by Michael Thomas-Knight
Jenna pulls her Jeep Cherokee up to park in line with Steve’s Nissan. The grassy clearing is rocky and the Jeep bounces left then right before it stops. Lynn, sitting in the passenger seat is trying to put on lipstick in the visor mirror. She gives Jenna a crossed look.
“Jesus Jenn,” she says. “Did you hit all the bumps?”
Jenna smiles as she puts the car in park.
“I don’t know why you’re getting all dolled up, this is a very casual get-together,” Jenn says.
“Yeah, What about him?”
“He’s gonna’ be here tonight, right?”
“And what if he’s not? Then you wasted ten pounds of make-up for nothing,” Jenna teases.
The two girls emerge from the car and meet at the driver’s side door. Jenna is rummaging through her handbag. Lynn nudges her. When Jenna looks up Lynn nods her head in the direction of the woods.
“There’s a girl walking into the woods,” Lynn says quietly.
Jenna whispers, “Bathroom.”
“You know her?”
Jenna looks over toward the girl, briefly.
“I don’t think so. She looks kind of Goth, she probably came here with Keith.”
“She looks kind of young,” Lynn adds.
Jenna grins and says, “Oh, then she definitely came here with John!” The girls laugh.
Jenna collects some items and lays them on the front seat of the Jeep. She has sneakers and a bag with wool hats and gloves in it. Lynn is looking a little impatient and Jenna notices.
“I have to change into my sneakers, if you want to go ahead I’ll meet you there,” Jenna tells her friend.
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Nah, go ahead,” Jenna says. “I know you can’t wait to see your Danny-boy.”
“OK, I’ll see you up at Bon Fire. How do I look?”
“You look great but, you are gonna freeze your ass off. Ya’ sure you don’t want a hat?”
Lynn checks her face once more in the side view mirror.
“I spent an hour fussing with my hair. I’m not throwing a hat over it,” Lynn replies.
Lynn takes off, walking swiftly up the path towards the orange light ahead.
Over the hill is the warm glow of Bon Fire. Every year on Halloween night this small group of friends gets together. They take turns telling scary stories, catch up on each other’s lives and share some good times. Over the past few years Bon Fire has turned into a regular ritual, as sure as the autumn breeze and falling leaves.
Jenna, now wearing sneakers and a hat, walks the path up to the bon fire. As she does, the young lady emerges from the woods and gets in step beside her. They walk in unison and Jenna makes her feel comfortable with a casual introduction.
“Hey, I’m Jenna,” she says.
“Samantha,” the girl responds.
“Is this your first time at Bonfire?”
“Yeah,” Samantha says.
“That’s cool… good people here. It’ll be fun.”
Jenna gets a warm greeting from all when she reaches the Bon Fire. After the greetings, everyone sits. There are three large tree logs lying on their sides as make shift benches. They are positioned in a semi-circle around the fire pit. Roaring flames spew ten feet into the air. Lynn is already seated comfortably next to Danny. John takes a seat next to them. Steve and his fiancée, Amanda, are seated with Keith on the center bench. Jenna sits herself down on the third log and with her hand, pats the space next to her signaling for Samantha to sit. As soon as Samantha sits, John smiles at her and Samantha smiles back.
I knew it! Jenna thinks to herself.
“Well, let’s get things started,” John suggests to the group.
Steve turns to him, “We can’t start without Ritchie.”
“Are we sure he’s even coming? He didn’t make it last year.”
“He’ll be here, he gave me his word,” Steve says.
“Ritchie always has some of the best stories, anyway,” Amanda adds. “We can’t start without him.”
The group falls silent, staring at the flames, stabbing furiously at the night sky. They bask in Bon Fire’s heat and the growl and crackle of the blaze is music to their ears. Lynn and Danny are making small talk and flirting with each other. Keith pokes the fire with a stick sending sparks into the sky. Jenna notices Samantha’s shoes and asks her about them.
“I love the shoes, Sam. Where’d you pick them up?”
