All beware. Do not dismiss what only seems to be impossible. Open your mind, for through it, the realm of the imagined comes to life.
Nathaniel heaved the bag of basketballs over his shoulder as he entered the school building. It was a cool October evening, and although the moon was full, the shadows seemed even more mysterious than usual. Nathaniel walked past them briskly.
Man, I wish I could have left with the rest of the guys. This place seems so spooky at night, Nathaniel thought as he glanced back. But at least I don’t have to clean up on my own.
Brian and Allan came through the glass doors behind him, carrying the medical kit and another bag of balls between them. Three cheerleaders followed, and they all entered the desolate hallway.
“That game was killer, man,” Brian muttered, his voice echoing in the empty space.
“You guys played well,” Joy encouraged. “You’ll get them next year.”
“It’s not your fault the referees were biased,” Marie mentioned. The three boys shrugged in response as they went into the gym while the cheerleaders continued down the hall. A single security light hung in the center of the gym, casting a ghostly glow over the dilapidated space. The gym needed serious renovation. Nathaniel paused briefly, thinking he saw something in the corner of the gym. Realizing that it was only a shadow, he tried to walk with more confidence.
“I know they’re trying to make us feel better, but it was still a tough game,” he replied to Brian. “Trinity was better than us, but their players didn’t need to shove it in our faces.”
“What did you expect?” Allan asked when they reached the ball room. “Trinity always plays dirty. We were lucky to make it through without injuries!”
“I was about to hand out some injuries,” Brian said, tossing the ball bag aside with more force than what was needed. “Number 54 was getting on my nerves.”
“He was three times your size,” Allan observed, laughing.
“So?” Brain asked flatly.
“Oh, well. Like Joy said, we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nathaniel said, setting down the ball bag. As he was putting the balls back on the rack, the lights flickered. A deep moan whispered around Nathaniel and grew louder as it echoed through the room. Chills ran down his spine as a sharp breeze hit his face, and he dropped the ball he had been holding. “What was that?” he asked, his voice wavering.
“That moan as the lights flickered,” Nathaniel squeaked.
“Oh, that’s just Joey,” Allan replied, completely unfazed.
“Joey?” Nathaniel repeated.
“You guys haven’t heard of Joey before?” Allan said, surprised. “He’s the school’s ghost.”
“Oh, come on. That’s just a story,” Brian replied. “No one actually believes it, Al.”
“Guys, who in the world is Joey?” Nathaniel repeated, raising his voice.
“Dude, it’s the other world,” Allan said.
“That’s not funny,” Nathaniel said, his voice cracking.
“You should tell him the story, Allan,” Brian encouraged. Allan smiled knowingly, looking at Nathaniel, and launched into the story.
Joey was a small kid compared to the rest of the guys. He was as skinny as a toothpick and about as tall as one too. He had tousled brown hair that was always too long even after it was cut. Despite his small stature, he managed to land a spot on the basketball team as the permanent bench warmer, but he was quite proud of his role. He was smart, too, and had the highest grades in the entire sophomore class. Then again, there were only six of them, but that didn’t seem to matter. If anyone needed help with homework, Joey was the one to go to. But there was one problem. Joey was scared of everything. He would hide under his desk if anyone sneezed suddenly or would jump if a siren sounded. He once accidentally locked himself in his locker, and it took three guys to break him out.
“Man, that kid was pathetic,” Brian interrupted. “How do you lock yourself in a locker anyway?”
“Brian, you did the same thing last week,” Nathaniel said.
“I did not!”
“Yes, you did,” Allan agreed. “I’m still surprised you fit.”
“Just continue the story,” Brian said, diverting the attention off of himself. Allan continued.
As you can imagine, because of his intense fear of literally everything, Joey was picked on more than anyone else in the school. The ringleaders of the teasing were Joey’s best friends, Evan and Philip, but Joey didn’t mind too much. At least, that’s what he let everyone believe.
