The Hidebehind is very good at hide and seek.
The Hidebehind is not very good at crossing the street.
The Hidebehind has a collection of dolls from distant relatives; he keeps them in a set of glass-fronted cabinets in the attic. When he feels lonely, the Hidebehind takes out a doll from its crypt and cradles it, rocking it gently.
The Hidebehind lives alone in a big, old house at the end of a long, twisting drive lined by sycamores. In the autumn, the leaves carpet the ground. At the Hidebehind’s house, it is always autumn.
At night, when the heavy, orange moon stares in through the gabled windows, the Hidebehind gets out of bed and walks along the empty hallways of his house. He drags his claws along the walls, leaving behind torn, white scratch marks to show where he has been. He stands under the lintels of doorways and swings his heavy head up and down the shadowed halls looking for himself.
Once there was a Mother Hidebehind and a Father Hidebehind and two Sibling Hidebehinds, but they are dead now. Only the Hidebehind remains.
One autumn night, a group of teenagers break into the big, old house. At the Hidebehind’s house, it is always autumn.
The Hidebehind is in the attic rocking a doll and humming when they enter. He can hear the glass shattering from three stories up.
The Hidebehind sets the doll back in the cabinet and replaces the latch. He moves to the ladder and looks down to the third-floor hallway where the bedrooms stand. The bedrooms once held Mother Hidebehind, Father Hidebehind, and the two Sibling Hidebehinds, but now they are empty except for sheet-covered beds and well-shredded portraits.
The Hidebehind moves down the ladder, down the hallway, down the servants’ staircase, and stands at the edge of the kitchen doorway. Inside, he sees three young people gathered around the stove. One of them is short with dark hair, one of them is tall with light hair, and one of them stands slightly apart, looking fearfully up at a spot on the ceiling. All of them wear kilts and blouses and knee socks and patent leather shoes, suggesting that they have come from the nearby boarding school.
“You’re sure no one lives here?” the short one asks.
“I’m sure,” the tall one says. “Look at all these spiderwebs.”
“Okay,” the short one says, looking at all the spiderwebs. “As long as you’re sure.”
The hidebehind observes. He has not seen living creatures in a very long time. Nothing other than the spiders and the bats and the mice and the rats and the raccoon that lives in the second-floor parlor.
The tall person, who seems to be the leader, picks up Father Hidebehind’s old coffee maker and examines it.
The hidebehind shivers.
Father Hidebehind used to make coffee every morning. He would pour the hot, thick liquid in a stream from the aluminum spout to the waiting mug, all the time mumbling and grumbling to himself.
“Damn fine coffee,” Father Hidebehind would always say.
“Yes, dear,” Mother Hidebehind would answer. “Please don’t swear.”
Now, the coffee maker is coated with rust, and the tall one runs a finger along the inside.
“Blood,” she says and giggles.
The short one shoots a nervous look at the one apart, but the one apart isn’t paying attention. She is looking up and off to the left as if she can see something no one else can see.
The Hidebehind taps the floorboards with his toe claws. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat.
The one apart swings her head towards the doorway and sees nothing, for the Hidebehind is no longer there.
The Hidebehind tracks the explorers as they move from kitchen to dining room to the family room.
In the family room, the tall one sweeps away the sheet from the couch. She plumps herself down to a billow of dust.
“Nice place, huh?” she says. “We should come here more often, make this our clubhouse.”
“It’s so big,” the short one says, “like, it goes on forever. Hey, what if there are drug addicts?”
“It feels sad,” the distant one says and runs her hands up and down her arms.
“Maybe it’s haunted,” the tall one says and lies down on her back. She stretches her legs out and takes up the whole couch, hands tucked behind her head.
The Hidebehind watches from the doorway. He sees the separated one move over to the piano, sees her fingers reach towards the keys where Mother Hidebehind used to play waltzes and melodies on Sunday evenings. The Hidebehind begins to hum.
“Blacks and bays, dapples and grays, coach and six a little horses. When you wake you shall have, all the pretty little horses.”
