Daniel and his friends, Laurie and Arthur sat around the campfire bundled in sweatshirts with their feet stretched out toward the fire. It was the annual 1st-year campout at the James Sanderson Learning Center, a boarding school located on a remote island. The kids were camping in the woods on the far end of the island, away from the school. The Vice-Principal, Chad Greasley, was leading the campout, but right now, he looked close to dozing off. Kyle, the class bully, and Daniel’s long-time rival, was telling a ghost story. The story was the legend of a ghost who supposedly haunted the woods where they were camped.
“Back then, gold was discovered on this end of the island,” Kyle said. “The Sanderson’s opened the island for gold prospecting, as long as they got a share. Prospectors from all over the world came here to make their fortunes. And one of them, a man named Emmett McDonald, found his. He found a spot in the river where a bunch of gold nuggets had washed downstream. He scooped them up in his pan, and, just like that,” Kyle snapped his fingers, “he was a wealthy man. But Emmett never got to enjoy his fortune. That night he walked along a dark road that led to the town the gold miners had built. In the morning, he planned to take a ship back to the mainland to sell his gold. As Emmett walked along, a claim jumper named Half-Jaw Norton came walked down the trail. Now, Norton was a bad one, and he looked it, too. He had bushy black hair and blood-shot black eyes. On the left side of his jaw, he had a huge gash from a bar fight. Like all the miners, he came to the island hoping to find gold but instead, he ended up making his living stealing from miners. But Emmett didn’t know that. Half-Jaw Norton asked Emmett where he was headed, and Emmett was so excited he couldn’t help but share the news of his good luck. Norton kept a heavy club made from a tree branch with him at all times. Emmett walked alongside Norton, talking about his plans for the future. When Emmett looked away for a moment, Norton pulled out the club and demanded Emmett’s gold. But Emmett refused to give up his fortune without a fight. They fought, but, in the end, Emmett was unconscious and bleeding on the ground. Norton searched Emmett’s jacket and took the bag of gold, then left Emmett for dead.”
“Hours later, Emmett woke up and realized what had happened. He staggered into a large encampment of miners, nearly crazed with disappointment and frustration. The other miners had been hearing stories for months about a black-haired man who robbed travelers on the roads leading threw the old island. When they heard Emmett’s story and saw his sad, bloody face, their anger boiled over. They grabbed torches and pitchforks and headed into the forest to find Half-Jaw Norton and bring him to justice.”
“But justice was cheated that night. The townspeople never found Half-Jaw Norton. After robbing Emmett McDonald, Norton made camp near a stream in the forest. The townspeople found what was left of his camp, and they found some bloody clothes, but they never found Half-Jaw Norton — or Emmett McDonald’s gold. Some people say that a bear got Norton. Others say that he slipped away into the night and left the bloody clothes to keep lawmen off his trail.”
“For years afterward, the townspeople searched the woods near the stream where Norton camped that night. But no one ever found the gold. Even years later, when the gold rush ended, and the town disappeared, no one ever found the gold.”
“Now, they say, ghosts haunt these woods. Could be Emmett’s ghost looking for revenge. Or could be Norton’s ghost still looking for his gold? No one knows . . . . ”
“So,” said Kyle, “who wants to go into the woods to look for ghosts?” The class was quiet, still feeling a chill from the story. Kyle turned to Daniel. “What’s the matter, Danny-boy? You and your friends afraid the ghosts will get you?” Kyle made a ghostly sound, “Whooooooo!” Then he burst out laughing.
Daniel felt his face turning red. In spite of himself, he took the bait. “I’m not afraid,” he retorted. “The only ghoul in these woods is you, and I know you’re harmless.” Kyle glared at Daniel as a few of the kids snickered.
Daniel stood up, saying, “C’mon, guys. Let’s take a look around.” Daniel, Laurie, and Arthur walked away from the campfire and into the surrounding woods. Kyle, his friends, and most of the other kids headed into the forest to look for ghosts, too. Chad, meanwhile, shook himself awake, sputtering, “Wh– . . . Where are you guys going?” Chad jumped to his feet and called after them, “All of you kids, get back here! Now!” But the kids pretended not to hear.
Daniel, Arthur, and Laurie wandered through the cool, dark woods. Moonlight filtered through the branches and splashed silvery light on the ground. “What exactly are we looking for?” Arthur asked.
Daniel shrugged, “Dunno,” he said. “Ghosts, I guess.”
The three kids wandered deeper into the woods. Suddenly, they heard leaves rustle nearby. Arthur jumped. “Who’s there?” he called out nervously. Kyle strolled out of the trees, looking relaxed and contemptuous.
“What’s the matter, Art?” Kyle asked. “Did you think I was a ghost?” Kyle repeated his fake ghost sound, “Whoooo! Look out, Arthur, the ghosts are gonna get you . . .”
