Edward spat half his beer across the fire.
Jasper had his hands over his face and most of the women looked ready to throw up.
Really, the only people who didn't look completely put off by the story were Carlisle and Esme. No one else wanted to think too much about that.
"Seriously?" Alice asked, throwing her hands up in the air. "What the fuck, Emmett?"
Emmett leaned back and popped another marshmallow in his mouth. "What can I say? It's not my fault all you guys liked the monster cock."
"You told the story!" Edward said, breaking in. "Of course it's your fault!"
With his head still in his hands, Jasper groaned. "Can we please move on? And never let Emmett talk again? Ever?"
"Show of hands?" Rosalie suggested.
Every one of them lifted their hands, mumbling, "Agreed," and, "Amen," with varying levels of shuddering and dismay.
"Whatever," Emmett huffed. Talking around the half-dozen marshmallows he'd crammed into his mouth, he pointed to Jasper. "You're up anyway. Let's see you try to do better."
"So not going to be a problem." Jasper stood and lifted the flashlight to his chin. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, though, there was a cracking boom in the distance that made everyone jump.
And then… neighing?
The rest of the gang shifted in their seats nervously. On some level, they were getting used to the weird noises and interruptions. On another, they were all just getting more and more freaked out.
Jasper held out an imperious hand, as if to silence them all. "You guys ready?"
Emmett, who had at least pretended to remain unphased by the strange noises, just grunted and said, "Go for it."
"Very well." As he assumed his best professorial pose, he looked at the assembled group as if they were his students. The others braced themselves as a hint of his Texan accent began to poke through his speech, foretelling that they all could be in for a long story, indeed. "If you listen, maybe you guys will even learn something."
The year was 1864. The place, rural Georgia.
The tide of the American Civil War was changing. After years of stalemate and bloodshed, the Union had found a new general in Ulysses Grant. Along with his compatriots, William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Grant had adopted a strategy of total war in a bid to bring the South back under the heel of the Union, once and for all. No longer content with breaking the back of the army, Grant was intent on breaking the very will of the South to fight, destroying its land, its crops, its people.
Against this backdrop, Jasper Whitlock rode out from his farm one morning to bring his goods to market. He left his beloved wife Alice and his children, Carlisle, Rosalie and Edward behind. With his best horses hitched to his wagon, he faced a red, bloody dawn.
He had no idea how bloody it would be.
After a long day of bartering and trading, Jasper turned back toward home, only to see a cloud of dust on the horizon. A strange sense of foreboding filled him, and he set off down the road with his heart in his throat.
The first signs that something was wrong didn't come until he'd crossed the river and back into his family's lands. A thick black smoke filled the air. Heart pounding, Jasper looked toward the top of the hill, only to see a huge column of smoke, rising.
He jumped from the seat of the wagon, pausing only long enough to grab his rifle from where it rested at his feet. Grateful that he'd brought him, Jasper unhooked his stallion from the wagon and hopped on top of the great beast's back. With neither rein nor spurs, he kicked the horse's sides and grabbed its mane, screaming at it to fly like the wind.
It wasn't fast enough.
Before he'd even crested the hill, the carnage was clear. Where his family farm had stood for hundreds of years, there was now a charred ruin. Nothing had been left behind. Not his crops, not his barn.
Not his home.
"Dear Lord, no," he groaned. Riding the horse for all he was worth, Jasper rode straight into the devastation, calling the names of his wife and children again and again.
Just when he had given up hope, he heard a faint cry from beneath the debris. He jumped down from his horse and began sifting through the still-smoking ruins, paying no attention to the heat as the cinders burned his skin. At long last, there was a heaving cough, and Jasper saw the burnt remnants of a door shake with the sound. He tore the door away and flung it to the side, dropping to his knees when he saw the ash-covered face of his youngest son.
"Papa," Edward said, coughing and wheezing.
"Shh, son." Jasper hauled another beam from Edward 's body, only to have the boy let loose a blood-curdling scream. In horror, Jasper looked down.
His son's body was broken. The spine twisted, his lower half soaked in blood. He would never survive.
Letting the tears flow freely now, Jasper cradled Edward 's head and hugged the boy's body close against his chest.
A wracking cough shook Edward 's frame. "They came from nowhere. We begged them to have mercy."
Jasper didn't want to ask. He didn't. But he had to. "Your mother? Carlisle and Rosalie?"
"They killed Carlisle. Mom and sis they rode off with."
The grief was a thick, punching pressure in Jasper's chest. But it was nothing to the rage. Nothing.
He pushed both down for a little longer. Rocking his son, he told the boy to be quiet and to be still. He told him he loved him. Within minutes, the boy's last breaths had passed.
With the sun low on the horizon, Jasper scoured the ruins until he found Carlisle's body. He buried both of his son's beneath the canopy of an old oak, beside his father and his mother, he grandfather and great grandfather. As twilight dawned, Jasper Whitlock rose from his crouch, hands covered in earth and blood.
