The Most Terrifying Ghost Story I've Ever Heard by Amy Lukavics
I was tucked into a sleeping bag on the roof of a houseboat when I was first told the scariest ghost story that I've ever heard.
Lake Powell, Arizona is an enormous reservoir surrounded and separated by a labyrinth of reaching, layered canyon walls. It is also riddled with hidden beaches and coves. While anchored in one of these beaches on a family trip, my boyfriend (who would later become my husband) promised his little cousin that he'd tell her a scary story once the sun was down and the lake was quiet. When the time came, he spoke in a low tone, the only other sounds coming from the waves that slapped against the side of the boat and the scatter of bats that circled overhead.
The story began with a girl scout troop that was on their annual outdoor excursion, which, this year, took place on a houseboat that was anchored in Lake Powell. The first few days were great – lots of swimming, lots of barbecuing on the beach, lots of exploratory hikes where the girls were able to find and identify an array of insects and lizards. But it wasn't until the fourth day that everything went bad.
The troop leaders told the girls that they'd be making a hike to the cave at the very end of their cove. They'd previously stayed away in fear that the cave would be infested with bats, but the leaders ensured them that the area had been checked out earlier that morning, and all was clear.
Once inside, the girls almost immediately noticed a large, flattened area lining the back edge of the cave. The beams of their flashlights revealed five small rectangles of freshly laid dirt, all in a row, far too neat and deliberate to be a natural occurrence. While the troop leaders were talking to some of the girls about cave paintings, a few of the others decided to stir up the dirt from one of the little rectangles in the earth, and were horrified to discover a tiny human skeleton buried within.
The girls didn't mention the gruesome discovery to the troop leaders, in fear of getting in trouble for tampering with what they now knew were graves. They eventually made their way back to the houseboat, but one of the girls couldn't forget about what they'd found back in that cave.
The remaining girls tried to bully her into keeping quiet. They told her that if she spilled their secret, they'd tell the troop leaders that it was her who'd dug up the skeleton. When the girl wouldn't back down from the notion that their leaders should know about the graves, the others pushed her into a small closet on the bottom floor of the houseboat, locking it and going back to the deck where everyone else was drinking soda and taking turns on the boat's water slide.
The girl yelled for help, but nobody could hear her from so far below deck. Eventually, she fell asleep.
When she woke up, she knew immediately that something was wrong. Everything was quiet, and nobody had ever come downstairs to let her out. After kicking the thin paneled door open, the girl discovered that the entire houseboat was empty. Everyone's things were still there, but there was no sign of anyone, anywhere. Where could they have possibly gone? she wondered. There isn't anywhere for them to go except for the beach.
Suddenly, she had an unsettling thought – what if they'd all gone back to the cave? What if the other girls confessed the details of their discovery and took the troop leaders back to show them the graves? The girl couldn't understand why they'd all leave without her, but it was the only thing that made even a little bit of sense. She put her shoes on and made her way to the back of the cove.
The cave was empty.
How can that be? the girl thought, bewildered. Where are they?
Sick to her stomach, she raised her flashlight to illuminate the small graves at the back edge of the cave. The little grave that they'd disturbed the day before was neatly reformed; and instead of five, there were now three times that many—just enough to account for each and every member of her girl scout troop.