Creaking open slowly, Matthew looked out of his room to try and catch sight of his parents in the darkened halls of his home. Seeing nothing, he turned and nodded to his friend Jeffrey, and the two crept out on light feet across the hall and down the stairs, skipping the one board that creaked whenever stepped upon.
"Do you really think they're asleep?" Jeffrey asked, his eyes flickering in the moonlight streaming in from the windows.
"It's really late, so I bet they are."
"Good, because I really want to show you something neat!" Jeffrey whispered, urging Matthew to move forward, one clammy hand gripping his as he moved past him.
"This better be good, I was trying to sleep myself!" Matthew laughed, following the dark haired boy as he went to the back door. Unlocking it, Jeffrey turned to smile at Matthew as he opened the door.
"Don't worry, you'll never believe what I'm about to show you!"
Walking out into the back yard, Matthew stared up at the low summer moon in the cloudless sky, sighing happily as he felt the grass between his toes. He couldn't savor the moment however, as Jeffrey tugged on his hand insistently, pulling him along the backyard towards the edge of the forest.
Matthew stopped, pulling his hand from Jeffrey. "I'm not supposed to go into the forest."
Jeffrey turned to look at him, a pout forming on his lips. "Why not? It's so neat in there!"
"Papa says there are dangerous things in the woods."
"That's what makes it so exciting!" Jeffrey smiled, rubbing his hands together. Matthew didn't look so convinced. Frowning, Jeffrey grabbed Matthew's hands and tugged at him gently. "Come on, what I want to show you is amazing!"
"I don't know..." Matthew said, staring off into the darkened woods.
"It'll only take a minute or so, it's not far."
Pausing to consider, Jeffrey took this as acceptance and pulled Matthew into the woods, stepping over the odd few mushrooms growing beneath the shade of an Elm. "You'll see, there's something out here that'll make it all worthwhile, I promise."
The forest at night was unlike anything Matthew had ever seen. Great shadows stretched over gnarled roots, dancing silently as the wind made the leaves and limbs of trees twist and flutter. Owls hooted in the distance while small creatures moved in the underbrush, creating unsettling noises that made Matthew flinch back. Glassy eyes stared up at him from the darkness, the silvery glint of moonlight flickering in their vacant orbs. But still, Jeffrey pulled Matthew even further into the wood, tugging at his hands impatiently to further hasten their progress.
“We’re almost there, come on!” Jeffrey said finally releasing Matthew’s hands and dashing off, his voice carrying ahead of him. “This way!”
“Jeffrey! Jeffrey wait!” Matthew called out, running after Jeffrey’s shadow as it grew more distant, fading in with the rest of the darkness.
“This way!” Jeffrey’s voice rang from the distance. “Over here Matthew, over here!”
“Jeffrey, where are you? What do you want to show me? Why did you come to me tonight?”
“This way!” Jeffrey repeated, his voice growing more distant.
Matthew stopped, trying to pinpoint where exactly his new friend was. But all he saw in the moonlight was the unruly growth of the woods around him. Looking about madly, he searched for any sign of a way home, of a way to Jeffrey, of a way to anything familiar! But all he saw was the darkness, slowly seeping in around him.
“Jeffrey, this isn’t funny! Where are you?” Matthew called out, stumbling over a stone as he walked slowly down a path of his own choosing. “I don’t like this, I want to go home!”
“I wanted to go home as well… but I never got to.” Jeffrey said, his voice whispering from over Matthew’s shoulder, causing him to spin. He saw nothing. “I walked along the path just like you, but it was cold. So very cold. And he was here too.”
“What do you mean?” Matthew called out, spinning in place as he slowly wandered aimlessly.
“It was winter. And he’d killed my brother and two sisters, as well as Mama. Cut them up into little pieces while we were all tied to our chairs. He had us all bound with baling wire.”
“I don’t understand, why are you telling me this? I don’t like this!”
A warm wind kicked up, causing the forest to creak and groan around him as a low, guttural groan rang out through the wood. “Nobody likes this! But it has to be done to keep everyone safe, don’t you see that?”
“See what? I don’t understand!” Matthew cried, tears streaming down his face. He stumbled over a few loose
rocks, dropping to his knees, skinning his hands as he braced his fall. Looking in front of him, he saw that he was at the edge of a quarry, sparkling water glistening below in calm reflection of the world above. The water seemed to be only five feet away from him, down a steep rocky slope, and was as still as a mirrors surface, allowing Matthew to see the moon high above.
And Jeffrey standing behind him.
Spinning around, he looked at the thin boy, who now looked so different than he had earlier. What were glittering eyes a just moments ago were now dark and listless, his hair wet and plastered to his head. His clothes, which Matthew had found entertaining at first for being so old, were soaked through down to his frame. What was worst of all however was his throat; what was once clean, pale but clean, was now ragged and red, a large gash cut from side-to-side, deep enough that in the pale moonlight Matthew could see the white stringy bits of muscle, and the severed tube that had been his throat.
“I need friends Matthew and I need to keep him from getting your family.” Jeffrey said, his voice wet, a mere echo of what it had been. “Your family will move away once you go missing. The families always do, unless he gets to them first.”
“Who? Who is after my family?” Matthew asked, sobbing as he fought hard not to scream.
“The same man who killed mine, and chased me into these woods. The same man who held me down and slit my throat, laughing as the light faded around me. The same man who then took the knife to himself and now lingers here like smoke from a fire.”
“So you’re going to get my family to move? How?”
Jeffrey’s dark eyes seemed to shine as water dribbled from them, not in rivulets like tears, but as if his head was holding back water like a dam, and his eyes were cracks. “By killing you, of course.”
Matthew screamed and bolted upright, trying to run past Jeffrey. But Jeffrey merely tackled him to the ground, pushing them both over the slope where they rolled down into the quarry, splashing in the cold water. Matthew howled in shock as he felt not only Jeffrey’s hands, but a dozen more take firm grips on his arms and legs. Looking around, he saw the shadowy forms of boys and girls of various ages, all with dark, glassy eyes. Jeffrey loomed over Matthew, pushing him deeper and deeper into the watery abyss.
And as the air burst from Matthews’s lungs in a stream of bubbles, he could only fall slack against the inevitable darkness that closed in around him, in the form of the unblinking dolls eyes of a young boy named Jeffrey.