They’ll go away if they don’t know we’re here.
They played it as children, hiding under the covers as Mom or Dad sought them out, calling for their Precious, their Sweetness, their Little Ones, their voices haggard and ancient sounding, though the parents were young. They giggled and shivered as the heavy footsteps of Dad or the soft swishing sound of Mom’s slippers entered the room.
Shhh… one of them would give the quiet down sound with a finger to his or her lips and the others would do their best to hush the giggles and whispers. They would wait. Anticipation was the greatest monster, not knowing when Dad or Mom would spring their tickling fingers on their small bodies.
Then… silence. They tensed, shoulders knotting, legs folded up to their chests, hands on their chins or over their mouths. From outside the blankets Mom or Dad would scurry away, mumbling about finding someone to eat, their steps intentionally heavy to give them the false security that the parent had left the room.
“They’re gone,” one would whisper.
“No, they’re not,” another countered.
“No. They’ll get you.”
One, the youngest of the bunch usually, stretched their legs out and tugged on the edges of the cover at their heads. It pulled down just enough so the eyes could peer from beneath the childish force field.
Nothing. No one. Not Mom. Not Dad.
“No, they’re not.”
“Yes they are.”
They grew loud, until all of them had their heads from beneath the cover.
“See, I told yah.” It always came out ‘tolcha.’
The growl from Dad or the almost scream from Mom would send them into hysterics as the parent jumped from their hiding spot at the end of the bed and onto them, fingers poking flesh, searched for the soft spots beneath armpits and on bellies… There was laughter and squeals of delight before they would run off… run off to hide somewhere else before returning to beneath the covers. But one was always caught… always caught…
It had been years since they played.
Back home beckoned and they went, three of them: The two girls youngest and oldest, the boy sandwiched in the middle of births. Mom and Dad were no longer there, the linens of death draped over them and awaiting burial. And they reminisced…
“Do you remember the game?” the youngest asked.
Frowns from the other two.
“It wasn’t a game. It was never a game,” the grown boy said.
Night fell and sleep tapped on their shoulders. They went to their rooms where childhood wonders and dreams forever remained, forever reminded them of the way they were, of the ones…
Eyes opened, hearts sped up as sleep washed away, taking with it the dreams of the slumbering. Impossible. That wasn’t real. Just a dream.
“Where is my Sweetness? Where is my supper?”
Mouths went dry in the darkness of each room. “Daddy?” one of them whispered and stared at the door, a light from the hall shining from beneath. She stood, reached the door, stopped. The gentle swish-swish of Mom’s slippers echoed from down the hall. Her heart tripped, tripped, tripped and her mind stilled. A shaking hand gripped the knob, turned and opened the door.
The hall light was a small plug-in that sat in its center, always there when they were kids, always shining a way to the bathroom or… to one of the others’ rooms.
She hurried to the room next door, knocked, called the older sister’s name. “Can I come in?”
“Oh Little Ones.”
Her flesh prickled, the chill touched her neck and went down to her tailbone. She shoved the door opened as a shadow fell over her. She ran across the cold floor and to the bed where sister and brother lay, huddled under the covers.
“Did you hear that?”
“Yes,” in unison, they answered.
“It’s impossible, isn’t it?”
“They’re dead,” the male answered, his voice much like the boy he used to be, not the man he was.
“Where is my Precious?” the haggard tone was different, still Dad’s, but more rustic, more desperate, hungrier than ever before.
They slipped their heads beneath the blankets, adult siblings suddenly children again. This time there was no laughter. They shook, but not from anticipation of joyous tickles from Mom and Dad, but of trepidation of what lingered beyond the door; of what called to them; of a truth they always knew.
The door opened, a silent push inward that changed the air of the room. The swish-swish of Mom’s slippers was joined by the heavy thuds of Dad’s boots.
“Oh Little Ones,” they called. “Where are our Little Ones. We’re so hungry.”
They lay silent in the bed, tears in their eyes, knees pulled up, hands over mouths. A tug on the blanket at the foot of the bed caused them to suck in hot air. The youngest one pulled her feet in, fought back the urge to scream.
Mom’s slippers faded down the hall. Dad’s boots followed. The door closed.
“Are they gone?” one whispered.
“No,” the boy said, a tremble in his voice.
“Should we look?”
“No,” the other two snapped.
She reached for the top of the cover anyway, fingers prepared to relieve the heat of the cocoon they lay in. Just a peek. One little peek…
“My Dear Precious,” the voice came, close, so close. The boots were back. The slippers were there. From somewhere beyond the covers something released a heavy breath.
Her fingers stiffened and her heart lifted into her throat. Warmth spread from her bladder, soaked the mattress.
Again, the sound of footsteps led away and down the hall, the door closed with a soft click.
“Do you remember?” one of them asked.
“Very much so.”
“Do you still wish to look?” the boy asked.
“No,” she said. “Never again.”