What was Once Hidden
Kit watched the sky grow dark as the bus made its way to her stop. I’ve stayed too late, she thought, I should have left earlier and let Lisa’s parents give me a ride home. She tried calling her parents on their cell, but all she could get was their voicemail. I waited too long, she thought again, then took herself to task for not leaving with her friends sooner, and for being such a baby.
The boys had been her guardians for months. Someone had always been at the bus stop to walk her home. Once in a while, she would see her mother waiting for her because the guys couldn’t make it. It had been a relief to know that her parents had taken her and Michael seriously, but her father had stated plainly that he did not want to coddle her. He had no answer for the man and his attacking her and Michael, but he still wanted her to get over her fear. I’ll get over my fear all right, she thought, once that monster is arrested and taken away, and his house burned down and collapsed into a pile of rubble.
Don’t go fast, don’t go fast, she told the bus and started counting the stops it would make before it came to hers. She tried to distract herself by guessing who would get off at which stop, but the game only worked for a few minutes. Why why why had Michael gone to the party? Would anyone be there when the bus finally came to her stop?
She found her answer as the bus rolled to the stop at her corner. No one was waiting for her beneath the street light. The early summer sky had darkened to a deep blue, and each shadow seemed to hold a subtle threat as she got off the bus. She stood at the corner and called her parents’ house again, but no one answered. She shoved the phone in her purse, angry at everyone. The fear from that night had come back as she took one tentative step, then another, then another as she drew closer to the house she feared more than she feared death.
Thea slipped away from the party, dabbing at the angry tears falling from her eyes. She felt like a fool and she hated it. She had hoped that Michael at least would notice her, give her a compliment or something—but he had acted like she wasn’t even there. He’d seen her and ignored her, and that she could not bear. She had received looks and compliments and some inappropriate unwelcome remarks from guys that were there, but from Michael, nothing.
She got in her brother’s car and drove off. She wanted to stomp the accelerator to the floor, but getting a ticket, especially if a cop found out she’d been drinking, was not on her agenda. She cried as she drove through the city streets, noticing that her lace handkerchief was now stained by her makeup. When she pulled into her driveway, she carefully wiped away the mascara stains beneath her eyes. She sat for a moment, hoping that her parents had gone upstairs to their bedroom to watch TV so she would not have to explain why she looked like such a mess. They’d be sympathetic, and the last thing she wanted right now was sympathy. She was angry and she wanted to stay that way.
The front door had been left unlocked. She took off her heels and walked as quietly as she could up the stairs to the bathroom. Removing her makeup and washing her face made her feel a little better. She went into her bedroom and in the darkness, wanting badly to not cry even though her heart was broken into a million little pieces.
She got up and turned on her lamp. She unzipped her dress and stepped out of it, removed her stockings and dumped her clothes in a pile. She stared at her reflection in the mirror: a girl on the short side with eyes and nose red from weeping. Even though her face was full of sorrow, the mouth with the traces left of her lipstick had a look of determination and stubbornness. This may be a girl who was sad, but it was not a girl defeated.
A crazy idea came to her, so crazy that she knew it was madness to follow it, but right now she was madness. That house, that eerie, spooky, “Twilight Zone” house, suddenly she had an urge to see it—and to prove to Michael he was full of it. She had a small supply of gear her soldier brothers had given her. Glow sticks, a boot knife, a length of rope. There were also two small but powerful flashlights. She could wrap the rope around her waist and hide it under a t-shirt. The boot knife would fit perfectly into the top of her Doc Martins. All she needed to do was get dressed and slip quietly out of the house. No problem.
She stood, swaying gently, in front of the mirror, holding on to her dresser for support. She remembered the night she had heard Michael talking to someone and how angry he had been when she confronted him. He had marched her up the street and showed her the house and given her a bullshit warning about the dangers of coming to his neighborhood. Well, what if she went back to the house, right now, and proved that he was just trying to keep her away from him, and the old house was no more than a house? What would he say then when she proved to him he hadn’t fooled her and she was wise to what he was doing?
“Then why are you all geared up for combat, Thea?” She asked herself, “Admit it, you’re scared. He scared you and you can’t shake it, All this stuff makes you feel safe. I dare you to go there without it.”
“No way,” she said out loud. Guided by her brothers all her life, they had drummed “Follow your instincts” into her until it was like a mantra. This wasn’t a game, she didn’t understand it but something was telling her she had better go prepared if she intended to go at all. She didn’t ask herself why she just followed. If she didn’t need all her army toys, no one would know but her.
She knelt down, rummaging through drawers looking for her camo pants and a black t-shirt. Frustrated, she pulled out handfuls of shirts that landed on the floor before she found what she was looking for. She stuffed the clothes back into the drawer and shut it. She found her cargo pants in her jeans drawer, and ripped them out before unintentionally slamming the drawer shut.
She tried to stand, but the room began to spin. “Too much to drink, Thea,” she remonstrated herself, and grabbed the edge of the dresser, waiting for the world to right itself. When it did, she pulled herself up, steady on her feet for the moment.
