Ten years earlier. 1999.
"Okay, you count and I'll hide!" I yell at my cousin who is running towards me across the sunny lawn that surrounds my house. The smell of steak fills the air as my dad grills his "homemade" recipe and the bustle that my family is creating most likely surrounds the cars that pass on our street.
Paula shakes her head, her pigtails following her every movement. "No, I want to hide!"
"You all ready did!" I reason with her. "Come on P. let me hide?"
Her cheeks turn rosy and she sucks in her breath, "Fine, but next time you count!"
I smirk as I walk away, making sure that she doesn't see me. I have never, and will never, underestimate Paula—even if she is only seven.
I hear her counting and I run towards my sprawling house. Being twelve, an only child, and having lived in the same mansion all of my life, there were little hiding places that were unknown to me. I rush past Kyle, our butler, and ignore Gloria's (our maid) cry of surprise as I nearly knock over the laundry in her hands.
I rush up the first set of stairs and reach the first guest room on the floor. Opening the door quickly I search out the secret switch that allows me to enter a tiny, hidden nook. I swallow hard and forget the spider webs, this is the perfect place—she can never find me.
I make myself as comfortable as I can get in a place barely large enough for my legs and I close my eyes and wait, the dark oddly sooths me against my impatience.
At first there is no sound, save for my heavy breathing, but then, there are screams; high-pitched and bloody, so loud that they overcome the thick walls hiding me from the world.
I am about to step out of my haven when the next sounds I hear freeze my all ready rapid blood: footsteps; heavy, guilty footsteps as they enter the room that I am hiding in and I hear a language that is unknown to me. Then I hear English, plain English in the shape of my father's voice.
"I—I don't know!" I can hear him, his voice sounds full of liquid.
"Where is your son?" I hear the stranger ask in broken English.
My father repeats his words, knowing perfectly well, I am sure, that I am in the same room hiding.
I cover my mouth as I hear several shots fired. I feel wetness on my face and realize that my tears have intermingled with the sweat that has been slowly dripping down my forehead. I have never been in this room for so long, so the heat is new to me.
"We need to find him!" I hear the dominant male voice scream. "You know this will all be for nothing if we can't find him!"
I hear the other men salute in the same foreign language I had previously heard and I flinch as I hear the man angrily hit something in the room.
I fall asleep, sweat and tears shower my unmoving body, and my feet rest unfeeling against the wall in front of me. For a moment, I think that I am blind, but then I remember that I am in a dark place that the world doesn't know exists.
I hear no noises disturbing the deadly silence and I slowly lift myself up and out of my hiding place. The first sight that I see makes me yelp with pain as I realize that my father's bloodied body is propped up against the wall beside the door, his eyes unseeing.
I manage not to vomit while I slowly make my way down the stairs, catching slight glimpses of Gloria and Kyle lying unmoving on the carpeted floor. The rooms that I pass are in disarray and there are bullet holes patterning the walls.
I smell the sour stench of burning meat as I reach the backyard and see everyone strewn on the manicured lawn, none breathing, bleeding their vitality out. I search in vain as I realize that my mother is lying near my grandmother. I rush to her and hold her head while I sob the tears of an innocent child. I turn my head from left to right and am only bombarded by visions of my dead family, none asking me for help.
I look over at the large tree that Paula had chosen for our game and I feel the strength of a fist hit my gut as I pitch on all fours and start discarding what little I had eaten under me. Under the long branches of the old tree lies Paula, her little pink dress flutters in the wind, her brown pigtails are tinged by scarlet red.
I hear the police coming before I see them. Footsteps rush from person to person to check for a pulse.
"Hey kid," I look up as I wipe my anguish off of my face. "You all right?"
The police officer is wearing one of those black hats you see on TV and his holster holds a heavy gun. His eyes are full of sympathy and his mouth is tense. The nails on his fingers look badly chewed off, but he does not notice me admiring his helping hand. I look behind me at my mom's last cry of surprise that is painted on her face and I glimpse, with the same sense of disgust, at my little cousin who is now surrounded by cops.
"Yeah," I say, my voice surprisingly calm. "I'm all right."