My childhood friend Kari could scare my socks off. She was a master story-teller, weaving her ghostly tales with just the right note of somber doom. Listening to her, it was easy to imagine "The Claw" reaching for me in the darkness, or the cold draft as a worried spook drifted past.
Kari lived at the very end of a narrow dirt road, seldom traveled, as their's was the only house left on it. The one other house along that road had burned down long years ago. It was a very dark road at night, so when I visited my friend I always tried to head for home long before darkness fell.
Kari had many horrific stories to tell about the large Victorian era home her family lived in and even worse ones about certain places along her road. There was the ghost who stomped up and down the stairs in her house all night long, and the man who accidently hanged himself in her barn. My friend made my hair stand on end with her terrible tales about the convict who was hanged on the huge, ancient oak that draped out over the road, or about the family of twelve that had perished in that burned down house, only to haunt the moss-covered foundation every night at midnight. Oh yes, and lest I forget, there was the tragic Native maiden who drowned herself in the swamp, over an unrequited love.
You can imagine then, that my trepidation was bordering more on abject fear one cool fall evening, when I ended up staying at Kari's too long and was forced to walk home alone in the pitch black of night. We were so busy happily playing, that neither of us noticed the windows getting darker, until my friend's mother came downstairs and exclaimed that I was late in leaving for home.
I think Kari could see the fear in my eyes, and she asked her mother for a flashlight that I could borrow until the next day. Her mom started to hand me a flashlight, but as she was doing so she pressed the switch, and alas the batteries were dead. There was nothing for it but to walk home in the dark.
Kari walked with me to the end of her long lane, at which point I told her she could go back. I would be fine by myself. I'd be home before I knew it. I stood and watched my friend until she disappeared into the darkness, then I turned and gingerly began to put one foot in front of the other.
The swamp was the first place I had to survive. I figured that if I didn't look toward the murky water I might avoid seeing the ghost that haunted it. I stared straight ahead, not yet running, but walking as fast as my little legs could go. Still, I was certain in my heart that at any moment the spectre would swoop in front of me. It wasn't until there was a good distance between me and the swamp that I breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. I'd gotten past the first horror alive!
On the one hand I was grateful for the scant moonlight that seeped through the trees. It helped me to make out where the road ended and the ditch began. On the other hand, the moon lit up the gnarled old oak tree's twisted branches that reached to the sky in a perpetual plea for mercy. I hurried past, expecting the sudden appearance of a ghastly figure dangling from a heavy rope tied to the thick branch that draped low over the road.
My heart pounding in my throat, I began to run. I ran so hard and fast that my breath came in short, searing bursts. I ran past the foundation of the old burnt house, not daring to spare even a glance in its direction. I ran until I threw open the door and pounced, full tilt into my own well-lit kitchen.
"You're late.", my mother said in a matter-of-fact tone that belied the worry beneath it.
A short while later, after I'd caught my breath and had been warmed by a belly-full of hot cocoa, the phone rang.
"I see you made it home OK.", Kari said over the phone.
"Were you scared?"
"Naw, I wasn't scared at all.", I answered, yawning sleepily.
Copyright © August 29, 2004
by Charmaine V.
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