When I was a child of about 10 years, I had a friend named Sarah that would tell me scary stories. Back then, they were obviously fabricated tales of ghosts, zombies, swamp monsters – basically the most stereotypical things that a 10 year old could make up on the spot. She very rarely legitimately scared me, but there were a few times that she succeeded in making me question every noise that I heard at night while lying in my bed trying to fall asleep.
Sarah moved when I was 12, which really crushed me. She was my best friend, and by that time, I kind of had feelings for her, but I had to stomp those under the rubber heels of my sneakers to keep from crying myself to sleep every night the week after she moved.
We kept in touch via letters at first, then via email. By the time instant messaging became popular, we rarely had anything to talk about anymore, so our relationship started to die off. The last I’d heard from her was 11 years ago when we were 15.
That is, until last month.
Sarah suddenly appeared on the doorstep of my house on January 3rd. She was more beautiful than I remembered, but her eyes were troubled. She didn’t say a word to me before I made that assessment, but I’ve always been good at reading people. Even when we were younger, I could thumb through Sarah’s emotions like the brightly colored, glossy pages of a magazine. The headlines stuck out to me, but I could go deeper if I wanted to.
She tried to hide it as she greeted me and foolishly asked if I remembered her. Of course I remembered her. Though many years had passed and she’d grown into a beautiful woman, I could still see the girl I used to know beneath the light makeup on her face and the artificially straight hair that flowed down the sides of her face like silk.
She had found my address on some people-finding website and came by to tell me that she had moved back into town. Even though I had long since given up on her, my heart fluttered as I received the news; more so when she asked if I was busy on Friday. She wanted to get together for drinks, and I gladly accepted the offer.
The rest of the week was a blur of work and personal matters. The only thing I can actually remember happening that week was when the water heater in my attic started leaking, and I had to go up there armed with a couple of pipe wrenches, some gloves, and a troubleshooting manual that I had googled for. I ended up having to call a professional, because apparently even though I can usually fix my car with that exact method (different tools, of course), that ability does to transfer over to home appliances.
Sarah showed up at my house with half a bottle of cheap red wine on Friday at around 7. I had apparently misunderstood her when she said “get together for drinks,” as I thought she had wanted to go out, but an evening at home was fine with me. Bars are too noisy to be conducive to good conversation anyway. Not to mention that an ex of mine worked at one of the better bars, and though it never failed that I’d run into her when going out with friends, I really didn’t want to run into her while I was with Sarah.
We finished the bottle of wine quickly and dove into my own stash of liquor. I had a nice, warm buzz, and so did she, but the conversation was flowing more quickly than the alcohol.
I normally don’t like to brag, but for the skills I lack in home repair, I certainly make up for them in the culinary arts. Cooking, baking, even mixing drinks – they all come completely naturally to me. I plucked some mint leaves from the plant I kept around for just such occasions and made Sarah a mojito, and for myself, I mixed a simple rum and Coke.
Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was just for the sake of nostalgia, but once we’d caught up on how our lives currently were, we started reminiscing about the old days, and that’s when Sarah brought up the stories she used to tell me.
“You remember how we used to ride our bikes into the woods and I’d try to scare you with creepy stories?”
“Of course. Those are some of my fondest memories.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this.”
“Come on, you can’t bring up something like that and then not tell me what you were gonna say.”
Sarah considered that for a second, and I’m sure that sober, her decision would’ve been different, but the alcohol chose to do the speaking for her.
“I didn’t make those stories up.”
I laughed. “Oh, right, right.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“You honestly expect me to believe that you’ve seen apparitions and the undead? I’m not that drunk.”
Sarah leaned forward. I could smell the booze on her breath as she spoke, but the words hit me harder than the minty rum.
“I have a new story to tell you.”
Her eyes pierced and locked on me, seemingly disallowing me to say anything other than “Let’s hear it.”
I hesitated, but relented. “Okay, sure.”
“This story is true.”
“If you say so.”
Her glare grew more determined.
“I’m serious. I need you to believe me.”
There was a dire, genuine look in her eyes. I could suddenly feel the pressure weighing down on her.
“Yeah…okay.” What else could I say?
Sarah cleared her throat and put her glass down. For a moment, it seemed as though she was free from the grasp of the alcohol flowing through her. Whereas just a moment ago, she smelled of liquor, now she reeked of sobriety.
“Years ago, there was a boy that lived in this city. He liked to explore the woods with his friend, but he was much braver than his friend, who was often scared of the woods, even though she pretended not to be. One day, she decided that to beat her fear of the woods, so was going to venture into them at midnight armed with a flashlight only for emergencies, determined to spend an hour there exploring alone in the dark.”
“She walked around for 10 minutes, weaving in and out of the trees, under branches and spider webs, and stepping over areas of thick brush until she came upon a clearing that she had never seen before. She and her friend had been all over these woods, so to find something new was very uncommon.”
I said nothing as I sat there, listening to her tale, not having yet to suspend my disbelief.
“In the center of the clearing, the ground was turned up. It smelled of earth and appeared to have been disturbed recently, maybe even earlier that day. The girl became curious as to why the ground had been disturbed in this place, so she grabbed a rock and started pushing the dirt away. For 15 minutes, she pulled the dirt away, eventually ditching the rock and clawing at the moist soil with her hands.”
Sarah lifted her mojito from the table and held it out in front of her, watching one of the mint leaves swirl in the wake she’d created by moving the glass.
“There was a human corpse buried there. The innocent little girl had unearthed the resting place of some unfortunate soul. As she realized what she’d uncovered, she fell back onto the ground and pushed herself back in sheer fright and utter disgust. She ran home and told her parents, only to drag her dad back into the woods and find that the corpse had vanished, and the earth was completely undisturbed.”
Sarah looked me in the eyes and said, “Was that story believable enough?”
“The beginning definitely was. For a moment, I thought you were talking about us.”
“The little girl was me. I found a corpse in woods we were 9.”
I gulped, unable to escape the fervent, austere look in her eyes.
“Every story that I told you when we were little happened to me after I found the corpse. At the time, I thought they were dreams. Or rather, maybe I convinced myself they were dreams.” She took a sip of her drink and stared up at me.
“When my family moved a couple years later, it was because I was terrified of this place. Do you remember how I was acting before the move? How scared I was?”
“Only vaguely. I do remember feeling like something was wrong, though.”
“I don’t know how I was able to tell you those stories and convince myself they weren’t real, but they were. The event that pushed me over the edge, though…that’s when my parents knew we had to get out of here.”
“You really want to hear?”
“I think you’re obligated to tell me at this point.”
She sighed, staring back down at her glass. I could tell she was scared of this story, and again, if not with the liquid courage in her hand, I’m pretty sure she would’ve remained silent.
“Okay, this is what happened…”