The Friend

This is a story based on a legend from Upstate New York. It is also the beginning of short story fiction based around United States’ legends and folklore. This story is based on the Lavender legend. This was the first I wrote, and it takes a different tone than the rest of the stories. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy.

“Charlie, do you think I’m a loner?”

“You’re no loner! You have me.”

“How did I ever get so lucky?”

Charlie frowned at his friend’s sarcastic quip.

Harry Mills was your typical quiet kid. His favorite thing in the world was a good novel. Yet, he was a bit of an outlier; he wasn’t a scrawny kid with glasses. He was athletic, showcasing his athleticism as part of his high school’s soccer and baseball teams. Harry was tall with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. He had a sharp mind that impressed those who paid attention, but he rarely said two words in front of strangers.

To counter his quiet demeanor, he had Charlie — his best friend. The two were inseparable since meeting in the second grade. Charlie was bookish — he would admit it — but favored showing off his athletic side. He was equally as witty as Harry, but Charlie had no problem showing others his wit.

The two friends were off to their annual autumn school dance, which happened every October. As high school seniors, they planned for this dance to be the best yet. Harry, who hated the thought of dancing, thought it be best for him to try the activity at least once in his high school career. He knew he would be awkward among his friends and peers, but his determination this school year to be more social was a personal goal. He determined his awkwardness was no longer an excuse to not socialize.

Harry and Charlie — on this autumn afternoon in upstate New York — decided to walk the mile to school. With the leaves changing into beautiful oranges and reds and the air gaining its fall crispness, the boys thought it be best to walk and talk. They dressed fashionably, capped off by borrowing blazers from their fathers.

They decided to walk through their favorite trail — a path that cuts through the local forest preserve, crossing over a bridge along the way. The preserve was filled with little old houses and secrets, which made for a perfect setting on any trip through the trails. The chilly afternoon reddened their faces and sent slight chills up their backs. While the trees above them were alive with color, dead, brown leaves crunched underneath them. The moon made an early appearance in the early evening sky.

“Say, Charlie, how’d you get Alison to say yes?”

Charlie gave a half smile, and looked up at the cloudless sky, “I just asked, plain and simple. No tricks, honestly. It’s just a dance. There’s nothing life or death about it.”

Charlie had wanted to ask out Alison Smith ever since the two met freshmen year in an English class they shared. Harry did not buy Charlie’s cool response, knowing his history of planning schemes to ask Alison out. Harry had to ask, “So, the 20 grand ideas you had told me you planned for senior year did not come into play?”

Charlie glared, “No way, man. I just went up and asked. I thought I told you?”

Harry let it go.

Charlie could have told me, but that’s something I’d certainly remember, he thought.

“And I don’t see any date for you,” Charlie sneered.

“I didn’t ask anyone. So, that makes perfect sense.”

“You totally should’ve! It’s your last fall dance, why not go for it all?”

“You know the dancing fact alone is going for a lot,” Harry replied.

They both smiled.

Harry asked, “Where is Alison? She didn’t want to walk with us?”

“She said she’d meet me in front of the school.”

The two walked in silence for a couple minutes, as they approached the midway point of the trail: a magnificent wooden bridge. The long, skinny bridge overlooked a small creek, which looked as if it was a mile drop. The craftsmen who built the bridge, rumored to have been a local Native American tribe from long ago, included intricate designs on the posts and railings of the bridge. Firmly connected to either side, the bridge was a sturdy rest stop in people’s treks throughout the trail.

When they approached the bridge, Harry looked up across the way and something caught his eye,

“Charlie, look! Who is that?”

A figure stood at the center of the bridge. The figure was looking down toward the singing creek. Charlie stopped and called out, “Hello!”

The figure looked up and waved. It was clear the figure was a girl, dressed up as if she was about to go out on a night on the town. She seemed to be around the same age.

“Who is she?” Harry asked.

“Why don’t you find out!” Charlie smiled, pushing his friend ahead.

Harry rolled his eyes and slowly continued forward. The girl was wearing a long purple dress, speckled with mud at its bottom. Her golden blonde hair curled down just past her shoulders. She happily stood her ground as Harry eased forward. Charlie slowly stepped forward behind him. She carried no purse, no bag and no jacket. Harry thought the no jacket was a bit weird, since it was October.

“Hello,” Harry quietly said, “I’m Harry Mills.”

He half-smiled and stuck out his hand. The girl smiled and shook his hand firmly. A sense of calm came over Harry; she seemed friendly. Besides her friendliness, Harry noticed two things: she was cold to the touch and her eyes were slightly red and puffy. She had been crying.

