That summer I was ten and my brother had just turned twelve. Even though we'd been living in this town for over a year we were still considered newcomers, or better yet outsiders. We had each made a few friends during the school year but they faded away as soon as the dismissal bell sounding the start of summer vacation stopped ringing. So it was the just two of us, stuck with each other for lack of a better option.
We left the public pool early that afternoon. It was the third week of vacation and the novelty of the crystal clear, cool water had already worn off. Not to mention the clouds were turning ominously dark and picking up speed as they scuttled across the green-blue sky. We hurridly gathered our towels and flip flops and headed for the exit. The sky grew dark as the sun hid behind the growing thunderheads.
We had at minimum a thirty minute walk home. That is if we took the short cut through the woods.
We walked quickly across the parking lot. The hot tar was rapidly cooling as the sun retreated further behind the threatening storm clouds. We trudged silently past the deserted playground and vacant tennis courts. My brother nervously scanned the sky while chewing his lower lip. A decision had to be made. Should we walk all the way through town and along the highway to get home or cut over half the distance by taking the short cut through the woods? My brother turned left at the end of the parking lot. We were taking the shortcut.
We turned into an older but well kept neighborhood. It was virtually deserted at the present moment, too early in the afternoon for its families to be home from work and daycare. The near total silence gave the area a slightly eerie feel. The local woods began at the end of this street.
All that remained between us and the safety of home was a few acres of dense woods. I began to feel a little nervous, and the feeling grew the closer we got to the end of the street and the beginning of woods. A cold sweat began to break out on my forehead as got nearer to the barely visible opening in the dense trees bordering the cul d sac.
This entrance to the woods had been formed by years of children and teenagers looking for a short cut through the woods to the highway. We had heard rumors of children getting lost in these woods, never to be found again. It was also rumored that during a full moon you could hear them scream in fear and cry out for help. I didn't really believe all the stories I'd heard but I couldn't deny my nerves were on high alert. Maybe because I knew there would be a full moon that night.
We picked up speed as fat drops of rain began to fall muffling the slap of our sandals on the side walk. The whoosh of our labored breathing sounded way too loud. We were now directly in front of the opening, dripping we, secretly a little scared, but anxious to get home.
My brother and I had walked these woods before on many an afternoon but never felt the unnerving anxiety we were now experiencing. This cold fear was new. Something didn't feel right. Maybe it was because the storm darkened the sky giving the afternoon a twilight appearance. Maybe we had heard too many stories about what happened in the woods come dark under a full moon.
I looked at him and he at me. I saw my own fear reflected in his eyes. He ordered me to walk beside him so the two of us would present a united front. I saw his resolve harden, the swallowing back of his fear, and the brave front he desperately tried to cultivate slide into place. He nodded silently at me and I nodded silently back. He mouthed we would step through the opening together on the count three. First one finger, then two, and after the briefest of hesitation his third finger came up. We locked eyes nodding again in unison and stepped through the gap in the trees and into the woods.
The dim afternoon light we had grown accustomed to grew darker still as the silence of the trees engulfed us. The only sound to be heard now was the distant patter of raindrops pelting the wood's canopy. We stood stock still for several seconds letting our eyes get used to the murky darkness. As soon as our eyes had adjusted enough to take in our surroundwings we took a good look around us. We saw nothing more sinister then the fading afternoon sky through the opening behind us, trees to our right and left, and a thin dirt path leading forward.
The path was only visible for the first ten or twelve feet before it looped sharply to the left behind a strand of thick furs. It then turned into the "v" of the only two known paths leading through this part of the woods and out to the highway across from our neighborhood. The right hand path was the least traveled. It was the quickest route but so thick with vegetation we would need a machete to cut our way through. The left hand trail looped back and forth through the trees so was quite a bit longer, but much easier to navigate. We planned on taking the left one as we neared the turn to the junction of the two trails. What awaited us as we rounded the turn shook my brother and I to our core.
We both stopped suddenly, almost falling over each other, then stood rooted to the ground unable to move. Our eyes opened as wide as can be as fear took hold and we both began to tremble. Before us stood, or rather floated, a women dressed entirely in white. She wore an all white Victorian style dress with only the tops of her button up shoes visible below the hem. Her feet hovered a scant 3 inches above the ground. She had a basket of flowers draped on her left forearm, all of them white. In her right hand she held an open book and appeared to be reading it. She was looking down at the book when we encountered her but raised her head when we came to a jarring stop immediately before her.
What I saw then, as her face tipped up, has haunted me ever since, reappearing in countless nightmares and the cause of numerous sleepless nights. As the woman tilted her head up we noticed her eyes. Two glowing orbs completely devoid of color.
Only the briefest of glances in my direction was necessary for my brother to signal his intent. He was going to bolt as quick as his feet would carry him toward the right hand path. No way were we going to attempt to walk past whatever it was that blocked the left hand trail. As soon as his eyes turned away from mine I noticed his feet pivot and he took off running faster then I had ever thought possible. Without a moment's hesitation I sprang into motion and took off after him.
The overgrown vegetation and thick underbrush was so dense I couldn't tell for sure if we were even on the path. I blindly followed my brother as he tore his way through the trees, swatting branches out of his face as he ran. I was close behind him and got the full effect of their back swing right in the face as I forced my legs to keep up with him. My face stung as if I'd been slapped.
The sharp crackle and snap of dry undergrowth and breaking twigs was deafening as we crashed through the woods to escape that terrifying spectral figure. My lungs were burning as if on fire.
We didn't look back as we ran, too afraid we would find her right behind us. We kept our eyes trained straight ahead and didn't slow down. I don't know if he was praying as hard as I was, all I know is I prayed in earnest that day.
After what felt like an eternity we finally broke through the wood's edge and spilled out onto a small patch of grass bordering the highway directly across from our neighborhood. Before we even considered slowing down we both glanced quickly behind us. We pulled up short to catch our breath as soon as we confirmed we hadn't been chased. Sweat poured down our foreheads as we took giant gulps of air into our burning lungs. It was a few minutes before we felt steady enough to cross the highway. We checked behind us one last time before turning onto our street, just to be sure we'd really left her behind. No trace of the ghost was visible behind the first row of trees and we didn't see anything creeping its way out.
The memory of what we had seen stayed fresh on my mind the whole evening. I wanted to talk to my brother about it but he purposely avoided me. I didn't get to share with him my thoughts on what we had been through earlier that afternoon. I went to bed really early, exhausted from the loss of adrenaline and the run through the woods. But although I was beyond tired it was several hours before I felt calm enough to sleep. My brother and I never spoke of what we saw that day.