“Did you hear that?” the third one says, her eyes popping wide.
“Stop being so jumpy, Kathy,” the tall one says.
“Hear what?” the short one asks at the same time.
“There’s something here,” Kathy says as the Hidebehind steps into the room.
Once when the Hidebehind was little, all the Hidebehinds went on vacation. They uncovered the Studebaker in the garage and drove down the long driveway out onto the open road. They drove along the highway south and east for almost eight hundred miles until, at last, they broke out onto the Atlantic Ocean. Mother Hidebehind wore a straw sun hat to protect her tufted ears. Father Hidebehind smoked a pipe and the blue-grey smoke wafted back into the Hidebehind’s face. Even now, the smell of pipe smoke is always connected in his mind with the crash of waves.
The Hidebehind had never seen anything so large. He wasn’t expecting the salty water and when it got in his eyes, he started to cry.
Father Hidebehind hated crying and soon put an end to it.
In the living room, the short one is closest to the door and the Hidebehind is behind her before she has a chance to speak. With three claws, the Hidebehind sheers through the abdominal muscles, and the girl’s intestines slither out like the tongue of an eager dog.
Kathy screams; it is a high, ragged sound that shudders the Hidebehind’s eardrums. The tall one is not yet fully upright, stunned by the suddenness of it all.
The dying girl, whose name is Bric, is thinking about the first time she took a bath. She is remembering her mother’s voice and the sudden warmth that encompassed her, how all at once she had realized that the legs and arms moving about her were her own. And when her mother took her out of the bath and wrapped her up in a thick blue towel, Bric realized how desperately she loved her body and how she always wanted to keep it safe.
It hadn’t been easy: the scraped knees from tree-climbing, that one horrible bicycle accident down the bottom of a too-steep hill, and in boarding school, the way the other girls poked and prodded, their judgmental eyes pointing out all the things they thought were wrong with her.
And still, Bric held on fiercely to that body, loving it, protecting it, and only now realizing, despite her faithfulness, how easily her body might betray her. The Hidebehind carefully moves one claw across Bric’s throat and whatever her worries were, they are no more.
The tall one is moving. She is up from the sofa and grabbing at Kathy’s arm, pulling her towards the window, ready to break through and run.
The Hidebehind can hear the echoes of Father Hidebehind in the walls.
“Quicker!” Father Hidebehind hisses. “Quieter!”
So, the Hidebehind moves quickly and quietly towards the two teens.
But the tall one has already picked up the piano stool, struggling with its bulk, and throws it with surprising strength through the bay windows of the piano alcove. More broken glass, more screaming, and the tall one pulls the other one up and out and through.
The Hidebehind stands for a moment looking through the gaping window. He watches the two teens stumbling towards the tree line. The Hidebehind tilts his head slowly back and forth. He does not need to hurry, for the trees and grounds will work towards his purpose. There is nowhere the teens can run that will lead them anywhere but back home to him.
The Hidebehind moves through the house and out into the moonlit night. There is a heavy, harvest moon in the sky—there is always a harvest moon in the sky—and the air is sharp. The grounds are in sad disrepair, lumpy with gopher hills and fallen branches. It has been difficult for the Hidebehind to keep up with the yard work ever since he killed his family.
The Hidebehind hums to himself, pausing every now and then to listen to the crashing and cursing of the teens a short distance ahead of him. A mist is rising, silver and delicate, it wraps around the Hidebehind in tendrils. He can smell now, with the rising breath of the earth, his mother rotting beneath the soil.
Mother Hidebehind he had killed first for she had always been kind to him. He smothered her in her sleep with a goose-down pillow before moving to on to his siblings. Mother Hidebehind had been good to him though she had never she stood up for him against the taunting Sibling Hidebehinds nor shielded him from Father Hidebehind’s beatings. But it did not matter now, for now, the Hidebehind is safe, safe and sound, and alone in the dark.
