During Our Annual Village Fair, Our Entire Community Gets Together for a Game of Hide-And-Seek

By everyone, I mean everyone: from the youngest members, toddlers and babies still held by their mothers, to the oldest, those needing walkers and wheelchairs.

These games have been held for as long as I can remember, and probably have been much, much longer. It’s tradition, so to speak, an old one.

Ours is a remote community. A small village, nestled between various forests and almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world. We rarely get visitors from outside, and whoever does never stays for long.

I guess we’re seen as a peculiar kind of people, one that’s a bit backwards.

When I was a child, I loved nothing more than these games of hide-and-seek. I would always look forward to this big event that everyone would play together.

Even as a child, though, I wondered why certain people were there.

Mrs. Meier, our first grade teacher, was a ghastly old lady who didn’t seem to know the word ‘play’ existed. Yet there she was.

I even remembered old eighty-seven-year-old Mrs. Ritter joining in on the fun after her accident. How she’d even be able to find a hiding place, wheelchair-bound as she was, was anyone’s guess. And it seemed, a year later, she’d realized she was a tad bit too old for it after all. For I never saw her at our annual game of hide-and-seek ever again.

What was fun as a boy, however, grew boring, even annoying the older I got. As a teenager, I’d long since grown tired of it. Traditions be damned, I thought.

Yet dad made sure I was always there, even if he had to drag me out of bed. Even worse, he’d always mention mom and how she would’ve wanted nothing more than for me to take part in the annual game of hide-and-seek. I hated it, and I hated him for exploiting her death in this way.

Whenever I complained about it, whenever I asked why we’d all have to do it, the only answer I ever got was that it was tradition. Yeah, a dumb, old, useless tradition. Why couldn’t we just enjoy the fair? Instead, we’d all have to go through this stupid ordeal on the morning of the second day…

What made it even worse, the event was always the same.

At first, the rules of the game were explained. They, too, were the same every year. A seeker would be chosen by drawing lots.

The seeker was never a child, never a teenager, and never one of the old people. No, it was always an adult. Each year, all the kids would beg to be made the seeker, but of course, they were never allowed.

This seeker would then count down for one minute, and during that time, everyone would have to find a hiding place on the fairgrounds.

Any place else was off-limits, and should you be caught having snuck off, you’d be in serious trouble. One of my friends once tried, and that alone landed him being grounded for the rest of the year. Why? I guess he went against that stupid tradition everyone was so obsessed with.

There was one difference compared to traditional games of hide-and-seek. The game always ended when the seeker had found a single person.

Today was another glorious day of hide-and-seek, but today, things were different for a variety of reasons.

First, I was a teenager now, and as a teenager, I learned that a village fair was about more than raffles and games. No, it was about dancing, and most of all, drinking.

Being the over-enthusiastic type I was, I got drunk, seriously drunk. So drunk, in fact, some of my friends had to escort me home. I knew fairly well what tradition would force me to do came morning, but I couldn’t have cared less. Or maybe I did care after all, and that’s why I got as drunk as I did. I don’t even remember.

When dad woke me up at eight in the morning, I was hungover. My entire body felt like shit, and I was suffering from a splitting headache.

Lying in bed, I groaned and just stared at him for a few seconds.

“Yeah, dad, sorry, but not this year. I feel like shit. Can’t you guys just do it without me for once?”

Of course, that didn’t work. The moment he’d heard my words, his face grew dark.

“Dammit, Daniel, you knew fair well what day today is, and you still… Just get the hell out of bed and get ready!”

I was about to protest once more, but he cut me off before I could so much as usher a word.

“Now, Daniel!”

With him still standing in the door, and under his stern eyes, I got dressed before I trudged after him.

As we made our way to the fair, I heard him mumble and curse to himself behind me. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I knew it was about me. To be honest, I thought about skipping out more than once, and to just run home and go back to bed. But I knew that wouldn’t fly, not with him watching over me.

And so, we finally arrived at the center of the fairgrounds. As every other year before, all the village’s inhabitants were already there.

Kids were racing around laughing, excited about the coming game of hide-and-seek. Many of my friends, other teenagers, looked as uninterested as I was. For a moment, I watched some of the older people. Their eyes were tired, their expressions worried. Why’d we all have to go through with this? God, it was so damn stupid.

Even now, I still felt sick to my stomach, and after a while, I wasn’t even able to stand anymore. Instead, I set down on the ground, right there, in the grass. I couldn’t wait for this entire stupid ordeal to be over.

Then I got another idea. Fuck it, I told myself, I’d stay right here. The damned game was always over as soon as a single person was found. So if I’d simply stay here, that was it. Game over. Then I could just go back home and catch some much needed rest.

