It had been a while since I had gone to Bend, Oregon to visit my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. I loved my cousins to death, they were so funny and sweet, unless Andrew, who was my age, fourteen, decided it would be funny to pinch you until you pissed your pants. Ethan wasn't much younger than Andrew and I, he was eleven and smart for his age. Andrew and I would always hold him down and tickle him until he screamed, "Bloody Murder!" My brother Max, who was seven at the time looked up to me so much; and although we didn't always get along, he meant the world to me.
Every time my family and I went to visit them, we played tag in the dark. Now, when we played, it was close to ten PM and being in Bend, it got dark as hell. I always loved it though because the view of the stars was magnificent. My Aunt and Uncle owned a lot of land, about six acres. Part of their land was just fields of green grass where the irrigation worked just fine and other parts were just as barren and dry as the rest of the desert. These dry areas were filled with tall dry grass, rock mounds, bushes, large dead trees and sandy dirt. These areas were always my favorite place to hide.
When we played, we changed the rules up a bit to make the game more fun, which then made it last longer. One person would be the seeker and the rest of us would go and hide. The seeker was armed with a flashlight and a nerf gun. The nerf gun acted as a second way to tag whoever you were chasing. If you couldn't get close enough to tag them, you could try and shoot them and either way, they would be out of the game. But you had to be wise because you were only given three bullets, one for each of the hiders.
The rules for the hiders were that you had twenty seconds to hide. You could choose to sprint as fast as you could to find a place to hide far away, or you could try to hide somewhere close and hope you would be tricky to find if you didn't want to run so far. Once the seeker counted to twenty, the hunt would begin. If the seeker found you, you had the option to try to run back to base where the seeker had counted to twenty, or you could give up and help the seeker find and tag the others. Whoever was found first, would then end up as the next seeker.
I always dressed in black clothes so that I blended in with the night, and I was almost always the last one to be found. My brother and my cousins just wore whatever they were wearing before because it didn't matter to them. Now you see, I was pretty protective over my little brother, so I didn't let him go much further than I did, and I always made him hide where I could still see him. I always dreaded when I was 'it' because I knew I wouldn't be able to know where my brother was at all times. And the fact that I was so protective over him may very well have saved his life.
"One, two, three, four, five, six," I counted loudly so the three boys could hear me. I could hear them running as fast as they could to find a hiding place. "Eighteen, nineteen, twenty!" I finally reached twenty and I sprinted into the dark to find the hiders. I slowed down a little once I had reached the distance I assumed one of them must have stopped and I began searching, shining my flashlight all over the place. "I'm gonna find you," I said in a low tone.
As I shone my flashlight back and forth, I tripped over a pile of rocks. "Shit," a short cut on my knee began bleeding where I had landed on a rock. I got up and brushed my hands on my pant legs, ignoring the blood as I continued to walk. My flashlight landed on a figure that ducked back behind a tree when the light fell upon it. A sly grin ran across my face as I began trotting toward the figure that was a good sixty feet away.
As I neared the tree, a strange feeling came over me. It was one of which I had not felt in a long, long time. I was nervous. I mustered up the courage to let out a meek, "I got ya." I heard the person behind the tree shift slightly, as if they were shrinking into a crouching position. Once I was about five feet away from the tree, I took a deep breath, lowered my gun and held the flashlight in front of me.
The person behind the tree coughed. It sounded like an older person's cough. It ended shortly and abrupt. "Andrew, I know it's you. I heard you and saw you, come out now," I said, silently hoping it really was Andrew. As I touched the tree, I turned and was met with an enormous, ear to ear grin. It was a person, no doubt, but it looked starved. Its bones protruded outwards and its hair was shaggy and long, matted like it had not been cared for in years.
My flashlight shone directly in its face and my eyes were wide. I gulped hard and my breath became short and shallow. It lurched forward, its smile never fading, its eyes never leaving mine. "You got me," it said in a raspy, terrifying voice that made my skin crawl. Goosebumps pricked against my skin as it stood, being slightly taller than me. It was a man, and he wore no clothes.
