Crackling logs spit sparks from the flames of the bonfire. Shannon sat on her sled, yanked off her snow-soaked mittens, and placed them on a rock near the fire to dry. The moon was bright, casting its light eerily over the group of friends. Some sat on sleds, some on logs, warming their feet as they took a break from an evening of sledding.
Shannon threaded two marshmallows onto a stick and thrust them into the fire. "Do you want one?" she asked Amanda, holding the bag out to her friend.
Amanda took a marshmallow from the plastic bag, then passed it down the line to Ashley, Sharece, and Larry. Larry was the hired hand here on Christmas Tree Farm. Shannon's dad paid him to help with the daily chores of tree farming, and Larry came to work each day after school. He would graduate from high school this year and be off to college. Shannon knew she would miss him when he was away.
With Christmas just around the corner, this was the farm's busiest season. But there was still time for play. Larry had stayed after work to build a fire and join them for a sledding party. As Shannon's marshmallows caught fire, the others slid their own white puffs onto sticks for roasting.
"Ugghh!" Amanda exclaimed as Shannon blew out her marshmallows. Amanda stared at the blackened blobs on the end of the stick, then watched as Shannon blew on them one more time, then popped them into her mouth.
"Yuck! How can you eat them like that?" Amanda pushed her dark hair under her hat and grinned at her friend, brown eyes flashing.
"I like them that way!"
"My sister's weird," Ashley said, and everyone laughed except Shannon, who made a face at her little sister.
Ten inches of snow had fallen over the past week, bringing excitement to the valley of Silver Run. All day long, the kids had packed a path down the hill with their sleds, across the dormant cornfield, down to the pond. Then, Mom had brought marshmallows and hot chocolate and Dad had lit lanterns to line the sledding path. The moon was so bright the lamps really weren't needed, though. Nighttime sledding parties were the best, Shannon decided.
Larry sat silently, stirring the fire with a stick. The swaying branches of nearby trees made shadows dance all around him.
"Tell us a story," someone cried.
Shannon nudged Larry. "Tell us a ghost story," she added softly.
Larry looked at Shannon, then back into the fire before he spoke. "Do you kids know the legend of the lost silver mine of Silver Run?"
Shannon looked at Amanda. She was shaking her head no.
"I don't know that story," Shannon said.
"Me, either," Ashley chimed in. "Tell it, Larry! Tell it!"
"Tell us the legend," Sharece agreed. "Is it scary?"
"I'll let you decide," Larry said mysteriously. Then he leaned in toward the fire again. His blond bangs hung over his eyebrows as he stared straight ahead in silence. He pushed back his cap and began.
"A long time ago, a German man called Ahrwud lived near here, with his beautiful daughter, Frieda. Now, Ahrwud was a silversmith, and a good one, too. The things he crafted from silver brought customers from far and wide. Everyone wanted to buy a trinket, designed and made by Ahrwud. But his neighbors wondered about him. Every time they came to visit, Ahrwud was sleeping soundly in his bed, and this would be the middle of the day! When did he find time to make the beautiful silver spoons and candlesticks, jewelry and other things, if he slept so much?"
"Maybe he worked in his sleep!" Ashley joked, cutting the tension of the group.
"Ssshh!" everyone said at once. "Let Larry finish!"
"Frieda was young, but she kept the cabin clean, cooked the meals, and did the laundry. Her father left the cabin every night and usually didn't return until just before dawn. Often the local Indians came for him or brought him home again.
"Then, on Frieda's thirteenth birthday, Ahrwud came home with a beautiful brooch, cut from the finest silver. 'Happy Birthday!' he said as he handed her the piece.
"Frieda looked at the jewelry in her hand. It was oval with a pattern of cubic shapes cut into it so that it sparkled in the light when she turned it this way or that. Right in the center was a perfectly formed rose. It was surely the prettiest thing she had ever owned. She threw her arms around her father's neck and thanked him, then pinned the brooch to her worn apron.
"By noon the next day, Frieda could not contain her curiosity. Every time she looked at the beautiful brooch she wondered where it had come from. She just had to know! How had her father made such a beautiful piece? When did he find the time? Frieda began to wonder if all the townspeople's stories were true. So when Ahrwud awoke, she pleaded and begged with him to take her along that night. Ahrwud could not stand to see his beloved daughter so upset, so finally he gave in.
'I will take you to see the place where I get my silver and work it, but you cannot know where it is, so I will have to blindfold you!'
"Frieda was surprised that her father would blindfold her, but she agreed to do as he said. After her eyes were covered, Ahrwud grasped her hand, held a lantern high, and led her down a trail through the forests and fields. As they walked, Ahrwud told her about the silver mine.
"'My Indian friends have allowed me to use their sacred silver mine,' he told Frieda. 'But I have promised them I would never tell anyone else about it. They say if anyone else finds the mine, it will disappear and I will be severely punished. So you must keep this to yourself, my darling Frieda.'