The fire flickers, casting long shadows on the ground. Eight hunched over figures are gathered around the warmth of the fire. We sit on ancient wooden benches with various blankets strewn across our legs.
“Charlotte, it’s your turn to tell a ghost story,” Tim says in a monotonous manner. The light of the fire glints in our eyes. I shiver even though the midsummer night is warm and humid. I feel sixteen pairs of eyes fixed on me. I open my mouth to begin an improvised horror story. I pause for a moment to get my bearings. I run through several openings in my head. I need one that will catch my peers’ attention.
“Once, on a night much like this one…” I begin. Several of my friends look up at me. I’ve gained their attention and interest. “Summer of ‘99. Someone decided to throw a party,” I pause trying to find a way to relate the story to each and every one of us. With an exasperated sigh, I continue the story. “A bunch of high schoolers,” I decide “Twenty to be exact. After partying for a while, the drunken teens decided to go swimming in the lake.” The Minnesota woods trembled with an ominous wind. We all fall silent as a coyote howls and the looming full moon hangs above us. The fire crackles joyously as Sarah places more kindling on the open flames. I begin again. “Some of them stayed behind. After a couple hours the large group that went swimming returned to this very place. They found fresh blood and several corpses, none of the muscle tissue remained, only bones.” I am interrupted by Tim.
“We’ve all heard of wendigos Charlotte,” he says with a bored tone.
“Shh, let her finish,” Adam says, in my defense.
“Go on,” Sarah reminds me. I think of ways to start the story back up again. I wish that a more unique story element would just pop into my head. My performance is not one bit scary. I need something to add to it. Something to add substance. Suddenly a thought pops into my head. As I open my mouth to continue the story, I hear a twig snap somewhere in the surrounding woods. Our party falls dead silent. Anjelica lets out a mix of a piercing shriek and a shout. She quickly covers her mouth. Adam presses his index finger to his lips. I cautiously stand. I look at the dirt path we took to arrive at this fire pit. The moonlight casts awkward shadows. The fire hisses and steams as Adam pours water over it. The once crackling fire is extinguished. For a second, I can hardly see anything. My eyes soon adjust to the horrifying darkness.
“Everyone run back to the car,” Rachel suggests fearfully. My heart slams against my ribcage. The group takes off at a run. We run as a group, a pack. I can sense something following us but I dare not look behind me. I pant slightly. Rachel trips over a pothole. She screams as we pass her by. I keep running down the deserted trail, keeping my eyes and attention on reaching the car at all cost. Rachel’s screams of agony pierce the silence. Beads of sweat form on the crest of my forehead. We run for what feels like an eternity. I trip over a fallen branch. I hit the ground hard. I see Adam stop.
“Go! Save yourself.” I shout as he grabs my hand and pulls me into a hard sprint. We catch up with the group. I see illuminated street lamps around one hundred meters ahead of us. I see my silver car. This is the home stretch. I take a deep breath and run as fast as I can. The light stings my eyes. My muscles burn. I unlock the car as fast as humanly possible. I jump in and rev the engine. Six people pile into the car. Rachel and Tim are gone. I put my foot on the gas and speed down the mountain towards the city. Wet tears stain my cheeks. I am still panting. The car is deathly silent.
I look into the rear-view mirror and see four shadowy figures standing at the mouth of the trail. I feel dizzy, adrenaline pumps through my veins. We drive into the night. Never will we forget the horror of the woods and what it took from us.