She dressed sitting on the edge of her bed, promising herself that she would grab a cup of coffee on the way. She stood and took a few steps to reassure herself. She pulled a box from the closet and pulled out the glow sticks and the flashlights which she stuffed in her leg pockets. She wrapped a length of rope around her waist, then took her boot knife and slipped it into the top of her right boot. She threw on her leather coat, then grabbed her wallet and car keys. As an afterthought, she added her cell phone. Then, cautiously, she went back down the stairs, opening the front door quietly, afraid at any moment someone would find her out.
“Playing soldier again?” her mother would ask when she’d come in torn and bloody. That was all they played, she and her brothers. Her brothers had joined the Marines and left her to play by herself. When they would come home on leave, it would be like the old days. They’d torment her, knock her down, then teach her a few things about hand to hand combat, though not enough to satisfy her. Everything she was carrying now they’d given her, taught her how to use. Now she might have to play soldier for real—if Michael was telling her the truth. And that was what she intended to find out.
She got into the car, letting it slide out of the driveway before starting it, then she accelerated up the street. She had an uneasy feeling that maybe she shouldn’t be doing this, she was off on nothing more than a drunk fool’s errand. Speaking of drunk, she thought, there was a convenience store ahead. She pulled into the parking lot, then went in and got a cup of coffee, hot and strong, just the way she liked it. The coffee was only a little burnt, and as it went down, she felt the caffeine coursing through her veins, slowly sobering her up.
Part of her felt hesitant. What would her brothers say? But she was sure Michael was telling her nothing but lies about the house. “Then why are you arming yourself to the teeth?” A voice inside her head asked. Because part of her believed him, she admitted and she wanted to be prepared. He had been so sincere, so adamant. He’d twisted her arm behind her back and had almost thrown her onto the bus. But if it was true, she’d make sure she wouldn’t get hurt. If it wasn’t, she’d let him know what she thought, and never speak to him again.
She drove slowly past houses and streetlights, butterflies in her stomach. Even as she made the turn onto Michael’s street she wondered if she should turn around and go back home. What was she doing anyway? What was this going to accomplish? She returned to the notion that Michael had been trying to scare her to punish her for going to his house and hearing his conversation with his girlfriend. He’d denied anyone was there, but she had heard him talking, so he must have been talking to someone. Whoever she was, she didn’t go to their school, because she hadn’t seen her. She’d looked and tried to figure out who she was, but came up with nothing.
What was the mission—her brothers’ Marine Corps lingo slipping through, all about? If there was something to find, what would happen? She put her hand down on the hilts of her boot knife and felt reassured by its presence. Likewise, the can of mace she'd tucked in her pocket. She had no idea why she’d armed herself, but it was a comfort knowing all her gadgets were there. Between the alcohol and her armor, Thea felt invincible. She needed to feel invincible. Being ignored at the party by Michael, being ignored in general by Michael, made her feel small and insignificant and she did not like feeling insignificant, not in the least.
The house loomed suddenly ahead of her, a black shadow absorbing any light the feeble street light put out. She turned off the main street onto a smaller one that was more alley than street. She swallowed the rest of her coffee, grateful for the edge it had taken off the alcohol. She hadn’t really intended to drink as much as she did, but frustration had overcome common sense.
She sat back, allowing the coffee to finish its work, her car safely hidden in the shadows. She inhaled, held it, then exhaled. She looked out the window, staring at the side of the house. She’d missed seeing the front of the house, but no light was shining on the lawn so maybe the occupant was asleep—or gone. Gone, she thought, be gone, then hated herself for being afraid.
She put her hand on the car door, still looking out the window, hesitating. This no longer seemed like a good idea, but something was driving her to ignore her instincts. She tightened her grip on the door handle before she finally, angrily, pushed it open. She stepped out and closed the door as quietly as she could. She’d come this far and she would not let it be for nothing. She was on a mission, wasn’t she, and missions had to be carried out.
Kit strained at her bonds. She had been tied with soft cotton rope to a beam supporting the wooden stairs that lead to the basement. The bandana that covered her mouth so tightly that she was afraid her dry lips would crack and start bleeding at any moment. Her captor had bound her to the beam, placing her arms behind her back, making her shoulders hurt.
She was alone for the moment. “I’ll be back in a while,” he had leered at her, “Don’t try to escape, the only way out of here is through the house anyway,” he’d laughed cruelly. She’d breathed a sigh of relief when he left. However bad what was coming might be, it was better to be alone and imagine the worst, then have to deal with that repulsive man who had pawed at her when he captured her. All her kicking and struggling had done her no good. He must have been waiting for her because the pieces of rope were waiting on the basement stairs.
Now, something seemed terribly wrong. She thought she could see the shadows of two women whispering in a dark corner of the basement. The words she could not understand, but she heard the sounds clearly. Was she really seeing this, or was fear making her see images in the shadows? To test her sanity, she closed her eyes, then opened them—the figures were gone but soon reappeared. It was like they were waiting for something. She wished they’d go away, they were like “the man who wasn’t there”, where had she read that poem anyway? All she knew about them was contained in the last line, “I wish to God they’d go away.”
