Ghost Woods

Disembodied screams. Rumors of curses. Hidden wells long forgotten.

Those are a few of the mysteries rising from the fog around the Ghost Woods, the stretch of trees surrounding Hawthorn Inn and the small town of Sanctuary. Jack again finds himself the focus of the eerie happenings as he makes new allies and learns more about his strange grandfather. Shadows lengthen and the danger deepens as Jack and his friends try to stay one step ahead of their adversary.


It was a chilly but sunny November day over the town of Sanctuary. All was peaceful and quiet as the afternoon slipped away and night loomed overhead. Inside the lobby of Hawthorn Inn, Jack Erikson was helping his mom prepare for the Thanksgiving feast they’d be giving the investors. They’d been going over the chore and food list for what felt like forever.
“One last run-through of the food and I think we’re done,” his mom promised. “Can you think of anything we need that might not be on there?”
“Turkey?” Jack mischievously suggested.
“Real cute, Jack,” she commented with a smile. “Anything else you want to add, smart-aleck?”
“Green beans?”
“Got it,” his mom checked off.
“Um, turkey?” he tried again.
“You already said that,” she laughed.
“Yeah, well, all this food stuff is making me hungry,” Jack shot back. To confirm his statement, his stomach loudly growled.
“Well, you


re just going to have to wait until dinner,” she scolded. She glanced at the clock in the lobby and frowned. “What time were you going to be going to Ms. Huxley’s house today?”
Jack had taken up on Ms. Huxley’s offer to come visit her and her collection of local books, and today was one of those days. She was the town librarian and resident amateur historian, and within her house was held a treasure trove of Sanctuary’s history. He wanted to use those books to find answers to his strange adventures, and maybe clues to his grandfather’s elusive connection to the area.
“I told her I’d be there about four, why?” He followed her gaze to the clock and groaned. It was almost half past that time. “Oh crap!” he shot up from the cushioned bench in front of the tall lobby windows and grabbed his coat from the hanger.
“Don’t be gone too long, or you’ll miss dinner!” Mrs. Erikson yelled after her son.
“I won’t, mom,” Jack assured as he rushed out the door.
Jack picked up his bike which lay against the front of the inn and glanced at his watch. It would take him about fifteen minutes to get to Ms. Huxley’s house via the lane, which meant he wouldn’t have much time when he got there before he’d have to leave again for dinner. There was another way, however, and his eyes glanced to his left where lay the steep side of the hill. He knew there was a rocky path there that led right down to the older residential part of the town. Ms. Huxley’s house was only a few blocks from the bottom of the hill.
Jack pushed his bike around the corner of the inn and caught sight of the opening to the path. He stepped up to the entrance and looked down the steep trail. The uneven ground was littered with bramble bushes and rocks, and pine trees grew up around both sides. The path was more narrow than he’d expected, but if he stayed straight he’d clear any low branches and be down in the town in half the time.
“Is this really worth an extra ten minutes?” he mumbled to himself.
Jack paused for a moment and surveyed the small town of Sanctuary which spread out before him. The position from the hill gave him a complete view of a small, innocent-looking settlement. He could never have imagined that within that tiny hamlet lay a werewolf, nor that his best friend, Kyle Skinner, would become cursed with the affliction.
“Normal life you got there, Jack,” he murmured to himself. He was snapped out of his musings by a soft breeze which blew passed him and he was reminded of something his friend had said. “Well, you only live once.”
Then he took the plunge. He’d never do that again.
Jack clutched the handle bars as he bumped over large rocks and tree roots at a speed he hadn’t counted on. He ducked just in time to keep from losing his head to a large tree branch and jarred his frame when he hit a particularly rough rotten stump. He turned his bike at the last second and avoided another collision with a whole tree, but he could see the town was zooming closer.
Jack put his head down, raised his legs off the furiously spinning pedals and tried to aim straight. He flew like a bullet through those trees and broke out of the hill at an illegal speed. He put on the handle breaks and screeched to a halt.
Jack breathed a sigh of relief and fell over the handle bars. He turned around and surveyed the insanity he’d just taken, and he cringed. A few small rocks were still tumbling after him as the hill looked to him even steeper than he’d just experienced. His bike was scuffed up from the tree branches and brambles. He wondered if his adventurous spirit was making him reckless.
