It was a nice day for a hike, right up until they found the abandoned village that was definitely haunted as fuck.
“It’s not haunted,” Mike said. He even rolled his eyes at her as he walked down what could have once been a street.
“Do you have eyes? Are you seeing the same shit I’m seeing?” Ophelia asked.
They were in the middle of the backwoods of Vermont. There shouldn’t have been anything out here except trees and trees and more trees. It was high summer, and they almost missed it. All hidden behind huge green leaves. But then Ophelia had glanced in just the right direction as they had paused to drink water, and seen the brown slats. She wished she had kept her mouth shut, but like the big idiot she was she had said something. Mike had practically sprinted over, ignoring her calls to watch for deadfalls. By the time she had caught up he was standing on the edge, practically bouncing in place.
It was a collection of houses. Old houses. Some of the wooden slats were so rotted through Ophelia wondered how anything was even still standing. Small things, probably only one room, all in two lines facing each other. Everything was overgrown. One house had a thirty foot tree growing straight through the roof. Doors had fallen off and been covered in moss, and as she looked squirrels ran in and out of the space. They looked like illustrations in her history textbooks from school.
“This place must have been here for hundreds of years,” Mike said. He was going in and out of the buildings, trying to open closed doors, and just generally not understanding how fucked they were.
Ophelia still hadn’t stepped foot in the little town. There was nothing to mark the edge of it, but she still just knew she was on the line. If she turned around she could just see the pair of trees they had stopped at for a break. Looking at the soft dirt between the houses, she couldn’t see any foot prints besides Mike’s. No trash, no names carved into anything.
“These houses are so close to the trail,” she called to him. “But it doesn’t look like anyone else has been over here.”
“Maybe we’re the first to notice,” Mike called back, sticking his head out of a window. “What are you doing? Come look at all this.”
Ophelia shifted her feet but went no further. “What about in the spring and fall when the leaves aren’t so huge? You’d think at least the parks people would know about this.”
Mike leaned around one of the houses. “Ophelia. Please. There’s no such thing as ghosts. I know it looks creepy, but once you’re in here it’s so cool. Do you really want to miss out on something historical like this because you think Casper is going to jump out of a fireplace?”
Ophelia put her hands on her hips and shuffled her feet a bit. He was right, she was being ridiculous. Slowly she put her foot out, stepping forward toes first. Nothing happened. No gust of wind, no lightning, no creepy voices. She released the breath she hadn’t even known she was holding and walked further into the little town.
Now that she was in the middle of them, they didn’t seem that creepy. They were just little old buildings. Ophelia poked her head into the first one with its door off. It smelled of wet dirt and animals, and she was sure something was nesting in the rafters. Ignoring all that, she tried to imagine what it would have been like living in such a little space. How big was the family that lived here, she wondered?
“How old do you think these are?” she called.
“A couple hundred years, at least,” Mike called back. He was down at the other end of the row of houses, somewhere she couldn’t see. His voice volleyed between the houses. “They look colonial, don’t they?”
She walked toward where his voice was coming from, examining the houses as she passed.
“They definitely look old. Why would anyone want to build a town all the way out here?”
It was just a throwaway question, but it kept nagging at her. They were in the middle of the Green Mountains. They’d driven twenty miles from the last town to get to the trailhead, and then had walked another five. Everything in this forest was old growth. Big trees and sprawling shrubs. She’d never heard of old roads going up here. The only old roads were the ones they ended up paving for cars.
Something fluttered in the trees above and she jumped. A little dark shadow was running in the branches. A squirrel. It had to be.
“You know, I’m not the only one afraid of the woods,” she called out to Mike. “Especially in New England. They say there’s magic in the woods, but especially around here. Old magic. Dark magic. Men in their suits and wigs wanted to punish women who had sought out their own power, kill these women who dared to live any other way besides the way they wanted, and in the process poisoned the land with magic nigh uncontainable, so dark the stars couldn’t even shine in its wake.”
Ophelia clamped her hands over her mouth. Those hadn’t been her words.
The sounds of the forest had dropped out. A wind picked up, making the branches shake and leaves rustle and gooseflesh rise on her arms and neck.
“Mike? We have to go now.”
Nothing but that relentless wind, whipping through the trees. She had gotten to the other end of the houses. Facing them all, like a king in front of his subjects, was a chapel. It was shaped like a chapel. The iron symbol atop the roof was not a cross. She had never seen it before.
She spoke its name.
The door to the little chapel was gone, replaced by a square of darkness so firm it seemed physical. Below, on the ground, the dirt and the pine needles were covered in a smear of blood.
A voice that sounded like rats through withered husks came from the darkness.
“Come in, child. We’ve waited so long.”
Shaking but no longer afraid, Ophelia walked through.