“Are you sure about this? You can still back out from it you know.” Cara said, even though Leonardo showed no signs of abandoning the challenge.
“Yes. I’m two hundred percent sure about this; trying to change my mind won’t work, you already know that, don’t ya?” came a determined voice from Leo as he swiftly unlocked the car with the key.
Cara shot him the no-use-telling look. “Well, I guess I’m left with no choice.”
A worried face spoke, “My instincts tell me we’ve forgotten something-”
“This is not the first time your instincts have lied to you Ozzy.” mocked Leo.
“True.” followed Cara.
Ozzy was far more than annoyed.
Their car was loaded with three gear-bags. They drove through mountains and suburbs and valleys for four hours and finally stopped at a sign board which said, ‘CONTESTANTS GO FORWARD; NO VEHICLES ALLOWED’ and an arrow pointing towards the dense (not to mention, creepy) forest which lay hidden beneath the thick canopy. Half a dozen cars and two vans were parked in the big abandoned grounds with moss covered rocks.
They unloaded their gear-bags and Cara parked the car near an unpruned, dry hedge. They wrapped themselves more tightly with their jackets. The cold wind was blowing hard on their faces and there was a funny mist separating the forest from the path. It was half past five and the sun had already vanished from the forest.
“Where now?” asked Oscar.
“I think that explains where we have to go.” Cara said pointing towards some campfires in the distance. Not a minute too late, Leo dashed with two trunks, towards the source of light screaming “We’re late alreadyyyy”.
“What’re we waiting for then … let’s run,” said Ozzy. He grabbed Cara’s trunk-free hand and ran straight into the lion’s den. They weren’t aware of the danger awaiting them.
They found Leo speaking with one of the members of the organization. “Just in time.” said Leo “I was going to register our names.”
“Er … yer name s’please.” said the dainty man who was found speaking to Leo before.
“Leonardo Zac Troy.”
“Oscar James Wilfred.”
“Caroline Amber Evans.” came the three confident voices.
“Mister Troy, Mister Wilfred and Miss Evans, am I right?” confirmed the man whose name was seen to be George Zimmerman on his ID card.
“Yes, but I prefer being called Leonardo.” Leo squinted.
They grinned and the man said (ignoring everything except the ‘yes’), “Well, y’all weel be waitin’ ‘ere-” the man said gesturing towards the other excited teenagers, “and weel call ya when itz time.”
Cara took one from the stack of pamphlets on the table right next to them which contained nearly all the necessary information they needed.
“Right.” said Cara and walked to the nearest campfire. The boys followed and they sat round the blazing warmth.
“Okay, the only thing we can do now is to read the pamphlet and await our adventure.” declared Cara in a bossy voice. And with that, she started reading the contents of the pamphlet aloud:
“WELCOME TO DREAM; DARE; DO.
THE GREATEST ANNUAL CHALLENGE OF ALL TIMES.
Note: Please read this pamphlet carefully to ensure your complete safety during this breathtaking adventure.
1. Age group 13-17.
2.Any trespassing contestant/team will be severely disqualified with necessary consequences.
1. You will be passed through the enchanted frame to check any invasion of rules.
2. After proceeding the frame of enchantment, you will be given gadgets to assist with your tasks.
3.The forest is wide and open to all contestants. All you have to do is exit the forest alive.
4. If the team is ready to quit, they can say, “vanzlake ewing” and they’ll be safe and sound again.
5. BEWARE: If you see anything edible, it’s best if you don’t look at it.”
“I’m having my sandwiches then.” Leo said and took a couple of sandwiches from his bag.
Cara rolled her eyes at him.
6. “The team that doesn’t quit till the end will be declared as the winner and a staycation to any part of the world, with their families; all free of charge.
All the best to all teams!” with this, she concluded, “That’s it …”
Despite the fact that their tasks would be way harder and complicated than last year, they were fighting on choosing where to go once they win the challenge.
“Maui. That is the best place to go! Ah, I lovvvvvee islands. Those waters are just so soothing and peaceful. I’ve always wanted to go surfing and it seems-” started Oscar.