“Real bright,” he mused. Jack pushed off and passed under the lit old lamp posts. His body felt jarred by every rock and his legs and arms scraped by every bush and tree. Frost nipped his nose and the wind bit through his thick coat as winter threatened to come early upon the small town. “Maybe next time you can strap some lit dynamite to your chest.”
He coasted along the smooth street and within a few minutes found himself outside Ms. Huxley’s small, neat home. Jack dropped his bike against the porch and went up the steps to knock on the front door. Ms. Huxley opened it with a smile and a friendly welcome.
“A little later than I expected you,” she teased as she checked the time on her watch. “I thought perhaps you’d been eaten by another werewolf.”
“I was just helping my mom and we kinda lost track of time,” he explained as he took off his coat. He paused before heading toward the book room, and turned to his hostess. “My mom wanted me to ask if it was really okay for me to come down here. She doesn’t want me bothering you or something.” He really hated to ask that, but his parent had insisted.
“I can hardly think of better company,” Ms. Huxley comforted as she nodded toward the room.
“Thanks, Ms. Huxley,” he sincerely replied as he set about his work.
The few times he’d been there previously he had tried to organize a routine for his research method, but he found himself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books at his fingertips. Ms. Huxley, neat as she was, hadn’t organized them into any resemblance of categories, though to her credit the tomes were so diverse any classification would be difficult to perform. There were old journals and small histories mixed with letters. Even a few postcards were stacked on the overflowing shelves.
Jack sat down in the only chair in the room not littered with a pile of books, and began shifting through a stack he’d started working on. He promised himself an hour today to work on this, but as he looked up at the bookcases and mounds of ancient scripts, he wondered if at the rate he was going he’d live long enough to finish it. He sighed and began studying.
He still didn’t quite know what he was looking for, but he trusted he’d know it when he read it. Jack had sifted through family genealogies and floods. He’d read about things as mundane as a cow giving birth to old police reports about one of the town’s first bikes being stolen. There were even a few legal documents regarding property deed disputes and the fire at the inn which had paved the way for the renovation and expansion.
He jerked up from the book he was reading and turned to the door as a blur shot into the room. He’d only been working for thirty minutes, but already he had a stack beside him of perused parchments. It was knocked over as Kyle, the blur in question, was suddenly in his face and grinning like an idiot.
“Ha-ha, found you!” he triumphantly praised himself as he did a little dance. Jack was not so secretly glad when his friend slipped on an open book and fell onto the floor. “Ow,” he complained as he rubbed the back of his head.
“That’s what you get for running in the house,” Ms. Huxley scolded as she peeked inside. Her mouth dropped open and a frown slipped onto her lips when she saw the damaged book on the ground. Kyle had torn the pages in his fall. “You need to be more careful,” she harshly scolded. She stepped inside and mournfully picked up the old volume of family genealogies. A few pages hung loose, but they could be repaired with some well-placed tape. “Most of these books have only one copy to them.”
“Sorry…” Kyle regretfully apologized.
“Well, just don’t let me catch you doing it again,” Ms. Huxley sighed. “I won’t let Leroy wolf around in here, I certainly won’t let you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kyle promised with a sheepish grin.
“Good,” she replied as she glanced between the two boys. “You boys needing anything while I’m up? There are some cookies in the kitchen.”
“I’m fine,” Jack answered, but Kyle perked up at the mention of food.
“You happen to have any, er, special treats cooked?” he inquired.
“Always,” she laughed, and she left to fetch the special treats.
“Do I want to be here when you dig into some dead, defenseless animal?” Jack quipped.
“She just makes some raw hamburger patties,” Kyle defended. “So it’s not messy, just loud,” he swore as he glanced around the room. “So you had any luck finding something in these dusty old things?” he questioned as he picked up one of the musty volumes and put it down when he found it didn’t have a title to tell him what it was about.
“Well, for one thing I’m gonna know everything there is about this place,” Jack informed as he began stacking the pile back up. He had enough trouble separating what had been read from everything else without Kyle ‘helping.’
“But no luck so far on any of these spooky things?” Kyle asked. He looked over the piles. “You know, the bone yard beneath the inn and that weird cave Jenkins knew about?” He picked up another dusty volume and squinted at the title. “A Collection of Ghost Stories From Old Sanctuary. Interesting…” he muttered as he began flipping through the pages. This was something he could sink his sharp teeth into.
“There aren’t any pictures in most of these books,” Jack teased, and his companion frowned.
