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art by Cheryl L Owen-Wilson

Hide and Seek

D.K. Holmberg lives in rural Minnesota with his wife and two children where the winter cold and the summer mosquitoes keep him inside and writing. His work has previously appeared in the Fiction River: Time Streams anthology. He can be found online at dkholmberg.com.

Lacey hunkered behind the thick oak tree, the thin fabric of her nightgown not enough to protect her from the scratchy bark. Strange green lights flickered distantly, sweeping over the yard. No fair, she thought. Jason hadn't told her they were using lights tonight; just covered her mouth when the booming thunder woke her up and told her to hide.
She didn't dare move or it would give away her position. They played this often enough in the dark for her to know how to win. Whenever Jason was seeker, he always found her, like he knew just where she planned on hiding. Tonight would be different.
The light moved away and she bit back a smile. At least they hadn't found her yet.
At first she thought it strange that he woke her to play, but she hadn't objected. They didn't include her very often but she played anyway, not caring that it was mostly pretend. Tonight Jason actually included her, pushing her out of the house ahead of him so fast that they barely had time to get shoes.
Someone whispered nearby. Lacey couldn't hear the words but the lights suddenly swung toward the voice.
She jammed herself back against the tree and winced. The bark hurt but she didn't say anything. She wouldn't let them find her this time. The lights moved toward the voice, sweeping over someone hiding near the row of bushes along the back of the yard. Lacey couldn't tell who it was, but they jumped up and started running. The green lights chased after.
She smiled. She wasn't fast enough to play that way but she knew how to remain still. At night, movement was easier to see, especially dressed as she was in her thin nightgown. If she stayed motionless next to the tree, they couldn't find her.
Something rustled the grass near her and she tensed. Wind gusted overhead. The grass under her feet was damp but not wet. And she thought the thunder that woke her meant it had rained.
A hand clamped over her mouth. Lacey almost screamed.
Jason twisted her face toward his, pulling her down and away from the tree. He raised a finger to his lips. If they hadn't been playing she would have laughed at how serious his face looked. When she didn't say anything, he pulled his hand away.
He tapped the ground. She knew what it meant. Stay here.
Jason crawled away without saying anything. He moved slowly, keeping low to the ground. Now that she knew where he was, it was easy to see him.
Lacey leaned against the tree again. Since he told her to stay, that meant he was a hider too. So who was the seeker tonight? She hadn't seen Devin or Cal, but they usually played, too. Maybe Eric, but she hadn't seen him in a few days.
The green flashlights returned, slowly bobbing back onto the lawn. She would have to ask Jason about that later, find out when they started using light for this game and why that color. The lights passed near her tree but didn't turn toward her. Lacey smiled to herself, the only movement she allowed. Strange voices mixed with a painful clicking came as the lights passed. Some sort of code. Probably Devin and Cal then. They always did silly stuff like that.
The lights suddenly leaped away, moving fast. Someone shouted and then screamed. The voice sounded like Jason but she didn't know why he would scream. There was a soft thud and then the scream died off to nothing. Silence.
Lacey made certain not to move. She would win tonight.
Finally the lights started back toward the house. She let out a slow breath and waited. Pretty soon someone would call them back in. And she would finally win.
When the thunder boomed again and still no one called, she slowly swiveled around so that she could see. For a while she didn't see anything. Then there was a big blast of light that lifted into the air before disappearing, leaving her alone in the dark.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Author Comments

This story was inspired by a night spent playing hide and seek with my family. As I quietly hid in the dark, strange lights in the distance made me start thinking of other reasons to hide at night, reasons that made a childhood game more sinister.

- D.K. Holmberg
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