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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one THE HIDDEN



et’s play hide and go seek!”

The way Miri said it didn’t leave much room to say no. She wasn’t asking; it was a command.

In response, Hester rolled her eyes. She didn’t much like being told what to do, especially by Miri, and really, hide and seek was baby stuff, and she was nearly 13 years old. Definitely not a baby anymore.

On the other hand, the house was big and full of dark rooms. She was scared of it, and she wanted to explore it. And it was Miri’s birthday party, and she knew that arguing would only lead to being teased in front of the other kids.

“Alright. You seek.”

Miri glared at her. “You’re daft. I live here. I’ll find you all straight away.”

Hester gave only a blank stare in reply, flatly refusing to be bullied. Miri had no choice but to relent.

“Fine then, weirdo. I’ll count to 100. You hide.”

“How do we know you won’t cheat and turn around?” piped up one boy. Hester smirked quietly, knowing that she’d sidelined Miri’s attempts to control the party.

“I won’t cheat, Marcus. God.”

“Count to 200 then! Give us time to get out of the room at least.”

“Have it your way,” she turned, skirt twirling, and marched toward the massive wooden table in the center of the dining room. With a pointed sigh, she pulled out a chair, which let out a groan in reply as its legs dragged across the floor, and put her head down on top of her crossed arms.

One,” she bellowed. “two…three…

Children began to scatter like rats, bumbling into each other and giggling in hushed tones as they skittered out of the doorway and into the house.

Hester hung back until the room was empty, watching Miri’s hunched shoulders and trying not to breathe. When she was finally satisfied that Miri wasn’t going to peek, she crept quietly toward the door and stepped outside.

The hallway was empty; she couldn’t even hear any other children, let alone see them. The air was cooler than it had been in the dining room, and it was much darker. Heavy velvet drapes covered every window on the opposite side of the hallway, holding the afternoon sun at bay. Wedges of light fell on the floor beneath the drapes, soft and yellow like cheese, but did little in the way of actual illumination. Hester began to move toward the staircase at the far end of the hall, breathlessly, her fingers trailing along the wall opposite the windows. Each time she passed a doorway, she pressed her ear to the cold, gleaming wood, but she heard nothing. Whether it was because the other children were masterful hiders or simply because the door was too thick to allow any sound through, she wasn’t sure.

It didn’t matter. She didn’t want to hide down here on the first floor anyway.

As she set foot on the first step of the grand staircase, she paused and strained to listen for Miri’s counting. She could hear it, faintly, dripping out of the dining room and trickling down the hall: “Sixty-nine…seventy…seventy-one…”

Confident that she had plenty of time to explore, she padded softly up the stairs to the first landing, which opened up to identical mirrored staircases, each flanking an enormous carved stone statue of a man with the legs of a goat playing the panpipes. She paused there and gazed up at it. She had never looked at it up close before, although she had always wanted to when her parents had brought her here as a child. But she had never been allowed on the stairs, never been able to explore the second or third floors. Instead, she had been forced to “play” with Miri, who only tormented her and spit gum in her hair and made her cry.

She had been looking forward to this for a long time.

The statue was a curious thing. For one, it didn’t look like it belonged indoors. It seemed like it was more befitting of a garden than a great hall, and an overgrown, untended one at that. For another, the faun himself was strangely attractive. She could think of no other word; she felt pulled toward him. She wanted to touch him, to know how he felt beneath her skin. Her breath coming faster now, she reached a hand up and stroked his haunches. They felt hard and smooth in her hand, like pebbles from a river, and warmer than she had expected. She let her hand move up and up the statue until she reached his torso, her fingers tracing the lines in his stomach. She could hardly breathe now, and she had no name for what she was feeling.

Two Hundred! Ready or not, here I come!”

Miri’s shout echoed down the hall, and Hester’s head turned quickly, as if on a leash. She felt like she had just come up from underwater. She had to run! Miri was coming, and if she found Hester standing here fondling the statue, she would be mocked in front of everyone. She took off running up the stairs, turning back for one last look at the statue as she did so.

