Bedtime Ritual – Story by Samantha Keeney

Everyone had rituals. All of these rituals were different, yet all of them were important. Some were purposeful while others were accidental. Some happened without a person’s consent.

Bedtime had a new meaning for her. She closed her laptop after a full day of surfing the web and watching Netflix. She found her phone charger in the abrupt darkness of her room and plugged in her nearly drained phone. With a smile, she found her bed and hopped up onto it. The soft, velvety feel of the blanket beneath her newly shaven legs brought an even wider smile to her face. It was one of the best feelings in the world, to rub cleanly shaven legs on blankets. There was nothing stopping the elegant slide of the blanket.

Suddenly, her mind took a completely different path and pulled her toward her ritual. She felt the story flood into her body and transform her to a completely different time and place. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, she was in a school. Her best friend was walking up to her, a smile full of teeth on her face. But before her best friend could come up to her completely, her boyfriend stepped in front of her, locking her lips in a longing embrace.

When he pulled away, she saw the red-rimmed eyes. They became that way recently, too recently for her liking.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concern lacing her voice. Her boyfriend made to nod, but changed his mind and told the truth.

“No. Can we talk?”

To say the least, she was surprised by this. He always hid his emotions in a box in the back of his mind. He lightly grabbed her hand and pulled her towards an empty room. From her peripheral vision, she saw her best friend looking at her, obvious anger in her face. She never liked being second to the boyfriend, but she would have to deal. The boyfriend was much more important in this instance.

“What happened?” she asked, worry spinning in her stomach. There was another emotion too, but she wasn’t yet sure what it was.

After taking a deep breath, her boyfriend looked her square in the eyes and said –

The world dissipated and the girl on her bed felt another world being knitted together like a blanket. This time, she found herself in the woods with two boys and two other girls. They had been walking for a while, looking for something.

“We have been walking forever, Scott. Can’t we take a break?” the boy named Erik asked. He was holding Karen’s hand. She had a nervous look on her face, but the other girl, Mindy, looked excited. Scott, who seemed to be leading the group, stopped abruptly and turned around.

“Erik, we have to find the body before dark. Unless, of course, you’d rather spend the night in the woods tonight. By the looks of it, your girlfriend would have a pretty big problem with that.” Scott said, annoyance dripping from every word he said. Erik gritted his teeth, but said nothing. Mindy, however, stepped in.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would be down for spending the night here. It would be pretty cool to see if any of the legends are true.” Mindy smirked at Karen’s wide eyes. Erik was about to step in, but the girl, Madison, stepped in instead.
“You’re the only one crazy enough to spend the night in the middle of these woods without any gear. We hardly brought enough water and snacks for this journey. I say, if we don’t find the body within the next twenty minutes, we head back.” Madison declared. Karen smiled at her, but Scott got angry.

“No one asked your opinion. We will keep searching until we find the body.” With that, Scott turned around and continued walking. Madison felt anger spark in her body. Just because they once dated didn’t mean Scott needed to act like a dick towards her. He was the one in the wrong with their breakup, so he needed to own up to himself. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Especially not while on the hunt for a dead body.

Scott saw on the news that a limb from a dead body was found. He made the assumption that it was in the local wildlife preserve, since it was the largest forest around. It would be an easy spot to hide a body. Also an easy place to kill said body. After he saw this, he enlisted them to help him find the body. Madison was really beginning to regret her decision to go along with it. What if the killer was still around? Who knows how they killed the person, whether it was a gun, a knife, their hands, or some other weapon. Maybe the killer was seriously addled and made some elaborate and sick way to kill them.

“I think I see something up ahead. Come on!” Scott took off on a jog before the rest could comprehend what was going on. They followed with a faster walk.

Before they reached him, an arrow came out of nowhere and shot into Scott’s back. They stood rooted to the ground as he fell forward. Karen let out a scream, Mindy and Erik ran to Scott, but Madison looked up, fear etched onto her face.
Up on a branch above her was a person, mud caking their body, bow in hands, quiver on back. They were too far away for Madison to get a good look at them, but she watched as they slowly looked down at her.