She smiled, quickly wiping away the teary evidence, “Hello, Harry! I’m Lilly.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Harry announced, “This is Charlie.”

He pointed to Charlie, who stood behind him.

“Hi, Lilly,” Charlie said.

She smiled at the both of them. Charlie wasted no time to point out what was obvious to him and Harry, “Um, are you from around here? I haven’t seen you before.”

“Oh, ha ha, I just moved here not long ago. I’ve been keeping a low profile at school. However, I saw there was a dance tonight. I thought it was a good way to meet some new people.”

“I can’t argue with you there,” said Charlie.

The three of them now stood side by side, looking out to the creek below.

“Is everything OK? Why are you out here alone?” asked Harry.

“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

“Do you answer your questions with questions?” Harry cringed at his playful retort.

“Do you?”

They both smiled. She explained to the two boys that she had gotten lost on her way to the school, becoming frustrated. This was a new trail to her, even though she lived close by.

“Well, the good news is that the school is very close! And, old Harry is here looking for a date, anyways. Boy, did this work out!” Charlie announced.

Charlie began to run toward the opposite side of the bridge. Harry blushed. Normally, he would have stammered and shut down. Tonight, though, he felt a calming, friendly presence in Lilly. He warmed up to her quickly, unlike anyone in his past.

“C’mon, you two! Being late is not acceptable,” Charlie called out.

Lilly grabbed Harry’s arm, sending a chill down his spine. Re-establishing that fact she was ice cold to the touch.

“No jacket… in October? Are you crazy?” Harry teased.

“I simply forgot! I’m not crazy, trust me. I’ve been tested.”

Harry smiled at her attempt with sarcasm.

“Lets go,” Lilly laughed and continued, “We can’t be late. Your friend said so.”

The both of them, their arms tightly linked, continued forward to the school and the dance.

— — — — — — — —

Charlie slowly sipped his water. He was alone, sitting along the gym wall. The autumn themed gym was decked out in pumpkins and other Halloween decorations. Instead of dancing with friends, Charlie sat along side two paper skeletons that were taped to the wall.

He watched Harry and Lilly have the time of their lives. He had never seen this side of Harry. This newer version of his friend started as soon as the trio entered the dance, where, from the start, the couple began dancing. To Charlie’s surprise, Harry was quite the dancer. He was happy for his friend, even though he was bitter that Alison had stood him up.

Around 10:30 PM, when the dance began to wind down, Charlie was fed up. He noticed Harry and Lilly quietly talking in a corner, and he approached them.

“OK, kids, time to go. Chop-chop.”

Harry laughed, “How’s Alison doing?”

Charlie punched him in the shoulder.

You get the girl and you become an ass I see, Charlie thought.

“Have fun Lilly?” Harry asked.

“It was a blast!”

“Do you wanna go?”

She looked around to the depleting crowd, “Yeah, it would be best to call it a night.”

“Thank god,” Charlie remarked under his breath.

The three began to walk back to their respective homes the way they came. Lilly, still ice cold, was wearing Harry’s jacket. He offered the jacket when they began their trek, to which she readily accepted. The two were holding hands as they approached the bridge. Charlie was slacking behind. He angrily kicked dirt into the black forest surrounding them. But, he kept silent, letting his friend enjoy his great night.

At the foot of the bridge, the trio stopped.

“Well, I guess this is goodnight,” Lilly said.

Charlie, behind them, stopped dead in his tracks, “What are you talking about?”

She pointed to a small path next to the bridge. In the day time, the path was hidden by the brush and trees. Harry and Charlie certainly did not see it on the way to the dance.

“My house is right up here. Look, you can see the porch light,” she pointed ahead down the smaller path.

The boys looked and were surprised to see a faint orange light outlining a porch.

“Wow, I never noticed that house before,” Harry said confused.

“Yeah, it’s pretty hard to see during the day. The trees cover it up nicely. I have no idea why my dad wanted to live in it. He’s trying to be more outdoors-y. It’ll have to do.”

Harry smiled, “C’mon, I’ll walk you to the front door,” he offered.

She downplayed the idea, “Oh no! It’s fine. Really. I appreciate it. I had a real pleasant evening!”

She smiled, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek, “I’ll see you around!”

She said good-bye to Charlie and disappeared into the darkness. 45 seconds, the sound of a front door opening and closing echoed throughout the woods.

“Weird.”

