An Unpleasant Hiding Spot

The stairwell door slams shut, echoing off the white, unadorned walls.

“How long do we have?” Jane asks me.

“Less than 30 seconds, if I had to guess,” I whisper. “Try not to think about it.”

She nods, and turns her attention to a large trash can, sitting between the stairwell and the building’s elevator. She pulls the can to the side, revealing a small metal square. This is a tiny access panel, about two feet across. It’s totally flush with the wall, and perfectly matches the color, making it impossible to see from more than a few feet away.

On the left side of the panel is a tiny slit, meant for a flathead screwdriver. I dig into my pockets and find a quarter. I jam the coin into the grove, and turn the screw. After a little work, I get the panel to swing open.

“After you,” I motion for Jane to crawl inside through the opening. She turns on the flashlight on her phone, and enters the void. I follow after her, dragging the garbage can back in front of the hatch and closing the opening. A few seconds pass by, and I hear thundering footsteps overhead, directly on top of us.

“What the hell is that?” Jane asks.

“Shh,” I whisper.

We sit in the dark, and listen as the stairwell door swings open. When it slams shut, the deafening echo once again reverberates off the bare walls.

“You sure someone came down here?” A voice questions.

“Positive,” another answers. “The lights are on a motion sensor. Someone had to have been in this hallway in the last few minutes.”

“I don’t know why they would come down here, It’s a total dead end, and once…” the voices fade in the distance, as they travel past the hatch and down the hallway.

I lean against the wall and breathe a sigh of relief. “They’re gone.” I turn to look at Jane.

The light from her phone casts terrifying shadows on her face, making her eyes appear sunken and hollow. The glow bounces off the low ceiling, less than four feet high. Enough room is afforded to sit upright, but that’s about it. Thank God I’m not claustrophobic.

“What is this place?” Jane finally asks.

“Access panel for elevator maintenance,” I explain simply. “We’re directly under the staircase, which is why it can get loud. But I really doubt anyone is going to come looking for us in here.”

“How long do we wait?”

“As long as it takes. I’m looking to beat John’s record,” I say.

“We were looking for him for like an hour,” Jane protests. “I think that was the longest game of manhunt I ever played.”

“We’ll stick around down here, and after we’ve broken the record, we can come out before we give up the spot. There are so few places in the church we don’t know about, I’d like to protect this one.”

Manhunt was a traditional part of our weekly routine in the Youth Group – albeit an odd one. Our adult advisor was more concerned with fostering a sense of fellowship, than focusing on actual spiritual enrichment. This was perfectly fine. We had some atheists in the group, which was fine too.

I sat in the unpleasant hiding spot for the better part of an hour with Jane. More than once we could hear the hunters walk through the hall. Eventually, during a quiet spell, we slipped back out through the access panel and sealed it off. Every other member on our team had been caught by the time we turned ourselves in – dusty and a little rattled -but victorious. Jane and I agreed to never use the spot again.

Our opponents claimed to have scoured every inch of the Church from steeple to stone foundation. Obviously they had not.

Something occurred to me as I played throughout the years: every game was easier and faster. The more I knew, the less of a challenge there was. In a way, having that one off-limits location was a reminder that not everything had been explored, even in a building with a finite number of rooms to hide away in.

A.H.W.

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I’m Sorry, I Have Standards

The whole cabin of my Wrangler shakes in the howling wind that blusters up the towering grassy hill. The night is cool and pleasant – the breeze has only just picked up in the last quarter hour, prompting us to end our moonrise picnic to the Top of the World. 

This hilltop lookout is easily the highest point as far as the eye can see, granting an unbroken panoramic view. Out here in the farmland, the lights of the city cannot obstruct our view of the stars; countless constellations and the cloudy arm of the milky way are all in view in the void above.

“I hate to leave,” She says, looking longingly at the sky. “It’s so beautiful out here.”

“It’s nice and quiet.”

“And romantic,” She smiles, and takes a step toward me, “This is literally the nicest date anyone has ever brought me on.”

I close the rest of the distance between us, and move in for the kiss.


 

We get in my car and take one last look up at the sky – I’ve taken off the roof for the occasion – before we drive back down the hill, across the fields, and though the woods to the road.

The wind screams over the top of the car, making the radio inaudible and conversation impossible. But I keep a smile on my face the entire way home.

As my thoughts on the evening consume me, something breaks through the bliss and itches at the back of my mind. Conversations I had heard overheard, and scraps of information She had mentioned in passing were eating at me.

We pull up in front of her apartment, and I stop her as she reaches for the door.

“Wait.”

“What?”

“I know that you said you’ve still been meeting up with your ex on the weekends to hook up,” I start off slowly, then pause for a breath. “If you want to keep seeing me, that needs to stop.”

She looks at me without a trace of emotion in her face. She opens her mouth to speak but hesitates a moment, stunned by my request.

Finally she replies, “I’m going to keep seeing him. But I love going out and spending time with you. Can’t you just deal with a few more weekends while I get this out of my system?”

Good Lord, she’s not even kidding. I can see it in her eyes: that childish pleading look.

“I’m sorry – I have standards,” I say, curtly. “Now get out of my car.”

She steps out onto the curb, and I reach across to close the door behind her. I speed off in low gear without a glance back. For some of life’s concerts you should never be content playing second fiddle. No one is worth the price of your self respect.

A.H.W.

 

Lies!

Sarah’s fake boyfriend was five-foot ten, rowed stroke seat for his high school’s varsity crew team, and was training to get his EMT certification on the weekend. They met at a church event, but Jeff and I knew him for school. We all used to take AP Physics together.

Of course, we would never surrender all of this information to Ted at once. The man was as unrelenting as he was greasy, and once he got the idea into his head that he wanted to conquer Sarah, there was no shaking it.

The boyfriend cover was the best we could come up with for her. He would hound each of us about it, at length and separated – as any good interrogator would. Piece by piece we would feed him the details.

There’s the problem with laying down a convincing lie: you want to keep the story simple so it won’t collapse under its own weight, but you don’t want to be grasping at straws when the questions start coming in.

The middle road solution: a concise and uniform back story that you can draw upon, but only when necessary. Researchers claim you have a different look on your face when you’re remembering something, than when you’re making it up. Call it an easy tell.

I’m not a liar – at least not a compulsive one.

When I do lie, you’d better believe I have good cause. If you ask the high-and-mighty types, they’ll tell you: honesty is the best policy – but we all know that’s crap. There’s a reason you don’t tell your friend her new hair color makes her look like an angsty tween, ask your cousin if his Prius can outrun a Rascal mobility scooter, or nark on your amicable coworker when they show up to work late.

I’m not saying you should become a complete sociopath – just protect the people who are good to you. Because in that right, loyalty is far more valuable than honesty.

A.H.W.