He believed the Boy Scouts to project an institutionalized hyper-masculinity which countered the neutral, introverted qualities of great intellectuals since the beginning of time and promoted a blind benevolence to a Mother Earth unto which they committed hypocrisy; claiming to love her before they went back to their automated everythings. But he was not going to profess the delusional ramblings of a ‘loser’ rejected upon mere eye contact with the Eagle Scouts’ troop leader, Darrell. This did not come as such a surprise to the boy when his mother had left “over-qualified” and “happily married” Darrell without so much as a goodbye.
“I thought you for an Eagle Scouts Boy,” a sardonic voice snorted, and a girl emerged from her place behind the thicket. He turned around to be met with eyes that shined in the dark like the black marbles he used to play with on the pavement of his family’s driveway. It was funny to him that he thought of such things rather than leap back when he noticed the forest nymph clothed in an old “BRKLYN” hoodie and jeans.
A second later, he smiled a tight smile. “Yeah, well, I’m not much of a sash-wearer.”
She laughed faintly and went around the bundle of trampled bushes. “I’m just yankin’ your chain.” She sat on the log that he and his dad had set down before the older of the two Ethiopian men went off to go fishing by a nearby, trout-tumbling stream.
The boy was a cautious one, but he was quite fond of company, especially on a night as quiet as this one. The only sounds that could be heard were the forest’s conversations, chattering cricket to cricket, babbling brook to brook, and long-winded owl to owl. He knew there were nearby vacation homes that families owned or high school seniors rented out for the beginning of summer and figured she had somehow made her way from one of those residences. It was not that peculiar that they had crossed paths as his father and his’ campsite was directly off of a well-known trail. Although, it had become less popular recently as authorities had reported that teenage girl, Belle Luciano, had washed up in the forest’s main river a town over—Melville. But news, especially dire news, always seemed so far from reality to the boy that he encouraged his father to go on their annual, end-of-the-school-year trip. Unfortunately, he was not used to having the task of starting the fire and was left feeling inadequate amongst the birds which constructed their nests with ease and the fisher cats which lapped up the blood at the bases of rabbits’ necks in contentment.
Although her eyes were crisp and dark, he could not make out the shapes of her face in the moonlight. “Give it here,” she sighed sweetly, her voice filling the empty space and her empty, held-out hand being filled with the two flint rocks the boy passed her. She rolled them in the palms of her hands whilst standing up to approach the wood the young man had prepped. “You know,” she huffed and crouched down, “You kept rubbing them together when really you’re supposed to strike them.” The girl lowered and jolted her arms, resulting in a successful spark, small orange specks landing on and sizzling against the now smoking wood. Promptly, she placed her hands on the earth and blew on the embers. A brilliant fire sprung from her efforts, almost appearing white near her fingertips which hovered over its growing heat.
The boy was impressed and smacked his lips in awe. “One try.”
“One try,” she repeated. She did not bother to move from her spot, taking her place on the ground by sitting criss-cross with a low hum. She kept her marble eyes trained on the fire which seemed to move against the wind in defiance, leaning towards him and away from her.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” he asked and took a space to her right, close to the fire, but not as close to the hooded girl.
“Girl Scouts,” she almost laughed. The boy noticed that the laugh did not sound forced, nor hearty, nor hollow, but flat and colorless. When people laughed, or smiled, or cried, or got angry, the boy would usually envision color, but with her, he saw a black as deep as her eyes. It was not necessarily an ominous feeling, but rather despondent.
“How long?” he asked and brought his blistered hands towards the fire which appeared to hold its arms out to him.
She looked up, past the pines and to the small patch of sky above. The deep blue of the sky was stitched with yellowing stars that seemed to move with the nights’ fabric, swirling but moving fluidly as a body. The boy believed he was spun into a phantasm of sorts, so he held his breath as she breathed, “Too long—five, six years?” She answered boldly with the first couple words, but paused with little surety between the numbers, almost as if the details were slowly slipping away from her. The boy tore his eyes from the sky to look at her with pity. He did not know why he felt this, but he did, and that pity morphed into guilt. He wished he had the bravery to comfort her; he admitted he was somewhat cowardly, but he was creative. He decided to comfort her with a ghost story; they had always cheered him up when he was a child, camping with his father.
“Once there was this girl who lived in a cabin on Jayne’s Hill,” he said, his voice hushed and his smile grew, “she was a nice girl, like you.”