The Hidebehind watches as the teens circle back, blocked by here a fence of implacable thorns, there a cluster of boulders. He can see how they are tired, smell their fear and adrenaline, and feel, almost, across the distance the frantic drumming of their tiny, tasty hearts. He smiles to himself when the teens see the house rising up before them like the bones of an ancient shipwreck.
Now it is time and the Hidebehind makes himself known. The two girls see him with his claws and his smile, and they dash for the mouth-wide front door. The Hidebehind knows that they know there is no escape.
The tall girl pulls the other girl by the arm into the hallway and up the stairs, and the Hidebehind glides behind her. He shuts and locks the door.
In the front hall, the Hidebehind pauses for a moment to admire the ornate rug. It was here that Father Hidebehind gasped his last, the Hidebehind having snuck arsenic into his morning coffee. Father Hidebehind had stumbled from the kitchen choking and cursing and the Hidebehind had watched from the stairs as Father Hidebehind sank to his knees and died.
The Hidebehind had buried Mother Hidebehind and the Sibling Hidebehinds in the back garden, but he left Father Hidebehind’s corpse on the rug to rot. It lay there for months and then years, withering and withering away in the front hallway until, at last, there was nothing left but a pile of dust. Then the Hidebehind had swept it up in a dustbin and dumped it in the kitchen garbage.
Overhead he can hear that the teens have made it to the third floor. The Hidebehind mounts the staircase, tracing his claws along the wall. Oh, it is a beautiful house, and oh, it is a lovely house, but oh, the Hidebehind wonders if he must always be alone.
The moon shines in through the windows and the spiders spin and spin in their corners; the teens have barricaded themselves in the Sibling Hidebehinds’ old room. For the first time this evening, the Hidebehind frowns. He does not go into these rooms. Inside are two twin beds where the Sibling Hidebehinds once slept.
But the Sibling Hidebehinds will never torment him again, never tease him for being smaller and softer, for being slower and prone to daydreams. They will never again steal his dolls and hold them above his head. Never again mock him or pinch him till he cried. The Hidebehind recalls their looks of surprise when his claws found their underbellies.
Inside the room, the Hidebehind can hear the teens scuffling and shushing one another. He drags his claws slowly from the top of the door down to the doorknob and jiggles the handle hopefully. But the girls have moved a wardrobe in the way and there is no entering the room from this direction.
The Hidebehind exhales with a puff and moves to the ladder and up to the attic. Sometimes, he thinks, a little, old Hidebehind just can’t catch a break.
Inside the bedroom, the girls are silent. A dead blue bottle decorates the windowsill. Jenny is trying to listen for their pursuer.
Jenny, the tall one, is the first of five children and has always known how to persuade others. Her words are her source of power and they’ve gotten her this far. First, out of that house, the cramped place with too many children, too much noise, too many dishes in the sink. Then, out of that town built only of bars and churches and women who aspired to be mothers and housewives—more children, more noise, more dishes in the sink.
At the school, Jenny’s words gained her friends, good friends if not many, and her words made her a leader among her peers.
Now, trapped in the room, Jenny wonders if she’ll ever find her words again.
Kathy is breathing quietly beside her. Good old Kathy who has always been a sort of odd duck. Every friend group needs one to make the others feel normal by comparison. Bric and Jenny have Kathy.
At the memory of Bric, Jenny feels bile rise in her throat. She turns away from the door with the wardrobe pushed up against it. She retches. As she does, she sees again the paintings on the wall, the creatures lined up caught in oil on canvas with great tears running through them. One of the creatures is wearing a little, pink bow in its fur.
“Do you think it’s gone?” Kathy asks.
Jenny shakes her head weakly.
“What do we do when it comes back?” Kathy asks.
“I—” Jenny says and stops because Kathy’s frightened face reminds Jenny of her little sister.
Then Jenny sees the Hidebehind. He is hanging upside down from the attic window, claws at the frame of the bedroom window ready to pry it open.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Jenny is saying, as if this one word of negation can counter the whole of positive reality.
With a thump, the Hidebehind is in the room.
“Please,” Jenny says, “please,” but the Hidebehind is here and his claws go snic-snic.
