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Wink-roto
by joellen
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They told me it would be fun.


“What do you mean you’ve never played hide and seek in the dark?” Jan said.


I just shrugged. I mean, it was true, I’d never played hide and seek in the dark. I’d always been afraid of the dark, even now as a 25 year old. My parents thought I should’ve outgrown this fear by now. They blamed it on my still over active imagination.


“I don’t know.”


“Hide and seek in the dark is the best,” Oscar said. There were five of us on this camping trip. I hated camping—all the dirt and bugs and no indoor plumbing—but then Jan persuaded me, saying she’d get Oscar to come if I agree to come, too. So now we were here: me, Jan, Oscar, Gwen, and Alex. We made camp sometime before the sun set. Three tents. One for me and Jan. One for Oscar, and one for Gwen and Alex, the couple. We’ve all known each other since high school, but this was the first time we were finally together again since the summer before we all went our separate ways.


“Well, okay,” I said a little reluctantly.


And then, before I even realize what was happening, they all called out, “Not it!” Which left me being the only one who didn’t say it.


“Shit,” I hissed under my breath. They laughed.


“Okay, you have to count to 30,” Oscar said.


“Oh my god, this is going to be fun,” Gwen said, getting up from her foldable chair with Alex.


Reluctantly, I got up, too, and went to the nearest tree, pressing my forehead against the rough bark. The fire we made in the middle of our camp still went on, like a beacon.


“Ready?” I called out, but I could already hear their scurrying footsteps as they ran to find a place to hide. “One! Two! Three!” I yelled out each number, feeling each second as they traveled farther into the forest that surrounded the campgrounds we were on—feeling like as time pasted, I grew more and more alone. And when I got to 30, I turned around. And then the fear crept in. I was alone on the campgrounds since we were the only group booked for the weekend.


Swallowing my fear, I started walking to the west side of the campgrounds.


They couldn’t have gone far, right? It would be done if they did. It wouldn’t be safe. There were wild animals here—like wolves and coyotes and mountain lions.


I heard rustling. I turned swiftly, thinking that maybe I caught someone, but just as the rustling started, it stopped. I sighed. It must’ve been my mind playing tricks on me.


“Dammit!”


I turned again as I heard a thump. Oscar was lying on his back. I could barely see him, our campfire a little ways away my only source of light. The dark was practically swallowing him up. “Did you just fall out of that tree?” I asked.


He groaned and got up, dusting himself off. “I lost my footing.”


I went over. “I guess you’re it.”


He laughed. “Yeah, seems like it. Come on, let’s go find the others.”


We started walking toward camp, calling out to them. But nothing.


And then rustling again somewhere to the east near the border of the campgrounds. “Jan!” I called out, thinking maybe it was her.


“Gwen! Alex! Game’s over! She found me!” Oscar shouted, but no reply.


And then someone screamed. We ran the east side of camp and found Jan running toward us in tears. “Something—something grabbed my leg!” She wrapped her arms around me, crying into my shoulder.


“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay,” I said, trying to sooth her. “Where’s Gwen and Alex?”


“I—I don’t know,” she sobbed. “I started heading out with them when you started counting, but then I lost them in the dark.”


I looked over at Oscar who just shrugged.


And then another scream. It was deeper, a man—Alex.


“Oh god, oh god, it got them,” Jan gasped, looking to the north of the campgrounds.

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