“What if I choose Paris? I mean, how can you avoid the Eiffel Tower. Being an architect has been my passion. I just love the French. At least it’s cleaner and with loads of-” rivaled Leonardo.
It was getting aggressive, “We are going to Maui and that is THAT.”
Before Leo could answer back, Caroline calmly interrupted, “We are going nowhere but Dubai. I just love the Arabian culture and well, if I weren’t a Californian, I’d be an Emirati. The perfumes and cuisine, it’s too good. And boys, if you’d stop fighting, I might spare a couple of tickets to the DJ Concert live next week.” she stopped with a grin.
Both of them gasped, “Woah, you mean … Wild Fires?”
Oscar broke the glorious silence pointing to a lady waving at the distance “Er … is that us she’s calling …”
“Oh, everyone’s left. We’re the last ones, because of you both.” saying this, Cara strode towards the woman with her gear-bag.
“Hey … don’t you think she’s getting a little over-bossy?” Oscar asked.
“Doesn’t matter if she’s cute when she does …” and with that, Leo sprinted behind her.
“Wait … ah, whatever!” confused by the short phrase, Ozzy reached there last.
“OK. Your team name please …” asked the lady wearing a catsuit.
“Er … look, we’re three of a kind-” Cara indirectly tried explaining the whole situation but it was of no use.
“Very well then, leave your bags here and walk through the frame of enchantment please.”
They did as they were told and one by one exited the frame. It was far more than a strange-feeling. They heard whispers surrounding them and suddenly their eyes were blinded. The next thing they knew was standing outside the frame.
Oscar, Cara and Leo was still looking around in disbelief and came off it later.
They met the same man they had met earlier. Mr Zimmerman. “Excited, are ya?” All of them nodded. “Well, yer gadgets then.”
He produced a rare-looking pendant from thin air. “Wait, so are you magic?” asked Oscar.
The man smiled and continued to speak saying, “Des, is a Tiger Eye Laser Pendant-”
“OMG really! I’ve always wanted a tiger stone to add in my gemstone collection but it wasn’t available anywhere in California, so my dad got me Amethyst instead. It’s beautiful but not as-”
Ozzy nudged her, "Shut up!"
“Er … young ma’am, I’m afraid I have to tell ya that these gadgets vanish once de challenge is over.”
“As I was sayin’, des rare piece allows de owner to emit laser rays at anything or anybody, which in turn lets it turn to ashes. Ya’ll know ‘ow it works when ya need it.”
“An’ secondly, fer the Dragon Tear Miniature Bottle. This is a special equipment to freeze the object on which eet gets sprinkled on.”
“An’ now for the Razor Sharp Spike Slingshot which allows the swift cut-through of metal, wood, paper; be it any material. An’ remember once ya use the gadgets, twice it won’t work.”
The trio watched in silenced as he handed the pendant to Cara. She gazed at it’s mesmerizing rare beauty; gave the miniature bottle to Leo and the slingshot to Ozzy.
“Off ya go then!” saying this the man vanished, leaving them at the very entrance of the forest all by themselves and their magical gadgets.
“What next?” said Ozzy, unsure what to do.
“Huh!? Let’s go of course!” said Leo, still examining his gadget and trying to identify any sign of trademark on it.
“Ayyy, wait up!” Leo yelled as he saw Cara and Ozzy already far straight. He soon caught up with them and Cara said, “Oh, how was the nap, daydreamer?” Leo looked annoyed. They set off for their extra-ordinary adventure.
The real forest was nothing similar to the first look. There were huge trees on either sides of the pathway. The path was stony and not a fresh leaf or flower could be seen.
“This place has been quite old. Not a tinge of green.” said Cara as she observed all this.
“Yeah … seems like not a soul in hundred miles.” Leo muttered.
They were walking beneath a clear sky with a bright full moon and a luminous star. The hooting owls kept staring at the three with vivid, wide eyes. “They’re creeeeepy…..” Ozzy kept whispering. “Give it a rest Oscar.” said Caroline looking all around her for anything unusual.
The wind clattered and hissed through leaves and needles, insects stridulated, ice rends weakened wood and the next moment, a huge Camphor Tree settled in front of them.
Leo gasped.“How on earth did this tree just fall?”
“A second sooner and we would’ve been under it’s mercy.” said Ozzy.
“C’mon let’s just cross over it.” Cara said, and in no time she was there with Leo on the other side pulling Oscar who found it hard to climb because his slingshot came slipping out of his cargo pockets.
They walked even further and hadn’t seen anything yet until Cara noticed a slight movement behind one of the trees. “Guys … do you see that?” Cara pointed towards the tree.
“Er … yeah but what is it?” Leo said.
“Wh-whose th-there … st-stay away o-or I’ll … er … kill you!” Oscar face was pale with horror even though they’d just sensed movement.
“Oh, stop being ridiculous, Ozzy. It’s probably a … er … cat maybe?”
Nothing happened after that. They walked calmly but watchful of their surroundings.
“Er … it’s almost an hour according to my watch and we’ve not even met with anything.” Leo asked casually.
And, as if ironically, the boys heard a familiar scream. “LEEOOOOOO! OZZIEEEEE … heeeeeeelpp!”
Cara was being pulled by invisible hands.
“CAARAAAAAAA!” They screamed and grabbed one of her legs steady. The invisible figure hadn’t terminated by this. They too were being dragged by the humungous hands. They were escorted through the trees and their arms and legs were bruised and bleeding. The sharp spokes of the pines were wounding them awfully.
“Aaaah.”; “STOP!”; “Ow … Oww … Ouch” came the frequent screams. They still didn’t know where they were going but none of them were ready to use their gadgets and lose it’s handling. They were finally put down in front of a dense, huge cave and the frightening figure revealed itself. He looked like a giant to them but they weren’t quite sure about that because this creature was able to communicate like humans which astonished them but the look in it’s eyes were full of agony and anger.
Oscar was trembling and sobbing because his body was the most bruised because he’d tried to keep his gadget from losing. Cara and Leo seemed at least a little better.
“Hi! I’m Vrozkaus (that’s what they heard).” roared the giant. They held their hands tightly to their ears.
Cara shouted on top of her voice to the giant or Vrozkaus, “Can you stop screaming pleasseee!”
Whatever they said, wasn’t audible to Vrozkaus. Vainly, after many attempts of trying to hear them, Vrozkaus stomped off into the cave. Even still, he had to bent himself fairly.
There was something engraved on the cave which was read unclearly by Leo: THE GUILD OF THE NOCTURNAL DAWN. “Wonder what that means …”
“Are we waiting to get killed by the monster or whatever that over-pigmented and over-weighted scrawny!?!!?” Cara announced dramatically.
Oscar was struggling with his almost-twisted neck. “But I can’t move an inch buddy.”
“It’s true Cara. He’s been very hurt.” supported Leo.
“That’s why he’s got us, bro!” And with this, Leo and Cara flung his arms over their necks gently and helped him until they got out of sight from that huge cave and the monster of the cave.
“I-thank you for helping me, I feel fine now. I can walk alright.” Oscar said gratefully.
“That’s great then!” said Cara, “We can keep walking forward … well, that’s the only thing we can do now, isn’t it? They nodded and did the same. Walking for around ten minutes, Leo broke the silence by letting out a loud shriek.
Bats flew out of nowhere and surrounded the three. Again, there was an odd feeling of disfavor within the three.
“Geroff, GEROFFFFF!” they screamed.
All of it was useless as the bats weren’t least bothered with the swaying of hands. Suddenly, an astonishing transfiguration happened.
It was most mystical because the bats had transformed into a one pale skinned, gaunt, preternaturally beautiful figure, with the inability to cast a reflection or shadow. She shot blood-thirsty looks at them, revealing fangs in her mouth.
“OSCARRRR!” gasped Leo. Oscar had fainted and fell to the ground. He wasn’t the brave one anyway. Leo and Cara knelt and shook him; he finally he came to his senses.