Once upon a time, the Hidebehind had a dream that his dolls would come to life. Every night before bed, the Hidebehind looked out the attic window at the rising stars and wished.
Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.
But it never came true.
He wondered at first if he had missed the first star, wasted his wishes on the second or third. Or if his phrasing were off. Or if he hadn’t been good enough that day. He tried and tried very, very hard to be a good Hidebehind and to live up to Father Hidebehind’s wishes and to help Mother Hidebehind with the chores, and to not tattle on the Sibling Hidebehinds when they hurt him. But still, it never came true, and the Hidebehind gave up wishing.
Perhaps, he reflected with time, it was for the best. If the dolls came to life, they might disappoint him. But in their frozen, porcelain state they could never be anything but perfect.
Two girls are dead now, but the third one has escaped again. While the Hidebehind was busy with the tall one, the other pushed aside the wardrobe, opened the door, and made her way out.
The Hidebehind leaves Jenny’s body on the bed and follows.
He likes things to be neat, so he won’t start his feast until all the loose ends have been tied up nice and tight.
The Hidebehind looks up and down the hallway and sees the attic ladder is still down. He can hear the rustling of teenager in the attic above him.
Round and round and round we go, he thinks.
He moves to the ladder and pauses to let the girl have a final moment to herself. It is important, the Hidebehind knows, to have a few moments to oneself.
Kathy is in the attic.
Kathy is seventeen and has never been kissed.
Before Jenny and Bric, Kathy never had any friends, not any real friends anyway. Her father had not been a good person, but at least he left when Kathy was ten, and for that Kathy and her mother are eternally grateful.
Kathy has been very lonely nearly every day of her relatively short life, and now at seventeen, she feels as if that whole relatively short life has already passed her by. She never got the chance to accomplish anything of which she might be proud. She wonders, briefly, whether this isn’t how everyone feels at every age.
The light of the heavy, orange moon comes in through the gabled windows, and Kathy is surrounded by dolls. Their glass eyes watch her from behind glass doors. Some are dressed in Victorian garb, some wear modern clothing. Their hair is perfect and neat, each clean, curl glistening in the moonlight.
And Kathy is suddenly furious.
It isn’t fair. None of it is fair. The rage reaches up from her chest with a strangling hand, and Kathy moves to the nearest cabinet. She smashes open the glass and snatches out an aproned doll. With a scream of fury, she flings the doll as hard as she can against the floor. It makes a satisfying crash as its face splits into a million pieces. Then the next one, a sweet doll with dimples and raven curls who simpers until the moment it shatters against the wall.
Kathy grabs the back of the cabinet and brings the whole thing smashing to the ground. Her knuckles are bleeding from the glass, so she runs the back of her hand across her lips and tastes iron.
She moves to the next cabinet and sends it crashing to the ground. She stamps her shoe into the face of a surviving doll and kicks its limp body across the floor.
She grabs a doll by its foot and uses it to bash open yet another glass-fronted cabinet.
The dolls shatter, quiver, shake, tremble in her hands.
It is only when the final cabinet is coming down that Kathy notices the Hidebehind. His head through the trapdoor, his body hidden on the ladder.
One of the dolls has skittered over to the opening, running for protection from the vengeful teen. The Hidebehind picks up this lone survivor and cradles it to him.
The Hidebehind looks up at Kathy. Kathy looks down at the Hidebehind. The Hidebehind, moving very slowly, climbs up into the attic. Kathy takes a step back, her foot crunching porcelain into powder. The Hidebehind stops. He looks down at the last doll. He looks up at Kathy.
For a heartbeat, neither of them moves.
Then, slowly, very slowly, the Hidebehind extends the final doll towards this final girl. It hangs between them, legs limp, head lolling.
And slowly, very slowly, Kathy reaches out for the doll.
For a moment that lasts an eternity, they are frozen like this—creature and girl, girl and creature.
Then Kathy takes the doll and, in a single motion, smashes it to the floor.
And before he moves, before he springs, the Hidebehind can only watch as the final loving part of him is utterly destroyed.