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They Only Take One

they only take one
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Estimated reading time — 13 minutes

Take in that fresh air girl! Damn it feels great to be back. Everything looks smaller though.

“Yeah, because you were like three feet tall last time you were here, ya walnut.” Buddy “Bud” Jake looked at Gwen with a smile. The classic platonic boy-girl relationship where no sexual tension existed. Mostly.

“Well, sorry I didn’t come out of the womb at a lengthy 5’9,’’ Gwen playfully threw her circle-k coffee cup at him. She knew it was empty, but Bud didn’t.

“What the .. oh real nice. You’re lucky that was empty.” “And don’t worry I’ll throw it out litterbug.” Bud made an exaggerated motion of throwing the coffee cup out, all while maintaining eye contact with Gwen.

“Ok, awkward.” “And yes, I have been an amazon since birth thank you. Good thing you finally grew into your shrimpy grade school body, so you don’t have to look up to me anymore.” Gwen smiled.

Bud and Gwen have been best friends for their entire conscious life. They grew up together, their families lived on the same street, they even played the same sports. Gwen made the little league baseball team and Bud became the first male cheerleader of their high school. You could see the absolute fireworks between the two when they cheered together.

“I’ll always look up to you Gwenny,” Bud said with a corny wink. “Glad I did get taller than you are though. That was a close one.” Gwen cracked a closed mouth, somewhat embarrassed smile as she looked at the ground. She missed Bud amazingly. But she would never admit that to him. No reason that she could think of, maybe a girl thing, maybe she just wanted to keep her emotions to herself. Maybe she never wanted to ruin anything by even remotely letting Bud know how much she cared about him.
“We’re wasting precious drinking time,” Gwen said, straightening up and pushing her feelings down. “Come on then Mr. Man, let’s blow this shit out like we were kids again.” Gwen looks over the lake park, cups her hands over her mouth and yells. “SHAKEY LAAAAAKES,” A little “woo,” followed as she turned back to Bud with an ear-to-ear grin. Bud was delighted. “Let’s get this party started,” Bud said, with another wink. This one wasn’t corny. More ominous if you had to categorize it.

Shakey Lakes, Michigan. Some towns have an amusement park. Some towns have a civic center with the community pool. Some towns have the world’s largest thermometer. Lake Hill, Michigan had the Shakey Lakes state park. Saying you were going to Shakey lakes meant you were going to the smallest campground in America. The series of lakes are many, but pretty small. The campground only had about 50 lots., and a just a handful more for those that wanted to camp for real. Like with a tent.
Even in the early and mid-90’s most people in the country wanted to feel like they were camping but wanted the modern convenience of home. Anyway. Bud and Gwen have not been here in many years and decided to get together after they graduated college.

“You are right about how small this place looks,” Gwen said. “It looked so massive when we were kids. The beach is like a sandbox!” Bud laughed a bit. “Don’t remember it this.. dirty either. Felt like it was cleaner when we were young.”

Bud nodded. “We didn’t notice if it was clean or not. We just wanted to race to the beach, put our towels down and start whipping water toys around. I see what you mean though, it does look kind of rough here. The volleyball nets are down, the parking lot looks like a bomb exploded, and the arcade used to be right here, but I don’t see it. Hopefully they just moved it.” “I’ll plug this bad boy in, and you start putting out those fancy dancy little lights out on the awning.”

“Please tell me you didn’t forget to grab that AstroTurf my parents left for us to use,” Gwen said with that pleading don’t let me down look in her eyes. Bud jumped into the RV, making obvious noises like he’s looking around. THIS ONE? He said, muffled, then threw the roll out of the door. Gwen let the breath go, relieved that he didn’t forget.

“Yes, that one,” she said.

Bud came barreling out of the door, down the tiny steps and onto the ground in front of Gwen and the AstroTurf. “You know never to doubt me,” he said smiling. “I told you I would be the first guy on the cheerleading squad, didn’t I?” “You did, team captain, you did,” Gwen said. “And thank God you did, no one else could have handled me like that.” There followed a long silence. They both spoke at the same time.

“Well, I,” Bud said, cut off by “You know wha..” Gwen interrupted. This happened once or twice more before they just laughed and shrugged everything off. “Let me plug this thing in,” Bud said.

Bud and Gwen were the same age. The exact same age, save for a 10-minute advantage enjoyed by Gwen. She never let Buddy forget either. She knew it bothered him, that his best friend was older. In a fun way. Both families actually met in the hospital, they never knew each other before. Both sets of parents lived just a few houses down but had no reason to interact until baby girl and baby boy were crying in the hospital nursery.