Thea stood blinking, swaying slightly on her feet. Now, facing the house, she wondered what she had been thinking. It stood like a black monolith in the shadows, windows like unseeing eyes hidden by a black cloth. She peered into the blackness, wondering if there were a way in. Nothing showed on the street side that indicated there was an entrance. The front, of course, was out of the question, so she’d have to try the back.
Okay, move, she told herself. You’ve come this far, you had an idiotic, drunk idea; now you follow through on it. Grabbing her flashlight, she crossed the street, looking nervously about her. She held her flashlight low to the ground and spied a small window, just large enough to admit a grown man. Walking quietly, using the “jungle walk” her brothers had taught her, she explored the back of the house, and saw a back door and steps. Her flashlight revealed old and peeling paint, and the steps were bowed slightly. She turned back to where the small window was.
Hidden in the shadows, Mariah spoke in a tone no human ears could hear. “Now!” she said, grasping Crazy Girl’s hand.
Just before Thea reached the window, it went flying out, landing on the lawn at the sidewalk’s edge. She went to inspect it, drawing back in surprise when she saw that the glass was barely cracked, not shattered as she expected. “My God,” she whispered, “What the hell?” Windows did not project themselves on their own. She knelt down and reached a finger out to touch it, then jerked back as if she were afraid she might get burned.
Her feet dragged her reluctantly to the where the empty hole now gaped at the side of the house and peered in. She pointed her flashlight into the empty darkness and saw a set of stairs that obviously led somewhere. As she swept the light back and forth she thought she saw something sitting at the foot of the stairs. She broke a glow stick and threw it towards the staircase, and gasped as the light illuminated the figure of someone tied to the foot of the stairs.
Frantically she looked around for something to tie her rope to, but there was nothing. She took a deep breath, then slipped through the window, landing feet first in the soft dirt of the basement. She looked to the stairs and saw a girl tied to a beam under the staircase.
She ran over and pulled her boot knife out of her Doc Martins. The blade she always kept sharpened sliced easily through the ropes that bound the girl’s hands and ankles. Putting her hand on the gag that covered the girl’s mouth, she told her softly, “Don’t say anything. Don’t scream, don’t talk to me, don’t cry, don’t do anything to attract attention, understand?” The girl nodded, her fear evident in her eyes. “You have to be quiet. We don’t want him to know I’m here. My name is Thea, I’m going to get us out of here.”
Thea wrestled with the knot. When it proved to be too tight, she used the point of her knife to loosen it. Finally, she resorted to cutting the bandana and tearing it off the girl’s head.
She wasn’t prepared for the arms that went around her, holding her tightly. Silent tears were running down the girl’s cheeks while she struggled to remain quiet. Thea understood. She wasn’t a crier, never had been, but right now she was almost ready to cry, too. She waited patiently for the girl to calm down, wondering how the heck she was going to get them out of the basement.
Thea knew she could boost the girl out of the window, allowing her to escape. The problem was that would leave her trapped unless she could get out of the window on her own, which she doubted. She could ask the girl to go to the nearest house and call the police, but would she be too scared to remember? Would people even listen to her? Was she too far gone to even make sense—fear did crazy things to people. Besides, she didn’t want to stay here alone.
She un-entwined herself from the girl’s arms and pulled out her cell phone. She walked around, clicking it, trying to get a signal, but it was no use. The basement effectively blocked any signal, rendering her phone useless. The light on her phone was almost as good as her flashlight, so she was glad that she had a fallback.
“He’s upstairs,” Kit whispered in her ear, “I don’t know who he is but he lives here. I think he was going to kill me.”
Thea nodded, so Michael had been right. She went back and sat under the stairs, pulling the girl with her. She noticed that she could see through the open structure of the stairs. It was only a small advantage, but they would see him before he could see them. Thea pulled out her knife, gripping it hard. She didn’t know what she could do, but she had a good sharp knife. The thought of using it to actually kill someone, as if she could, made her feel sick, but it felt like a talisman, there to bring her luck and keep her safe.
The frightened girl was crying softly, tears streaming in a flood down her face, so to divert her Thea whispered softly, “What’s your name?”
“Kit,” came the reply. “Kit?” Where had she heard that before? Someone’s name was Kit, she knew the name, or maybe she thought she knew. She had a nagging feeling she should know who this person was, but right now she didn’t.
“Kit, I want you to get behind me. Press yourself against the wall as hard as you can. If he comes here, he’ll be looking ahead, not down. If he does see one of us, he’ll see me first.” Thea gathered up the pieces of rope; digging into the soft dirt of the basement, she put the pieces into a hole and covered them up. One way or another, he’d know that Kit was loose, whether the rope was visible or not.
She peeped at the open window through the shelter of the stairs. She could boost Kit out, but then that would leave her with no exit, she thought again. If only her damn cell phone could get a signal. She sat back and waited; she wished, futilely, that she was anyplace else. She played with her knife, wanting to be ready when the inevitable happened when whoever had done this to Kit came down the stairs. She went over in her mind, like a catechism, the different veins, and arteries in different places in the body. It was a stupid thing to think, but she’d have to hurt him somehow. Escape wouldn’t happen if she didn’t do something.