Hide and Seek

By Simply Shelby

It was not merely a game. It was nothing like checkers or baseball or even a good game of poker, not anything so simple. It was a game of suspense; a game of angst. It was a game that almost cost two lives, one of which I can say was entirely innocent. It was a game where we would hide and he would find. It was a game he called Hide and Seek.

I was only fourteen, young, but responsible; at times maybe a bit too responsible. I was babysitting that night. The parents had entrusted me with their daughter, Hannah. Hannah was only five-years-old, a quiet and shy girl, with soft blue eyes and white-blonde hair. I was expected to protect the girl; to ensure that no harm came to her. Not that I had anticipated anything would compromise her safety.

We were heading back to the girl's house after our time in the park and when we reached the gate; her hand clutched mine as I froze and stared at the towering stone house. A feeling of foreboding swept up my spine as I opened the gate and took a step toward the house. Hannah clung to me and we walked up to the front door. She stopped there and gave an indistinct shake of her blonde head. I stared at her and though I didn't understand her hesitation of entering the house, I certainly agreed with it. I opened the door anyway.

As soon as we stepped inside, I knew we shouldn't have. My doubts were confirmed when the door swung shut behind us. Hannah gasped. I immediately turned the door handle to retreat back into the safety outside, but… locked. I rattled it back and forth, willing it to turn. We weren't safe in here. I hoisted Hannah up in my arms and she buried her head in my shoulder. Something was definitely wrong.

"Welcome!" A voice, low and mellifluous, echoed throughout the house, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. My breath caught in my throat. Hannah began sobbing on my shoulder. I stroked her hair in an effort to calm, not only her, but me as well, as the man's voice spoke again.

"Welcome, my dears, to my playing field!" The man chuckled, "Tonight, we will be playing a relatively simple game. Ah, but I've neglected to introduce myself. No need to tell me who you are; I already know. You do realize it would be imprudent for me to tell you my real name, and yet you must call me something." The voice paused for a moment, "And I do think that the name Seeker would be rather fitting for the game. Yes, yes, call me Seeker.

"Now, Natalie, you don't mind if I call you Natalie, do you?" He didn't wait for my answer and I couldn't see a point in answering him. "Good, tonight we will be playing the game Hide and Seek." He chuckled darkly. I trust you both know the rules. They are quite uncomplicated, are they not? I will count to one-hundred while you hide. When I reach one hundred, I will come and seek you out. Though, I'm afraid my rules state, that if I find you, I kill you."

He paused dramatically. I shut my eyes quickly. Kill us? He couldn't be serious. Reality clicked. A choked noise escaped from my lips. I was in danger. I sucked in a sharp breath and rephrased my sentence. We were in danger. As the silky voice continued, one thought overwhelmed my mind: Two lives. Not only did I have to protect my own life, but Hannah's as well. Two lives.

"My rules also state, that you are entitled to a 'safe place,' as it were. This is the only place where you will be safe. If you reach this place before I find you, I will not kill you. And that will be the end of the game. However, I will only give you one clue, so be sure to listen closely."

I listened as best as I could, above Hannah's muffled cries. My hand was still caressing the little girl's hair, consoling the child as best I could in such a bleak and hopeless situation. I held her tighter to my body, trying to quell her terror, while suppressing mine.

"Here is your clue, Natalie: The only place you will be safe is where everyone has been, but not everyone can be at once." He chortled. I frowned absently at the clue, storing it in the back of my mind. He continued, "Ready, set, go! One… two… three… four… five…"

I pushed panic aside and tried to sort the situation out somewhat logically. We needed to move. Yet, if we moved, he would hear the movement and find us. Conversely, if we didn't move, he would already know where we were and would find us even quicker. I made a decision. We would move. Where to, however, was still to be deciphered from the clue.

Smoothing the white-blonde head of hair tucked beneath my head, I explained to Hannah what I wanted her to understand. "Hannah, Honey," I murmured gently, yet firm enough for her to understand I was serious. "I need for you to be extremely quiet, okay?" Hannah nodded, immediately stifling her whimpers. I felt a faint smile of relief hover over my lips. A loud voice chanted over and over in my mind, Protect her… protect her… protect her…

The Seeker's silky voice broke through my thoughts, "Ready or not, here I come!"

