"Who's going to tell the ghost story?"
The eager voice of my 9 year old cries out the moment his mouth is clear of any marshmallows. I remain silent as James says, "Don't look at me, your mother is the writer."
Two pairs of expectant eyes turn towards me and I sigh inwardly, staring into the flames as I try to ignore them. "I don't think you would like my stories," I mumble.
"Please, we can't have a campfire without a ghost story!"
My youngest takes up the plea and suddenly the peaceful campfire that I was enjoying has become an on the spot improve session. I groan outwardly so everyone can see that I don't have it in me to create a new ghost story but everyone ignores it.
"Okay," I say and turn to look into the fire to start collecting my thoughts. Well, there was the one about the serial killer...hmm...nope too graphic. What about...nope...won't even start that thought. Okay...here we go.
It happened not that far away and it may have even happened on this lake. All I know is that it was somewhere in this area on one of the many lakes that you can find around here. You all know the McDonald Mine right. (The kids nod, we had been there just that day.)
Well, McDonald Mine was owned by the McDonald family and it was passed down through the family until it became the property of Fred McDonald. He was a really happy man and he loved children. In fact, after the mine ran dry, he decided to open up a camp in this area for less fortunate children who never had the opportunity to get out of the city and enjoy nature.
The camp was a big success and everyone wanted to come to it; partly because it was so fun and partly because Old Fred, as the campers had started to call him, was such a nice man. He made sure to come and see the kids every week and he always brought the most amazing stories and gems to the camp when he came. (The kids lean forward, their eyes shining in the firelight as I realize that I was going a little too in depth on Fred's background.)
Anyway, as Fred got older, he began to spend more and more time at the camp and finally became the main counselor. Tons of kids came there every year but the final year the camp was run, there was a group of boys that were a little bit mischievous. They were about your age, five boys between 6 and 10, and while they loved the camp, they loved tricking people even more.
One day, the boys decided to play a trick on Old Fred and they wrote a note saying they were going to explore in the swamp; just like the swamp that we drove by turning into our lane. (The kids glance out towards the swamp, I am positive they are wondering if that was the very swamp the boys had gone into.) Poor Fred found the letter just as it was starting to get dark and he panicked. The kids could be killed in that swamp on their own. There were so many dangers. Poisonous snakes, bears, moose, and there was quicksand so deep that they could swallow a grown man whole. He knew that he didn't have time to waste so after speaking with the other counselors, he raised out into the darkening swamp to rescue the boys.
(Their eyes are wide, their mouths slightly open. Michael has a marshmallow hanging forgotten on his roasting stick) Thankfully, the boys weren't in the swamp but unfortunately, Fred didn't know that when he set out, the boys coming out of their hiding place a few hours after he had left. Fred searched through the swamp but as the sky darkened, he began to lose his way. He had been so focused on finding the boys that he had forgotten to mark his path.
As he was trying to find his way in the dark, he stepped into a large thicket of grass and onto an old rusty bear trap. It tore right through his ankle and severed his foot right off. ("Oh, come on Mom. Bear traps can't do that," Gabriel exclaims. Michael's face has gone a little white at the thought of an amputation. "How do you know?" "Because they are designed to hold the bears foot, not sever it." I try not to roll my eyes at my little fact checker...geeze, can't get away from it even on my vacation. "Yeah, but that's a bear, who has a much thicker and stronger leg than a person. A bear trap will go right through a person's leg." There...a bit of a lie but I had to think of something to make the story believable. Michael whispers, "Then what happened mom.")
Well, Old Fred worked through the pain (Imagine that!) and managed to bandage his ankle before he started crawling towards where he thought was the way out. He struggled for hours, avoiding poisonous snakes, quicksand and sinkholes and he managed to find his way to the old mine. He knew his way from there, however, he was so tired and dizzy from losing all that blood that he got turned around on the mine trail and he tumbled down the side of a cliff. (Can you imagine?!)
The bone in his other ankle snapped when he landed and that was how he was found the following morning, nearly dead, his one foot completely severed and the other ankle mangled, bones jutting out. They had to rush him to the hospital and they airlifted him to Toronto for surgery. It wasn't good, they couldn't save his other foot and had to amputate it but despite all of his pain and suffering, the first thing Fred asked for when he woke up was about the boys. "The boys, someone has to go out and find the boys."
(I pause. "He didn't know the boys were okay," Michael asked. I sigh for dramatic effect.)
That's when everything got even worse. Poor Fred was told that the boys had just played a trick on him and that they had never gone into the swamp. They say at that minute, Fred lost his mind (Not that losing both his feet in that manner wouldn't have done that) and he hated children from that moment on. He closed the camp and went to live in his cottage not that far from here. In fact, I think it was one of the cottages up the road from here. You know, the one three houses down that is all overgrown and looks like it is abandoned...
