“It is said that beauty is in the beholder’s eyes, but this certainly exists outside (laughs) just look at this mesmerizing view” Sam said standing at the edge of a cliff with warm winds gushing around his long hairs as he looked far into the deserted valley of Arizona with his binoculars.
“I agree with you but we’ve taken too long of a break; still got an extensive way ahead should better get back on the road soon” Marie exclaimed resting her hand on the bike.
“Ah…. as you say, always”
“Take this helmet I don’t want you to forget me upon falling (Laughs)” Marie tossed the helmet toward Sam.
As they both embarked on the road ahead evening grew over them, midst the vast open night sky stars glimmered with pondering rays, winds began to reflect a speck of arctic and the road ahead was long.
It was 5:30 AM when they arrived at a diversion as two roads diverged before them, Sam asked
“Which way guide?”
“I am not quite sure… yes, take the right; the left one is not properly mapped and should be a bit longer” Marie said looking at the map.
“Okay so left one it is”
“The journey is more important than destination (laughs) and a couple of hours will make no difference, the river will be with us too; there’s no debate” Sam said ignoring Marie’s voice.
After riding through the changing atmospheres in the valleys of Arizona and taking a few rests in between, it was midday when they felt a burning smell.
“What is this smell!” Marie exclaimed.
“I think it’s the tires”
Sam parked the bike at the side of the road and upon investigating he found that their front tire has ran flat.
“We’ll need to call the highway services” Sam grumbled
“I told you to take the other ROAD!!”
“Well women are indeed impulsive (laughs) does your phone have signal?”
“Easy there, mine is also dead, we will have to find another way”
“Yeah Sherlock, I didn’t thought of that, let’s stroll ahead for a bit I am sure our phones will pick up some network”
(Two days later)
“Hey guys have you read the newspaper today; we’ve got to cancel our trip, situation is quite serious!!” Amanda exclaimed
“Easy easy, it’s my house; mom doesn’t know about the trip whatsoever, keep calm” Jaden spoke quietly.
“What’s the news though? (laughs)” Ian shouted looking at Jaden who in return looked down.
“It’s not funny Ian, a couple of days ago two dead bodies have been found on the river bed at Arizona, I think we should postpone” Amanda said in a serious tone.
“We can’t do that, you were the one so excited for it; and its Marcella’s plan if she even gets a hint of the word that you want to cancel she will literally kill you, this is not a big deal come on just a two day campaign” Ian resisted.
“The woman’s internal organs were found missing explain this ‘not a big deal’ guy” Amanda quarreled.
“I don’t know about that probably an animal, see I get this you are frightened, but all four of us have planned something after such a long time, it’s the call of the wind; just imagine us four camping in the wilderness of Arizona, you don’t get to spend time with Jaden nor me and Marcella nowadays, this is something that we’ve been planning for a long time, we must go”
Amanda looked at Jaden with seamless hope.
“We are going Amanda, what’s there to fear anyways; I am with you, don’t hesitate” Jaden said in a calm voice.
“Okay if you say so, but I am still not sure about this” Amanda hesitated a bit and hugged Jaden.
All of the four friends had completed their university education a couple of months ago, Jaden and Ian were childhood friends and the two girls got along from university, Marcella and Ian shared a common love for adventure, in their university days such expeditions were guided; this was the first time on their own.
The next day was the day of the trip, Jaden with his curly hair and brown leather jacket looked ready for the adventure as he sneaked out the house on his bike to pick up Amanda; Amanda looked stunning in her jeans and rugged top as she approached Jaden.
“Giving complexion to the shining sun, I must say” Jaden said.
“You’re getting better with flirting” Amanda said with a smile as she looked relived from the chaos of the previous day.
“Let’s get going”
Reaching the camping site was an eight hour drive so they started early, they all first met at the freeway.
“It’s a tough ride but we should fare just well, no pun intended” Ian laughed.
“Yes indeed, hello Marcella you missed the show yesterday” Jaden said with a smile.
“Which show?” Marcella asked looking at Ian.
“Let it go Marcella the boys have just lost it (laughs), let’s start we have to reach there before evening” Amanda said by nudging Jaden from the pillion seat of the bike.
