We love horror so much because the ideas themselves are frightening, not because it’s realistic. Demons, for instance, are terrifying to think about, but we take comfort in relying on them not actually being real. We leave the movie theater, we leave the demons behind. Which is exactly why the scariest things in life tend to be very, very real. So let’s be honest with ourselves; the worst nightmares happen when we are wide awake.
I stumbled upon this realization after an innocent game of hide and seek. No foul play, no horrible creatures. We’ll get to that. I was eleven. My sister was thirteen at the time, and our little cousin Jamie was staying with us for part of winter break while my mom and aunt did some holiday shopping and “bonding.” I remember hearing the phone ring. I leapt from the living room couch, where I sat with my sister and Jamie.
“Hi Mommy!” I said.
“Hi Sweetie, could you or your sister do me a big favor and take the chicken out of the freezer? I need it to thaw out so I can start cooking dinner right when we get home. Are you hungry?”
“Ugh, I’m starving! Sure Momma,” I replied. I was an energetic kid, so when I wasn’t playing I was eating.
“Thank you! I’ll see you in an hour or so, okay?”
“Okay. Bye!” I hung up the phone and pulled the chicken out of the freezer, placing it on the counter. I then skipped back into the living room. We sat around on the couch for a little longer, watching Jamie tease the cat. My sister felt bad for the cat, so she spoke.
“Jamie, do you want to play a game?” she asked sweetly.
“Ide and keek!” Jamie squealed. My sister looked at me, puzzled, hoping for a translation.
“Hide and seek,” I said.
“That’s a great idea, Jamie! I’ll count to fifty, and you go find a place to hide, okay?” my sister urged him off the couch and he raced out of the room. My sister covered her eyes and started counting loudly and slowly. I slipped into the stuffy hall closet and hid behind some old coats. After about five minutes of muffled shuffling, the closet door creaked open. I held my breath and shut my eyes tightly, as if that would prevent me from being seen.
“Emily, I can see your hands, silly,” my sister’s voice said from the other side of the door.
“Dang it. Am I it now?” I asked.
“Actually, I haven’t found Jamie yet. Little kids usually hide in the stupidest places, so I’m kind of impressed.”
“I can help look,” I said cheerfully. We looked everywhere. Twice. We scavenged the garage and the backyard—the bushes, the trees—even though these places were “off limits” for a fair game of hide and seek. So he had to have been in the house. Right? We looked through the cupboards again, pushing cups and other items aside. We searched beneath the beds, under the sheets, all of the tables, and even the shower. We split up and scoured the whole house one more time. I even checked the refrigerator. Nothing. After almost an hour of searching tirelessly, my sister and I finally gave up and rendezvoused in the living room.
“Olly olly oxen free!” I called loudly, swiveling my head around. I peeked behind the couch once more. “Huh.”
“Em, I don’t think he’s old enough to know what that means. Besides, he might not even be able to hear you. Jamie!” she called. We called his name a few more times. My sister was starting to worry, which made me worry.
“What if he ran away?” I asked concernedly.
“No, he wouldn’t be able to. With the kid-proof door handles the furthest he could get is the backyard. Mom and Aunt Sharon will be home any minute, they’ll help us.”
“Okay,” I pouted. We sat anxiously on the living room couch until we heard the front door open. Mom entered first, followed closely by Aunt Sharon.
“Mom!” I cried, bolting upright. Mom walked hurriedly down the hallway toward her bedroom, carrying groceries and Christmas presents in opaque plastic bags.
“Hang your horses, Honey. Momma’s got some super-secret stuff to put away really quick,” my mom said. Aunt Sharon smiled at my sister and me and headed to the restroom. I glanced nervously over at my sister, whose expression matched mine. I heard Mom’s door open again and she hurried off to the kitchen. My sister and I followed her there.
“Hey, um… Mom?” my sister began slowly.
“Hey! You girls put the chicken out. Thank you!” Mom interrupted. She turned the dial on the oven to preheat. She opened some cupboards, pulling out various spices and flour. She opened the refrigerator and grabbed an egg carton. “What’s up, kiddos?”
“We’re playing hide and seek,” I said.
“We can’t find Jamie anywhere!” my sister burst out. She was shifting uneasily, rubbing her hands repeatedly.
“Did you check the hall closet?” asked Mom.
“That’s where I was hiding,” I whined. “We’ve looked everywhere!”
“Well, not everywhere,” Mom laughed. “Sharon and I will help you two girls out. If we really can’t find him, we’ll regroup in the kitchen in ten minutes!” Mom walked off to find Sharon, leaving my sister and me behind.
“She doesn’t think we looked hard enough. I really don’t know where he could be,” my sister sighed. We sulked back to the living room and slumped on the couch to leave the seeking to the grown-ups. Almost twenty minutes had gone by.
“Girls! Meet us in the kitchen!” I heard my mom shout from across the house. My sister and I exchanged worried glances and rushed to the kitchen. We got there first.
“Ew, what is that smell?” I said, waving the air around my face. My sister turned around. Black smoke was starting to seep through the top of the oven.
“Ugh. Mom! You burned the chicken!” my sister cried. I heard frantic footsteps until my mom and aunt appeared at the kitchen entryway. Both of their eyes were wide. My aunt collapsed to her knees and screamed. I turned around. The chicken was still on the counter.
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