Chapter 5: Finding the grove

Ainsley skidded to a halt at one of the old rest-stops along the road. The morning felt calm as the first rays of sunshine peeked through the treetops. Nobody else had arrived yet so Ainsley decided to wait. She hopped off her bike and dropped it onto the dew wet grass.

I guess I’m kind of early. She thought to herself. Maybe they decided not to come. Ainsley thought to herself. Maybe they all think I’m a freak that talks to ghosts after killing her best friend.

“Ainsley…”

Harmonized voices quietly whispered to her from the forest pulling her from her reverie. She thought she could recognize Mike’s voice mixed in those calling to her from the trees.

“Seek the signs of warning, but heed them not. For they are false. Follow the guides amongst the trees. They will light the way.” The voices tapered off, fading into the woods. Ainsley stood in place listening for several minutes. Nothing followed except bird song and the wind gently ruffling the leaves.

Ainsley’s ears perked up when she caught the sounds of Morne and Chelsey bickering as they came down the road. Their argument could be heard well before they came into view. The pair crested the hill sharing Morne’s new mountain bike that Chelsey was now pedaling.

“The guy is supposed to be the one riding the bike Chels! You should be the one sitting side saddle.” Morne said testily. “But we tried that, you couldn’t make it up the hill.” Chelsey squeezed the breaks as she slid the bike to a stop near Ainsley.

“Yo.” Chelsey said as she lifted a hand in greeting. Morne hopped off the handlebars in a huff and swept back his hair shooting Ainsley a “don’t say a word about this” look. He crossed his arms and demanded testily “Are we doing this or what?”.

“Sure” Ainsley responded as she tried not to grin.

Chelsey dropped Morne’s bike next to Ainsley’s and pulled off her backpack. “I found a map in one of my dad’s old boxes. From what I can see we aren’t that far from the turnoff.” She showed Ainsley the route to the former logging road. She looked over at Ainsley, concern plain on her face. “I don’t think Rich is coming.”

“Me neither.” responded Ainsley. “Dick move”

Morne gave Ainsley a weak smile. “We should go then, there is no reason to let him get us down.”

“Yeah.” Replied Chelsey.

The three of them grabbed their bikes and headed towards their destination.

It took them a half-hour to find the turn off to the old logging road. The road had mostly been reclaimed by nature and a natural roadblock had been built up to hide the path. The dirt roads they used had been long abandoned and were riddled with grassy potholes. The three walked another 15 minutes before stopping in front of a large faded warning sign.

DANGER: DO NOT PASS THIS POINT. ABANDONED MINE.

“So, the loggers said they really heard voices?” Morne stared at the sign uneasily. “What do you think happens if you hear it?” Chelsey asked blithely as she absently scratched behind one of her horns. “I. I don’t know…” Morne’s shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think anything happens to you. All the workers came back, didn’t they?” Ainsley asked Chelsey. “I think so.” Chelsey said dubiously.

Ainsley looked off into the forest searching for the will o’ wisps. The faint balls of light winked in and out between the shadows of the trees. They all slowly moved in the same direction towards some unknown destination.

“Are you okay Ains?” Chelsey asked as she looked over to where Ainsley was staring. “Yeah” she said absently.” But I’m pretty sure we’re going the right way.”

“How do you know?” asked Morne.

“I just have a gut feeling.” Ainsley responded. She was about the explain further when Morne’s eyes widened. “Wait, do you hear that?”

Ainsley’s ears perked up at the sound of several vehicles roaring in the distance. “What is that!?” Morne turned to look down the road. Ainsley surveyed the forest quickly “Throw your bikes behind that rock, Get in the trees!” The Chelsey quickly threw Morne’s bike behind a tall stone in the bushes before dashing down with Morne into a ravine out of view of the road.

Ainsley threw her bike into the bushed then scrambled down the opposite side of the road into the underbrush.

A group of uniformed police officers and a woman in jeans and a short jacket drove up on all-terrain vehicles. They stopped at the sign as the police officers studied it’s information and made a quick survey of the surrounding forest.

Obviously, they were searching for something, most likely them, Ainsley thought. She wondered if Richard reported her powers to police and they were now coming to get her. That woman was probably a social worker or something. She pushed herself further into the underbrush hoping that Morne and Chelsey were doing the same.

