When I was around the age of five, my family moved to a quiet neighborhood in Willmington, Vermont. The neighborhood was composed of a cluster of duplexes and the streets were shaped into three cul-de-sacs with one road that led in and out to the main road. A new elementary school had been built right behind the neighborhood and over the years, it became an attraction for families with children who were looking to rent.
By the time I was eight, the neighborhood which had once been filled with primarily elderly residents was replaced with families with children. As one might imagine, we quickly formed friendships and became a close group of friends. As the youngest of the group, I sometimes easily fell prey to being picked on, but for the most part, we got along well enough.
Most afternoons were spent playing kickball or kick the can. Sometimes the boys would go off on their bikes and play football, leaving the girls to play dolls or less physically aggressive games like four-square. Most times we'd have to go in by the time the street lights turned on, but during the summer we'd often finds ourselves out much later allowing us to play 'man-hunt' or hide and seek. All in all, it was good fun.
It was around the time I was going into third grade that the oldest of the group at the time, David, created a myth about the wooded area behind the elementary school. As I stated before, I was often an easy target for teasing and I was admittedly gullible. So when David told me about this witch that lived in the woods and devoured children, I believed him. As I recall, it wasn't even a well rehearsed story but it was enough of a seed that I confided in others in the group. Eventually, I confided in my parents and came to the rationalization that David had simply pulled a fast one over me, but that wasn't the end of the myth.
Somehow, it took on a life of its own. There was something fun in pretending that some child-devouring beast lived in the woods. Over time we developed unwritten rules surrounding the woods. For example, if a kickball ended up in the woods, it was gone. If you went anymore than four feet past the initial tree line, she would get you. If you lost a toy or a prized possession in your home, it meant that she was hunting you. And if you saw her, breaking eye-contact would be certain death.
We told ourselves that she lived in a cave deep underground. That her body was twisted and angular, proportions that were disturbing and inhuman. Her skin pale and frail, stretched taut over her bones so that each bone in her body was painfully visible. We told ourselves she walked on all fours and had a mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth. In the day, we imagined her with milky-white eyes that were too sensitive for the daylight. At night, we imagined her with glowing eyes, reflecting light so that they only appeared as two glowing orbs in the dark.
It was fun because we didn't truly believe, or at least we told ourselves we didn't. As with any neighborhood, things changed. Some families moved away only to be replaced with new ones. New kids were subjected to our gruesome urban legend and the cycle continued until the older kids became too old for games.
By the time I was thirteen, my group of neighborhood friends shrunk to six. We didn't get along as well as we used to and it was clear most of us were getting to the age that we'd probably drift apart.. Still, the times we did share together were good. It wouldn't be fair to say we'd forgotten about our urban legend, but rather we didn't need it anymore. The few of us with younger siblings sometimes used it to frighten them, but for the most part, we'd put it behind ourselves.
At least until that night.
It was October and a new round of construction had just started over at the elementary school. Apparently they were going to be creating a sports field and expanding the parking lot which meant cutting down the wooded area behind the school. As one might imagine, we were kind of nostalgic about the woods in our own twisted way.
It was David who had first suggested we skip out on trick-or-treating to explore the woods. I think most of us laughed off the suggestion at first, but we all eventually warmed up to the idea. We thought it'd be all in good fun, one last real scare before the urban legend we'd created would be effectively destroyed by the construction.
On Halloween, we all met at Heather's house under the guise of going out trick-or-treating together. We did a brief sweep of the neighborhood, allowing it to get darker and give the impression to any curious parents that we were indeed trick-or-treating. By 8 p.m., we were already hopping the fence that divided the school yard from the neighborhood. I think if any one of us had been alone, we would been a lot more hesitant about going into the woods.
We probably walked for a good twenty minutes before David decided we'd gone in far enough and that we could stop for a breather. David had bought his dad's camping lantern with us and after he'd set it down in the middle of the group, we gathered around it to tell ghost stories and goof off.