Just then, the kids heard a loud, low growl coming from deep in the forest. Laurie rolled her eyes, refusing to fall for it, but Kyle looked puzzled. Next, a man’s blood-curdling scream came from the same direction. Daniel, Laurie, and Arthur tried hard to stay calm, but their faces were pale.
“Very funny, Kyle,” Laurie said. “O.K., we’re scared. You happy?”
Kyle said woodenly, “I didn’t do that.”
“Yeah, sure you didn’t,” said Daniel, shaking his head.
The scream came again. Daniel considered for a moment. “I think we’d better have a look,” said Daniel. The scream seemed real enough that he was willing to risk falling victim to another of Kyle’s pranks.
The kids hurried through the woods in the direction of the scream. Suddenly, Daniel tripped and fell forward, landing on his stomach with a thud. He sat up and looked around to see what had tripped him. “Whoa,” he said softly. On the ground was an old wooden club fashioned from a tree branch. It looked just like the club Kyle had described Half-Jaw Norton using to attack Emmett McDonald. The other kids gathered around, staring at the club. Then, in unison, they looked at Kyle,
“I didn’t put it there!” Kyle protested. “I’ve never seen that thing before!” This prompted another eye roll from Laurie.
Just then, another sound came out of the forest ahead of them. “Give me the gold, now!” growled a rough, angry voice. The blood drained from Kyle’s face. Suddenly, he bolted away from the group. In his confusion, he ran toward the voice rather than away from it. Some of Kyle’s buddies started after him. “Wait!” yelled Daniel. “Don’t follow him. It might be a trap.”
The kids stood around for a moment in confusion. “Who would set a trap for Kyle? He’s always setting traps for us.” Laura asked. Daniel didn’t answer. “What should we do?” asked Arthur. A thick-necked boy named Mitch Bonybrox, who was one of Kyle’s sidekicks, answered, “I dunno. Kyle always tells us what to do.” In a dumb-sounding voice
Another eye roll from Laurie. Finally, Daniel said, “Come on. We’d better make sure Kyle doesn’t get lost.” And the kids headed off in the direction Kyle had run. As they went further into the forest, the trees grew thicker and closer together. The ground was uneven and twice fell off sharply into shallow ravines that rose steeply on the other side. The kids scratched their hands and scraped their shins. They called out from time to time, “Kyle! Kyle, where are you, dude?” Suddenly, the ground in front of them sloped downward again. The kids struggled to keep their balance as they slipped and slid downhill. Daniel noticed thick fog accumulating near the ground. They struggled, panting, up the other side of the ravine.
As they reached the top, Arthur pointed ahead of them and said, “Look! Lights. There must be someone else camping here.” “What, But I thought we were the only class who went camping this year?” Laurie asked. Sure enough, though, a cluster of yellow lights blinked through the trees. They hurried forward. “Kyle must have gone into that camp,” said Mitch’s brother, Pete Bonybrox. He was also Kyle’s sidekick, nodding and sounding relieved to think that Kyle hadn’t simply panicked and run blindly into the woods.
As they got closer, Daniel said quietly, “Stop. I think the lights are moving.” Peering through the woods, the kids made out the silhouettes of people milling about and carrying what looked like torches, clubs, and pitchforks. The kids could make out the outlines of strange people gathering in a large group. The children crept forward. Soon they could hear angry voices rising up from the crowd. The ghost-like figures seemed to be getting ready to move.
“I think we’d better get out of here,” said Daniel. One of the men carrying a torch suddenly cried, “What was that? I heard something moving in the woods!”
“Run,” Daniel hissed. The kids turned and ran back the way they had come. Daniel pushed through the brush and undergrowth as fast as he could go. He suddenly looked up and gasped.
In front of him was a man dressed in old-fashioned clothes with a black, bushy beard. An angry boil stuck out on his forehead just below the brim of his misshapen hat. Worst of all, his left cheek was almost completely gone, as if a huge chunk had been removed. But even worse was the fact that Daniel could see the trees behind him. The man was pale and transparent. “Not a good night for a child to be out in the woods,” the man said. His raspy voice was menacing.
Laurie, Arthur, and the other kids ran up, panting, and stopped short when they saw the man. Arthur carefully positioned himself directly behind Daniel. But Laurie boldly stood next to Daniel, hand on her hip and her chin lifted at a challenging angle.
Daniel panted, “OK, Kyle, whatever you’re doing, it’s great. Tight special effects. It’s the bomb.” Daniel looked into the woods on either side of the group. “OK, Kyle, enough with the ghost act.”
The man laughed a gravelly, unpleasant laugh. “Kyle, eh? You think he’s behind this, do you? Kyle!” The Man commanded. “Come out, boy!”
Daniel stared as Kyle staggered out of the forest. His eyes were frozen in a dead stare, and his gait was wooden.
“You kids are going to help me get the gold,” said the ghostly man. “If you don’t, you’ll end up zombies, like your friend Kyle.”
“Who are you?” Daniel asked.
