Two boys must be found inside a small mansion or the mysterious secrets of the home will erupt in fury.
Seven-year-old Sheldon decides the second floor is the best place to play his favourite game with his brother. Today is the day for hide and go seek.
Numbers echo from downstairs.
The hurried pounding of tiny feet upon the stairs gets noisier, with multiple echoes. A series of excited giggles tempt Sheldon to laugh out loud.
“No, no, never!” Sheldon whispers into his folded hands, held to his face. His smile is the only thing breaking through his attempt at self-control.
Cody, five years old and a rather excited young boy, searches for Sheldon within each of the ten bedrooms on the second-floor mini-mansion.
Inside, Sheldon sits and thinks for a moment. The enclosure around him is right for his size, and he wonders if he is the only one to have been inside it. The creaking of the hallway wooden floor indicates Cody is either getting smarter or has a case of momentary luck.
Sheldon struggles to hold his silence in the sheer anticipation of being found. Letting out small spurts of gasps, he huddles his knees closer to his face to get comfortable.
Cody grows weary of the search and calls out to Sheldon in one last screech. Birds pass between the sun and the house, just outside the windows, making shadows dance within the corridor.
Cody stops to sit and rest, wondering where Sheldon is.
Sheldon settles in, victorious and unfound.
Sheldon shifts his weight and crosses his legs, settling into his comfortable hiding space. Something about this small space doesn’t feel right to him. He doesn’t take long to realize this small space is shrinking. He starts to sense the enclosure’s walls push on him. He tries to push back and fails. He calls out to Cody.
Cody can’t hear him. He is downstairs.
The walls inch closer to Sheldon, robbing him of more space to move.
Downstairs, Cody points and laughs at a wolf cub outside the kitchen patio window.
Sheldon struggles, kicks and beats the walls around him, which seem to creep in even closer and closer.
“CODY! GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
His face and arms now sweat, his heart beating in crazed apprehension. His yelling doesn’t seem to catch Cody’s attention. Enraged, Sheldon manages to lean back, with his legs to his chest, kicking his feet out. He creates a loud battle against his secret hiding spot, which folds against him even more.
Downstairs, Cody laughs harder at the wolf cub bopping around the broken stones leading to the garden.
Sheldon screams and kicks against the enclosure, the wall closest to his face now pressing against him. The sidewalls pinch his arms close to his body. His kicks are restricted from kicking out more than a few inches.
Cody observes the wobble of wolf cub’s belly and a beat passes as he catches his breath and laughs harder. He bangs the window in fun and his fist begins to hurt. He decides to rub his hand out while seated by the window.
Short staccato-like thumps arise above him. He remembers Sheldon is still hiding.
“Shel, my hand hurts, don’t know where you are,” Cody whispers and winces, still holding his lightly bruised hand.
“But I know where he is!” Cody squeals, pointing at the cub.
Blood continues to collect on the kitchen stool.
The thudding stops.
Cody forgets about his hand for a moment.
“Hey, Sheldie! Games up! Where are you?”
Cody resumes his hurried search and scurries up the stairs, peeking inside every room on the second floor, not finding Sheldon.
“Come on out! There’s a fox outside!”
In the furthest room from the stairs, light flickers through its open door. Cody goes inside. He finds a small chute built within the lower portion of the door.
Peering through, blackness exposes itself.
A low moan emerges. Cody yelps, catches his fingernail in between the closing chute door and its edges. He jumps back in fright, scrambling back toward the closed room door.
Cody beats the door in protest now, calling for his parents. His finger starts to bleed and his hands slip on the doorknob. The moan becomes a low groan and his erratic breathing is mixed with small yelps of panic. He sloppily manages to grab the handle, open the door, race down the stairs and out the back patio door, into the woods.
At the front door, the boy’s parents step in the door after waving off a visitor.
“I’ll go and check on the boys, love. I hear them running around again. Will you care for the plants, they’re wilting,” Gabrielle, a slim woman in her late-thirties, asks Gary, her forty-five year old husband.
“Sure thing. Where’s the water can?”
“Behind the statue of Buddha. Sorry, it’s not where it should be.”
“I got it, babe.”
Gabrielle calls to the boys, who don’t answer her.
She calls up the stairs, hearing nothing, and ventures into the kitchen.
A scream erupts.
Gabrielle finds the pool of blood on the kitchen stool, dripping from the ceiling.
Gary rushes in and collects Gabrielle whose arm flail, her words scrambling out unintelligibly.
Both of them rush up the stairs calling out to the boys, exploring every room, knocking down furniture, tearing each room apart to find them.
They reach the eastward room on the far end of the hallway. The door is closed.
Gary turns the knob and peers inside the room.
The door shows no signs of being touched.
The silence thickens the already cold, damp air.
Both Gary and Gabrielle search the room further.
Gary suddenly stops and softly buries his face in his hands, wiping downward in realization and eyes softly opening.
“We’re doing it again, Gab,”
“Doing what again?”
“We keep forgetting.”
Gabrielle’s eyes widen and close softly. A tear forms in each eye. Her hand covers her mouth and it slips to her lap as she falls gently to her knees.
“It’s all so real. Their running feet. And the blood. I just know …”
“Gab…” Gary reaches for her, softly caressing her shoulder.”We didn’t catch ourselves fast enough this time.”
“What are we going to do, Gar?”
“I don’t know. This place has secrets.”
“Where was I in that conversation? What haven’t you told me?”
“I mentioned it.”
“Am I forgetting everything, Gary?”
“Babe, please. Take a breath. These last few weeks have been rough on us.”
“Why do I think our children followed us here, Gary?”
“I don’t know, babe. Our imaginations run away with us at times.”
“I want out of this house, Gary!”
“We bought and can’t resell, remember? Our savings are nearly gone from the funeral and moving costs.”
“Our boys. Our boys! My God, why did we move?”
“Gab, it made sense to move away from…”
“I swear I hear them at times. And this time. Oh God.”
Gary pauses and considers his next thought. He knows where her mind is going. Gentle words emerge from his pale red lips.
“Gab, how could you know Cody would run into the woods and be mauled by wolves? And Sheldon. He found a collapsing, poorly built laundry chute as a hiding spot and was squeezed to dea…” Gary’s voice quivers, “I never thought to check it.”
Gabrielle reaches for Gary’s arm, pulling him into her in a half-embrace.
“Oh honey, no. It can’t be your fault. It can’t.”
“But we’re caught, Gab, caught!”
Gary takes Gabrielle by the hand and leads her out, offering to make some chamomille tea.
The closing of the door behind them sounds louder than a car crash. Neither of them flinch inside the unhidden path of the hallway.
Both descend to the main floor and into the kitchen with a deep sense of unresolved grief.
They pass the stool. There is no evidence of blood. The patio door is closed tight.
After several minutes they sit and pour one another their afternoon tea.
Their eyes stare longingly at the dining room portrait of their two boys.
Two hidden voices call out for help in between long bouts of silence. One voice shrieks from outside, the other from upstairs. The collective terror in their little voices seems to vibrate the pockets of dust on the side tables.
Gabrielle and Gary’s eyes lower to the table; their disintegrating concentration ruins the simple act of meeting drink to their lips.
They take several deep breaths, tears streaming down their faces, desperately attempting to ignore the ghostly screams echoing around them.
Bill D. Bistak, Author, Producer of Bestshorthorrorstories.com & Founder of Friedrich Imagines, Ltd. a media production company