“Dang,” he added as he put the book down on a pile. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”
“To be honest, I don’t really have an answer,” Jack informed with a sigh. “I don’t really know what I’m looking for, so it’s not going to be easy for me to find anything.” He paused when his friend stared at him. “I might not even know that I’ve found something when I do see it.”
“You were pretty good at finding stuff when we did that project,” Kyle reminded him. A mischievous grin then spread across his face. “You getting rusty in your old age?” he joked, and a book was tossed at him. He caught it easily. “Remember? Wolf-like reflexes.”
“And a head as hard as a rock,” Jack shot back.
“Aren’t you supposed to be looking for something?” someone asked, and they both turned to see Leroy Jenkins standing in the doorway. He actually looked comfortable as he leaned against the door frame. “And shouldn’t you be practicing?” His second questioned was directed at Kyle.
“I’m working on it,” he defended himself. “I followed Jack here instead of toward the inn, didn’t I?”
“Child’s play,” Jenkins argued as he brushed aside his pupil’s achievement. “Try tracking a rabbit in the rain. Then I’ll be impressed.”
“I’d rather not,” Kyle sulked while his shoulders slumped. He was proud of using his nose to track his friend. “Isn’t there some defenseless creature you could be out hunting and mutilating?” Jack rolled his eyes at the conversation. They were getting along as well as usual.
“That’s enough out of both of you,” Ms. Huxley came to the rescue as she brought in a plate of sliced, rare meat. Both of the wolves drooled while Jack’s stomach did a couple of flips. “I can always finish cooking these things and eat them myself,” she threatened as the smell wafted through the small room. “And if you want to eat these, I’ll have to ask you to go to the table. They’re very runny today.” Jack grimaced, but the others followed her to the dining room. She returned a minute later without the plate and boys. “Now you can get some work done,” she assured as she smiled and turned to leave.
“To be honest, I’m having a little trouble with the books,” Jack admitted.
“I know,” she agreed with a heavy sigh. She glanced around at the chaos. “I should have organized this place a long time ago.” Her eyes traveled over the worn covers and dusty pages. “I collected these bit by bit, and I haven’t had the energy to put them in a row and assign them categories.” She paused for a moment in thought, and Jack wasn’t sure he liked the expression on her face. “But perhaps you could categorize them in the order that best suits your needs. Any order would be better than this mess,” she laughed as she glided her hand over the chaos. She noticed the frown he was trying to hide. “But if you’re not up for the challenge, merely stacking the read ones in a corner would work.”
“I’ll think about it,” he promised, and she left him to resume his work.
He was alone for another five minutes before he heard loud, angry voices and sighed. Those two upstairs were at it again. Jack closed his book and rolled his eyes. It looked like he wouldn’t be getting much work done today, but when he checked the time he noted it was almost six. Jack neatly piled the books he’d read and stuffed the half finished journal in his bag before he stepped out into the hall.
“What is wrong with you?” he heard Leroy shout. There was a distinctively animalistic growl in his voice.
“Nothing’s wrong with me, it’s you that’s being the jerk!” Kyle argued.
Jack stuck his head inside the dining room and saw the adversaries standing a few feet apart. Their tempers were flaring and Kyle was noticeably not controlling his new instincts. His eyes were a little too bright and his fingers a little too long. Their screeching match, however, was interrupted by Ms. Huxley, who was not pleased with their bickering. She had her coat on, so she must have heard the fighting even from outside.
“What in the world is going on here?” she demanded to know as she glanced between the opponents. “What are you two children fighting about now?”
“I was just playing a little with the transformation and he gets mad at me,” Kyle defended. Leroy only scowled, but Jack had his explanation for his friend’s long fingers.
“You both know the rule about no wolfing in the house,” she reprimanded. “Leroy has enough idea not to do it inside a cluttered home, but you, Kyle need to learn some sense.” Leroy triumphantly smiled, but Kyle winced at the harsh scolding. He didn’t dare argue, though, and she sighed as his shoulders slumped. “Maybe we need to have a talk later.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “But for now it looks like you boys should be getting home before the police station starts receiving phone calls from frantic mothers.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kyle sulking replied, and Jack led his defeated friend out onto the porch. “Damn that snitch,” he grumbled as they stepped down for Jack to fetch his bike from the lawn.
“I kind of think Ms. Huxley and Jenkins are right,” Jack argued, which didn’t improve his companion’s mood. “You’re still learning about this stuff, and you’re definitely a little more aggressive than you used to be.” Kyle frowned, but he needed to hear this. “They’re just trying to keep you from freaking out and killing someone.”
