“And there she was, hovering malevolently by the fireplace. There was dust everywhere and it was black as night. Only a sliver of light slipped through a crack in the door,” Bobby dramatically reiterated for the crowded campfire. “My heartbeat’s racing a mile an hour. I want to scream, but I’m too scared. I don’t move an inch, and neither does she.”
“I don’t believe any of this!” Kelly exclaimed. Everyone else nodded agreement.
“It’s true! I swear! She was right there in front of me! I was ten and very curious about everything.” He threw a mischievous wink at Kelly and continued, “So when we moved into this new place I had to investigate every corner and that’s how I ran into her.”
“The one on Baker Street?” Kyle, his older brother interjected.
“One and the same.”
“Go on,” Sheila answered when Bobby paused.
“Where was I…? Oh yeah, so this ghost and I are having a staring contest. Somehow, I found the courage to ask her who she was. The only thing she said to me was, ‘I don’t think she meant to do it.’ And then she vanished into thin air.” He paused, took a deep breath, and bent to reach into the cooler to dig for a beer. “Never saw her again. I tried. We lived in that place for three years and not another trace.”
No one actually believed his story. Even Kyle looked a little confused, assessing his little brother.
“Never?” Sheila finally asked, breaking the silence around the campfire.
“Not once,” he smirked.
“Wow! Good story bro,” Kyle shouted, hopping out of his chair and tossing his brother a manly high five.
Bobby smirked, his features sharpened under the firelight. “Yeah, you guys are just extremely gullible.”
Laughter spread around the fire. That was Bobby Hart. That strange friend that everyone loves. He makes everyone laugh and always seems to have a good time.
“Men!” That was Kelly Martin. She was the brainiac of the bunch. Often getting mistaken for Velma from Scooby Doo because she was so smart and happened to have short brown hair to match. Normally, she was a wild child—very unlike Velma—but since her father died last year, she’d settled down and spent less time getting in trouble. Sheila was happy to see her enjoying herself.
This camping trip was Bobby and Kyle’s idea, a way for childhood friends to get together during summer break. Bobby would be joining Kyle at Stanford next year and this would be the last time they’d all be together.
The campfire crackled its beautiful dance chasing the quiet darkness away, and warming Sheila’s temperature. This particular summer night was a tiny bit chilly, but her friends comfortably bundled up and continued downing their cold beers and telling ghost stories.
The firelight bounced off each of their faces. That, and the combination of the dark woods crept into Sheila’s blood and chilled. There was no reason for this feeling, but it was there and growing more powerful.
She used to come here as a kid and always loved it. She and her sister used to play hide and seek out in the woods when her parents rented the cabin, but this was the first time she’d been here without them.
As soon as Sheila had suggested this location she regretted it, but it was already too late. Her friends loved the idea.
It fascinated her how beautiful the country could be. Sheila’s eyes drifted out toward the trees. What she saw was impossible. It looked as though a tall tree-like shape was moving closer to the campfire. It’s the ghost stories, she thought. Add alcohol. Bad combo.
“Shay!” Kyle broke through her daydream. “Are you all right?”
They were all staring at her as if she had grown a third eye. She wanted to comfort her friends, if only she could comfort herself first. “Of course. I’m just a little tipsy and kind of tired,” she told them, as she returned her gaze to the creepy woods. The creepy shape was gone. Chalking it up to the atmosphere, she abandoned her chair, said goodnight to her friends, and curled up uncomfortably in her sleeping bag.
The occasional words loudly invaded the fabric walls of her tent, but the hammering of her heart was always louder. Tossing and turning, Sheila tried to con herself into sleep, but nothing worked. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. She had no idea how long she snuggled tightly in her sleeping bag before Kelly unzipped the tent and quietly stumbled into her own bag. Wildlife was the only thing she could hear, now. Maybe now she could finally sleep.
Running through the trails in her bare feet, Sheila chased after her sister. They were both laughing and having a good time. They were together. They were happy.
