(A note about ‘Hidden’)
I initially posted a draft of this story several years ago. I wasn’t a big fan of it, so I reworked it significantly and re-published it today. I hope you enjoy it.
“This is the perfect hiding spot, isn’t it?”
The teenage boy hiding behind the big oak tree along the edge of the park nearly jumped out of his skin as the man’s voice broke the silence of the wooded ravine. “Shhh!” he hissed as he peeked around the tree to try to see if any of the other kids who were playing Hide and Seek had heard the noise. “You’ll give me away!”
“I wouldn’t want to do that,” the man whispered, joining the boy in peeking around the tree.
The boy looked at the man suspiciously for a moment before setting his focus back to the open field of the park on the other side of the big tree. “I’m going to win this time. Jimmy Falloner always wins these games, but this time will be different. This time I won’t be the first one they find.”
“Good for you!”
“Hey! Who are you anyway?”
“My name is Nicholas Sandoval,” the man said, holding out his hand to the boy, who proceeded to actively ignore it. “It is nice to meet you, Billy.”
“How – how do you know my name?” He took a few steps backwards, deeper into the ravine, backing away from the man. Clearing his throat and forcing his voice down by a couple of octaves, he continued, “It’s Will— hasn’t been Billy for a few years now. Have we met? I’ve never seen you before. Is someone playing an April Fool’s joke on me?”
Nicholas laughed heartily, scaring some birds that had been perching in the trees overhead. The echoing sound of his laughter prompted Will to rush back up to the big oak tree. “Quiet! They’re going to find me!”
“Oh, no, no, no… no.” Nicholas leaned back against the big rock that took up most of the un-treed area within the ravine. “They’re never going to find you.”
“You trying to scare me, old man? It ain’t gonna work. I know enough karate to snap you in half.”
“I have no reason to try to scare you, my boy. Fear will come in its own time.”
“Really? What are you going to do to me, old man? The park is crawling with people – police, parents, other kids. Make one move and I’ll scream and then you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail as a convicted criminal for endangering a minor. ”
“It is not I who will do anything to you, young man.”
“You know what? You’re a psychopath. I don’t think I care whether I win this game or not. I’m getting out of here.”
Will stepped around the tree and began to walk toward the field in the park where the other kids were playing and where he was sure he would be found by the seeker, once again losing in the annual game of Hide and Seek. Just as he stepped out from behind the tree another man, older than Nicholas, appeared from the shadows. Will turned to go around the tree the other way, only to find a woman standing there. “Hi Billy, so good to see you,” she said with a smile.
“You’re all psychos! Look. There’s Allison. And Kyle. Let me go or I’ll call them.”
By now the ravine had filled up with people, some older, some somewhat younger, but all of them older than Will. They were all talking at once, apparently talking to him. “It’s okay, Billy.” “Don’t be afraid, Billy.” “You’ll be fine, Billy.”
Feeling panic welling up in his body despite the overly-reassuring comments from the people surrounding him, he pushed his way through the crowd, attempting to get to the edge of the ravine and then back into the park.
“It’s no use,” said one of the people, patting him on the shoulder. “Don’t bother trying, you’ll be better off just giving up freely.”
“No! Allison! Kyle! Jimmy! Anyone! Help!” shouted Will, pushing harder to get through the ever-growing group of people who seemed to be popping into the ravine right out of thin air.
Nicholas Sandoval climbed onto the rock that took up most of the space. Addressing the crowd, though no one seemed to be listening to him, he said “Let him go. You all know this is the only way.”
The crowd parted, somehow collapsing in on itself to make room despite the fact that the ravine had become completely filled with people. Will started through the opening that led to the open field of the park but then hesitated. Turing around to face the rock, he said, “What do you mean this is the only way?”
The old man slid down from the rock. “What were you thinking when you first came into this ravine?”
“I don’t know,” said Will, backing away from the man slightly, moving toward the opening to the park. “I certainly wasn’t thinking about talking to a bunch of creepy pedophiles, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant, Billy. I want to know what you were thinking when you came to this spot. Were you thinking about what you wanted to have for dinner tonight? Were you thinking about the ballgame from last night? Were you thinking about the cute girl in math class –what’s her name? Brittany?”
“I wasn’t thinking about any of that. We’re playing hide and seek, so what do you think I was thinking about? I needed to find the best hiding place ever! So I could win! And her name is, in fact, Brittany, you creep. Have you been stalking her, too?”
There were quiet murmurs through the assembled crowd.
“What?” Will looked at the people who were nearby who looked alternately pleased and disappointed at the same time as they murmured. “You’re surprised that he knows the name of the cute girl in math? Please – he seems to be psychic or something, since he knows my name even though we’ve never met and I never told him my name. It’s all part of the prank, I’m sure. But, whatever. I’m out of here.” Will turned to leave.
