The Hiding Game / by Edgar Martinez Schulz

A Tale of Occupied Earth

 

I hold the phone and push the number 5. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I listen and I hear the phone ringing, but it’s hard to hear over all the noise and screaming. Mama’s playing the game really loud today. I push my ear close and listen, but no one answers so I hang up.

I look at the red clock on the wall. The numbers are still going backward, so I have to wait. Mama always starts the clock when she puts me down here. She says it’s just in case. I ask her what that means, but she always says to just play the game so I do. She calls it the hiding game, and she always says, “Hopefully, we’ll never really need it.” After we’re done playing, I always get a treat. Most of the time it’s candy, but sometimes it’s ice cream. Ice cream is the best. Today we started playing the hiding game so fast that she didn’t even tell me what the treat was. But she looked really excited, so I hope it’s ice cream.

She made the game different today. Today she told me to take a memory chip with me. That is new. I put it in my pants pocket so I don’t lose it. I don’t put it in my shirt pocket, because once I put my favorite rocks in there and I lost some of them when I was running. Now I put special things in my pants pocket because Mama said it was so important.

I have to wait until the clock is all zeroes, even if I hear a lot of noise and screaming. We practiced that part a lot. We’ve played this game for a long time; since I was three. She would put me under the floor and scream and throw pots and pans and try to scare me. Today her friends must be playing the game too because it sounds like they’re jumping hard on the floor. The floor is even shaking. Dust is coming down and getting all over me but that’s okay because I have to take a bath anyway.

I look at the clock and the number is still big, so I have to wait. Those are the rules. I just wish we didn’t start the game now because Mama was making dinner. It’s my favorite: mac and cheese with broccoli (it makes the broccoli taste better), black beans, and chocolate milk. We don’t get chocolate milk a lot, so it’s an extra special treat tonight because Daddy is coming home. He has been gone for five days. He has to go away sometimes, and sometimes when he comes back he has a lot of bumps and cuts.

Then we heard the loud noises coming. The house started shaking and the trees started moving with a lot of wind. Mama ran to the window and then she started crying. She grabbed me by the arm hard and pulled me to the table. She pushed it away and lifted the floorboards and she started the clock. “Surprise!” she said, “We’re going to play the hiding game right now, just like we’ve been practicing for a special day.” I asked her why she was crying and she said it was the onions but I didn’t see onions. She said she had already chopped them and to just get under the floor. I asked her if she was going to come in with me like she sometimes did and she said, “I can’t this time. That’s only when Daddy’s home.” I said we should wait for Daddy so we could all play. She said that wasn’t a good idea, but that we had some new friends coming to play the game. Then she started crying even more. She told me that the new friends were outside and we had to play the game now. She kissed me and snot started coming out of her nose. I told her not to worry, because I know the rules of the game and that I would be okay. That’s when she gave me the memory chip to hide with me. Then she told me she would always love me and closed the floor over me. I could hear her moving the table over me and then I heard a big boom. It sounded like the door. There was a lot noise after that, and Mama yelling and screaming. It was so silly. I already knew Mama was just pretending. It is the game.

Mama and her friends made a lot of noise. She was really screaming, and it sounded like they were throwing a lot of pots. Then it stopped. I remember when Mama started playing the hiding game. We would play it for a little bit and then stop. Then the game started getting longer and longer. She would say, “That’s the only way to get good at the hiding game.” She would hide with me while Daddy would close the floor, and we would have picnics under the floor. It’s one of my favorite places now. It’s like a tree house underground.

I look at the clock; it’s almost zeroes. I hear my stomach rumbling and look for the food box. Mama put it down here so that we could have our picnics. I have to be quiet. That’s part of the rules of the hiding game; we can’t make sounds. That way, nobody will hear us down here. I open the box and take out a can of beans. I can open them all by myself now, but I have to be careful not to cut myself. That happened a few times. And I used to spill them. But I don’t now. Now I can open them and not spill. The beans taste good, and there are water bottles too, which is good because I’m thirsty. I eat the beans in quiet, and I can see everything around me from the light of the clock. It has batteries.

When I finish, I put the empty cans in the trash, quietly and slowly. Remember, no noises! My stomach feels better, but I still want my chocolate milk. I listen; no sounds. I look at the clock again; it’s zeroes! Go go go!

I walk to the wall next to the clock. There’s a loose board, and I stand on a chair to pull it out. I look outside and I have to close my eyes. The sun hurts my eyes every time I’m under the floor for a long time. When I open my eyes again and I look around there’s nobody there. I climb out and I put down the board against the side of the house with no noise. Then I take out my phone and dial 5 again. I listen, but there’s no answer again. I put the phone back in my pocket.

