“Why not?” Marci smiled as she pulled out another makeup pencil. “We need a phantom, and you're the best one for the job.”
“Is that purple? No. No purple. And no, I'm not. Couldn't you do it?”
“Last I checked, I couldn't do back flips out of nowhere and swim half the waterforest without coming up for air. You're doing it.” She dug through the bag, looking for a non-purple pencil. “How about this one?”
“Marci...” Terry trailed off, then started again. “That's bright pink.”
“Well, for one, I don't wear pink. And for two, we want this to be sorta actually intimidating, right?”
“Fine, fine, be that way. No pink.” Marci sighed and looked up at the spattering of treetops high above their heads. Sunlight filtered between the branches and reflected off the interconnected pools of water that surrounded them. She brushed her black hair out of her face and looked back down at him. “So what should we use then?”
“I don't know! This wasn't my idea.”
“Yes it was.”
“The red sheet on a string was my idea. And it worked, too. It's kept them off, hasn't it?” Terry watched suspiciously as she started digging through the bag again.
“And now they've sent in a bounty hunter to kill the red sheet. You know what happens if he kills the red sheet?”
“I don't get shot?”
“No, then they figure out that there never was a phantom, and move ahead with the whole thing, and then we all get shot.” She pulled a lemon yellow pencil out of the bag and began examining it.
“And if he shoots me, that happens anyway.”
“Come on, you can dodge anything!”
“When was the last time you saw me do a bullet?”
She paused, pencil in hand. “Well, ok, you can dodge most of anything. Still a better chance then the red sheet.” Back in the bag went the yellow pencil.
“Fine, fine. So I have to be the phantom. I have come to terms with this. Getting shot now vs getting shot later, what's the difference?”
“That's the spirit!” she said enthusiastically. “Let's see... You'll be wearing red to match the red sheet, so...” She pulled a pencil out again and waved it in the air triumphantly. “Red! Hurrah!”
“Fine. Red. I can deal with red. It'll match the blood when I get shot.”
“Ooh, now there's an idea!” She smiled, making him intensely nervous.
“What, shooting me?”
“No, silly, blood! We do the whole thing in the color of blood!”
“That's slightly morbid...” he said hesitantly.
“You're a phantom, for crying out loud. Phantoms are not particularly happy people. Morbid is what they do.”
“I thought random terror was what they did.”
“Morbid and random terror go hand in hand,” she offered. “Maybe we could make you some sort of corpse with blood all over.”
“Can we please not do blood? Or corpses?”
“Fine. We'll just do the whole cursed-phantom thing that we've been going with since we started the red sheet.”
“You're very welcome. Now hold still and I might not poke your eye out.” She put the pencil to his face and started drawing.
“Are you sure...”
“No talking!” she interrupted. “Hold still. And yes, I'm sure you have to be the phantom. I'm also sure of what I'm doing, sure of the fact that it has to be done now, and sure that you'll be fine. If all goes well, he won't even get to see all my hard work. Pity.”
He sat helplessly silent as she drew spirals on his face.
“Hmm... You think I should go with more of a tribal curse thing or an elegant curse thing? Don't answer that. On second thought, hold up one finger for tribal curse and two for elegant curse. How would I even do an elegant curse, I wonder... Wait, I know! Ok, nevermind. We're going with elegant curse. I think I'll only do one side of your face. That'll make you seem only slightly cursed, and if you're part human, he might be less likely to blow your brains out. Not that I'm saying that that'll happen, of course, but if it does, we want to be prepared, right? Right!” She sat back and looked at her work for a moment while he tried not to move. “That should do it.”
He sighed. “I'm assuming I can talk now?”
“Wait, no, it needs something. Stay there for a second.” She leapt to her feet and sprinted up the trail, over and under the huge clumps of roots and around the sharp turns without slowing down. He sighed and looked at his reflection in a pool of water. His white hair framed his pale face, making the red-brown spirals and dots stand out even more. His green eyes sparkled with electric reflections as he made a few faces, just to see what it would look like. Not particularly scary, but then, she'd said she wasn't done.
