I grew up in a small rural neighborhood, about twenty minutes out from the nearest town. It was a quiet place, full of kids my age. I grew up playing with my friends in the woods and swimming in the pond.
My best friend was my neighbor, a girl a couple years older than me named Lily. Lily was mischievous and was always getting us into trouble. Her favorite thing to do was take me into the woods, where we weren’t allowed. Her backyard butted up to them, so all we had to do was hop the fence. In the woods, we’d walk out to our spot. We called it the Secret Spot of Secrecy, or SSS.
The SSS was a clearing about ten minutes’ walk from Lily’s house. When we found it, there was an old wooden table and chairs. Not far from the table was an old mattress and some raggedy blankets. We made up stories about a lost princess who lived there and was helped by fairies. We were very imaginative girls.
Every day, we’d go out to the SSS. We started leaving things, like sandwiches and nail polish and books for the princess. We figured she was shy and didn’t want us to see her. The next day, the little gifts would be gone. She took them! We were ecstatic. Some days we would find little bundles of wildflowers sitting on the table. She was thanking us!
That went on for about a year. Lily started complaining of nightmares soon. She said she would see someone standing over her, breathing heavily on her. I shrugged it off, I had scary dreams too sometimes.
But when Lily was twelve, she went missing. She went to bed and wasn’t there in the morning. Gone, disappeared out of thin air. We looked and looked and so did the police, but we found no sign of her. After three months of searching, they gave up. It broke my heart. Lily, my best friend, was gone. I’d never see her again.
I visited the SSS weekly after that. I left notes for the princess, explaining what had happened. I never got a reply, but the notes were always gone and there was always a wildflower in its place. Eventually, my parents found out that I was going into the woods and I got in big trouble. I was never able to go back. That was ten years ago. I visited my parents last week, who still live in the house I grew up in. I decided to visit Lily’s house, which had been vacant since her parents moved out, shortly after she went missing. That house brought back so many memories. Then I remembered the SSS.
I hopped the fence, just like old times. It didn’t take me long to remember the way to the SSS. It was just as I remembered it. The table and chairs were still there. So was the mattress and the blankets. But they didn’t look right. There was something under the blankets. Naturally, I was curious and lifted them up. I’ll never forget what I saw. It was a skull. It was bashed in, almost destroyed, but I knew immediately whose it was. It was small, child sized. It was Lily’s.
I called the police. They came and searched the forest. They found evidence of someone living in the forest, cans of vegetables and beans and beer bottles. They also found pictures. Dozens and dozens of faded pictures. Pictures of me and Lily playing. Pictures of Lily, lying naked on the mattress. Pictures of Lily with her head bashed in.
I can’t sleep anymore, all I can see when I close my eyes is her. All I can think about is what she must’ve gone through. What I could’ve gone through. The police can’t figure out how he got Lily. They can’t find him either. He’s out there still, and I’m scared.