When I was ten, my best friend Amy had a little sister, Tessa, who disappeared.
Late one night their mom felt a draft in the house, and when she went downstairs to investigate, she found the front door wide open. Tessa was gone. There were no clues, no evidence.
The girl had vanished.
Initially there was talk of abduction, but the family kept their house locked, and the girls didn't open doors for strangers. Police found no sign of a break-in or struggle.
Tessa was the kind of kid who saved animals: baby birds, turtles, deer, whatever.
She was always hearing some poor injured creature's cries and following them into the woods that surrounded the house.
So everyone thought she'd just ventured outside on her own and had gotten lost.
When months passed with no real progress on the case, Amy’s parents went missing too, but in a different way. They drank too much and slept incessantly, crippled by guilt and misery.
Amy rarely saw them.
It was some fishermen who finally found Tessa, a few miles down the river. It wasn’t easy to identify her body, and even after the autopsy nobody was sure what had happened to her.
"Well, at least now they have closure," everyone said.
Amy didn’t see it that way.
She called me shortly after the funeral, sobbing and choking on her breath.
"I think Tessa’s still alive," she said. "I heard her crying last night, outside in the woods. Nobody believes me."
I believed her, but I didn’t think it was Tessa. I thought it was her ghost.
I agreed to sleep over at Amy’s house that night. I brought my dog along for protection, and Amy and I fell asleep with our fingers tangled in his warm fur.
Something woke us up a few hours later.
There was a voice outside, faint, the words indecipherable, but it was definitely Tessa. My hands shook as I pulled on my shoes. I wasn’t ready to see a ghost.
As soon as Amy opened the door, my dog burst out of the house, barking like a maniac. We had no choice but to follow him into the woods.
We searched around for a while, but there was no sign of Tessa.
"Your dumb dog chased her away," said Amy, tears running down her face. She fled toward the house. As I turned to follow her, I tripped on something.
It was a duffle bag. I forced myself to look inside. Duct tape. Plastic zip-tie handcuffs. A knife.
And a tape recorder.
When I pushed the "play" button, I heard Tessa’s voice, crying and screaming for Amy to save her, and begging someone to let her go.