“Yes indeed let’s get this trip ignited” Ian said by giving his bike acceleration like a phoenix raging through the clouds as Marcella grabbed his shoulder and saved herself from falling over.
Jaden followed him in a relative subtler fashion on the void freeway.
The wind got dryer with each passing milestone, sun above their heads resembling a hot menace; deserted lands became a perpetual sight and patches of cactus could be seen from far and wide, high red mountains accompanied their journey with some occasional scream of eagles. At 1:45 P.M they reached the diversion and as Marcella narrated the nuances of each path, Amanda said
“Let’s take the right one, it’s the shortest and we’ll reach the camp site earl….”
“OR, Ian and Marcella can take the right one; we’ll take the left and see who reaches the other side of this road first” Jaden suggested
“A tempting idea nonetheless!!, let’s do it” Ian exclaimed
“Whatever you say, as long as the destination is the same” Marcella nodded
“Okay, so thank you Amanda for the approval also, let’s go” Ian laughed
“Guys I don’t think this an idea to even consider, we should stay together” Amanda tried to convince
“And we will at the camp site, amazing idea bro, let’s see whose bike has got what it takes” Ian jumped in excitement
“Hey Amanda it’s just a matter of some miles, it will be fun” Jaden said by looking at Amanda’s eyes
“You guys are just a sweet pain” Amanda said with a smile
Both bikes were ready to run wild on the dry asphalt, as Amanda counted
“3, 2, 1 GO!!”
And after the minutest of time differences only moving dust was evident where previously the bikes were, both of them throttled the accelerator to its maximum, and soon the only noises in the barren red lands were of loud engines.
Jaden and Amanda cruised through the dusty road with taking glances at the high mountains above and the shallow river beneath until Jaden felt something.
“Do you smell something?” he asked
“Yes something is burning” Amanda replied
Jaden stopped the bike and watched his burnt tire.
“Probably it got punctured and then busted, we’ll have to call the highway service”
“I can’t find any network here” Amanda said
Jaden looked all around in the deserted land and found a house in seclusion on the other side of the road, the house seemed to be more of an attic with slanting wooden rooftop cracked on some portions and huge windows on front walls closed with permanent shutters, a high windmill stood in the sandy courtyard with some cactus plants acting as guards around it.
“Who lives here?” Jaden murmured.
“No one, it’s abandoned look the windows are closed so is the door, it’s probably not in use since decades” Amanda said
“Only one way to find out, let’s go there”
“Hey, Jaden come on let’s not do this we’ll just stroll a bit and our phones will pick up network”
“Look at both the sides and not down the cliff, do you think we have any shot at finding something, maybe someone will help us ther…..” Jaden said with the sounds of water gushing with the wind in background but was interrupted
“Hey, there, lads can I help you somehow” a sound came from the direction in which the house was located
Jaden turned to deduce the origin of the mysterious voice and saw a middle aged man coming out of the feeble house cradling towards them with a stick in his hand, the man wore a black truckers cap, brown and white checkered shirt with ripped jeans of whose origin was time more then trend, unregulated white beard grew over his face with some empty patches.
“I heard some disturbing engine noises, just came to check; is everything alright” the old man asked in a deep sore voice
“Yeah, actually the highway service would just be here in some time, we would leave in just a bit” Amanda said with a bit of haste trying to ignore him
“They are never on time; believe me, and that is given that you found signal which I am surprised how you managed, but you can wait in my house I’ve a satellite phone which may come handy for you, and yes I am Ralph, sorry for the late introduction”
“Thank you Ralph but I think we are just fine” Amanda hesitated as Ralph starred at her face as she spoke
“I think we will use the phone Ralph…, if that’s fine?” Jaden asked with Ralph’s gaze turned at his face
Ralph snapped out of his state and said
“No, no absolutely not, visitors are scarce in this barren lands; I would like your presence to…. stay”
Ralph turned and started to walk to his house
“I don’t need to be telling you this, we shouldn’t trust him” Amanda said to Jaden
“I know but I don’t think we’ve got a choice, and he seems too fragile to carry his own stick, stay calm….”