I heard a snap behind him and my eyes quickly averted to see what was beyond him. Another fifteen or so feet away was my brother, and I could see him even without the flashlight. He looked horrified and fresh tears began to well in my eyes. Who the fuck was this guy? What was he doing here? And even more so, what did he want? He turned slightly to look at my brother, who in turn, looked at the man. The man looked back to me and his grin grew even wider as he said, "And now I am it."
He broke out in crazed laughter and began chasing my brother. My brother screamed as loud as he could and began to run for his life. "Nicole, help me!" he pleaded as he ran. The man went from running on his feet, to running on all fours. I was in too much shock to run. My brother was a very fast runner. Though I was twice his size, he was still able to run faster than me. And the man was catching up to him. Max was running the fastest he had ever run in his life, and hopefully faster than he would ever need to run.
I jolted myself back into reality and I dropped the nerf gun beside me and ran as fast as I could in hot pursuit. "Max-", I screamed, "Don't look back! Run! Just run!" As I looked to my left, I saw Ethan and Andrew running as well. Anger built up inside me as I thought of the man catching my brother. What would happen then? I forced my legs to go faster and my breath became hot and rapid. I could see that my brother was beginning to slow down and that made me run even faster. I jolted myself forward, now only five feet from the mangy man.
He grabbed my brother, and hurling myself into the man, I knocked him down. I watched as my brother picked himself up and ran into the house, slamming the door shut. Shit, I thought. The man was much stronger than I gave him credit for. He lifted me off of his back and slammed me hard into the ground. I let out a small whimper and I brought myself to my feet again. I kicked him hard in the groin and he grimaced. I approached him again and knocked him hard in the temple with my flashlight. He crumpled to the ground and I found myself running again toward the house.
Once I made it into the house, I saw Andrew and Ethan shouting at their mother saying, "Man! Man! Mom, there's a man out there!" I looked to the corner in the living room and found my brother, huddled in a ball.
"Oh Max," I let out a relieved sigh as I threw myself at him. "I'm so glad you're okay. I love you so much. I love you, I love you." I held him tightly, my lips pressed hard against his head. I watched as my Uncle unlocked a safe that held two pistols. He handed one to my Dad and they quickly hurried out the door. I watched out the window as they chased the man, shouting, "Hey! Come back here!" I heard two gunshots and then there was silence.
My brother began to speak and I shushed him, squeezing him tighter against me. My Dad and Uncle came back inside, looking somewhat calmed. "He's dead," my Dad said in a firm tone. I sighed and kissed my brother again, letting him go as I stood. I wiped a tear from my eye and walked into my room. I didn't want to speak to anyone. I was too shaken. I removed my clothes and put on pajamas. I crawled into bed, but no sleep came to whisk me away to Dreamland.
I stayed wide awake that night, staring at the ceiling and thinking of how lucky we were. I thought about the way he smiled, not a smile of happiness, but a smile of true insanity and pleasure. It wasn't until the sun began to rise that I closed my eyes and fell into a light sleep. It wasn't long before I woke at nine. I sat at the bar and asked my Aunt Adrian, "Where's Uncle Dave?" She looked at me and smiled, wiping her hands on a dish towel.
"He's outside, checking on the man." My breath caught but I let it out, remembering that he was dead. Five minutes later, Uncle Dave opened the door, his face white as snow. He set his shovel against the wall and clasped his hands together, taking a long, and deep breath.
"He's not there," Uncle Dave said.
"What do you mean he's not there?" I said, frustration clouding my mind.
"He's not there," Uncle Dave responded again, simply.
That day, my parents packed our bags and piled us all into the car, leaving as fast as possible. I sat next to my brother who had fallen asleep on me and I placed a hand on his head. It was in that moment that I realized how much my brother truly meant to me. What really scared me though, was the look on my Uncle's face. It was a face that plainly stated, "He's still out there. He's not dead." I kept finding myself thinking back to the same thought. "There were only four of us out there," I muttered under my breath.