I hear voices! But they’re not Mama or Daddy, so that means run and hide! This part is fun because I get to run and I’m good at running. I was the fastest runner at my school. I don’t go there anymore. I don’t know why. I liked school. I had a lot of friends, and I liked my teacher. Maybe I did something bad, but I don’t know what. I miss them.

I run and hide behind the closest tree. Wait, breath, peek. I wait, I take a breath, then peek behind me. Nobody’s there, but I hear something. I look and listen. That’s when I see it; a transport. I can hear the humming. It makes my chest feel tight. Bad things happen when there is a transport. That’s when I run to the next tree, then wait, breath, peek; nope. Nobody’s coming yet. I can go to the next tree.

I can play this part of the game a long time. One time, I got all the way to the lake before Mama and Daddy caught me. I’m going to do it again, but I have to hide really well. I stop when I hear yelling. I peek back and watch. Someone’s coming out of the bottom of the house, just like I did. I see Mahk-Ra; one, two, three, four, there’s a lot of them now. They look like cockroaches coming out of a hole. I don’t like cockroaches. They scare me. Mahk-Ra scare me more than cockroaches. This isn’t the way the game is supposed to go.

I run to the next tree and then skip one; hide! I breathe and listen. I hear the Mahk-Ra yelling at each other. Mama must be inside the house still. I take out the phone and dial five again. Maybe somebody on the phone can help. I listen but no one answers. I put the phone away. That’s when I hear the big sound. The trees and the ground start shaking.

I run to the lake. I like it when Mama changes the game, but I don’t like how the game is changing now. I hear more voices now, behind me. It sounds like airplanes are flying over my head, but I keep running. I look back and see more Mahk-Ra all around our house. Should I go back?

I stop behind a tree, wait and breathe. I hear somebody stepping on leaves. They sound close. I take a peek and I see a Mahk-Ra. He’s looking around. I hide behind my tree and don’t move. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. I wait again. I hear him moving. He’s getting close. Should I go? I peek; he’s looking the other way. He might hear me, but I bet I can get even farther. It’s only two trees to the lake.

I run as quiet as I can. I try not to step on any crunchy leaves. I pass one tree. I get to the second. I hide behind it and wait. There’s more rumbling in the sky. The ground is shaking again. I look up and I see another transport. It’s moving slow over the trees. Everything is shaking. It’s so loud. I have to cover my ears while I watch it go over me. Do they see me? I don’t think so because it doesn’t stop. It keeps going. It’s going over the lake now.

The ground stops shaking but now the water’s shaking. I peek around the tree. There’s a Mahk-Ra and he’s standing right there! He is pointing a very big gun at me. I stand still because I don’t know what to do and I’m so scared. I almost made it. I should have only run to one tree at a time like I’m supposed to.

The Mahk-Ra starts to reach for me and then his head moves back real fast. There’s a spot in his head, and it’s bleeding. The Mahk-Ra falls backward and he lays on the ground. He doesn’t move. That’s when I hear leaves crunching behind me.

“Jasper?”

I turn around. Auntie Leslie! She comes running up to me and shushes me by putting her finger in front of her mouth. She hugs me real quick and then asks me where Mama and Daddy are. She is whispering. I tell her that they are back at the house and we were playing a game. She asks what game and I tell her that we were playing the hiding game, and that the Mahk-Ra came over while we were playing it.

Auntie Leslie grabs me and gives me another big hug, and now she is starting to cry too, just like Mama. She asks if Mama or Daddy gave me anything special. I tell her Mama did and show her the memory chip. She asks me really nice if she can save it for me until we get to her new house. I ask her when she got a new house and she tells me it just happened today, and she wants to show it to me. I tell her I can’t go until later because I have to go back to the house with Mama and Daddy because we’re going to eat dinner. I tell her that it’s a special night because Daddy is coming home tonight and I get chocolate milk. She starts crying even more and tells me that she’s here to pick me up. She says she got all my calls but couldn’t answer because she was playing a game, too. She keeps crying and says that she’s very sorry she couldn’t be here sooner.

I tell her I don’t want to go without telling Mama and Daddy, and she says she can call them, but that we have to hurry because a lot more Mahk-Ra are coming, and it will be too loud there for me to go to sleep at bedtime. Tonight’s a sleepover night.

Auntie Leslie grabs my hand and starts taking me away from the house. I ask her if Mama and Daddy are going to be there. She says that she’ll be able to tell me everything when we get to her new house. She tells me that we have to be quiet while we go, and that’s she’s sorry and if that’s okay. I tell her it is. We keep on walking into the forest.

I feel a little better now with Auntie Leslie. My chest isn’t that tight and it’s easier to breathe. I look back at my house. I can’t see it any more. But I can see the transports flying over the trees, and I see the way all the trees move. They’re moving like someone’s shaking them.