He gazed back at her, implacable and arrogant. She felt her stomach twist but she kept running.

From below, she could hear the sounds of doors opening and closing. Miri was seeking, alright. There were so many rooms on the first floor; that would buy her some time at least. She desperately wanted to explore the second floor but reasoned that it might be best to put as much distance between herself and her cousin as possible, so she sprinted up the stairs to the third floor.

As she rounded the corner, she caught sight of a distant figure and clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. She saw it there, watching her in the darkness. What was it?

This floor was even darker than the first. There were no windows at all, just a long hallway. The only light came from a dome in the ceiling behind her, over the foyer. It was almost impossible to see to the end of the hall. She took a tentative step toward the figure, then paused. It had taken a step too.

She squinted. Her eyes were just beginning to adjust to the gloom. What were the walls made of? All she could see was milky blackness. And that figure, still watching. Another step as she moved toward it.

All at once, she realized: She was looking in a mirror. Every wall, every doorway on the third floor was lined with great mirrors, stretching from just above the floor to just below the ceiling.

The face staring at her was her own.

She exhaled and tried to relax, but the realization didn’t bring as much relief as she’d expected.

Then, footsteps on the stairs below. Miri was heading to the second floor. She could hear shrieks and laughter; she was seeking out hiders in earnest now. There wasn’t much time. She reached out for the nearest doorknob and let herself into the room.

Light dripped weakly into the room through the holes in moth-eaten curtains. There wasn’t much furniture - just a couch covered in cobwebbed white cloth and an armoire looming in the far corner, and a vast table pushed against the wall to her left. No other doors; no closets. The table would have to do. It wasn’t an ideal hiding place, but she hoped that the darkness would give her some advantage over the situation.

On tiptoes, she snuck toward the table. When she was near, she dropped to her knees and crawled the rest of the way underneath. It was snug but not too cramped. She couldn’t stand, of course, but she could sit with her legs folded up in front of her, her arms wrapped around them, her hands clasped together. Folded up like that she felt safe, not as vulnerable as she really was. She fancied that she could spring out and surprise Miri before she realized where she was. She would still lose the game, but it would be worth it just to hear Miri scream. Just once.

Her heart began to beat faster. With the door closed, she couldn’t hear any sounds of the game below. What was taking so long? She only had a dozen or so hiders to find. When would they get to the third floor? She could feel her cheeks reddening; she was getting too excited. Miri always made fun of her for blushing. Well, let her make fun then, Hester thought. She’ll be the one screaming. Besides, she’ll hardly be able to see me in the dark.

A creak. Floorboards. Hester stretched her neck forward, trying to hear: Did it come from outside? From the hall? No, it sounded like it was behind her. The skin on her arms erupted in the most deliciously shivery goose-flesh. Hester turned her head, slowly, terrified.

A boy was sitting on the floor behind her, not ten feet away. He was cross-legged, in short navy blue pants and knee socks and a pressed light blue shirt, and he was smiling. She couldn’t see his teeth, and his eyes were very dark.

It was all Hester could do not to scream in surprise. Instead she gasped, this time audibly, before calming herself as best she could.

“Hello,” she whispered. “You gave me an awful fright. I didn’t see you when I came in.”

Still smiling, he raised one index finger, then brought it to his face and pressed his lips against it. She supposed that meant “shhh,” of course, but it was an odd gesture. It was more of a kiss. His lips were full and looked red, even in the weak light. He was quite good-looking. She still couldn’t see his eyes.

“Sorry,” she tried to smile back, but he was making her nervous. How had she not noticed him there? It was making her uneasy. She felt like she was on the verge of remembering a secret she’d tried to forget, or some terrible dream from the night before. Her stomach felt like it was being pulled apart like cotton candy by tiny hands.