Once again, the rules were reiterated before it came to decide who today’s seeker would be.

As every year before, all the adults stepped forward, and one by one, picked their lot. To my surprise, it was dad who’d be today’s seeker.

When I saw his expression, I couldn’t help but laugh. He looked so lost, so confused, even frustrated.

Then he noticed me just sitting there, relaxing on the grass, and hurried over to me.

“What do you think you’re doing, Daniel? Get a freaking move on, for Christ’s sake!”

“Why can’t I just stay here? Then I’ll be the first person you find and the game is-“

“God dammit, Daniel!” he cut me off, snapping at me.

The moment he’d heard my words, all the color had drained from his face. His eyes were wide and his mouth was quivering. He opened it again as if to explain something to me, but then closed it and pulled me to my feet.

“I dare you son, you find yourself a hiding place right now, or…”

He was out of it, desperate even. He wasn’t screaming at me. No, he was pleading with me. I’d never seen him like this before, never, not even after mom had died.

I was confused, anxious even, and without knowing why, I nodded and set out.

Then dad returned to his position in the center, closed his eyes and started counting.

I listened to his voice. I watched as everyone, old and young, darted away. For the first time, I realized how surreal this entire situation was.

I’d witnessed it so many times, but only now did I really think about it.

Why’d dad act like that? Why’d he freak out?

Then, I wondered about something else. What happened when you were found?

I didn’t know. Neither I nor any of my friends had ever been found. No, I couldn’t recall anyone who’d ever been found. Suddenly, a cold shower went down my spine.

I stumbled on, hungover as I was, and realized that the minute was almost up. As the last seconds ticked by, my eyes darted around. On a whim, I rushed to a nearby stall, pushed myself behind a few old planks and tried my best to stay hidden.

From where I was, I heard dad announce that time was up, and he was now coming. His voice was shrill, so different from his usual deep one.

I saw him scanning the area nearby. Then he set out. With quick steps, he checked if someone was hiding between a few nearby trees before he swept through a couple of bushes. No one was there. Then he continued on, checking one of the nearby stalls, the one opposite me. I sat there, as quiet as I could, not daring to breathe.

For an entire minute, I watched as he desperately rummaged through the stall before he moved on to the next one. Why was he in such a hurry? Why was he taking this dumb thing so seriously?

At that moment, I saw someone else nearby. It was behind the stall dad was now approaching. Someone was hiding, or rather, sat slumped against its wall. It was Terrance Mueller, our very own resident drunk.

Until a year ago, Terrance had been a proud member of our community, a good worker. When his wife suddenly died, however, he’d taken to the bottle.

After he’d lost his job, he’d spent the past months at the village’s small bar, drinking away what little money he’d saved up over the years.

Hungover like me, or more accurate, already drunk, he too, hadn’t been able to find a good hiding place. All he’d done was to slump down behind a stall, probably hoping that dad would just walk past him.

I saw how he watched dad from behind the stall’s corner, trying his best to find out where he was going while staying hidden. A moment later, he lost his balance, stumbled from his hiding place, and crashed to the ground.

Dad noticed him instantly. A flood of emotions washed over his face. There was anger, frustration, and then nothing but sadness.

Terrance let out a terrified shriek and tried his best to scramble away, and to find himself a new hiding place.

“You know the rules, Terrance,” dad called after him.

The drunk stumbled on for a few more steps before he came to a halt. A moment later, dad reached him and put his hand on his shoulder.

When it happened, Terrance pushed him back, slurring curses at him I didn’t understand.

“God dammit Terrance, I don’t want to do this either, but it’s the only way!”

What the hell was dad talking about? The only way for… what?

By now, tears were streaming down Terrance’s cheeks. Once more, he pushed dad away, before all power seemed to leave him and he was about to fall to the ground once more. In a swift motion, dad held him up, steadied him before he whispered something into his ear.

Terrance’s eyes grew wide. He opened his mouth, most likely to spew another set of insults at dad, but then a dejected, hopeless look came over his face. Finally, he nodded.

Then the two of them set out together. I watched as dad led him away, away from the fairgrounds.

After sitting in my hiding place for a few more seconds, I pushed myself from the stall, and, trying my best to stay hidden, went after them. Eventually, they approached the edge of the nearby forest, and then ventured inside.

I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know what was about to happen, but all those strange thoughts from before returned to me.

I’d barely made it past the first couple of trees when I saw them again. They were standing there, but I noticed something in Terrance’s hand, something he must’ve hidden until now. I watched in stunned horror as he lifted a hammer he must’ve found at the stall he was hiding at.