The grass at their feet was soft. The sun above their heads was hot and heady. At their backs, their parents were smiling and laughing. Everything was bright. Everything was right.
They’re running through the trails. The weather was the same. The feelings were the same, but where was her sister? She was just there! Speeding up, Sheila tried to catch up to her. Around one tree, then another. Nothing. She called out for her.
She looked back. Her parents weren’t there, either.
Sheila called out for her family. Scared now, she ran back the way she’d come. A stick jabbed her heel. She ignored the sting and kept searching.
“Shay! Wake up!” Faintly hearing the sound of Kelly’s voice, Sheila started to come back to consciousness.
Sheila opened her eyes. Kelly was the first thing she saw, looking worried. Her wide-eyes not blinking. “I’m okay, Kell. Just a nightmare.”
“Must’ve been a really bad one. You were screaming for your mom and dad. And someone named Serena like it was life or death.”
It could have been, she thought. She wanted to forget it but the pressure on her stomach made the task impossible. “I don’t remember,” she lied. Removing the drenched sleeping bag and standing, “I just need to get some air.”
One look at Sheila’s face forced Kelly to drop the subject. Although she wouldn’t let it go for long. “Give me a minute. I’ll go for the walk with you.”
“Thanks. I’m gonna go wash up.”
She knew she hadn’t convinced Kelly of anything, but she’d bought some time and hoped she could shake this disheartening feeling.
The sun streaked through the tops of the trees as Sheila shot down to the river, where she planned to at least wash her face. A flip-flop tumbled off her foot and her entire nightmare came back to her. The sinking feeling rose up from her gut and she almost choked. Something was wrong. Maybe she should go back home.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Startled, Sheila practically jumped out of her skin when Bobby came up behind her, dressed in nothing but green boxers and his usual cocky grin. Ignoring her scary appearance or not noticing, he threw his arm around her shoulder and led her to the river. Sheila loved Bobby dearly. The little brother she never had. She could almost forget the night’s events.
“This is a very special spot, Bobby,” she finally agreed.
“I’m glad you picked it.”
“Me too,” she lied. Then Bobby splashed into the river. Expectedly, he reached into the water and splashed a robotic Sheila. She squealed and rolled her eyes. “You’re gonna pay for that.”
“Bring it on sister.”
She jumped in after him. They were completely soaked and laughing loudly when they heard the twig snap. Sheila turned abruptly, her heart jumping into her throat. She held her breath until Kelly came around the corner.
Feeling foolish, she called Kelly into the water and forgot to be scared for a second. Kelly released the towel she had wrapped around her and tested the water with her toes. Bobby couldn’t resist the urge and splashed the poor girl with a tidal wave of cold water. She screamed, adjusted to the cold and ran in after Bobby.
Half an hour later, everyone reluctantly left the river. Sheila was the last one out. Bobby was the first. Trouble in the making, Sheila thought. Then he leaned over the tree and snatched Kelly’s towel. He pretended to pass it to her, but instead started making whipping motions with it until he had the girls running. Trying to escape.
Then Bobby went down with a loud, colourful oath. Instantly the girls went to check on him. He had sliced his foot and was surveying the damage when the girls turned around the tree.
“My big feet got away from me,” he joked, and smiled a big, flirty grin at Kelly. No doubt, hoping she would play nurse if he milked it. “Boy, it stings bad.”
“You big baby. It’s just a scratch,” Kelly told him, not willing to play along.
“What did you trip on?” Sheila wondered.
They all looked behind him. Kelly was the first one to screech. Then Sheila, but Bobby was the first to speak. “That can’t be what I think it is.”
“Probably not,” Kelly shakily agreed.
“It’s a—a human foot.” Sheila stated and then forced herself to look away. That’s when she saw it. A ghost. It was standing ahead on the trail, floating there without a care in the world and then Sheila realized. The hazel eyes, the short blonde hair, the abnormally tiny hands and the pink outfit she’d once had the exact match to.
