The whole thing was basically Johnny’s idea. He’d been talking about wanting to have a party for a while, and was always bringing up his fake ID and his drug dealers. I don’t even think anyone else was very interested in drugs, but Johnny insisted, and what Johnny wants, he gets.
Now that I think about it, he more or less pressured all of us into going with him. He said stuff like, “oh, you’re not gonna come? What a wuss,” or “just think of all the fun stuff you’ll miss!” Most people, not wanting to get on Johnny’s bad side, agreed to go pretty quickly. A few others took some convincing, but he was so insistent that they agreed probably just to shut him up. I was one of the latter. I’d never liked Johnny. He was just one of those popular, rich kids who everyone fawned over and nobody wanted to annoy. I was nothing like him. I don’t even really know why he chose to invite me.
But he did, and everything that happened ended up involving me.
We went out on a Friday night, because of course we did. It was late, but not that late, because Johnny wanted us to “party long into the night,” so probably like 10:30. We’d arranged a meeting spot in front of the woods in advance, somewhere far off from the town. There were about 20 or so people. Some of us voiced concern that it was too many, but of course Johnny didn’t listen or care. Most of them were people I didn’t know, anyway. I should have realized it sooner, a lot sooner, but that moment when I arrived to the meeting area and saw that there were only a few people that I’d ever talked to was when I first thought that I didn’t belong. I stayed, though. What the hell, right? It’s just one night, and it’s always nice to try new things. I might even have some fun!
We milled around for a little bit, waiting for everyone to arrive. It was dark, the only illumination coming from the headlights of people’s idling cars or phone screens. There was no service in the woods, so people were making use of it while they could, sending one last Snapchat or whatever and talking to their friends in hushed tones. We had to stay quiet so as not to attract unwanted attention, but that was part of the fun–we were breaking the rules. Everyone was standing in close-knit circles with their friends, whispering and giggling as quietly as they could. Johnny didn’t seem to be there yet. Maybe he was going to make some kind of dramatic entrance.
I looked around and eventually found someone I could talk to, a skinny, freckled kid named Sean who I had a few classes with. He was also one of those people who was invited just because Johnny wanted to invite him–they didn’t really know each other. He did seem pretty excited about the whole thing, though.
“My parents would never let me do something like this. Dude, I am gonna get absolutely wasted.” He pumped his fist. “I wonder what kinda drugs he’s bringing.”
“What’s all the fuss about drugs?” I asked him. “I never really saw the appeal, if I’m being honest.”
“Dude, it’s drugs! You get high or something, and you hallucinate or whatever, and it’s supposed to be super fun, and…” he trailed off with his mouth open, looking like he was still trying to talk but couldn’t think of something to say. I shot him a sideways look.
“You’ve never done anything like this, have you.”
“Hahahaha…. No.” He took a deep breath and smiled. “It’ll be fine, though. It’s one night.”
“Can’t argue with that, I guess.”
Sean started to say something else, but the sounds of quiet conversation were quickly drowned out by the squeal of tires on gravel, and a red sports car pulled up next to the others. The engine shut off, the driver’s-side door opened, and Johnny hopped out, holding a large duffel bag in one hand and a high-powered flashlight in the other. “All right, guys, you ready to get this show on the road?” He made no effort whatsoever to be quiet.
“Oh yeah. Here we go.” Sean nodded his head as Johnny strode through the crowd, which parted for him like the Red Sea. He was tall enough that he towered over most of them, giving him an imposing presence.
“What’s in the bag, J?” asked someone, a crony who I didn’t know the name of. Alex? Andrew? Some ‘A’ name. Johnny smirked and held the bag up so that everyone could see it.
“We got a bunch of Budweiser, folks.” The crowd cheered loudly. Sean joined in, clapping excitedly. I guessed nobody cared that much about being discovered. I should have seen that as a bad sign.
“What about, you know,” Andrew or Anthony or whatever his name was mimed smoking something, strings of black hair swinging in front of his face. “The good stuff? Did you get it?” The crowd turned excited eyes to Johnny. He basked in the attention for a moment before leaning in conspiratorially.
There was a moment of brief silence before Johnny grinned. “Hell yeah, I did. And this isn’t any old stuff–this is the really good stuff. Premium top-tier goods. Y’all are gonna love it.” More cheering.
“Alright, we ready? Let’s head into the woods and get this party started! I have a spot all planned out not too far from here.” There were a few minutes of people rushing around turning off their cars and sending their final final Snapchats, and then we were all ready to go. “Here we go, gang!” Johnny declared before leading us into the woods.
It’s not like the trees were particularly thick, but it was late, and dark, and the only light was from Johnny’s ridiculously large flashlight. Being in the forest at night was always going to be creepy. A lot of the others were making exaggerated sounds of fear and then laughing loudly. It was very annoying, and again I considered leaving.
I didn’t, of course. I guess I still had some hope.
“You gonna try some of Johnny’s ‘good stuff’?” Sean asked me.
“No, because unlike some of these people I actually have a brain.” Sean rolled his eyes at that, but I could tell he was smiling.
“What do you think it is, anyway? Heroin? Meth? Weed? Uh… Skooma?”
“I don’t know anything about drugs, man. I don’t think you do either. Anyway, don’t, like, overdose or anything.”
He gave a sloppy salute. “Sure thing. I don’t want to die either, you know.”
We walked for a few more minutes before emerging into a fairly wide clearing strewn with empty beer cans and wrappers of various kinds left over from parties gone by. Johnny walked to the center and dropped a few cases of Budweiser on the ground. “Make yourselves at home, folks!” As people swarmed over the beer, Johnny slapped his crony on the shoulder. “Hit it, Alberto!” The kid pulled out a massive boom box out of seemingly nowhere and pressed play. Some rap song started blasting at an almost deafening volume, and everyone started dancing (or at least trying to). The party had started, and nobody cared about being noticed after all, it seemed.
“You know, I always thought his name was, like, Alfred or something,” Sean remarked.
“Alright, I’m gonna go grab some drinks and hang out with somebody. Catch ya later.” I waved half-heartedly as he trotted off. Now I really felt out of place. Everybody else was talking with their friends, or dancing, or drinking, or any combination of those. I walked around the clearing for a little bit, looking for anyone else I knew. Sean was off in the corner with a few others, pretending to enjoy his beer. Johnny and Alberto, who was apparently the DJ, were jumping around in a small mosh pit in the center. I ended up gravitating towards two others I vaguely knew, and who seemed to share my views about the party.
“I wish they’d at least play different music. This is hurting my ears. And it’s so loud…” one of them (was her name Mia?) said.
“I want to know what those drugs Johnny brought are. I may or may not try some, depending on what it is…” the other (I didn’t know his name) started before the music turned down all of a sudden. We all turned towards the center, where Johnny was holding up his bag again. He didn’t seem to have been drinking, interestingly, though Alberto was practically on the floor. A lot of the others were starting to stumble as well.
“Alright, y’all havin’ fun?” Ecstatic cheers. Mia groaned and rubbed her ears. “Okay, now is the moment you’ve all been waiting for.” He pulled out a small plastic bag full of black grains. “This right here is called exitium. It’s a brand new strain of, well, something, that’s supposed to absolutely fuck you up.” The cheering started again, much louder this time. “So before I hand it out, I want y’all to know a few things. One, I’ve never tried this before, either,” that brought a few laughs, “Two, don’t take too much,” he rolled his eyes comically before adding, “or do, who cares, right! But in all seriousness, this is pretty expensive, and you wouldn’t believe all the hoops I had to jump through to get it for y’all. So get in a nice, orderly line, and we’ll hook you up!”
A surprisingly neat line formed in front of him, despite most of them having had at least one beer. The kid who had been talking about maybe getting some before seemed to be considering joining them. “If you’re going to do it, then do it, Felix!” Mia pushed him forward, causing him to stumble.
“Ah, why not.” Felix walked off to join the growing line.
Mia turned to me. “How about you? Going to try some?”
“I think I might. I’ll see what happens to Felix.” She pulled out her phone and checked the time, pushing some stray strands of long blonde hair out of her face. “We’ve been here for, like, an hour and nothing has happened. I could be at home playing video games or something right now…”
We spent some time watching the others snort the exitium. Their eyes quickly widened like dinner plates and they started looking around the clearing slowly, as if they couldn’t comprehend anything around them. It was frankly pretty funny.
