Flashlight Tag :
When I was ten years old, all the kids in my neighborhood would gather late at night to play a game of Flashlight Tag. You know what Flashlight Tag is, don’t you? It’s almost the same as Tag, except you play it in the dark and the person who is “it” has a flashlight to search for people. If they see someone, all they have to do is yell the person’s name in order to “tag” them.
One night, it was really dark and the sky was overcast and cloudy. Most people had their curtains drawn, so the neighborhood was almost in complete darkness. It was a perfect time for hiding.
Behind the houses on my side of the street, there was a long stretch of woods. That marked the boundary for the game on that side of the road. You could run through any backyard, but you weren’t allowed to hide in the woods. 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 ignored when kids were afraid they were about to be caught. They’d just duck off into the bushes for a minute or hide behind the trees to avoid being seen and tagged.
Those of us who were hiding sometimes liked to spook each other in the dark by jumping out of nowhere and making each other scream, giving away our positions. I was hiding in a backyard two houses down from my house. The family that lived there had a little playhouse and a swing set for their daughter. I would periodically duck under the swings whenever I saw the flashlight’s beam approach.
All of a sudden, somebody came around the corner of the house and pointed a flashlight almost directly at me. I jumped away from the beam of light and ran for the edge of the woods. When I got there, I waited in case they saw me and were going to yell at me for cheating. The beam of light seemed to explore the swing set, then came in my direction.
I wondered for a second if maybe I’d attracted the attention of the homeowner. Most parents on the block knew about our games of flashlight tag, but some people didn’t like kids playing in their yard. I crouched down in the grass and waited to see who it was.
The person shined the light right in my face and I put up my hand to shield my eyes. The creepy thing was, they never said a word, 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.
“Sorry for playing in your yard,” I said dumbly.
The person started walking toward me. Something 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.
When I looked back, the person with the flashlight was running too, and it was 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, then wriggled 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 who it was or why they were chasing me. I just wanted to get back to all the other kids.
Eventually, the person with the flashlight wandered deeper into the woods and I crawled quietly back to the edge of the trees, like a mouse. When I got up and ran toward the street, I was immediately caught by the person who was “it”, but I didn’t care. He yelled out, telling me 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 shouting “No tag backs!”
“Don’t go in the woods!” I yelled, but nobody responded. Of course, any kid who heard me would just assume I was talking about not cheating at the game, but I was sincerely worried about that person with the flashlight who was wandering around out there. Of course, now I had a flashlight of my own, so I thought I should go and see if I could find out who it was, just to make myself feel better.
I went back behind the same house I had just 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 the person went home. I didn’t know if they were male or female, but I couldn’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 out of the woods!” I remember yelling. I waved the flashlight back and forth a couple more passes, then I saw someone off in the distance. I held the light on whoever it was. They were hard to make out, but it looked to me like Charlotte. She had brown hair that her mother insisted on keeping shoulder length and wore a deep purple sweatshirt, so it had to be her.
“Charlotte I see you!” I yelled.
She just stood there. I held the light on her and called her name again, but she didn’t seem to move. She was partially obscured by a tree and just looked at me. The distance between us was enough that I couldn’t see if she was blinking or not, but her head was at an angle like she was looking around the trunk at me and her mouth was slightly open. Every now and then she would twitch or squirm. It was a really strange kind of movement.
“Charlotte! Come out of there!” I yelled. “Everybody! Charlotte’s it, but she won’t come out of the woods!”
My friend Dustin and some other kids 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 still wouldn’t come. “Charlotte, are you okay? Get over here, dummy!”
She seemed to stand up straight for a moment, then she disappeared behind the tree. We could hear movement, but it seemed to be going away rather than toward us. Dustin started shouting Charlotte’s name again and went trudging into the woods after her. I gave him the flashlight to take with him. I was scared again, because this all seemed surreal. I went to Charlotte’s house and knocked on the back door until her father answered.
“Mr. Beeche, Charlotte won’t come out of the woods, and I’m worried about her,” I told him.
I wasn’t sure if he’d take me seriously, but he rolled up his newspaper and disappeared into the closet behind the door for a moment before returning with a huge flashlight.
“Show me where she is,” he said, so I led him into the woods and pointed to where I’d seen her.
“She was right there by that tree,” I said, “but she wouldn’t come out and she was acting like she was sick or something.”
A bunch of the other kids kept calling out her name and I could see Dustin’s flashlight beam moving through the trees. Mr. Beeche went in after him.
They explored the woods for fifteen to twenty minutes and Mr. Beeche started getting really angry. We could hear him yelling loudly at Charlotte, threatening her with all sorts of punishments if she didn’t get back home that instant. By this time, the game was over and all of the kids just stood there in the back yard and watched. Dustin came running back out of the bushes with a dead flashlight. Eventually, Mr. Beeche came back out of the woods.
“Game over, kids,” he said, “Go home and ask your folks if they can help me search for my daughter. And tell them to bring flashlights.”
We all ran back home. My dad went out with three different flashlights. My mother went and turned on all the lights in the back rooms and opened the curtains and shades to help illuminate the back yard. I sat on the couch all upset and she eventually came back and hugged me and sat with me while I told her about the person with the flashlight chasing me and how I thought maybe Charlotte had run into him.
Mr. Beeche had gone inside and called the police to report his child missing. When the cops showed up, they brought dogs with them and marched through the woods, checking everything thoroughly. They didn’t find her. My mother told my dad what I’d told her. He told a police officer and I ended up giving a statement. They went to the house three doors down and knocked, but the folks that lived there had been asleep and didn’t know who had been in their backyard. The police knocked on every door in the neighborhood, asking questions, but nobody seemed to know anything.
At the other end of the woods, there was a back road which was mainly used by logging trucks. Two days later, on the other side of the logging road, down an embankment that ended at a stream, they found Charlotte. Her body had been stuffed into a drain pipe. My parents wouldn’t tell me anything about it. They thought it would upset me too much.
At school, the next day, Dustin gave me all the details. He said that when they found her, her neck was broken and she had been stabbed multiple times.
It was the most awful thing that had ever happened in our little town. 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 our parents told us we weren’t allowed to play flashlight tag anymore. We didn’t argue with them.
What leaves me shaking to this day is the memory of Charlotte’s face, hanging out from behind the tree, her eyes glazed over, her mouth hanging open… Sometimes I wonder if at that moment, she was already dead and someone was holding up her lifeless body, trying to lure me into the woods…