The side of the street my house was on was skirted by a broad length of woods. That was basically the boundary for our side of the game. You could run through any yard, even go across the street and run through their yards, but you weren't allowed to hide in the woods, because it was too difficult to find anyone in there, and it was very easy to trip over tree limbs or end up with poison oak. Of course, this rule was frequently and flagrantly ignored when people got too close to being caught. They'd duck off into the bushes for a few seconds, or run behind a group of trees to evade capture.
I don't remember who was it at the time, but I was hiding in a backyard two houses down from my house. The family that lived there had a little playhouse for their daughter, a swing set and a doghouse but no dog. I would periodically duck into the doghouse whenever I saw the flashlight's searching beam approaching. Those of us trying to hide from the "it" person liked to spook each other in the dark by jumping out of nowhere and making each other scream, giving away our positions.
I thought I knew where the "it" guy was, but I got comfortable hanging out on the swing set. Suddenly, a person with a flashlight came around the corner of the house and angled it almost directly at me. I jumped and ran for the edge of the woods. When I got there, I hovered in case they saw me and were going to yell at me for cheating. The beam of light seemed to explore the swing set where I was, then came in my direction, but there was no sense of hurry at all to it, and I wondered for a second if maybe I'd attracted the attention of the homeowner. Most people on the block knew we were out playing flashlight tag, but you never can be sure that someone won't get nervous if you stay in their yard too long. So I crouched down in the grass and waited to see who it was.
They shined the light right in my face and I tried to cover it with my hand to avoid identification. The creepy thing was, they never said anything, just shined that light on me.
"You got me!" I exclaimed, hoping that if it was a homeowner, they'd realize I thought they were the flashlight tagger. Then I realized that two houses down, people were yelling and there was the "it" guy's flashlight beam chasing them around.
I stood up and tried to see who was shining the light on me. They just stood there, not moving, not saying anything. I felt a little freaked out.
"If you don't want us playin' in your yard, I'll go tell them it's off limits, okay?"
The person started walking toward me. I didn't feel right, so I started walking toward the edge of the yard. The person just kept shining the light on me and coming toward me. So I ran.
When I looked back, the person with the flashlight was running too, and they were an adult, much bigger and much faster than me. I felt scared now, not sure why this person was chasing me. I was running toward where the other kids had been, but they were gone now. It just seemed to be me and the person with the flashlight. So I turned right and ducked into the woods. I dropped to the ground, shaking bushes and stuff to try to confuse the person, then shimmied under a ring of thick bushes and curled up. I could see the flashlight in the woods with me, looking around. I could hear the person's footsteps breaking sticks and crunching on pine needles. I didn't know what the #### was going on, and I just wanted to get back to all the other kids. Eventually, the flashlight wandered deeper into the woods and I crawled quiet as a mouse back to the edge of the trees and then got up and ran toward the street.
I was immediately caught by the person who was "it", but I didn't care. He yelled loud that I was now "it" and I tried to tell him that there was someone else with a flashlight wandering around in the woods, but he took off into the dark yelling about "no tag backs".
"Don't go in the woods!" I yelled, but nobody responded. Of course, any who heard me would just assume I was talking about not cheating at the game, but I was sincerely worried about that person wandering around in them. Of course, now I had a flashlight of my own, so I thought, I should go and see if I can find out who that was, just to make myself feel better.
I went back behind the house I'd come from and a bunch of laughing shadows scampered out of sight into neighboring yards. I ignored them and headed straight for the trees. I couldn't see any other light in there, so I thought, maybe he went home. I didn't know if it was a man or a woman, but I didn't imagine any women trudging through the woods at night.
So I went about playing the game again, albeit anxious because of the lingering thought that there was someone wandering in the woods who didn't seem to be playing the game with us. I ran across the street and chased people through the backyards there, but after a while I found the lots empty and realized that they must have gone back across the street. I ran back over and was exploring the Beeches' backyard. Mrs. Beeche had a clothesline with a bunch of drying sheets on it, and her daughter Charlotte liked to hide among the linens and stay close to home in case she got too scared of the dark. She was only a year younger than me.
I thought I heard something at the tree line, so I went over and was waving the flashlight around into the woods.
"Stay outta the woods!" I remember yelling. I waved the flashlight back and forth a couple more passes, then saw someone off in the distance. I held the light on whoever it was. They were about half a job into the woods, hard to make out, but it looked to me like Charlotte. Charlotte had brown hair that her mother insisted on keeping shoulder length. We always dressed dark for flashlight tag, and Charlotte liked to wear this deep purple sweatshirt, so it was usually easy to tell when you had found her.
"Charlotte I see you!" I yelled. She just stood there. I continued to hold the light on her and call her name, but she didn't seem to move. She stood there partially obscured by a tree and looked at me. The distance between us was enough that I couldn't see if she was blinking or not, but she had her head propped at an angle like she was looking around the trunk at me with her mouth hanging slightly open. Every now and then she sorta twitched or squirmed. It was a real freaky kinda movement.
"Charlotte! Come out of there!" I yelled. "Everybody! Charlotte's it, but she won't come out of the woods!" Some kids including my friend Dustin appeared behind me and started joining in my yell for Charlotte to come out.
"Do you see her?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's over behind that tree. Charlotte, get over here!" Dustin said. But she wouldn't come. "Charlotte, are you okay? Get over here, dummy!" She suddenly disappeared behind the tree, just as we heard a small crack. WE called for her again, but there was no response.
When she still didn't come out, Dustin took the flashlight from me and went over to where she was. Once he turned to go behind the tree, he screamed and ran toward us. "What's wrong?" I asked, backing away from the forest in case something was chasing him. He didn't say a word though; he just kept on running. I picked up the flashlight he dropped and slowly walked toward Charlotte. I shined the flashlight on her and gasped. She was hanging from the tree at an odd angle, such that you couldn't see the rope from where we were. I now realized that she was a few inches off the ground. Also, her neck was apparently broken, and she was still twitching. I threw up at the sight of it.
When the police came, I told them what happened to me, and showed them poor Charlotte. Dustin and I both went to counseling for almost a year afterwards over what we experienced.
It was the most awful thing our town had ever had happen. The police blocked off the logging road and spent months tracking down loggers and truckers who frequently used it. There was a curfew for months and we were told not to play flashlight tag anymore. We didn't argue.
What leaves me shaking to this day is the memory of Charlotte's face, hanging out from behind the tree, looking at me. Sometimes I wonder if she was dead or still alive at that point. And I wonder if that had almost been me.