When Riley Grayson died a few years back, the grade eight field trip was cut short and everyone got sent home. Stoneway camp closed for a month or two. Apparently the place was under investigation because Riley wasn't supervised at the time of his drowning. The place actually changed owners and all the staff got fired.
No one really knows exactly what happened but there are a lot of people who believe the drowning wasn’t accidental.
"Michelle, look to your right," I shouted, steering my bike around some exposed roots.
She turned her head, but had already started down a steep hill. I glanced over one last time hoping to get another look at Riley. I wanted to make sure I wasn't just seeing things.
I wasn’t. He was still there - standing as still as a statue like he did a year ago.
"Hello?" I shouted out. I turned my bike off the trail and stopped beside a rotten tree stump. “Riley?
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting by calling out his name. Ethan DeMarko rode past glaring at the rocks in front of him. I set my bike down and crossed the path, pushing past some scraggly branches. Through the shadows, the light filtered down into the clearing as though the sun could only find one spot on earth to spill out all it’s energy.
The voices from my group echoed softly behind me, calling out to one another.
I wasn’t with them.
I didn’t care to be.
Riley remained still. His eyes focused on me. His face was pale and lifeless. I moved slowly over the sticks and fallen leaves, not taking my gaze away from him. Specks of dust floated through the bright haze of sunlight, hovering over Riley like tiny angels watching him.
A couple more kids pedalled over the trail, disappearing down the steep hill near my bike.
“Riley?” I called out again. “Is that you?” I stepped closer, feeling the warmth from the sun on my face. His arms hung down by his sides, dangling like tetherballs on the end of a rope. Like the year before, I didn’t feel anything - no fear, no panic. Nothing.
I was ten feet away from him now, inching closer. His face had no shadows - no detail. Somehow, the light pushed out from inside him.
I moved my feet through the tall grass of the clearing, feeling the blades rub along my knees.
I took a big breath and held my body still.
A soft hum filled my ears. I tilted my head and listened.
The sounds were coming from him.
“What are you humming?” I asked.
Riley didn’t respond. He continued to watch me, scanning my face as though he wanted to memorize it.
“Do you see him too?” a voice whispered.
A cold rush of air crept down my back.
Behind me, Simon Partridge appeared through the shadows. He tucked his hands into his sweater and stepped toward me.
“I do,” I replied. “It’s him, isn’t it?”
Simon nodded. He scratched his chin with his guitar pick.
The clouds overhead ambled out in front of the sun, pulling the light away from the clearing. We watched as Riley Grayson faded into the darkness, disappearing as though he was never there.
The soft hum weakened away into silence.
We stood there for a minute, looking for any trace of him. A small leaf floated down from above, landing on the rock where he once stood.
“You saw him last year, didn’t you?” Simon asked finally.
“I did.” I walked over to the spot where Riley had stood moments before, feeling the warmth on the rock. “What’s he doing here?”
Simon shrugged, looking up at the clouds. “Good question.”
“He’s a ghost, isn’t he?” I asked. “I mean, he has to be.”
Along the path, Mrs. Finch stopped her bike and called out to us. “Are you boy’s alright?”
Simon and I turned to her and nodded. We stepped out of the clearing and back into the woods. Pete’s voice faintly echoed out in the distance, shouting for everyone to hurry up.
“We better get going,” I said, picking my bike up from the tree stump.
“What were you boy’s doing over there?” Mrs. Finch asked.
I looked at Simon for a second. He adjusted his bike helmet and shook his head. “Nothing.”
“We thought we saw something,” I added, “That’s all.”
I stepped onto my bike and pushed off down the hill. I didn’t care to talk to Mrs. Finch or justify why I was stopping on the path. I just wanted to catch up with everyone else. For some reason, I didn’t want to think about what just happened. Maybe I didn’t know how to deal with it. I think that was what happened to me last year as well. I lost a lot of sleep thinking about Riley Grayson’s ghost. I didn’t want to go through it again, especially on this trip.
I followed Simon for several minutes before reaching the rest of the group. They had gathered around Pete, listening to him tell a story about the ice age and how it dumped all the giant rocks that can be seen throughout the forest.
Riley’s face kept appearing in my head. His cold blue eyes, sucked away any sort of focus I might have had at that moment.
I pulled my bike up beside Michelle, watching Pete point out to the rocks. His mouth moved, sounds came out, but I could no longer understand anything.
I wasn’t sure if I was getting light headed or if the ground around me was moving, but something wasn’t right.
“Are you okay?” Michelle asked. She put her hand on my arm and leaned into me. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied. I inhaled and slowly breathed out through my nose.
The group stepped back onto their bikes and followed Pete further along the trail. I pulled out a water bottle from my bag and gulped down half of it. Simon glanced over at me, and continued on down the path with the others.
“You don’t look so good,” Michelle said. She rode up beside me as we entered into an open field.
What was I supposed to say? I couldn’t tell her I just saw Riley Grayson. She’d think I was losing my mind or something. “Just got a headache, that’s all,” I replied.
She stayed beside me for sometime, riding along the field and back around toward Lake Stoneway. Every now and then her coconut suntan lotion drifted my way.
The two of us looked out at the lake, watching the kayakers and canoers on the other side by the docks. The cool breeze cleared my head, bringing energy back to my body.
We must have been riding for about twenty minutes when Mrs. Finch shouted from the back of the line. “Simon is missing!”
“Simon is missing,” Margo Falkner, from French Immersion shouted.
“Simon is missing!” I repeated.
The message moved forward up the line until it reached Pete. He stopped near an old bridge and leaned up against the gate.
We all caught up to him and gathered together on the side of the path.
“What happened?” Pete asked, pulling out his phone from his first aid bag.
Mrs. Finch stepped off her bike and loosened her helmet strap. Her hair fell clumsily down in front of her face. She swallowed and caught her breath for a second. “I don’t get it."
“What? What don’t you get?” Pete asked. “Where’s Simon?”
Mrs. Finch guzzled some water from her bottle, dropping it down the side of her chin. “His bike flipped and crashed into a tree near the big bend back there.”
“Was he hurt? Why didn’t you help him?” Pete grabbed his handlebars and turned his bike around.
“Because he wasn’t anywhere to be found,” Mrs. Finch replied. “I...I couldn’t find him...anywhere.”
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