"C'mon, Kay; You've got to do it," Amber encouraged her, as she stalled at the path leading to Dead Man's Crossing.

"Unless you're scared," Lisa taunted, a tone of indulgence in her voice and a smirk on her face. Lisa Reynolds had seemed to have it in for Kay since she had moved to her town and started at the local high-school. She had never really said so, in as many words; if she had ever done so, at least Kay would have known where they stood... But instead, ever since she had started her sophomore year at Hawthorne High School and found herself assimilated into Lisa, Amber, and Jessica's clique, the other girl had always remained just within the bounds of civility, while still treating her like someone's annoying little sister that couldn't be gotten rid of. She had made a crack about how Kay was still nursing her first (and only) wine cooler after the other girls had all had two, asking her if she was going to drink it or baby-sit it; when she'd protested against taking a single draw on the joint one of them had brought, on the (true) grounds that she was afflicted with asthma, Lisa hadn't even deigned to comment on it. Somehow, Kay had thought the other girl's silence more damning than her remarks; she changed her mind as the raven-haired girl pressed her point. "We can always just pack up and take you home, if it's past your bedtime," she continued, flashing a wry smile to let Kay know that it was just a joke, no harm meant. Really...

"I'm not scared," Kay countered, returning her smile as if they weren't about to claw each other's eyes out like cats. The feeling of barely contained antipathy was mutual; Kay only hung around with Lisa because she was inseparable from Amber, who was good-hearted and funny, if a little bit ditzy, and a casual friend to Jessica, the best friend she had made since moving to Burton, Maine. She and Jessica had met in band and hit it off, finding they had enough in common to be sisters. In contrast, Amber and Lisa, who had the same relationship that Jess and Kay did, were polar opposites; Amber was sunny and outgoing, and only bothered to maintain a C average to keep her beloved place on the cheerleading squad, while Lisa was introverted and self-possessed, partial to comic books published by Slave Labor Graphics and the trappings of the Gothic subculture. Kay thought she was narcissistic, the way she made sardonic comments about their classmates behind their backs and spoke with acid of what she called the "zeitgeist"; if she hadn't been friends with Amber and Jessica first, and come in the package deal, then Kay would never have suffered the girl's condescending attitude.

Although if she was being honest with herself, Kay had to admit that part of her admired Lisa; she had always been impressed with how self-assured the other girl was, wearing dark clothing that Kay herself would never be comfortable in, even though the two had nearly the same coloring. And if she was arrogant? It wasn't without reason; Lisa made straight A's without even trying, complaining all the way about how easy the work was. If she had just been a nicer person, Kay thought the two of them might have made really good friends...

And if Kay wanted to be really honest, she was just a little bit scared.

"Of course she isn't," Jessica exclaimed, backing her up as she always did. "We've all tried to call up the ghost at Dead Man's Crossing before, and nothing happened." She was referring the reason they'd made the trip out here; local legends had it that on the site of a cross-roads in what was now the woods on the outskirts of Burton, a man had lived with his family in a little shack, two-hundred years ago. They say he had worshipped the devil, and practiced black magic. One night, we was supposed to have went insane, possibly after attempting a difficult spell, and killed his entire family with an axe before hanging himself. That was how the site of the former crossroads had gotten its name, and if someone called upon the dead man at the correct location, and did it precisely at midnight, then he would appear to them... Or so the kids told each other.

"So? Maybe the fourth time's the charm..." Lisa suggested, peeved that Jess was spoiling the mood. She knew the ritual for what it was; a right of passage, a behavior that professionals referred to as an "adolescent legend trip". But just because she understood its purpose didn't mean she didn't want to see the New Girl squirm, and she wouldn't if Jessica kept breaking up the atmosphere. Of course, Lisa thought it would achieve the desired effect, anyway. The suspension of disbelief to accept that the story might be true was important, of course, but not totally necessary; the real test was being alone in the woods at night, listening to the sounds of the forest, and knowing that your friends were a half-mile's walk down an overgrown trail in case anything did happen. That is, if Kay, who Lisa had started of thinking of as Jessica-lite due to their similarities, could be talked into doing it...

"Maybe it'll work this time," Amber postulated, sounding scared and excited and a little bit tipsy. "When we did it, we hadn't done our research. This will be the first time anyone does it with the candles, and makes an offering. Lisa only just found out the dead guy's name, after all." Lisa had to stifle the urge to groan and roll her eyes; the "research" she had done had consisted of surfing websites on Neo-Paganism for all of ten minutes, but if the other girls suspected anything, trust that Amber wouldn't. She was the kind of person, that you could tell her that she dropped her pocket, or that somehow somebody had written the word "gullible" on the ceiling, and she would dutifully look around to confirm it; furthermore, you could probably do it on a daily basis. But still, Lisa had to be thankful; at least now her friend's capacity to believe anything was working to build the mood she wanted.