“Terry!” She sprinted back down the trail, panic in her brown eyes. “They're here!”
“Who?” he asked cautiously.
“Them! The outsiders! They're headed this way!”
“You mean the bounty hunter?”
“No, no, not him, the scouts! The surveyors!”
“We've gotta set up the red sheet,” he stated. “We'll just have to hope we can do it in time.”
“There is no time! Besides, we never set up a wire along here! You'll have to go!”
“What? Me? I can't!”
“You have to! Whatever happened to coming to terms with this?”
“But I'm not ready!”
“You're ready enough, just stay far away enough that they can't see details. They're almost here!”
“I'm wearing green!”
That stopped her for half a second. Then she pulled the sheet from her backpack and practically threw it at him. “Wear this!”
“As a cloak!” She grabbed it from him, threw it over his head and pulled it around his neck, tying it in a tight knot. “Now get over there!”
“Hey, I thought I heard voices!” came a shout from a ways down the trail.
“Go!” said Marci in a whisper one last desperate time before she leapt into the pool. He knew she'd surface some thirty feet away, safe in a clump of roots.
“Fine.” He some of the slack of the red sheet over his head like a hood and started climbing the nearest tree. From a branch high above, he could see the trail until it twirled around a pool of water and disappeared behind one of the ridges in the landscape. Three men made their way along the winding path. He gulped. All three carried rifles.
Terry made his way carefully from tree to tree until he was close enough to hear what they said.
“Oh, look, a root! Scary root, scaaaary!” Guy number one pulled back in mock horror.
“Ha hah, very funny.” Guy number two was not amused.
“Oh no, a tree! It must be a phantom tree! Fear the phantom tree!” Guy number three followed number one's example.
“No seriously, you guys are hilarious.” Still not amused.
“How will we ever survive the attack of the phantom tree? We're doomed!”
“Ok, ok, you've had your fun. Can you please let it drop now?”
“No. But seriously, you need to relax. There is no phantom.” Number one grinned. “A flying red ghost? Please.”
“Hey, there have been seventeen reports of this thing. Seventeen. Not to mention the equipment malfunctions...”
“It breaks just as much on a normal basis. You know that just as well as we do,” Three added.
“I'm telling you, there's something seriously wrong with this place. Never mind the secrecy, the weird shipments, the executive directors dropping by every three days; there's something here. In the forest.”
“What, the phantom tree?”
“You know that's not what I mean.”
“Look, we'll make a deal,” said One. “If we see the phantom, then fine, he's real. Flying red ghost all the way. But if we don't see him today, than he's not real. People are making stuff up. And then you promise to stop freaking out, ok?”
“Here goes nothing...” Terry did a front flip out of the tree and landed about forty feet in front of them, red cloak billowing around him. He hoped they'd see him.
They did. One and Three simply stared, while Two backed away saying, “Oh no, we're gonna die, we're gonna die...”
Terry slowly raised his left arm and pointed straight at them, wordless.
“Calm down, man, we don't know if this is the phantom or not. He's not flying. He's just standing there.” Three was trying to save face.
If it was flying they wanted, it was flying they would get. Terry burst into a leaping run, taking in nearly ten feet to a stride.
“He's flying! He's flying!” Two turned and did a pretty good imitation of flying himself, flying back down the trail. One and Three, forgetting their mockery for a moment, followed him at a slightly lower altitude. All three were screaming.
Terry followed them for about a quarter mile before he stopped. He watched them flee over a ridge, waited a moment, then turned back. He wasn't dead yet. That was generally a good sign.
“Told you it would work.” Marci poked her wet head out from behind a tree as he passed by. “That was so much better than the red sheet.”
“I still don't like it,” he muttered.
“Neither did they.” She smiled a smile that made him nervous. “The red cloak thing is clearly something we need to keep, and we'll keep working on your curse. I don't think the green will go over so well, though. That needs to be red too, I think.”
He sighed. “I can deal with red.”
I wrote this the other day, so I thought I'd post it. Critique please!
And yes, there will probably be more. Wheee.