“Hey, come on now” Ralph shouted from a bit far
“Yeah” Jaden replied
Ralph went inside the house leaving the door open with Jaden and Amanda following him, as they were to enter the house Jaden saw an old car parked besides the house beneath a cracked shade, inside of the house was filled with rustic ambience and relative darkness, no single object seemed whole midst the shadowy calmness of surreal silence, as they entered and sat on the wooden couch a scream came from behind.
Both of the wanderers looked back in utter shock moving away up from the couch.
(a lemur sprinted and jumped at Ralph’s shoulder)
“Easy Boyce, don’t worry lads he accompanies me here, I’ll get some tea for you guys and please do not say no I insist really; seldom do I get visitors here” Ralph said to the visitors and turned toward the corridor which led to the kitchen
“Let me help you” Jaden said by standing up from the couch Boyce screamed and Ralph turned to Jaden
“You struggle not I will see to it, please be seated”
“As you say” Jaden said by sitting on the couch again
“He lives with a lemur!!” Amanda exclaimed
“He lives all alone in the middle of nowhere on clean energy (laughs)” nothing surprises me about him now Jaden replied
“This place definitely needs some lights, I am surprised where all the windmill energy goes” Amanda said in amusement looking around the house and finding no lights but just some holes on the roof
“That’s not our concern we will just call for highway service and be on our way”
“Looking forward to that”`
“Please don’t put sugar in my tea Ralph, doesn’t quite suite me!!” Jaden exclaimed toward the kitchen but no reply came just some sound of utensils tumbling
“He’s definitely a pro” Jaden laughed
A few moments later Ralph came into the hall and handed separate tea cups in both their hands.
“You guys carry on I’ll find the satellite phone in an instance” saying so Ralph moved toward the inside room
“I am not drinking that” Amanda said
“Sure you are not, let me have a sip”
Jaden lifted the thin tin cup and took a sip, just as he tasted some tea he spilled it back, he picked up the second cup and spilled it back in the cup after taking a sip saying
“I told him to abandon sugar, both cups have it, old age has taken over him maybe!” Jaden exclaimed
After sometime Ralph’s lemur ran before Amanda and Jaden dashing out of the still open front door.
“What happened to him?” Amanda thought
“Mr. Ralph what is taking you so long” Jaden shouted, but got no response
“I will check it out” Jaden stood up and went toward the corridor leading to the other room
“Stay sharp” Amanda said
“He is just on the verge of getting old, what bad could possibly happen”
Jaden moved forward in the narrow wooden passage with his footsteps making creaking sound on the floor below.
“Mr. Ralph, are you there” Jaden inquired
As he made progress in the rustic corridor dodging from a broken glass chandelier hanging from the low roof, his leg fell on a trap door beneath, As Jaden looked down he saw the metal handle lifted, assuming that Ralph has gone down and probably the reason he is not hearing the voice Jaden decided to go there. He lifted the crooked door with its hinges showing vocal resistance and descended the wooden stairs until he reached its floor beneath, the wall toward the right side of the stairs converged into a corner after prolonging for a bit, Making slow progress to the corner of that wall Jaden got a glimpse of a bed on which he saw feet of a sleeping person, before Jaden could look any further his ears suddenly got shattered by a loud deafening noise and he fell to the ground covering ears, everything went white in front of his eyes, his limbs numb as frozen steel, eyes closed in search of hope, he rolled on the ground bashing his back to the wall, as he got a reckoning in his mind of his love sitting above, he gathered what was left in his body and tried to fight the riotous noise, crawling his way up the stairs and through the corridor banging his body back and forth at either side of the wooden corridor.
“Amanda, Amanda where are you?” He shouted midst the glaring noise
He reached the hall and saw Amanda on the ground motionless with Ralph standing beside her with a wooden stick in his hand with back faced toward Jaden.
“What have you done to her?” Jaden screamed, but Ralph gave no response
It felt that the vociferous noise was not affecting Ralph at all, Jaden ran toward Ralph by picking up a vase from a table besides and pounded him on the head, rendering Ralph unconscious as he also fell to the ground.
