“You wanna do something fun?” Meredith asked Jessica with a sinister smile. Jessica and Meredith were traveling abroad during their summer between high school and college. The two friends were working together on a farm somewhere deep inland. They could not recall the name of the town once they left. They said it felt like it may have never existed. Like a dream.
“Like what?” Jessica asked, intrigued by the offer.
Both girls were getting tired of farm life. They wanted to try some of the farming experiences that their work visa program had offered, to truly live like an authentic Australian citizen, but it wasn’t for them. They wanted the nightlife of the major cities and drinks on the beach. A departure from their comfortable upper-middle-class living situations in the United States was welcomed, but only for a short visit.
“Well, this is our last night here,” Meredith continued, “I thought maybe we could go see the witch.”
The owner of the farm, an older gentleman by the name of Kent, had told the girls about a local legend on their first night staying in the guest quarters. He was a regular stop for travelers in the area, offering room and board in exchange for light farm work, and was trusted by the work visa program as a reputable organic farming operation. Although Meredith and Jessica were the only girls staying on his property at that moment, they felt safe. He was a good man.
However, after four or five beers and an hour or so of eating and talking to open him up, Kent told a story that profoundly shook Jessica’s normally calm demeanor.
According to legend, a witch lived behind the trees to the north of the farm, unfortunately near the guest quarters where Jessica and Meredith were sleeping during their stay. The witch lured travelers into the woods by a guiding light. A light would appear beyond the trees, and curious travelers would go out to investigate it, never to be seen again.
Meredith laughed and suggested that the light was a bus that could take them to the beach. Kent smiled at her but looked distracted by his thoughts. Then he appeared embarrassed. He apologized for taking up too much of their evening, thanked them for coming, and wished them good night. He never brought it up again.
“I saw the light behind the trees,” Meredith said, her smile widening. Jessica’s face became serious.
“What do you mean? Where?” Jessica asked.
“Two nights ago. I got out of bed to use the bathroom and I saw it outside the window. A small, faint light was flickering through the trees. I could barely make it out, but it was there. I saw it again last night too. It looks like it’s probably someone camping out there. I doubt it’s a witch, but it’s crazy that it matches what Kent said.”
“They’ve probably left by now. What if it isn’t out there tonight?”
“I can see it right now.”
Meredith gestured towards the window and Jessica gasped. Flickering, just barely, deep in the woods behind the tree line, there was a light.
“Oh my god, it’s probably two girls just like us,” Meredith laughed, “Let’s go out and investigate it. It’ll be a fun story! We can’t go home without any fun stories.”
“I’m sure we’ll get plenty of cool stories once we get back into the city,” Jessica said.
“Come on. It’s our last night!”
“What if it is a couple of girls like us? Won’t they be freaked out if we just pop up at their campsite? I don’t want to scare them.”
“Sorry to break this to you Jess, but we’re not exactly scary. Look at us,” Meredith said, grabbing her bicep and then Jessica’s bicep. Although farm life had given them some definition and muscle tone, it certainly hadn’t been a long enough commitment to form many noticeable effects.
Jessica felt afraid, but she knew that she would not be able to sleep. She would think about the light for the rest of the night. Plus, Meredith was right. She did want to have stories and to go on spooky adventures with her friend. They were getting older, and even at that age, she still understood that times for making memories such as these were fleeting.
“Okay,” Jessica said, “Let’s go.”
The girls changed from their nighttime clothes into outdoor clothes. They didn’t know what to expect, especially in the woods at night. Jeans, long sleeves, and boots felt like a good call. It was a warm night. Jackets and hats felt unnecessary. Jessica had bought two headlamps at the beginning of the trip that the girls had yet to use outside of pretending to be coal miners in the store. They put them on and went out into the dark.
They made sure to leave as many lights on in their guest quarters as possible. The harsh glow of the porch lights lapped and crashed against the tree line. If all else failed, they would be able to find their beds again by a guiding light of their creation.
