“Ready or not, here I come!”
Kimmie opened her eyes and peered around, surveying the three possible places Trevor might be hiding close by. He had an irritating habit of tricking her by hiding close to home base and simply waiting for her to wander off in search of him before bee-lining it to safety. Not this time.
Kimmie tiptoed to the edge of the porch and peeked over the railing. Nope. Hopping lightly to the ground she peered into the shadows underneath. Still nothing. She raced to the tall shrub that grew a half-dozen yards away. Empty.
“Ok,” she thought. “Now I can really start the search.”
She would find him. She had to. Trevor had been insufferable for the past week. Just because he turned eleven before she did (it was only two weeks), he treated her like she was a child. At least he no longer teased her about her gender. That stopped the moment she’d punched him in the nose for loudly boasting to his friend Bryan that she “hit like a girl”. The look of shock plastered on his face as a crimson stream cascaded down his nose was worth the grounding she got.
Trevor thought he was the King of Hide and Seek. Kimmie knew better. Trevor was a boy and boys are creatures of habit. She’d played with him enough to know his patterns. They may have been cousins, but the brains were unevenly distributed to her side of the family.
Her keen eyes slowly scanned the large expanse of land that lie behind her Uncle’s farm. She quickly identified several choice hiding spots, but rejected them. With no small amount of dread, Kimmie turned her eyes to the barn. It was almost certain Trevor would choose that as his place of concealment. He knew she feared that large, dusty structure and was probably gambling the she wouldn’t produce the fortitude to enter. As usual, Trevor was wrong.
Kimmie took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Clenching her fists, she marched straight towards the looming, ramshackle monstrosity. The weathered boards that may have once been painted a bright red (as most barns seem to be) had faded to a dull grayish brown. Time was slowly eating away at the integrity of the building and each spring Kimmie was sure it would collapse.
The sun beamed down brightly all across the yard, but even the warming rays of summer appeared less intense the closer she got to the dark, gaping entrance. The long shadows inside seem to taunt her. She almost lost her nerve until she heard the unmistakable sound of her cousins laughter echoing from within.
“Got you!” she thought triumphantly.
She plunged into the barn, already anticipating the look he’d give her when she surprised him so quickly. Her ears caught shuffling from above and more of that stupid laugh she’d come to despise.
She was a bit surprised that he was hiding in the hayloft. Uncle Jon had expressly told them both that was off limits.
“Too dangerous,” he explained at the start of the summer. “There’s rats and snakes that live up there and if one of youn’s should fall, ya might break a leg… or worse, yer neck.”
“Hooo boy, is he in for it,” grinned Kimmie. Not only was she going to locate him in record time, but she could bust his chops for choosing a forbidden hiding spot.
It only took her a moment to find the old, parallel two-by-fours nailed to a large supporting beam that served as a ladder to the loft. She didn’t mind heights and spent more time in the treetops than her cousin, but the butterflies still danced in her stomach as she gripped the first rung. The odors that assaulted her nostrils were a mix of hay chaff, animal dung (her uncle kept goats in the barn and the pigeons had crapped EVERYWHERE) and dust. It was a familiar smell but it was still unsettling. There was something else in the air. Something… wrong.
Steeling her nerves, she commenced the climb. Hand over hand, she pulled herself towards the rafters. Pausing halfway, she became acutely aware of the silence. The barn was usually home to dozens of birds and the flapping seemed never-ending, yet the only sound that filled her ears now was her own breathing.
Trevor’s annoying giggle broke the still air and with gritted teeth she renewed her climb. Reaching the top, she squinted to adjust for the gloom that surrounded her. Despite the warped boards of the barn, light did not penetrate very deep into the loft and it took a moment to orient herself.
She looked left towards a stack of hay bales. A muffled chuckle floated from behind the stack. Kimmie grinned.
Slowly she crept along the hay covered floor, trying hard not to alert Trevor to her presence. The element of surprise was essential to her victory. She hoped to give him a start before tagging him and winning this round of the game. Reaching the stack, her legs coiled and ready to pounce, a voice sounded below.
“Hey, is that you up there, Kimmie? You know my dad said we can’t go up into the loft. I’m gonna tell.”
Kimmie froze at the sound of Trevor’s voice.
“But how…?” her mind raced.
Laughter sounded behind her. Not the tittering of a child. Not the stupid braying of her cousin. It was a deep, wet cackling. Ice shot down Kimmie’s spine and the smell of rotting meat filled her nose. Before she could stop herself she wheeled around. Dark yellow eyes, long black claws and bloody teeth were the last things she saw.
Years later, while under hypnosis in his therapists office, Trevor was finally able to recall the memory of watching with nauseating horror as the police removed the remaining pieces of his cousin from the hay loft. He’d not stepped foot into a barn since that day. That summer had been lost from memory but now he screamed as it came back.
Trevor’s wife found his lifeless body laying in the tub later that night. Warm, pink water cascaded over the edge as the last of the blood from his flayed wrists leaked out. When the final bill from the therapist arrived, she tossed it into the garbage.