An instinctual need to win this game overwhelmed me as I crept silently along the walls, keeping to the shadows and tuning my ears for any other sound besides my feet creeping along the hallway. The clue pulled urgently at my mind. I knew that I had to figure it out or we would definitely be killed. The words rang clear in my mind, "Where everyone has been, but not everyone can be at once…" Where has everyone been? Was the answer figurative or literal? If it was figurative, the answer could be confusion, but everyone can be in confusion at the same time. So, the answer must be literal. Where has everyone been? Everyone's been on the ground, but we were already there and weren't anywhere close to being safe. Everyone's been… everyone's been in the kitchen. Or, everyone's been in the dining room- but everyone can be there at once. Room!

The answer dawned on me, suddenly, and I felt my hopes rise. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it before? The room in question was just down the hall and it made perfect sense! The bathroom! Everyone has been to the bathroom, but not everyone can be there at once! I took a step out of the shadows and halted, abruptly. I felt as though I'd been punched in the gut. My breath left me and I slunk back into the shadows, feeling decidedly cheated.

Standing soundless and rigid to the left of the door was a man. He was poised, reminding me of a cobra about to strike. Anger smoldered inside me and joined the hate I had for this man. This man, who had entered a private home and submitted me into a game for, not only my life, but for the life of a child! I glanced down at the girl in my arms, somewhat surprised that she had fallen asleep. Responsibility weighed down on my shoulders, heavier than I could ever remember it being. I resolved to bring both of us to safety.

But, just as I was working out a plan to get the Seeker away from the door, he moved, walking away from the door in the opposite direction. I could hardly believe it, but took the chance. I scurried along the wall of the hallway and reached the door. My hand closed over the doorknob and I turned it. Hannah was wrenched from my arms. I spun around and came face to face with the Seeker.

He was abnormally tall and gaunt. His face was sallow and his cheeks were sunken in, the bones jutting out gruesomely, tugging at the skin. A feeling of pity flickered inside me, but didn't stay for long. I looked into his eyes, boldly. They were black in color, dilated and bloodshot. But that wasn't what unnerved me. They were filled with an emotion, so intense, so raw, it burned in his eyes and radiated off his body: a mad, murdering hate. I was terrified.

I instinctively reached for the girl, but fell short when my eyes caught sight of a long knife, its blade glinting in the moonlight pouring in from the window beside us. It was pressed firmly to Hannah's neck, drawing a trickle of blood and causing a very much awake Hannah to whimper and squirm in his grasp. His glittering black eyes focused on me and he grinned manically.

"Good evening, Natalie," the horribly familiar voice addressed me silkily. "I found you."

I nodded searching frantically for a solution to the situation. "Yes," I choked out, fear making its untimely appearance.

"And now I kill you."

"Yes."

"After her." His grin grew wider; more malicious.

"No!" the fear dissipated slightly, "No, please, she- she's just a child! Please!" Tears escaped from the corners of my eyes as I pleaded. "Please!"

I watched as his resolve wasn't shaken by my show of emotion. He tightened his hold on Hannah and shoved the knife a fraction deeper into her skin. "I won the game," he explained firmly.

"Please," I tried once again, but the situation was swiftly going out of control. He would kill Hannah and it would be my fault. How would I ever tell her parents? I wouldn't have to, I realized, I would be dead as well. My stomach tightened and the tears poured from my eyes, blurring my vision. "Please," I pleaded once more, but I knew it was useless. Hannah would die before my eyes and I was helpless to do anything.

"Move!" a new voice reached my ears and I recognized it as the voice of Hannah's father. He was pointing a sleek handgun at the Seeker. The Seeker was frozen for a moment, out of shock, and I took advantage of the moment by snatching Hannah out of the madman's arms and throwing the both of us to the floor. The loud, sharp sound of the handgun being fired reached my ears. Hannah screamed at the sound and I buried her head into my chest to guard her from the sight of the dead man. She cried and I tried to reassure, while tears of relief flooded my eyes in place of the tears of fear I'd shed earlier.

Hannah's father moved over to us and sheltered us in his arms, murmuring words of reassurance and rubbing one hand up and down my back. With his other hand, he stroked his daughter's hair. His eyes met mine in silent gratitude. He then whispered one phrase.

"Ollie, Ollie oxen free."