Until one night, everything changed.
Joey and his friends were staying late at the school to finish a project that was due the next morning. Only the security lights were on due to budget cuts, which was enough to make all three of them slightly nervous, and it being Halloween night didn’t help either.
“Are we done yet?” Philip moaned, thumping his head on the desk.
“If you had shown up yesterday like you were supposed to, we wouldn’t still be here,” Evan replied as Joey continued to work through the math equations.
“It wasn’t my fault that my sister made me pose for three hours so she could finish her art assignment,” Philip said defensively.
“You agreed to it,” Joey pointed out.
“Only because my mom told me to.”
“You scared of your mom?” Evan teased.
“I’m scared of his mom.”
“You’re scared of everything, Joey.”
“No, I’m not.”
Both of his friends just looked at him.
“Prove it,” Philip told him.
“I will!” Joey said with resolve. “How?” he asked a little more timidly.
Evan and Philip looked at each other as they tried to come up with something. Joey watched them, their science project forgotten.
“I dare you to go to the other side of Cougar Hill,” Evan said, and Joey visibly trembled.
“He can’t go back there! There’s quicksand!” Philip protested.
“Hold up,” Brian interrupted. “There’s no quicksand behind that small hill by the soccer field.”
“How would you know?” Allan challenged. “Have you been back there?”
“No,” Brian admitted.
“Has anyone been back there to check?” Nathaniel asked.
“Anyone who's gone has never returned,” Allan answered cryptically.
“I still don’t think there’s anything back there,” Brian continued.
“Who’s telling this story? Me or you?” Allan asked.
Being the most sensible one in the group, Philip spoke up.
“Guys, it could actually be dangerous back there, especially in the dark, and I think our moms want us home alive tonight. After my last prank on my sister, my mom said she’d ground me for a month if I did anything else.”
“Fine,” Evan sighed. “Let’s just get this project done, so we can get home.”
After another half hour, there were still several problems to finish, and Joey could tell that his friends were getting tired.
“You guys head home,” he told them. “I’ll finish this up and turn it in.”
“Are you sure?” Evan asked.
“I only live a few houses down from here, and this won’t take me long. I’ll see you guys in the morning,” he added, and Evan and Philip stood up.
“Thanks, man,” Evan told him. “See you later,” he said, and he and Philip left the school. Joey finished the project within the next twenty minutes and put the poster on his teacher’s desk. He gathered his things and went out into the hallway. As soon as he stepped through the doorway, he froze. His knees knocked together, preventing him from walking. He had forgotten how much he hated being at the school at night.
“No, get a grip,” he told himself, his voice echoing in the empty hallway. “I can do this. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid,” he repeated as he walked through the hall. His confidence grew with every step, and by the time he reached the doors he felt like he could face anything. He started to walk home and caught himself glancing through a misty fog toward Cougar Hill. Stopping under one of the lights in the parking lot, he contemplated what his friends had dared him to do. “I’ll show them,” he said, ignoring the pounding of his heart. With a newfound resolve, he marched toward the hill. His shoes crunched on the frosty ground as the full moon lit his path. The thumping of his heart only increased with every step he took, and the hill soon loomed before him. Swallowing hard, Joey began to climb the hill. It shouldn’t have taken him long to reach the top, but his steps grew slower and slower as the seconds ticked by. By the time he was at the peak, he was ready to run, but he forced himself to keep going. The trees on the other side of the hill cast sinister shadows over Joey as he pressed onward. The ground became softer as he walked, and he gulped as the path became even more narrow. But he wasn’t about to turn back.
