The Birthday Party


Author: Skye Isaacson First Place Senior Division 2024

“Summer, look what I found in my mailbox! We should totally go!”

Summer looked up as her cousin and best friend, Riley, burst through the door, waving a pamphlet around in the air.

She’s always worked up about something, Summer thought with a smile, then asked, “What is it?”

Riley was bouncing with excitement as she spoke.

“It’s a sleepaway camp that’s next weekend, out near Blackroot Forest! You get to stay at these old cabins out in the woods and have fires and cook marshmallows. My mom said all of us could go as a birthday present for me.”

“Where are we going?” Chloe inquired as she, Grace, Stella, and Olivia came traipsing in the side door. The six girls had been friends for years. The group had started out with just Chloe, Summer, and Riley when they were barely walking. Riley and Summer were cousins and Chloe lived right next door to Summer. Then came Stella when she moved from Kansas in second grade. Next was Grace, a quiet, mousy girl. The most recent addition to the group was Olivia, who came in sixth grade. Now, Summer, Stella, Chloe, and Grace were freshmen in high school while Riley and Olivia were a year younger in eighth grade. As the girls sat in the kitchen eating cookies, they listened with growing excitement as Riley told them about the sleepaway camp.

“That sounds fun!” Stella exclaimed.

Grace, who was afraid of anything scary, stated nervously, “It’s on the weekend of Halloween. I heard there’s supposed to be a full moon.”

“It’s also Riley’s birthday, and she wants to do something fun. It’ll be fine, Grace,” Olivia reassured her. “Nothing will happen.”

“Yeah,” the other girls chimed in. “We’ll have fun. It’s just for the weekend.” Grace nodded in agreement after a minute of thought.


* * *

A week later, Summer was finishing up packing her bags after dinner when the phone rang.

“Summer, it’s for you!” her mom called up the stairs. “Got it!”

As Summer picked up the upstairs extension, she could hear Riley’s impatient voice through the other end.

“Finally! Are you ready yet?”

Summer laughed, then replied, “I just finished packing. What about you?” “Of course I’m ready! I was ready days ago!”

“I figured you were. What about the other girls? Have you talked to them?” Summer asked.

“Yeah, it seems like they’re pretty much on the same page. Stella’s super excited, but Grace is still a little bit nervous. I’m sure she’ll be fine once we get there, though.”

“Yeah, me too,” Summer said, stifling a yawn. “It’ll be fun.”

“I should probably go, you sound tired. Plus, I have to triple-check my list to make sure I didn’t forget anything. See you tomorrow, bright and early!”

“Yup, good night,” Summer replied, then hung up the phone.

* * *

As Summer was eating breakfast the next morning, she heard a car honk outside. “Mom, my ride’s here,” she hollered as she threw her dishes in the sink. “I gotta go!”

“Wait, come give me a hug first!” her mom exclaimed, hurrying down the stairs and pulling her daughter into an embrace. The horn honked again.

“Come on, Summer! It’s time to go!” Riley yelled through the front door as she invited herself in before spotting Summer and her mom. “Oh, hi Aunt Sarah! Sorry, but I have to steal Summer now. We’re going to be late.”

Summer waved at her mom as she allowed Riley to pull her outside.

“Bye!” she called as she threw her bags in the back of her uncle’s minivan and hopped in with all the other girls. The car zipped out of the driveway and the girls chatted excitedly amongst themselves.

When they got to the bus stop that was taking them to camp, the girls gave their bags to the people loading up the luggage and settled in the back, watching as other campers filed inside and sat down, eager to get going.

“I heard this place is haunted,” one boy whispered excitedly to a nearby friend.

“Yeah, right,” Stella, who had overheard, proclaimed. “By what?”

“It is,” the boy insisted, “My older sister went there and said so herself. She said that it’s been haunted for almost 100 years!”

Jeers of disbelief and laughter rose up among the other kids, but they all pressed in to hear the story.

“Way back in 1918,” the boy began, “there was a girl named Emily. She grew up in what’s now Blackroot Forest, in a castle that used to belong to her great-great-grandfather. Her mom died when she was little, so it was just Emily and her dad. Although she lived far away from other people, she went to town every day to attend school, where she was very popular and everyone liked her.

“Emily’s best friend was named Beth, and they were inseparable. Every day, they would walk to school and sit at the same desk, then they’d walk home together afterward and played at each other’s houses.

“One day, Beth became sick. It turned out that she had the Spanish flu and although Emily was forbidden to see Beth to prevent her from getting sick too, she snuck over every night to see her. Soon, Beth became too weak to eat and move. She knew she wouldn’t make it to her fourteenth birthday and made Emily promise to celebrate for both girls when her own birthday came. Emily did, and Beth’s prediction came true, with her passing away just days before she turned fourteen.