Madison tore her eyes away, grabbed Karen’s arm, and ran towards the others. Karen was starting to completely lose it, but Madison pulled her along.

“We need to stop the bleeding. Erik, take off your shirt, we can use that as a towel.” Erik struggled to take off his shirt, but eventually got it off and threw it to Mindy, who wrapped it around the base of the arrow and put pressure on it.

“They’re up in the tree, we need to get out of here!” Madison yelled, still pulling Karen. Erik and Mindy looked up at her, then up in the tree. She watched their faces contorted with fear as she felt Karen stagger and fall beside her. Madison looked beside her and felt her heart jump to her throat. Three arrows stuck out of Karen, one penetrating her neck. The gargling noises she was making made Madison’s stomach flip.

“NO!” Erik ran to her side, tears welling in his eyes. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to help her. It was evident by his shaking body. Madison felt a hand grip her wrist and felt herself being pulled away. Mindy was running full speed in the opposite direction from the bloodshed. They ran past Scott, whose blood was beginning to seep into the ground around him. Madison pushed the tears as far back as she could. She made her mind become a one track mind: survive.

Like a snap of the fingers, this world also disappeared as another world filled into the girl’s mind. She smiled at the familiarity of the world she was stepping into. She always loved continuing the story of Ciara and her world.

This time, it picked up with Ciara just leaving the graveyard. The fight against the hordes of monsters had taken her best friend, whom she had just buried. She felt like her body was slowly dissolving. She didn’t have any fight left in her. There had been too many people she had to bury, yet she was still somehow alive. Even after being shot and nearly bleeding to death waiting to be found, she was still alive.

“Ciara, could you please look at me?” Not even the sound of Mark’s voice could bring an emotion into her body. She let hand caress the blade that was newly attached to her belt, which had been her best friend’s weapon. Ciara turned and faced Mark, who looked as bad as she felt. It had been such a long battle already. They both just wanted to be done with all of it.
“She fought. She went against what Aaron said and managed to go down like a hero. If it wasn’t for her…” Mark trailed off, but he didn’t have to say any of it. Ciara knew that if her best friend hadn’t done what she did, it would be likely that none of them would have survived. She took the attention off the rest of them and placed it on herself, allowing the rest to kill their way to her, but she was already gone.

“I know, Mark. You don’t have to tell me that. I know that she saved us. That doesn’t make her or any of the others we’ve lost any less dead.” Ciara hadn’t meant to sound as morbid as she did, but she didn’t have any reason to care. It was the truth. Nothing would be able to bring any of them back.

Mark was at a loss for words, so Ciara took that as a sign to go back to camp. She didn’t want to be in the graveyard any longer than she had to be.

The short walk back to camp was going to be slightly longer this time, as three of those monsters were milling around in front of Ciara. Anger flared inside of her as she pulled out the long knife from her belt. She rushed forward and tripped the flesh-eating monster in front of her, stabbing the knife in its eye socket. She felt the movement cease and stood, watching as the other two turned towards the noise.

Before they could move, each got a slice to the neck from behind. As the bodies fell, Ciara felt her anger flare yet again at the sight of the twins, Marcus and Alissa. They had matching engraved katanas that they ‘found’ in a museum near the beginning of the invasion. Ciara was not a fan of the twins. She was convinced they would kill anyone who got in their way, alive or undead.

The twins smirked at her, Marcus saying, “You’re welcome.”

Ciara ignored him and sheathed the knife, beginning the walk to camp again. Mark caught up with her, asking her if she was alright. She nodded as they entered camp, which was a warehouse that was abandoned about a year before everything went down with the world. It was surprisingly well fortified with only a few improvements being made. There were two people to a room, and since there were only eighteen of us, it was pretty easy to divide up. The main room was where they gathered for meals and to relax when they weren’t on duty.

Now that Ciara’s best friend was gone, she was sharing with Mark. His old room partner was also killed just the other day in the same fight that her best friend was killed in.

