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Hide and Seek

July 15, 2012

By Justin Cornille

The hardest part about maintaining a secret society in a small town is that secrets are almost impossible to keep. The Parliament was no exception. It was a secret society only insofar as it was a society that had secrets. Everyone knew it existed, what they did not know, was who they were or where they met. They had taken to hiding their faces in elaborate animal masks at some point. This fact combined with their propensity for running through yards had led on several occasions to reports of werewolves and, on one occasion, to a near shooting.

As important as the masks were to their secrecy the more important part, the part that had afforded them whatever secrecy they had, was the woods. It was old-growth forest. The old hemlocks that grew there often proved more trouble to search than anyone was willing to spend looking for a group of kids. That, along with the fact that the group never met in the same place twice in a row afforded them tremendous secrecy.

Felix stood at the edge of the woods, took a deep breath, and pulled his mask over his head. He had gotten his invitation to join The Parliament two weeks ago. It had been stuffed into his locker, written on thick paper with rough edges. It included a map that, vague as it was, provided just enough information that Felix was certain he could find it. The mask, made from a second hand goalie helmet with the cage removed, encased his entire head and constricted his field of vision and muffled his hearing. The fact that sound could only enter the mask at the sides made it difficult to tell the direction of origin and the new moon made the woods even more dark. Luckily, Loutre was no metropolis and without city lights the stars in the clear sky provided just enough light.

He stepped into the woods and stopped and pulled out his invitation. He looked around and attempted to reconcile his surroundings with the crude map. After what felt like minutes he had made no progress. He found a sturdy tree and began to climb. The hemlocks were not easy to climb the low branches were usually too fragile to support his weight. He was small, but years of gymnastics and wrestling had made him dense. Instead he had learned to climb them by clinging to the trunks and shimmying his way up. Once he was high enough he looked out onto the forest floor. He found what he was looking for, a downed tree and small creek that matched the map perfectly.

After climbing down, feet on the ground, he set off toward the landmark. He walked slowly, and deliberately. He panned his head left and right almost perpetually attempting to make up for his handicapped peripheral vision. The muffled sound made the forest unnaturally quiet. He had never realized how reassuring the sounds had been when he had been in the woods on previous nights. He trudged on though, footsteps falling soft on the ivy covered ground.

As he reached his landmark he sat on the downed tree and took out the invitation. He had just begun to orient the rough map when he heard it. The snap was easy to identify: dry, dead wood. What was not easy to identify was what had made the sound. It was loud. It had to have been to make it through the mask. He sat up listening for the soft rustle of ivy and ground cover to tell him where the sound was coming from. What followed was silence.

Felix stood up and set off again content that it was probably just the wayward step of an animal. He walked a bit farther following the creek towards the spot marked on the map. Behind him he heard a sharp rustling sound, something running through the ground cover. He spun around trying to source the sound. It seemed to run away from him and Felix was more relieved than he cared to admit. He felt sweat form on his forehead under his mask. It was from the heat, he told himself.

The silence fell again. He marveled at how much sound the mask cut out. He looked up at the sky and was surprised at just how far back he had to crane his neck to see the sky. The mask was cutting down on his hearing and sight more than he had anticipated. He inhaled deeply and walked farther towards the spot marked on the map.

It would be so much easier under a full moon. Any moon would have helped. Instead he got whatever starlight could get through the canopy. He was grateful that they weren’t meeting in the deepest part of the woods. That would have been almost impassable. As he lamented the lack of moon he turned his head in the direction of his destination.         Out of the corner of his mask he saw movement. Instinctively he turned to focus on it. it was fast. By the time he was able to focus it in his view it was gone. He laughed at himself for allowing his mind to play tricks on him.

He set off again, faster this time. While before he had been somewhat cautiously walking through the woods he was now jogging. The sight of the wolf mask made him stumble. He regained his footing and stopped. He looked straight at it. It was a hell of a mask. If it hadn’t been so high off the ground it may have looked like a real wolf pup. Instead it was clearly a masked person peering out from behind a tree. The most striking part was the eyes, even in the dim starlight they shone like glass, staring at him. As soon as he took a step toward it, it ducked back behind its tree.

Felix walked over. There was nothing. No person, no mask, no footprints. Felix convinced himself that it was just his mind again. He pulled out the map to check his location. He felt something brush against his shoulder and jumped. He swatted at his shoulder as he danced manically attempting to get away from whatever it was that was touching him. He stopped once he realized that there was nothing on his shoulder.

He panted as he looked around for what had grazed his shoulder. He stopped and shook his head. He tried to clear his thoughts. His attempt was cut short as something grabbed his shoulder again. This time he distinctly felt fingers. They wrapped themselves into his shirt and curled tight into a fist. He twisted and turned as the grip pulled him until his back slammed hard into a tree. He fought but the grip was stronger than he was. Every time he would pull away from the tree it would pull him back. He felt a hand touch his other shoulder and pulled again, hard.

