One Helluva Trip

Submitted into Contest #40 in response to: Write a story about friends who wind up on a misadventure.... view prompt


Adventure Mystery Funny

Not for the first time, Katrina wakes up in the middle of the woods.

Okay, scratch that, this is the first time she’s actually woken up in the woods. The last time, she was still about fifteen minutes away from the nearest forest to their neighborhood.


Her head hurts like hell, and she has no memory of anything that led up to her being here in the first place. Not like this is so surprising. Katrina and her best friend, Justin, often experience such blackout episodes, typically after a night of hardcore drinking or, even more typically, a bored afternoon spent taking shrooms.

Speaking of, where is Justin? No matter where Katrina ended up after these episodes (on the roof of her house, in the alley behind the Burger King, and once, in front of their high school building), she could always count on Justin being just a few feet away.

Katrina whips her head around, groaning at the headache splintering her skull. And there he is: Justin, sitting inside a grocery cart, making shapes out of rubber bands and staring at the sky.

He notices Katrina’s groaning. “Oh, you’re awake. Took you long enough.”

Unfairly, it seems like Justin woke up with none of the grogginess that Katrina was dealing with. He was clear-eyed and calm, unfazed as usual.

Katrina makes a face at him. “Where the fuck are we?”

Justin shrugs. God knows what a grocery cart was doing in the middle of the forest--maybe they brought it with them? Were they in a supermarket before all of this happened?

“Beats me,” Justin says, snapping his rubber bands back against his wrist. “Never been in a forest before. Not this one, at least. Hey, pretty impressive right? We’ve never ended up this far from home before.”

Justin sticks out his fist for Katrina to bump. Sighing, she stands up and makes her way to her best friend, reluctantly bumping her fist against his. “Okay, but we gotta go back soon. I still have homework to get started on. What time is it, anyway?”

In response, they both stare at the sky overhead. Cloudless and indigo-blue, the sun directly overhead. Katrina puts up a hand to shield her eyes. Justin produces a pair of sunglasses from one of the many pockets of his oversized jacket and puts them on. Katrina scoffs at him.

“So, like, noon, then,” Katrina concludes, and then sighs again. Her mouth feels dry, and her stomach is growling.

In a tangle of limbs, Justin jumps out of the grocery cart. He yawns as he stretches his arms over his head. “Okay. Let’s try to find our way out of this place.”

The closest copse of woods to their small suburb is at least thirty minutes away from their houses. Katrina turns this thought over in her head, trying to make sense of what exactly led them to this forest in the first place, but her head hurts too much. Usually, after an episode, Kat and Justin end up in nearby places, and they usually end up there at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Never in the middle of the day, and never someplace so far from home.

What the fuck? Kat thinks as they follow a well-defined footpath. Beside her, Justin walks along calmly, humming to himself. He seems extremely unpertrubed by anything. Granted, Justin’s always been the more chill one out of the two of them. He posseses the unique gift of being able to at least act unfazed towards just about anything. 

Now, Justin takes out a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket and starts to smoke. Katrina ignores how hazardous this is, considering they’re surrounded by plants and trees, and one wrong flick can send this whole forest up in flames. Instead, she notices Justin’s weird-looking cigarette. It was unlike any brand she’s ever seen before; cerulean-blue instead of white, with a series of thin gold rings near the filter at the end.

“Hey, where’d you get that?” she asks him, stopping their walk.

“Why, you want one? Let’s see, I think I have another one here…,” Justin starts rummaging in his pockets. He pulls out several things and dumps them all onto Katrina’s hands: a handful of weirdly shaped coins, a pair of dice, and what looks like a napkin from a restaurant.

“No,” Katrina replies. “Justin. Focus. What brand is that?”

Justin takes out the cigarette from his mouth, seemingly noticing how weird it is for the very first time. “Huh. I don’t know.”

“And look,” Katrina says, picking at the stuff Justin’s dumped from his pockets. “These...coins? Why do they look like this?”

