Task One: Write about The Boys (TM) telling scary stories around a campfire.
Prompts: (Dialogue) "This is about to go downhill real fast from here..."
Word Count (not including author's notes): 2,422
Written for the Newsies Pape Selling Competition.
"And on nights like these, ya can still hear the laughta' ringin' through the woods," Jack finished. With a self-satisfied smirk, he sat back and surveyed the circle around the campfire, expecting to see the terrified faces of his boys.
What actually awaited him made his pride deflate some. Romeo was half-asleep on Race's lap, and Race himself looked like he was trying not to laugh. More than one of the boys just looked confused, and even Crutchie was grinning, Jack realized with a frown. "Aw, c'mon!" he complained. "That one was scary!"
The boys exchanged glances. "Not really, Jack," Specs ventured to say.
Jack groaned, resting his elbows on his knees and burying his head in his hands. "It's okay, Jack," Race called out with a grin. "Maybe scary stories just ain't your strong suit."
"You'se good at lots a' otha' stuff, though," Crutchie volunteered.
And right on cue, the laughing started. Half the boys yelled, and the Manhattan leader jumped a foot in the air before whirling around to face whatever it was.
Spot Conlon, king of Brooklyn, was laughing so hard his shoulders shook. "You'se good at lots a' otha' stuff, Jackie," he mimicked in a high voice. He dropped down to sit on the ground, burying his head in his hands. "And that's your idea of a scary story?" he gasped. He shook his head, breaking out laughing again. "I can't believe you!"
Jack scowled, looking around at his boys. Most of them looked shocked- either from the scare they'd just had or from seeing the normally stoic Brooklyn leader in tears laughing, he couldn't tell why. "Spot, how long have ya been here?" he demanded.
"Long enough," the dark-haired boy said with a grin. He waved a hand. "C'mon Jackie-boy, help me up." Jack complied, still grumbling to himself. Once he was on his feet, Spot waltzed into the center of their circle and took a seat on Jack's log.
Jack grumbled under his breath, finding a new seat next to Crutchie. "Maybe ya forgot, Conlon, but this ain't Brooklyn," he said. "Ya ain't the one in charge here."
Spot snorted. "When you'se tellin' stories like the one I just suffered through?" he said. "That's my cue ta take ova'." The Brooklyn leader smirked and leaned forward, watching as the boys gathered around him. "So let's get started. I know a good one, but I'm savin' it for last. Who's got a good scary story ta tell now?"
A few seconds of silence followed, in which most of the boys looked to Jack. "Aw, just listen ta him," Jack said. "Since he's waltzin' in on my campin' trip, takin' control a' my boys... This is about ta go downhill real fast from here."
"Alright, I got one," Albert spoke up, ignoring Jack. "One night in the woods, 'bout a hundred years ago, there was a group a' outlaws hidin' in the woods. Woods like these. There were about five of 'em. They had just robbed a bank, and they was runnin' from the law. These men were dangerous men, with guns an' knives and everythin'. They weren't guys ya wanted ta mess with. One of 'em had even-"
"Just get on with the story, Al," Race complained.
Albert sent him a glare. "I'se gettin' there," he said. "Keep your shirt on. Like I says, ya don't wanna mess with these fellas. Now there was this couple that lived in the woods, a lumberjack and his wife. The lumberjack was gone a lot durin' the day, doin' lumberjack stuff, but his wife stayed behind at the cabin. She was a pretty little thing, with long dark hair and these big blue eyes, not ta mention she had a real nice figure..."
"Albert," Jack warned. The redheaded boy had a strong tendency to get distracted, especially when girls were involved.
"I'm gettin' there!" Albert protested. "Let me tell my story. Anyway, the wife was a real gem. Ya shoulda seen her. And she liked ta walk through the woods in the evenin's and meet her husband as he came back from a long day of lumberjackin' stuff. On this day, though, the outlaws were waitin' for her. When she made it ta the edge of the woods ta meet her husband, the outlaws jumped out, tied her up, and threw her in the river!"
"Why?" Specs interrupted.
Albert sent him a dirty look. "Because they were outlaws," he said. "Outlaws kill people. And it was too bad for them that they did, 'cause right as they threw her in the lumberjack came around the corner and saw 'em."