He turned into the grip of the hand on his shoulder and wound up facing the tree. The tree and that mask with its head tilted to the side, glass eyes glinting as it stared into his face. He put one foot up against the trunk and pushed. His kick sent him rolling backwards breaking free of the grasp. He completed his backwards somersault landing on all fours. The mask still stared at him. It didn’t move it just stared.

Its fur looked worse now, matted and dirty. It looked old. Felix straightened himself slightly, turned and ran. He sprinted wind blew through the mask and if it had been difficult to hear before the sound of the wind through the mask made it all but impossible to hear. That was unimportant. What was important was putting distance between himself and whoever was in that mask. Trees flew past him as he sprinted forward.

He ran until each breath stung his lungs. His legs burned with lactic acid. He jumped instinctively over felled brush and tripped over what he couldn’t jump. He would falter, catch himself on his knuckles and force himself upright only to keep running. He slowed when he felt his stomach constrict and his dinner rise into his throat.

He stopped and rested his hands on his knees. His heart beat hard and fast sounding like a bass drum in his head. He had to fight off the panic of not being able to hear as he tried to catch his breath. He reached for his invitation again to check the map. His heart sank as he emptied his pockets and found nothing. He didn’t care where it was or where he had lost it. All he cared about was that it was gone. He looked around. The combination of stress and time of night rendered the woods completely unrecognizable.

He breathed in deep, wrapped his arms around a tree and began climbing. He looked out into the woods for anything familiar, dreading the thought that he might see those shining glass eyes. Instead he saw the warm orange glow of a fire. A tiny voice inside him screamed with the primal joy that only a campfire can provide. He scrambled down the tree. Bark scraped at him as he descended. As he set feet on the ground he heard footsteps.

He spun wildly trying to find the source. When he found it he wished he hadn’t. Trudging slowly toward him was that masked figure. It was too far away for the eyes to shine and Felix was glad of that. He pounded his fists into his thighs, attempting to rouse them for one last burst. He turned in the direction of the fire glow and sprinted again.

Again his lungs burned and his legs ached. He leapt and tripped and staggered. Every time he fell forward he would shoot his arm out almost punching the earth to stay upright. He could see that orange glow getting brighter. Suddenly his legs no longer ached and the breath no longer burned. All that mattered was that fire. He could almost feel its warmth, smell the wood burning. He could feel those eyes shining into his back. He was almost there.

And then he was. He exploded through the tree line into a clearing. In the center was a clearly manmade fire. He stumbled again and this time could not catch himself. His muscles had given everything they had to get him here and now, whatever primal drive had gotten him here had been exhausted and he collapsed. He got as close to the fire as he could and rolled onto his back. He watched that tree line and prayed that those eyes didn’t follow.

His breath came in ragged gasps. He looked up at the sky and closed his eyes. He opened them again after hearing a soft tapping on his mask. In front of his eyes was a rabbit mask. He scrambled backwards. The rabbit rose to his feet and stretched out his arms, “Woah woah woah, It’s ok its ok you’re among friends,” he spread his arms and gestured to the animals around him. There were three others: a fox, an owl, and a bear. Felix continued to scramble backwards. “You’ve made it to session, friend,” said Rabbit. “You can relax,”

Felix looked at them; their masks looked newer, more like his. He slowed and stood. “There’s something out there,” he said.

“That’d be Rhino,” said Rabbit. “We sent him to follow you. We can’t just have someone running around in the woods with nobody knowing where they are now can we? Especially in a,” Rabbit hesitated, “chipmunk mask?” Felix thought about what he was saying. It made sense. Much more sense than a masked killer or a monster in the woods. “Maybe we should have sent Fox after you instead,” Rabbit laughed, “Certain poetry to that, Fox chasing Chipmunk. Oh well, if we had only known what you were going to be,” Rabbit said with a hand flourish. “Oh look, here comes Rhino now!” He pointed at the woods as a hulk of a figure in a rhinoceros mask entered the clearing. He was panting.

“Jesus kid, you are fast. Every time I would get close to you, you’d take off like a shot.” Rhino said. He laughed. “I haven’t seen anyone that fast since Fox. You might be faster.”

Felix looked around. His sense of dread was gradually being replaced by a sense of pride that he had found the session, that they had recognized his animal mask, and that they thought he was so fast. The animals all began welcoming him and offering congratulations. Felix looked them all over and admired their masks. As he looked at the dull eyes of the rhino mask he chided himself for letting his mind get the best of him and took a seat around the fire.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 6, 2012 10:21 pm

    I enjoyed this quite a bit. The only thing I didn’t like was the use of hemlocks. I feel like every writer seems to use hemlocks in the forest setting. Other than that, liked it quite a bit!

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