His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn. A soft giggling echoed around the room. The boy spun around, trying to identify the source of the laughter. He turned again and stopped, his eyes resting on the doorknob. As he watched, it turned slowly, but didn’t open. He took a step back up the stairs. A soft voice filtered through the door.
“Won’t you come play with me, Jack?” the voice inquired, quiet and laughing. The boy flinched. He inhaled sharply, as if to steel himself and then ran all the way down the stairs, stopping just short of the door. He grabbed the doorknob and threw open the door. Nothing stood there but the forest, though, glowing in the setting sun.
Breathing hard, Jack clutched the doorframe. He stared intently into the trees. He saw nothing unusual... except something that looked like a will-o’-the-wisp bobbing beside one of the trunks. Jack frowned and squinted, taking a few cautious steps forward, trying to get a better look. The light moved away, as if in response. It couldn’t truly be a will-o’-the-wisp, because there were no swamps or bogs nearby, but it looked strikingly similar to the pictures Jack had seen. It actually reminded him of the old faerie tales his mother told him. He looked at it, and then up at the trees. The trees loomed, dark and reaching, quiet. This was a bad idea. Jack took a deep breath, and stepped forward, following the light. The woods swallowed the boy.
The light zipped through the trees, dodging between them faster than Jack could run, always just a little bit ahead of him. Night was falling, and it was getting harder and harder to see. Jack was slowing down; it seemed like he’d been running forever. His body ached from the running and the times he had fallen down. The will-o’-the-wisp had slowed as well, but was still a tad bit faster than him. Jack fell again. It was the fourth time, but this time, the light stopped.
Night had truly fallen by now, meaning Jack had been following the light for at least an hour. He was exhausted. The light was floating in the center of a clearing a short distance from where Jack had fallen. It did not move as the boy got up. Jack stood, taking in his surroundings.
The woods were dark. Jack had never been here before. The small globe of light illuminated the small clearing, but no farther than that. There was an odd hush, as if the trees were holding their breath and the animals were gone. Tendrils of mist curled around Jack’s ankles, cold and damp. There was the feeling of being watched and exposed as he left the cover of the trees. The whole scene was incredibly unsettling. Jack approached the light. It remained still.
The light was captivating, and, without quite knowing why, Jack reached out a hand to touch it. The light felt no different from the normal air. Then, it began to flicker. The boy quickly snatched his hand away from the now flickering globe, but it was too late. The boy watched in horror as his only source of light slowly faded out of existence. He was stranded. There was no light, no shelter, and no way home.
“Oh, Jack! You got me! I guess I’m it now…” the boy heard from echoing from all sides. Terrified, Jack whirled, trying to find out where the voice was coming from once again.
“I’ll count to ten, alright? One…” Jack flinched, and started running, this time fueled by adrenaline and fear. He could barely see and slammed into a number of the ever present trees.
“Two…” the voice seemed to echo from all around, as if the trees themselves were speaking. Jack was hyperventilating, his breathing harsh and fast. He continued stumbling through the darkness. He was falling more and more often.
“Three…” Jack heard, and the voice seemed closer this time, somehow. The boy tripped again, and fell hard. He couldn’t run anymore. Turning his tear-streaked face upwards, Jack shouted into the trees.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!!” the boy screamed into the night. The woods remained silent. The voice, however, did not.
“But Jack, that’s not how this game works… four…” the voice purred from directly beside him. Jack recoiled from the sound, but tripped, and slammed his head into one of the trees. As he fell, hitting his head on the cold ground, he started losing consciousness. He heard someone laughing.
Jack woke up in a cold sweat and terrified, the way one wakes from a nightmare. He sat up abruptly, only sink back to the ground. He hurt, aches, bruises, and cuts proving that the previous night was no dream. The boy reached up and gingerly touched his head. It had been bleeding where he hit it before, and it hurt badly. It was day time, now, and the forest was alive. A soft breeze wound through the trees, replacing the blanketing mist from before. Birds were singing and the sun was shining. Jack slowly stood, leaning heavily against a tree.
“Thanks for playing tag with me!” the voice murmured. Jack closed his eyes tightly and his body tensed. “We’ll play again later,” it said. The boy remained tense, expecting the worst. However, nothing happened, and, after a few minutes, Jack relaxed. He opened his eyes. Slowly, he began staggering in the direction he thought his house was.
It had been a few hours, but Jack finally made it back home. Just seeing the familiar house put the boy more at ease. He stumbled toward the door. However, as he opened the door, there was one last thing.
“You haven’t won, Jack. You didn’t play the game right,” the voice giggled. The boy stood frozen, hand on the doorknob of the open door. “This is your fault. You’re the one who opened the door. You let me in! Now we’re going to be together a long time…” Jack was aghast, horror painted on his face. It had followed him. It was in his head. The voice was here to stay.