They were all in different, jewel-toned colors. Deep purples, evergreens, coppery reds. They were in weird shapes, too. Pentagons and octagons and hexagons--one was even a triangle. On their surfaces were the faces of people Katrina didn’t even recognize. The strangers smiled placidly at Katrina. One woman has a third eye right on her forehead.

“The fuck?” Justin finally asks, more alert now after half a smoke. “What in the hell?”

“Okay, what were we doing before we got here? Do you remember anything?” Katrina asks, trying not to panic, blinking very fast.

“Uh, dude. They were your drugs, remember? From your dealer? What did he say they were, anyway?”

Katrina blinks some more, trying to remember. Her headache was killing her. “He said they were really strong. And really special. I don’t… I don’t know, I don’t remember! All I know is he gave me a discount after that paper I wrote for him. And he said... “these will give you one helluva trip.”

Justin laughs, one short syllable: ha! He runs his hands through his hair. “‘One helluva trip.” No kidding. Kat, what the fuck?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know, okay?” she replies, trying to breathe more evenly. Her hands were trembling. She doesn’t even notice that she’s dropped all the stuff until Justin’s bending down to pick them up.

“Okay, okay, chill,” Justin says, mantra of his entire life. “It’s cool. We’ll figure this out. We just need to know where we are first.”

Katrina stares at the forest around them, but it’s no use. There is absolutely nothing she recognizes. 

“Look, look,” Justin says, and Katrina’s attention snaps back to him. He was holding out the napkin from earlier. In a thick, curly font, it said: The Forgotten Tavern. Warm beds and warmer meals. Open forever.

Beneath it was an address. 

Katrina and Justin look at each other.

“Worth a shot?” Justin says, shrugging.

Katrina nods. It was the closest thing they had to a clue. Maybe they could go to the tavern and ask the people there for directions, for help in trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Maybe they can help them go home.

The only problem: “But we don’t know where that address is. We don’t even know wherever the hell we are.”

Justin shrugs again. Katrina focuses on his calm face, his calm demeanor. Despite everything, Justin is still calm. He’s treating the whole situation like it was just a joke; a prank. Absolutely nothing fazes the guy, and this is what Katrina needs right now. She needs to be so very unfazed. Panicking would do no good. 

“Okay, but let’s just make it out of these woods first. If we follow this footpath, we’ll get out eventually, right? And then we’ll figure it out from there,” Justin says, rubbing Katrina’s shoulder consolingly. Katrina takes a few breaths and nods. The two of them continue walking. 

At the edge of the forest, there is a large wooden tavern.

She and Justin look at each other. He laughs again: ha! They gape at the tavern’s familiar sign: The Forgotten Tavern. Warm beds and warmer meals. Open forever.

Not believing their luck, they go inside. Merry music blasts from unseen speakers. There are patrons everywhere, laughing and sharing stories as they clink their glasses and share bites of each other’s meals.

“Welcome back!” a man who appears to be the owner greets them. He’s seated behind the bar, filling up mugs with what smells like lush hot chocolate. The man steps out from the bar and comes over to Katrina and Justin to greet them.

She and Justin look at each other. She’s fairly sure she’s never seen this man in her life, nor has she ever been in this tavern. Still, they did find that napkin from Justin’s pocket... What the fuck is happening?

The man is in his late fifties, with gray hair and a gray mustache. He wore a chocolate-colored long-sleeved shirt that was too big on him, which made him look like some kind of retired cowboy. His eyes were kind and blue.

For some reason, he reminds Kat of her dad. Her biological dad, not one of her mom’s ever-rotating boyfriends. The man in front looks nothing like Katrina’s real dad--for one thing, this man is white. And a lot older. But still. There was something in the way he looked at her, in the way his eyes crinkled as if he was always smiling.

Katrina looks over at Justin, but he is just as transfixed. Katrina wonders why. It’s not like he ever met her real dad--he wasn’t with them when Kat’s family moved to the States.

“Do we know you?” Katrina asks the man.

“Why, of course! You were here just this morning! But it was the real early hours, so I’ll forgive you for forgetting.” He winks at them, guiding them over to an empty booth. “I’m Vinny, remember?”

No, Katrina thinks. No, I don’t remember at all. I have no clue what the hell is happening.

But her panic was slowly ebbing away. Vinny had such a comforting presence, almost as if they were family. Not to mention, he reminded Kat of her real family, one she hasn’t seen in a long, long time. Delicious aromas wafted in from the kitchen, and Kat remembers just how hungry she is. She swallows. Her stomach rumbles, making Vinny laugh. He has the same laugh as Justin: ha!

“Bet you two are hungry again, huh? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of yous,” Vinny says before hustling to the kitchen in the back. As far as they could tell, he was the only employee, and yet everyone had plates full of food and mugs full of drinks. Not a single complaining customer in sight.

“That was weird,” Kat tells Justin, who’s been uncharacteristically quiet up to that point. “Justin?”

Justin blinks. “Yeah. He reminds me of someone, but I’m sure I’ve never met him before. Except, he said he’s met us. Right? He says we’ve been in this tavern before. I guess that would explain why I had that napkin.”

“He reminds me of someone, too,” Katrina says. “My dad.”

“No, that’s not it,” Justin replies as they sit down in an empty booth. “I’ve never met your real dad. No, for some reason, the dude reminds me of my mom. Weird, right?”

It was weird. Justin’s mom died when he was little, and it’s not as if the old white guy resembled her in any way. Still, in a weird way, what Justin said makes sense. Maybe Vinny just reminded both of them of relatives they haven’t seen in a while; people they miss.

As Katrina turns this over in her mind, Vinny comes over bearing plates and plates of food. He sets down the plates and bowls and cups before the two of them. For Katrina, a bowl of ramen, a tall glass of mountain dew, and ube ice cream served in a small bowl. For Justin, yangnyeom chicken, root beer, and a slice of triple chocolate cake.

Their favorite foods.

Katrina takes a small spoonful of the ice cream. It tasted exactly like her favorite kind back in the Philippines, the kind her father used to make from scratch and sell to the other neighborhood kids. By the look on Justin’s face, the food before him was straight out of his childhood memories, too. 

They looked at each other.

After a beat, Justin takes a bite out of a chicken wing.

Okay, things were definitely getting weirder and weirder. 

Still, Katrina is not one to waste good food, especially not food she hasn’t tasted in years. 

She digs in.

Vinny laughs at their voraciousness, pulling a chair from a nearby table and sitting down in front of their booth. “Eat up. Teenagers like yous need to eat a lot. Helps you grow.”

“Who are you?” Katrina says around a mouthful of noodles.

Vinny laughs again. “I told you, I’m Vinny. You were here this morning. I fed you then, too.”

“How do you know all of our favorite food?” Justin asks.

Vinny shrugs. “I know everyone of my patrons’ favorite foods. It’s written all over your faces the minute you step inside. Your cravings. Your histories.”

Katrina slurps up the last of the soup. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Justin belches.

She turns to Vinny, with his kind eyes and his laughter lines and his furry mustache. “Vinny, we want to go home. We don’t know where we are. I know you said we’ve been here before, but we don’t remember that at all. We just want to go home.”

Vinny shifts in his chair, and maybe it’s just a trick of the light, but for a second Katrina sees her father, really sees him. In that moment, Vinny doesn’t just remind her of her father--he is her father. Dark hair, brown skin, smiling eyes. The father she hasn’t seen in years, hasn’t thought about in years. Or at least tried not thinking about. Katrina gulps, afraid to disrupt the moment, curls her hands into fists so she can keep them from reaching for her dad--and then the light shifts again and her dad transforms back into Vinny.

“Everyone does,” Vinny replies, and there’s sadness in his eyes. “Everyone wants to go home.”

He gestures at his now-empty tavern, silent as a crypt. Where did all of his laughing diners go? The place looked like it hadn’t seen any visitors in years. Dust gathered on top of the tables.

Vinny looks down. “Finish your food. I’ll get you two home. Walk you to the station. There’s a train there, waiting.” He nods at Justin. “The coins you have are enough for two tickets.”

Katrina and Justin look at each other. Justin just shrugs before taking another bite out of his cake.

Unbelievably, a train station waited just a few yards from the edge of the forest. The train looked like it came straight out of a history textbook, steam engine and all. Except, of course, for the fact that it was painted bright magenta, the color only dulled from what looks like decades and decades of use.

The coins in Justin’s pocket were exactly enough to buy two tickets to the one destination the train stopped at, aptly named Home.

Katrina and Justin climb onto the train together. They were the only two passengers. They stick their heads out of the window to say goodbye.

“I’m sorry we’re leaving so soon,” she finds herself saying. This whole trip was very creepy and confusing, but Vinny had such a comforting presence that she still felt bad about leaving him. Leaving him felt like leaving her dad all over again. “Maybe we can visit you again?”

Though who knows how that’ll even happen, when they don’t even know how they got here in the first place. When they don’t even know where here is.

Vinny shakes his head, smiling sadly. “I doubt that.”

The train begins to shuffle along slowly. Together, they wave at Vinny as he slowly shrinks in the distance.

“Thank you for the food!” Katrina yells out.

“Of course, mahal ko!” Vinny yells back. Mahal ko. My love. What Katrina’s father used to call her when she was little.

In surprise, Katrina ducks back inside the train. “That was so weird.”

“I know,” Justin replies, equally stunned. “Did you just hear that? He called me Jihoon-ya. I don’t think anyone’s called me that until my mom died.”

It seems like when Katrina and Justin looked at Vinny, he appeared as two different people to both of them. Her estranged dad and his dead mom.

Suddenly, Katrina felt very sleepy. All around her, passengers seemed to be yawning, too. Justin rests his head against hers. Her vision begins to blur, and then she falls asleep.

When she wakes, she’s back in her room. Home. Justin was on the floor beside her bed, still snoring.

Katrina rubs her eyes. What a weird dream. Yes, that’s all it was: a dream. Maybe it was all just a weird side-effect of whatever drug her dealer gave them last night. But it was just that: a side-effect. A hallucination. A dream. There was no Forgotten Tavern, no magenta train, no Vinny.

No dad.

Katrina sighs. She fishes in her pockets for a cigarette, something to help alleviate the incoming headache. When she pulls one out, it’s bright blue, with golden rings near the tip.

Katrina stares at it for a moment, and then shrugs.

She lights it and takes a deep inhale. Then, she picks up her phone and calls her father for the first time in years.

May 07, 2020 14:51

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Lyssa Palmese
18:34 May 14, 2020

I love how you revealed that first, Katrina comes from an ethnic background through her observation that the man in the tavern should not remind her of her father because he is white; and then that she is an immigrant by saying Justin never met him since he didn't come to the States when she did. I really like the first line because it has a sophisticated literary feel and plays on the readers curiosity to suck them in! It's just a bit confusing as it then gets super casual and the narrator tells you it was pretty much a lie right away. I...


Aidrielle R.
14:24 Jun 28, 2020

Hi!! sorry it took me so long to get back to you; i haven't been on this site in a while!! thank you so much for your feedback! i really appreciate that you gave so much thought to this little story, and i'll definitely keep your comments in mind for future stories that i write!! <3


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Morey Guntz
21:38 May 13, 2020

Hi, Aidrielle! I'm from the critique circle. This was a fun story to read! I like how in the end, Katrina reaches out to her father because she realizes him much she misses him. A couple pointers. First off, you switch from present tense to past tense a few times. That can be kinda confusing. Also, you repeat that Justin is calm and Katrina has a headache to the point of redundancy. Those details only really need to be mentioned once or twice.


Aidrielle R.
10:40 May 14, 2020

hi! thank you!! and oof yes tenses have always been hard for me to do right for some reason lol. thank you for your pointers--i'll make sure to keep them in mind when i revise the story!! :)


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16:33 Jul 24, 2020

This was awesome! The beginning was really funny, too. Love the name Katrina! Oh, and would you mind checking out my most recent story, ‘A Poem By A Star (No, Literally)’? Again, awesome job! -Aerinnnn! 🌈🌈🌈


Aidrielle R.
17:50 Jul 24, 2020

thank you so much!! and ok, i'll check it out! <3


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