Could a campfire game bring them all undone?
They had driven for several hours before settling on a camping spot. Spotting a trail that led off the main road, they traveled in Lobelia’s four-wheel-drive vehicle over potholes and ruts, on a track that was signed Annabelle Lane.
Whoever had created Annabelle Lane had way over-reached with the name. The girls supposed that a farmer had most probably pushed a road through with a tractor or backhoe, and named the track, Annabelle, after his daughter. Mohana had suggested a more appropriate name would be, “Rough as Guts Track”.
“That might also describe the farmer’s daughter,” squealed Lobelia, in between grunts and curses as she wrestled her vehicle across the dusty, washboard surface.
The girls thought Lobelia’s statement was hilarious, and they continued their rough-as-guts ride with jokes and comments ridiculing a fictitious farm girl.
The trip had been the subject of excitement and planning for more than a month; ever since Lobelia had been lucky enough to receive a brand-new vehicle for her eighteenth birthday. Her father, a lover of hunting, fishing, camping, and indiscriminately tearing up farmland in his all-terrain vehicle, had raised his daughter to be an outdoorsy version of himself; a chip off the old block.
Annabelle Lane terminated in a lovely spot beside a trickling, crystal stream that wound its way through dense, Australian native bushland.
The trio gave no thought as to whether they were trespassing; for all they knew, they could be on private farmland, or land belonging to the National Parks and Wildlife. The three teenagers had only one set of objectives in mind– find a pleasant spot, pitch their tents, light a fire, and begin their game.
The game had been the discussion of several pajama-partied nights at Lobelia’s house. With many thoughts bandied about, the girls finally agreed on the basic rules. Each one was to bring something to the campsite that reflected the meaning of their name. The objects were to be mysterious and would be revealed after dark, around a campfire.
“Really”, an excited Serena had explained, seated cross-legged on the floor of Lobelia’s bedroom, “we are just reinventing the idea of around the campfire ghost stories.”
“More like around the campfire witchy stories,” Lobelia had laughed.
Now, three single pop-up tents had been popped up, each furnished with a single sleeping bag. Lobelia, being the most experienced woods person, had instructed the girls to gather dry wood while she built a little rock surround, in which to set a safe fire.
The fire had been successfully lit. Water collected from the stream was boiling in a billy. On a flat rock in the center of the fire was another billy containing the contents of a can of baked beans and mini sausages. Lobelia toasted bread on a forked stick over the fire. Three plastic plates had been set up, accompanied by three plastic mugs containing instant coffee grounds and sugar, according to individual tastes. The girls felt extremely pleased with their efforts.
Lobelia shared the beans and sausages equally between the plates, ladling them onto over-done toast. “I’m really glad we decided to each bring a tent,” she giggled. “It probably isn’t going to be pleasant in those enclosed spaces later tonight!”
Serena laughed. Mohana looked perplexed.
“Beans means farts, silly,” enlightened her friends in unison.
Dissolving into another fit of giggles, the girls munched on their burnt toast and beans, washed down with over-sweet coffee. They all agreed it was the most delicious meal they had enjoyed in ages.
The fire was just a pit of glowing embers when the girls decided it was truly dark enough to begin their game.
Mohana thought the fire should burn more brightly before the game commenced, so Lobelia threw on a pile of dry wood and stirred the embers into life.
“Satisfied?” she grinned at her friends. They nodded.
“So,” Lobelia flopped back down onto the soft grasses and drew a deep breath, “who goes first?”
Serena’s face glowed excitedly in the light thrown by the now exuberant fire. “Me, me, I can go first!”
Lobelia and Mohana shrugged; a tacit agreement that their friend should proceed.
Serena straightened her back, importantly clearing her throat before beginning.
“As you know, my name is Serena.”
The others giggled at the formality being shown by Serena.
“Idiot,” interjected Lobelia. “Just get to the point.”
The speaker had been practicing in front of her bedroom mirror and didn’t appreciate being interrupted. “This is my turn; I want to do it my way!” she complained.
Lobelia muttered something that sounded like an apology, instructing Serena to go ahead.
Serena cleared her throat once more and began again, “My beautiful name, Serena, means tranquil, or serene. Therefore, I brought appropriate music to this party.” Serena reached behind her, and with a flourish, produced her phone. She pushed a button, enabling a playlist of transcendental music to float through the night air. The sounds blended beautifully with the natural noises of the bush; the tinkling of water caressing mossy rocks, a night bird’s call, the rustle of leaves disturbed by tiny, unseen, creeping creatures.
Lobelia and Mohana sat in place, transfixed by the ambiance until Serena gently coughed, dispelling the magic. Having been brought back to the moment, Lobelia and Mohana clapped softly in appreciation.
