SHORT STORIES: The Girl With The Lantern
Regret. Such a futile feeling, yet one so strong. If I hadn’t drunk the final can, then would I be here right now? Lying awake in my sleeping bag at four in the morning, desperate for the toilet, yet so dizzyingly tired and hopelessly lazy. I toss and turn, but it’s inevitable. I must broach the darkness, and venture to the toilet block.
I reluctantly climb to my feet, wince at the small shower of dew which falls as I hit the top of the canvas, and begin to silently slip on my shorts. I leave the bedroom and walk out into the gloomy atrium strewn with empty cans. Thanks a bunch.
Unzipping the tent, I see a faint light illuminating the yellow guy ropes of the tent. It isn’t bright, but enough to see the tall trees whipping to and fro in the sporadic, yet sharp burst of wind. The quiet terrifies me, but I bravely stride on towards the breeze block fortress a couple of hundred metres away. I trip over my flip flops momentarily, but regain my rhythm, looking down to see if the battered sandals are still in one piece.
They are, and I smile weakly, but as I look up something catches my eye. A young girl, no more than eight years old, dressed in white patterned pyjamas is speeding out of a group of tents, holding a bright lantern directly in front of her. I stop, and she passes, her eyes wide open, perhaps only two feet in front of me, yet totally oblivious of my presence. The cold light illuminates her pale face, and her dead eyes which look straight ahead.
How peculiar, I think as I continue towards the toilets. The more I ponder the event, the more it confuses me. The way she was holding the lantern, that fact she was walking away from the toilets and into the forest. Forget it Ben. Concentrate on the mission at hand!
But I cannot help looking back, yet I wish I hadn’t. The girl, the lantern still extended in bizarre angular fashion, is following me. I turn back, but my figure is shadowed in her light. My pulse suddenly races, and my pace quickens with terror. Why? Why is she following me?
Panic covers me, but then empathy. Why is she following me? Maybe she’s lost? Maybe she needs help? I stop, though my heart continues to race ahead, and I turn to face the girl. After a few seconds she is within ten paces, and as she refuses to slow I nervously ask:
“Are you ok? Lost?”
Her body quakes. Her eyes widen. She straightens, before dashing away into the darkness, whimpering gently as she goes.
Confused and terrified by the encounter, I begin to run towards the toilets. What just happened? Was that real? Why didn’t she say anything? I don’t understand!
The fluorescent brightness of the toilet block comes into focus as I enter it, and my eyes ache as I drop onto the seat. My heart beats heavily, and my body is tense.
I leave the cubicle wash my hands, and splash the cool water on my face. It calms me, and after a moment’s hesitation, I leave the block.
The voices echo in my head:
“Being scared of the dark is stupid Ben!”
But they don’t know what lurks therein! What fools!
As I carefully walk back to the tent, I replay the events of the last ten minutes. What the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck!?
I see the tent’s familiar shape, and kneel down to open the zip. Hang on. I’ve seen enough horror films. What if the girl is inside? Poised and ready to kill. I tense up once again before an overwhelming rationality moves me to lift the zip tag.
I stare into the dark room, but obviously nothing is there. You’re probably just dreaming, I think as I climb back into my sleeping bag. Weird dream though.
I rest my head on the pillow, but the image of the pale girl with the lantern haunts me until daybreak.