I could hear giggling behind me from the direction of the bedrooms so I immediately turned the other way and headed to the kitchen. I opened cabinets the kids could plausibly have fit inside and called their names. After a few minutes in the kitchen I searched the living room where I had been counting, being careful to continue calling their names and commenting on what I was doing the whole time. Then I moved down the hall to the bedrooms.
“Rachel, Bobby where are you?” I opened the hall closet suddenly; “Ah-ha. Nope, not in here.” I could hear the giggling again, although there was an attempt to muffle it this time. Rachel was under her parents bed and Bobby had buried himself in stuffed animals in Rachel’s room (they had just watched E.T.) I searched Bobby’s room and then went into the master bedroom, last time we played I found Bobby first so it was Rachel’s turn this time.
In the master bedroom Rachel’s feet were sticking out from under the bed. I shook my head and walked over to the walk-in closet; “Rachel, Bobby are you in the closet?” The giggling from under the bed was getting louder and her feet were wiggling. I didn’t let myself react to the movement in case she could see me from her position and checked behind the dresser and in the dirty clothes hamper before bending down to look under the bed. “There you are; I see you Rachel.”
Rachel slid out from under the bed with some dust bunnies stuck to her sweater. “Aren’t I a good hider Susan? It took you ages to find me.”
“It did, you are a very good hider. Now I just have to find your brother.” I smiled at Rachel and walked directly to her room. “I haven’t checked in here yet – this must be where he is.” Bobby was the older child and had stopped giggling when I started checking bedrooms. But he hummed to himself whenever he was a little anxious. Rachel came running in and jumped on her bed. She looked at the closet and then as though I wouldn’t have noticed exaggeratedly looked under her own bed.
“Is he down there?”
“Is he in your dresser?”
“He wouldn’t fit in there silly.” Rachel started to laugh and I smiled.
“Then he must be in your closet.” I opened the door and started to move the clothes on hangers around. Rachel’s giggle was back, and as I looked down I realized that Bobby had taken E.T. seriously and left his face clear looking out from the stuffed animals. I checked the high shelf first, and then looked down.
“There you are; I see you Bobby.”
He stood up in an avalanche of plush and grinned. “That might be the longest I ever hid!” he said proudly.
“All right, it’s snack time. Good hiders get ice cream.” Both kids cheered and ran for the kitchen.
It was always so easy. Move to a new town and start babysitting for local families to make cash while I took classes at the nearest college. Families are always looking for babysitters and once I found my first gig in a town the mommy-hotline would quickly spread my name and number around until I had all the work I could handle. I would sit for anyone with grade and middle school aged kids, and could adapt to any and all food restrictions, tutoring requests, and supervision demands. The one thing we always did though, every family every time, was play hide and seek.
People have forgotten that hide and seek was a survival game. That hiding silently and well was a skill well worth developing once upon a time. Now it was another game to let children win for as long as possible. Ignore the giggles, and the butt sticking out from behind the couch; don’t hear the closet doors opening, miss the whispers as they plan their locations. Children should believe they’re great at everything, even something as silly as hiding.
People have also forgotten about the bogeyman. The name helps, even in households where the old Grimm stories have stuck around it never occurs to anyone to ask about bogeywomen. I’m an oddity that comes around every few generations; I look almost totally human. Human enough with clothes on, I mean. I’m going to look like a 20-something college student for a long time. So my clan came up with a new hunt. They taught me how to behave human; we spend so much time watching them it wasn’t that hard. Then they figured out a job that would bring me into contact with children, a job where it wouldn’t be too odd if I only stayed in one place for a few months at a time. Then I taught the children of each town how to hide.
I would move on at regular intervals to a new town, one that had been decided by the elders. The rest of the clan would begin in the town I had just prepared and left. Children who thought they were such good hiders found out otherwise. My clan feasted on their nightmares, and the occasional child. Not very many, the takings were always carefully calculated to bring no suspicion on my human cover. And if dozens of children in a town all started talking about the bogeyman, well there must have been something inappropriate on the TV, or a stray add on youtube. Parents would crack down on screen time and wonder when the nightmares would end.
“Hello? Hi, Mrs. Nobbs. Oh, I am so sorry I won’t be able to babysit for Rachel and Bobby next week. I was just contacting all my families now, classes are ending for the semester and my family wants me home for the summer. If I move back I’ll be sure to let you know. Say hello to the kids for me and tell them they are super-hiders. Yes. Thanks Mrs. Nobbs, I appreciate it. Sorry again. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and continued to pack. I had to turn the apartment keys in tomorrow and wanted to get everything into the storage unit today. I wasn’t moving directly to the next city, this time the elders had decided I was allowed to stay and join the feasting.
Ready or not, here I come.