Felix slowly paced towards us, back perfectly straight. “This is so weird… everything is purple… even that giraffe…” He stopped abruptly a few feet in front of us. “You gotta try some, Mia. You too, bro.” Waving his hands in front of him wildly, he stumbled forward again. “Where’d the giraffe go…”
I exchanged a glance with Mia. “I don’t think I’m gonna have any.”
“Yeah… Me neither.” She looked back at Felix, who looked like he was trying to grab the air. “Sorry, you’re on your own,” she called to him. He showed no signs of having heard her. She laughed, and I joined in.
I was about to respond, probably with a bad joke, when a cacophony of startled screams mixed with shouts of excitement came from the mosh pit. The music shut off without warning, leaving my ears ringing. “What the hell was that?” Mia asked.
Where the mosh pit had been previously, around the boombox, there was now an excited group of people crowding around something. Some of them were clearly more drunk or high than others, and a few had taken one look at whatever it was before wandering off. “That doesn’t seem good,” I muttered, but Mia was already on her way over. I watched another kid walk slowly away from the group, a wide-eyed look on his face that was probably not from the exitium. He bent over and started breathing heavily. A few others joined him, their breaths and the others’ frantic chatter the only sound in the void left by the absence of music. I followed Mia, leaving Felix behind. He didn’t seem to have noticed anything.
The crowd was swarming around whatever it was in the center. I pushed my way through with little resistance and finally saw what everyone had been so shocked by.
Lying in the center of the group, given a wide berth on all sides, was a dead body. A man, looking to be about thirty or so, and dressed in a white polo shirt and black pants, clean except for dirt stains and a round crimson hole in his chest. I took a deep breath and stepped back.
Alberto was standing over it, a wide, dopey grin on his face. “Isn’t this cool, guys? I found him out in the woods when I was going to take a piss.” He kicked the body in the head, causing it to jerk a little. “We can, uh… do stuff with it! Right?” He looked around crazily at the group, most of which were still just staring at the corpse. Suddenly, I realized that Johnny wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I got a sinking feeling and was about to turn away when another voice spoke.
“We should call the police or something.” Everyone turned to look at Mia, who stood near the edge of the group. She didn’t seem very fazed by the body, even though she hadn’t had any beer or exitium. “We can’t just leave this here.” A number of others nodded in silent agreement. I noticed that none of them seemed to be under the influence.
“Ha! Police. Yeah, no.” Sean fall-walked into the center of the circle, narrowly missing stepping on the body. “This is the find of a lifetime, guys! Think of all the great stuff we can do with this, guys!” Alberto nodded so hard I thought his head would fall off.
“Yeah, yeah! Duuuuude, this party’s gettin’ wild now!” Alberto pulled his phone out and promptly dropped it on the body’s face, earning a laugh from many of the others. He stooped down to pick it up and succeeded on his third try. After a few moments of entering wrong passwords, he got his phone open and started playing “Gucci Gang” on full volume. I stepped back, away from the crowd, as they started dancing again, noticeably less coordinated this time. I could see Alberto struggling to pick the body up under its arms, the head lolling to one side. “Yo, lezz see his moves!” Another kid grabbed a leg and started shaking it around. Crazy laughter filled the air, almost drowning out the music.
“They’re nuts. They’re all nuts. This is…” I looked to my right and saw Mia with her head in her hands, muttering to herself.
“…What should we do now? Go off and call the police?” Mia glanced back at me and looked like she was going to reply when something crashed into me from behind. I struggled to get away as arms wrapped around my chest and squeezed hard.
“Hey, this guy wantsta call the cops!” It was Sean’s voice, though it was so slurred it was barely recognizable. A stampede of kids doped-up on exitium rushed over. Sean let go of me and pushed me hard, causing me to stumble and fall onto the ground. Looking up, I saw that we were surrounded, dark shapes forming a wide circle around Mia and I. A few of them lurched forward, throwing more people into the center of the circle with us. All of those seemed to be free from the influence of the drugs or beer. Was this a cult thing now? Were they going to kill us for not taking the drug? I realized I was hyperventilating and forced myself to stop, taking slow, deep breaths.
