Copyright is held by the author.
ON THE fifth round of Hide and Seek, that’s when Davey found it — a secret room at the end of a long, sloped closet. The closet was in the room where five-year-old Davey and his six-year-old sister Carli shared a bunk bed. If you only looked in the closet, dark and jumbled, you couldn’t see the room. But the darkness had been there all along, waiting.
The four Duvernay children were running out of good places to hide. Ten-year-old Adam was It now, and Davey was in a panic — that’s why he clambered over boots and shoes and boxes and bags in a headlong rush to get right to the back — and then had found the sharp right turn that led immediately to a room.
Davey lay down, right at its entrance because he didn’t dare to go further into the dusty blackness. He stayed at its opening, right where it joined with the closet, his eyes straining against the darkness and his heart pounding as he watched the sliver of light from the closet grow suddenly larger. Then a screeeeech — the metal coat-hangers against a metal rod, as Adam pushed against the clothes.
Davey’s heart pounded double time. Clunk, rattle, boof — that big boy was trampling the boxes and bags like an ogre, moving toward Davey, forcing him to wiggle ever so slowly right into the room.
Adam yelled, “Hello? I see you! Hello?” Davey froze and Adam’s triumphal tone switched to a disgusted, weary tone. “Nah . . . nobody here.”
Then came the waiting. Cheek on floor, he strained to hear the progress of Adamosaurus rex throughout the Duvernays’ old ramshackle house. “Ours is the oldest house on the block,” Dad had said, “with additions and renovations all over.” Davey knew about addition and subtraction, from Carli’s number book, and he could hardly wait to learn about renovation. But right now, he was simply lying in the dark, listening for Adam to find Becky and Carli. His heart returned to normal speed as he thought about numbers and games, and how strange it was, at home playing Hide and Seek five days in a row now. It had something to do with Panda Mick, a giant monster stomping and sneezing its way around the world.
Stay inside, Mom and Dad had said. “That’s all they’re asking, children; we must keep ourselves safe by staying inside.” No school, no dance practice, no soccer games, no piano lessons. Yay, all the children said, except Davey, who adored his kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kostinuk.
“Also, no birthday parties, no play dates, no wave pool,” Mom had said. Wah, the children cried, all except Davey, who hadn’t got the hang of parties yet and definitely did not like the wave pool because he had almost drowned. Maybe that had been Panda Mick too, making waves too big for small people.
So, the children stayed home. They built a Lego town with Dinky cars to drive among the streets and made the very smallest dollies live inside the chunky buildings. Later they made stores and houses from cardboard boxes for the stuffed animals and big dolls. Another day Adam cut armholes and fringes on brown cloth to make a jacket for his cowboy doll. They all took pieces of cloth and cut armholes and fringes and only stopped when Carli sneaked away with Mom’s silk scarf. Mom yelled, and Dad said, “I’ll buy you a new one,” and then Mom laughed. “What’s come over me? It’s just a stupid scarf,” and then everybody laughed. Except Carli, who didn’t like her Princess doll wearing anything called “stupid.”
So that’s what staying inside was. Dad was nicer than usual and Mom was … not. Becky called her “unpredictable,” a word that Davey didn’t know but would ask Ms. Kostinuk about — as soon as school started again.
In this way, the week inside had passed with only a quarrel or a tantrum once in a while. If things got too loud, Mom stepped out of the war room and interfered. Davey did not know what war she was fighting, but he never saw guns or bombs. Mom was doing her outside job while at home, Dad had explained. “Supply chain management for drugstores,” he said, and that’s why she had two phones and three computers and zero kids in her war room.
And now Davey heard Dad’s worried voice, heard the ringing of the cowbell. “Davey! Hide and Seek is over! Davey, come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Adam’s sulky voice said, “I give up, you win.”
“Yeah, Davey, you win,” Becky called.
Davey burst into tears. How wonderful. He had never, ever won Hide and Seek. He barrelled out of the closet and ran downstairs, whooping.
Carli saw him first. “Dirty Davey!”
“You went outside,” Adam said accusingly. “You broke the rules.”
“Did too — you’re filthy.”