Then he let the rage consume him.
Without another moment's hesitation, he summoned his horse to him and swung his rifle on his back, along with whatever else he had been able to scavenge: a pistol, an axe, two knives and a saw. Most notably, he retrieved from his wagon the confederate flags his wife had sewn and which he had been meant to deliver to the army's training encampment while he was in town.
It did not take long to catch up to the Union scum. They had left a trail of destruction from his home to the nearby river where they were making camp. Jasper waited for nightfall, secured his horse and then crept into the enemy's base.
The sentries he killed by hand, slitting their throats with silent, deadly precision. He then returned for his horse and strapped a flag to his back. With no intentions of returning, he rode into the camp, weapons cocked and ready.
The sleepy soldiers were taken entirely unaware. One by one, he gunned them down, trampling others. A few he beheaded with his axe. The only time he ever paused was when he hit the center of the camp.
When he saw what had been done to the remains of his beloved daughter and his beautiful wife.
From that point on, he saw only red.
The first enemy's bullet hit him in the shoulder. The second in the leg. Even when his horse collapsed and he was left a vulnerable man on foot, he swung and shot, intent on taking down every last one of the Yankee bastards that had destroyed his life.
Finally, a rifle shot to the back brought him to his knees. He dropped his weapons, and through the haze of blood, he locked eyes with the commander of the Union troops.
With his last breath, he panted, "I shall hunt you until the last day of your life. Until the last day of your son's son's son's son's life. I shall never rest. Never."
The Union soldier fired one last shot, a round that landed true between the crazed southerner's eyes.
Jasper Whitlock's body was strung up from the highest tree and left to hang there all night.
Only, in the morning, when the soldiers emerged from their bedrolls and their tents, it was to find an empty noose dangling from the tree branch. Every sign of Jaspers Whitlock – every sign but for the Confederate flag draped atop the commander's tent, was gone.
Inside the tent, they found the commander, one Major Emmett McCarty the First, with his throat slit, his eyes wide, his face frozen in a mask of horror.
Almost as if he had seen a ghost.
They say the ghost of Jasper Whitlock still roams the woods of these United States. He hunts down any Yankees that dare to set foot on what he considers his lands. And more than anything else, he haunts the descendants of that Union soldier and any who keep company with him.
Sometimes, at night, you can hear him in the woods. You'll know him by the sounds of horse hooves in the distance and the shooting of a rifle.
But more than anything, you'll know him by the flag he drapes over the bodies of his victims. It is a warning to those who find them that the war is not over. That violence shall meet violence.
And that the South shall rise again
A hushed silence fell over the campfire as Jasper finished telling his story. For a few moments, his friends sat there, agape.
The silence was only broken when Emmett lobbed a marshmallow at Jasper's head. "That wasn't a ghost story! That was a history lesson!"
At just that second, there was another loud boom from somewhere in the distance. While Emmett continued to look unaffected, some of the other's around the fire glanced around uneasily.
Finally, Bella was the one to ask, "Hey, Emmett. Aren't you Emmett McCarty the Fifth?"
Bella counted on her fingers. "Well, supposed the crazy guy in the story was going after the commander's son's son's son's son. Which would be… you."
"Whatever," Emmett scoffed. "My family's from Tennessee."
"Only about three generations back," Rosalie reminded him. "Before that, I think they were Yanks."
"Still…" Even Emmett was starting to look creeped out.
"Well," Esme said, clapping her hands and standing. "I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired."
Carlisle was by her side in an instant. "Me, too, love."
Bella looked at Edward and then back at the others, casting a wary eye into the darkness of the woods as she agreed, "Yeah, I guess it is getting late."
The rest of them all hesitated until Jasper spoke up. "Come on guys. It was just a story."
The friends traded uneasy looks around the fire, but with Jasper's reassurance, they started to rise.
"I mean," Jasper continued, "it probably isn't true. I don't think."
Alice scowled, then grabbed Jasper by the hand and dragged him back to their tent before he could say anything more.
The others did some basic cleanup, dousing the fire and locking up the marshmallows – whether to keep them safe from a bear or from Emmett's nocturnal snacking, no one would specify – the whole time looking over their shoulders, as if there could be something in the darkness…
In the morning, the friends woke to find the world bright, the sun shining. As it poured in through the fabric of their tents, it helped dispel all the uneasiness of the previous night.
After giving Edward a quick kiss on the lips, Bella stretched and rose. She pulled back the flap of the tent, only to stop cold.
Draped over the remnants of their fire was a Confederate flag.
She clapped her hand over her mouth and stumbled backward. Torn between her very real fright and her skepticism, sure that at any second Jasper or Emmett would jump out and say 'boo' and laugh at her for being scared, she repressed the hysteria rising up in her throat.
With a sleepy expression on his face, Edward sat up and scratched his head. "What is it, babe?"
Bella could just point.