“Unfortunately,” the boy continued, finishing up the story and bringing everybody out of their thoughts. “Emily caught the flu, too, and ended up dying about a week later. She never fulfilled her promise, and to this day, she haunts the woods and camp, looking for someone’s soul to take over and turn fourteen in.”

“Riley turns fourteen tomorrow!” Grace exclaimed, worried.

Riley smiled, dismissing the thought while adjusting the friendship bracelet that had been on her wrist since she and Summer had made them years ago.

“Uh-oh!” someone yelled, “She better watch her back!”

“Well, I don’t believe it,” Stella declared as the bus pulled into camp and everyone trooped out. “It was a good story though.”

“Hello, campers!” a woman greeted them as they stepped out into the fresh, pine-smelling air. “I’m Ava, the head counselor, and this is Emory, my assistant,” she said, gesturing to a tall woman beside her, who had been on the bus ride there as a supervisor.

“Oh, uh, hi,” the older woman stammered, shaking her head as if clearing her thoughts. “As you know, we’re here if you guys need anything or have any questions, so don’t be afraid to ask.” Emory vaguely continued, then looked away, silent again. Her dull green eyes held a vacant look, Chloe noticed, and she seemed distracted by something. Emory’s curly hair was pulled into a messy bun on top of her head, and she looked flustered.

That’s strange, Chloe thought, I thought she’d be more put-together. That’s not what she seemed like when I read about her in the pamphlet. Oh well, she shrugged, some things just aren’t as they seem.

* * *

Later that evening, after everyone had settled into their cabins, the girls sat outside on their little porch, watching the bright orange hue of the sunset fade into darkness.

“Hey, look over there!” Oliva pointed towards the edge of the trees, as a flash of whitish-blue disappeared into the forest.

“It’s a ghost!” Grace breathed, a chill running down her spine.

“No, that story was just something someone made up to scare other people,” Chloe stated defiantly. “Don’t worry, Grace, it’ll be fine. Let’s just go inside and go to bed.”

The other girls nodded in agreement, but Grace still couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched.

* * *

Summer awoke suddenly in the middle of the night. Something feels off, she thought, wracking through her brain for possibilities. When she couldn’t think of any reason, she rolled over, trying to ignore it, but she couldn’t get rid of the feeling. Thinking of a way to distract herself, Summer climbed down from the top bunk to get a drink. When she got to the bottom rung, she glanced at Riley’s bed, then did a double take. What she saw made her blood run cold.

Riley’s bed was empty!

“Chloe, Chloe! Wake up!” Summer whispered, shaking her friend’s arm. “Riley’s gone!” Chloe shot upright, suddenly awake. “What?!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean?” “She’s gone! I looked all over the cabin, but she’s not there! Come on, let’s wake up the others.”

The two went around the cabin, waking up the rest of their friends in hushed whispers to prevent waking up the other girls in the cabin next to them.

“What do we do?” Grace asked.

“Let’s go look for her,” Stella declared.

“But what if she comes back?” Olivia inquired.

“Someone can stay behind if they want,” Stella suggested, but all the girls shook their heads in unison, not wanting to be left alone. Soon, they were racing around the cabin grabbing jackets, shoes, and flashlights. When they were ready, they trooped outside and headed down the hill leading towards the main building.

“Wait,” Summer called, spotting something on the ground near the edge of the woods. “What’s that?”

They all ran over to the item laying on the ground, and when Summer picked it up, she saw it was a bracelet that matched the one on her wrist.

“Her bracelet,” Olivia breathed. “She never takes that off. She must’ve gone this way!”

The girls tore down the path leading deeper into the woods until they came to a fork in the trail.

“Which way?” Chloe asked.

“Look, right there!” Stella exclaimed, pointing to a set of footprints that traveled unevenly down the muddy lane. “She must’ve gone this way.”

“Good eyes!” Olivia congratulated. “Let’s go.”

A few minutes later, they appeared at a clearing in the middle of the forest. Ahead of them was the outline of a huge building. The girls looked at each other fearfully, then crept slowly up the hillside leading to it. When they got to the top, they saw that the enormous shape looming just ahead of them was an old aging castle with high towers rising up into the light of the full moon. Grace pointed silently to a light flickering out of a tower window and the girls shut off their flashlights to avoid being seen.

“Get down!” Stella suddenly hissed urgently, pulling the others down with her to the ground. “Someone’s coming!”