Puzzled, Harry asked, “What?”

“Her house was right there! How was she lost earlier?”

Harry shrugged, still smitten about the kiss. Charlie knew something was not right. The two friends began to walk back to their homes, when Charlie noticed, “Man, your jacket! She has it! C’mon, lets go back and get it.”

Harry, smiling from an incredible evening, answered, “No, no. We don’t want to bother her. It’s late. We’ll go back tomorrow.”

Charlie noticed the happy mood his friend was in and decided not to argue. They walked in silence the rest of the way back.

— — — — — — — — —

“Wow! She’s right. It is hard to see this house,” Charlie exclaimed.

The next day was warmer than yesterday’s walk, but as the two boys approached the house, a chill went through their spines. The house was more dilapidated than what Lilly made it out to be the night before.

It was an old colonial house, which seemed oddly placed in the middle of the woods. She was dead on about one thing: from the path, the house was barely visible. Trees and vegetation were more thick surrounding the house. As Charlie and Harry crept up the smaller path toward the house, they began to get a sense of how poorly this house looked. Ivy grew on the big porch that wrapped around the side of the house. Multiple windows were cracked. White splotches, which were all that was left of the paint job, dotted the house.

Harry approached the door and knocked. An elderly gentleman appeared,

“Yes?” his raspy voice called out.

“Hello, sir. My name is Harry, and I’m looking for a girl named Lilly. She said she lived here.”

The old man cleared his throat, “Oh, yes. Come in.”

Charlie and Harry followed the old man through a hallway into a den located in the back of the house. The house was more modern on the inside. Nice, comfortable furniture, electricity, and a kitchen not overridden with dirty dishes. The house was cleaner and more presentable on the inside. Two large windows overlooked the backyard, which, grimly, was a cemetery.

“Not the best of views, sadly.”

The old man offered them a drink. They both declined.

“Is Lilly around? I would love to talk to her.”

The old man frowned, “Boys, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to phrase this more lightly: Lilly’s been dead for 20 years.”

Harry waited for the man to laugh or do something to suggest he was joking — a sick joke at that. The old man did not move, keeping the same sullen look on his face.

“What!?” Harry was confused, “I don’t believe you.”

The old man frowned, “It’s true, sadly. Boys, I’m her father. 20 years ago, she was coming home from the winter dance at her school, and got into an altercation with her date. They were out by that bridge that’s right off this path. I heard the yelling and crying, so I rushed outside to find out what was going on. As I got to the bridge, I saw a man push her into the river below. She broke her neck and died.”

Harry and Charlie stood in silence. The man had said that story a little too cooly, with no remorse in his voice. Harry spoke up, his shyness overtaken by confusion and anger,

“Sir, I mean no disrespect, but yesterday a girl in a purple dress joined me and my friend to the dance. She was a lovely girl. She said her name was Lilly, and that she lived right here. I danced with her yesterday! I held her! She gave me a kiss! I saw her walk up to this house!”

The old man looked up toward the graveyard, “You boys aren’t the first to tell me this story. For years, high schoolers come up — from guys like you to girls — who want to see if Lilly, their new friend, is home.”

“So, you’re saying she’s a ghost?” Harry asked.

The old man nodded and sighed.

“Why don’t you leave then?” Charlie asked.

The old man turned and glared at them, “And leave my precious Lilly?”

The boys had no answer.

“She’s buried out back, if you don’t believe me,” Lilly’s father said.

The boys looked at each other. Do we go? Harry thought. Slowly, they got up.

“Well, sorry, sir. We didn’t mean to upset you. We just wanted to know…” Harry’s voice trailed off.

“I know. You said your name is Harry?”

Harry nodded, “Yes, and this is Charlie.” Charlie waved weakly.

The father was rather blunt, “Did she have a good time?”

Harry smiled, “That’s what she told us.”

Lilly’s father smiled, “Good. I’m glad.”

The boys made it out back. In these old upstate New York/New England neighborhoods, it was not uncommon to find family plots near homes. The boys had seen small graveyards like this before — even in this forest preserve. This one was new. They slowly went up and down the rows, searching for the girl’s grave. Nothing. Doubt entered their minds.

Was the old man lying?

Suddenly, in the last row, Charlie yelled out,

“Harry! Um… you might want to look at this!”

Harry rushed over to his friends’ side, and read the tombstone Charlie pointed at.

Lilly Caldwell

Loving daughter

May you rest in peace

Harry’s jacket was neatly folded at the foot of the grave.

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Alex Bauer

Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com