“Dad, watch out!” I called out.

In sheer and utter surprise, he jerked around, staring at me with wide, surprised eyes. It was this minute movement that saved his life. Terrance, drunk as he was, barely grazed dad’s head before he crashed to the ground, now cursing again.

“No, not me, not after Sara, not after…” I finally understood him.

Dad just stared down at him, holding onto the now bleeding wound on his head. In an instant, he kicked the hammer Terrance had been holding away.

By now, however, Terrance’s resistance was entirely broken. He just lay there on the ground, with tears streaming from his eyes.

“That’s enough Terrance. You lost. What would Sara say if she saw you like that?”

For a second, the drunk’s eyes focused on dad.

“You know nothing,” he brought out under tears. “That damned lot, when I found her, I…”

At that moment, I saw something.

Right in front of dad and Terrance, something moved between the trees. At first, I thought it was nothing but shadows.

The longer I looked, however, the more I focused on it, the more I knew that wasn’t right. It was a strange, slithering thing, one that was way too big to be any sort of forest animal.

I could do nothing but stare at whatever was out there in a mixture of stunned horror and overwhelming wonder. Branches broke, trunks were pushed aside before a multitude of bony arms pushed themselves from between the trees.

In an instant, dad was by my side. I was still staring at the mad spectacle in front of me, still couldn’t take my eyes from whatever it was I saw. Then dad slapped me across the face.

“Get back! We have to hide! And don’t you dare look at it, don’t you dare!”

With that, he dragged me back, back to the fairgrounds, and pushed me behind the nearest stall. Hidden, and sitting next to dad, I opened my mouth.

“What the-?” I started, but dad covered my mouth, shaking his head vehemently.

From where we were, we could hear the sounds. Something crashing through the forest. Distant, otherworldly sounds that might have been laughter reached our ears. In between, I could’ve sworn I heard Terrance’s voice.

For long minutes, dad and I just sat there. Finally, silence returned.

When it was over, I felt dad squeezing my shoulder. He gave me a well-meaning nod before he got up and motioned for me to come along.

In a loud, booming voice, he announced that this year’s game of hide-and-seek had ended.

For a moment, I scanned the forest ahead, almost waiting for Terrance to return, but he didn’t. No, he was gone.

Slowly, ever so slowly, everyone returned from their hiding places and gathered in the center of the fairgrounds. I heard the whispered conversations between the adults, between the older people, and a few times, I heard the name Terrance.

Eventually, everyone dispersed, and everyone returned to the fair’s merriment as if nothing had happened.

Children were laughing and complaining the game was already over, teenagers were joking about how dumb it all was, but here and there, I saw other expressions. Adults who couldn’t hide their emotions, their frustration at what had just happened.

Like me now, they all knew this was not just a dumb old tradition.

My eyes darted around, searching for dad. When I saw him, he was alone, already waiting for me, for the outburst he knew to come.

“What the hell was that… that thing? What’s going on? Why’s everyone just… Fuck!”

“Let’s go for a walk, son. We shouldn’t talk here, not with everyone around.”

I cursed once more, was about to lay into him, but the sad look on his face was enough to make me comply.

For a few minutes, we walked in silence as he led me to a bench far away from the bustle of the fair. Then, he started to explain.

No one knew what those things out there in the forest were. They arrived a long time ago, or they’d always been there, but one day, they came for the villagers.

Eventually, someone had made an arrangement with them. Once a year, they’d get what they wanted, if the rest of the village could live in peace.

“Then Terrance, no, this entire game, it-“

“It’s a selection, son. Whoever’s found first, is to become…”

His voice trailed off. He shook his head, and I saw tears coming to his eyes.

Suddenly, things fell into place. Certain little details I’d never wondered about before. Old Mrs. Ritter, who’d never joined into the game again after appearing in her wheelchair one year. My friend’s uncle, who’d used the game to sneak away from his wife and leave the village behind. And mom, mom who’d died on…

“Mom… that trip, that accident you told me about! It’s… no, don’t tell me…”

Dad, however, said nothing. He just sat there, his head in his hands, weeping. When he spoke again, his voice was as quiet as a whisper.

“No one wants to go through with it, son, but there’s no other choice. People tried to hide, to stay home, but, whenever they do, they are just… gone. Others tried to run, but whoever enters the forests, whoever tries to get away, is never heard from again.”

And so, I finally knew the truth. I knew what this stupid old tradition was about:

It was nothing but a selection, a selection to decide this year’s sacrifice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RehnWriter Newsletter