Flames of fire danced above embers glowing bright reddish-orange illuminating the darkness and keeping the chill of the dense forest at bay. Crackle from the fire broke the silence of the night. The Hollow Hills Explorers sat closely to the fire on logs cut from the 1890’s forest. The adventure was successful, you could say, except; we didn’t know if we could return home.
Finn’s voice erupted through the silence, “Hey, you guys, it’s getting late and we have to get back before it’s too late!”
“He’s right. We may not even be able to get back. We’re in the 1890s. Did you forget? Check out the logger’s camp over there.” Oliver said.
Everyone looked over to the logger’s camp. They could see most had gone to sleep save for a few that played cards late into the night with their kerosene lanterns burning brightly. Tents glowing in the darkness on the hillside added to the eeriness of the situation the Explorers found themselves in.
Dalton tried to calm everyone down, “Okay, Okay. We haven’t even tried. Remember what Tom said. All we need to do is find the stump with the axe stuck in the middle.”
“Well that solves one problem,” Finn exclaimed, “but how about on the other side? The school doors are locked on Fridays after the last of the football tournament games is played and players have all left the change room.”
Faith tried to stay rational, “How long have we been out here. What time is it anyway? The last game probably hasn’t even ended.”
Dalton said, “We’ll never know if we don’t get up, leave the Hollows and head back through that dark forest.”
Tom, their new logger ghost friend, suggested, “Tell ya what, guys. Why don’t I go back with you? I know these woods. The trail you originally came in on doesn’t exist yet ‘cause we’re in the 1890’s. Right now that forest is dark as coal. Come on everyone follow me.”
They took one last look around to the skies. There was nothing like it. It was a crisp, clear night, and the moon sat high in the sky illuminating the clearing in the woods that became known as the Hollows. Huge hollowed out stumps that had at one time been trees giant redwood and cedar trees surrounded the explorers. The loggers had cleared the area and left these stumps, some small and some reaching up to ten feet and higher.
The explorers looked around at the stumps. They could see cuts axed into the stumps that loggers would hoist and jam their springboards into making them sturdy enough to stand upon and balance all the while holding onto their saws and cutting through the trees. Tonight the fire lit up the stumps, and the cuts appeared as eyes and mouths and an ear here and there. Some of these faces didn’t look too friendly.
Finn said, “Well, enough looking. Let’s go.”
Faith said, “I had a great time. I still can’t believe we’re in the 1890’s. I only hope we can make it back to the right time. Our time.”
Finn was growing more impatient by the minute. “I’m heading back now. Remember, I’m the one who leaves my homework at school and Mom makes me go back to get it. I know that if we don’t get back there in time the custodian closes up for the weekend and those doors are locked until Monday.”
Oliver finished his thought, “He’s right. We better move.”
Dalton ordered everyone, “Okay, let’s stay close. Tom will be in the lead and I’ll bring up the tail end. Keep your eyes on the one in front of you.”
Faith took out her new cell phone. “I have a flashlight app. If my battery holds out, we’ll have light.” She set it to turn on and when it did, she shined it towards the forest. Chills ran up her spine. She remembered the first time she saw the apparition in the forest. She looked around for more ghosts. Perhaps, she thought, if there was one, there might be more.
The Hollow Hills Explorers, HHE’s for short, formed their expedition lineup. Tom, their new ghostly friend was in the lead followed by, Oliver, Finn, Faith and Dalton bringing up the tail. Tom knew the way. He’d walked this forest hundreds of times before the loggers cleared parts of it and before the big storm of thunder and lightning that changed Tom’s life forever. The fire ripped through taking with it many of the ancient redwoods and cedars leaving a charred, smoldering and timeless home for Tom. A bolt of ball lightning struck Tom as he brought his axe down into a tree. Ever since, Tom has walked the forest watching it come back to life with ground cover, bushes and new trees. Over the years he’d also witnessed the coming of settlers and most recently the construction of Hollow Hills Middle School.
Darkness and silence held the forest captive this night save for the odd hoot from an owl calling out. “HOOOOOOO”.
Finn called to the owl, “WHOOOOOOOO goes there?” Deep in the forest there came an answer not from another owl but a coyote. “Yip, yip, yip, yip, aaooooooh!” Another coyote called out from even deeper in the woods, “Yip, Yip, Yaaaaaooooooo!”
Okay, that’s it, Fin whispered and yelled out, “Let’s run!”
As they ripped through the forest, they could hear yet another coyote crying out from the south side of the forest “Yip, yip, yip yayayayayaya.”
To add to the coyote chorus was the most chilling cry from the north somewhere up snake hill trail. “Yaaaaooooh!”
“This can’t be good,” Faith said, feeling a shiver race up her back as she sped up trying to keep up with Oliver.
Oliver yelled back, “Sounds like a choir. One coyote sings out, a little later another sings, followed by the next, like a canon - Row, Row, Row your boat.”
Finn yelled up to Oliver, “Yah, I wish I had a boat right now. I’d like one with wings that could fly me to the school’s big green door.”
It was too late for any such wishes. They were deep into the forest with its trembling ferns reaching up to your waist, soft green moss underfoot and trees with branches reaching out like arms threatening to grab hold of lost hikers. Suddenly, a coyote so near and so loud cried out “Yaaoooooowoooo! Yip Yip Yip Yip Yip Yaaoooowoooo!” Finn lost all control darting like a bolt from the blue, making a whooshing sound as he ran right through Tom, not around or under, but through, followed by Oliver, Faith and Dalton. They ran like wild animals through the century old forest hooting and howling along with the owls and coyotes.
The crazy run ended when Finn tripped over a rock and tumbled over and over coming to rest against a log. The others followed suit stumbling and rolling, finally piling on top of each other in a big dog pile. Tom, who had turned into his usual ghostly self, floated over the jumble of bodies, arms and legs belonging to the explorers and said, “It’s okay. The coyotes only testing boundaries, calling out to each other and locating members of their pack.”
The explorers untangled and pushed themselves up. Faith located her cell phone and shined it through Tom. He looked like a white wispy puff of smoke, his face floating on top.
Tom said, “Okay, follow my lead, stay calm, stay in line and we’ll get there.”
Finn said, “What was that?”
“Sorry, that was me.” Dalton said, “I stepped on a branch.”
So the troop of HHE’s made their way through the dense forest with barely a light coming from Faith’s cellphone, something the loggers knew nothing about. Now and then the light shone onto Tom brightening his shape and illuminating the path. Most important, it comforted them. They felt everything was okay especially Faith who originally had come from the city where lights shine from every street corner all night long.