“No,” said Davey. “I was in the long closet in my bedroom.”
“I looked there.”
“Well, you didn’t look hard enough,” Davey said, crossing his arms.
“Shut up!” Adam’s face was red.
“Children, please,” Dad said. “None of that disrespect.” He was not yelling. You did not want to get Dad yelling, so all the children fell silent.
Becky tentatively stepped forward. “But look how dirty he is,” she said, “he must’ve been running between the mud room and the long closet.”
Oooh, everyone said. They thought Davey was now a sophisticated player of Hide and Seek, one who would change position while It noisily hunted them down. Davey grinned.
“Whatever this young man’s secret,” Dad said, “we need to call a bath time.”
Yay, the children said, because they loved bath time, when Dad turned the bathroom heater on high and set up the Sharon, Lois & Bram music and put in bubbles. Everyone except Davey, that is, who still remembered his terror in the wave pool.
“No-o-o,” he wailed. One tear after another squeezed from his eyes, making tracks in the grime of his face, and snot streamed from his nose.
Dad crouched beside him, his soccer coach position, and took the little boy’s shoulder. “Davey, Davey — whatever has become of you?” he said gently. “Look at this wonderful shower attachment… you just sit in the empty tub, and I’ll sprinkle this over all the dirty parts and then you’re done.” With the shower attachment he dribbled warm water over Davey’s right hand.
Davey remembered Ms. Kostinuk saying, “Shh-shh-shh,” and then: “Sh-showers in April give us flowers in May.” Davey took his clothes off and let Dad help him into the big old tub.
“Daddy, why do bathtubs have clawed feet?”
“In olden times the bathtubs roamed wild and flew over the ocean,” Dad said, wetting a facecloth for Davey’s face. “With their great talons they scooped up tubs full of fish. But they got too heavy to fly. The creator told them they would have to trade their wings for shelter. So now bathtubs live in houses.”
“Tubs don’t have wings, Daddy!” Davey chuckled.
“And that’s why: they traded them in — to be safe in houses.”
That night, for a change, Mom read the bedtime story. Afterward, Davey said, “How is Panda Mick?”
“We’re keeping him under control,” Mom said, kissing his head. “Don’t you worry.”
After lights-out, Davey and Carli whispered bunk-to-bunk. He was bursting to share his secret and could stand it no longer. “Carli, I have a super-super-super-great secret. I found a secret room!”
“Show me tomorrow.” She yawned.
“We need a flashlight.”
“I can get one . . . tomorrow.”
“Also — you saw me — it’s dirty.”
Long pause. Another yawn. “We can find a cleaning rag in the mud room.”
“It will become our secret clubhouse!”
Carli made the sound of a soft snore.
The next day was supposed to be marathon Snakes and Ladders but the older two children grew immediately suspicious when the younger two ran off on their own. Becky and Adam could hear their voices and followed the trail of flattened things in the long closet. “Ve arr kommink to get you, bwa-ha-ha-ha-hah,” Adam growled, lurching about like a zombie.
The little ones squealed and soon all four of them were in the not-so-secret room, a clubhouse now, sitting on the floor around an old trunk, atop which they put a flashlight. The place smelled of window cleaning solution, because that’s all Carli could find. Unanimously they voted for snacks, and soon they were sloshing bowls of Cheerios and milk over the flattened things in the closet.
“Why is this secret room here?” Carli wondered.
“Hiding Jews from Nazis,” Becky said. Her class had studied Ann Frank.
Adam laughed. “We’re not in Europe, silly.”
“So? Why else have a secret room?”
“Do you think Mommy and Daddy know about this room?” Carli asked.
“Of course not,” Becky said. “Otherwise, they’d fill it with stuff.”
“Stuff, stuff, and more stuff,” chanted Davey.
“Hey, I know a spooky story,” Becky said, grabbing the flashlight and holding it under her chin. It made her look fearsome and Davey had to look away. She began a rambling story about a werewolf that howled and village that panicked when babies got eaten. Carli’s hand sneaked over to Adam on one side and Davey on the other, who slapped it away. He needed both hands to cover his ears when Becky howled like a wolf.
“Stop it,” Adam said. “Carli, get away! Don’t climb on me.”
“I’m — so — scared!”
“Be like Davey! He’s brave!”
Becky angled the flashlight beam at her siblings. Adam was pushing Carli off his lap. Davey, sitting cross-legged, had his hands clamped over his ears. He pulled them away and his face crumpled in dismay. The others were talking about him . . . mocking him!
“I give up,” Becky yelled. She jumped up and ran out of the secret room — carrying the flashlight, forcing everyone else to fumble their way out in darkness. The two younger children lost their sense of direction and were trapped in the room — only for a moment, but it seemed an hour of terror to them. By now Davey was crying, too.
Dad stood at the newel post on first floor, listening. “What. Is. Going. On?” he said, tromping upstairs.
He looked at his offspring. Adam rubbed a wet spot on his knee, muttering, “Carli peed on me. Gross!” Becky looked angelic. Carli and Davey, faces damp, squeezed their favourite teddy bears.
“What’s going on?” Dad repeated, his gaze lingering on Becky.
“Nothing,” Davey said in a small voice.
“My story got too scary for them.” Becky beamed.
“Is that all.” Dad crouched down among the children. “Look, guys. You mother needs peace and quiet to do her work. The country needs her. We need to help her.” His eyes travelled from face to face.
Davey liked his dad’s voice. It sounded just like his reading voice, like this was a bedtime story. Dad kept talking about Panda Mick and how “everyone in the country, even your best-est buddies, has to stay home, stay inside, stay safe.” Carli went to Dad and hugged his arm. Adam looked amused. Becky still looked smug.
After lunch (grilled cheese, tomato soup) the children painted happily. But something felt different between them, a shifting of alliances. Normally a younger child paired with an older one, so Davey paired with either Becky or Adam but never Carli when the children played Go-Fish or sang rounds or did twosies on Mario Kart. But today during painting, Carli and Davey worked on a picture together. Monkeys on an island were throwing coconuts at Panda Mick, who was in the ocean, making big waves. Becky leaned over, started painting horses on the island, and got shooed away.
“I don’t care,” Becky said, rinsing her brush. “It’s time for Hide and Seek — and it’s my turn to be It.”
Soon the pictures were abandoned and Becky, blindfolded, stood beside Dad’s work easel for the count-down. (This was to ensure no cheating.) The children ran off. Carli and Davey had the same idea: the secret room, but only Carli thought to bring a flashlight so they wouldn’t be scared. In the secret room they saw first of all their cereal bowls, left helter-skelter on the floor and trunk, from yesterday.
They heard Becky’s muffled roar: “Ready or not, here I co-ome!”
“Oh no, she’s coming here first!” Carli whispered.
Davey said, “I changed my mind — ”
“Quiet! Be quiet!”
“ — I wanna hide under the bed.”
“Here’s the trunk. Let’s — unh, I can’t lift this — can you?” Carli put the flashlight on the floor with a klunk.
“You hurt my feelings,” he said.
“Shh. Help me open this, Davey. It’s our only chance. Let’s hide where she’ll never find us. Don’t you want to win against old Bossypants?”
He nodded solemnly. “But she knows about the secret room . . .”
“Yes. But nobody notices the trunk, do they?”
Davey looked at the cereal bowls. The flashlight made them look like shells of ancient sea creatures.
“Come on, I’ve got a super plan,” she said and she showed Davey where to push on the lid of the trunk. She stuck the flashlight in her waistband, making a whirl of shadows.
The pair heaved once! twice! thrice! on the lid. They climbed inside but couldn’t close the lid. They climbed out and lifted the lid so that it teetered, vertical, and then they climbed back inside. The lid slammed shut with a BOOM — a dead giveaway, except that Becky was busy far away in the pantry finding Adam, who was hiding behind a wall of bulk toilet paper.
The little ones snuggled close in the trunk, arms around each other, the flashlight starting to dim. How very very safe they felt from sulky Adam and smug Becky and Panda Mick and all the other nasties out there. Stay home, stay inside, stay safe, their parents had said.
And that is where the family found their limp bodies four hours later.