” … 47, 48, 49, 50. Ready or not, here I come!”
Benjamin Dunnel lifted his face from his arms and stepped back from the old oak tree he’d been leaning on. Hide and Seek was his favorite game in the world; he’d been playing it since he was only five. He was twelve now (at least he would be in three days) and he hadn’t lost a game in almost four years.
The last time that had happened he’d been playing with the Martin twins, Janet and Hillary. They’d been older than Benjamin by two years.
They should have known better.
After all, everyone knew Benjamin was … special.
But Benjamin was also a cute eight year old and they didn’t think much of it when he’d thrown a temper tantrum after they’d won, dropping and thrashing about on the grass behind his house, screaming at the top of his lungs.
His mother Elaine had come running, the fear on her face a reminder of the constant danger in allowing other children to play with Benjamin.
“Janet … Hillary, what have you done?” She’d screamed, self-preservation forcing her to put the blame on them instead of Benjamin.
They’d never had the chance to reply.
Benjamin had grown quiet, had sat up on the grass … and stared at the twins.
“Go away,” he’d whispered, blue eyes blazing. Something cold and dark passed behind his eyes.
Then quieter, just a whisper of a whisper, a single word:
A strong wind had begun to blow from some point just behind him. His shoulder length blond hair had flown out before him like party streamers; his over-sized striped tee-shirt billowing out around his stomach.
Elaine had watched in horror as the wind had engulfed the twins and tore them apart, skin flayed and tattered, eyes turning to a filmy white mush in their sockets. They’d opened their mouths to scream and their lips had burst, teeth wrenched from their cavities.
Their hands had flown instinctively to their faces but mid-way had begun to crumble at the elbow and then the shoulder, turning to dust and flying up into the sky above Benjamin’s home.
The twins long black hair had flown backwards, taking their scalps with it, revealing a mess of blood and bone. Then this, two, had begun to crumble, until the whole of their bodies had become particularized and airborne, twirling in the hot summer sun before the wind died down and then stopped altogether.
Elaine stood on the back porch, the events of that horrific day just as present to her today as they were four years ago.
She watched her son finish counting and begin searching for Kaylee and Kyle Waters, the latest children “selected” to play with Benjamin. Kaylee was fourteen; her younger brother Kyle, ten.
Elaine was concerned about Kyle’s age but Kaylee insisted she’d already spoken with her brother about the importance of keeping Benjamin happy. “He won’t be any trouble, Mrs. Dunnel, I promise,” she’d said, a forced smile plastered onto her face.
It was Benjamin, of course, who had picked the children. It was always Benjamin. He’d chosen the Waters children because he liked how both of their names began with a K.
“Like Karate, or Ketchup,” he’d said, staring up at the sky that morning and twirling until he’d fallen, dizzy, to the ground. He’d lain there a moment, smiling and staring up into the sky until a bank of angry looking clouds had threatened to block the sun.
Elaine could see what was coming.
She’d watched as Benjamin’s smile had faltered, then shriveled up and died, his mouth twisting into an ugly sneer as he’d whispered “Go away;” then quieter, just a whisper of a whisper, a single word:
The clouds had begun turning the blackest of black, roiling and boiling and finally bursting into flame, raining fire down onto the grass and trees. The clouds had dissipated then, smoky tendrils swirling lazily toward the sun.
“I’ll play with them next Saturday,” he’d announced, rising to his feet and walking toward his house.
Lost in this memory Elaine failed to see that Kyle was now standing with his arms crossed in front of Benjamin. It wasn’t until she heard Benjamin’s cry of anger that she realized something was wrong. She ran down the porch steps and toward the two boys.
“You cheated! I know you did!” Kyle yelled, uncrossing his arms and pointing a finger right at Benjamin. Kaylee stood behind her brother, tugging at his free arm, desperately trying to get him to calm down.
“He’s a cheater, Kaylee; a dirty rotten cheater!”
Kaylee gasped, releasing her brother’s arm. “Kyle, no!” she hissed, instinctively taking a step back.
Elaine watched in horror as Kyle poked his finger into Benjamin’s chest and yelled “Cheater!” at the top of his lungs. She was just coming up behind Benjamin when she heard him whisper “Go away,” then quieter, just a whisper of a whisper, a single word …