The woods are dim with twilight, but we’re still running through the trees. I skid to a halt to catch my breath, and Natalie smiles.
“I knew I was too fast for you,” she tells me, laughing. Then she takes off again, but not before shouting, “Catch me if you can.”
I follow the sound of her voice.
I always follow her.
Once the darkness settles in around us, I don’t hear her anymore. No breathing, no accidental brush against a group of leaves with her foot.
There is absolute silence.
I shiver and whisper, “Natalie, where are you? Come on, this isn’t funny. It’s dark, and we need to get back before my father sends the town after us.”
I expect to hear her chuckle, but instead the only thing that greets me is the soft hooting from an owl.
“Damnit,” I snap. “You better not have left me here alone, like last time. That was terrifying.”
My heart pounds in my chest, and I whirl around, hoping she’s behind me, playing a trick. My hands reach for her, but come up empty.
It’s autumn, so the air has gradually become colder, but I don’t feel it. My skin is soaked with sweat, my hands clammy.
Dizziness overcomes me, and I sink to my knees in the brush.
My voice is weak as I whisper into the still night, “Olly olly oxen free.”
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