As they approached the tree line, the mysterious light behind it appeared to remain the same distance away. It didn’t begin to feel like it was getting closer until they breached the forest boundary. Once they were shrouded in the darkness of surrounding trees, the light appeared to only be about 20 or 30 meters away. They walked with a respectful presence. They wanted their approach to be known and felt no need to be quiet or sneaky. They wanted whatever or whoever it was by the light to feel at ease like they weren’t being spied on or stalked.
When they got close enough, they could tell that it was a fire. A small bonfire was lightly crackling a moonlit clearing. Next to it, two dark figures were sitting on sleeping bags and looking in their direction.
“Hey!” Meredith called out, “Sorry, we work on this farm. We were just exploring around. Don’t mean to bother you!”
The two figures sat still and did not speak.
“Are you guys traveling abroad too? We thought about camping. Camping rules!” said Jessica.
“Yeah, oh my god, rules so hard. Super jealous. We love it out here,” said Meredith.
Silence. One of the figures leaned towards the other figure and appeared to whisper something. Then they stood up. Two thin human-shaped shadows with long black hair, about the same height as Jessica and Meredith, stood behind the fire and painted their faces in light.
They were still a good distance away, and the dark and shadows could have been blamed for playing tricks, but Meredith and Jessica agreed with each other about what they saw later. The two women looked like them. They had their faces, but they weren’t their faces. The only way they could think to describe them was as the “wrong” faces. As soon as they got a glimpse, the flicker of the fire would obscure them again.
“Okay! Sorry to bother you!” Jessica yelled out louder than she intended. Her nerves were beginning to shake. A profound instinct washed over her, and she felt the primal urge to run. Meredith was experiencing a moment of frozen awe.
“You wanna do something fun?” one of the dark figures asked. Her voice sounded like Jessica’s.
“Like what?” Meredith asked before Jessica could refuse.
“There’s a light out there,” the other figure said, sounding painfully like Meredith, as she extended an arm much longer than her proportions should have allowed, and pointed deeper into the woods, “We heard it’s a witch. We wanted to check it out, but we’re afraid. Will you come with us?”
“Could be fun,” the other one whispered.
“No, we don’t--,” Jessica began before getting cut off by Meredith.
“That’s why we came here. We thought you two were the witch.”
A burst of shrill, horrific laughter flooded the woods and bounced off the trees around them, pushing a mass of energy towards the sky. The figures continued to stand perfectly still.
“Follow us,” the figure with Meredith’s voice said.
Then, in a moment that felt like it was only a flash of light, the sleeping bags and fire disappeared. The figures surrounding it were gone, but beyond where they had been standing, much deeper in the woods, another light appeared.
“Yep. Let’s leave,” Jessica said.
“Uh-huh, totally,” Meredith laughed, “I hated that. That was weird.”
“So weird! Yeah, I was like, no way. I’m definitely not going deeper into the woods.”
“Right? Oh my god. No way! I’ve seen that movie before. Ends with us getting disintegrated in a barrel or something. They’re going to lure us deeper into the woods and then even if we want to leave, we’ll get lost. No offense to these headlamps.”
“Because they’re great, but yeah, no, forget this.”
“We literally don’t even need to wonder about what would have happened if we kept going,” Jessica laughed, “Like, we’d die or something. Like, no. Is this witch stupid?”
“Oh my god, seriously,” said Meredith.
The two girls turned around to head back. Luckily, they were close enough to the tree line that they never lost sight of the warm glow of their temporary living quarters.
The next morning, they left the farm before Kent woke up. They wrote him a very courteous note and thanked him for his hospitality. Jessica thanked him for telling them about the witch and suggested that he post about it in his listing for future guests.
When they got to the city, they told everyone they met the tale of the witches that looked like them and tried to lure them deeper into the woods. Some people didn’t believe them. Some people believed them all too well and shared their own similar experiences. One thing was certain among everyone who heard it, it was an entertaining story.