Mouth Full of Ashes: Part 5

The haunted house smelled like piss. Acrid fog from machines curled around Callie’s ankles as she trailed behind Jabari and Ramsay. They still held hands. Overhead blacklight bars cast an otherworldly glow over everything, brightening Callie’s white T-shirt so that it was almost blinding. Eerie, tinny Halloween music played through unseen speakers, but Callie didn’t recognize the song. Even if she had, she was too busy trying not to trip over the cord stretched over the floor to pay attention to the music.

“Seems like a safety issue to have power cords strewn everywhere,” she muttered.

“What?” Ramsay asked without turning his head.

Callie was surprised he’d heard her. “It smells like piss in here.”

“Wouldn’t rule it out,” Jabari replied. “Lots of my colleagues wander through here when everything’s closed. Good place to get drunk and do… other things.”

Ramsay responded in a low voice only Jabari could hear. He howled with laughter, playfully bumping Ramsay’s shoulder with his own. Callie wanted to roll her eyes, but she resisted, even though she knew they couldn’t see her. It was odd how comfortable they were with each other already, and Ramsay didn’t seem upset about Jabari having stood him up anymore.

Jabari was hot, but that didn’t give him the right to be an asshole. Whatever he’d said to Ramsay via text must have been pretty convincing.

A hydraulic hiss preceded a zombie popping up in front of them, uttering a guttural moan. Ramsay jumped and cried out, latching onto Jabari. Considering that Ramsay frequently fell asleep in the middle of horror movies, Callie found his behavior suspicious.

She didn’t have long to ponder the strangeness. The toe of her Converse caught on a wire, and she went down, scraping up her hands and knees. Sharp heat spread from the injuries, and she swore.

“Callie?” Ramsay tugged Jabari to a stop. He turned, and even in the dim light, Callie recognized his furrowed brow. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She pulled herself to a seated position, assessing the damage. Although it was hard to see the extent of the damage in the semidarkness, nothing was broken. Blood trickled from her left knee, and it smarted like hell, but it would heal. Her hands would bruise, maybe. It wasn’t too bad.

Jabari took a menacing stride toward her, setting flashing in his eyes—before he seemed to shake himself and stop just short of Callie. Ramsay threw him an inquisitive look that he didn’t have an answer for.

After looking from Ramsay to Callie again, Jabari’s face softened. “You’re bleeding.”

Callie checked her knee again. “It’s not too bad. Should stop in a minute.”

She regarded Jabari warily. Despite his calm demeanor, there was no mistaking the feral gleam in his eye before Ramsay had intervened. What the hell was that about?

Ramsay brushed past Jabari to kneel beside Callie. If anyone else came into the haunted house, they couldn’t linger like this. Thank God the Starlight Carnival wasn’t all that popular. 

“You want to go?” he asked.

“I thought that’s what we were doing,” she replied. He stretched out a hand, and she let him help her to her feet. “Aren’t we heading toward the exit?”

“More or less,” Jabari said, even though Callie wasn’t speaking to him.

“There should be an emergency exit up ahead,” he added.

Ramsay took out his phone and turned on the flashlight. The pop-up zombie mechanism gave another hydraulic hiss, barely giving anyone time to brace themselves before the zombie reappeared with a prerecorded groan. Ramsay and Callie both jumped, but Jabari didn’t.

Somehow, he’d gotten closer to Callie. When had he taken another step? She could reach out and touch his leg if she wanted to—but of course, she didn’t want to. And… he was taller than she’d realized. A little more imposing.

Ramsay had his hand on her waist now, keeping her steady. Gratitude bloomed through her chest. She shouldn’t have felt jealous, even for a minute. Of course he would be there for her whenever she needed him.

“Which way?” he asked Jabari, still holding onto Callie’s waist. 

Jabari looked at the zombie, eyebrows scrunching together. He jerked his head to the right, toward what seemed to Callie to be just another wall. “This way.”

Ramsay kept his flashlight beam trained on the ground ahead of them as they walked so that there wouldn’t be any more cord-tripping incidents. Jabari pushed on what had looked like a wall to Callie, and it became a curtain that gave way under his touch.

Callie and Ramsay followed Jabari through the curtain and down a corrugated-metal hallway toward a bright-red EXIT sign. Jabari pushed the handle on the door and it swung outward. The smell of fried food and the sounds of cicadas and people shouting poured into the building. Jabari held the door open for Ramsay and Callie, and the red-haired attendant outside shot them a confused look as they exited.

“That’s for emergencies,” she said.

“I’m bleeding,” Callie said. “Besides that, nobody’s in there.”

“You’re bleeding? Oh, shit.” The girl crept closer to Callie. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen. “Did something happen in there?”

“No thanks to you,” Ramsay retorted.

“She tripped over a power cord or something,” Jabari said, trying to smooth things over. “Do you have a kit out here?”

“A kit?” The girl paled. “I… I’m supposed to, but I don’t think–“

“Never mind.” Jabari looked to Callie. “You can come with me. I have one in my trailer. We’ll get you patched up.”

It wasn’t until Ramsay frowned that Callie realized Jabari hadn’t invited both of them along. That was a little weird, especially as he barely knew Callie. She wasn’t about to go off with some dude she’d just met. She didn’t think Ramsay would stand for that, either. 

“I want to help,” Ramsay said.

“I think I can handle it, Ram.” Once again, Jabari’s tone was warm, but it had an edge to it that turned Callie’s stomach. The more time she spent around Jabari, the less she liked him. “The trailer’s pretty small, and I don’t want anyone getting claustrophobic.”

“It’s not a problem,” Callie said. “Besides, I want him with me.”

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