Mark was the only person left who she had any feelings towards other than professional feelings. She had known him since the first day of the undead. He saved her from a very brutal end. Though no one would believe it now, Ciara was once a complete and utter mess. She couldn’t stop crying until she realized she needed to conserve her water, as it began to get harder and harder to find clean water. She didn’t know how to fight or have any defense at all for at least a few months. By then, she could take one down. It wasn’t until a year in that she could take one down with a single blow and without remorse.
Now, after losing so many people, her life felt empty. Everything was simply survival, which Ciara wasn’t even sure she wanted to keep fighting for.

“Want some food?” Mark asked. Ciara shook her head, causing a frown to come onto Mark’s face. He knew that she hadn’t eaten in at least a day, but he didn’t push her to eat. He left to the stash of food, leaving Ciara to herself. She sighed and decided to refill her water. As she walked towards the well, she heard a scream from beyond the gate, but she wasn’t sure where it was coming from.

Everyone’s heads turned in the various directions they believed it to come from. Suddenly, someone from the gate yelled, “Horde!”

The camp became a flurry of motion as everyone got their weapons and ran to their stations. It was then that someone yelled, “Back gate broken!”

Ciara fled her station and ran to the back, along with Mark and the twins. She stared uneasily at them, but they were too preoccupied with the sick pleasure they got from battle. Mark looked visibly paler than normal. The thought of two hordes in a matter of days was not something he was looking forward to.

As they rounded the corner, they noticed a handful of the undead coming through the gate. There were only two people defending the gate. One looked to the group of incoming help just as a mouth latched onto his face and tore the skin off. He raised his gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

The group instantly launched into battle. The twins worked like a well-oiled machine, easily backing each other up without words. Mark went into a bit of a frenzy and shot every monster he could find in the head, at least until his clip ran out. He pulled out his machete and started violently decapitating them. Ciara pulled out her own pistol and emptied her clip into the brains of at eight of them before switching to her primary weapon, which was also a machete.

They fought hard, pushing the horde back as much as they could. Eventually, they killed off the stragglers and started to pull the bodies outside of the gate.

From the rest of the camp, they could hear some crying and grunting, probably from pulling the bodies out of camp. When they managed to completely clear their side, they found the two bodies of the people from their camp. Neither survived the fight.

The group pulled them aside from the rest and started to try and fix the gate to the best of their ability. In the end, they decided to close the bars as far as they would go and stack some boxes in front of it. They made the walk back to the rest of camp in silence.

Sorrow filled the air for the rest of the day. They lost six people, so they were down to twelve. Two people had lost their significant others, one lost a sister. The rest were simply a part of their group and would be missed.

“You’ve been bitten.”

Ciara looked up from her dinner, which she had simply been pushing around with her fork to see Aaron, the unofficial leader of their group. She looked at him in confusion. He pointed down at her ankle, where her pant leg was ripped and red with blood. The others at the table who heard him quickly got up from where they were sitting. Mark looked at her in terror.

“Get up.”

Ciara stood and backed away from the table. The whole room was silent as Aaron took out his gun and unclicked the safety, raising it to point at her forehead. Vaguely in the back of her mind, Ciara was wondering when he had time to reload his gun when he had been busy outside all day.

“Aaron, please, you can’t do this. Haven’t we lost enough people today?” Mark spoke up. No one else in the room had the same idea. “What if she isn’t bitten? What if she got hurt by something else?”

“We can’t take that risk. As you said, we’ve already lost enough people today. Would you rather it be just one or the rest of the camp?” Aaron put his finger on the trigger. Ciara looked at Mark and gave him a small smile, trying to reassure him that everything would be alright. She looked back to the gun and closed her eyes. She heard the shot. Then, there was darkness.
The girl fell back on her bed, imitating being shot in the head, but opened her eyes to look at the glowing stars on her ceiling. She may be nearly in her twenties, but her room still had glowing stars.

“The end of a saga,” she said to no one in particular. She might revisit the world again, stepping into someone else’s shoes, but she was glad to have given Ciara a proper send off.

She smiled at the ceiling and turned to look at her phone. She clicked the button and saw that it was nearing two in the morning after the initial shock of the brightness went away. With a smirk at the thought of getting up in five hours for class, she pulled the covers over her and rolled to her side, closing her eyes and wondering if any of her dreams would be as interesting as her awake imagination was.