Every family in the small town of Lake Hill visited the Shakey lakes park every summer at some point, even the winter too if they enjoyed ice fishing. Bud and Gwen looked forward to these camping trips all school year. They planned out what they would do first when they got there. They passed notes in school about how they were going to make the best sandcastle. They couldn’t wait to get one of those “Bahama mama,” slushies from the shack. The shack was the little shop where you could get candy, fried food, and the famous slushies. The arcade was there too. So many hours playing pinball and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stand up arcade. And then.. they just didn’t go anymore.

“When did we stop going here every summer?” Bud asked. “I feel like we were pretty young when we stopped going. Isn’t it weird our parents took us like 30 minutes into the city to roller-skate or see a movie?”

“Our rents never explained that either,” Gwen said. “The only thing I remember is something about the woods, maybe the state closed the park due to environmental concerns? I don’t know, felt like they didn’t have a good answer.”

As kids you roll with whatever your parents are doing. It’s like one day you’re packing up getting ready for the big weekend at the park, the next you never missed it and moved on to the next family adventure.

“I just recently thought about that,” Bud said. “I looked it up for the first time online and saw it has been open and never closed like out parents said.” Gwen shook her head with an approving nod. “Me too!” Guess we are still linked after all young Buddy Bud,” she jokingly blurted out. “Very funny, that’ll never get old.” Bud smiled, looking at Gwen with a slight sarcastic smile. “You might be older, but you’ll never be cooler.” With that, Bud pulled out a roll of quarters from his pocket. “Let’s find that arcade. And this time we can pour some vodka into those Bahama mamas.” Gwen giggled. “What?” Bud asked. She disappeared into the truck that towed the modestly sized RV his parents let them borrow. Coming out with her hands slyly behind her back, she slowly revealed an unmarked mason jar. “I got something stronger than vodka.”

Bud was delighted. “Wow, the Peterson’s famous moonshine.” “You are ready for this trip, eh?”

Bud didn’t know Gwen’s family that well. They were together a lot while they were kids, but usually it was Gwen coming over, or playing outside in the street until the lights came on. He didn’t know that Peterson wasn’t even her real last name. Gwen and Buddy took a pull from the moonshine. No chaser.

“Holy hell, that’s why stronger than I thought,” Bud said. “It’ll be better in those slushies big guy,” Gwen teased. “Let’s find the shack. I think I can see it from here.”

They locked the RV and turned on the garden lanterns. “Looks amazing,” Bud said. Not as amazing as Gwen, he thought. Quarters ready, moonshine secured in Gwen’s purse. They were headed to the shack.

“Just like when we were kids,” Gwen said. “Remember when you fell down this trail as we were running to be the first ones to get to the arcade?” “Ugh,” Bud moaned.

“Another thing you won’t let me live down.” “I was just excited to beat your ass in NBA Jam for the 1000th time. Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle always blew you away.”

“Whatever, I didn’t care about winning I just wanted to see those little guys fly down the court,” Gwen said.” “Sure,” Bud said. “You were so tired of hearing HE’S ON FIRE! As CMU alumni Majerle drained his 3rd three pointer in a row.” Central represent Bud joked, as he pointed towards the sky like David Ortiz after smashing a home run. “I know he went to Central, dummy,” Gwen laughed. “We saw him speak at the fieldhouse, remember.”

The two friends indeed attended the same college. Their freshman year they were inseparable. Going to college is stressful and psychologically rough for many young people. Having someone there you know is a blessing, and they took advantage of it. As the next few years developed, it saw the two young friends drift quietly apart. They still texted and met up here and there, but the closeness they felt had eroded.

The truth was Guy remembered every moment with her. He didn’t think she remembered that. It made him warm. “Of course, it was a blast!” “Seeing a real-life NBA player in the flesh was exciting, especially one that started out right where we were.” Bud changed subjects. College was great, but it reminded him of when their friendship changed.

“Let’s get those slushies, one more sip of that fire water before we do,” he said, looking at Gwen. She did a little shake, anticipating the hot ever clear that would fill her insides.

The shack was empty. Not closed, but it looked like it. All they saw were a handful of chip bags hung on the rack, a couple frier baskets that looked like they were last used 20 years ago, and some kid toys that molded a long time ago.

“Uh.. hello,” Buddy said. “Any chance we could get a couple slushies?” A weary older woman appeared out of nowhere behind the window that Bud and Gwen stood. Both took a studder step backward. “How can I help you two?” She said. Bud looked at his friend. “Um.. can we get.. what happened here? Are you open?”

“Sorry, yes of course, just wasn’t expecting anyone this early is all. You want some slushies, kids?” The lady looked odd, but nice. “Can we get Bahama mamas miss…” As Bud looked at Gwen, he wanted to leave, but before he could say anything, he turned back and saw two pristine looking dark slushies waiting in front of him. “Oh, yes.. thank you. What do I owe y..” “No charge”, she said. “Just happy to have people here.”

