He moved down the hall like a ghost-cat; carefully picking his way, toeing the floorboards to find the loose ones. No creaking. He thought I hadn't heard him enter; didn't know he was there.
Darkness shrouded me as I sank into the gloom of the basement. Couldn't see a thing. And the air was dank and thick, like breathing ink. The stairs rose next to me, upward to a door, the bottom of which was shaved with pale light. My eardrums fluttered with the beat of my heart as I watched that light for any change, a shadow, some indicator that he was coming down.
Above me something scraped wood and there was the barest creak. He had paused. I could almost see him, lifting his head, ear cocked to the side, listening. My breathing felt loud, ragged, impossible to contain inside the hollowness of my chest. Sweat trickled from my temple and made a shivery path past my ear, along the jawbone, where it hung in the curve of my neck. Maybe . . . maybe he had turned back. Given up. Perhaps he wouldn't find me.
But there, again, the wisping of his feet along the floor. He'd taken his shoes off. Where was he? I'd lost track. My legs were shaking and I placed my hands flat against the wall at my back. The wall holding up the stairs. Hoping, hoping.
And then, there! There it was. Two wide dark spots in the crack under the door. He was on the other side. A tiny metallic ping echoed through the basement as he slowly, slowly, turned the doorknob. I gasped--a small tremulous sound--and my mind turned to white noise. I felt my hands, as though they weren't mine, quivering along the wall. Feeling forward. And my feet following. I had to go.
The doorknob finished it's turn and I heard the door swish, just the tiniest bit. It had been oiled. He put one foot on the top stair. I tip toed, sock-footed, until I found the archway into the deepest part of the basement. It took me to a room on the other side of the stairs.
Screaking above me, one step at a time, he descended. Closer to me. Closer. Surely he could sense me. Smell me.
It was here, I knew it was. I'd hidden here before. He couldn't know about it, if I could just find it in the blackness.
More steps. He was nearly to the bottom. And my hands fumbled upon a small crack. A line in the wall. Relief burst upon me as I followed it to the floor and found the small niche, a dent really, where my fingertip fit. I pressed in and pulled, gently, and the small door opened. It was just big enough for a child, but I was thin and fit inside.
I heard him reach the landing, his searching sounds less echoing, more muted. I was nearly next to him, behind the wall, but he couldn't know I was there. Pulling the small door shut behind me I moved forward, careful. So careful. No noise. This space was usually empty. If I could just get to the back of it he'd never find me. Perhaps he'd give up. Leave. Perhaps.
My searching foot found something. Hard. Wide. Nothing had ever been here before. What . . . ? I moved forward, exploring the hard surface with my toes, pressing down . . .
And as I pressed, something long and narrow whipped upward and with a crack! smashed into the center of my forehead. White-hot light flashed across my vision as I slumped against the wall and lost consciousness for a time.
Then I heard: "Janiel! No fair changing hiding places!" "Yeah, that's cheating!" "You can't do that!" "Are you even down here?"
Well. I was too embarrassed to tell my brothers and sisters that I'd knocked myself out stepping on the end of a janitor's broom. I don't even know how the thing got there. Nothing fit in the skinny utility closet my dad had built into the small space between the back of my sister's room and the wall at the bottom of the stairs.
Technically I'd won the game. Along with a long purple hotdog-shaped bruise running from the bridge of my nose to my hairline. It was cool. But I never let on where I got it.
I ain't stupid.
Except in the dark.