A twig snapped sharply in close proximity followed by a strange wail.
"W-w-what was t-that?" London stammered in a trembling voice.
"Relax, London. It's just an owl." Cody chided soothingly.
"And that was me snapping a twig just to freak you out." Zack offered with a goofy grin on his face.
"Zack!" the group chorused with rippling moans of displeasure.
This was the third time in 5 minutes that he'd done something deliberately to scare London.
"Ok, ok. Let's start roasting some weenies then," Zack grumbled while spearing a hot dog onto the branch he'd just ripped off a nearby bush.
Unlike previous years, the Seven Seas gang had decided not to spend Halloween on the boat or in Zack and Cody's hometown of Boston. This year, they found themselves at a place called 'Camp Wannaweep', high up in the mountains and surrounded by lush pines and oak trees with emerald green leaves on them. Mr. Moseby and Ms. Tutweiller had been roped into the excursion as the group's chaperones with a promise of a higher pay raise by Wilfred Tipton.
Unlike the rest of the 'city folk' in the group, Bailey was completely at home in their surroundings, having set up the tents all by herself in the space of 20 minutes while the rest of the group had watched her with gaping astonishment.
After taking a nature hike for the better part of the day, the gang had settled down in front of a roaring fire in the campsite when the sun had finally set. Now they were ready to partake in a sumptuous dinner of hot dogs and s'mores while telling scary stories.
"Want a hot dog, Maya?" Marcus offered politely, brandishing a burnt sausage on a stick.
Maya grimaced and turned an extra shade of green at the sight. "Maybe in a little while, Marcus. I don't think I can stomach food after that story that Zack just told." She remarked hoarsely.
"Come on, sweetheart. It wasn't that bad."
"Not that bad? Zack, your story was about a sea monster that attacked the S.S. Tipton and killed almost everyone on deck – including Connie, who became a grotesque caricature of a…puppet." Ms. Tutweiller retorted, covering her mouth with her hand while she tried not to taste bile.
"Connie would not be pleased with that story at all." Mr. Moseby added sternly while swatting a mosquito off of his shoulder with a hanky.
"Come on, Mr. Moseby. It was just a story. At least Connie didn't get dumped in that story. It's still not as bad as Woody's story about the cats." Zack protested.
"Hey, that could totally happen in real life! Think about it: cats working as alien operatives set to take over the world. But to do it, they have to first kill the entire human race, starting with the passengers on the S.S. Tipton." Woody declared in the hushed whisper of someone giving out top government secrets.
"It was a freaky story, but kinda cool." Marcus remarked while tucking into his s'more.
"It was a pretty cool story, but highly inaccurate. Cats may be clever species, but taking over the world? Far-fetched!" Cody exclaimed in a falsetto on the last part.
"I don't care about it being far-fetched. Why did the cats have to kill me off? I'm rich, hot and fabulous!" London complained with a gesture towards her slender body.
"More importantly: why did they have to be my cats that killed everyone?" Ms. Tutweiller demanded with a beady eye in Woody's direction, who grinned sheepishly back at her.
"Come on, Ms. Tutweiller. You own a lot of cats. And one of them did attack London when you were trying to make me feel better after Cody and I broke up." Bailey pointed out reasonably while tossing another log onto the fire.
"Only because London antagonised it."
"Did not! That mangy rat is vicious – vicious, I tell you!"
"London, I think the word you're looking for is 'cat'." Maya reminded.
"I know what I said!"
"Moving on…" Mr. Moseby interjected swiftly. "Does anyone else have any other stories that don't concern vicious cats tearing people to pieces or entrails being spilled all over the deck of a ship?"
"Ooh, I've got one!" Cody piped up from beneath his beanie with tassels on both ends. "What if a bunch of explorers went to the Kola Peninsula in Russia, to explore the legend of the deepest hole on Earth, rumoured to be the gateway to Hell?"
"There's a step in the right direction," Ms. Tutweiller quipped sarcastically while the rest of the group stared in horror at Cody.
"Why did I come on this trip? My shoe submarine could've had me in the Caribbean by now." London lamented.
"I could've gone to Graceland with Mother." Mr. Moseby added woefully.
"Well, I suppose camping out here beats spending your time in a creepy mansion that belongs to your uncle that you haven't seen in years. But it's really haunted by an evil witch who traps unsuspecting people in oil paintings because of an ancient family curse." Maya rambled out of nowhere.
Everyone sitting around the camp fire turned to stare at Maya in confusion.
"I have got to stop watching Cinemax past midnight," Maya mumbled more to herself.
"Come on, guys. This fun – I think Cody's story would be cool. Anybody else got any scary stories?" Woody prompted.
"I have one. But…it's kinda out there." Bailey answered, biting her bottom lip nervously. "Actually, it's based on a nightmare I had a few months ago."
"What was it about?" Zack asked curiously.
Bailey blushed a little bit when met with Zack's piercing stare, but continued with her story.
"Well…I dreamt that Zack and I were married and Cody and London were married. It was years in the future and we were celebrating Christmas together in this fancy house. But mine and Zack's daughter disappeared during dinner and wandered into this old house with these holes in the living room walls. There were holes all over the place, and they were stuffed with little children. Then two hands came out of these holes and grabbed my daughter and…"
"And what?" London asked in horror.
"I don't really know exactly, but it seemed pretty bad, like he hurt her. Whenever I try to sleep at night, I think about that dream sometimes and it still freaks me out." Bailey replied with a shudder.
Cody instinctively pulled Bailey close to him and planted a reassuring kiss on her forehead.
"That's creepy. I had a pretty scary nightmare involving a little girl too." Maya admitted.