"That's right," she confirmed, looking at Kay conspiratorially. "This will be the first anyone does it right. If you light the candles and ring the bell, he might show up. If you offer him the incense and the bread and the wine, he might accept it. If you call him by name, he might answer..." she intoned, remembering again how she'd cribbed the name of a demon off of the lyrics sheet of a CD her brother had left behind when he'd joined the Army; she thought it sounded fake, but honestly couldn't think of anything better: "Zephial".

"Maybe he will," Kay agreed, surprising the other girl. The conversation was starting to make her nervous, true, but if she backed down now, she would never live it down; she wasn't about to do that. "But I'm supposed to it at exactly midnight, right?" she asked, indicating her watch. "It's past eleven-thirty now, and I've got a long way to walk. If there's any chance of getting him to show, I need to start now, don't I?"

Lisa was visibly impressed; she hadn't been expecting the new girl to put on such a brave face. She handed her the bag with the candles, bell, incense, the last two wine coolers, and the croissant's Amber had picked up from the bakery that morning without a word. Without a word, Kay took it, and turned on her flashlight as she began down the trail. She wanted to get it over with before she lost her nerve, but was stopped by Jess calling her name.

"Kay?" her best friend started, pausing to decide what she wanted to say. Kay saw that her friend looked as nervous as she felt, and made no effort to hide it; it only made her feel worse. "Just be careful, ok?" Jessica said worriedly. "It's dark out there."

"I'll be fine, Jessica," Kay assured her, trying to sound nonchalant and hoping she was succeeding. "I've got my cell phone; if there's a bear or something out there, I can call you guys after I climb a tree." And wet my pants, she added to herself. But she didn't want to think about that; it was just a little walk into the woods. People camped out here all the time, and no one had seen a bear in about ten years. She would be fine.

Kay told herself that again, as she started down the trail, by the light of the three-quarters full moon and her Eveready flashlight. She would do this, get really scared, and come back to her friends (and also Lisa) claiming that she had never been the least bit frightened; someone would drink the last wine coolers (maybe even Kay; they did taste really good) and they would hang out in the forest, listening to the radio and talking about Amber's crush on Dawson from Geometry until Jessica was good to drive them back to town in the used Saturn her parents had bought her. More importantly, she would have proven herself to Lisa; the Princess of Darkness would finally give her some respect.

Besides, she thought. What could possibly happen?

Checking her watch, she saw that midnight was approaching.

Kay had found the sight where the crossroads had once been, though it was now so overgrown it was hard to tell. She had prepared the "ritual" exactly as Lisa had instructed her, scratching a pentagram within a circle into the only bare patch of dirt and placing a candle at each of its points. In the middle of this she had set the wine coolers and the paper bag of croissants. She had also placed four sticks of incense into the ground around it at what she thought were the points of the compass; Lisa had seemed to be peeved that Amber had gotten "teaberry" scented sticks from the local mall, but had admitted that it probably made no difference.

Kay had already lit them, enjoying the way they smelled. After this, she thought she would ask if she could keep the other sixteen sticks in the pack. The truth was, she didn't have to go through with this; she could have just come out here, waited an appropriate length of time, and went back to her friends. No one would know. But she would know, and she would feel like a coward if she went that route. And besides, she would simply feel stupid if she came out here just to stand around and do nothing. Why not give it a try, and play the game? It wasn't like she was superstitious or anything...

So she watched as the radiant numerals on her timepiece changed, and the incense sticks burned down. Two minutes until the witching hour; she lit the candles, starting from the bottom right and making sure to do it in the sequence Lisa had explained to her. One minute till; she picked up the bell, muffling the clapper with her hand. Finally, midnight...

"Zephial," she began, feeling silly talking to herself in the woods, and no less scared for it. "I name you. Zephial, I call you. Zephial, I charge you." Kay had thought the name Lisa had supplied was stupid when she first heard it; she thought the other girl had gotten it out of the Bible, most likely, and from somewhere in the back. It was beginning to seem a lot less funny, now. "I offer you a boon, of bread and wine. I call on you to make your presence known. I summon you; appear to me. So I ask; so mote it be," she finished, thinking the rhyme Lisa had insisted she memorized was just ridiculous. Yeeahh, boy-ee! she thought, and had to stifle herself to keep from breaking out in a fit of giggles, as she rang the bell nine times.