“Oh, these? Got em’ at the General Store last week.”
“Yeah, I think I know the place. It’s in the mall, right?” Jenna asks.
“Uh…Yeah, you really like them?”
“Love them. They look very vintage, chic. You know?”
The group hears a car pulling up in the distance. Steve looks up questioningly, then smiles. “It’s Ritchie.”
“Thank God,” John says. “I want to get things rolling. I got a story this year that is killer!”
“No doubt, it has a lot of sex in it.” Amanda says, ribbing him and laughing.
Lynn breaks in with a sudden memory.
“Oh yeah, what the hell was that soft core porn story that you told last year?”
“You liked that, Right?” John teases.
“We’re supposed to be telling scary stories, not shit you read in Penthouse Forum,” Lynn says. Everyone in the group chuckles.
Ritchie walks over the hill with his girlfriend, Sasha. Everyone gets up to greet them, shaking hands and kissing. They catch up briefly on each other’s latest happenings then begin to settle down. Steve throws a huge log into the center of the fire sending a shower of glowing orange sparks into the air. The group collectively takes this as a sign to begin their Halloween ritual and move to find seating positions. Steve remains standing taking the moderator position as he usually does at Bon fire.
“OK, settle down people. Is everyone here now?” He asks.
Jenna waves her hand to get Steve’s attention.
“Wait, where’s Samantha?”
“I think I saw her heading into the woods,” Amanda says.
“Again?” Jenna says. “Hey John, looks like your girl has a bladder problem. Hope it’s not a UTI.”
“My girl?” John questions. “I wish! What makes you think she’s my girl?”
“Well, didn’t she come here with you?” Jenna asks.
“No, I thought she came with you?”
The group is dumbfounded. They stare at Jenna with wide eyes and gaping jaws. Lynn puts her hand up to her mouth to muffle a gasp. After a few moments, Jenna stands and walks to the edge of the woods. She calls out into the darkness.
“Samantha…Sam?” There is no answer.
“What made you think she came here with me?” John asks. Before Jenna can answer, Steve interjects. “She came up the path with you, Jenn.”
“She came out of the woods and walked up the path with me, she didn’t drive here with me and Lynn, though.”
Everyone seems to mull the situation over for a minute, letting it sink in. Finally, Amanda steps forward and says, “Whoever she is, and however she got here – I think we should go look for her.”
“Yeah, your right. We can’t leave her stranded out here in the woods. Anybody got a flashlight?” Keith asks.
“I do,” Ritchie says.
“I do, too,” says John.
The group stands at the edge of the woods looking into the immutable darkness. Jenna calls out into the woods, again.
“Samantha!” No answer or sound comes in return.
“Amanda, where did you see her enter the woods? Which way did she go?” Steve asks.
“Right through here,” Amanda replies.
She points to an area next to some high bushes. “On this path,” She adds.
“That’s not a path,” John says.
Steve steps forward and pushes some branches with thick leaves aside. A wider, dark space opens up behind the foliage. Ritchie aims his flashlight in the space. Although it is quite overgrown and covered with years of forest debis, there is evidence of a cobblestone walkway.
“Yep, it’s a path alright,” he says. “I’ll lead the way with the flashlight. John, you follow behind everyone else with the other light. Girls, stay on the path and in between the flashlights.” The group enters the shadowed tunnel of greenery in a single file with Ritchie leading the way. Steve and John hold back the leafy branches for everyone to follow. Once everyone is on the path, Steve runs to catch up to Ritchie.
For the moment, let us be a fly-on-the-wall. Actually, for this situation, a cricket on a tree branch would be more appropriate. We are perched on a high branch overlooking a slim path through a dense wooded area. We can hear the approach of humans. Their footfalls are alien to the sounds of this landscape. As they creep even closer, they break the natural rhythm of the forest. We eavesdrop on small snippets of their conversations as they pass beneath our tree branch.
Ritchie and Steve pass first, flashlight bouncing and bobbing with Ritchie’s stride.