Mia was still staring down the others, and she stood flanked by two of the tougher non-druggies, arms crossed. Us weaklings continued to sit on the ground, staring up at them anxiously.
“You guys can’t call the cops. Whatareya, some kinda snitch?” Alberto sneered at Mia, who gritted her teeth, still standing strong. Her comrades stared harsh stares at him. Behind him, someone fell down with a comical thump. Those nearest looked down and laughed much harder than was warranted. Alberto didn’t react, only taking a heavy step forward towards Mia.
“You’re an idiot,” Mia spat. “You’re also high on something that’s probably illegal. Not a good combination.” She inhaled sharply. “Why don’t we all calm down and talk about this like civilized people?” Many of the sitters nodded vigorously in agreement with this.
Alberto shoved his face right in front of Mia’s, briefly losing his balance with the motion. “You know what I think? I think you’re…” he stood there glaring at Mia for a few moments. I could almost hear the gears slowly turning in his head. “An idiot. Heh heh, yeah. An idiot. Thass what you are!” He stepped back and turned around, raising his arms as the circle around us started cheering wildly. Mia looked baffled, for once seeming not to know what to say. As we watched in nervous silence, they started crowding around him, reaching out like fans at a concert trying to touch their idol. Alberto was nodding along, saying things like, “Yeah!” and “Oh yeah!”. Maybe this was actually a cult thing. Just what had the exitium done to their brains?
It took me a couple of seconds to realize that everyone being crowded around Alberto meant nobody was crowded around us. I think we all realized it at the same time. We quickly got to our feet and started slowly moving as a group away from Alberto and his worshippers, never taking our eyes off of them. They didn’t take any notice of us, instead focusing on trying to lift him up and carry him. “What is going on,” muttered someone next to me. “That stuff is…”
“All right, on three we’re gonna turn and run out of the woods as fast as possible, then we’re gonna call the police,” Mia whispered once we had gotten about halfway across the clearing from them. We nodded in agreement and she started counting. “One…” I breathed deeply, and could feel others around me doing the same. “Two…” I tensed, preparing to run. “Thr-”
A gunshot pierced the air, causing everyone to jump. The ‘Cult of Alberto’ started, dropping their figure of worship to the ground and separating. I don’t know why nobody ran, maybe we were all just idiots. Instead, we all looked to where the shot had come from.
Johnny stood near the edge of the clearing, hand in the air, holding a smoking pistol. His face was twisted into a grimace, and he was clearly sober. He walked slowly into the clearing, lowering the gun. “Y’all havin’ fun?” he shouted harshly.
Nobody responded. I heard Mia whisper something breathily next to me. She was staring incredulously at Johnny.
“I said, y’all havin’ fun?” he yelled again, louder this time. A few less-than enthusiastic “yeah”s rose from the crowd. “Doesn’t sound like it. Before, I saw you having fun. Maybe too much fun. Now, I think it’s about time to wrap things up.”
Sean took a step towards Johnny, wobbling a little bit. His fear had clearly knocked some of the exitium’s influence from his system, but that didn’t stop him from confronting Johnny. “Is that gun… yours?”
Johnny shook his head, still with that look on his face. “Nah. Found it out in the woods. He held it up in front of his face. “Still had a few shots left in it, too.” Lowering it again, he said, “In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re gonna leave. And we’re gonna never talk about this again. Or else…” he waved the gun around. I flinched.
There was another moment of silence.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Get out of here!” With that, everyone scattered, almost no sign of the influence of drugs or alcohol in their movements. I turned with them, hurrying out of the clearing as fast as possible. I wanted to get home before someone came to investigate that shot, which they inevitably would. I never looked back, uncaring about anyone else there. They could get arrested for all I cared, just as long as I got away.
After all, I didn’t know any of them. Not really. Why should I worry about them? A few were acquaintances, but nothing more. It would probably be good if they were arrested, anyway. They’d learn a lesson.
I shook my head as the sound of police sirens began to reach my ears.