There were few things as scary as hiding. He’d never even liked the game as a much younger boy. It was even less fun as a matter of life or death.
Who knew if the slightest misstep – common to all the dead people in horror movies – would be the one that gave you away?
He sat in the corner, behind the dilapidated sofa, hand over his mouth to muffle his breathing. He counted to one hundred and then did it again…and again.
No way was he moving. That was the mistake every silly twit made. You figure, “Oh, I’m totally safe.” Then WHAM! Taken out by a screwdriver or a bat or some other awful household item that was totally innocuous until a psycho picked it up.
Not him. No way. He wasn’t going out like that. He’d wait right where he was even if he ended up peeing himself. Better a wet crotch than a severed head.
Just the thought made him dizzy…and instantly triggered the need to pee.
“Ezekiel?” a woman’s voice called from the darkness of the abandoned house.
Hearing his name scared him so much he almost screamed. Every part of him froze in terror. How did she know his name? He hadn’t even heard it in almost a year. Not since his mom went to jail for a crime she didn’t commit.
“Ezekiel…I’m just going to talk. You don’t have to come out. Just listen for a minute.”
Her voice was steady, coming from a fixed place on the first floor of a house that hadn’t been lived in officially for a decade.
As if the lady was a mind-reader, she added, “I’m not going to move. I don’t want to scare you anymore than you already are. I’m not here to hurt you. I wouldn’t.”
There was a muffled thump and it took him a minute to place the sound. The woman must have jumped up to sit on one of the counters in the kitchen.
“I know your mom. I didn’t know about you. If I had, I’d have picked you up the day Cheryl was arrested.”
His chest felt tight as he remembered watching from a hidden panel in their apartment as police officers beat his mother, cuffed her roughly, and planted a bag of drugs on the dining table.
“I visited her yesterday. That’s when she told me about you. She begged me to find you, to protect you, and I promised I would.” It sounded like she was bouncing a rubber ball. “My name is Charlotte but all my friends call me Charlie.”
He thought that was funny since his mom’s friends called her Cherrie. He still didn’t move or respond.
How could he trust her?
“I knew your mom when we were kids. We were in the same home, went to the same schools, and joined the Marines together. Cherrie’s like a sister to me and I understand why she didn’t tell me about you. The people who framed her, the people looking for you now, they want to use you as leverage, Ezekiel. I can’t and won’t let that happen.”
He knew that part was true. He knew exactly why the people his mom closed in on during the months before her arrest had done what they could to silence her.
They meant to kill her the night they busted through the apartment door. Only the appearance of a rookie officer stopped the older cops from shutting her up permanently.
Putting her behind bars bought them some time and kept her out of the game.
Since he was born, his mom was a figure that came and went from his life. He never doubted her love for him and anticipated her visits to the little farm where her great-aunt raised him.
Aunt Moo died when he was eight and Cherrie came to get him that night. They moved a lot and she enrolled him in online school so he didn’t fall behind.
He only ever met one person she worked with and that man died.
“I know you’re afraid, Ezekiel. I understand. You have every right to wonder if I’m telling you the truth.” He heard her jump off the counter and take several steps.
“The only way I can convince you I’m on your side is to kick the cooling corpse of the guy who chased you in here.” There was a muted thud. “This is one of the cops who framed your mom and he got less than he deserved.”
His heart hit a hard gallop.
“I’m going to leave this house and go sit in my car. I’m parked in the covered driveway just beyond the kitchen door. I’ll wait ten minutes for you to come out and get in. If you do, I’m going to take you for a real meal and take you somewhere safe to sleep. If you don’t, I’m going to keep shadowing you and taking out the creeps who try to hurt you.”
He listened to her walk across the kitchen, open the door, and descend the rickety porch steps. Seconds later, he heard a car door open and shut before the engine turned over. He could barely hear Alice in Chains on the radio.
Peeking around the moldy sofa, he saw the edge of a booted foot.
His mom hadn’t raised a dumb kid and he knew he wouldn’t last much longer on his own. Charlie was a gamble but she was the only exit door he had.
Working his way from the corner, he moved along the wall and took in the sight of a bullet through the forehead of a man who’d lived in his nightmares for months.
On the counter was a bright pink rubber ball. He picked it up and tiptoed to the door, staring through the glass at the small sports car idling there.
Charlie sat behind the wheel, tapping her fingers to the music.
Heart racing, breathing in short gasps, he settled his hand over the doorknob. Swallowing hard, he opened it and left his temporary sanctuary that now housed the dead body of a corrupt cop.
Without a word, he slid into the passenger seat and held out the rubber ball. Turning his head, he tried to control his panic.
She had dark hair and pretty green eyes. “How do you feel about burgers and milkshakes?”
Hope flared in his heart. “I like them a lot.”
With a wink, she said, “Good. I bet I can eat more than you.”
© Shayne McClendon
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