It first started with Randy’s rumor, something he had said jokingly on a foggy Friday afternoon after school, right behind the smoothie shop that faced the dark dense woods.
He said he’d saw a white wisp-like figure. Just a second before it disappeared into the trees.
“There is a wisp in the woods!” He said, so sure of himself. “The woods have a wisp.”
We laughed at his attempt to scare us. It was so obvious that it was a lie, and he laughed along.
But Randy liked to be persistent in his stories, and he said it again the next day. And 3 days after. Every time we meet up, every time we had a chance to talk. Just like the white wisp, appearing for a while before disappearing again.
It wasn’t until a week later that Thomas said he saw it too.
Right after Randy said he saw it, and our slight chuckle that was more to be polite rather than amused, Thomas piped in, “I saw it too!” And everyone looked at him, surprised. He said he saw it, dangling on a tree branch. Now Randy laughed along as well, and we figured Thomas might just be making things up to make the conversation more lively. We laughed along, saying maybe the wisp liked his red hair than Randy’s black one as it stayed longer.
So now there were two people talking about the white wisp.
Then one day Mandy said she saw it. “I think I saw it too,” she said quietly. It sounded more serious, more ominous when she said it. We laughed. She huffed, “No, really. I’m not sure though.. it was just for a while.” Thomas bragged that he saw the wisp the longest. Some of us laughed, others noticed that Mandy looked more serious. She wasn’t the type to lie. Not even for fun. It stuck to my mind how quiet she was the rest of the conversation.
It didn’t take long for someone else to say they saw the wisp. “It was like a shadow. Like it followed me. I ran back to my house.” Jenny said, shaking.
“Come now, be reasonable.” Someone said.
“It was probably your mind playing tricks on you.” I added.
But Jenny was so certain she saw it. She went straight home after that. And kept to herself. I wondered if she had seen something else. But the next day Brian said he saw it too. Then Jake said he had a nightmare about it. And on, and on.. until we talked about it in whispers.
We don’t come to the smoothie shop anymore. It was too close to the woods. Too close to the wisps.
Since when did it become a they?
There were so many version of the story, so many of them being seen. It was a woman, with white hair. It was a child, with a shrill giggle. It was a murderer, with a gleaming knife.
It was just a wisp. I thought. It was just a rumor.
It was just a joke.
But I stayed home after classes, and drew my blinds all the same. Hushed whispers of the newest sightings heard in hallways of school. They stayed there when we walk past them. Quiet walls keeping them and whispering it back when no one is listening, just to pass it along.
We don’t laugh about the white wisps anymore, and many of the boys had turned down to go help hunting out of fear. The girls told their mothers, the mothers told their husbands who brushed it aside.
But the whole town was engulfed with us, with us who believed, who knew.
“There are wisps in the woods.” my friends said to our little brothers.
“The woods have the wisps,” my friends said to our younger sisters.
Eventually it became too famous, too well-known. Until the adult men had enough.
We’d to go to the woods and prove once and for all that there are no ‘wisps’. “The woods only have bucks and wild ravens,” they said. “Come along, be a man.”
There wasn’t much choice, and reluctantly I came with my father along with almost all of the men and son of our small town.
We combed through the whole woods, splitting up in groups, trekking through the dark soils and dark trees. And every few minutes I’d feel something watching me, see something on the corner of my eye. There are wisps in the woods. The voice in my head taunted. The woods have the wisps. I brushed the thought aside.
We got back to the edge of the forest, having done our circle and seeing nothing but a doe and her fawn along our way. We met up with the others, all the adults seeming quite pleased with themselves and some of my friends although still quite pale with fear, have turned more relaxed.
But one group hadn’t come back. We waited for minutes, at the edge of the woods. From joking about how silly the wisps things are, to joking about how they might have met an angry buck, to getting more and more worried.
Why weren’t they back yet?
Until we finally saw Randy and Brian and their fathers, pale as a ghost, rushing through the woods to us. “Call the police,” they said. “We need help.”
They had found a wisp. It was a rotting corpse, with ivory white bones. Deep inside the woods.
We don’t go to the woods anymore.
We don’t start senseless rumors, either.
There is the wisp in the woods, I say.
The woods have the wisp.