Kiri hesitated. Looked as though she wanted to say something but the words got caught in her throat. Her eyes darted around the circle and she shrunk back.
The boy grinned. “Alright, Kiri,” he said. “You ready for this?”
Kiri swallowed. “Um, I guess…”
“Okay, then here goes: I dare you to travel straight east on your bike for a while and see if you can find the carriage. If you do, bring back a piece of it.”
Everyone around the fire pit fell into a shocked silence. They glanced at Kiri, then at the boy, then back at Kiri.
After a while, someone spoke up. “Wait, you didn’t even give her the option for a truth. Also, that’s a bit much even for a dare, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess.” The boy shrugged. “But you have your phone, right?”
Kiri shook her head slowly.
Everyone looked surprised. However, the boy didn’t skip a beat. “Where’s the weirdo with the GPS?” He craned his neck and looked around the entire vicinity.
“Right here,” said a boy sitting in the circle. He began to rummage through his pockets. “And don’t call me a weirdo. You know what happened the last time when the whole county’s phone towers died and we were literally 50 miles out in the plains.”
The boy laughed. “I mean, I doubt we’re doing to wander out into the plains tonight anyway, so…”
After a moment, the GPS boy brought out a small device and a flashlight. “You’d better bring them back in good shape,” he said dubiously. Gave Kiri a wary look.
Kiri’s dare challenger turned his attention back to her. “Cool. But it’s your choice, Kiri. You can do a truth or pass or whatever. It’d be really freaking cool if you ended up finding something, though.”
“No, I’ll do it.” Kiri bowed her head down slightly and stood up from the stump.
It wasn’t like anyone really wanted her here anyway.
Everyone around the pit turned their attention to her. Their expressions were a mixture of shock and indifference.
Some people murmured and chuckled. “Is she serious?”
Kiri went to the GPS boy. Collected the items, then made her way towards where the bikes lay. The folks around the pit followed her with their eyes. Gabe looked as though he was going to call out to her, but didn’t.
Kiri didn’t acknowledge their stares or mumbles. She grabbed her bike and hauled it off the ground. They would go back to whatever they were doing anyway as if none of this had ever happened.
Just as she lifted her leg over the bike and sat, Gabe called out. “Are you sure you want to do this? It—It’s just a legend, you know.”
Kiri turned to face the group once more. She smiled slightly. Then called back, “It’s fine. It’s something to do.”
She placed a foot on the pedal, then pushed down on it. Turned the bike a hard left and then rode into the grass away from the party and to the east.
The people who watched her leave looked dumbfounded. The one who’d dared Kiri in the first place looked especially dumbfounded. He said, “Huh. She really must be bored.”
Gabe chimed in with a laugh, “Or crazy.”
Most people agreed.
Soon after Kiri had disappeared into the night, they had gone back to having fun as if she had never been there in the first place.