All six of the friends snapped their heads one way and then the other.
“What the heck was that?” Lila cried out.
“Hmm…maybe it was a ghost,” Jason uttered with a devilish grin.
“I’m warning you, guys – stop with the creepy stuff!” Rachel shrieked, her voice shaking from what the others assumed was fear.
“Oh, relax…it was probably a squirrel. You know how Towson has a problem when it comes to those things,” Jason said.
But Rachel couldn’t shake the feeling that they weren’t the only ones lurking in the woods. She stared into the darkness, as if she was looking for something that wasn’t quite there. She saw nothing out of the ordinary, but the slight rustling of the leaves and unsteadiness of the mulch that they stood on told a different story.
“Okay, wait — I still want to hear the rest of the story. AJ, you never finished what you were saying,” Jordan pointed out. He took a seat on a nearby log that he’d dragged closer to the fire pit. Mariah took a seat next to Jordan and they both stared expectantly at AJ.
“No no no, how about we talk about something else…anything else? How are classes going for everyone?” Rachel attempted to deflect.
“Boooo! BORING…Tell the rest of the story!” Jordan called. “Rachel, you’ll be fine…”
And to that, she grumbled quietly, but crossed her arms in an effort to let the storytelling continue.
“I mean, it’s not much of story…my dad used to go here and has heard stories. He said something about how when this property was a prison, this area saw the worst of the worst criminals. And it wasn’t just robbers or murderers. Apparently back then, there were also people who did conjure or black magic and crap like that —”
“Okay, stop lying – you’re just trying to freak everyone out,” Rachel interjected.
“No, I’m not. It was like a huge thing in this area way back then. Tons of people used that dark magic to commit crimes – poisoning people, breaking into houses, making people ‘vanish’ [he gestured with air quotes] – it was a twisted time.”
“You don’t actually believe in that stuff, do you?” Mariah scoffed. She had rose and now stood next to Rachel with her arms around the frightened girl’s shoulders.
“I don’t know. I wanna say no but it kinda makes sense. The prison burnt down like 200 years ago but no one knows how.”
AJ squatted down to stoke the fire, which was now dying off. In the low light, it was hard to make out much of anything but in the tiny flames, AJ’s face appeared to redden and the light created shadows on his profile. So, as he spoke, it seemed more like an incantation than a tale.
“They didn’t have machines or central heaters like we do nowadays that can malfunction so it’s mystery as to how a fire, big enough to engulf the entire prison, was started.”
“Dude, an inmate probably had matches or something.”
“That’s what I thought! But my dad was all like, ‘Matches didn’t really exist then’…and I mean, they did, but they had like JUST been invented so how could a prisoner have them? See, it’s freaky because the logic is there, too.”
“So, you think that someone conjured a massive fire or something as a way to get out? Why would they do that?” Lila spoke now; the rest of the group had almost forgotten that she was there.
“Maybe they saw it as a sacrifice or something?” Jason chimed in.
“Or maybe fire was the only thing they could think of strong enough to release them from the prison chains,” AJ said. “Like, chains nowadays are better quality, I’m sure but even 200 years ago, you couldn’t just shake yourself free – prisoners would try and try, but it didn’t work. Maybe they had tried to melt them using fire and it just…backfired.”
“OR…maybe it was a mistake and there was no prison and there was no black magic and there was no fire. Maybe everyone lived happily ever after. So can we PUH-LEASE move on now?!” Rachel was no longer standing in the corner, but now towered over a crouching AJ. She had had enough.
The fire at this point had begun to grow and as its flames rose higher, each person was illuminated from its light. Rachel looked around as she said, “All in favor of changing the subject, please say ‘I’.”
“Chill, chill – I’ll stop. There’s really not much more to tell. The rest is speculation, anyhow. Here, take this and be happy,” AJ handed Rachel a bag of marshmallows and the box of graham crackers.
“Where are the sticks for the marshmallows?” Mariah asked as she walked towards Rachel and reached for the box.
“I don’t know. I think Jordan brought them,” Rachel put two marshmallows in her mouth and sat on the ground near the fire, reading something off the front of the bag.
“Wait. Where is Jordan?” Lila pointed to the empty spot on the log where he had been sitting. He was no longer there.
A mix of fear and confusion waved through the group. Silence enveloped the scene at the fire pit as they looked from one to another. No one spoke, unsure of what to say, and this continued until Rachel let out a loud cry…
“What the hell?!” Jason asked, covering his ears and frantically looking from side to side, as if there was something lurking that he had neglected to see.
Rachel said nothing, but with one hand covering her mouth and another outstretched, she pointed to something shiny that lay across the log. Jason walked over and, using the light from his phone, retrieved the object and held it out to the group.
“Handcuffs?” Lila asked as she squinted to see it better.
Stay tuned for Part III…