"What happened?" Woody questioned.
"It was so weird. Zack and I were married and so were Cody and Bailey and we were living together in the same house we'd just moved into. In the dream, I kept seeing a little girl being chased by the shadow of a man. It turned out they were ghosts and that the man had murdered the little girl, they were haunting the house. To cut a long story short, we had to get help from a ghost hunter/medium named Melinda Gordon who had to exorcise the bad ghost out of our home. It turned out pretty well in the end." Maya concluded simply.
"This Melinda Gordon sounds hot." Zack commented with relish. "What?" he asked when Maya glowered at him. "Would you prefer it if I hit on Bailey after hearing about her dream?"
The group laughed at this while Bailey scowled at Zack. Cody chuckled lightly and kissed Bailey on the cheek to appease her.
"Not that it isn't fun hearing about nightmares involving the abduction and murder of children, but wouldn't it be nice to tell stories about other things on Halloween?" Ms. Tutweiller piped up unexpectedly.
"Like what?" Zack asked in confusion.
"I don't know, things that aren't necessarily scary."
"But Ms. Tutweiller, that's the whole point of Halloween – to scare people." Cody pointed out.
"I disagree, Cody. I think that's just what popular culture has made it out to be." Mr. Moseby rejoined.
"I agree with Mr. Moseby. I think the whole point of Halloween is trick-or-treating." Woody declared while delicately licking melted chocolate off of his fingers.
"Or maybe the point of Halloween is about overcoming your fears." Maya added in an exuberant tone.
"How so?" Bailey asked, stoking the fire with a stray twig.
"Maybe instead of constantly being scared, Halloween should be about identifying what you're afraid of and moving past it." Maya replied.
"Wow, Maya. That's pretty deep." Marcus praised.
"Marcus is right. There was a scarecrow on our farm that I used to be scared of because of Halloween. But once I was able to figure out why I was so afraid of it, it makes it less scary for me." Bailey admitted pensively.
"I think Halloween could be pretty romantic." London declared with a dreamy look in her eye.
"O-k…" Zack murmured with a raised eyebrow.
"Maybe what London means is that Halloween doesn't just have to be about scary things. It could be about adventure, romance, maybe even something funny that happens to you." Ms. Tutweiller interpreted.
"Or maybe just about me being super fabulous." London concluded with a big grin on her face, causing Ms. Tutweiller to shake her head.
"You know, Zack and I once had a pretty cool Halloween that involved Mr. Moseby." Cody piped up with a strange gleam in his eye.
All eyes turned to stare at Mr. Moseby, who looked equally baffled.
"Huh?" he asked quizzically.
"We had a cool Halloween involving Mr. Moseby? This I gotta hear." Zack retorted before slapping his knee dramatically.
"Don't you remember, Zack? We were 'running amok' in Mr. Moseby's own words around the Tipton back home when we stumbled on that secret comic book stash in the basement near Arwin's office. When Mr. Moseby found out about it, I thought for sure that he would just confiscate them and give us another lecture about taking stuff that didn't belong to us. Instead, Mr. Moseby said we could read them and just told us to put it back when we were done." Cody explained.
"Oh yeah, now I remember." Zack answered with a snap of his fingers.
"You really let them keep the comics? Marion, you are full of surprises." Ms. Tutweiller responded, turning to stare at Mr. Moseby with a wide smile on her face.
"Wow, Mr. Moseby. That was really cool of you." Woody agreed with sincerity.
Mr. Moseby tried to dismiss their compliments with a wave of his handkerchief, an evident blush forming on his cheeks. "Well…I just thought that the comics might keep them from destroying the hotel." He offered lamely.
"No way was that reason. I think that deep down, you're actually really fond of Zack and Cody." Bailey declared with a teasing wink.
"Aww, Mr. Moseby's just a big ol' softie." Marcus agreed in a baby voice, making everyone else laugh.
"Alright, that's quite enough. Doesn't anyone else have an amusing anecdote or two before the fire burns out?" Mr. Moseby demanded with an irritated huff.
Maya leapt to her feet and began rubbing her hands together in excitement.
"Ooh, I've got one! How 'bout a story about a girl who's tired of always having bad luck? What if she started believing that there was a 50-50 chance that she could have anything she wanted? But instead of just good things happening, really bad things start happening around her. And then things get really weird when-"
Without warning, the group began screaming their lungs out when a large and hulking shadow loomed out of the darkness, leaping through the flames of the fire with alarming speed. Woody's hair stood on end more than usual when the figure emitted a sharp and rasping growl.
"Monster!" Cody yelled hoarsely before depositing Bailey off of his lap and onto the ground.
"Every hoodlum and handsome hotel manager for themselves!" Mr. Moseby exclaimed with a girlish shriek.
The group soon dispersed and began running wildly through the woods, flailing their arms and screaming loudly at the top of their voices.
Once the sounds had died down, a lone raccoon stood in front of the camp fire, an expression akin to puzzlement on its small face.
Then it began calmly eating the remnants of Marcus' s'more before soon moving onto the rest of the food left behind in the camp site.
A/N: 'Camp Wannaweep' is a reference from 'Kim Possible'. I tried to pay homage to all of the authors who contributed some phenomenal stories to the collection last year, you guys are all awesome :D
As this year's introductory chapter suggests, don't be afraid to branch out with story ideas for 2011. Halloween isn't just about scaring the pants off of the readers :P
Best of luck to this year's writers and the wonderful stories that I'm anticipating from all of you – Happy Halloween!
Remember this collection is open to all. If you want to participate, contact Lodylodylody or SilverTurtle, but do so quickly. The collection closes the first weekend in November.