Chapter One: In Which I Make a Bad Decision
The flames of the bonfire were mesmerizing, snapping out at the darkness like the dragon’s tongues Sparks rose through the air and melted into the stars, bright orange flecks mixing amongst the silver ones to adorn the midnight sky. Alcohol splashed out of loosely gripped bottles, dripping on the ground near the fire in a manner that felt very much like tempting fate. Voices shouted above the noise that enveloped the clearing, off-key, and struggling to keep up with the music that burst from multiple speakers. Costumed figures moved about, silhouetted against the fire with a variety of capes, claws, and fur.
It was all very macabre really, and it was no surprise to hear a sudden, blood-curdling scream rise from the trees. A haunting response followed,
“Carl just fell in the creek!”
I pushed my curly, orange wig off my forehead and squinted in the direction of said creek, from which the very grim sounds of cursing, splashing, and more cursing were emanating.
“Sounds like Carl fell in the creek,” I remarked. A poorly costumed Dracula, complete with streaky white face paint, leaned over to me and whispered,
I reached over and shoved the pointed collar of his cape away from my neck,
“No clue, let me ask Phil,” I whispered back, unsure of why we were whispering, and leaned over to where Phil sat on my right, “Who’s Carl?”
Phil leaned back,
“I don’t know.”
“Thanks,” I leaned back to the Dracula, “He doesn’t know.”
“Boo,” Dracula said and threw a handful of popcorn in the direction of the fire. I frowned down at the bag of popcorn, realizing that he had been snacking on it for the past five minutes.
“Did you bring popcorn to a party?” I asked. The man crunched down on another handful of kernels,
“Sure did. Hey, do we know each other?”
“Doubtful, and let’s keep it that way.” I turned away from the Dracula and fiddled around in the dirt for the bottle of whiskey that had been passing around. Popping the cap off, I eyed the top of the bottle, smeared with various layers of random makeup.
“You gonna drink or stare?” Phil asked. I silently passed it to him. He took one measured sip, considered for a moment, then threw his head back and downed what appeared to be half the bottle.
“Ease up,” I warned, snatching the bottle away. He thumped his chest and belched,
“I can’t get drunk anymore Froggy, you know me.”
“I don’t think that’s strictly true,” I muttered, and passed the bottle to the Dracula who made grasping motions at it.
“You two know each other?” he asked, gesturing at me and Phil.
“What is with you and people knowing each other?” I asked.
“You’ve been together all night,” Dracula said defensively.
“Oh right. Yeah we know each other,” I agreed. Dracula squinted back and forth for a moment,
“Why is he dressed like Charlie Chaplin and you’re a clown then?”
“Well we didn’t coordinate our costumes-why are you so curious?” I demanded.
“This party blows,” Phil burst out suddenly, diverting my attention from the strange and irritating fellow to my left. I swiped a chunk of dried makeup out of the corner of my eye and inspected it,
“Well, we are sitting quietly on the edge. You could try engaging with that group there, they seem to be having a nice time dancing the conga around the fire. Oh never mind, they were just trying to push that one fellow in. Is that safe?”
“It’s fine, it’s just Marvin,” Phil threw his blunt to the side, and smothered it with the brim of his bowler hat.
“Well you dragged me here, so any boredom is on you,” I pointed out. Phil shrugged agreeably, and I picked the whiskey back up.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
I jumped and looked to my right to see Dracula breathing boozily into my face.
“What is wrong with you?” I snapped.
“Ghosts! Ghouls! Spirits!” he waggled his gloved fingers about an impression of said spooks.
“Yeah, I know what ghosts are.”
“Course Froggy doesn’t believe in ghosts!” Phil chimed from my other side, “She’s too practical for that.”
“Yeah, I’m too practical,” I growled, taking a swig from the bottle, having decided that appearances were currently more important than germs. A delicate spark floated in front of my eyes and I brightened, “Lord almighty, is that a fairy?”
“Y’all talking about ghosts?” a strong Southern accent made the three of us jump and scream.