“I can handle it,” he huffed. He took his frustration out on a rock as he kicked the half way down the block. It skipped against the sidewalk and shot into a yard, nearly hitting a window. Jack frowned as he cringed. “I, um, I meant to do that.”
“I’m sure you did,” Jack answered as rolled his eyes. “At least you’re doing pretty well on finding people.” He didn’t want to entirely discourage his friend.
“Yeah, that was pretty good, wasn’t it,” Kyle beamed. “It kinda helps you having a unique scent and all, too.”
“How’s it unique?” he asked as he stopped. This was new. “Like something bad?”
“Not really, just, I don’t know, like there’s a lot of it or something,” his friend struggled to explain. “Like you have twice as much smell as everyone else.”
“Great…” Jack muttered. Just what he needed to worry about, smelling up a room. “What were you doing following me, anyway? I mean, besides for the practice.”
“Oh, right, I wanted to ask you something,” he recalled. “My dad’s taking me to his work this weekend and I was wondering if you wanted to come along.”
“What’s your dad do again?” He’d been told about it before, but he couldn’t remember what it was.
“He manages one of the bigger farms outside of town,” Kyle explained. “There’s not much to see, but it’s one of the oldest places around here,” he hinted. “Maybe we can find something there that’ll help us.”
“Around some old farm machinery and cows?” Jack countered as he looked closely at his friend. “Why do you really want me to go?”
“Yeah, um, about that,” Kyle replied as he shrunk down. “To be honest, my dad makes me go there to see his employer’s daughter,” he revealed. Jack breathed a sigh of relief. He thought maybe they would be put to work. Their efforts would have devastated the barnyard. “She’s been sick since she was born, so she doesn’t get to talk with other kids her age.”
“How old is she now?” he asked.
“About twelve. My dad took me to see her when she was about four, and she kinda had a crush on me,” he admitted with an embarrassed smile. Jack smirked as he wondered if Kyle ever had to deal with a jealous Amanda. “So my dad’s taken me back there a lot. I thought maybe this time I could take some friends, and my dad didn’t argue.”
“So you’re gonna drag Amanda along with us?” Jack guessed when he heard the plural.
“Yep,” Kyle nodded. “She’s been out there before, but mostly when our classes took a field trip or something, so she’s hardly met Violet.”
“I’m guessing Violet’s the girl you visit,” Jack mused. He thought about the description Kyle had just given him of the farm, and it sounded familiar from his research. “Is her last name Fletcher?”
“How’d you know that?” Kyle asked in surprise.
“I haven’t been reading all those books for nothing,” his friend pointed out.
“Oh, right,” Kyle sheepishly agreed. “Well, her dad changed the name of their farm to Magi, but it’s still called the Fletcher Farm. Her family’s owned the farm since the town was founded.” He glanced over to Jack. “I suppose you know all this already, too.”
“Most of it, but not about the name change,” Jack admitted. “Looking through all those books, though, is there anyone here who isn’t related to one of the town founders?” he wondered aloud. He knew he’d asked this before, but this web of relationships was getting complicated enough he just had to ask.
“A lot of people around here like to stay here, especially if they’re from the older families,” Kyle explained. He frowned as he rubbed his chin. “Now that I think of it, something kinda like a forcefield keeps those older family people from leaving. Not the newer families, though, they come and go pretty normally.”
“A forcefield?” Jack asked. They were heading from the realm of the supernatural into science fiction. “Don’t you think we have enough trouble with the supernatural?”
“Hey, it’s not our fault trouble finds us,” he defended them, but his easy manner was tinged with a serious expression. “But now that I think about it, it does seem pretty weird. I mean, some people leave but not that many. I guess because there’s enough jobs here, especially with your mom opening the inn.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, but he was distracted. The small town of Sanctuary was becoming stranger and stranger with each new bit of information.
“I almost forgot!” Kyle suddenly yelled, snapping Jack free from his thoughts as he jerked his head up. A few dogs barked in the distance and someone yelled at them to be quiet.
“Forgot what?” he asked in a low voice. His friend was an amateur at subtly.
“What I saw that night at the party,” he excitedly explained. Jack expected him to explode with eagerness. “Wow, I can’t believe I almost forgot.” He slapped his forehead for emphasis. “And I’ve been meaning to tell you one of these times we met at Huxley’s house.”
“Before you forget again, could you tell me?” Jack pointed out.
