the ghost of scat creek

By Michele Bardsley

“I can't believe we're doing this,” whispered Lana May as she and her best friend, JoJo, crept through the underbrush near the creek.

“You’re not scared, are you?”

Lana May wouldn’t admit it to JoJo, but she’d been scared since this whole crazy thing had started. Billy Connors had triple dared JoJo to camp out in the old abandoned cabin—and JoJo prided herself on taking dares.

Back in the 1800s, a trapper built the cabin for himself and his daughter. Soon after, the little girl drowned in the creek and, ever since that awful day, her spirit had roamed the area. Everyone was scared of her ghost. Everyone but JoJo. She moved to town last year from California and as worldly as she liked to appear, Lana May knew her best friend didn’t know everything, least of all how to be afraid of a ghost.

“There it is! C’mon, Lana May. We’ll show Billy I’m not a chicken.”

The woods, dense and spooky during the day, took on an even more ominous appearance in the encroaching dark. Lana May gulped down the knot of dread clogging her throat. “Why don’t you believe in the ghost?”

“Because ghosts don’t exist.” JoJo stepped onto the rickety porch. The smell of moldy leaves and decaying wood assailed Lana May as she followed her friend into the cabin.

JoJo dropped her sleeping bag and waved the flashlight around. The thin stream of light bounced off broken furniture, the crumbling rock fireplace, and rotting beams. The roof had long ago caved in. Trees crowded out the moonlit sky; their spindly branches curved downward as if to pluck out the intruders.

The pungent smell of honeysuckle tickled Lana May’s nose. Clutching her sleeping bag, she backed against the doorframe. Her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest; sweat beaded her upper lip. JoJo, still examining the dilapidated building, didn’t seem to notice the sickly sweet scent.

The beam hit Lana May’s face, and moved along the wall. She blinked away the white spots incurred by the bright light and focused on JoJo. Her friend’s expression of mild interest turned into concern.

“What’s the matter with you?

“It’s her.”

“Who?”

“The ghost.”

“Oh please. Don’t tell me you believe that backwoods bull.”

A violent gust of wind shuddered through the cabin. Leaves skittered across the floor; dirt kicked up by the wild wind stung Lana May’s face. The honeysuckle-smell was so overwhelming her stomach lurched, the familiar taste of bile tickling the back of her throat. She peeked over the edge of her sleeping bag and watched the eery wind challenge JoJo. Her long blond hair escaped its clip; the strands whipped about as if someone were tugging on them. The flashlight flickered once, twice, and went out.

The wind died and the overwhelming fragrance disappeared. Sweat dripped from Lana May’s brow. Her arms ached from squeezing the sleeping bag.

“JoJo?” Her voice cracked. Her mouth felt dry and gritty. “JoJo!”

“Boo!”

Lana May screamed. Her heart dropped to her stomach and she swung around, using the sleeping bag to sock the figure standing in the doorway. “Get back!”

“Whoa!” The figure flicked on a flashlight and held it up to his face. “It’s me.” Billy’s grin was unrepentant. “Scared yah, huh?”

“I’m goin’ to tell your Daddy!”

“You’ve been threatening to tell on me since I pulled your pigtails in the first grade.”

Ignoring Billy, Lana May tip-toed toward the center of the cabin where her friend had stood. JoJo’s sleeping bag remained, but she was gone. Billy pointed the flashlight at the fireplace and made the beam dance along the mantelpiece.

“We gotta find her. The ghost—”

“Ghost?”

The derision in his voice angered her. She whirled around and poked him in the chest. “The wind came up and—and attacked JoJo.” She stopped and drew in a shaky breath. “I smelled honeysuckle. Just like in all the stories.”

“JoJo’s just yankin’ your chain. She’s hiding out in the woods.” He kicked at a pile of debris. “We...sorta...played a joke on you.”

Lana May felt like someone was poking hot knives into her chest. How could JoJo play such a mean trick? She fought the tears crowding her eyes. “I’m leaving. Give me your flashlight. You can share JoJo’s.”

“C’mon, Lana May, we were just messin’ around. JoJo will come back in a few minutes. We’ll camp out together.”

“No way.” The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something white flit past the doorway, then a child’s giggle echoed in the cabin. Cold enveloped her; she shivered. “Billy…”

“It’s just JoJo.” But he didn’t sound so sure. He walked to the window and pointed the flashlight at the surrounding woods. Lana May sidled beside him. The light flashed across a stand of trees, then JoJo’s pale face appeared in its glare. Lana May clutched Billy’s arm.

“What happened to her?” he whispered.

Lana May bolted out of the cabin. She heard the rustle of grass against Billy’s jeans as he ran behind her. He managed to keep the light aimed at JoJo.

Her friend’s face was paler than fresh milk, her blue eyes wide and glazed. Dirt streaked her tank top and shorts; her arms and legs sported long, red scratches.

“Are you okay?”

JoJo blinked. “I - I fell. Into the creek.”

“You aren’t wet.”

“I tell you I fell into the creek!” JoJo’s vehemence stunned Lana May. “I want to go home.”

“Okay. Let’s get our stuff and we’ll—”

“No.” JoJo grabbed Lana May’s shoulders. “I'm never going inside that cabin again.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow and get everything,” said Billy. “Let’s go.”

No one spoke the whole way home.


The next morning, Billy skidded up on his ten-speed just as Lana May was leaving her house to go check on JoJo. “Get your bike. I saw JoJo head toward Scat Creek. She was carrying a gasoline can.”

They followed the path to the cabin as far as they could, then dumped their bikes and ran the rest of the way. The stench of gasoline overpowered Lana May as they burst into the clearing. She put her hand against her mouth and stumbled to a halt.

JoJo stood near the porch, a lit match in her hand.

“No!” Billy ran forward and grabbed JoJo’s arm.

It was too late.

The match landed on the porch. The flames stuttered and sparked, then licked across the wood. In a matter of moments the entire cabin was engulfed in flames, but the ground and the trees around it seemed immune from the fierce blaze.

Billy dragged JoJo away from the burning building. Lana May grasped her friend’s arm. “Why’d you set the cabin on fire?”

JoJo’s blue eyes had an odd glint. “She told me to.”

Lana May glanced at Billy. His troubled gaze belied his casual shrug. She looked beyond him to the flutes of smoke rising up into the sky, much like a soul leaving its body.

The ghost of Scat Creek was no more.

Photo by Mikel Ibarluzea on Unsplash

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