“What was that?” Dracula demanded. A soaking wet man stepped into our view, shivering slightly.
“Dammit Carl,” Phil said.
“Fall in creeks much?” I asked, giggling to myself. Carl did not look amused. His zombie makeup dripped in defeated streaks down his face.
“Carl this is Froggy, Froggy this is Carl,” Phil said, waving a hand at the both of us. Carl eyed me,
“Any friend of Phil is a friend of mine,” he said with insulting reluctance.
“And any friend of a creek is a friend of mine,” I replied, holding my hand out. Carl, rather unsurprisingly, did not accept it, choosing instead to seat himself near Phil. I wondered how his soaking attire wasn’t growing uncomfortable, it being both mid October and night.
“Haven’t seen you in a bit,” Phil told him, “Two months, has it been?”
“More,” Carl said, drinking some whiskey, “Things got hairy after the mugging and subsequent three-county chase.”
“Someone mugged you?” I asked.
“No, I mugged them.”
“Oh.” I leaned back against the tree.
“I heard you guys talking ghosts,” Carl said, apparently keen to move past the topic of mugging, “You want to hear a ghost story?”
“No,” Dracula popped up again, “I have a ghost story.”
“Lotta active ghosts around here,” I muttered.
“I saw a ghost,” Dracula barreled on with determination, “In a haunted house.”
“A haunted house.” Phil repeated. Dracula seemed to think this was pretty big news because he sat back to beam and survey our expressions, or lack thereof.
“Well congratulations,” I said with a light belch, upon seeing that no one else had any other response. I personally didn’t care a wink about ghosts, figuring if they were real they would have bothered me by now, right alongside God and the devil.
“Hold up, saying that it’s haunted, seems… how do… why?” Phil tended to struggle with basic English late at night. The whiskey probably didn’t help either.
“Like I said, I saw a ghost there.” Dracula repeated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “I saw one in the house. It was the ghost of old man Wilkens.”
“The cannibal one?” Carl gasped.
“Oh that old place. I thought that got torn down a long time ago,” I remarked.
“Let’s go back to the cannibal thing,” Phil said.
“Yeah, you know the family of creepy hillbillies that supposedly lived way back in the boonies in the early nineteen-hundreds. The Wilkens, they ate people,” I explained. The proof behind these so-called cannibals was iffy at best, but our county was a sleepy one, and people wrung every ounce of abnormality out of whatever they could dig up.
“Got it.” Phil nodded, then stabbed a finger at Dracula, “I call your bluff. There ain’t no ghosts up there.”
“You don’t believe in ghosts?” Carl asked.
“Ghosts are nonsense,” Phil and I replied in unison. I held up my hand for a fist bump. Phil gave me a high five. We both missed, and Carl muttered darkly under his breath.
I knew that Phil had his reservations on the undead, not out of some logical sense of realism, but because he had more pressing things to believe in. He tended to change his beliefs often, based on things like the angle of the sun, or how nice a flower smelled, and I had known him to believe in spirits in the past. Last I had checked, however, he had decided that it was impossible for someone to remain after death, and decided to put his beliefs in something a little more concrete. Wendigos.
“I can prove it.” Dracula interjected. He seemed pretty intent on proving this whole ghost thing. Why, I didn’t know.
“It’s only a little ways up that hill over there. We can walk.”
“Do we really even know you?” I asked.
“Nah, I think we just met ten minutes ago.”
“Oh, cheers then.”
“I’m in. We just have to watch for wendigos.” Phil clapped and rose waveringly to his feet. Carl followed suit, swiping some water from his hair,
“Only if you non-believers won’t freak out.”
“What? We’re seriously going to walk through the woods in the middle of the night, just to go look at an empty house?” I said, looking around. Everyone shrugged and mumbled their agreement. I waved them off,
“Well whatever, you guys go ahead. I’m not going tonight.”
Phil silently grabbed my denim jacket and handed it to me. I sighed heavily.