Hide and Seek
Lit Up — December Prompt
June faced the tree trunk and counted. One, two, three. Behind her, Paul scurried down a dirt path and crouched behind a moss-covered stone. Four, five, six. The singing birds hid in the dense cluster of leaves and branches above him. Seven, eight, nine. He should have run further down the path and hid behind the stones, but he didn’t want to be too far. Ten — ready or not, here I come! Paul lowered his head.
June turned around, but instead of looking for Paul, she asked me, “Do you have to put me in your stupid story?”
“Are you talking to me?” I asked.
Ignoring my question, she continued, “Sure, we used to hang out, but I moved out of the neighborhood when I was eleven. Remember?”
“How are you talking to me? You’re a character I made up.”
“Oh puh-leeze, I know you’re basing me on the girl who used to live down the street when you were a kid. I can’t believe you haven’t gotten over me yet.”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just trying to write a story. A fictional story.”
“We played hide-and-seek when we were, like, five. These kids are what? Ten? And our parents wouldn’t have let us play in the woods.” She slapped her bare arms twice. “Goddamn it! If I’m gonna be in your story, can you at least write the mosquitoes out?”
Okay, okay, maybe this was a bad idea. Let me try something else.
After Marianne turned off the stove, she called for her husband, Big Tony, and their five-year-old son, Little Tony. “Dinner’s ready!” No one answered. She called them again, but there was still no answer. Muttering, she marched into the living room. The TV was on, but his brown leather armchair was empty. Little Tony’s blocks were scattered on the red carpet. Where did they go? She called again. Finally, the two Tonys jumped up from behind the brown leather couch.
Marianne turned to me and groaned. “You and your father used to drive me crazy with your tricks.”
“Oh no, not you too,” I said.
“Big Tony, turn off that TV,” she said. “Take Little Tony to the kitchen.”
“Who are you talking to?” Little Tony asked.
“I’m talking to you, but you’re older,” Marianne told Little Tony. “Now you’re a big-shot writer.”
“Cool!” Little Tony said before his father took him into the kitchen.
“Look, that kid’s not me, and you’re not my mother,” I said.
“Yes, I am. You just changed the names. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know.”
“Listen, can we go back to the scene?”
“That music — what is it?”
“Wait! You can hear the music I’m playing?”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“It’s Jean Sibelius. The Swan of Tuonela.”
“Sheesh, no wonder you’re so serious and dull all the time.”
All right, this isn’t working. Maybe I’ll use a prompt. Oh, I got it. This time I’m going to create a character who’s not like anyone I know.
Cygnum stood on the rock, staring at the ocean. The rays from the setting sun glittered on his bill. He squinted his small, onyx eyes and leaned forward, his long, thin neck covered in white feathers. In the distance, a ship sailed in the shadows. Cygnum spread his wings and soared into the darkening sky. As he got closer, he descended but was careful not to get too close. A man stood at the bow of the ship. Rohkea Soturi! After all these years, Rohkea had discovered Cygnum’s secret location and now sought revenge. Cygnum’s heart raced. He returned to land.
Then he turned to me and said, “Dude, seriously? I know I used to pick on you in elementary school, but did you really have to turn me into the Swan of Tuonela?”
“Oh my God!” I said.
“Yeah, I get it: You’re supposed to ‘write what you know.’ But couldn’t you have put a little more thought into it?”
“You’re half-man, half-swan. I think that’s pretty imaginative.”
“Not really, dude. You only made me a swan because of that music you’re listening to.”
“Well, okay, you got me there.”
Cygnum gazed at his reflection in a still pool of water near the rock. “Still, I must say, as a swan-man, I’m better looking.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“Even your mama thinks so.”
“Oh, that’s really mature. Aren’t you a little old for ‘your mama’ jokes?”
“Don’t believe me. Ask her yourself.”
“Mom! I mean, Maryanne. What are you doing here?”
“Told you,” Cygnum said, stretching his arm across her back.
“By the way,” Marianne said, “your father and I are getting a divorce.”
“What?” I shouted. “How could you? What about Dad?”
“Oh, I’m fine.” Big Tony held June’s hand as they walked toward the rock.
“June?” I shrieked. “She’s just a kid!”
Big Tony and June stopped. “Just in your dumb little story,” he said.
Grrr! That’s it! I’m going to finish writing something if it kills me.
Below the placid surface of the pond, the tardigrade crawls on the brown sludge at the bottom. With each movement, its eight arms, each with four claws, dig into the sediment, yet because of its small size, it leaves no trace. It thrusts itself above the ground and swims through the murky brown waters toward the reeds. After gliding through the tall slender plants, it spots something moving in the algae near the shore: a nematode, whose tiny, thin body is nearly hidden in the green slime it’s eating. Slowly and steadily, the tardigrade sneaks behind the nematode and, as soon as it gets close enough, pierces its tail. The tardigrade begins to suck on the nematode, which is trying to writhe itself free. More and more of the nematode enters its predator’s tubular mouth to be digested inside the tardigrade’s stomach. When it’s finished eating, it descends back to the familiar sludge, hoping it won’t experience the same fate as its prey.