White, light, brilliantly bright.
She saw one glimmering out of the corner of her eye, and all of her troubled thoughts were instantly swept away. The dark and ominous woods around her all but ceased to exist. The girl’s mind went blissfully blank, consisting solely of the one, single non-thought of:
Three, five, nine—no, more of them, over a dozen, over twenty—dazzling balls of light that glowed with a gentle, pulsing illumination. At first she thought they were colorless, but as she moved closer she could see that they were actually filled with a myriad of impossible hues. When she shifted this way, they looked blue, but then she would tilt her head, and suddenly red—then green, then orange—with every slight movement, the spheres would change. The girl smiled, mesmerized by the prismatic orbs of inexplicable rainbows that floated around her. She laughed. It was almost like they were playing with her, the way they would hover so near, just to drift away when she tried to brush her fingertips over their iridescent surfaces…
The more they danced out of her grasp, the more she realized that she wanted one. She wanted to hold one in her hands, she wanted to know if they were warm and soft like she imagined they might be. She started walking faster, jumping occasionally, even, in her attempts to claim one. But they always bounced out of the way just in time.
The girl did not realize just how far into the woods the lights were taking her, all concepts of time and space erased from her mind entirely. Her initial reasons for entering into the woods to begin with were forgotten in the presence of such transcendent beauty.
She stumbled over roots and branches in her chase. Twigs caught on her dress and caused her to fall more than once, but the girl hardly noticed or cared. So close, that time, she had nearly had that one; she could have sworn that she had felt its radiating heat against the skin of her palm—
Then, finally, in an act of mounting desperation, she lunged. The girl sprung forward from the trunk of a fallen tree. Just as her fingers were about to close around one of the spheres—currently glowing a vibrant crimson—it disappeared.
They all disappeared.
The absolute darkness which followed in their wake was suffocating. And with it, a devastating wave of fear and dread. The girl blinked in a daze, seeing nothing but blackness, and it all came rushing back to her with a crushing force.
Her brother. She had gone into the forbidden area of the woods because her brother, Ian, had gone missing. Under her relentless questioning, one of his friends had admitted to daring Ian to go to the other side of the creek, to venture beyond the supposed point of no return…
And she had gone after him. Even worse, she hadn’t told anyone that she was going. It had not even been a consideration to do so. It had already been getting dark, and she knew that the grown-ups would probably want to wait until morning to look for him… If they would even bother to search at all, in that part of the forest.
But she wasn’t about to let her twin brother spend all night in the woods, alone and afraid…especially not the forbidden part. Which, now that she thought on it, no one had ever explained why, precisely, that section of forest was banned…
So she had gone to find him, right away, and…and she’d been tricked! She had been mesmerized, hypnotized by the glittering globes and led astray… The girls had been following the unmistakable tracks of someone else when the first ball of light caught her eye, distracting her…
And now she was deep in the unknown woods with no idea how she’d gotten there, and it was so dark that she could not even see her own, trembling hands. Panic like she had never known rushed through her.
The girl turned on the spot. She tripped on something hard and fell to the ground, inhaling sharply at the stinging pain in her knee. It was too dark to see, but when she touched the skin there, it was warm and wet.
“Ian!” she yelled, her voice high and frightened. “Ian! Where are you?”
Something rustled in the leaves at her left. The girl snapped her head to the side, following the distinctive sound of something swishing past her. “Hello?” she called out, pushing herself to her feet.
“Ian? Is that you?”
The voice instantly made her shiver. It was the most unnatural tone she had ever heard. Low and rumbling at its core, and yet there was simultaneously a high, icy screech interwoven in the tenor—almost like there were two sets of vocal chords being used instead of one. Utterly inhuman. Her skin broke out into goosebumps.
“Wh-who are you?” she gasped, more terrified than she had ever been. Her heart thundered in her ears, quick and erratic. “I-I’m looking for my brother…”
“I know.” The dual voice was closer, now. The girl stepped away, only going a few paces before her back collided with a tree. “Do you want to know where Ian is, Cassandra?”
The girl froze.
Her racing heart leapt into her throat at the sound of her name on this thing’s lips. It was even closer, now, she could feel it closing in. Her back was pressed into the tree behind her, and though she willed her legs to move, to turn, to run, her body would not listen. The girl could only stand there, paralyzed by fear.
Its breath was hot and rancid. She felt it on her skin and tasted it on her tongue. An invisible monster in the dark, looming so close that it could kiss her.
She couldn’t speak. The creature laughed.
“You’re about to find out.”