It was Heather who found it first. David's brother, Andy, had been chasing her and they'd run over a patch of dirt. Only the patch of dirt thudded under her boots like wood flooring. We'd all stopped our shenanigans at that point to see what exactly Heather had unknowingly found. The dirt was loose like sand and David used his shoe to uncover some of the wood planks beneath. We didn't really know what to make of it. We worked together to uncover as much as we could before we found a rope handle attached to a trap-door. It didn't appear to have any locking mechanism and David was able to pull open the door with relative ease.
At this point, we were scared. It appeared to be a cellar of sorts, but it didn't make sense for one to be out here. We were all frozen in place, staring into the ominous hole we'd opened in the ground. Heather had said we should leave it and that if we really had to know what was down there, we could come back in the morning. Both Sandy and I agreed with her and tried to convince David it wasn't worth getting ourselves in trouble over. David even seemed scared enough to want to leave it, but Neil wasn't. He called us cowards and snatched the flash-light from Heather before descending down the stairs. Andy had been quick to follow and David, feeling responsible for his younger brother, followed too.
To be honest, I wanted nothing more than to go home and pretend that nothing had happened, but I had a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was too late to go back. Heather and Sandy remained on the surface as I followed after the boys.
The cellar was dark and had the musty smell of mold to it. The lantern was able to illuminate walls lined with shelves that held dusty old knick-knacks and toys. Some of the items were strangely familiar, but I couldn't quite place where I'd seen them before. Then David lifted an old ball from one of the selves. The plastic of the toy was decorated with the faces of familiar cartoon characters and all at once, it dawned on us. These items were familiar because they were ours. Toys that had gone missing or footballs that had been accidentally lobbed into the woods. Kites that had gotten caught on tree limbs and forgotten about. They all lined the shelves like a lost and found archive.
It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I still remember the cold sweat that overtook me. It was then that Andy had uncovered tunnels in the walls of the cellar that seemingly lead out to the surface. In a somewhat frantic state, Andy had backed away from the walls only to step on an object that crunched beneath his shoes. At first, we thought it was the snapping of a stick, but the lantern revealed to us piles of tiny bones. We had seen more than enough at that point and we frantically made our way out of the cellar. None of us really had the time to tell Heather or Sandy what'd we seen, but I know for a fact the terror that had been on our faces that night was more than enough to convince them it'd been horrifying.
We never did see what was living in that cellar. We had thought about telling our parents, but we knew they'd never believe us. Instead we all waited in anticipation for the day the construction workers uncovered the cellar, but they never did. After that, we all drifted apart. I don't think any of us knew what to make of what we'd experienced.
Years have passed since then and I haven't really put much thought into it. I guess a part of me tried to bury it away somewhere deep and dark in my mind. I'm in my thirties now and I have a little boy, Micheal. My husband and I were recently able to move out of our apartment in the city to a nice neighborhood in the suburbs.
Recently, my son started talking about an imaginary friend. He calls her Agatha. Micheal has always been creative and imaginative, but I never anticipated him having an imaginary friend. About a week ago we started hearing strange noises in the crawl space and while my husband believes it to be squirrels coming in from the attic, Micheal told us that it's Agatha. He says Agatha lives there now. He told us not to worry because she only comes out at night. Shortly after that, things started going missing from our house. Small things like my pearl earrings or Micheal's favorite toy car. Two days ago, I tried asking Micheal about the missing stuff and about Agatha. He seemed surprised that I didn't know who Agatha was yet. Micheal said that Agatha and I knew each other from a long time ago.
Admittedly, I got really mad at him at the time and sent him to bed without dessert. Like I said before, I hadn't thought about my childhood for a long time, but now it's all that I can think about. Urban legends and myths aren't unusual. We've all heard of ghost stories before and I think we all like to ask ourselves; do monsters exist? I don't think monsters exist, not naturally at least. However, I do think if enough people believe in them, the beasts that linger in the darkest corners of our minds can leak out into the real world.
It's a little past three in the morning now, or at least I think it is. I heard scratching in the walls again, as if something was trying to burrow it's way out. The bedroom is pitch-black, or at least it would be if it weren't for two tiny glowing orbs watching me. They peek out from a knot-hole in a wall and I hear the clawing of nails against wood. I realize now that it wasn't squirrels in the crawl space, but Agatha, trying to tunnel her way out of the wall. More than anything, I want to look away, but I know better. Breaking eye-contact would be death.