copyright 2019 Chris Benedict
There was a doorway in the woods near Camp Naw-ta-wee-nee. Just three concrete stairs, leading up to a doorway frame that no longer framed a door. The campers would tell stories around the campfire about that doorway. Some said aliens had taken away the house, all except the entry. Others claimed the house burned, or the doorway was haunted by a murdered child. Each story was scarier than the last.
But my story is scariest of all.
One year, some campers snuck out of my cabin. I knew they were going to smoke cigarettes they took from someone’s car. They hadn’t invited me, but I wanted to be part of the adventure anyway. It wouldn’t be right to go home from summer camp without a crazy tale. So I followed them, keeping close to the shadows for what felt like miles through the dark and scary woods.
When they tried to light a campfire, they were hopeless. Shirley kept throwing the lit match on top of the big log they’d put into the middle of it. Without a good dousing of gasoline or starter fluid, that was never going to work. I’d have to show myself.
“Give me that.” I took the matches from her. Then I rebuilt the fire like I’d learned in Girl Scouts, adding a puff of dried grass and a dirty tissue (for tinder) under the teepee. Soon we had a crackling little blaze.
Only then, by the firelight, did I see the Haunted Doorway. I guess my eyes got big.
Shirley took a blazing twig from the fire to light her cig. She took a big puff and then coughed out the smoke. Jenny and Brittia thought this was hilarious, but they were soon coughing too.
Brittia handed the lit cig to me. I took it of course. Put it to my lips. Pretended to do the same as them, faked a huge coughing fit. Jenny thumped my back helpfully. “Thanks,” I squeaked, and passed the butt to her.
It wasn’t long before the girls were daring each other to climb the steps and go through the doorway. They argued over whether that summoned the murdered girl’s ghost, or her mother’s.
“Neither. The aliens come get anyone who goes through the door.”
Brittia was lighting up a second cig. They didn’t offer this one, and I didn’t ask. My grandad’s endless “quit smoking” attempts had left me wary of getting hooked.
“You scared it’s true?” Jenny was looking at me.
“Why, are you?” Truth was, I was terrified. But I couldn’t let them know that….
“Naw. I’m not scared of some kid-ghost. Unless she’s really gross. D’you think she’s really gross?”
“Go on then.” I had to dare them before they dared me. “If you’re sure you aren’t scared.”
“You first.” Brittia stuck her tongue at me.
“Awww, you are scared. All three of you!” I laughed at them.
“Hey, I have an idea – let’s do it all together!” Shirley grinned. “That should get the ghost-aliens’ attention.”
That was the plan. But the stairway wasn’t wide enough for four and, since they didn’t like me all that well, they made me go behind them. I held Brittia’s hand with my right hand, and Jenny’s hand with my left while Shirley was sandwiched in the middle.
“Look out, ghosts!” The three girls stepped on the first stair together. Then they stepped on the second stair, pulling me up onto the first.
Shirley was giggling so hard I thought she was going to puke as they stepped up to the third stair — the top step — pulling me forward with them.
“Ready?” Just above me, the three girls each raised their right foot.
“Set?” They clasped each others’ shoulders now, squeezing tight together to fit through the narrow doorway.
“Go!” They stepped forward, tugging my hands. That was the last I ever saw of them.
Three girls just plain vanished into thin air.
They took my story seriously, when I came screaming and crying back to camp and those girls couldn’t be found. I was hysterical, they said – blocking memories of what had really happened. They got search and rescue, and volunteers to comb the woods. An amber alert, and everything. But to this day, no trace of those girls was ever found.
People look at me like I’m crazy when I try to explain the Naw-ta-wee-nee legend is real. And I have to wonder if maybe they’re right? Because people don’t just vanish, do they?