"What corner?" Race protested. "They were in the woods!"
"Shut up!" Albert ordered. "The lumberjack was too late ta save his wife, but he wasn't too late ta fight the guys that killed her. The guys outnumbered him ten ta one-"
"Thought ya said there was only five," Finch said.
Albert ignored him, talking louder. "The guys outnumbered him ten ta one, and the lumberjack died in the fight."
"Why does everyone die in your stories?" Finch cut in.
Crutchie nudged him with his foot. "Shush, Albert's tellin' his story," he chided. "Go ahead, Al."
"Thank you, Crutchie," Albert said. "The outlaws killed him, and they got away with it. The bulls neva' found 'em. Well, they didn't get away with it exactly. The ghost of the lumberjack still haunts the woods, searchin' for revenge on the guys who killed his wife. So you'd betta' watch out for him if ya eva' camp in those woods."
There was silence when he had finished his story. "Good one, kid," Spot said, sitting back. "Whaddaya think?" He turned to look around the circle, daring the boys to say anything. A couple of the younger boys looked scared, but that was it.
"What's a lumberjack?" Elmer wondered out loud.
Albert's brow furrowed. "Seriously?" he said. "It's a guy who chops down trees."
Elmer thought this over. "Oh."
Albert frowned. "'Oh?'" he repeated. "That's it? What'd you think one was?"
"A guy like Jack," Elmer said. "'Cept made a' wood." A couple of the boys voiced their agreement and Albert groaned, burying his head in his hands.
"That's dumb!" JoJo argued. "If he was made a' wood how could he die?"
"He didn't die!" Elmer defended. "He's a ghost, rememba'?"
"Do somethin', Jack," Crutchie prompted, nudging his brother.
"Aw, let 'em fight it out," Jack said cheerfully. "This is Spot's night, rememba'?"
Rolling his eyes, Race decided to take action. "Both of ya, shut up and sit down!" He pushed his way between JoJo and Elmer and snatched the caps off both of them. Both boys yelled in protest, and Spot rolled his eyes.
"Ev'rybody quiet!" Spot yelled. The circle fell silent almost immediately. Jack raised his eyebrows, impressed. "Thank you," Spot said as the silence continued. "Great story, kid." He clapped Albert on the back, making the redheaded boy beam with pride. "Not as good as mine, but still good," he continued. "Now, who's got anotha' story ta tell?"
"I'se got a good one," Crutchie said finally. The 'Hattan boys exchanged looks, and even Jack looked surprised.
"This is gonna be good," Spot said with a grin, cracking his knuckles. "Let's hear it, Crutchie."
"Well, it all started right here in New Yawk," Crutchie said. "'Bout thirty, forty years ago, 'for any of us were born, there was an orphanage in 'Hattan. A girl's orphanage."
Romeo grinned. "Alright!"
"Hey," Race scolded mildly, smacking the back of the kid's head. Romeo turned around on his brother's lap, grinning up at him.
"Anyway," Crutchie continued, shaking his head with a smile. "There was this one girl there at the orphanage, and she was a troublemaker. Always stealin' food, playin' tricks on the otha' girls, messin' with the nuns-"
"Who plays pranks on nuns?" Specs said incredulously.
"This girl did," Crutchie said impatiently.
"She shouldn't be doin' that," Elmer said. "They'se close with God; no one should be messin' with them."
"Elmer, ya ain't neva' been in a church in your life," Race accused.
"I went in there last week ta get outta the rain!" Elmer retorted.
"Anyway!" Crutchie said, louder this time. "One night the nuns caught her playin' with matches. They were furious, said she coulda burned the whole place down. They made her sleep in the attic, with no food an' no heat. She got real mad up there, an' she started anotha' fire. Only this one caught, an' before she could put it out the orphanage was on fire." He paused for a moment, examining his audience. The boys were on the edges of their seats, and with the exception of Jack, Race, and Spot, they all looked concerned, at the least.
"Since she was up in the attic, the little girl died that night," he said. "She was the only one who didn't make it out. The whole buildin' burned down ta the ground, with her inside. Now, years passed, and anotha' buildin' was built in the same spot as the old orphanage. The spirit of the little girl, she didn't like bein' disturbed. So she kept on makin' her mischief. The buildin' built there on Duane Street ended up bein' a lodgin' house for the newsies. The girl still plays her tricks there. Sometimes little things go missin'. Coins, cigars."
