Hide and Seek - A Short Story

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Normally, I write about the things that are on my mind, social justice, address questions of faith, or atypical thoughts on leadership.

But I also enjoy writing fiction and poetry. Short stories are my favorite because of the challenge that exists in getting readers invested in just a few pages. But sharing my short stories scares me because of the vulnerability that exists in allowing others experience something I have created. I have a hard time letting people I know read some of my work, let alone strangers.

This is the first time I have publicly shared one of my works of fiction. I hope you enjoy it, but a warning — this is not your typical short story. These words tell of the incredible and crippling power of love and loss.

Hide and Seek

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet. Why are they wet? My fingers rest gently against the skin above my eyebrows, the sides of my thumbs against my cheeks. My hands are tremble against my face. Why are they shaking?

I keep my eyes closed. You always know if I cheat.

“Four”

“Five”

“Six”

The wind creates friction between the leaves of the trees. They whisper distant secrets as you hide. Do they know something I don”t?

“Seven”

“Eight”

“Nine”

There are so many places you can go; so many places you can keep out of sight — I map them out in my mind. The garden shed offers dark shadows, the bushes along the porch provide many pockets of shelter hidden from view, the trees are full of foliage, the field across the street gives you so many more opportunities to hide from me. These games can last for hours.

“Ten”

“Eleven”

“Twelve”

I remember when you were three. You would hide under the kitchen table in plain sight, but you would bury your head in the carpet. Your giggles brought me so much joy, your whole face would smile when I found you. As you grew older, pillows piled high were your best attempt at camouflage. I would come upstairs and find every cushion from the furniture stacked on top of you.

When you were five, you had mastered the art of concealment, but your lack of patience always gave you away.

Your seven now and your so good at staying out of sight that sometimes I have to give up. Oh, how you love that!

“Thirteen”

“Fourteen”

“Fifteen”

The cool of the breeze counters the warmth of the sun on my neck. I can smell the fresh cut grass below my feet as I squat next to the corner of the house. The heat radiating from the peeling gray paint against my t-shirt. You have probably taken off your shoes so you can run silently through the grass like a ghost.

“Sixteen”

“Seventeen”

“Eighteen”

Time is almost up. You better have found a good place to hide. I can't wait to see the joy on your face when I have to call out, “I give up!”

“Nineteen”

“Twenty”

“Ready or not, here I come!”

I slowly stand up, excited for the hunt. The shed is close. With each step, the gravel of the path crunches beneath my feet. You'll know I’m coming. I reach for the handle, turn it gently, and yank the open the door. Quickly, I step inside. The light coming in from the window creates dark shadows in the corners, but they don't contain you. There's nothing here but shovels and rakes, but the dirt on the floor is disturbed, so you must have been here. Where are you?

The bushes along the front porch leave just enough space for you to crouch out of site. Spiders have never bothered you. One by one I check the gaps — the likelihood of finding you increasing with each space that lies empty. Cobwebs and last years leaves are all I find.

I work my way around the house, scanning the trees. The depth of green is mesmerizing. The light of the sun flickers through the leaves and dances like falling glitter. You do love to climb, but you're not up there. I continue to the back of the house. The backyard offers little shelter.

You aren't under the trampoline or in the garden. Where could you be? Have you bent the rules and gone inside?

Up the back steps, the old boards creak beneath my feet. The back door is ajar. You never leave doors open. Why do I feel uneasy? I start in the kitchen. The pantry is empty. The dining room table hides nothing.

Down the hall to the office, sometimes you hide under my desk or in the closet. You aren't here.

Why do I feel panicked that I can’t find you? There are so many places you could be. My heart is beating faster now, why do I feel this fear?

I step into my room. Under the bed, the closet, behind the chairs. Nothing. Where are you? I can’t breathe, but this is just a game.

Into your room. I reach up with my hand to push the door open and see my fingernails for the first time. They're broken, and flesh of my knuckles is torn is torn. What did I do?

I step inside the walls of your bedroom. What happened here? Your bed is tipped over against the wall. The carpet is torn up from the floor; boards are bare and broken. There are holes in the walls. Are you hiding in there? I reach in and pull drywall and insulation to the floor, adding to the debris scattered around my feet. Nothing but darkness and emptiness answer my calls.

“This isn't funny!” I call out. “I’m done playing.”

I just need to hear your voice, to know that you are alright.

I run upstairs. Each room is similar to yours. In complete disarray, haphazardly torn apart. Who was here and what were they looking for? You were just with me, we just started playing hide and seek. There has been no time for someone to break in, to do all this damage.

You're not safe. How can you be?

I am screaming your name. Calling out for any response, but no answer. Back downstairs. I am sprinting down the hall and out the front door, looking everywhere and yelling so loud it hurts.

Where could you be? Who has taken you?

The field and the woods beyond — that's where you are. You're just hiding.

I’m running toward the fence that borders the grounds. I can feel the soft grass change to the hard dirt of the country road under my feet. Leaping over the old wooden fence, I land on unkempt grass. I am running so hard that I don't notice the stones until something catches my eye.

I see your name on one of the stones and stop.

I stare at it as I walk closer, the engraving coming into focus. My hand reaches out, and I trace the cold letters with my fingertips — your name. The numbers are familiar, but they don't make sense. You're not gone. Tears fill my eyes and begin to dampen my cheeks. No, this can’t be right! You're just hiding. It says so right here, just below the years.

“I love you daddy. Count to twenty and come find me.”

I stagger across the dirt road back to our home. I can’t breathe. My legs are shaking. Slowly I squat against the corner of the weathered house and place my head in my hands as the tears stream from my eyes.

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet.

© - Patrick Gray, Words Are Stories