A twig snapped underneath Megan’s foot and Thalia jumped. Megan turned her flashlight on her and laughed.
“Why are you so jumpy?” she asked.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Thalia said, “Plus it’s dark and we’ve been walking for well over half an hour.”
“Relax,” Megan said, “I promise if we don’t find him in the next fifteen minutes then we’ll head back. Okay?”
“Make it five,” Thalia said. “These trees give me the creeps.”
“Scaredy cat,” Megan teased. “How about ten?”
“Fine,” Thalia answered, “The sooner we get out of here the better.”
With that said, the girls continued waving their flashlights around, combing the woods for Megan’s puppy, Midnight. The dog had run off over half an hour ago after Megan’s little sister, Reagan, accidentally left the doggy door open in the kitchen. Now Megan and Thalia had to spend much of what was supposed to be a sleepover looking for a lost puppy. It didn’t help that the dog was midnight black and it was at night.
“Here, Midnight!” Megan called. “I got a treat for ya!”
Thalia stifled a laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” Megan asked, turning to face her.
“I wonder what a look of disappointment looks like on a puppy’s face,” she said. “If he did respond to that, he’s not gonna like when you don’t have anything.”
“That wasn’t even remotely funny,” Megan said. “You’re tired aren’t you?”
“How can you tell?” Thalia asked. “We can look for the dog in the morning. I know how much he means to you, but we’re not gonna find a midnight dog at midnight.”
Megan sighed and looked around. Finding a black dog when everything else was black was definitely gonna be hard.
“Fine,” she said, “I guess we can…”
Megan stopped talking when something black, fuzzy and small went flying past her feet.
“Midnight!” she screamed and ran after it.
“Megan, wait!” Thalia called, taking off after her.
The girls tore through the forest, their boots kicking around leaves as they hurried after the little black mass. It made a few sharp turns before stealing away inside a hollow at the base of an old tree. Both girls came to a stop, huffing and puffing, trying to catch their breath.
“Next time, warn me before you go running,” Thalia said. “You know I’m too lazy for this.”
“Shut up,” Megan said. “I saw midnight.”
“Where’d he go?” Thalia said shining her flashlight around.
“The tree,” Megan said, kneeling down to check the hole.
Thalia continued waving her light around, looking for movement elsewhere, but found nothing but leaves, trees, and more trees. Megan started calling for midnight at the hole and begging for him to come out. Nothing moved but the girl's breath in the cold air. Megan kept calling and moving closer to the hole as Thalia decided to look up at the rest of the tree. Her light hit the trunk and rose until she saw the tip of a shoe. Thalia’s heart skipped a beat as her eyes passed over what was attached to the shoe.
“Megan,” Thalia said staring at something above her head, “Megan, I don’t think Midnight’s here.”
“Thalia, we can go back in a minute,” Megan said, slightly annoyed. “I know I saw him run into this hole.”
“Yeah well, unless you have a puppy that likes when trees host dead bodies, then I don’t think he’s here,” Thalia said.
“What are you talking about, Thalia?” Megan said standing up.
“Look up,” Thalia said.
Megan looked up and screamed. Hanging over her head was a decaying corpse tied up by its neck with a thick brown rope. Together, they backed away from the tree, keeping their eyes on the corpse. From the looks of it, the body was that of a young boy, probably no older than Megan’s sister, Reagan. He had on one shoe, some tattered jeans, and a worn out button down shirt. The skin hanging off his bones and the hollows in his cheeks suggested he’d been dead a while.
“Suicide?” Thalia asked nervously.
“He looks about four,” Megan said. “I doubt it.”
“Head back?” Thalia asked, still staring at the corpse.
“Definitely,” Megan said.
Just as they turned around to run back, a little black fluff dashed past Thalia’s feet toward another tree. This time, the girl’s just followed it with their eyes to another tree with another corpse hanging from its branches. This one was a woman in a shredded, yellow, flower print dress. Megan swallowed a lungful of air and Thalia dropped her flashlight.
“Let’s go,” Megan said.
“Midnight?” Thalia asked.
“Didn’t see him,” Megan answered.
They both backed up slowly and turned around to run. Megan made one step forward before her light hit the base of a tree they’d passed before. At the base of it was the boy’s corpse, the rope still around its neck.
“Fuck!” Thalia exclaimed.
“Run,” Megan said, and together they took off.
They didn’t get far before Megan heard a high-pitched yelp. Immediately she stopped and looked around. She shone her light around and found a little black fluff lying next to a tree not far from where she stood.
“Midnight?” she called.
The little black puppy looked up and started wagging its tail at the sight of her. Megan moved toward him a little, relieved to have found the dog alive. Just as she reached out her hands to pick him up, she heard a snap, and in an instant the dog was ripped from the ground and suspended in mid-air by its neck. There was some whimpering and then silence as the puppy hung from the branch above her. Thalia heard Megan stop, and then the whimpering, before turning around. She found Megan staring up at a little black fluffball hanging in the tree in front of her.
“Oh my god,” Thalia said, cupping her hands over her mouth.
Megan just stared in disbelief at the puppy’s body. He was dead.
“Megan,” Thalia said grabbing her arm. “We have to get out of here no…”
Thalia stopped when she saw him standing. The rope was still around his neck with the tail of it hanging at his side. He was still missing a shoe and his eye sockets were empty as he stared at the girls.
“Meg...Mega..Megan,” Thalia stuttered, “Megan we gotta go. Now.”
Megan said nothing as she looked at her friend. Her eyes were blank and she looked like she was in a daze.
“Megan,” Thalia said, pulling on her arm, “The boy is right there.”
Megan turned and looked where Thalia’s eyes were. Her heart jumped and snapped her back to reality.
“Is he...standing?” she asked.
“Yes,” Thalia said. “Now come on!”
Thalia pulled hard and together they started running again. They saw the lights at the house and picked up speed. Megan had pulled away from Thalia’s grip and was now full sprinting alongside her. Megan only got a few feet before the edge of the trees before something slid over her head and snapped back. She shrieked as a thick rope tightened around her neck and snatched her from the air. Thalia turned and saw Megan dragged through the trees and then up to a branch where she hung, struggling to breathe.
“Megan!” Thalia screamed and started to run back toward her, but it was too late.
A quick jerk of the rope and Megan stopped moving. Beneath her, the boy’s corpse stood, staring at Thalia. It wasn’t long before Megan’s parents came running outside to see what was going on. As soon as they did, the boy vanished, and so did Megan, leaving Thalia staring into the trees where the bodies hung.