Romeo sucked in a breath, staring at Race.
"See?" Finch said, smacking Albert with his cap. "I told ya it wasn't me!"
With the barest hint of a smile, Crutchie kept going. He had been hesitant to tell his story at first, but now he had the boys right where he wanted them. "So if you'se eva' in the 'Hattan boys' lodgin' house, ya better watch out. There's a ghost livin' there, an' ya don't wanna make her angry. Last time she was angry, she burned down the buildin' with everyone in it. And if you'se eva' walkin' through the halls at night and ya see a girl in a white nightgown... you run."
The boys fell silent, processing this information about their home. At least half of them -mostly the younger ones- looked justly terrified. "Funny," Spot spoke up. "When we sees a girl in a white nightgown wanderin' the halls at night ova' in Brooklyn we say 'sweetheaht, you'se lost. Slick's room is back that way.'"
Jack snorted, trying to hold back a laugh. He'd met Slick, and he knew there was probably some truth to that statement.
"Alright then," Spot said, spreading his hands. "Anyone got anythin' ta say?" After a beat or two of silence he grinned, his teeth flashing white in the firelight. "I guess it's my turn then. Ya eva' heard the story a' the wanderin' cowboy?" The boys shook their heads, and Spot nodded in satisfaction. "Didn't think so," he said. "Now, once upon a time there was this cowboy. This cowboy didn't live in the West like all good cowboys do. Nah, he lived in the heart a' New Yawk City. An' he was trapped there, no matta' how much he wanted ta be with his own kind.
"This cowboy wandered through the streets a' New Yawk for years an' years, cryin' out for the West. Ya see, the cowboy's heart an' soul were in the West. It was just his body that was wanderin' New Yawk, and he was in agony ev'ry day he spent outta his West."
"Why didn't he just go home?" Specs questioned.
"I'se glad ya asked," Spot said, pointing at him. "He tried. Believe me, he tried. But he was stuck, trapped in New Yawk for all eternity. Maybe it was 'cause he was an idiot. Maybe it was 'cause whateva' gods live up there wanted ta torment 'im. We'll neva' know."
"That's sad," Romeo murmured, pressing into Race's side.
"Yeah, kinda," Spot said. "Anyway, one day the cowboy died in a streetfight. Any otha' person woulda died an' that was it, but the cowboy didn't have a heart or a soul. His ghost still wanders the streets a' New Yawk late at night, only now... now he's angry. He's been away from his West for years an' years now, an' patience ain't his strong suit. He'd be willin' ta kill someone if he thought it'd get him there faster. So if you'se eva' out late at night and ya hear a voice, a voice cryin' out and singin' for the West... for Santa Fe..."
Jack jerked upright. "Spot!" he yelped.
Grinning wickedly, Spot finished up his tale. "Then you'd betta' run, 'cause ya might be the next victim a' the lonely cowboy."
Jack shook his head, casting a look around the campfire. His boys were white-faced and wide-eyed. He groaned. He should've known. "Conlon, get outta here," he said. "And the next time ya make me the villain in one a' your stupid stories I'll soak ya."
Spot rolled off of the log, landing on his back in the dirt. "It's the wanderin' cowboy!" he yelled. "He's afta' me!"
"Get out!" Jack said, pointing.
Still laughing to himself, Spot picked himself up and bushed the dust off his shirt. "Until next time, fellas," he said, vaulting over the log and heading back to... wherever he had come from.
"Jack, is the wanderin' cowboy gonna get us?" Finch questioned, glancing around the circle. The other boys echoed his concern, and Jack held up his hands.
"The wanderin' cowboy ain't real, fellas," he said. "Trust me on this one." Man, I'se in for a long night, he thought wearily. Hopefully at least some of 'em'll sleep tonight.
Unbeknownst to the boys, and even Spot, a lonely figure began making his rounds through the city. He was tall, somewhat skinny, with a red bandana around his neck and long brown bangs that hung in his eyes. Adjusting his cowboy hat on his head, he sang softly to himself.
"So that's what they call a family, mudda', daughta', fatha', son..."