“Your turn, Mohana,” encouraged Serena, pleased by her friends’ reactions.
Mohana’s gaze fell on Lobelia. “Is it okay if I go next? I don’t want to go ahead of you if you don’t want me to.”
Lobelia grinned. “No, I think it’s better if I go last. I’m not sure what the outcome will be.”
Mystified, her friends began to insist that Lobelia should expand on her intentions, but the girl remained firm. “No. Go ahead Mohana. I can’t wait to hear your story.”
Mohana made as if to stand up for her presentation, but thought better of it when Lobelia scowled. She sat back down and imitated Serena’s upright sitting posture.
“Okay. My name has its origins in Hindu. I believe it means bewitching.”
“Oooh,” whispered Serena, loving the idea of something occult.
Lobelia raised her eyebrows mockingly and nodded for Mohana to continue.
“So,” breathed Mohana, “I investigated some incantations and have brought one here to recite tonight.” She squinted at her friends in the firelight, trying to gauge a reaction, relieved to see their obvious interest.
Smiling at Serena, Mohana continued, “I believe your music will work beautifully with my spell.”
Serena preened, visibly pleased with Mohana’s comment.
“Come on, Mohana,” insisted Lobelia. “Get on with it!”
Feeling chastised, Mohana produced a piece of notepaper and a tiny torch with LED globes. She shone the little light onto her notes and even Lobelia had to admit, the effect was quite eerie, especially with Serena’s mystical music flowing on a soft breeze, accompanied by dancing red and yellow flames, and flickering shadows at the edge of camp.
Mohana squinted at her paper, hoping that the magical effect wouldn’t be spoiled by her inability to clearly see her incantation.
Her eyes adjusted to the light and she began:
“Let the light of love infuse us three.
Our friendship forever binds us
in harmony, as we grow, never apart.
Let us fulfill fate’s purpose on our paths,
Always together, so mote it be.”
Mohana blushed a little, not visible in the fire glow. “I ended it with, so mote it be because I read that’s what witches sometimes say. I think it kind of means, Amen.”
She hurriedly switched off her little torch, suddenly afraid that she might have made a slight fool of herself in front of her friends. Perhaps her declaration of affection had been too much.
Serena’s magical music continued to drift through the camp. The light from the fire dimmed just a little, ignored by Lobelia. The little group of girls remained silent.
Anguished, Mohana suddenly blurted, “Was that okay? Don’t tell me you hated it!”
Finding their voices at the same moment, Lobelia and Serena spoke over the top of one another.
Lobelia firmly announced, “That was awesome, you set me up perfectly!”
“Beautiful, Moey,” gushed Serena. “Your incantation and my music — magical!”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Mohana relaxed and glanced at Lobelia, who grinned and theatrically produced three plastic wine glasses. Ceremoniously, she handed one each to her friends, then stood one on a nearby rock. Reaching into a small backpack resting in the grass, Lobelia withdrew what appeared in the half-light, to be a medium-sized jam jar with a screw-top lid.
“The meaning of my name is pretty simple,” she began without preamble. “It means flower. I think Lobelia is a family of plants that have been used medicinally for a very long time.”
She stopped to check if her friends were paying attention. They were hanging on every word.
Unscrewing the lid of her jar, Lobelia explained, “I have been keeping some Lobelia plants in purified water for a few days.” She held the jar close to the firelight so that the others could see more clearly the pretty purple flowers, green stems and leaves, that floated within. “This is called an infusion. Please hold out your glasses so we may drink together.”
Hesitatingly, the girls half-raised their plastic flutes.
“It won’t poison us, will it?” pleaded Serene.
“Gosh, I don’t want to get sick to my stomach,” stated Mohana.
Serene’s liltingly beautiful music appeared to crescendo as Lobelia reached over to fill her friends’ glasses. “It’s fine,” she assured them. “I’m not afraid to drink it.”
The music appeared to grow even louder. Seemingly, the natural noises suddenly ceased; Nature held its breath as if waiting to see what would transpire.
Trustingly, Mohana and Serena raised their glasses and sipped. The taste was pleasant and exotic; a light, fine wine that flowed easily through throats to trail gently through the esophagus.
Lobelia’s heightened senses observed as Mohana’s incantation and Serene’s intoxicating music become one, whispering on the gentle night air; breathing mystic energy into the campsite.
A fox called through the night.
Lobelia took a large mouthful of her previously untasted elixir. Swallowing, she held her breath and watched her two friends further explore the contents of their plastic receptacles.
At first, Mohana’s expression was one of peace. Her eyes gently closed as her head lolled onto her chest. Then, without warning, the girl’s back arched, her eyes springing open. She shot an accusing glance at Lobelia, who merely smiled and expelled a soft sigh.