“They won’t know you,” said Nicholas to his back. “Your friends — they are not your friends anymore.”
The people around them nodded and commented quietly again. “That’s right,” they said. “No more friends. No family to speak of,” they lamented. “Such a shame,” they added.
“What?” demanded Will. Then: “You know, forget it. You people are so…”
He threw up his hands in disgust, turned on his heels and headed out to the field where the other kids were playing. “Allison! Kyle!” he called and the two teenagers stopped what they were doing to look at him.
“Who are you?” Kyle asked.
“Very funny,” said Will. “So, did everyone else get found yet? Did I win?”
“Win? What – the hide and seek game?” Kyle looked from Will to Allison and back. “Did you think you were playing? We don’t even know you! You’re more than welcome to join us if you really want, but it’s rather awkward for you to be acting like we’ve been buddies or something.”
“But we are buddies! We’ve known each other since kindergarten! Come on Allison, don’t be a dork like Kyle.”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life,” said Allison with a cross-eyed look.
“Very funny, Allison. You’ve had a crush on me for years. Everyone knows it. So, clearly this is someone’s idea of a game. Let’s pick on Billy, right? Grrr! I mean Will!”
“Whatever,” said Allison in the way that only a teenager can. “You don’t even seem to know your own name.”
“It’s Will! My name is Will! And we’ve been friends for a long time!”
“Okay,” said Allison, removing Will’s hands from her shoulders. “Backing away now…”
Will turned to Nicholas, who had joined him in the field. “Whatever you’ve done, old man, whatever dumb game you’ve convinced my friends to play, you should stop it now.”
“Oh, look,” said Kyle. “The kid who isn’t sure about his name has an invisible friend.”
“At least he’s not lonely,” said Allison.
The pair laughed as they walked away. Will thought about following them, but he saw his mother walking toward a picnic table and called out as he ran toward her instead. “Mom! Mom! Over here!” He caught up to her and went to hug her, stopping at the last second as she put her hands out to stop him. “Mom, this is dull. I want to go home. Can we go? I’ll get Brandi – she’s hiding behind the trash can, like usual.”
The woman looked at him with a concerned look on her face. “I’m sorry. You have the wrong mother. My daughter’s name is Brandi, but I have no son. Are you lost or hurt? I can get you help. How do you know Brandi? From school?”
“I – but—I—” Will started and stopped a few times. He looked angrily at Nicholas as he approached. Nicholas simply braced his gaze upon Will and shook his head slowly, whispering “She doesn’t know you.” To the woman who was pretending not to be his mother, Will said, “I suppose you don’t see him, either?
“I’m sorry. You do need help. I’ll get an officer to help you.”
“No, mom, I mean, ma’am. I’m fine. I’m – I’m sorry for bothering you.”
Will walked away slowly, heading in no specific direction but walking generally toward the ravine that was still full of people who were watching him. After a few moments of silent, directionless walking, Will stopped and turned to Nicholas. “So, what’s the game, old man? Mighty fine April Fool’s Day joke you’ve got going on here, getting my own mother to act like she doesn’t know me. It’s quite impressive, really.”
“There’s no game. Believe me, this is not a game.”
“Why don’t you explain it to me, then. What’s going on? Who are you, really?”
“Well, I am, as I said, Nicholas Sandoval. You don’t know me, but I know you.”
“We’ve established that pretty well, dude.”
“I know you think I am some kind of creep but really I am –”
“Wait,” interrupted Will. Running ahead by a few steps, he called out, “Hey! Jimmy! Over here!” The boy he was summoning, Jimmy, did not stop what he was doing or look up. “Yo! Jimmy!” Looking back to Nicholas, he said “Is this part of the game? You paid some of them to act like I’m not even here?”
“Well, you are correct that he does not know you are here, but it is not a game. He cannot see you.”
“You expect me to believe that first no one remembered who I am and now I’m invisible?”
Will let out a dull, howling yell and lunged at Nicholas, pinning him against a tree. “What’s going on, old man. I’m tired of this.”
“I’m trying to explain,” said Nicholas. “If you’ll allow me to do so.”
Will released his grip on Nicholas. “Billy – Will, I am your father.”
Will pinned Nicholas once again. “Oh, so now we’re quoting Star Wars?”
“No! I am being completely serious! Will, tell me about your father.”
“I have no father.”
“Surely you must have a father.”
“Obviously. But Mom always said I had no father, but would never explain. She just said ‘Oh, Billy, you’re special‘ and would leave it at that. I just assumed that my father was some creep who walked out on her before I was born or something. I stopped asking about it years ago.”