“Serena?” she forced out of her empty lungs.
Unable to stop herself, Sheila ran to her.
“Serena!” she desperately pleaded with the strange vision as it started to fade. “Don’t go!” Looking into the unmistakable twin hazel eyes of her beloved sister, she screamed, “Please! Talk to me!”
“She didn’t mean to.”
“Who? Who didn’t mean to what?” But she was already fading away. “No, Serena!” Tears trickled down her cheeks as the feelings of loss, hopelessness, and fear splintered once again through her veins.
It’s gonna be all right now, Shay. Serena’s words rang heavily in her ears.
“Shay!” Kelly called.
Concern was a cannon running through the trees, catching up with her guilt to invade her shattered senses and bring her out of her shock. “I’m all right,” she called. Finding Bobby first, she asked, “How’s the leg?”
He chuckled, “I gotta be honest. I think I’m gonna lose it. I mean, they might have been able to save it but…”
“Kelly’s pre-med. She can chop it off for you.” They laughed. Just then, Kelly came down the opposite trail.
Anger lit her blue eyes dangerously, but her words didn’t betray the secret. “What was that all about?”
“You’ll just think I’m crazy.”
“Welcome to my life,” Bobby answered with a wink.
Kelly sent him a cross-eyed glare and he zipped his trap real quick. “Try me,” she stated as they made their way back to camp. Bobby hobbled quietly behind them, with the occasional grunt of pain.
“It’s my sister,” Sheila blurted out.
“Sister?” Bobby screamed.
“Yeah. That body back there. My twin sister. She disappeared when we were eleven. We went to stay with our grandfather for the weekend. I don’t remember why, but Gramps hadn’t seen us for a while, so we were happy to see him. When I woke up and she wasn’t in her bed I thought she might have already gone down to breakfast.” Tears puddled her irises, but she continued. “But she was nowhere to be found. Gramps hadn’t seen her. That’s when I started to panic.
“We looked for hours. The cops said she must have gone out the bedroom window. We were on the first floor, so it was possible. That was ten years ago now.”
Kelly placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “I’m really sorry, but she could still be out there somewhere. It’s improbable, but not impossible. You have to keep hope.”
“To be honest, I know she died that night. I don’t know how, but I felt… sliced in half somehow. I can’t explain it. I wish I could, but I just know it and I think that body back there is hers.” The tears exploded now. It felt so final when she said it out loud. Her sister was really gone.
“How could you know?” Kelly wanted to know.
“I saw her.”
Bobby and Kelly shared a look. One that meant they both thought their friend was losing her mind, but neither said so.
“She was a ghost or something. She even spoke to me. It had to be real!”
“What did she say?”
“’She didn’t mean it.’ I tried to throw questions at her, but she wouldn’t answer. Wouldn’t talk to me at all. No—wait! She told me it was gonna be okay afterward.” She turned for comfort now, “Guys, we have to find out if that is her back there. I could be wrong, right? I could be—”
“Exactly, sweetie. Let’s go call the cops and they’ll figure it out.”
“Wait!” She remembered Bobby’s story. “Bobby, your story was true, wasn’t it?”
He was clearly lost. “Huh?”
“The story you told us last night.”
He had a second of embarrassment and reluctantly admitted, “Yeah, but I never told anyone before.”
“Could it have been a kid? ‘She didn’t mean to do it.’ That’s what you said she said, right?”
He looked at her hopeful expression and answered honestly. “I didn’t get that close up, so yeah, I guess so.”
“Yeah,” he confirmed again.
“I think we lived in a place on Baker Street, by the old pharmacy building?” Bobby nodded. “We lived there when she went missing. We moved just after my sister went missing. I figured Mom couldn’t handle the memories.”
The cops would confirm it later. And Sheila would lose her sister all over again. This wasn’t how she wanted it to end. She’d always had hope… now even that was gone.
“How could someone do this to her? She was just a kid! We were just kids,” she choked on the last few words when Kelly wrapped her up in a big, stable hug as they waited for the cops to show and her mother, too.
