“Okay, remember, I’ll count to ten, then I’ll come find you! Ready….start! One….two…”
My eyes are closed, but I hear my children run off, laughing as they go. In a single-floored ranch like ours, it’s not hard to tell which way they’re going. I hear Kevin and Lisa’s footsteps echo as they dash down the hall.
The muffle screech of a hinge in need of oiling tells me they’ve gone into the room they share. I hear murmured words, too indistinct to make out, and know they’re trying to figure out where they’ll hide.
The slight rasping noise of a sliding door opening and closing lets me know they’re hiding in their closet. Now, to make a show of finding them.
“nine….ten….ready or not, here I come!”
I make sure to be as loud as I can as I make my mock search of the house, opening doors and calling out as I wander around. “Where can they be? Those kids have gotten too good at hiding for me!” I hear them giggling as I fling their door open. “Could they be in here?” The closet take up most of one wall opposite their beds, and I hear Kevin hushing Lisa as I approach it. My fingers slip into the recesses on the opposing sliding doors and I slide them aside with a shout of “Found you!”
But there’s nobody in the closet, there’s nothing in the closet.
All of Lisa’s dresses, her tops, Kevin’s jeans and the pile of dirty clothing he insists on leaving in the closet….all of it is gone. The entire space is empty, not even an errant sock lies on the floor. But as I stand there, stunned by the sudden change, I hear them. They’re still giggling like they’ve put one over on Mommy for once and managed to hide from her.
I slap the back wall, push against it at different spots hoping that somewhere there’s a hidden door, some trick that’s allowing my children to hide not just themselves but all the clothing I know they have from me. But the wall is solid, as is the floor when I stomp on it in the vain hope of finding a trap door.
“Kevin! Lisa! Do you hear me! Come out this instant!”
There is no answer beyond more giggles, and I begin to panic. Could I have been mistaken and they hid in the master bedroom? I go out the door, thrust open the door to the room my husband and I sleep in, and begin searching.
Nothing. They’re not in our closet, nor in the bathroom adjoining our room. Could they be under our bed? On hands and knees, I peer into the dim space under our king-sized bed, and see nothing but a few dust bunnies in need of cleaning up.
Could they be under their beds?
I hadn’t thought of such a possibility, sure as I was that they’d hidden in their closet, but now I rush back to look. I find nothing, not even the favorite well-worn teddy bear Lisa keeps hidden under her bed so it is close at hand on stormy nights. But even as I look, I can hear my children laughing quietly, and quite close at hand.
“Kevin! Lisa! This is not funny! Come out at once!” Nothing, just the same occasional murmur of gleeful giggles. “Do you hear me? I said come out!”
But they don’t come out, they don’t suddenly pop up to bask in their joy at having frightened their mother. I cross the hall, intent on going through the small bathroom the children use. It has the same fixtures, right down to the slight crack in the glazing on the sink, but it is empty of anything personal. The children’s toothbrushes, the battered stainless steel comb Kevin inherited from his grandfather, even Lisa’s collection of hair clips, all of it is gone.
I search the rest of the house, panic tightening my chest as every attempt to find Kevin and Lisa proves fruitless. There is no place for them to hide in our back yard, but I look anyway. Again, nothing.
Now, the panic is all-consuming, a thing that has swallowed me, an ocean that threatens to drown me. I call 911.
“Carswell’s Corner 911, please state the nature of the emergency.”
“It’s my children! They’ve gone missing, disappeared!”
“Where did you last see your children, miss?”
“In my kitchen. I was playing hide and seek with them, and they’re not here. I’ve been through the whole house, I’ve searched every room, and I can’t find them anywhere!”
A moment of silence, then the disembodied voice comes back. “Miss, I’m showing you’re location as 127 Wolff Road, is that correct?”
“Yes, yes, that’s where I live! Please, can you get someone here to help me find my children?”
“Yes, miss, I’ve dispatched a car, they should be there shortly. Please stay on the line until they arrive miss.”
“Yes, of course, anything, just get them here to help me search!”
Another, longer moment of silence, then I hear a car, driving fast, coming up the road. The engine noise drops, the screech of tires stopping fast, and I see flashing lights out the front window. “Miss, officers should be in front of your house now. Can you open the door for them?”
I rush to the front door, yank it open, and a pair of men in uniform are waiting. One is older, tall and slender, his hair going gray. The other is short and heavy set, his dark hair buzz-cut short. Neither of them look happy. I don’t care if they’re happy or not.
“Officers, I’m glad you got here so quickly. I need your help. My children have managed to find a hiding place in the house that I can’t find. I need you to help me get them out.”
The younger man looks disgusted, like he’d just heard someone tell the biggest lie of all time. The older man just looks sad as he speaks to me.
“Mrs. Sanchez, how many more times are we going to have to come here? We’ve searched your house more times than I can remember, with you right behind us. Every time, we’ve never found any kids, and that’s because you’ve never had any kids!” He scrubs a hand over his face and shakes his head. “I’ve told you before, if you keep calling us, we’re going to arrest you for filing a false police report. I’m not going to do that this time….but this is your last warning. If I, or any other officer, have to come here again, you’re going to go to jail. Now, have I made myself clear?”
Is he insane? I remember my children. The hours I spent in labor before Kevin came out. How Lisa had always been sick as a baby, but had grown to be a force of nature. I remember every time they fell. Every scrape on their knees. Every day home from school for a fever. Everything. ”But officer….”
He didn’t give me the chance to finish. “I don’t want to hear it again. I mean it. We’re going now. Your husband should be home soon, so you can tell that poor sorry bastard all about it. God knows how he puts up with someone as crazy as you.”
And that was it. He turned and walked away, his young partner giving me a final, sickened stare before following him. They weren’t going to help. They didn’t care. They thought I was insane, people who believed something as crazy as me never having any children. I close the door knowing I’ll have no help.
I have to find them. I have to. I can hear their giggles, but where are they?
I open the door again. My door is stained wood, but not this door. It’s red, and not some calm brick red either. No, it’s a bright, almost garish red, the sort most people would call ‘fire-engine red’ I hate red, especially bright reds. Did some vandal paint it this hideous color?
Then I look closer, and see the wear around the door knob. The scratched paint near the lock. There are scuff marks at the bottom, some of them old enough to have started fading.
What is happening here?