She ignored them the first time.
Just the wind, she thought.
No, that wasn't true. She'd thought it was voices. A chorus of half-whispered words rustling in the leaves, beckoning her towards the woods. But she told herself it was the wind, and she almost believed it, so she ignored them and focused on walking her bike home, refusing to stray into the forest.
She ignored them the second time, too, and pulled up her plaid scarf so that it was covering most of her face and all of her ears. It helped drown out the sound.
The third time, when the words were too clear to be ignored, the voices insistent and desperate, her curiosity got the better of her. She abandoned the bike right there on the path and went into the trees.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, he was walking home from school, following the same path, and feeling creepy about it. That's where they found her bike, he thought. But they didn't find her-- no body, no ransom note. It wasn't every day someone vanished like that.
He wondered if she was alive.
He wondered if it had hurt when she died.
Halfway down the path, he heard the voices. Indistinct at first, but growing louder, more intense.
Come into the woods.
He didn't know when he turned from the path, didn't realize it when his feet carried him into the woods. Not until his coat caught on a small, brambly tree, not until a small voice in the chorus whispered into his ears don't, did he realize where he was.
He turned to go-- he could still see the path-- when he saw on the tree that caught him a plaid scarf.
He almost grabbed it. Almost took it from the tree and ran home with it. But another thought crossed his mind. A ridiculous, nonsense thought that all the same felt like heavy truth.
It's hers. Let her keep her scarf.
And before he could figure out where the thought had come from or what it meant, he ran back to the path, back to his home, out of the woods.