I was 10 and my brother had only just turned 12. 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 two of us together, 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 clouds heavy with rain. We had at minimum a 40 minute walk home. That is if we took the short cut through the woods.
The first part our journey was the long walk across the parking lot. The hot tar was rapidly cooling as the sun retreated further behind the threatening thunder heads. We trudged silently past the deserted playground and vacant tennis courts. My brother silently scanned the clouds while chewing his lower lip. A decision had to be made. Do we walk all the way through town and along the highway to get home adding at least another half hour to our walk or do we take the short cut through the woods? He turned left at the end of the parking lot indicating we were to take the short cut.
The second part of our walk took us through an older but well kept working class neighborhood. Just a quick jaunt down a fairly quiet side street decorated with modestly priced homes. Every third house featured exactly the same architecture. The local woods began at the end of this street.
Our last stretch consisted of a barely visible dirt trail through dense woods that ended at the highway across from our house. This part of our walk home filled me with anxiety and fear. A cold sweat began to break out on my forehead as we got closer and closer to the barely visible opening in the dense trees bordering the cul d sac.
The entrance to the path 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 kids getting lost never to be found again. It was further rumored during a full moon you could hear their faint cries for help and their screams of fear as their fate met them. We were scared of the woods believe you me but the thought of an extra half hour walk to avoid them kept us moving toward the trees. We picked up speed as fat drops of rain began to fall muffling the slap of our sandals on the side walk and the whoosh of our labored breathing.
We were now directly in front of the crude opening, dripping wet, and shaking with fear. My brother and I had walked these woods many an afternoon and didn't feel 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. And maybe it was because we were both well aware the moon would be full tonight.
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 side by side presented 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 just as silently back. He mouthed we would step through the opening on three. First one finger, then two, and after the briefest of hesitation his third finger came up. We locked eyes and nodded again, this time 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 and the sounds of the neighborhood behind us faded away as the silence of the trees engulfed us. The only sound to be heard now was the distant patter of raindrops pelting the forest canopy. We stood stock still for several seconds letting our eyes get accustomed to the murky darkness. As soon as our eyes had adjusted enough to take in our surrounds we began to glance quickly left and right, forward and behind. We saw nothing more sinister then the fading afternoon sky through the opening behind us, trees to our right and left, and the thin dirt path leading forward.
The path was only visible for its first 8 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 the woods and out to the highway. 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 path was quite a bit longer and looped back and forth but was much easier to navigate. We planned on taking the left hand trail as we neared the turn leading us to the junction of the two trails. What awaited us as we rounded the turn shook my brother and I to our core.
We 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 a 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, also glaringly absent of color. She was looking down at the book when we encountered her but raised her head as 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 causing numerous sleepless nights. As the woman tilted her head up we noticed her eyes. Two white 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 action 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 down the hill, swatting tree limbs out of his face and crushing underfoot the wood's natural debris that littered the trail. My brother was at least three or four full strides ahead of me. Far enough in front of me that the branchest he barreled through swung back just as I was about to run past them. I felt the sting of many of them full in the face but didn't let the pain they inflicted slow me down.
Apart from the crackle of the undergrowth being trampled and the snap of low tree branches being swatted aside as we ran the only other sound to be heard was the whoosh of our breath as we both struggled to make our lungs take in enough oxygen to fuel our bodies as we ran pull mell down the hillside. Neither of us looked behind us as we flew down the hill, too scared we were being pursued by the frightening apparition we had seen. We kept our eyes trained straight ahead as we ran. I don't know if he was praying as hard as I was that we weren't followed and were closing in on the edge of the woods, all I know is I prayed in earnest that day.
We didn't stop our fear driven mad dash down the wood's hillside until we emptied out onto a small patch of grass bordering the silver ribbon of highway directly across from our subdivision. We both pulled up short as soon as we cleared the woods and attempted to catch our breath. My brother and I were both bent nearly double at our waists, hands on our knees, sweat dripping off our foreheads as we took giant gulps of air into our burning lungs. It was a few minutes before we straightened up and felt steady enough to hazard a look in the direction we had just come from. I knew my brother was terrified the ghostly woman was right behind us. I was too, I didn't know what I would do if I saw her white form emerging from the wood's edge. We had to check though, just to be sure. Both of our bodies tensed and prepared to take off again if needs be as we hazarded a quick look behind us. No trace of what we had witnessed was visible behind the first row of trees and we didn't see anything oozing its way out of the woods towards us.
We both let out an audible sigh of relief and walked, albeit quickly, across the highway and entered our quiet normal appearing subdivision. The memory of what we had seen stayed fresh on my mind all that night. I wanted to talk to my brother about it but he purposely avoided me. I didn't get a chance that night to share with him my thoughts on what we had been through earlier that afternoon. I went to bed that night uncertain of what I had seen and if it had all really happened, unsure I could trust my memory. My brother and I never spoke of what we saw that day.