Jaden tried to move Amanda but she barely showed resilience, he knew that the noise must be brought down first, Jaden lost power on his feet to stand up again and started to crawl to the room where Ralph went before, reaching there after a tough crawl he tried to find what has turned on this horrifying noise, he looked everywhere from the altitude he could and found an old metal switch beneath a broken dresser, he clung onto it and made the massacre stop by turning it down. Everything fell into singularity in just a movement, surreal silence shrouded the house and even minute sounds were easily distinguishable, Jaden stood up and went back to the hall struggling a bit on his feet, as he approached there he saw Amanda sitting on the floor resting her back on the couch, Jaden rushed to her and asked
“Are you alright?, Amanda what did he do to you?”
“I was just sitting here when a thunderous noise struck me and I fell to the ground, then I saw Ralph approaching I tried to get up but couldn’t, the noise was deafening; everything happened so fast, Ralph came near me and smacked my head with a rod and I went totally blank”
Jaden embraced her in his arms and said
“There is no need to fear, love”
“Why would he do something like this?”
“That I don’t know but maybe he is keeping something hidden, a hostage maybe in the dungeon beneath, we must see”
“We must not leave Ralph like this, I think I saw a rope in the other room, I’ll get it”
Jaden grabbed the rope and tied lifeless Ralph to the couch, after that both of them headed toward the dungeon beneath.
Moving beyond the corner this time Jaden saw an unconscious female rested on the bed connected to a ventilator on it the dance of spikes and depths was evident, besides the bed was a refrigerator and upon opening it he saw some bottles of blood and some closed jars with perceived human organs, shaken by the sheer smell Jaden closed the door, Amanda pointed Jaden’s focus toward a table on which several used surgical instruments resided, close to the bed were oxygen cylinders from which one was in work now, Looking closely to the woman on bed Jaden deduced that she was kept in a very grave condition, some portions of her body were not patched up, and some minute things like the beeping ventilator and a subtly moving torso were the only evidence of life in her.
“What could it be Jaden” Amanda asked in amusement
“I will not risk guessing it, only one man can explain…. Ralph”
“He is dangerous Jaden, the deafening also noise, it had no effect on him, cannot trust that guy”
“He is deaf Amanda, yes he is, he didn’t hear the noise he produced, that’s why he couldn’t hear when I shouted to him, when I said I don’t want sugar, his lemur reflects to sound and taking the cue he responds, remember how he starred at us outside, maybe cause he was reading our lips”
“Indeed, but still be we have to be careful”
Both of them climbed the stairs and entered the hall, Ralph was already awake.
“WHAT DID YOU DO, where you were, tell me!!” Ralph exclaimed
“See Ralph we know what you’ve hidden beneath, we also know you are deaf, crippled; tell me what are you up to, tell me WHAT have you done!!” Jaden said by going close to Ralph as he just looked down
“Speak up Ralph!!” Jaden punched the couch
“She…. she is my wife, I am just trying to keep her alive, that’s all”
“No you are not, not in this menacing lands and not with the torturing equipments I saw on the table below, she is not living here she is suffering”
“What are you talking about” Ralph said in a sobbing voice
“Amanda take her off the ventilator and call the emergency they’ll see what to do with him and save her”
“NO, No you must not disconnect the ventilator it would kill her in an instance, don’t let her die please don’t let her die she must live, she must live here with me, she cannot die, I will tell you the truth please don’t let her die” Ralph said with his face reflecting utter grief
“Then tell us what happened”
“Jus…. just like you both, were me and Scarlet my wife; happy, joyous she liked adventures it was a part of her life as she…. she said, after 4 months of friendship we got married everything happened as fast as I can now remember, it was perfect, I were madly in love with her, after two months of our wedding she wanted to come here for camping; at first I resisted but then I…. as I loved her I agreed for the travel, 7 years ago we came here drenched in love, we went ahead from this place and we reached where the two diverted paths converged, there we saw an old lean man asking for a lift, I neglected as we were on a bike but Scarlet stopped me to help him, asking the old man he said, that he just wanted to go half a mile ahead where his people are waiting for him, Scarlet said that she would stay back until I fare off the old man and come back to pick her up, it was just half a mile of tour so I agreed, but who would have thought that would change the course of my life, as I dropped off the old man some tribal people surrounded me; the old man got lost between them, before I could have done anything they took me to their place, I was in complete shock as to what have happened; they tortured me for days they said they are preparing me for sacrifice a ritual, I was broken my ability to hear got stolen from me, they crippled me and did horrified things that are painful to even imagine, but everyday I thought of Scarlet as to what have happened to her and then one day and I saw…..”
