Ready or not, here I come.
I can still hear my voice, calling out, a bright echo in an archival loop.
Hide and seek was a game we used to play all the time.
At my house. Her house. On the block. In the park. Wherever.
She—whose name has gone from me, though I have superimposed many names over the absence throughout the years—always insisted on being the hider. She refused to seek.
You seek and I’ll hide, she’d always suggest with a vigor that implied novelty.
Okay, I’d always agree, as if for the first time.
I liked seeking. It suited my personality. The way, I imagine, hiding suited hers.
In that respect, there was profound ease and harmony between us.
Yet playing hide and seek with her was not like playing normal hide and seek. What I mean is, the length of time she’d remain hidden grew exponentially with each new game, and it became harder and harder for me to find her. And it didn’t matter where we played. Even if it took place in my house, where I knew every possible place in which she might be hiding, I still couldn’t find her. It got to the point where it always ended the same way, me calling out—I give up I give up I give up (for some reason I had to say it three times)—and then she’d suddenly appear, behind me, or to the side of me, as if out of thin air.
Where were you, I’d ask, and her pat response—A good magician never reveals her secrets—underscored by a mischievous smile.
It was when her hiding grew to impossible lengths, that our game became an altogether different beast.
Hours became days and days became months, and I would be absolved of fear and panic and rage and despair only when she revealed herself.
It has now been twenty-seven years since she last hid and never came out.
I have mostly gone on with my life, but a part of me has always remained behind, seeking her, as if the day she went missing froze us both in time.
My wife has told me that I sometimes cry out in my sleep—I give up I give up I give up—and she asks me what it was I was dreaming. I tell I cannot remember, and I think she believes me.
What would she think, I often wonder, if I told her that I used to play hide and seek with a girl who once hid and never came out again? Would her sympathies lay more with the hider or the seeker?
Even though my wife and I have been married for almost ten years, I don’t know the answer to that question, how she would feel, how it might affect her.
What I do know, or rather have come to learn through the interminable length of haunting, is that a game is not truly over until both parties confirm that it is done.