I’ve been scouring the Internet for interesting prompts, and this one called out to me for some reason. I’ve been bouncing around with some ideas for it, but I’m still not sure it’s going to evolve past what I have here. I hope it does; I’ve had fun with it! But I’m just not quite sure yet.
Anyway, the prompt for this one was: “They were playing hide and seek when he disappeared. She spent the rest of her life looking for him.”
As always, I welcome your own snippets of fiction in the comments! Let me see what you come up with!
I have very few memories of my early childhood, aside from a few scattered pieces about dogs we’d owned or trees I’d fallen out of. But I have a very clear memory of one summer evening, just before school was going to start again, of my best friend in the entire world and I…hours before my life collapsed in on me.
“No fair, Emma! I had to hide first last time.”
“Well if you were a better hider, then maybe you wouldn’t get stuck starting first all the time. It’s the only way we’ll both get to play.” I stood with my hands on my hips. Jason was only a year older than me, but he’d been held back a grade a couple years ago and now we were in the same class in school. All the other girls thought Jason was cute, and all the boys–according to Jason–said that I had cooties. Jason firmly believed that if I did have cooties, he must have gotten immune to them ages ago, and I’d never really paid attention to whether or not Jason was cute. He was my best friend. That was weird.
He sighed and tugged at his hair. “Fine, I’ll just go hide then. Just pretend you can’t find me for a while, okay? It’s no fun when you just find me right away.”
“Okay, okay.” I grinned and covered my eyes. “I’m counting! One…two…three…four…”
I could hear Jason’s footsteps tearing off down the road, which either meant he was going to hide under the docks at the lake, or he was going to try and hide behind one of the cars that were always in the parking lot. He only had about four good hiding spaces in our play area, and I’d known him my whole life. I always knew where he’d be.
“Eighteen…nineteen…twenty! Ready or not, here I come!” I pulled my hands away and bolted down the road. Even if I found him right away, I could pretend I didn’t see him, at least for a little bit. He was right; it did get boring when I always found him so fast, and then he could almost never find me. I tried to find easier places, really I did. He was just bad at hide and seek.
But he always wanted to play.
I got to the end of the road and peered at the docks–didn’t see him. Smart enough. But a walk through the parking lot didn’t turn him up either. I frowned, peering under all of the cars. No Jason. That was odd. Maybe he’d doubled back somewhere? It wasn’t like him to run me around that much, but maybe he’d finally started learning. “Jaaaa-soooon…” I called, peering around any corner I could find. “I’m going to fiiiind you…” I started jogging back toward his house. Jason never liked to go too far from where he knew, which even given that he’d spent his whole life in this tiny little town, wasn’t very much. We’d made inside our houses off-limits, just so that we didn’t go tearing through the house and making our parents mad. They wanted us playing outside, after all. Going back in and hiding wasn’t going to help us.
Circling around Jason’s family’s house, I still didn’t see him. I peeked in the shed, even though I knew Jason was terrified of it, but he wasn’t there either. My frown deepened. There was only one spot left, and he almost never went there. One of the local bed and breakfast places had a big gazebo up on the hill behind the house proper, and if you tucked yourself under the benches, you could be totally invisible. I loved it up there, but it made Jason a little claustrophobic. Had he really gone up there…? I peeked around, but didn’t see the couple who owned the B&B, so I dashed up the hill and threw myself onto the floor of the gazebo. “Ah hah!”
But I found nothing but silence and spiders. Jason wasn’t here.
Now I was starting to get worried.
Where else could he be? I was running out of ideas, or at least ones I thought he’d try. So I started searching all my favorite places. Maybe he was really going to change it up on me and hide out in my treehouse or somewhere else I loved to curl up.
He wasn’t anywhere. I looked over our whole play area, all the places we agreed were allowed…and he wasn’t anywhere.
I went back to his house and peeked my head inside. “Mrs. Carlisle? Did Jason come home?”
“What’s that, sweetie?” She stepped out from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishcloth. “No, the last I saw Jason, he was headed out with you. Why, what’s wrong?”
I shook my head. “Nothing, I think. Thank you.” I ducked back out and ran across the street to my house. “Mom? Dad?”
My father glanced up from his newspaper. “What is it, Emma-belle?”
“Did Jason come in here?”
“Your friend Jason? No, I haven’t seen him.” My mother walked in and looked at my dad. “Abigail, have you seen Jason Carlisle this afternoon?”
“No, not since you ran off with him earlier. Is something wrong?”
I shook my head, but I couldn’t shake the frown. “No, I don’t think so. We were playing hide-and-seek and I can’t find him anywhere.”
“Isn’t that the point of hide-and-seek, sweetheart?” My mother didn’t understand. This wasn’t how it went with me and Jason. This wasn’t right.
“No, I looked everywhere. He’s not anywhere. He only hides in a few places.”
My father ruffled my hair, trying to soothe me and failing. “Give your friend some credit, sweetheart. Maybe he’s just finally outsmarted you.”
“No!” I was furious, pounding my feet. “Something’s wrong! Jason’s gone!” I ran out of the house, ignoring my mother calling after me. I was going to find my friend.
I’d looked for hours that night. When he still wasn’t back by dinner, the adults finally conceded that maybe there was a problem somewhere…but by then, the sun was setting and the search parties could only do so much by flashlight. I hadn’t been able to sleep for nights after that. My parents had to keep watch after me, because the second I knew I wasn’t being monitored I’d escape to look for my friend. Even wrenching my ankle by dropping out of the tree by my window didn’t slow me down.
It felt like my fault. If I hadn’t pushed him, if I’d just been nicer…did he run away? Was he trying to get away from my teasing? I never thought he’d taken it seriously. I thought he knew he was my best friend. None of it made sense. But if I’d pushed him and then something had happened to him…I still hadn’t quite been able to forgive myself. And sure, growing up it became apparent to me that it was more likely that he’d been kidnapped than simply run away to try and escape me, but that didn’t ease the guilt. He’d been hiding, and looking for a better hiding space because of me. If I hadn’t…then maybe…
I shook my head, dragging my attention back to the present as I pulled my car into the driveway of my father’s house. My parents had spilt when I was in high school, fairly amicably all things considered, but my mother had been the one to move away and start a new house–last I’d seen her she’d been in Indiana, but she moved around a lot. The life of the self-employed.
“Emma, good to see you.” My father stepped out of the house, just the way he always looked in my mind: dark hair salt-and-peppered with silver, rich brown eyes eternally amused from behind thick-rimmed glasses, in a well-loved cardigan and jeans, Docksiders on his feet. My father had a uniform, regardless of where he was. On the clock, it was a three-piece suit. Off? Exactly as he was.
“Good to see you too, Daddy.” He wrapped an arm around me in a hug, other hand holding a mug of coffee. “I hope I’m not too early.”
“Nonsense. You know me. I never sleep past five in the morning anymore. Come in, come in. Do you have bags? Of course you have bags, who am I talking to.”
I laughed. “The bags can wait. Give me a bathroom and a cup of that coffee I smell, and then maybe we can talk business.”
“You, my darling, have a deal.”