The girls held their breaths as a dark form hurried by, and Chloe spotted a few curly wisps of hair sticking out from the hood over the person’s head.

“I think that’s Emory!” she exclaimed after the person disappeared into the castle.

“What is she doing here?” Oliva questioned, just as bewildered as the others.

They decided to follow her quietly, but as soon as they entered the large doorway in the front, Emory appeared out of nowhere as if she was waiting for them. The girls stifled their screams as Emory demanded, “What are you doing here?”

“We thought Riley might be here. She disappeared and we followed some tracks we saw on the trail. What are you doing here?” Stella, the boldest one, answered.

Emory hesitated before answering. “I knew Emily would be out tonight. I heard you on the bus earlier and figured she somehow knew, too.”

The girls looked at her with confused expressions. “So, she is real?” Chloe inquired.

Emory nodded. “Yes, but you can’t see her unless she shows herself to you. Spirits can do that, and for some reason, I’m the only one I’ve known of who can see her. I’ve worked here for many years now, and she’s always watching and listening. At first, I would ask others if they saw her too, but they thought I was a kooky old lady, so I left the subject alone. For years, she’s been waiting for someone to arrive, someone who’d celebrate their birthday here, so she can take over their soul and finally celebrate the birthdays like she promised.”

“Is that why you looked so unkempt when we first saw you?” Grace asked. “Because you knew she was coming, and you were worried?”

Emory nodded.

“But why is that so bad?” Olivia inquired. “Can’t she just give Riley’s soul back after she turns fourteen?”

“If only,” Emory shook her head sadly. “No, once Emily takes over Riley’s body, she can’t give it back, unless you reverse the spell, but that’s nearly impossible.”

Stella headed for the steps. “Well, come on, let’s go,” she called impatiently. “I don’t want to leave Riley alone any longer. We have to help her. Who knows, maybe we can stop Emily.” The other girls followed, determined to save their friend. As they traveled up the winding stairs, the soft glow of the light above grew brighter and brighter. When they reached the top, they found a hallway that led to a room at the end, where the yellow light faded into an icy blue hue that vibrated down the walls as they approached. When they peeked around the corner of the doorway, the girls saw a long table set with plates and silverware, as if someone was preparing to have guests over for dinner. A cake sat in the center of the table, with fourteen candle flames dancing merrily. Riley was seated in a chair at the head of the table, transfixed and staring straight ahead, her eyes glassy. Oliva gasped quietly and looked at Emory for an explanation.

“She’s under a spell,” the woman stated bluntly.

In the corner of the room, the girls saw a pale blue mist floating near an old wooden desk.

When they looked closer, they realized it was a girl about their age, sitting primly on top of the desk. Her neatly-braided hair was flowing down her back and she was reading a book.

That must be Emily, Chloe thought as she stared at her. As if sensing the girls’ eyes, Emily looked up. She smiled upon seeing the girls, then stated, “At last! You must be here for the party! I’ll finally turn fourteen today. Come, sit at my table with me.” The girls obliged, and they each took a seat at the opposite end of the table, as far away from Emily as possible.

“Let’s sing,” Emily suggested, but Emory shook her head.

“Don’t do it, girls,” she cried, “it will finalize the spell and you’ll never get Riley back!”

“Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday to me…” Emily began, urging the others to sing along.

“Why are you doing this?” Stella asked. “Can’t you let Riley go?”

“I made a promise to Beth, and I must keep it.”

“There must be some other way,” Chloe insisted. “Please?”

“I must keep my promise.

“Happy birthday dear Emily…” she continued.

Grace jumped up and ran over to the book Emily had been reading. It was a book of spells, and she frantically flipped through the pages, looking for something to stop Emily. She landed on a page and began to read in a loud, clear voice:

“Today’s the day; It’s my birthday,

And I’m going to have a party, With cake and hats,

And fun placemats,

We’ll all be at the party!”

“Happy birthday…” Emily kept on, while the others urged Grace to read faster.

“Except for one, We’ll all have fun;

she can’t be at the party, She doesn’t belong,

She should be gone,

Miles away from my party.”


“So, stones and stew, And witches brew,

We’ll banish her from the party,

To never return, Maybe she’ll learn,

It’s not her birthday party!”

“Meee-” Emily tried to finish as Grace ended the poem, but she disappeared in a puff of smoke before she could. As she vanished, Riley snapped out of her trance and all her friends surrounded her, relieved.

“What happened?” she asked, puzzled as to why she was sitting at a table in the middle of the night. As the girls explained, Riley realized how true her friends were.

“Well, that’s rude,” she stated with a smile when they finished. “What is?” everyone asked.

“She didn’t even blow out her candles before she left!”

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