“I’ll be quiet, but please,” she whispered again, more softly. “What’s your name? I don’t think I saw you down at the party.”

He shook his head, slowly. So slowly that she at first thought he was just turning to look at the door, but his eyes never left hers.

Again he raised his hand, index finger extended, in front of his face. But instead of pressing it to his lips, this time he curled it toward himself, beckoning her.

Now it was her turn to shake her head. She squeezed her legs closer to her chest. Where was Miri? She couldn’t hear anything. She tried to turn away from him, direct her attention to the door, but she could still see him out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t moving. Just staring at her.

“He’s my father, you know,” a chill snaked from her ear down her neck and shoulders, all the way down her arms, settling in her fingertips where it buzzed like electricity. He had whispered in her ear. She dared not turn her head to look at him. His lips were so close that she could feel them on her earlobe. She could not feel his breath, but his lips were cold. Don’t let him touch me, she thought, and at the same time, Oh please, please, let him touch me.

“Who?” she breathed, still looking at the door, not turning her head.

“You know,” he shifted slightly; he seemed to be smelling her hair. Then he whispered in the other ear. “The man downstairs on the landing. He told me how you touched him. He liked that.”

Her cheeks were pavement in the summer - impossibly hot. She wondered if she would blister. Tears sprang to her eyes. How could he know?

“You watched me.”

“No,” she could hear his smile. “He told me.”

Her eyes spilled over. She couldn’t breathe.

“He told me he’s your father too, you know. You can have hooves and haunches just like his. I’m going to have them too one day. Aren’t they beautiful.”

She lunged forward then, falling onto her hands and skinning her knees on the rough wood of the floor. She didn’t care about the game anymore, or about scaring Miri. She just wanted to get away from this boy, from this terrible boy. She just wanted to get away from this house.

In her panic, as she left the room she made a wrong turn, and instead of heading toward the stairs found herself running headlong toward her reflection. She paused then, and her reflection paused too. She was panting, her sides rising and falling. Her face was wet and her eyes were shining, her mouth contorted in something between a laugh and a scream. She turned back toward the door she’d exited. Nothing.

Still no sign of Miri or the other children. No doors opening and closing, no laughter, no screams. The light was weakening in the foyer as the skylight dimmed. It was getting late. How long had she been in there?

She turned back toward her reflection. She needed to turn around to get to the stairs, but she was scared to turn her back on herself. In the mirror, she looked so far away.

Then her face contorted in a scream. She reached up and felt her mouth, but her lips were closed. Her reflection - it was screaming.

Then she began to run. But she couldn’t move her feet. They were planted. Her thighs felt like magnets being pulled toward the ground. It took all her strength just to stay upright. Her stomach clenched like a wet pink fist.

Her reflection was running, running toward her and screaming. What would she do when the two of them met - herself and her reflection? She couldn’t hear a thing, but the wordless scream stretched her reflection’s mouth into a grim rictus. She began to shake her head, willing her legs to move, willing herself to turn and run.

Finally, her legs began to move. They shook, and she thought they might give, but they turned her around. She was running then, running for real, back toward the stairs and down them. As she passed the door to the room where she had been hiding, she saw the crystal knob begin to turn, but she didn’t turn her head or stop, she couldn’t, she wouldn’t.

She tripped down the stairs two, three at a time, barely staying upright, holding onto the railing so tightly that the bone could be seen beneath the taut skin on her knuckles. Her knees were bleeding now from when she skinned them during her escape.

She pitched forward, stumbling over her own feet, and landed at the base of the statue on the second-floor landing. Trembling, she pushed herself up and dared to look up at his face.

He smiled down at her, whispering secrets into the panpipes at his lips. She remembered how he felt in her hands. She remembered the boy, his lips cold against the hot skin of her ear.

She fled, panting, her breath coming fast, so it sounded almost like a laugh or a shriek. As she tumbled down the stairs, still upright, but barely, she glanced back at him again. He was beckoning to her; he wanted her, she knew it. She would go to him —

There you are!” she screamed.