Seemingly satisfied the police started their engines and made some chatter over their radios. They sped off down the road leaving clouds of dust in their wake,

Ainsley waited until she couldn’t hear the sounds of the police’s ATVs anymore. She crawled out of the bushes and stood up. Pulling twigs off her shirt she whispered loudly across the road. “Morne? Chelsey?” she ventured but received no response. “Guys?”

She surveilled the road again. Seeing that the coast was clear she raced across the road. Fear grew in her stomach as she began to imagine some unknown tragedy had occurred. Visions of her friends lying unconscious or worse assaulted her thoughts.

Ainsley rounded a thicket and caught the faint sounds of rustling in the bushes. She pushed through only to catch a glimpse of Chelsey on top of Morne planting a tentative kiss. “Guys!?” She yelled.

Chelsey and Morne exploded into movement, frantically separating and getting to their feet. Morne was red to his pointed ear tips but Chelsey could barely hold in her smile. Ainsley couldn’t hold back a smile of her own as she asked “You guys okay?”.

Morne stammered out an embarrassed affirmative and Chelsey’s smile grew. They all stood around for another few minutes in an awkward silence before Chelsey asked “Are we going to continue or do you have questions?”

“Are you guys a thing?” Ainsley asked excitedly. “Yes, we are.” Chelsey responded. “We are!?” Morne’s eyes widened in surprise. “We aren’t?” Chelsey asked pointedly. “We are.” Morne’s mouth remained open for a few more seconds before snapping shut. “We are.” He whispered quietly and smiled to himself.

“Okay, we can talk more about your budding relationship later. We have a clearing with flowers of bone to find.” Said Ainsley as she pantomimed parenthesis for flowers of bone.

Looking into the trees Ainsley caught a glimpse of ghostly shapes floating in the distance. “We can go that way.” She pointed towards the will o’ wisps. “We can follow those. They’ll show us the way.”

Morne and Chelsey looked confused. “Follow what Ainsley?” Morne asked tentatively.

“You guys can’t see the floating ghost balls can you.”

“Um, no.”

“Well then just trust me?”

“We’re already doing that.”

“Okay, cool.”

And with that they headed off into the woods.

 

An hour later the forest thinned as they approached another section of the old logging roads. The blackflies were getting worse as the morning grew hotter and more humid. Ainsley slapped the side of her neck and grumbled about the stupidity of nature’s design flaws.

“These roads must go on for hours.” Sighed Morne.

“Which way do we go now?” asked Chelsey as she looked down the road each way. The roads all seemed the same and the will o’ wisps had frustratingly faded away as they had left the forest. Ainsley noted the direction that she thought the will o’ wisps had been heading but had no clear idea if they were heading the right way.

“Let’s take another look at that map Chels.” Ainsley said. Chelsey pulled off her backpack and began to open it when the roar of ATV’s roared in the distance.

Two police officers pulled out from a hidden side road behind them. One of the officers caught sight of the trio and called out to them.

“Shit, run!” yelled Morne as the three panicked. Chelsey took off at an incredible pace with the other two not far behind. Trees and rocks whipped by as they attempted to pour on the speed but the officers were easily gained on them.

“Morne use your magic!” screamed Ainsley, feet hammering the dirt road. They rounded a bend in the road and Morne pulled out his wand at speed. He clenched his left hand into a fist and circled it with his wand before opening his fingers with a quick flicking motion. Several floating balls of light flew from his fingertips before hovering in place at head height. “I don’t know if that will stop them but they’re gonna be surprised!” He laughed then started coughing as his lungs began to burn with the effort.

It was then they heard the third ATV coming from ahead of them.

Ainsley caught sight of a narrow path that headed back into the woods. “Follow me!” she yelled at the other two as they raced down the road. Ainsley ripped out her wand and fired balls of light up the road as she was turning. They were several meters from the path when blinding flashes lit up the forest behind them. “Ha! They hit them!” whooped Morne.

The outline of crumbling statues standing besides an overgrown wall caught Ainsley’s eye. One statue with a semi-intact hand pointed towards a crumbling gateway hidden amongst the overgrowth.

“There! Run between those old rocks!” The sounds of the police ATVs grew louder as they resumed their chase, nearly drowning out Ainsley’s yell. Morne and Chelsey overtook Ainsley as flew past the gateway and ran into the trees. Ainsley was only seconds behind the two as she hurtled between the old stones.

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