Monday, August 17, 2009
“And so, every year, on the anniversary of her death, Fanny Farnham's ghost wanders through the woods near the house where she lived, wearing only her nightgown, and searching for her lost love.” Jenny concluded her tale in a hushed, dramatic whisper, while Sarah and Lily gazed at her wide-eyed with rapt attention, their chins resting in their hands and their elbows on their knees. The three girls formed a close circle in the tiny tent in Jenny's backyard.
“Wow,” breathed Lily after a second. “That's the most romantic thing I've ever heard.”
“Romantic!” scoffed Sarah. “That's horrible! And kinda creepy.” She flopped onto her stomach, stretching out on top of her Mulan sleeping bag and pulling another Red Vine from the tub in the middle of the tent floor. “Even though I don't believe in ghosts.”
Jenny took a swig from her root beer. Her throat was parched after that long story. She gulped half the can in one swallow, let out a respectable belch, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Okay,” she said, “one of you guys has to tell a ghost story now.”
“I don't know any,” claimed Lily, nibbling on a Red Vine and examining the sloppy nail polish job Jenny had given her an hour before.
“Just make something up,” Jenny encouraged.
Sarah sat up quickly. “I know!” she cried. “Let's play...” She paused for effect. “Truth or Dare!”
The other two girls' eyes gleamed. They had been introduced to the game at camp earlier in the summer by some older girls, and still thought of it as scandalously sophisticated.
“Okay,” they giggled, instinctively scooting closer together around the tub of Red Vines and the flashlight balanced on its end so that it cast its light in a cone toward the tent's ceiling.
“I'll go first,” said Jenny. “Lily. Truth or dare?”
Lily narrowed her eyes and scrunched her mouth up, then nodded. “Truth,” she decided.
Sarah snickered. “Chicken.” Lily stuck out her tongue, then turned her attention to Jenny, who wore a wicked grin.
“Okay,” Jenny said. “Did you kiss Kevin Plasky on the tire swing on the last day of school?”
Lily's pale face turned bright red before she covered it with her hands. “You did, didn't you!” cried Sarah.
Lily looked up. “Did you see?”
Jenny nodded. “He's a sixth-grader! Are you his girlfriend?”
Lily shook her head. “No! He's so stupid! And gross.”
“Then why did you kiss him?” Sarah wondered.
Lily shook her head again. “I dunno. Isn't it my turn now?”
“Oh, come on!” squealed Jenny. “You have to tell us!”
With a deep sigh, Lily shrugged and said, “I really don't know, you guys. I guess I just felt like it. Can I puh-leeeeease take my turn now?”
Jenny and Sarah looked at each other and wordlessly agreed to take pity. Sarah nodded. “Fine,” said Jenny.
“Okay,” began Lily, immediately perking up. “Sarah. Truth or dare?”
“Well,” said Sarah, “I'm not a chicken, like some people, so dare.”
Lily giggled and rubbed her palms together. “I dare you to... go into the woods, take off your panties, and hang them on a tree!”
Jenny burst out laughing. “That's such a good one!”
“All right,” said Sarah nonchalantly, standing and picking her way to the tent door. Jenny and Lily followed her outside, and they stood on the cool grass in their pajamas and bare feet, looking toward the woods that grew right up to the edge of the lawn.
“This is the easiest dare ever,” Sarah boasted, and started toward the trees.
The moon was almost full, the late summer sky clear and dark and spangled with glittering stars.
Suddenly, a sharp, chilly gust of wind tore through the still, warm air, whipping the girls' hair back and stinging their cheeks like the dead of winter. Just one snap, and it was gone.
Sarah halted mid-stride and turned to the other two girls, fear written across her face. “What... was that?”
“Probably Fanny,” Jenny muttered.
Lily looked at her sharply. “What?”
“Uh...” Jenny stuttered. “I forgot to tell you guys. Um, remember Fanny Farnham?” Lily and Sarah nodded. “Well,” gesturing toward the house behind her, Jenny continued, “this was her house.”
“What!” Lily repeated, shrieking this time.
“Yeah.” Jenny went on. “And, um, she was murdered... exactly eighty-seven years ago tonight.” Lily let out a yelp and darted back into the tent, then peeked her head out, eyes wide.
Sarah leveled her gaze at Jenny, a cocky smile playing about her lips. “I don't care. Ghost stories aren't even real. I'll still do it.” She turned on her heel and stalked determinedly to the edge of the woods, where she paused for second, then stepped between the trees.
Jenny crawled into the tent beside Lily. Together, they watched Sarah as she went a few feet into the forest, then reached beneath the hem of her night shirt and pulled her underpants down to her knees. She stepped out of them, first the right foot, then the left, and picked them up with one finger.
Just after she had draped the panties over a nearby low branch, another icy breath of wind ripped through the night, making the girls scream. Sarah sprinted back to the tent and dove head-first through the small opening, then collapsed into uncontrollable giggles.
“Why are you laughing?” demanded Lily, though she couldn't help smiling herself. Sarah shook her head, tears streaming from her eyes as she clutched her stomach.
Jenny let out a short chuckle. “Your face was so funny, Sarah! You've never run that fast in your life!” All Sarah could do was nod in response.
Finally, giddy from consuming large quantities of sugar and being scared silly, the girls laughed themselves to sleep. Their dreams were varied.
Lily dreamed of Kevin Plasky, kissing her on the tire swing. And on the tether ball court. And behind the gym. And at a school dance, in high school, both of them incredibly grown-up. He wore a crisp tuxedo, and she wore the perfect dress, which looked remarkably like Cinderella's ball gown from the Disney film. She sighed contentedly in her sleep.
Jenny dreamed that she was a famous writer, which entitled her to a lifetime supply of Red Vines and root beer. She, too, let out a happy sigh as she slept.
Sarah dreamed about a young woman in an old-fashioned nightgown, her hair long and curly down her back. The woman seemed to be looking for something. She searched and searched, then stopped short next to a tree and plucked a piece of cloth from one of its branches. She smiled eerily.
Sarah woke with a start, her breathing labored. She looked around the tent, saw her friends sleeping, and let out a relieved sigh. She quickly rejoined them in sleep. There were no more wintry breezes to disturb their slumber.
The next morning the girls awoke to a glorious day. The bright sunshine and birdsong made their giddy terror of the night before seem ridiculous. They went inside, where Jenny's mother made them blueberry pancakes and told them to clean up their tent and sleeping bags after breakfast. As they clumsily bundled the nylon into an impossibly small bag, they laughed again at their silliness.
“I can't believe we were so scared!” sighed Jenny.
“I know,” agreed Lily. “Ghost stories aren't even real!”
“I told you,” Sarah chided. “I wasn't scared at all.” She didn't tell the other girls about her dream.
Jenny laughed. “You were, too! I saw your face! Hey, are your panties still out in the woods?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Sarah, thinking for a minute. But, when she went back to retrieve her underwear, searching all around the tree she had hung them from, they were nowhere to be found.