Firstly, I apologize for taking so long to get started. I’m a horrible procrastinator. I do promise that once I get going, I don’t stop. So now that I’ve gotten over my nerves and posted something, this should move along nicely.
Secondly, I am still kind of stone age about computers, so if I post this in the wrong section or mess up the poll, I apologize in advance.
Without further hesitation, here’s the story:
Bored kids do stupid things.
Everyone knows this, because at some point, everyone was a kid. And at some point, they got bored, and something stupid happened. Maybe they took the family car out for a joyride and crashed it into a ditch. Maybe they tried to hitchhike to another city. Maybe they prank called everyone with the last name “Foster” in the phone book. Whatever it is, it’s stupid, and it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t gotten bored.
Mark and Sarah were kids, and they were bored.
Mark was sixteen, Sarah was fifteen. They were next door neighbors, and because of when their birthdays fell in the school year they were in the same grade. They had the same homeroom and the same gym class. They walked home from school together. They weren’t dating, no matter what their classmates said.
School had finally ended for the summer. The first week had been spent in the usual teenage delirium of freedom. They’d stayed up late, watching old horror movies and playing video games. Then they’d slept until noon and their parents kicked them out of whichever den or family room they’d holed up in for their marathon so they could get some fresh air and sunshine.
The second week, they’d gone out to the movies, hung out at the mall, and played more video games. Mark was determined to beat Sarah’s high score. Sarah was determined he wouldn’t. So far, Sarah was winning that one.
Now it was the third week, and they had run out of things to do.
Well, they could have started on their summer reading, but it was still June so no. They could have taken up a hobby, but they didn’t feel like it. It was one of those long, long summer weeks where there’s probably something you could be doing, but the heat and the long, long stretch of summer yet to come makes you want to do something but too tired to bother.
“So, anyone ever tell you about those woods out behind the school?” Mark asked while he sipped at the lemonade Sarah’s mom had made for them.
Sarah was, at that moment, dangling by her knees from her old playground monkey bars. And trying to drink her own lemonade. The attempt wasn’t the most successful endeavor. Lemonade ended up going up her nose.
After a spluttering fit, Sarah handed Mark her cup and flipped down to the ground. “What about them?”
“You know they’re haunted, right?”
Sarah laughed as she shook her short, black hair. “Oh, come off it, Mark. Everyone knows that’s just a story the teachers started to keep the students out of the woods.”
“You think so? Then why did they block off the road going through it, huh?”
“Sinkhole.” Sarah shrugged and rolled her emerald green eyes.
“They’d just pave over that or something.” Mark handed Sarah back her drink.
“Not if no one really ever used that road.” Sarah’s father worked for the civic planning council in town, so she figured she knew more about closing and repaving roads than Mark did.
“What if somebody died? Would they close off the road then?” Mark asked, his voice soft and his warm brown eyes wide.
“Maybe,” Sarah shrugged, “but only if there were like a hazard or something. Like a sinkhole,” she added.
“What is with you and sinkholes?” Mark asked.
Sarah shrugged. She’d never thought much about sinkholes before this conversation. After this conversation, she might never think about them again.
“So who told you those woods were haunted?” Sarah asked.
“It’s like everywhere. Even on the net,” Mark said.
“What isn’t on the Internet?” Sara said.
“Well, yeah, I know you can’t trust everything you see on the net, but, seriously. I don’t know how you haven’t heard about this!”
“Just tell me already, you dweeb,” Sarah said.
“Okay, okay. I didn’t think you even liked ghost stories,” Mark said.
Sarah shrugged and climbed back onto the monkey bars one handed, the other hand clutching her mostly empty cup of lemonade. “What else we got to talk about?”
“Point,” Mark said. He settled onto the old tire swing and let it spin idly. “Okay. It goes like this: That old road through the woods used to lead to what passed for a town center, way on back in like the Civil War days or something.”
“Really,” Sarah said.