Rustling in the bushes made him stop, and he yelled in terror as a bird flew in his face. He stumbled backward, tripping on a tree root. His stomach lurched as he lost his balance and fell. Scrambling to his feet, he threw off his backpack and ran blindly into the trees, not realizing that the way out was the other direction. Distant howling pierced the air, pushing Joey to greater panic. He tried to move his legs faster, wheezing. Branches scratched his face and tore at his shirt as another bird flew in his face. He veered off the path, stepping in something soft. He fell, unable to get up. It felt like his legs were being sucked into the earth. His eyes darted around as terror consumed him. He yelled as loud as he could, but there was no one to hear him. Then, suddenly, all was silent.
Allan paused, and Nathaniel stared at him in shock.
“Dude, you can’t just stop there!” he exclaimed. “Was Joey all right? Did he make it out alive? TELL ME HE SURVIVED!” he shouted. All Allan could do was smile at Nathaniel’s outburst.
“Chill, man. I’m not done,” he said.
The next morning, Evan and Philip went into school. They ran into homeroom just as the bell rang. It was an average Tuesday morning, but something felt off. Evan looked around and finally noticed. Joey wasn’t there.
“Guys, have you seen Joey?” Evan asked. Everyone shook their heads, and Philip turned to Elizabeth, Joey’s sister.
“Eliza, did Joey come home last night?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I went to bed early, and I didn’t see him this morning. I just assumed he was sick,” she answered. Evan and Philip looked at each other as it dawned on them.
“He didn’t,” Evan trailed off. All the color drained from Philip’s face. Both boys jumped up from their seats and bolted out of the classroom before Mr. Taylor could stop them. They ran out of the school and raced toward Cougar Hill. They scrambled to the top of the hill, calling Joey’s name frantically.
“JOEY!” Evan shouted.
“JOEY! Where are you, man?” Philip yelled. Half of the school had followed Evan and Philip out to the hill, and soon everyone was searching for Joey. Evan was brave enough to venture closer to the trees, but he froze when he spotted papers fluttering in the breeze. He followed the paper trail, eventually coming to Joey’s backpack. Its contents littered the ground and were soaked with dew, but there was no sign of Joey. He had simply vanished.
“No one really knows what happened to Joey that night, but it is said that whenever there is a breeze in the hallway when all windows and doors are closed, it’s Joey exploring the place he spent the last hours of his life. Sometimes you can hear his moans for help,” Allan concluded.
“That’s a terrible story, Al,” Nathaniel shivered.
“I’m just telling it like it is,” he replied as they finished putting all the balls away. “But no one really believes it.”
“Yeah, nothing like a silly ghost would scare me,” Brian said just as the lights flickered.
“Okay, that’s not funny, Al,” Nathaniel said.
“It wasn’t me,” Allan replied as a second breeze hit their faces. All three boys froze as a whispered moan for help echoed in their ears. The lights flickered a second time, and Nathaniel backed away toward the door.
“I’m outta here!” he exclaimed, running out of the ball room. Allan and Brian were on his heels as the moans grew louder.
“Right behind you!” Brian yelled, and all three boys sprinted through the gym. They got out of the building as fast as they could.
Behind them, the three cheerleaders stood laughing as they followed them to the door.
“Please tell me you got that all on video,” Marie laughed.
“Every bit of it,” Anna answered. “Joy, do it again.”
The third girl played a recording on her phone. An eerie sound played through the speaker that echoed down the hallway. The cheerleaders erupted in a fit of laughter as they left the building.
“I can’t believe they thought this was Joey!” Joy said, referring to the recording.
“Yeah, no one actually believes that Joey is real,” Marie said.
“I’m so bringing this up on Monday,” Anna mentioned.
After everyone left, all was silent. Every door was locked and every window sealed. A breeze whispered through the halls of the school. The lights flickered as a couple ceiling tiles were lifted. A low cry echoed as a faded figure with tousled hair ran through the hall. The night brought freedom, but it was far from pleasant. One can only haunt so long before longing for something greater. But the spirit is without choice and is left to haunt till the end of time.
So listen and be wary, for a ghost who is left too long may very well take more to join him, until nothing is left but shadows and nightmares.