But the humor of the situation was quickly lost on her; she found herself tensed, waiting... but for what? For the ghost of a dead witch to show up, wearing a noose and brandishing a spectral axe? It was absurd... but still, she thought some part of her was. She imagined it was the same part that had made her sleep with a night-light until she was eleven (which she had told only Jessica, who she'd sworn to secrecy on pain of death); the part of her that compelled her to look out the windows every five minutes if her parents had left her alone to go out to dinner, and stayed out later than she had expected. The part of her that asked What if...? in a small, timid voice after nightfall.

She stood in the woods with bated breath for a long moment, straining to pick up any sound over that inner voice, and was immensely relieved to hear nothing. She let out the breath she held, as the tension poured from her. It might have been two seconds later, before she heard a twig snap.

Kay stood stock still, listening to see if the sound would come again, and trying to convince herself that she had imagined it. She had almost done so when she heard it again. Closer. Something was definitely out there, rustling in the undergrowth. But what? A squirrel or something, she told herself, but dismissed it; squirrels weren't nocturnal. But it could be a woodchuck, or... what? Kay had known a lot about the native wildlife back in West Virginia, but had no idea what could be prowling out here in the woods of Maine. It might be a wildcat, or a bear, but...? No; as she listened more closely, she was certain it sounded like footsteps.

"Is somebody out there?" she asked, immediately feeling stupid. Isn't that what every female in every horror movie she had ever seen did? And how did that end? No, she told herself, Don't think about that. "Guys? Is that you?" she called, grasping at the best possibility. "Jessica? Amber? Lisa?"

At that, a thought occurred to her, and she seized upon it as hard as she could; Lisa had come out here to watch her, to see if she would choke, and decided to try to throw a cheap scare into her when she saw that she hadn't. Kay thought it would be just like her, and that she would never let her live it down. "Lisa? Are you out there?" she called, trying to make her voice sound calm; it didn't even occur to her to wonder how her un-friend could have made it through the foliage without the aid of a flashlight... "This isn't funny!" she called, all attempts at maintaining her cool forgotten. "Why don't you come out and show yourself, Lisa? Huh, goth-girl?" If it was Lisa, saying that would probably provoke a fight, maybe even the physical kind, but Kay no longer cared. She was angry, and she was scared, and part of her wanted to cry. Worse, she could feel the familiar sensation like a corset across her chest, making it harder to breathe; she thought it was an asthma attack coming, and it would get worse if she got anymore excited. Kay reached down to the right front-pocket of her jeans, to get the inhaler she kept there, for the rare occasions when the attacks got bad.

"And just who in the bloody hell are you calling 'Lisa', then?" she heard a masculine voice ask, from a yard behind her shoulder.

Well, that was that. Entry one in my three way challenge, submitted for your consideration. At this point, I'd just like to weigh in with my thoughts on the story's strengths and weaknesses, as I see them.

Pros: The first thing I like about working with this one is that I simply made up the city of Burton, Maine, so I can simply fabricate any details of it's geography I want to. I hate setting stories in real world locales, because I hate doing research. It's the reason I set "Strange and Senseless Wars", my magnum opus, in the fictional city of Canasta, California, and it worked pretty well for me there (shameless plug, you say? I doth protest).

Another thing I like about this is that I know exactly where it's going. It's not often I can say that about my writing, but I've all but committed the last chapter to paper... er, micro-chip. All I need to do is figure out how it get's there.

As a sidenote, I personally like what I did with the dynamic between Kaylee and Lisa. I've seen so, so many fics with a virtuous, perfect heroin and an irredeemable bitch rival, and one thing I specifically kept in mind while writing this was to avoid that. By giving Kay a nemesis that she doesn't know she's superior to beyond a shadow of a doubt, I tried to saddle her with some good old human insecurities. I'm following advice I myself gave, in the current issue of Stop The Press, a monthly newsletter run by Burnt Bread and contributed to by the cream of the crop, and also Disturbly. Most of its submissions, I assure you, are better than mine, so you may want to check it out. And yes, that was as subtle a plug as I could possibly make, if you're wondering.

Cons: My biggest concern when writing this was the third person omniscient perspective; I needed to use it to tell the story I wanted to, but I've never tried my hand at it before, and I think a lot of the roughness here can be chalked up to that. One thing I notice, the tendency to info dump is a lot stronger when writing the thoughts of multiple characters. I must watch that.

I should also mention that I'm not one-hundred percent confident of my ability to write a convincing lead who's female and a teenager. I have never been a teenage female, so I may be a bit out of my depth here; all of Kay's thoughts, motivations, and feelings are the result of speculation.

Tell me if you liked it; also be sure to let me know if dropped the ball on my characters or my narrative. And above all, let me know whether you want it to be continued.