“I did not walk out! It was just a few years ago, in fact. We were here for the annual school spirit party, just like you were today. The traditional hide and seek game started and you convinced me to participate. So, I did. I came out here toward the edge of the field and thought that I needed to find the best hiding place ever. Suddenly, the –”
“—the ravine appeared, with the big oak trees. And it seemed to call your name.” Will whispered the end of his statement. Realizing that he was still holding the old man, he let go and took a step away.
“Exactly. The ravine called my name. At first I thought it was someone in the game, calling me to join them in their hiding spot. But when I got here, it was empty.”
“Until I came along,” said another man, the man Will had encountered when he first tried to get around the big tree. He held out his hand to Will, who took it for a brief second before dropping his arms back to his sides. “James Fredrickson. Pleasure to meet you in person, William.”
“Yes,” continued Nicholas, “James, your grandfather, was here for me, to help me cross over.”
“Cross over? Isn’t that what those television psychics do? Help people who have died as they ‘cross over’ to heaven or… wherever they’re going?”
“They’re mediums, Will.”
“Whatever the job title is doesn’t matter to me. Am I… dead?”
Laughter filled the ravine, a laughter that seemed to drain the tension away from Will rather than mock him
“No, you are not dead, Will,” said Nicholas. “You are hidden. Death might make for a good hiding spot, but it leaves a lot of loose ends, too many things for loved ones to deal with after you’re gone. No, this is a far better hiding spot; it’s as if you never even existed. And to your loved ones, you never did. You wanted to disappear, to find the perfect hiding spot. And that’s exactly what you did.”
“This is not what I meant,” said Will, feeling agitated again. “I just wanted to win a stupid game of hide and seek, not disappear from the planet. How do I take it back? How do I, um, cross back and put things back the way they were?”
“There is no going back, Will. Years ago, many generations ago, a powerful magician was here in this very park, though it was not a park hundreds of years ago. He was running away from an angry mob who wanted to burn him at the stake so he conjured up a spell to hide himself from it.”
“But the spell was too powerful and it overtook him and the entire area. Most people walk through here and see just a wooded area, just like anywhere else in the park. You and I did it a million times, even if you don’t remember. But when you came near here and wished to find the best hiding spot ever, you activated the spell and became entrapped in it, too. You are clearly not the first person to be ensnared by it; you surely won’t be the last. At some point in the future, someone who was truly special to you will be trapped by it, too. You came through after me, I came through after my father, my father came through after his sister and so on. It could be a wife or girlfriend, a child, a parent – just someone you are meant to be with.”
“So, it’s like the spell draws people to it and then leaves them here to die, our legacy completely gone?”
Nicholas laughed. “Thirteen years old and you’re worried about a legacy no one knows about anymore and you barely had any time to build in the first place?”
“I’m just asking, trying to get my head around all this. And, man, you should know that I do care about these things. I’m here thinking about the fact that I was going to the school dance on Friday with Brittany and now…. She’s going to think I ditched her. I wish I was dead, at least that’s a real excuse. We were supposed to be together forever.”
“Well, ‘forever’ is a mighty-long word at your age, Will. You have your whole life ahead of you to find that special someone – it’s unlikely to be your first crush. And don’t worry – Brittany is happily going about her life with no knowledge of you standing her up for the dance on Friday. Will, I know it is a lot to take in. This is why I am here – to help you cross over. I’ve heard it is harder for the younger kids who cross over because they haven’t had enough experience to understand what life is really about. When you get to my age, you’ll understand that most people never know you and, quite often, you never really know yourself. But philosophical discussions are for another time. Trust me when I say that you’ll grow up, perhaps have a family of your own here some time. You will find that there are entire cultures and civilizations living here on Earth that you have never imagined. At some point in the future, someone you care about will come through into this realm. Perhaps it will be your mother or your sister; there is no way to know. But for now, all you can do is watch the world around you, there is no way to interact. At first it might feel like it is worth trying, to try to interact with the people you loved. But it is impossible and ultimately nothing more than frustrating. Trust me on this – it is how I know so much about you. For now, though, you see a lot of us are filing out of here. This is because there is a big party, essentially our version of the school spirit party you were at today. You should come along – it will give me a chance to reintroduce myself to you.”
Nicholas clasped Will’s shoulder and the pair left the ravine together, popping out of existence without a sound as Will looked out toward the park at the mother, sister and friends who never really knew him and would now never have the chance.
“This is the perfect hiding spot, isn’t it?”
The blond haired girl hiding behind the big oak tree along the edge of the park screamed loudly as she turned around to face the person who had broken the silence of her hiding spot.
“Brittany,” said Will. “It is so good to see you after all these years.”