“You guys want to hear a scary story?” Ashley asked, leaning into the fire so the shadows played on her face.
Rita looked at her nervously over the fire, shooting glances into the dark woods pressing in on them from every side. “I guess we’re in the right spot for one.”
“Is it about Murphy’s crotch rot,” Kyle asked, spilling beer down his shirt.
Murphy threw a bottle at his head, missing his ear by inches.
“What the fuck, bro? Stop bringing that up!”
“Seriously,” Rita said. “We don’t want to hear about why Murphy needs a penis doctor.”
Murphy sat back in his folding chair and crossed his arms. “I just need a regular doctor,” he muttered.
“Anyway,” Ashely said, trying to get the group’s attention again. “Did you know that thirty years ago, in this very campsite, there was a grisly, gruesome septuple murder?”
Kyle snorted. “Nice try, Ashley. The whole ‘people died right where you’re sitting’ thing. Classic.”
“The fuck does ‘septuple’ mean?” Murphy asked.
“But it’s true!” Ashley said, keeping her voice low. “This place used to be a summer camp, you know. We passed under the sign on the way in. Or what’s left of it. Camp Sunshine Lakeside. Before all the kids showed up, though, the counselors would be here for a week. Setting everything up. And it was during this week, a couple of nights before the kids came, that they all…”
Ashley drew a slow thumb nail across the length of her neck, making a terrible throaty noise.
Rita leaned back. “Ashley, don’t. Why can’t we talk about nice things?”
“Like Murphy’s diseased penis?”
Rita sighed. “Okay, fine. How did they die?”
As she spoke again, she lowered her voice, forcing her friends to lean in to hear over the wind through the leaves above them.
“They were found all over,” she said. “The first was found under the camp sign, stretched out along the road, reaching. As though he was trying to go for help. The next two were found under an old oak tree by the office, hanging by their necks from their branches, all of their entrails reaching to the ground. One counselor they found in the bonfire pit, nothing more bones and ashes. Another, drowned on the beach. The last one they found in one of the cabins, pinned to the floor by bed posts that looked like they had been torn clean off.”
Ashley waited for a few seconds, watching their reaction. Her smirk turn downward.
“This is where you ask about the seventh,” she said.
“What seventh?” Rita asked.
“The seventh victim!”
Kyle spilled more beer on himself. “How were we supposed to know there was seven?”
“That’s what ‘septuple’ means!”
The other three all chorused an oh. Ashley waved her hands around, trying to bring them back to the story.
“The seventh, they never found,” she said. “The only sign of her was long, deep scratches on the floor of the mess hall, and frantic gouges in the ground leading right…to…the well.”
“You mean…that well?” Kyle asked, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.
They all turned to look at the old fashioned well only ten feet away from them. It was made of stone, and had a little wooden roof that Rita had called ‘adorable’ when they had been setting up. Now it squatted in the dark and glared at them ominously and Rita took back every good thing she had ever thought about it.
“Sick,” Murphy said under his breath.
“They never found the killer?” Rita asked.
“No. But everyone knows who killed them.”
She waited until they were all looking at her, waiting with held breath. With a crooked smile, Ashley let them have it.
“They summoned the Green Man.”
“Who the fuck is the Green Man and why was anyone out here summoning anything?”
Ashley shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe they were bored. Maybe it was a dare. Or maybe…they thought they could beat him.”
“Beat him?” Rita asked.
“They say if you beat the Green Man at his game he’ll give you everything your heart desires. But if you lose…”
Kyle sniffed. “You end up murdered with six other people. Kind of a bad deal.”
“But think of what you could have if you win!” Ashley said.
“Anything I want?” Murphy asked, glancing at his crotch.
“Not just anything. Everything. So, what do you say?”
Rita scoffed. “Say about what? Jesus Christ, Ashley, you can’t possibly want to summon this thing?”
“Why not?” Kyle shrugged.
“She literally just told us why not.”
Kyle waved a hand, spilling more beer. “That’s a story. I’m sure some murderer from the state pen two miles up the river just escaped and killed everyone before riding off into the sunset. To continue murdering.”
Rita looked at Murphy, catching him glancing at his crotch. “Murph! Say something!”
“Oh, I’m all in. One hundred percent. Let’s summon this demon or whatever it is.”
She threw up her hands. “Fine. It’s not real, anyway. What do we have to do?”
With a smile, Ashley said, “First, we draw a line in the sand around the fire. Then, we all spit into the fire. Then, we must each gather a stripped branch of oak from the forest. Then, we-”
“Okay, time out,” Kyle said. “This seems like a lot of steps.”
For the first time, Ashley looked thrown. “What? No, it’s not.”
Murphy was nodding. “I mean, yeah, it is.”
“I’ve only said three things!”
“And then you were going to say a fourth,” Kyle pointed out. “Usually when it’s some murderous monster fucking over teens there’s, like, one step. Maybe two. Look in a mirror, chant a name. Hell, just chant the name.”
“Sometimes just being a teenager is enough,” Rita said. “You don’t have to do anything.”
“It’s just four things!” Ashley said.
“Is it?” Murphy asked. “Ashely, is it just four things?”
Ashley stared at him, jaw jutted out and mouth working, until she slouched in her chair.
“No,” she muttered.
“How many things is it?”
Ashley didn’t answer.
Murphy stood up. “Okay, never mind. If there’s so many steps to summoning this dude that you have to silently count in your head, that sounds less like fun and more like work. If anyone needs me, I’m going to be a few feet in the woods taking care of a medical problem.”
“Guess I’ll be going to my tent,” Kyle said, standing up and spilling more beer.
“Kyle, come on! You love doing stupid shit!”
“Yeah, I do! When that stupid shit is easy! Who does this Green Guy think he is, making me work for my untimely death. Pass. Anyway, you basically implied he lives down that well, right?”
Ashley rubbed her hands together. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I already pissed down there.”
“God damn it, Kyle.”
“Yeah. First thing I did when I got there. So, I’m not dealing with a dude who has piss all over him, magical murder properties or not.”
Ashely looked hopefully at Rita. “Rita?”
She put her hands up. “I didn’t want to do this in the first place! I definitely don’t want to die tonight if the guys aren’t going to. That’s so embarrassing. Sorry, Ashley.”
Rita got up and walked off to her tent with confidence. All of the fear Ashley had instilled in them completely gone.
That fear had been the real step one.
She tossed a handful of grass into the fire. “Shit.”
“We’ll get the next group,” said a voice from the well.
“I told you, Andrew! It’s too many steps!”