Small flames stirred in the center of the ring, burning through the piles of dry leaves, and brushwork, dividing and growing, exploding when they touched the pile of logs in the middle. In an instant, the flames roared up into a swirling inferno that burned the evening sky red, and orange. Smoke rolled off the firepit in thick waves, carpeting the forest ground and lake in a hazy fog. Slowly, the flames made their way up into the sky, its embers resembling swarms of fireflies that drifted lazily back down to earth. Just as quickly as it had roared to life, the fire began to dwindle, dying down to a gentle blaze that reminded them of comfortable memories of years past when they used to camp out beneath the stars.
They had followed the note down to the last miniscule detail. Everything was perfect, now they just had to wait for Jessie.
“Watch it hot shot!” Cypress screeched, jumping back from the roaring inferno that suddenly blazed to life, “You gonna burn us all!”
“Ohhh be quiet Cypress,” Shyne muttered under his breath, using a branch to poke around in the bed of ash and amber. “I can’t help that we are surrounded by pine trees.”
“Yo Shyne, when would Jesse be here?” Abigail shouted over to Shyne, who was tending the fire as she plopped down on one of the logs that served as their chairs this warm, summer evening.
He shrugged, barely turning to look in her direction, his thoughts preoccupied with keeping the fire steady for the surprise tonight.
“Yeah, I wondered why he made us come out here this late,” replied Diana, who plopped down next to her. She waved a bag of marshmallows in front of her, which she grabbed eagerly before stuffing one in her mouth.
“Well, I hope whatever the surprise is worth it,” Abigail said, her mouth stuffed with the gooeyness of the little square of sugar. Hopefully, they would have time tonight to cook some on the campfire.
“Yeah well, if you ask me, I think he is slipping big time. I mean, come on guys,” Cypress exclaimed, pacing back and forth, and throwing the occasional look at their watch.
Nobody knew why they were here except that they all got a note from their friend Jessie this afternoon, telling them to meet up here in the middle of the woods with a story in mind. Some of them have risked everything to be here, such as Abigail who parents didn’t even know she was gone.
But Jessie told them that it was going to be important, so they made an effort to show up.
Everyone but Jessie himself, the man of the hours.
Something snapped behind them, causing them to turn, staring wide-eyed at the brush that concealed this clearing. A moment passed, and for a second, they passed it off as one of the creatures of the woods; a harmless rabbit or if they were lucky a young deer.
But another twig snapped, and out of the corner of her eye, Abigail saw Cypress raise a hand to their chest.
Jessie stepped out of the brush, carrying his signature hiking bag, a huge smile plastered on his face, “What were you saying about this not being worth your time?”
Cypress mumbled something underneath their breath, their face tinged with a shade of bright red, “Geez Jessie, you scared us.”
“I think what you mean is he scared you,” Abigail interjected, throwing a marshmallow square at Cypress’ shoulder.
Cypress threw up their hands defensively to block the marshmallow, but miscalculated, and fell onto the forest floor, causing the entire gang to roar in laughter. Brushing themself off, they stood up, face flushed red, “Ha, ha guys, real funny!”
“Hey, I’m sorry for hurting your feelings. Come sit down with us, enjoy a marshmallow, they’re harmless!” Abigail stated apologetically, motioning for the gang to stop laughing, and patted the now vacant log where Cypress sat beforehand. Grudgingly, they sat down, taking a marshmallow from the bag between Diana.
“Since this is our last summer as students in high school, well some of us and I were thinking of starting a tradition,” Jessie asked, taking a seat by Shyne, his face in a wide grimace, as he motioned to everyone before taking a marshmallow. He unbuckled his bag and pulled out a book in leather binding. Looking around at the gang, he straightened up, before announcing in a booming voice that echoed across the clearing, As you know, I have been helping my parents move stuff out of my grandfather’s house, and we stumbled upon this.”
“What is it, Sherlock," Shayne piped sarcastically, raising his hands to his open mouth.
Jessie rolled his eyes, much to Shayne’s disappointment, and continued with his announcement, “This, my lovely friends, is a book of scary stories that my grandfather made with his friends when he was about our age.” He brandished the book in front of them as if he was one of those people who try to show off new cars, and the gang howled with laughter.
“Wait, are you telling me that we are going to form a spooky society,” Abigail asked inquisitively. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cypress perk up, their attention now focused on the mysterious book.
In school they had tried to form a horror society, but it was eventually banned by the board of education because it promoted violence. Come to find out that talking about the best murder weapon is not school appropriate.
Quickly, Jessie flipped through the worn pages, his attention fixated on his grandfather’s book, “Precisely, this book continues some story to start off our spooky session. It’s priceless. And to top it off, the story sounds terrifying. I mean they continue stories on vengeance, betrayal, murders, and so much more!”
“Well, have you read it by any chance,” Diana asked, as she passed a basket of skewers around, before impaling a marshmallow.
“No, and that is why, by the approval of the Midnight Club, I present to you my grandfather’s book, Doom, Darkness, Despair: Tales from the Other World. I’ll read five stories and then give y’all the floor.”
Leaning forward, he tossed in the powder from a satchel he had in his pocket, and the fire roared to life, painting the night sky shades of vibrant green. After a moment passed, it died down, the flames sputtering, and hissing as it consumed the piles of logs, and leaves. Eventually it died down, giving off a comfortable wave of heat, and providing a perfect atmosphere for campfire tales.
Jessie cleared his throat, and with that, the first story quivered, and came to life…