The figure was still staring at them.
Leo gave a brief intro and conclusion. “Er … hi, bye!” saying this, they dashed away and not a nanosecond sooner had the figure outstretched her hand and grabbed them by the neck and put them in their former position. And they were once again, standing face to face with the horror-striking look. They gasped because they didn’t know what else this stature could do.
“I’m Emilio.” The stature communicated initially … “And, I’m a vampire.” Emilio had a hypnotizing voice.
“We kinda figured that out.” said Leo modishly.
“Ooh … then I s’pose you also know why I’m here.” sneered Emilio.
“Well, we don’t know why you’re here but we certainly know why we are.” replied Cara defensively.
“To fight you, of course.” came a determined girl’s voice.
As if waiting for these words, Oscar used his slingshot perfectly well to aim at the vampire’s heart and at the instant the vampire was, well, dead? They guessed so and ran away as far as they could.
“Phew! That was close … and well, my gadget is done with.” Oscar said sheepishly.
“You were amazing with that slingshot Ozzy!” Cara said.
“Yeah buddy! You did a great job” and he thumped Ozzy on the back.
Oscar was pleased with himself. “Er …. thanks guys!”
They walked and walked, finally reaching a tree. It was no ordinary tree. In the middle of this vast forest, colorful enough for the Hypnotizing Candy Tree. But surely, there was a way to not get tempted, just don’t look at it.
“Oh, wow! This is so amazing. Especially since I’m starrrrving …”
Cara shook him. “Leo? LEO!”
“Oscar, whatever you do, DO NOT look at that tree; you heard me reading it from the pamphlet right!”
“Now, help me drag Leo.”
They both dragged Leo to the opposite direction, trying their best not to look at the tree.
After reaching a safe distance, they put Leo on the ground. Even after a lot of pushing and hitting and thumping and shaking, he still did not get back his consciousness.
“Ohh Ozzy, what do we do? Leoooo! Get up; get up; get up!” Moisture started filling Caroline’s warm blue eyes. Oscar remained silent. He tried to make himself believe this was temporary; Caroline was trying a lot too. (They must’ve surely forgotten ‘vanzlake ewing’).
The petrified look on Oscar’s face made her want to hug him and ease his fear.
She crossed her arms around Leo too and cried bitterly. “Oh Leo …”
And suddenly, as though magic, Leo found himself blushing ‘cause he was being hugged by his best girl friend (see, I don’t mean that girlfriend but you know best girl friend. Aaah. Let me get this right; best friend who is a girl. Cara is a tomboy as you’d probably guessed and her best friends are Oscar and Leonardo … gender never matters in friendship).
“Er, Cara …”
“Oh Leo, you’re fine, thank god.”
“Yeah I’m fine, uh … what happened to me?” She hugged him more tightly and then got up stiff, but heartfelt.
Oscar and Cara helped him get up to his feet. “No time to explain buddy!” and Oscar hugged him too.
“Group hug?” Leo said, finding all these physical friendliness, funny and weird. They smiled and did a terrific, triple hug.
The next thing they knew was, their bruises and scars were magically being healed by Mr. Zimmerman.
“Excuse me sir, are we eliminated? Cara asked, rewinding all the memories she could of the last four hours. She was most overjoyed at the fact that she, Oscar and Leo were safe together.
“Eliminated? Yeh’ve won the challenge an’ it’s amazing isn’t it?”
Their joy grew no limits.
“Sir, but the tasks weren’t even hard for us.”
“That’s wot every team says after winning!” Mr. Zimmerman smiled. “Why yeh won the challenge is becauze of yer team spirt an’ deep friendship?”
“Yes ma' dears, when one of yeh ‘ad a crisis, ya stood together and that’s wot matters most. Most teams, gave up losing hope.”
The man announced at last, “The winner is team, er … Three Of A Kind.”
It was then they remembered about Cara being unsure of their team name. After all, these little inside jokes is what makes friendships deeper.