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Hide And Seek by Ray Printer Friendly

She was never any good at hiding.

That's all I can think about as I look around the room.

There's so much blood.

But I can't think about that.

"You shouldn't be here, Hudson."

I nod, but don't say anything. Of course I shouldn't be here. I should be at the movies, eating popcorn, making sure that she gets the top layer, because that's where all the butter is, and that's her favorite part about going to the movies. I should be pulling napkins out of my pocket and spreading one out on my leg, because even though she always says she doesn't need one, she will, in a minute, and I want to have one handy.

But I can't think about that.

"We'll find this guy, man. I know that doesn't help, right now, but you have to believe me, we're going to bust our asses until we track this bastard down. We'll find him."

I nod again, because I'm not capable of much more than that. Plus, I don't know what to say to him. Danny's a nice guy, and a pretty good cop, for a small town like this. But murder is way above his pay grade, and there's no way he'll be able to find whoever did this, not unless they want to be found.

At the moment, he doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to be doing, which is why he's spouting lines that sound like they belong in a cheesy buddy cop movie. Honestly, though, I have to give him credit for not throwing up all over the crime scene--he's never seen this level of violence before; and he knew Christy as long as I did.

The three of us were childhood friends, and even when Christy and I went away to college, we remained in touch. Danny stayed home and began working as a dispatcher for the Sheriff's office. By the time Christy got her teaching degree and returned to our hometown, he had worked his way up to Deputy, and he was already Sheriff when I gave up on big city reporting and moved back home to run the local paper.

It was a culture shock to go from the hustle of the city newsroom to a quite small town newspaper that only published once a week, and was filled mostly with news about high school sports. But I needed some slow in my life, and the editor was more than willing to sell it at a decent price--the alternative was to lock up the front door.

I covered city council meetings, football games, and Rotary Club happenings. I was usually home in time for supper, and the pace of the job kept my heart rate down.

When I left Chicago, I didn't think I'd have to cover a murder story again.

She was never any good at hiding.

I can't get the thought out of my head, and I don't know why it's in there, in the first place.

It's so loud down here.

Cinder block walls, painted white, but yellowed by time and neglect. At one point, I'm sure there were crude wooden shelves along the walls, lined with glass jars full of vegetables and fruit. Ninety percent of the homes in this small farming community have cellars just like this. People would farm all summer and then have canning parties, all the ladies gathering to share gossip and recipes, canning the extra harvest for the winter. They'd swap goods at the end of these parties, everyone making sure that they had a variety of canned produce to take home and store.

I remember my grandmother's cellar, full of tomatoes, green beans, apricots, beets, and pickles. Hers didn't a have a window, though, not like this one. So it was always dark, and the ancient flashlight she kept at the top of the stairs only seemed to illuminate the cellar enough to create more shadows in which frightening things could lurk.

She said it had to stay dark so the canned goods would keep longer.

There's a window in this basement, but apparently, the owner thought the same way as my grandmother, because it was long ago bricked up; dull, red bricks in stark contrast to the painted white cinder block. At some point, a few of the bricks crumbled in--there's a pile at the base of the wall, just under the window. Sunlight stabs through the hole, emphasizing the wet blood splattered throughout the room, causing it to glisten.

It's so loud down here. Every footstep echoes, every movement reverberates around the room. Her screams must have been deafening.

But I can't think about that.

I can't think about how she must have sobbed, begged, screamed. I can't think about how the murderer's grunts would have reverberated around the room as he worked, or how the blood would have sounded, dripping from the walls before it dried.

She was never any good at hiding.

We were supposed to be at the movies. Some romantic comedy; she had been looking forward to it, I had been dreading it. Something about a guy gets married, but due to a clerical error, instead of marrying his fiance--a work-obsessed, no-fun straight type--he ends up being married to her sister, who is a quirky, free-spirited type. They spend the majority of the movie trying to rectify the situation, but by the end of the film, he has fallen in love with the sister, and they decide not to get the marriage annulled.

We were supposed to get some supper first, and then go the movie. But I had to finish transcribing my notes about the water treatment project, and told her I'd just meet her at the theater. I was just leaving my office when I heard the call about a homicide over the scanner.

I was already sending her a text telling her I'd have to reschedule date night when I heard Danny's voice over the radio. "Someone better go get Hudson. I don't want him showing up here and seeing this without any warning."

I wasn't sure what that meant, but I decided I better go find out.

Hide-and-Seek was her favorite game when we were little. She never wanted to play soldiers, or video games, or even with the little oven she got for Christmas that would make little cupcakes. It was always Hide-and-Seek with her, and she was never any good at hiding.

She was almost like a sister, back then, to both me and Danny. She would show up at our clubhouse, which was actually just an old wooden crate out in the middle of a pasture, and she'd beg to let her play with us.