Miri was standing in front of her, arms crossed over her chest. Children surrounded her on both sides, boys and girls whispering behind their hands to each other. Loud giggles ripped through the crowd.

“Are you crying? Oh my God,” Miri rolled her eyes and everyone laughed again.

“I reckon she pissed her pants,” someone shouted from the back, and the laughter became riotous.

“What are you so worked up about anyway? You won anyhow. You’re the last one I found. So, well done, I suppose. Although you do look like you probably pissed yourself in the process.”

Hester straightened up and looked around at the faces in front of her. They were smiling, but their eyes were confused. No red lips. No dark eyes. She couldn’t even find the navy blue shorts, the pale blue shirt.

“No, I’m not the last one,” she said, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice. “There’s another boy upstairs. On the third floor. He’s still up there.”

“Yeah, right.”

“There is!”

“Who?” Miri demanded, stepping forward and practically spitting the word in Hester’s face.

“I don’t know who he is. He was up there under a table with me. ” The children whooped suggestively, nudging each other.

“Oh, I bet he was. You’re such a slut, Hester. ” The girls laughed loudly.

“Come on, then, he’s up there right now! Go on up if you don’t believe me! He’s wearing navy shorts and a light blue shirt and —”

“Hester Hester the Molester, just stop. ” Miri rolled her eyes. “You’re such a stupid liar. We don’t even have a third floor”

Her fear giving way to anger, she shouted, “Yes you do. I was just there with him.”

“No we don’t, you cow. We have two floors, plus a basement and an attic. You really think I don’t know my own house?”

“Well, we were in the attic then.”

“Impossible. The only way to get into the attic is by pulling down the trapdoor and climbing the stairs. I would’ve heard it. We all would have.”

“Miri, please! I was just there. All you do is walk up the stairs from the second-floor landing, and there’s the hallway lined with mirrors, and —”

Miri laughed, loudly, but there was no longer any pleasure in it. She was annoyed. “Are you off your nut? What mirrors?”

“Look, please, just do as I say, okay? Go up the stairs to the second-floor landing, by the statue. And then turn —”

The kids all exchanged looks. No one laughed, but the murmuring intensified. When Miri cut her off this time, she sounded worried.

“What statue?”

“The statue of the man with a goat’s legs! It’s right there on the landing! It’s been there since we were little kids! I always wanted to see it up close, but we were never allowed to play inside!”

Finally, Miri stepped around her and started to move toward the stairs. Slowly, deliberately, she walked up them. She stood directly in front of the statue and looked through it. She turned back toward Hester, a strange look on her face. Was that concern? Empathy? Hester had never seen her face like that before. It made things worse, somehow, being pitied by Miri.


She knew what Miri was going to say before she said it. She shook her head.


“Hester, there’s no statue here.”

But he was. He loomed behind Miri, obscene and elegant. He beckoned to her. And from above him, on the third-floor landing, the boy watched with dark eyes. He smiled down and raised his finger to his lips.

Hester dropped to her knees, then, her eyes wide, her mouth open and her hands clenched into fists as tight as skulls. She fell and began to scream, but no sound came out, and she wished then for hooves and haunches, she wished then for legs strong enough to carry her out into the night and away from the boy, and the statue, and the house, but most of all from the girl upstairs in the hallway, the one who was running too and would reach her soon enough.

By the time her parents finally arrived, it was too late for Hester. They had come to take her home, but she was there already. She was home, with her father. At last. At last.




Melissa Pleckham lives in Los Angeles, where she maintains the blog Spooky Little Girl. Her work has been published in Sanitarium Magazine and Under the Bed, and her screenplay “Blackstone,” cowritten with her husband, was selected as a quarterfinalist in the 2016 ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Contest. Her other car is a broomstick, and her favorite Jackson is Shirley.

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