No one saw Fred but he would order food and have it delivered to his doorstep but they never saw him. He would come out after the delivery boy had left and bring the food inside. It went on this way for years and while some people remembered what happened at the mine, most people had started to forget even about Fred...Until it happened.
(The kids lean forward. "Until what happened Mom?" "Oh, I don't think I should say anything. It was really bad." I pause. "Do you think I should tell them James?" He nods.)
Well, one summer, a family was camping with their kids in this area. They had a little boy, not much older than you, Gabriel, about 9 years old. One day during the trip, he just disappeared. They looked everywhere for him and it took weeks to locate him. Only when they found him, not far from the McDonald Mine, he was dead. There was no doubt that it wasn't an accident because the boy was missing both of his feet. ("What? Both of his feet?" "Yeah, someone had cut off his feet. It was horrible and the police had never seen anything so horrible.")
The police tried to find out who had done it but they couldn't figure it out. A few months later, close to the end of summer, another little boy went missing. He was only six and again, they found his body a few weeks later near the McDonald Mine. Just like the last boy, his feet had been cut off. The police decided to go and see Old Fred and find out if he knew anything about it. They thought it was a long shot but when they got to Fred's cottage, they heard him yelling, "They don't fit...They don't fit."
They knocked on the door but he didn't answer so they carefully opened it and sitting in the middle of the room was Fred...(The kids look horrified at this point but I barely realize it as I barrel along, my mouth working faster than my brain as it shouts...Going too graphic Sirena. Abort...Abort...Abort...) in his hands was the little boys foot as he was sewing it onto the stubs of his ankles where his own feet used to be. He sat there screaming, "They don't fit!"
The police officer was horrified and he gasped in shock drawing Fred's attention to the door. Fred saw him, raised up the rifle he had resting beside him and the police officer had no choice but to fire at him before Fred shot him. In the end, Fred died in the cottage and the police thought they had found the killer.
(The kids' faces are white in shock and my brain still hasn't managed to cease the flow of words coming from my mouth.)
They thought it was over but the following year, another little boy went missing and when he was found, his feet were missing. They believe it is the ghost of Old Fred, who is buried in that little graveyard we passed down the road...Every year, he roams through the area, looking for little boys who are being mischievous and unkind. If he finds a little boy who is doing that, he snatches the boy away in the dark of the night and that little boy is never seen alive again. The ghost of Fred always takes the feet and they believe that he is busy looking for a pair of feet that will fit.
I end the story and sit back. The kids are silent but their eyes dart around the dark forest. Michael starts and flicks on his flashlight and points it towards a tree. Gabriel scoffs, "That isn't real. Ghost stories always starts that way. It always happens close by where you are camping and everything."
"Maybe, but why would I make that up?"
They sit hunched over in their chairs, their eyes flicking between the fire to the treeline. They both hear a noise behind us and turn to glance back. In that instant, I toss the magic powder I was saving into the fire. It begins to burn and when they turn back to the fire, it is glowing bright blue. I gasp, "Oh no!! The fire is blue...Do you know what that means?"
"Fire turns blue when a ghost is close by. It might be the ghost of Footless Fred."
The kids look shocked and they start glancing around even more. They look so scared that I say, "Just kidding guys. That doesn't happen."
"But the flames are blue!"
"I know, I put a powder into it to turn it blue. It's just burning off a chemical right now."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
They give a collective sigh of relief but their eyes can't stop glancing around the clearing. We sit in silence for a few seconds and I try to make a few jokes to get them laughing. Five minutes later, Gabriel asks, "Can we go inside now?"
I hesitate, "Yeah, if you want to. I thought we would wait until the fire died down."
He flicks on his flashlight at a rustling in the trees. "No, I would like to go in now."
"You don't have to be scared. It was just a story."
"I'm not scared," he says, "I'm just tired."
"Yeah, I want to go in too," Michael agrees.
So we doused the fire and made our way inside. Then I spent two hours explaining to the kids that I made it up and there really wasn't a Footless Fred. The kids didn't believe me and I ended up telling them a ghost story about a toothbrush, a toilet and the horror of accidentally brushing one's teeth after the brush had fallen into the toilet. That managed to make them laugh and they finally fell asleep.
And that was it for ghost stories for me. I realized that someone who commonly writes darker, violent adult fiction should not be the one to weave stories for children. They pleaded for me to tell them one every night but I kept the stories light and instead, dredged up old fairy tales for them to hear. I have to say a few of the Brother's Grimm tales made them scared but none could drain their colour like the mention of Footless Fred. Even by the time we left, just saying his name in a joke brought out the worry that maybe I hadn't been spinning a tale after all.