Not weird at all, they thought sarcastically. They both grabbed their drinks and cautiously walked to the beach. “Well.. cheers, right?” Gwen said holding back nervous laughter. They both busted out laughing and poured a generous amount of alcohol into their drinks.

“That was freaking strange,” Bud said. “Eh, like she said she’s just not used to serving this early, and probably not young people. This place looks like no one really uses the camp anymore. I only saw maybe 5 campers coming in.” Buddy didn’t remember seeing anyone else camping there. The weather was great, mid-June and this would be the first real nice weekend of the year.

The woods are alive. Buddy remembers his mom saying this to him. He was too young to understand. It’s too dangerous to go there anymore. Don’t you like going to the nicer arcade in the city? Look, I have an entire roll of quarters for you and your… friend to play with.

“Hello, earth to Bud.. you ready to play?” Buddy snapped back to reality. “Uh, yeah, let’s find those games,” he said, trying to feign excitement. They walked next door to the old arcade room. They found a door that was boarded up. Gwen went back to the shack window to ask where the games had moved. The window was shut, and no one was answering. “Where did she go?” she said, “she couldn’t have gone anywhere, we would have seen her.” Bud was starting to become paranoid.

Gwen is 14 years old. She is sitting at family dinner. Her mom and stepdad sit on either side, quietly enjoying a boring meal of chicken cordon blue. Gwen drops her fork.

“Why don’t we go to the park anymore?” Both parents stop, looking at each other. “What Park?” Gwen’s mom says. Gwen explodes, which she never did. “SHAKEY LAKE PARK, that’s fucking what!” Her stepdad calmly sends her to her room and Gwen storms off, slamming the door.

“Bud, it’s a small town. I don’t think there is too many kids here anymore. It won’t be exactly what we remember almost 15 years ago.”

“Where did Flash and Billy go,” Bud asked with dead eyes.

Gwen froze. “Who?”

Buddy took a long drink, not looking at her. “Billy and Flash, the twins we grew up with.” “I barely remember, but they disappeared when we were kids. Then we, somehow, never went back to this place.”

Gwen was confused, and the hooch-drenched slush wasn’t helping. She grabbed Bud’s arm without thinking about it. Bud looked at her hand, then up at her. She reflexively removed her hand, flustered and brushing her hair back out of habit. Bud was confused too. Why did he have such an affinity for her right now.

9-year-old Buddy. “Where did my friends go, they were cool, they were born together right?” Buddy’s dad sadly looked at him. He’d had enough of these last few years. Single father raising two kids. Rare for any time. “I won’t tell you again Bud. They moved.” Buddy seemed to be ok with this explanation, which he’s already heard.

“Our parents briefly mentioned that something was here, like maybe in the woods or something. Should we go out there, or..” Bud was cut off immediately. “Heck no sir!” Gwen was now back in full reality. “Hey, let’s go back to the RV, enjoy those lights. We can put some music on and talk about old times. Can we please enjoy this weekend?” Bud thought for a second, then happily complied. “Yeah, you’re right G. Time to relax.” Both were getting eaten up from the inside but decided to shrug it off and enjoy their time together. They were on vacation after all.

That night Buddy had a terrible vision of humans, or at least things that look like humans, walking around the Shakey lake campground. They traveled in packs of twos. They were dressed in regular clothes but had the smell of wild animals. Bud tried to wake Gwen up but saw nothing but an empty bed where he thought she was sleeping. He searched an endless cavern of darkness. The “things,” were surrounding his camper now. He panicked, screaming for Gwen. He ran full speed down the hallway, looking for..

“BUDDY, WHAT THE FUCK?!” Gwen dropped the breakfast supplies she was holding all over the ground. Broken eggs, raw bacon, and pancake mix was now feeding the earth. Buddy sat up, drenched in sweat. “What the, what the fu.. where am I, are you ok, what happened to you, where were you?!”

Gwen got Bud calmed down and convinced him to go to the showers not too far from their camper.

Buddy returned, clean and ready to be caffeinated. “I saw something last night. These.. “Land walkers,” were coming towards our RV. I don’t know why I call them that, it just sounds appropriate. They looked like humans, but.. not. They walked like humans, but I knew there was nothing inside. There were dozens, but they were all paired. Like a psycho gemini team. They saw me but wanted you. I tried to find you. You weren’t here. Where did you go?”

“Bud,” Gwen said, “You passed out.” “We must have gone asleep at about the same time. It was a dream dude, nothing more.” Bud took this in. “No..” Bud said but stopped. “Guess that Bahama mama kicked the crap out of me.” “Yeah you always were a Nancy when it came to drinkin,” Gwen said as she started cleaning up the dead breakfast of 2021. She looked up at Bud, locking eyes. She never noticed how similar his honey brown eyes were to his.

