By Caroline Beuley
All the girls in the cabin clustered around Amber, our sleeping bags arranged in a perfect circle. Amber sat cross-legged atop her pillow, and with the flashlight held below her chin, her messy bun of red hair glowed like a flame in the darkness, flickering as the wind from the lake buoyed her curls.
She jiggled her knee and looked around. Her leg brushed my arm. “Ready?”
We all nodded.
Careful not to wake our counselor, Amber spoke in a low whisper. “So, the legend goes that this mountain was once home to witches. An entire coven.” Her gaze locked with mine, and my stomach clenched.
“Is that why they call it Witch’s Kitchen?” a girl asked.
“Yes. And legend says that when our camp first set up here in the shadow of Crooked Back Mountain, witches still lurked in the woods.”
Goosebumps rose on my skin.
Amber put her hand on my shoulder. “Some say they’re still here.”
We all gasped.
Amber poked me with the flashlight. “And this campsite—Witch’s Kitchen—is so named, because it is believed to be the original site of the coven’s cauldron.” She extended the plastic flashlight, directing it towards the flickering embers of our campfire. “The place we toasted s’mores tonight is where the legendary Black Cauldron is rumored to have sat for many a millennia.”
Another collective gasp.
“What was the Black Cauldron used for?” I asked.
Amber held the flashlight under her chin and stared at each of us in turn. “Cooking children!”
Our cabin erupted into shrieks of terror and laugher.
Amber laughed too and switched off the flashlight. “Nobody leave the campsite alone tonight—unless you want to be eaten by the witches.”
More shrieks greeted this proclamation, but as the girls whispered to each other and settled into their sleeping bags, Amber turned to me, stuck her tongue out, crossed her eyes, and mimed dying.
I burst out laughing. Of course she wasn’t scared.
Amber slid into her sleeping bag next to mine and pinched my arm. “Did you like my story?” she whispered.
“I don’t know if I liked it.” The deep darkness around us seemed sinister. “But you definitely have a talent for storytelling.”
“All right. I’ll take it.” She grinned, her teeth glinting in the dark. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” I said and closed my eyes.
A chill breeze was blowing off the lake. I snuggled in closer to Amber, who pressed up against me through our sleeping bags. She rested her head on my shoulder, and I could smell her Secret Powder Fresh deodorant and Pantene shampoo.
I fell asleep to the flickering lights of fireflies winking in the darkness and the creaking of branches.
A gentle shake woke me. The moon hung high in the sky.
“Come on,” Amber said. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” I asked. All the other girls were asleep.
“I want to show you something,” she said.
I could feel her hot breath on my cheek, and my stomach clenched again. “Fine,” I said.
She held finger to her lips and beckoned me towards the trees. After I slid out of my sleeping bag, she took my hand and led me into the woods.
Deep shadows enveloped us on all sides.
I shivered. “What about the witches?”
“We’ll just have to be very quiet,” she said, “so they don’t hear us.”
I clutched her hand tighter.
“Don’t worry. It’s not too far,” she said.
We picked our way through the forest. Owls hooted in the branches above, and the moon hung low and luminous, casting a faint, silvery glow over the treetops. The air was cold, but Amber’s hand was warm.
“There it is. We’re going to have to climb.” She pointed to a large sloping rock which looked like a fallen meteor, jutting up crookedly from the earth.
“Climb?” I whispered. “Why?”
“You’ll see.” Amber winked.
And so we climbed. Amber let go of my hand and scurried up the rock face. When the rock flattened, Amber straightened. She held out her hand and pulled me up next to her.
The rock had created somewhat of a clearing, and—up here, standing—I could see over the waving treeline. Crooked Back Mountain shot up from the tips of the pines—its jagged, spiny crest shining in the moonlight. And above us, the mountain hung an inky black curtain of night, strewn with sparkling stars.
“Wow,” I said.
“I know,” said Amber. “Have you ever been able to see the stars so clearly?”
I shook my head. “It’s beautiful.” While I stared at the stars in wonder, I could feel Amber’s eyes on me. I turned to face her.
She laced her hand in mine, and we stood there for a while, simply staring at each other, both our hands linked, arms hanging in expectant parabolas.
An owl hooted. The trees whispered. Shadows danced with the starlight.
And then her lips brushed mine. Such a soft, brief flutter of contact that it might have been the wind had her lips not been so warm. Had it not been for that whiff of Pantene.
She drew back and whooped into the night.
“What about the witches?” I asked.
Amber flashed me a mischievous grin. “What if we’re the witches?” she whispered.
I marveled at the reflected moonlight glinting in her eyes and the strange kind of magic between us. I leaned towards her again for another kiss.