The other kids grew quiet as Johnny returned from the forest. He was getting tired of that. He got along with them all right most of the time, at least as well as he ever did with kids his own age. But every time Miss Tokar’s name even came up, they all started staring like he’d grown a second head.

He sat down near the fire like nothing had happened. “You should have come, Kim,” he said to the girl across from him. “Miss Tokar showed me all kinds of interesting plants. You would have liked it.”

Kim stared at the fire and muttered something about maybe next time.

One of the other volunteers, Mr. Stevens, came by with marshmallows and s’more fixings. As kids argued over the best spots near the fire, burned marshmallows, and generally acted like kids, they forgot all about Miss Tokar’s herb-finding trip and how they should be afraid of Johnny.

“Let’s tell scary stories!” Ryan said.

“Don’t!” Cindy protested. She was easy to frighten. But everyone else agreed it was a great idea.

“I’ll go first,” Ryan announced. “This story happened in this very forest.”

Johnny thought that seemed a bit silly. These stories were all made-up. Some kids made up stories on the spot, and other kids repeated ones they’d heard before, but some kid had made those up, too; none of them were really real. If there’d really been an axe murderer who’s ghost cut the heads off of any kid who got lost, as Ryan insisted, there’d be investigations and stuff. Certainly their parents wouldn’t be letting them on this camping trip if headless bodies kept showing up.

The rest of the kids squealed in delighted terror, though. Well, except for Cindy, who was covering her ears.

Then Eric told his story. It, too, allegedly happened here. Really, Johnny thought, if all these ghosts were all in the same forest, they’d be too busy bickering to actually kill any children. Eric’s story involved a prospector, which was dumb, since they were in Michigan, which never had any gold rush or anything. But Johnny didn’t bother telling Eric that.

Instead he stared into the fire, trying to think of what to do when it was his turn. He’d never heard a scary story worth remembering, so he’d have to make one up. Obviously, he couldn’t claim that it happened “in this very forest”, since he was still the new kid. He could always say it happened where he used to live in Pittsburgh, but what would happen there? Would a ghost haunt a steel mill? Johnny didn’t see why not. It seemed like there was plenty mischief a ghost could cause in a place like that, but he didn’t think that’d go over well. It felt like it didn’t count as a scary story if it didn’t happen in a forest.

He started to see shapes in the fire. A branch on one of the logs stuck up, and it almost looked like there was a woman tied to it, burning. No, he thought, a moment later, she wasn’t tied to it, she was dancing around it. Smaller flames joined in, dancing in a circle around her, almost, but never quite, taking shape.

The woman grew taller and taller, and the crackling wood almost sounded like laughter for a moment. Then the fire leapt up, burning so bright, it hurt Johnny’s eyes.

He blinked the spots from his eyes, and the campfire was just a campfire again.

All the kids were staring at him, their faces pale. He could vaguely hear Mr. Stevens trying to calm down a crying Cindy at the volunteers’ table.

“What?” he asked. “Is it my turn?”

“No!” Eric said, quickly. “I mean, that was… where did you hear that? It didn’t really happen, did it?” He looked around at the dark woods surrounding them nervously.

Johnny frowned. He hadn’t said anything. Were they playing a joke on him? It seemed unlikely. Ryan honestly looked terrified, and Johnny didn’t think he would be willing to swallow his pride like that for a joke, or that he was a good enough actor to pull it off, for that matter.

“All right,” Mr. Stevens said, as the volunteers all swept down on them, “time for bed. Everyone to your tents.”

Johnny was grateful for the distraction and quickly headed towards the tent he was sharing with Eric. As he passed Miss Tokar, she met his eyes with a curious expression, then smiled, her teeth gleaming in the firelight.

“Did that really happen?” Kim asked, falling in beside him.

He shrugged, not wanting to admit he had no idea what was going on. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” And without giving her a chance to reply, he turned down the path to the boys’ tents.

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