Hours later they heard, “Sheila, honey?” Sabrina Marcs, her mother. Sheila would recognize her voice anywhere.
Serena nodded in her mother’s direction at the same time a bronze-skinned cop came up to them, with an evidence bag in his hands. She saw the contents and put it together instantly.
“Where did you find that?”
The cop looked stunned, but recovered quickly. “It was with the body. You’ve seen this before?” The item to which he was referring was a tiny golden watch with jewels littering its face. She remembered it clearly. Her mother had always cherished that thing.
“No,” she lied.
Her mother lied too. Sheila wanted to scream at her, but she waited till the cop was gone.
Serena stared wide-eyed in shock. She probably had expected Sheila to turn her mother immediately, but Sheila didn’t because she needed to know what happened to her sister. Serena wouldn’t say. Now that she knew her mother was involved in her sister’s disappearance, at the very least, she needed to know why.
When the cop was out of earshot, Sheila faced her mother. “What did you do?”
“Tell me!” she screamed, ignoring Serena’s gasp. Her mother’s face froze in fear. Serena hovered beside their mother, looking ready to console her. She was shaking her head at Sheila.
Maybe she was wrong, Sheila thought soberly. Then her mother started sobbing and apologizing profusely. “It was an accident. I swear!”
A gasp sounded at her back and Sheila remembered then that Kelly was still there. “What was an accident? I need to know what happened to Serena. You owe me that!” she couldn’t believe her mother knew all this time and never told her.
Sabrina raised puffy eyes to her daughter then, “I see her every day in you. You have to know how hard that is.”
“Is that why you nearly abandoned me after she disappeared? Because you couldn’t live with the guilt?”
All these years Sheila had thought her mother blamed her for not watching Serena that night.
Serena shook her head and yelled, “Stop! Don’t do this!”
Sheila waited, realizing she was the only one who could see or hear Serena. Maybe it was the fact that they were twins. “I need to know,” she admitted calmly.
“Okay.” She breathed deeply and started again, “Your father and I had gotten into a really bad fight, so I wanted you two away from him. I called your grandfather and asked for his help. He told me I could bring you there, so I did.”
Sheila remembered as much.
“I was leaving your father for another man. That’s why we were fighting. I was going to meet him that night. When we got to my father’s, I brought you both upstairs, Serena first. She must have snuck back in the car when I was bringing you inside.” Tears blistered inside her lids as she explained. Sheila teared up as well. Even though she was angry, she could never hate her mother.
“It started to rain. The roads were getting slick. Serena popped up from the backseat. She scared me and I lost control of the car. I swerved off the road so quickly I slammed into a hydro pole. Your sister… she flew across the seat and into the windshield. Blood. There was so much blood. I just kept screaming for her to say something. Anything. But she wasn’t moving. She… wasn’t even breathing.”
Her mother heaved as she tried desperately to inhale.
Sheila hugged her mother, slightly comforted knowing that it had been an accident. A horrible accident. “You brought her out here and buried her with your watch,” Sheila realized. “Why didn’t you call the police? They would have understood it was an accident.”
“You don’t understand! If I’d gone to jail, you would have been left with your father. You remember how abusive he was. I couldn’t—wouldn’t do that to the only daughter I had left! I lost her. I wasn’t losing you too!”
Serena nodded, tears running down her ghostly cheeks as well, but she was smiling reassuringly. “Now you know. It was an accident, Shay. Let me go, now. You’ve got to let me go.”
“One more thing?” Sheila searched for words. “Why Bobby?”
“I was scared. I had to tell someone. His family moved into our old house and he found me hiding in the attic. No more stalling, Shay. It’s time.”
But she was gone. Faded away. Sheila felt alone again. It was the same feeling she’d felt when her sister had disappeared that night. She would always be one-half of a whole. At least she knew the truth.
At least she knew.
© 2017 Mikki Noble