Edward followed her gaze, and his mouth fell open. "What the fuck?"
While he, too, had some misgivings, he immediately smelled a rat. He clambered out of the tent and strode over to the flag, all the while, grumbling not-too-quietly, "Very funny, assholes."
But then he saw the hoof prints.
A knife, covered in red.
An expended… that couldn't be a rifle shell.
Louder now, he called to the whole camp. "Seriously guys. This isn't funny."
One by one, the flaps of the other tents opened, and unhappy campers poked their heads out. All their protestations about the early hour died down once they saw what was going on in the center of their campsite.
Edward glanced around, satisfied everyone was accounted for. Everyone except—
A piercing scream rent the air, and all eyes went to Alice and Jasper's tent. Edward took off at a dead run, reaching it just as Alice tumbled out of it, clutching a flag.
"He wasn't there. Jasper's gone. He's—"
"Shh." Edward wrapped his arms around her, sure this was just a prank, but still uneasy about the whole thing. "I'm sure he's…"
At the sound of Rosalie's voice, Edward whipped around, finding her and Emmett on the edge of their campsite, staring into the bushes, their faces pale. He started walking Alice over toward where they were standing, but her body crumpled as the sight before them became clear. As his stomach lurched upward, Edward pulled Alice closer, putting his hand over her eyes to shield her, but it was too late. She'd already seen.
There, on the ground, Jasper was sprawled out, white as death, blood everywhere, running from the huge gash in his throat and the hundred other tiny lacerations.
Emmett clapped his hands over his face. "I thought the crazy ghost wanted me."
"This can't be real. This can't be real."
Bella caught up with them, but the instant she saw, she turned away, gagging. "Oh my God."
Carlisle stepped forward, his medical training kicking in and helping him remain steady. He glanced at each of his friends in turn, as if searching their faces for something. "I guess someone should…" When no one stepped forward, he sighed and knelt beside Jasper's body. Hesitantly, hands shaking, he reached out to feel his friend's pulse.
The instant before he made contact, Jasper's eyes opened, and he sat up, bowling Carlisle backwards.
"Oh hey, guys," Jasper said, grinning. With the bleeding wound on his neck, the smile looked particularly garish. "Why didn't y'all wake me?"
"Why you little—" In a ball of fury, Alice launched herself at him, smacking him with his beloved flag over and over. "You had me believing—"
There were a lot of other choice curse words. Some of the other friends wanted to tell Jasper off, too, but at the increasing pitch of Alice's tirade, they figured he was getting enough of a tongue-lashing as it was. They started drifting off, fixing coffee and breakfast. Eventually, Alice screamed a series of unintelligible words and stalked off. Moments later, a sheepish, still- blood covered Jasper joined the rest of the crew around the fire.
Still frowning, Edward passed him a cup of coffee.
He took it and thanked him. "Guess I may have taken things to far, huh?"
Jasper shrugged. "It was all in good fun."
"Seriously, though," Edward said. "Noises in the woods? Shell casings? A knife? Hoof prints?"
With each word, Jasper's eyes grew wider and wider, his mouth gaping. "Wait, what?"
"Look!" Incredulous, Edward pointed at all the evidence strewn around the fire pit.
Jasper stood up, knocking his camp chair over in his haste. "I didn't – I didn't do that. Those aren't mine."
Edward rolled his eyes. "Sure. You've had your fun, you know. We're not going to fall for—"
Just then, there was another sound, like horse hooves in the distance. Edward swallowed, and he and Jasper traded frightened looks.
Jasper glanced at his wrist, which was remarkably devoid of a watch. "Well, look at the time," he said, voice hitching.
"Oh, yeah, it's getting late," Edward agreed. "Time to get this show on the road."
They began hurriedly packing up the campsite. When the others expressed their confusion at the sudden urgency, they each waved the others off, citing an interest in getting back home. Although there were a lot of shrugs, eventually everyone acquiesced, and in no time they were heading back down the trail toward their cars.
Just before they exited the clearing, Edward took one last glance behind him, checking, he told himself, for anything they might have left behind.
Motion in the tree took him by surprise, and he squinted, barely breathing as he peered into the foliage. That wasn't—It couldn't be—
A ghostly figure darted in and out of sight, sitting tall atop a horse.
With a little, muffled scream, Edward picked up his pace and ran after the others.
A low chuckle of laughter followed after him. The moment he caught up with everyone else, he chanced one last look back through the trees. But there was nothing there. Nothing there at all.
The darkness of the moment quickly faded as they all fell back into their usual banter. But more than once, Edward and Jasper locked eyes, a dark understanding passing between them.
Neither would ever look at a night of ghost stories quite the same again.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, that's a wrap. Thanks so much for reading this little project of ours. Extra special thanks to bmango, mskathy, sorceresscirce, tuesdaymidnight, and yellowglue for going camping with us and writing such fabulous stories.
- lawngirl and theladyingrey42