The art of campfire stories is one that has grown with humanity from its conception, and none are more terrifying than stories based on real events. That's why when it was Aouli's turn to tell a story, he chose one that he knew would entertain and scare all of his friends. They were all barely twelve years old, just old enough to start overhearing more mature conversations and just old enough to be curious enough to listen. This story was one he'd been waiting to tell ever since his mother had told it to him. She had said it as a warning, telling him to stay away from gulch that he and his friends were currently occupying. The sun had long since set, their campfire flickering in the soft breeze. He leaned in, looking into the eyes of each and every one of his companions before he began.
"My story is the scariest for sure," he began, the fire reflecting in his wide eyes as he wound his friends up for the coming story. "Because it takes place here, in the Wahiawa Botanical Garden."
All of his friends turned to look at each other, disbelief written on their faces. Here? Something worthy of a campfire horror story had happened here? Surely, that couldn't be true, but they were all hooked. He felt pride well up in his belly as he watched his friends, already engrossed in his tale and it hadn't even begun yet.
"There was a woman who was so afraid that her children would be hit by a car if they crossed the bridge that she decided to cross the gulch. Any time they needed to cross here, she would always lead them through here instead of taking the bridge. One day, she lost her children and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find them. So she went back to town and asked everyone she could find for help, but nobody would give her any. All she could do was come back to the gulch and look for herself; and she did, but instead of finding her kids... she disappeared too. Nobody knows what happened to her or her kids." He let that sink in for a moment, drawing out a short dramatic pause as his eyes moved across the campfire. "Ever since, she's been haunting this place, looking for her children and taking any children she can find for herself. She smells really bad and is covered from head to toe in green moss and dying plants. Some say she'll come all the way up to the bridge to steal little kids as they walk across it-- and here we are, in the very gulch that her and her children disappeared in.."
Aouli gave his friends a look that said he might be as scared as they looked, then laughed in satisfaction. "You all look so scared!" He called out in delight, sure that he had won the unspoken challenge that was present at every scary storytelling event; to give the scariest story of the night.
Before anyone could answer, a breeze blew hard enough to blow out the camp fire's glowing light, leaving them in the pitch black of the dark of night.
"Let's get out of here!" one of the other boys yelled out and before anyone could calmly figure out what was going on, they were all running towards the bridge, trying to get out of the gulch as quickly as possible. The wind whipped again, but this time it brought with it a foul odor, an unspeakable stench. While some of the boys let out disgusted complaints, Aouli kept his mouth shut and his eye on the bridge. He turned to make sure nobody was being left behind and that was when he saw her. She was green from head to toe and she looked soft, the texture of moss and layered leaves. Even her hair was green, with vines twining the matted locks. Her thin fingers curled around one of his friend's shoulders and he watched them disappear, screaming within the maze of plant-life that seemed to cover her whole body.
If it wasn't for another one of his friends running into him and knocking him off his feet, he might not have remembered how to use them. Stumbling, he managed to throw himself forward again, first on all fours like an animal, then a wobbly three, and finally upright on two. He stumbled over bushes and through low-hanging branches, tripping on rocks and roots and using trunks and other surfaces to help pull him forward.
Another friend disappeared, this time in front of him, when The Green Lady rushed out of nowhere and pulled them into her embrace. Aouli could only watch as the woman took them in her arms as if they were one of her own lost children, finally being pulled to her heart after all of those years apart. It would have been sweet had it not meant an unknown fate for his friend.
Still, Aouli ran as fast as his legs could carry him. A scream behind him, snuffed out before completion, told him that another friend he had come with was no more. He didn't dare turn around to look. There was no sight that was both plausible and desired, and he was afraid that if he did turn around, he'd be scared stiff and never make it out.
He was less than ten steps away from being visible from the road when he felt the strong fingers of a bony hand curl around his shoulder. Terror turned his blood to ice, but he still tried to make his way forward. He was almost there. He was thinking about how close he was when an arm wrapped around his midsection and he felt his belly tighten under the touch. This was it. He was about to die, just like his friends. The Green Lady would have him forever.
"Aouli!" Came a loud voice, familiar-- his Mom! Aouli felt his will to live and fight return, pushing the fear to the back of his mind and replacing it with adrenaline. Just when he was about to bolt forward, he felt the grip loosen and The Green Lady let go completely without a fight. Surprised, Aouli turned around and he could swear he saw a tear in her eye. She stepped back and pointed. Following her finger, it led to his mother, and when he turned back around again The Green Lady was gone and his other wrapped her arms around him. He was safe.