“This is totally weird. I don’t see anybody or anything out here,” Ritchie says.
“Where the hell did she come from?” Steve asks.
“And, where the hell did she go?” Ritchie adds as they continue out of earshot.
Amanda and Sasha come under our scrutiny next. Sasha is saying, “I don’t like this, I got goose bumps all over my skin.”
“We can’t leave her out here, she’s got to be somewhere,” Amanda says.
Jenna and Keith come into view next. Jenna stops for a moment, cups her hands around her mouth and yells.
Her voice reverberates through the woods. She pauses for a response but there is none. Jenna hustles to catch up to Keith who had continued walking.
Heading toward us next is Lynn and Danny.
“I figured she was about eighteen years old, Lynn says, “If she came with one of us she would have to be at least eighteen. But, now that I think of it, she didn’t look a day over sixteen. Or, maybe even younger, like fourteen.”
Danny just listens and nods his head. John, who is directly in back of the two, adds his own thoughts.
“Did you see her clothes; they looked like some kind of Amish school girl outfit.”
John stumbles on a rock throwing him off stride for a moment. The flashlight beam bounces upward and startles us. We scurry a few steps backward on the tree limb – ducking behind a crop of oak leaves. It’s a cricket’s perfect hiding place for the night.
Further ahead on the path, things are beginning to unravel within the group.
“This is ridiculous,” Sasha says, “There’s nobody out here.”
Amanda calls to Ritchie and Steve, “Guys…I think we should head back.” Amanda and Sasha stop walking. Jenna and Keith catch up to them quickly and stop with them.
“Maybe your right,” Keith says. “We’ve been walking a while and there’s no sign of the girl out here.”
Ritchie yells from a distance up ahead on the path. “Wait, I think I see her.”
Ritchie and Steve both see her. Far ahead of them, Samantha is
ascending a steep hill on the path.
“Samantha!” Ritchie calls. From further back on the path Jenna yells, “Saaaam.”
The group begins to move again. Up ahead, Ritchie and Steve watch Samantha descend down the far side of the hill, her body sinking out of view, Samantha turns her head briefly to look at the oncoming men. She says nothing to them and continues on her way, disappearing out of sight. Ritchie and Steve are the only ones that see this. Ritchie walks swiftly advancing yards in front of Steve. As he starts to get up the hill to where he can see over it, he slows his pace.
“Oh, Damn,” Ritchie says, “This can’t be what I think it is.”
At the top of the hill Ritchie stops. Steve runs to catch up to him and stands by his side.
“This can’t be!” Ritchie says. Steve stutters, trying to express his feelings. “I…I…I can’t believe this.”
Sasha and Amanda run up the embankment. As soon as Sasha sees what the guys are looking at she screams.
“What…what is it?” Amanda asks. Amanda sees what they see but it doesn’t sink in at first. Then it hits her and she begins to quiver. Sasha turns and runs back down the path in the direction they had come. Amanda turns quickly to follow her.
Both girls run passed Jenna and Keith who are just climbing the embankment. Sasha looks terrified and Jenna notices that Amanda has tears running down her cheeks. ‘What is it?” Jenna yells, but the two girls rush past her at a frantic pace. John shrugs then turn to follow the girls and provide light so they stay on the trail. Jenna and Keith reach the top of the hill and stand along side Ritchie and Steve. Jenna feels as if she had just been punched in the chest and Keith begins breathing heavily. There is no sign of Samantha. Jenna stares numbly at what lies before her. An old cemetery stretches out to the horizon.
(c) Michael Thomas-Knight. Used by permission
Originally published in The Clock Tower Black (Goblin Press 2007)
Michael Thomas-Knight is an author of over fifty horror fiction short-stories and articles published in magazines, web-zines, and print anthologies. Michael’s style ranges from classic ghost stories to atmospheric Eldritch tales steeped in mysticism, cynicism, and irony. When he’s not writing fiction, Michael build’s vintage monster model kits and reviews horror movies, books, and items at his blog, Parlor of Horror.
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelthomasknight