I guess there comes a time in most people’s lives when they are over-whelmed with a sense of nostalgia and seek to reclaim their youth in some way or another. That time came for me when I was in high school. I guess I need to elaborate a bit on this because that seems like an awfully young age for such sentiments. You see, I was a sickly child. I spent a long time confined to a hospital bed, watching other children play their games. In all honesty, I was a little jealous that I never had that experience so I guess that is why I tried to capture that ephemeral nostalgia one night with my friends.
I want to say we were all sophomores or juniors in high school at that time. I had a fairly tight-knit group of friends. We did almost everything together. We hung out, studied, and even experimented a bit (Mainly with certain substances and sexually.) with each other. I think it was that unity and bond that gave me the courage to even propose my childish idea.
We were hanging out in the depths of my old neighborhood. That was the ideal place for teenagers like us because a construction company was building a series of houses to try and sell to new families at inflated prices. They were early in their construction so the houses were bare-bones built and lacking any of the real accommodations essential for any typical house. This was the perfect hideout to drink, smoke, and generally get up to no good. The construction company put large keypad locks on the door, but most hadn't even been locked up properly so sneaking in was a simple task.
Like I said, we were hanging out in one of these soon-to-be neighborhoods one night. We were passing a joint between all of us and trying to wax philosophical. Joining me on this outing were three of my close friends. It was my best-friend, Brian, Sarah, Kacie, the girl who I had a crush on, and me. We tried to talk intelligently, but looking back our ideas were anything but sophisticated. Sarah was complaining that there wasn't anything to do out here and it was then that I decided to take the risk and suggest we play hide-and-seek.
They balked at the idea as childish, but the addition of a few simple rules spiced things up enough. I set the rules as follows: everyone seeks and one person hides. The first person to find the hider, gets to ask them three questions. The last person to find the hider, has to answer three personal questions. We would all draw lots with matches and separate so the others could hide in secrecy. The person with the already-lit-and-extinguished match would be the hider. I, of course was being duplicitous and made sure Kacie drew the dud match. I wanted the opportunity to have some alone time with her and get to know her better. I think I did it that way to hide my childish infatuation with her, but I was fearful of being called out on it.
They were hesitant at first, but their reluctance melted away after we finished up the joint. I put the matches in my hand with the one extinguished one pointing out at Kacie. We drew and split apart with the intention of beginning the game after five minutes, giving the hider sufficient time to choose to hide in one of the three partially constructed houses on the block. It was late, but we weren't in any hurry to get home. We had a system where we called our parents and told them we were staying out with a different friend and then would meet up to hang out and get into teenage shenanigans.
We all discretely looked at our lots, I was a seeker and I assumed Kacie was the one who had to hide. We all split apart so we wouldn't know where the hider was going, but I had a pretty good idea. When we arrived at the under-construction neighborhood, Kacie had taken a liking to the last house on the lane. I mentioned that I knew it was unlocked and we could probably explore it later. We never did find the time to do that so I knew that she would probably feel drawn to check out the house while looking for a hiding spot.
I waited five minutes before heading to the last house on the lane. The keypad lock hadn't been engaged which made opening the door simple. I was lucky that the moon was so bright that night and illuminated my way otherwise I would have tripped walking up to the house. The construction company hadn't even put in streetlights yet and it gave the small neighborhood an eerie feeling to it. I opened the door and stared into the obsidian abyss that yawned before me. I won’t lie, the dark did put me on edge, but my desire to get closer to Kacie drove me forward.
I walked around the kitchen, but found no one there. My shoes thudded on the floor that hadn't had the carpet laid out yet. I searched the first floor, but had no luck. I was beginning to wonder if I could even find her in the darkness. The windows had been set, but were covered in particleboard to prevent animals from sneaking in and setting up residence. I went upstairs with my hand running along the wall to steady myself since there wasn't even a banister built in yet. I remember thinking to myself that this house was a deathtrap with its exposed wiring, lack of banisters, and sheets of plywood lying around.
The master bedroom was empty, but just as I was about to give up hope of finding her, I heard the floor creak as someone moved around in the room next to the bedroom. I followed the sound and as I strained my eyes in the darkness, I could see someone sitting in the middle of the unfurnished room. My heart started to beat in a rapid staccato. I had found her!
I sat down a few feet away and loudly proclaimed, “I found you! So I get to ask three questions.”
She started at the sound of my voice, but seemed to calm down as I continued talking. I was so eager and looking back I also realize how stupid I was being. You know what people say, hormones are the strongest mind-altering drug on the planet. There was only one way to make sure it was Kacie and not Sarah.
I asked, “Have you ever had sex?”
There was a pause that I chalked up to a little bit of embarrassment. I asked this question because I knew from talking to Brian that Sarah was not a virgin and I knew that Kacie was from a late night drunken conversation with Sarah in which she revealed a lot more than she should have about her friends.
She answered, “No.”
Now I was certain that I was talking to Kacie and not Sarah. The voice gave away that much.
To be completely honest, my bravado had driven me this far forward, but couldn't carry me past the next threshold. Truthfully, I am glad I chickened out on my next question. My next question was going to be, “Do you want to have sex?” (Once again, hormones.) I didn't ask that boorish question, in fact in that moment, my mind completely blanked and all I could think of was Kacie's sun-kissed hair or the way her smile sent a spark through me and made my heart beat so fast I was worried that it would burst through my chest.
We sat there in silence for a few moments as I tried to think of something to say to her. I kicked myself mentally, worrying that I was going to appear awkward to her. I would only get one opportunity to impress her and if I blew it, any chance I had with her would be ruined.
I finally managed to choke out, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to-”
I was interrupted by her slowly sliding across the floor until we were just inches away. If I thought my heart was beating fast when I first saw her, now it was a jackhammer in my chest. She wanted to get closer to me. Was she attracted to me, did she feel the same way I felt?
Her action practically stole the words right not of my mouth. I couldn't say anything. I couldn't think straight. I became aware of a sound that was quiet at first, but had grown as she had gotten closer to me. It was the sound of her breathing. Her breath came out in quick, shallow puffs. Like she had just finished running a lap around the neighborhood. It almost sounded, sexual. Then again, to my mind back then, almost any stimuli could be perceived as being sexual in nature. (Goddamn hormones!) I wasn't sure what was going on, but I don’t think I really cared.
I decided to make a move. I slid my hand from off my lap and moved it to hers. I wrapped my hands around hers and held it. It was warm to the touch, a little bit sweaty, but I’m sure my hands were no better. Her breathing hitched as soon my hand touched hers. My heart practically exploded out of my chest and rocketed through the heavens in that moment. For a long time, I considered this as one of the most romantic gestures in my life, until I proposed and got married; holding hands in the darkness listening to the sounds of our breathing intermingled.
I decided to go for it. I slowly leaned into the darkness where I could see her form. I was going to kiss her, the girl I had pined for, for almost two years! Her breath smelled sickly sweet, kind of like really sugary honey. I mentally wondered what mine smelled like. I silently prayed that it didn't smell gross. She picked up my oh-so-subtle signal and leaned forward to kiss me. Our lips were inches aware and I was seconds away from nirvana when Sarah tromped into the room.
I mentally rattled off a series of curses and invectives that would have made a sailor blush.
She said, “What are you guys doing? I found Brian like fifteen minutes ago.”
That set of a klaxon of alarm bells in my head, but I couldn't quite figure out why at the time.
Sarah shifted her weight and although I couldn't see it in the darkness, I was sure she had just raised her eyebrow.
“What have you two been getting into while we were playing your kid’s game? I understand, but don’t make us jump through hoops and send me off tromping around in the dark looking for Brian while you two canoodle.”
I asked, dumbfounded, “Brian was the one hiding?”
Sarah nodded and answered, “He was sitting out behind a house. He’s horrible at hiding. We got bored and decided to look for you two.”
Something wasn't right. I had found Kacie sitting in this room. If she wasn't the hider, why was she sitting up here? I started to feel a cold sweat forming on my skin. Something was definitely wrong here.
Brian was the final straw. He stepped into the darkness and I recognized his voice. He had a way of talking that made anything he said come out in a resounding and booming tone.
His voice reverberated, “Did you find him Sarah? I found Kacie-”
His voice died out as I finally managed to voice the second question that I should have asked at the very beginning, “Do I know you?”
The voice softly replied, “No.” but the word was so pregnant with emotions that a shiver rattled throughout my body.
Kacie wasn't in the room with us. She was outside the house, whose hand was I holding? With my free hand, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the matches we used for drawing lots. It felt like my lungs were in a vice, I couldn't breath. I dragged the match along the floor and it ignited. The little flame was sufficient to light up the form beside me. Sarah shrieked and Brian practically threw himself out of the room in fright. I jerked my hand free and accidentally extinguished the light after our short, terror-filled look at the thing.
In later conversations I had with Brian and Sarah, it seemed like we all saw something different in that transitory moment. Sarah swore she saw a malformed woman that was reminiscent of thalidomide children with bent, twisted limbs and fused fingers. Brian saw an ancient and decrepit woman with pendulous breasts and mottled graying skin. What I saw gave me nightmares for weeks afterward. I saw what looked like a woman. Her jaw was twisted open like it had been dislocated. It was open so wide that it looked like she could fit my entire head into her cavernous maw. I’m not sure if it was like that in preparation for our kiss or what. Her fingers had extra joints and seemed unnaturally long and bony. She was gaunt, pale, and her hair mangy hair hung around her head like a bird’s nest made of dead twigs.
We all fled the house. In my attempt to escape, I ran into the door frame and gave myself such a terrible bruise that I had to spend the next day icing and wondering if I had broken my collarbone. We flew from that house like banshees from hell. Kacie didn't believe our story, but to be honest, I didn't care whether she believed us or not. I know what I saw and what I saw horrified me.
Years have passed since that day. I graduated, settled down with a nice girl, (Kacie and I drifted apart in the later years of high school.) and moved into a nice house. The story drifted to the back of my mind and was washed away in the ebb and flow of day-to-day life. These memories re-emerged to the forefront of my mind like a raging tidal wave by the simplest of things, a power outage.
My power had just gone out. I sighed at the inconvenience of it all and went down to the basement to find and check the circuit breaker. This was a common enough occurrence due to the faulty wiring of my house that I could find the circuit breaker and flip it with my eyes closed. I didn't even need a flashlight anymore; the motion was so in-grained in my muscle memory.
It was there as I fiddled with the circuit that I became aware of the sound. It was almost inaudible, but it steadily grew as I paused to listen to it. I couldn't identify it at first, but when I finally placed it, the memories flooded back to me. Sitting in the darkness, my hands entwined in that thing’s hand, and my mouth inches away from hers in preparation to kiss her pale skin. It was the sound of breathing other than my own and it sounded shallow and forced like someone enervated. I would have smiled if I wasn't so scared. It almost sounded, sexual.
The voice spoke and my stomach almost bottomed out from dropping to its pit so quickly, “You have one more question to ask me.”
In my basement, I realized that I was no longer the shy boy I once was in the dark of that partially constructed house all those years ago. I had found my voice and I didn't need to think of the words to say. I asked my final question, already knowing the answer.
“Am I going to leave this basement?”
Credited to EmpyrealInvective