Friday, July 12, 2013

Flash Fiction: Dark Nights and Bright Lights

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

“You can’t start a story like that!” Nate interrupts. “That’s cliché. Not to mention a little repetitive. Obviously it’s dark if it’s night.” He’s my little brother. Only fourteen but he still thinks he’s a genius. I’d never tell him but he’s smarter than the majority of the people I know in college.

“That’s not true,” my sister, Haley, says. “It could be a full moon. I know you don’t turn into a werewolf so you have to have seen at least one.” She’s only six and she’s got the sarcasm down pat. She’s going to be a hellcat when she’s in high school.

“How do you know I’m not a werewolf?” Nate growls at her, teeth bared. His blond hair is shaggy enough to make him look like a wolf.

“Shut up! I’m trying to tell a story here,” I bark at them.

They quiet down. The four of us—Haley, Nate, his friend Ben, and I—are gathered around the fire outside of our camper. Mom’s already inside, trying to sleep off a headache. Dad took the car and drove out to town. We’re in one of those real campgrounds, the kind where you have to walk for about five to ten minutes just to see another site, let alone another person. The trees rustle around us.

It’s my turn to tell a story, or it would be if everyone could shut up long enough for me to actually tell one. They’re quiet now, Haley huddled close to Nate with Ben not so much roasting marshmallows as setting them on fire.

“It was a night much like this one. Quiet, calm, the clouds blocking out the stars and the moon. Two boys were camping with their parents and, in the middle of the night, they decided to hike down to the lake.”

I pause, to make sure no one needs to make some kind of comment. They’re silent, eyes fixed on me.

“As they walked, the older brother thought he saw someone spying at them from the shadows among the trees. He didn’t want to scare his little brother so he didn’t say anything. The deeper they went into the forest, the more he felt like someone was following them.”

I wait again. Ben sits his roasting stick aside and curls up in his chair. Their muscles tremble with anticipation.

“Behind them they heard a noise.”

“What noise?” Haley asks.

“Hush, and I’ll demonstrate. Behind them they heard a noise.” I make a low moaning noise deep in my throat, ghostly and rattling. “They looked but they didn’t see anything around. ‘It’s just the trees,’ the older brother said and they kept going.

“When they reached a lake, they saw a pair of bright white lights glowing on the opposite bank. The younger brother stepped down to the water for some stones to skip and…”

Dad chooses that moment to drive his truck back up to the campsite. Haley screeches and presses her face into Nate’s chest.

“Sorry,” Dad says as he climbs out of the truck. “Don’t let me interrupt.” He’s laden with plastic bags and carries them straight over to the camper, snapping the door shut behind him.

Haley peeks out of Nate’s hoodie and says, “Keep going, please.”

I smile and oblige them. “Where was I? They saw the lights on the other side of the lake and one of them went to get skipping stones. He skipped one right across the pond and squealed with victory. ‘Did you see that?’ he asked his brother. When he didn’t receive a reply, he turned around. His brother was gone.”

Haley gasps and asks, “Where did he go?” Nate shushes her.

“He shouted for his brother with no answer. ‘Very funny,’ he said. ‘Hello? This isn’t funny anymore. Where are you?’ Still no answer. He turned back to the pond and realized that the lights were creeping closer and closer. They seemed to bounce across the surface of the water and as they reached him, they blazed bright red.

“That’s when he saw his brother, screaming and engulfed in the red light to his left. He screamed. The light washed over him burning and so bright it blinded him, knocking him to his knees. And then everything went black.”

Haley pushes her face back into Nate’s hoodie.

“When the two boys didn’t return to their campsite, their parents looked and looked for them. Search parties were sent out. They all returned empty handed. The only thing they ever found was a little pile of perfect skipping stones, the older brother’s scarf, and tiny traces of ash.”

I lean back in my chair. Haley looks up at me and rewards me with a tiny grin. Ben shivers and tries to push deeper into his chair. Nate claps and the sound echoes through the woods.

“All right,” I say. “Who’s next?”