She turned her head towards him and her marble eyes glinted more brilliantly than before. “And?” she coaxed, and the fire crackled with her intrigue.
“She and her friends were night-hiking, you see, they were thrill-seekers. These rich kids from somewhere over the county’s river—they figured that this hiking should become a hunt, so they made teams. There were the Chased and the Chasers—two groups of four moving out on opposite sides of the hill. The objective of the Chased was to reach the hill’s South entrance without being caught. The girl was on the team of the Chased, who decided that their strategy would be to hide in the brush of the center of the West side of the hill and move a few yards at a time.” The boy’s grin grew wider as the girl’s interest swelled, twisting her body to face him, drinking in his words like they were her panacea. “After awhile, the girl grew restless from squatting in the bushes and decided to run when she when had thought the coast was clear, but she was ambushed by several Chasers and tried to avert them by running down this very trail,” he cooed eerily. His hands created dark, stretching shadows which cut against the soil and fallen bark of the earth.
The boy looked up to the sky whose stars began to spiral with intensity, their dance no longer soothing as it once was. The boy thought he was hallucinating and so he turned his gaze back to the girl as the stars’ size increased with their movement. “Startled while running, she screamed and fell, fell, fell down the hill and into a nearby stream,” he started with a new flare, “She hit her head when she fell, so she drowned. That stream on Jayne’s Hill carried her to a river, then that river eventually carried her back to the rich kids’ township. In fact, one of her ‘friends’ had found her lying face down in Lake Melville. She now haunts the places that connect back to the little stream on Jayne’s Hill. Some say you can see her instead of your own reflection when you look into its water.”
The girl applauded him with pale hands that floated out from the sleeves of her large hoody. The fire did not cast a shadow onto the ground from her hands like it did his. “You are a very good storyteller.”
“Thank you,” he said, attempting to hide his large smile behind his thick turtleneck. His knuckles scrunched against his nose as he tugged the sweater from his skin.
“Are you talking about that girl that was recently killed?” she asked. Her voice, which was once flat, now held evident and overbearing sorrow, the emotion too raw for any human. The young man was used to people filtering their emotions with flowery language and facial expressions, so never had he experienced such pure sadness. It was refreshing to him, but also eerie. Earnest empathy as such did not exist in his book.
“Ah, so you’ve heard about Belle Luciano, too?” he hummed, looking back up to the sky. The stars had never stopped their stirring, but he gave into the delusion. Nights such as these were rare.
“Oh, I know all about her.”
“Hot topic at your school or something?”
“I haven’t been to school in awhile, but I’ve heard things,” she said, nodding her head, “I know things.”
Curiosity tugged at the boy’s sense of reason and he scooted closer to the stranger. “What kind of things?” he asked, and his face lit up in childlike splendor. After all, he loved hearing stories as much as much as he loved telling them.
“It wasn’t a game like you said,” she pressed. Her marble eyes which once held so much brilliance were now nearly impossible to make out in the warm light of the fire. “It wasn’t a bunch of teenagers, either, but a family. The daughter got into a fight with the father about something stupid, so she ran out the cabin and tripped, fell, drowned. It was an accident.”
The boy regretted his decision to come closer. Towns gossiped how Belle was pushed down the hill or how some drunk teens held her head underwater, but never spoke of any story so mundane that it possessed a ring of truth. Only someone involved would know such intimate details. He scraped up enough courage from the pit of his stomach to question her. “What’s your name?”
Thick silence hung between the two before a sudden call of the boy’s name, “Seymour,” was heard through the pines. He recognized it as his father’s voice.
The girl stood up from her spot on the ground and outstretched a delicate hand towards the boy.
“Sounds like your dad is coming back. It was nice meeting you, Seymour.”
He grasped her hand, and its iciness stung his skin. “You still haven’t told me your name.”
She looked upwards and the boy followed her gaze. The two stared at the stars which swung back and forth as if someone was banging on the heavens’ ceiling, commanding it’s time.
“You already know who I am, don’t you?” she murmured.
When Seymour tore his eyes from the pendulums of the sky to look at her, she was gone. He looked at his hand which shook from the coldness of her grasp before peering through the fire’s flame to see his father’s worried face. The boy could only comprehend the fact that he had just had an encounter with the girl that was found in the lake.