Within a second, Serena mimicked Mohana’s response to Lobelia’s infusion. At first, peace and relaxation followed suddenly by surprise; her back straightening as muscles contracted. Serena, too, stared wildly in Lobelia’s direction.
The transcendental melody once again swelled, infused with an ever-increasing, fever-pitched, phantom whisper mimicking Mohana’s incantation.
“… infuse us three…
Always together, so mote it be.”
The combined sounds slowly abated as a mysterious wind picked up, disturbing the brush and the sentinel paperbark trees.
Lobelia watched through hooded eyes as her two friends slumped forward, accusing stares replaced by horrified expressions, frozen in place on distorted faces.
As the coals in the fire diminished, so too did the bodies of Mohana and Serena, seemingly melting toward the dusty earth to finally disappear as if they had never existed.
Lobelia waited until dawn before she moved. When she finally raised herself stiffly from her place on the matted grass, she threw all three plastic glasses into the glowing fire embers and watched as they slowly melted and disintegrated, mimicking Mohana and Serena on the previous evening.
Lobelia muttered something about earth becoming earth and ashes becoming ashes, then she used her booted feet to irreverently kick dusty soil over what was left of the fire.
Packing the rest of the site was easy. Lobelia gave thanks that there was only one pop-up tent to un-pop. She threw her swag and camp utensils into the back of her four-wheel-drive vehicle, noting the old, unregistered rifle that lay near her spare tyre.
It had been a gift from her father on her tenth birthday, and she often wondered why she had never had the guts to use it on him during one of their frequent camping/hunting trips. If she had, maybe she would never have invented her invisible friends. Friends that grew and materialized as she grew; friends that helped her through the terrible abuse that began when she was a young child and continued until her father was no longer interested in her teenaged body.
Lobelia jumped into her vehicle, gunned the engine, and navigated the washboard track with a fancy name, back to the main highway. When she reached the intersection that would take her either left or right onto the main drag, she braked and sat, staring through a dusty windshield, agonizing.
Which way? Right, to return home and put a bullet in her old man, finally settling old scores? Maybe she would put one in her mother, too. After all, she couldn’t believe that her old lady had not guessed what the muffled noises were in Lobelia’s room late at night. It didn’t take any kind of genius — missing husband, disturbed child. Yep, a bullet through Mama’s forehead would definitely be in order.
Still, which way? Left, to a new life; freedom from the dreadful childhood memories that played miserably in her mind. Freedom from the constraints of being tied to invisible friends that knew her every thought; her every shameful secret. Now, they were gone too, thanks to the Lobelia infusion. She could be her own woman, shuck off the past and create something worthwhile — be one of those people who didn’t let her past dictate her future. “Goodbye gentle Serena and exotic Mohana, I am glad to finally be rid of you.”
Deciding, Lobelia put her vehicle into gear and turned left. She was off to a new life of purpose, one she would create for herself, one that did not involve murder or prison sentences.
“You’re kidding, right?” murmured Serena.
Lobelia visibly jumped in the driver’s seat. She swung her head to glance behind her. Nobody!
“Come on, Lobelia,” urged Mohana, “you know revenge is best served cold. Put a cold bullet in those bastards and be done with them.”
In shock, Lobelia’s foot slammed on the brake, bringing her vehicle to a sudden halt in the middle of the road.
“I got rid of you. Both of you!” she exclaimed in horror.
“Not quite,” replied Serena. “You can’t see us anymore but we are forever infused in your mind. From now on, you are the three of us. Just like the three amigos. Never alone, always in consultation. Won’t that be a blast?”
Lobelia tried to calm herself. It wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but how bad could it be? At least she wouldn’t have to pretend that the girls weren’t there when they were clearly visible for her to see, wherever she went, whatever she did. Surely, she could ignore them when it most mattered.
“You know what to do. You know what to do,” nagged Mohana.
Lobelia’s shoulders sagged. She did know what to do. She pulled over to the side of the road and dragged her rusty firearm from beside the spare tyre. Carrying it back to her vehicle, she slung it onto the passenger seat.
“Great,” whispered Serena. “Time to get rid of that mongrel. What about your mother?”
Lobelia executed a u-turn and headed back toward town. She drove the full distance without engaging the others in conversation, trying desperately to block the sing-song teenaged voices from her mind until finally, she pulled into the driveway of her parents’ home.
“Come on, Lobelia,” insisted Mohana. “What’s it going to be?”
Lobelia reached over and lovingly gripped her old rifle in her hands. Thoughtfully, she stroked the relic as she spoke. “I know exactly what it’s going to be. This old gun is loaded with three bullets. I reckon five lives with three bullets will be some sort of record! ”
Completely ignoring the protesting screeches from her two companions, Lobelia leaped from her birthday gift vehicle and strode purposefully to her front door.