(Just joining us? Go back to Part 1)
Sounds fly far in the darkness. In every direction, they rustled, like windy leaves.
Minutes passed before all traces of them faded. When they did, the black skies pressed lower, and Craig stood rooted with the trees. His lidless eyes stared.
"You ever hear them crying?" he whispered.
"What?" someone asked.
Stephen inched backward. The guy was a freak.
"You ever hear them crying?" he repeated.
"Oh, cut the shit, Craig. Jesus. Save it for your summer camp."
A smile slithered over Craig's face.
"He's not a camp counselor anymore, dumbass. He's got a bank internship. When he gets his degree, they'll probably hire him."
Stephen crunched onto a twig. Craig's glare snapped onto him. The retreat froze.
"Have you heard them," Craig asked.
Stephen stared. He made no move to answer.
A beam spotlighted Stephen's face. He shielded his eyes.
"Get that off me!"
"I said get that Goddamn light out of my face!"
The light clicked off. The eyes of the group burrowed into the two of them.
"Alright. Alright. If you won't tell them, I will," Craig said. "A little boy died in these woods."
One of them snickered. "Bullshit."
Craig shot a stony arm down the mountain. "People abandoned that cottage down there for a reason," he said.
Someone swallowed. His Adam's apple curtsied.
"It was winter," Craig said. "Back in the 40's. A family lived in that cottage, but the father died in the bluestone quarries. The mother was barely holding it together. For herself and her son."
Craig stepped toward the long slope down.
"It was deathly cold that night. And late. The wood stove burned full force, and it couldn't stop them from shivering. The mother went outside to get more wood. That's what started it."
Craig stepped again.
"The little boy woke from a nightmare. He was scared. You can't blame him. He wanted his mother. But when he opened the door to look outside, he couldn't see her. The woodpile was on the side of the house."
"Don't even tell me he went out there!"
Craig shrugged. "Why would he, right? It would be crazy. It was freezing out there. But that's exactly what he did. He walked out into that horrible night. His mother didn't hear him. She didn't see him."
The circle of faces furrowed.
"Something drew him into these woods," Craig said, stabbing his light downward. "Something that walked this very ground."
No one breathed.
"His mother didn't even know he was out of bed. She saw the empty sheets in the morning. By then, a lake snow had covered all the footprints. They searched, but didn't find him for days. Two miles deep. Frozen with feet torn open from rocks and ice."
Craig was lying out his ass. Stephen knew it. Yet there was a shard of truth. Years before. An even darker night.
The crickets sang.
"TIME'S UP!" Craig screamed.
They nearly leapt into the trees from shock.
Craig laughed and laughed.
"I can't believe you fell for that!"
"You're such an asshole, Craig."
"Come on, don't be a bunch of old ladies!"
"Kiss my ass."
"Hey, I'm not the one who started it. Stephen did!"
They waved through the gloom with their lights.
The katydids chattered. Stephen was gone.
On to Part 3