“Not too tight, Keith. You know I don’t like it when you tie it too tight.” Billy tried to keep from whining, even though the blindfold was too tight, and it really hurt. But he was good at not whining – he’d learned that from Daddy – and Keith just slapped him on the back.
“Gotta be tight, you know. Can’t peek, can’t take it off. Or it’s not proper Hide and Seek.” Keith had just turned twelve, and his voice had started to crack, and when it was right, he sounded an awful lot like Daddy. They didn’t usually let Billy play with them, but Randy’s parents had grounded him for sneaking out after curfew, and Hide and Seek needed at least four guys to be any fun.
Billy felt Keith grab his shoulders and hold him tight. His hands hurt, more than the blindfold, and for the first time, Billy wondered whether he wouldn’t have been better off letting Keith call him a wuss for not playing. But Daddy wouldn’t just call him a wuss when he found out – and he always found out – so Billy just stayed quiet and listened to his big brother tell him the rules he already knew. And then they were gone.
“One! Two! Three!” Counting loudly, just as he was supposed to do, Billy strained to listen for the sounds that would tell him where his brother and his friends had gone to hide, but he just couldn’t hear anything over the echo of his own voice. “Nineteen! Twenty!”
Once he stopped counting, it wasn’t silent, as he’d expected. Billy could hear breathing – not close, but still somewhere in the room. He stepped forward, hands outstretched to make sure he didn’t hit the wall. Billy wasn’t worried about tripping on something – the floor, as always, was perfectly clean. Daddy had tripped on Keith’s baseball mitt once, back when Billy was still in preschool, and Keith had missed the next week of games while his arm healed.
Footsteps. Off to his left and his right, heavy thumps on the oak floor just out of reach, and Billy spun around. And then nothing but breathing. And then nothing.
They couldn’t have left – he would have heard the door open – but where were they? The silence dragged on, and Billy forced himself to move. One step, then another, and another. There. Was there a noise off to his left? He stepped quickly in that direction and banged into the wall. Footsteps again.
“Little Billy hurt himself? Bang into the wall?” Keith’s voice, deep and unwavering, echoed in Billy’s ears. They were moving behind him now, all three of them – he could hear them laughing. But who was that to his right? And to his left? There were too many voices.
“What…what’s going on, Keith? Who’s there?” The answer was a laugh – loud and harsh, with Daddy’s cruel overtones. Was Daddy home? But it was too early! Billy reached up towards his blindfold, and he felt the smack on his arm.
“Uh-uh, little Billy. You keep that on until you catch one of us.” Keith’s voice cracked, once, but that was enough. Not Daddy. The monster in his belly let go of his stomach, and he took a breath. This wouldn’t be fun, and they’d make fun of him, but it was just a game. He lowered his arm and heard Keith nodding next to him.
The room grew silent again, and Billy resumed his hunt. It would go on for far too long, but it would end. He sighed, and tried to concentrate.
Something skittered by on the floor behind him, and he whirled around. Now it was behind him, and in front, going in circles. Billy paused and tried to get the timing down. Now!
He leaped forward and grabbed at the sound. But instead of hitting his brother or one of his dopey friends, all he felt were solid legs, much too long for a twelve year old. How did Daddy come in? How did he move like that?
Billy reached up for the blindfold, but someone grabbed his arms.
“Nuh-uh, little Billy. Time to stay in the dark.”