Gwen was playing outside her home as a little girl. Maybe 5. She saw her mom speaking to someone out of view. Gwen knew her dad wasn’t home, so it was strange that her mom would be talking with anyone while she was playing.

“You have to go.. you have to go NOW,” is all Gwen remembered. “I won’t let that happen. Not to our kids.”

Gwen cleaned up the vagrant egg and bacon remnants and made sure her best friend’s campsite was pristine. “I’ll make sure we still have a good breakfast, Bud. Sorry, I just got freaked.”

Buddy was happy to see his best friend alive, and still with him. “No, no problem at all G. I’ll help clean.”

Bud and Gwen enjoyed the second night with much less incident. The lights looked great, they took a dip into the lake, they made burgers and popcorn. It was a camper’s dream.

Gwen jumped from the vibrations in her back pocket. “Oh, my mom’s calling.” “That’s so crazy, I didn’t even remember I had this thing.” Bud agreed. “Me too. Glad to leave the thing alone for a while.”

“I’ll call her back. If it’s anything important she can text me.” The phone vibrated again. The contact’s name just said “MA.” “Sorry Bud, I’ll just text her real quick.” “Call her, its ok.” Bud said. “No, I don’t want to talk to anyone but you right now. If I talk to her, I’ll be taken out of my vacation vibe.” She made a kissy face at Bud and walked a few feet away to text her mom that she was ok, but please don’t bother me this weekend.

She discovered a text was already waiting for her. She put her password in to unlock the phone. “Get out of there,” is what her mom sent her. Followed by multiple messages explaining the same. “What the hell?”

Gwen called her mom. One full ring didn’t finish before she picked up. “Gwen, you have to leave. You can’t be around Buddy. I’m sorry I thought it would be ok. I thought they wouldn’t find you after we left that campground forever.” Gwen tried to slow her mom down. “Mom, MOM, what the hell are you taking about?” It was no use. She wouldn’t stop.. until the phone cut off.

Gwen, you have to leave. Leave the RV, leave your things. Just get into the car and leave as fast as you can. Gwen, they only take one. They only TAKE– Phone dies. Gwen tried to get her mom back. “Mom, mom… mom, what the.. hello? Where are you?”

Bud was enjoying himself by the fire, but his mood changed immediately when he saw the expression on Gwen’s face coming back to him. “Whoa, what happened, is everyone ok?” “My mom was hysterical, said we had to leave, something about taking someone, I don’t know I’m all turned around. Then the phone cut out.”

“What do you mean taking someone? Did she say anything else?” “I just told you exactly what happened, no she didn’t say anything else, she just hung up or got cut off.” “Sorry Bud, I don’t mean to yell but this is freaking me out.”

Bud and Gwen got quiet. Bud’s head was spinning. The air was getting cold. The woods were rustling. Bud couldn’t stop thinking about his nightmare. The land walkers. Walking two by two. They take.. they only take.. they take one. How did Bud know that? He didn’t hear Gwen’s mom say that.

Gwen, we have to go. NOW. Gwen hesitated, but Bud grabbed her arm so quick she barely had to time to think. Ow! Bud, what the hell has gotten in to – Bud shushed her.

“Gwen.. quiet. Something bad is happening. I don’t think we have time.” “What are you talking about? Bud, it was just a weird call from my mom, she must be having a long night and just misses me that’s all.”

Bud successfully got Gwen into the truck. He unhooked the RV and didn’t bother packing a thing up. He was ready to speed through a wildfire to get out of there. “Gwen, why did we stop coming here?” Bud asked. “You know why, our parents said it was something about the woods, the grounds not being safe, we never questioned it. For all we know there was a murder here or something and they just didn’t trust this place anymore.” Bud paused. “They lied. They all lied.” “I love you more than anything Gwenny.” Gwen blushed slightly. “I love you to Bud, I always have you know that.” “But I love you like a sister. I never had a sister. There are things out here Gwen. I’ve seen them in my dreams. They .. take people. Special types of people.

Gwen looked at him like he’d lost the last of his mind. “Bud, just get us out of here.” Bud looked at the ignition. “We were born on the same day. You don’t have a dad and I don’t have a mom. They knew they had to keep us away from this place. They were too late, even all those years ago. This place has been waiting for us. They only take one. They take one of the pair, to cause lifelong suffering.” They –

Bud’s driver side window shattered. Gwen screamed. She buried her head in her hands. Try hard as she could to muffle out the sound, she could still hear the gnawing and gnashing of bone, muscle, and sinew being shredded by hungry.. things. After the air was still, she looked. No trace of Bud. No trace of her long-lost, never known twin brother.

Credit : Blake Blizzard

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