“Yeah. There was a post office, a little general store, stuff like that. But the city expanded and things happened, maybe Union soldiers came in and burned everything. Anyway, the town center got moved and the town got bigger, but the old post office is still there. Just sitting there, in the middle of those woods.”
“Why would the town center be built in the middle of the woods?” Sarah asked.
“Well, there weren’t woods back then. It was all a big field. Obviously.”
“Obviously. Okay, so there’s maybe or maybe not an old building in there someplace. So what?”
“I’m getting to it! Sheesh you’re impatient.”
Sarah twisted and stretched out her legs so that she rested across the monkey bars on her stomach, with her chin perched in her hands and her feet kicking up in the air. “I’m just not seeing what the big deal is.”
“According to all the stories, if you drive into those woods, nothing will happen. I mean, if you could drive through. But if you stop, or get out of your car, or go in on foot… you’ll never come out again.”
“That’s it? Mark, that’s weak, even for a stupid ghost story.”
“Well… yeah, there’s more. But you won’t believe me.” Mark tossed his empty cup into the air and fumbled catching it, splashing a few drops of lemonade on his denim shorts.
“They say that you can hear people screaming for help if you stand just outside the woods, and if you drive through at midnight your car will stop right when you pass the old post office, and if you step outside to find out what’s wrong with the engine you’ll never be seen again. The only way to survive is to stay in your car until the sun comes up, and if you do your car will start and you can get out of there. They say that’s really why they closed the road.”
“So,” Mark said, “You want to check it out?”
“Check what out?”
“The haunted woods!”
“One, why? Two, we can’t drive. You failed your driver’s test and my parents won’t let me get a learner’s permit. Three, no one can drive through that road, they closed it off.”
“I wasn’t suggesting we drive,” Mark said.
“You want to walk all the way to the school during summer break,” Sarah said, “to traipse through some supposedly haunted woods, in 95 degree weather?”
“Sure. You got any better ideas?”
Sarah sat up on the monkey bars and slipped down between two of them.
“I guess I don’t,” she said. “But isn’t hunting for ghosts in broad daylight kind of pointless?”
Mark shrugged and stood up. “Ghosts are just easier to see in the dark. They’re there all the time.”
“Guess you’re the expert,” Sarah said.
“Let’s go tell your mom where we’re gonna be,” Mark said.
Sarah nodded and collected Mark’s cup. They wandered inside. She rinsed out the cups while Mark went to the archway separating the kitchen from the living room.
“Mrs. Richards?” Mark called.
“Right here,” she said, waving a hand from somewhere deep within a pile of boxes and wires. “Just rewiring this blasted thing. What do you need?”
“Is it okay for me and Sarah to go for a walk?”
“That’s Sarah and me, and sure.” Sarah’s mother said, “Take plenty of water with you, though. It’s insane out there.”
“The water bottles are in the cabinet over the sink,” she added.
Soon, the intrepid ghost hunters were equipped with a small digital camera, two water bottles each, and a ziplock baggy full of trail mix. Sarah grabbed her cell phone, mostly because it was the only other thing she had with a camera and they headed out the door and across town to their school.
The shade of the trees surrounding the high school was a welcome relief after the pounding heat of the sidewalks they’d walked on. They stopped to rest on the intramural field bleachers and plan out their next move.
“So, ghost hunter,” Sarah said, “What now?”
Mark shrugged. “I guess we walk down the haunted road, and see if anything happens.”
“That’s your plan?”
“Man, Mark, never go into military strategy, all right? Seriously, don’t.” Sarah laughed and bumped him off the bench with her shoulder. “We should have an actual objective. Like, say, find that little post office. That way we at least get some cool pictures of an old building.”
“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense,” Mark said.
“And I say we take that trail there,” she pointed, “through the woods. Where there’s shade.”
“No way! Everyone knows the haunting centers on the road.”
“And driving. We aren’t doing that, so we might as well stay off the road. Which is blocked off, and will be at least ten degrees hotter because of the blacktop.”
“I don’t know. I think we should stick as close to the story as we can.”
“You mean the story that ends with people vanishing?”