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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2208443
There's a logical explanation for the disappearances... isn't there? Haunted Houses Comp.
No More Than A Myth

The citizens of Grambledown had to come up with some kind of reason for the disappearances, didn't they? It happened every year, after all. A couple, who were believed by both friends and family to be very much in love, simply vanished. To make this even stranger, it always occurred on Christmas Eve.

Those that were superstitious blamed the devil, or the faerie folk, for luring them away, but most of the people in town were of a far less fanciful nature. People, couples very much in love, eloped; there was no mystery in that. They would simply decide to move on and share their lives in some place new. The fact that they always chose the night of Christmas Eve was never mentioned, for maybe that would make a hole in the logic.

Helen had heard rumors about a house appearing in the woods, yet when she tried to find out more, the subject would be dropped. She had been in the woods many times during her childhood, and she knew for a fact that there were no buildings there. Not a shed, and certainly not a house. She laughed and poured scorn on the idea, along with all the other sceptics, yet she could not put the idea completely from her mind.

She was very much in love with her boyfriend, Craig. There was no doubt in her mind that he felt just the same, but her parents did not hesitate in letting both him and their daughter know that they did not approve.

"You know he's trouble," he father had warned.

Helen had stared open-mouthed. "Why? What has he done?"

"Trouble waiting to happen, your Father means." When she was sure that she had Helen's full attention, her mother had continued: "You can find someone better, you know."

"But I don't want anyone else. I love Craig and Craig loves me back. If you two don't like it, that's your problem."

Helen had held firm; she was almost twenty-one, old enough to make her own choices, and that was exactly what she planned to do. The fact that her parents did not invite Craig to their Christmas Eve gathering did not really bother her. She wasn't too keen on spending the night with a bunch of stuffy and opinionated relatives, so she and Craig would spend it together instead.

They had a meal, shared a bottle of wine, and got to talking about the rumor of the woods.

"I reckon," said Craig, "that those couples that disappeared were just like us."
"How do you mean?"

"Disapproved of by one set of parents or the other. Who knows, maybe by both families, and they just decided to take off to be together."

"Let's go out there," Helen suggested.

"Where? The woods, you mean?"

"Sure," Helen pointed out of the window. The sky was aglow with moonlight, and although it would be cold, at least it would be dry.

Picking up another bottle of wine, that was as yet unopened, Craig picked up his car keys. "You know what, Hel? I think that's a great idea!"

It wasn't a very long journey to the edge of the woods. Craig parked the car and opened the second bottle of wine. By the time they stepped out onto the path they were beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol. Helen grabbed hold of Craig's hand and ran ahead, pulling her behind him into the cover of the trees.

The woods certainly had a magical feel, as the moon shone down between the branches to pick out the frost that was beginning to form on the ground. Helen shivered.

"Come here, Hel, you're cold. I know just how to warm you up." Craig wrapped his arms around Helen and their lips met.

Neither was sure which of them had first realized that they were not alone in the woods. They watched the backs of another couple heading further into the woods. They seemed to have purpose in their steps, and Helen, holding her finger to her lips, moved to follow at a distance.

"What are you doing?" Craig hissed.

"Shh! Humor me," Helen whispered back, and, lacing her fingers in his, carried on following the other couple.

They weaved their way between trees, trying to follow, yet the others seemed to have left no visible trail behind them. Helen paused, and at that moment caught sight of another couple. They were too distant to be more than faint images, but it was enough to convince her that they were still heading in the right direction.

After they had walked for another short time, the trees began to thin. "I don't remember this, do you?" Craig whispered.

As they stumbled into a clearing in which a large house stood, one with each and every window throwing out light, Helen said, "No."

"Perhaps we should go, Hel."

"No," she repeated. "I want to get closer, see if I can see inside." She carried on forwards and Craig was faced with a decision: he could do what he thought he should and turn right around, or he could stay with Helen. There was no choice to be made really; he headed off after her.

"Look!" Helen was clearly entranced by what she saw through the window. They were looking into a spacious room where couples were dancing. Not modern moves though, they all seemed to be waltzing together.

Would either of them have entered if another couple had not approached the door, pushed it open and held it, beckoning to Craig and Helen to follow them inside? Helen paused, looked to the sky just in time to see the moon disappear behind a cloud. The temperature seemed to drop by several degrees and the glow that came from inside looked so warm and welcoming. She stepped through the door taking Craig with her. Only when they were both inside did the door close.

It was impossible to be in the room and not be swept up in the dance. It was crazy though, for neither of them had ever waltzed in their life before, yet to their astonishment, their feet were keeping perfect step. Helen let her head fall forward onto Craig's shoulder and his arm tightened around her waist.

The pace was slow to begin with, then the music picked up speed and the dancers did too. Where was the music coming from? It was strange, almost ethereal; unlike anything either of them had heard before.

What made Helen look up, she could not say, but what she saw when her eyes took in the room filled her with horror. She was certain the man on her left was a ghost!

But he was far from being the only one. The figures they were dancing with were insubstantial, no more than wisps of beings, and yet they were still recognizable. The couple across the room bore a definite resemblance to Gareth and Karen, the couple that had vanished exactly a year ago. Mitchel and Pauline were there too; both Helen and Craig had known them at school and recognized them instantly.

"We need to get out," Craig said with urgency, and yet his feet continued to dance.

"Oh, god, no," Helen gasped. "It was true! All of it!" She tried to pull them towards the door but found that the ghosts were beginning to cluster around them.

Still the waltz continued along with the spectral music. As their feet continued to move, their bodies were invaded by the spirits that surrounded them. Helen took one last horrified look towards the window, only to find that all trace of the woods had vanished.

(1281 words)

(Include the words: love; ghost; woods and moonlight)
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