“I think you know my name,” said the man. “Everyone in these parts knows Half-Jaw Norton.” Daniel heard Laurie gasp.
Daniel was suddenly angry. “First of all, we don’t know where any gold is. And second, even if we did, we wouldn’t tell you. That gold was never yours–you stole it! What do you want with gold anyway? You can’t have any use for it.”
“You let me worry about that, boy!” growled Half-Jaw Norton, his eyes glowing angrily. “That gold belongs to me, and I want it. I won’t be cheated of gold I stole it fair and square!” To emphasize his point, Half-Jaw Norton grabbed the club from Daniel’s hands and, with a powerful back-handed swing, knocked Kyle’s feet out from under him. He landed hard on his stomach. Half-Jaw Norton moved quickly across the space, separating him from the kids, and grabbed Arthur by the back of his shirt. “The gold!” Half-Jaw Norton growled again.
Daniel’s mind raced. “O.K., O.K.,” he said, stalling for time. “We’ll get you the gold. Right this way.” Daniel turned and walked back in the direction they had come. “What are you doing? Where are you going?” Laurie whispered. Daniel shrugged slightly but elbowed her aside and pressed forward.
Suddenly, Daniel noticed a tree stump just off the path they were following. Something in the tree stump was giving off a faint, yellow glow. “Wait!” said Daniel. He turned to Half-Jaw Norton. “There,” he said, lifting his chin toward the stump and hoping he was right. “There’s the gold.”
Half-Jaw Norton plunged his hand into the stump and, shaking off cobwebs, drew out a small cloth bag. It gave off a dull, yellow glow. Half-Jaw Norton gave a deep, satisfied chuckle and opened the top, shaking out some gold-colored rocks. “Good work, boy,” he said to Daniel. He tossed a tiny rock, hardly more than a speck, to Daniel, who caught it and stuck it in his pocket.
Daniel glanced around nervously. “Um, Mr. Norton,” he said. “Now you have the gold, can you turn Kyle back to normal and point us towards our camp? We just want to get back there safely.” Norton smiled an evil smile. “That’s a good plan, but I have a better one. I’m going to turn you all into zombies. You can wander around with me in the woods. You can work for me forever!” Daniel thought fast. “Wait. You know how I asked a few minutes ago why you wanted the gold? I actually know someplace where you can spend it.” Daniel said confidentially, “You’ll be able to get value for that gold. Whiskey, even,” he said, lifting his eyebrows significantly.
Norton’s eyes shone greedily. “Show me the way, boy,” he said. “I’ll make it worth your while.” Daniel turned and headed back towards the lights and the townspeople the kids had seen. “Right this way,” he said.
The kids retraced their steps with Half-Jaw Norton following close behind Daniel. As before, the ground plunged first down and then up the sides of two dark, narrow ravines. Panting again, the kids struggled up the side of the second ravine–and found themselves face to face with a group of shadowy figures carrying torches, clubs, and pitchforks.
The kids reared back in surprise, and Laurie cried, “The ghost mob!” But the crowd did not seem to see or even hear the kids. Instead, they focused on Half-Jaw Norton. “There he is,” a voice called out. The mob hurried forward. A look of fear crossed Half-Jaw Norton’s face, and he turned to run. But first, he said to Daniel, “You tricked me, boy. You’ll pay for this!” Then he plunged into the forest, but he did not get far. Moments later, the kids heard a shout, followed by cries of “Tie him! Get his hands.” Then, the shadowy crowd passed by again, pushing Half-Jaw Norton with his hands tied tightly behind his back. They headed toward the lights of the town.
Daniel sighed with relief and looked around at the other kids. He leaned against a tree and slowly sank down until he was sitting on the ground. He took a few deep breaths and let his eyes fall closed. When he raised his head and opened his eyes, he started. He was sitting on the edge of the campfire with all of his 1st-year classmates around him. Chad Greasley was dozing. And Kyle was finishing his ghost story.
“The villagers caught Half-Jaw Norton Trying to sneak back into town trying to catch a boat to Sacramento,” Kyle said. ‘He was hanged at sunrise.” Kyle lowered his voice as he finished the story, “The mystery is . . . the gold! A bag was found in Half-Jaw Norton’s pocket, but the gold itself was missing. It’s never been found, even to this day.” Kyle looked at the circle of kids around the campfire. “People say that Half-Jaw Norton ’s ghost still haunts these woods, looking for the gold.”
Laurie whispered to Arthur, “Did I–did I nod off for a minute?’
Kyle said, “Who wants to go into the woods and look for ghosts?” He looked around the circle until his eyes rested on Daniel. Daniel, fingering the rock in his pocket, shook his head. Kyle said scornfully, “What’s the matter, Daniel? Afraid of ghosts?” Kyle made a ghostlike sound, “Whooooo!” The sound echoed eerily through the woods that surrounded the campfire and even Kyle looked nervously around.