We'd eventually give in, with the understanding that what we were going to be doing today was playing guns, and not Hide-and-Seek. She'd ensure us that she understood, and promise not to whine and try to get us to switch games, but by the time afternoon rolled around, she'd start pitching the idea.

Wouldn't it be fun, if instead of just pulling out our pistols and charging the enemy, we like, hid from them? That way, we could catch them by surprise. And instead of all just hiding together, what if we split up? And then, what if instead of telling each other where we were, we had to like, find each other? But maybe just one of us had to find the other two. Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be fun?

And Danny and I would always give in, because she was so adorable, and she thought she was getting away with tricking us, which actually just made her even more lovable.

I try to think about something else, because I don't know what's going on, but the idea of her hiding, it's making me sick to my stomach. I want to leave, but I can't get my feet to move. I'm still just standing there, nodding. I don't know how long it's been since anyone has spoken to me, but I'm still nodding. I'm still nodding, and I'm still thinking about how she was never any good at hiding, and I wish I could stop doing both of those things.

I force myself to take the first step, back towards the creaky wooden stairs that lead away from this awful room reeking of damp rock and rotten hamburger. I need out of here. I need to go up those stairs, and out into the light, and I need to stare at the sun and breathe the air and wake up from this horrible nightmare.

It has to be a nightmare. It has to be, because none of it makes sense.

I've dated her for three years, since the fourth week I moved back to town. I've dated her for three years, we've been engaged for one of those years, and we are supposed to get married in two weeks.

This has to be some weird nightmare; it's wedding stress, that's what it is. Murders don't happen in this small town, and even if they did, they wouldn't happen to a grade school teacher who never did anything to hurt anyone, and only wanted to make the world a better place.

In the movies, maybe the sweet teacher who loved each and every one of her students had a troubled past. Maybe her crimes finally caught up with her. But in real life, all she did was go to community college until she got enough transferable credits, because that was the cheaper way to do it, and then she transferred to a university and got her degree and then returned to her home town because she wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much.

In real life, she never did anything to hurt anyone, and all she wanted was to help raise children to go out into the world with the abilities to make it a better place to live.

In real life, you don't get brutally murdered when the worst thing you've ever done is be really bad at hiding.

I'm three steps up when Danny calls my name.

I turn to look at him. He has tears in his eyes, and fear in them, too. He isn't stupid--he knows he's out of his league, on this. And it hurts him, because she was like a sister to him, and all he wants right now is for this to be a nightmare from which he can wake.

"We'll get this bastard," he says. "I swear to you."

I can't meet his eyes. If I do, he'll see the truth in mine. And the truth is, he won't get this bastard, no matter how bad he wants to. He knows it as well as I do, but if I give that fact away, we'll both die of broken hearts. So I nod, and I look away so that he can't see the truth in my eyes.

Most of her body is up on the table. It's an old medical table, painted avocado green at some point, but chipped and rusted and rotten. I haven't looked at that table, because I can't think about that. I can't think about how he tied her down and cut her apart, about how he didn't even have the decency to use clean equipment, so her last moments were spent on a table that had more than likely been stolen from a salvage yard.

There's a pipe in the corner, running down into the concrete floor of the cellar from the wooden floor above. It's a sewer pipe, probably five inches in diameter, and if this house hadn't been abandoned for decades, this pipe would have been replaced years ago with slick white PVC.

Her lower torso has been tossed unceremoniously near this pipe, and the way her legs landed, it looks like she managed to fit most of her body behind the five inches of lead. Most, but not all--her legs are still sticking out.

Just like they used to when we were kids.

She was never any good at hiding.

I turn and rush up the stairs, not wanting to contaminate the crime scene with my impending vomit. I make it out into the setting sun, onto the dusty driveway, before I lose my insides.

I cry and I puke and I cry some more, and none of the Deputies come anywhere near me.

When I get myself under control, I go back to my office. I grab my phone charger and my jacket, and I make sure all of the lights are off. I pull a sheet of paper from the printer and snag a Sharpie from my desk and scribble a quick note: "on hiatus."

I tape it to the door, which I lock behind me.

I climb into my car, and I let the air conditioner cool me as I scroll through my old contacts, the ones from Chicago I never thought I'd talk to again. The ones I almost deleted countless times, but never did. I know Danny means well, but he'll never find who did this.

But I will.

I will find him, no matter how good he is at hiding.

And I will make him pay.


_______________


I've recently started following a blog called WriteWorld. Every day, they post writing prompts, with the caption, "A picture says a thousand words. Write them."

Because I've been wanting to start writing more, and because a thousand or so words is doable, I decided to start giving some of them a try. The above story was inspired by this post, with the following picture:

Cellar Light by Haszczu



Posted under Short Stories on 8/10/15


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