“Oh, right, well, it’s about Mrs. Withers and your grandpa,” he informed.
“Wait, who again?” he interrupted. The name was familiar, but he couldn’t place the face.
“Amanda’s great-grandma. She’s the one Liz was walking around everywhere greeting everyone,” he reminded. It took Jack a few seconds to realize Liz was short for Elizabeth, Amanda’s older sister. “Well, later when I was hiding from my grandma, I saw her come up to your grandpa and start talking to him like she knew him from way back.” Jack frowned but didn’t reply, and Kyle was disappointed he hadn’t a more eager audience. “She knew his name and everything, and he called her by some other name, like her maiden name or something.”
“You sure you heard right?” Jack inquired. The room had been pretty crowded. “And you’re sure my mom didn't tell her his name?”
“Not when it sounded like this,” Kyle countered as he shook his head. “I saw her make a straight line for him when she saw him in the corner, and then they were really having a chat.” He paused and leaned toward his friend as his eyes darted around the empty street. “Some of it was even about you.”
“What about me?” his friend quickly asked as his head snapped to attention. It was always uncomfortable when strangers talked about you, but even more so when his estranged grandfather was involved.
“Something about how much you look like him, and about your dad and grandma,” he vaguely replied with a sheepish grin. “I can’t remember the exact words, but she was definitely interested in you. Asking your name and how you looked nice.” He pretended to gag and Jack rolled his eyes, though that wasn’t something he wanted to hear a great-grandmother say about him.
“Yeah, but what does that tell us?” Jack asked.
“Don’t you see there’s some sort of connection between them,” Kyle argued as he threw up his arms. “It’s another piece in the puzzle.”
“My mom visited this place when she was younger,” he informed, and his friend’s shoulders sagged. He still wanted to find a logical explanation for what he could, because surely things weren’t that strange around here. “Maybe they met here one of those times.”
“You’re not believing me, are you?” Kyle pouted as his shoulders slumped. Jack would have laughed, but there a serious tinge to his friend’s tone. “All this strange stuff going on, including me, and you still think you’re grandpa’s a normal guy?”
“I don’t think he’s normal,” Jack countered. Far from it, but he didn’t want to be led down a belief that turned out not to be true. “I just don’t know what to think of him,” he admitted with a shrug. “He’s got those weird glasses and sneaks up on everyone like a ghost, but I don’t know what that all points to.”
“I know what that points to,” his companion firmly informed. “He’s Dracula in a trench coat. If he were any more undead, he’d be walking around mumbling something about brains.”
“I know, I know,” Jack agreed. “But aren’t vampires supposed to be around only during the night? I’ve seen him in the morning, too.”
“Not if he’s a Russian vampire,” Kyle solemnly explained. He was glad to be the one holding the knowledge now. “Besides, that guy walks around in the dark like he can see through it. Remember the tunnel beneath the inn?”
“How can I forget it?” his friend countered. He shuddered as he thought about that strange, cold feeling down there and them being dragged through those bones.
“If he’s not a vampire, then I’m not a werewolf,” Kyle argued.
“Yeah, well, we’ll figure out what he is,” Jack reassured him. He glanced at his watch. He was going to be late for dinner. “Well, I really have to get back to the inn,” he sighed. At this rate he was afraid his friend would think up a whole list of unexplainable things which surrounded his relation, and he wouldn’t be able to figure anything out from all those points. “My mom’s probably wondering where I am by now. She still thinks there’s something running loose killing animals.”
“Yeah, I really wish that jerk would tell me what was wrong with him…” his friend grumbled.
“He won’t?” Jack questioned in surprise.
“Ms. Huxley says he doesn’t trust anybody and would probably see telling me as some sort of weakness,” Kyle explained. “All he’d fess up to was that something kinda spooked his wolf self a few months back and made it go crazy like that.” He rolled his eyes. “Probably doesn’t even know himself.”
“So what’s keeping him from going crazy again? Or you, for that matter?” Jack asked.
“The jerk won’t tell me that, either,” Kyle explained.
“Are you ever going to use his name?” Jack wondered. He couldn’t quite blame his friend, though. Jenkins was being really unhelpful for having put the curse on Kyle. “You know, instead of jerk or idiot or something?”
“Nope,” Kyle quipped. “I’m just going to call him The Jerk. It fits him pretty well.”
“Well, try not to kill each other,” Jack advised.
“I’m not making any promises.”


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