“You saw what” Jaden asked
“It was her, she was part of the same cult which had tortured me in unprecedented ways, she looked at me tied to a wooden pole as she smiled at my face, I still remember that smile, I never wanted to get out of there more, one night I found my opportunity, I robbed a cultist of a knife and tried to ran from the place it was hard as I had suffered many injuries but the thought of redemption was what propelled me (smiles) Scarlet was also there, I knocked her as she slept, stole a car from their warren and took her here at this place where not many people came regularly, a perfect lair sufficient of what I wanted to do, I cuffed her up until this place was ready for the inevitable, I was a doctor…. once, it helped me, I cuffed her to the bed beneath as my redemption found it’s aim, I created the noises you heard, I would play that for the whole day I couldn’t hear anything nor her scream but the very sight of her suffering made me satisfied, I tortured her in every way that they had seeded in my imagination, but her body began to gave up after some time…. I couldn’t let that happen, she could never die after what she did to me she HAS to suffer still”
“YOU are mad!!” Amanda exclaimed as Ralph laughed
“Mad is an understatement” Jaden said
“Wait, it must be you who killed the two people came here some days ago”
“NO, No…. not just them (laughs), Scarlet’s organs were giving up on her, every now and then sometimes she needs a donor, she needs blood and the visitors certainly helped, I’ve rigged this roads, Boyce signals their arrival and then the noises play their part, my love is sleeping now, the last surgery was certainly a work of art, remind me to turn on the noises when she gains consciousness (laughs)” Ralph said to Jaden with a subtle laugh as he concluded
Jaden and Amanda both were taken aback by the sheer cruelty of this evident reality, Jaden said
“We must try to save her, cannot leave her like this, there must be keys to his car parked outside, search around”
Looking above Amanda found a bunch of keys hanging on the antlers of a deer’s head on the wall.
“There it is!” Amanda pointed
“Very well you take the car go to the police call the medics I will stay here and watch this maniac” Jaden said
“No I am not going anywhere without you”
“You have to, we have no other choice, can’t leave him alone here, now go and be quick”
Amanda turned and went toward the open door as Jaden followed her, just as Amanda was going outside Jaden received a harsh push from behind, he fell on the ground taking Amanda with him, as he reconciled and looked behind he saw Ralph trying to run toward the dungeon, his gaze also caught Boyce running to the kitchen as his mind cleared the uncertainty.
Jaden got back up on his feet and ran after Ralph, Amanda followed, when they both reached down they saw Ralph holding a surgical knife to Scarlet’s throat murmuring to himself.
“You cannot live again…. no, you must stay here with me”
The feint shadow of Jaden caught Ralphs attention as he turned around without moving the knife in his hand, he shouted
“She cannot live again she is mine to suffer!!!!”
“Drop the knife Ralph let her go” Jaden exclaimed
But it was too late, Ralph gutted the knife through Scarlet’s throat and Scarlet for once showed real signs of life as her soul left her body, Jaden tried to come forward as Ralph said
“Bye bye lads, you cannot separate us”
Ralph took the knife to his throat and pierced himself with a smile on his face, Jaden and Amanda rushed forward to the two fallen lifeless bodies and concluded them dead, Amanda ruptured into tears seeing the very sight of gore, Jaden consolidated her with a tight hug, just a few moments later Jaden remembered.
“Amanda we have to get to Ian and Marcella, remember what Ralph said that the cultists reside where the two roads converge, we must get to them”
Both ran to the car outside and Jaden throttled it as tough as he could, trying to reach his friends.
“See we reached first, Jaden don’t like losing he would be upset” Ian laughed as he reached at the point where the roads converged
“Yes certainly” Marcella affirmed
Just as they both were waiting for their friends an old man approached them and said
“Can you give me a lift young man, my destination is just a mile ahead and I can barely walk that much”
“Sorry pal, this bike won’t take three can’t leave her behind in this place, perhaps some other time….”
“Oh, shut up Ian I’ll be just fine it’s just a matter of a mile, come back to pick me up” Marcella spoke with a faint smile.