The Hider Psychological Suspense Short Fiction By Barbara Stanley

The Hider: Psychological Suspense Short Fiction By Barbara Stanley

Barbara Stanley, author of The Hider, has previously published dark fiction in ThugLit and Spinetingler magazine among others. A collection of her previously published stories has been released under the title Bitsy and Other Dark Tales.

*****

She is looking for it, but she will not find it. She is sure she left it on the bedroom dresser. Her favorite pin, the one she’s had for seven years. Her foot stamps in frustration. She exhales a sharp sigh. Where is that damn pin?

She is correct. The pin was left on the bedroom dresser. She did not forget its location, but she will never see it again. I have it. I’ll keep it. It’s buried in the crawlspace underneath the house. My bedroom. It is my souvenir, and my first message to her. I am the Hider.

I live here with my family.

Her foot stamps in frustration. She exhales a sharp sigh. Where is that damn pin?

This is an old house, a sturdy cottage with lots of windows and honey-colored wood floors that don’t creak. The heater is on the floor, a Bunsen burner type arrangement where you turn on the heat with a key. When I lie on my back I can see up through the grille. It’s a great set-up. I can hear every voice going by and the footsteps are like thunder. Down here the dirt has a good smell and a comforting, gritty feel. I rub it between my fingers as I rest on my back on the ground. A little slug travels over me leaving a shining trail on my skin. It tickles, but I won’t laugh. I’m far too quiet for that. No one notices or hears me. I just rest, and wait.

I’ve been here two months.

Right now she is cursing under her breath. She stomps around, looking for the pin. She’s mad because she won’t be able to wear it. Time is running out and she has to leave—husband and baby are waiting. Tonight’s routine is a familiar one. It’s Friday Night Dinner Out, and everyone is right on schedule, like cross-country trains. I have come to change that. It is my gift to my family. I hope she receives my message.

I’ve been in the house many times now. It’s not so hard to get in as you’d think. There’s often a door unlocked or a window open in this warmer weather. A few seconds is all I’ve ever needed. Plus I’ve discovered the back door key in its hiding place above the doorjamb. A great find. Once I climbed through the ceiling trapdoor and spent a day and a night in the attic. I lay silent and still in that tiny space straining to hear any voice or movement. I won’t do that again. Never have I felt so remote and lifeless, so terribly alone. I don’t like being above. I prefer being beneath.

I prefer darkness. It’s my natural realm. A special place, the quiet black where I learned my skills of long ago. No movement and no sound—the Hider’s skills of safety. Far from rough hands, restraints, and forced medications. A place to puzzle over curious words that still echo in my head—abandoned, ward of State, personality disorder, delusional episodes. Family unknown.

Family unknown. That’s different now. My family is here, a whisper away.

I stare at the boards above me, feel the beating of my heart; shiver, but not from the cold-

A little longer. Just a little while longer. Night will come again.

My favorite time inside is at night. I love to pad around in the darkness—after all, it’s my house too. Many time I drift through the rooms, quiet as any ghost. I touch the sofa and the chairs. My family rests on these. I pick up the plates and the spoons they eat from; I pick up the knives. I peek into each bedroom with a big smile on my face, heart pounding. My family sleeps here, dreaming of me, maybe. Without them I am invisible. Without them I truly am a ghost.

The little boy is a tiny being with bright blue eyes that stare matter-of-factly into my own, with no fear whatsoever. His is just learning to talk. He calls me man.

“Man, Mama, man,” he’ll say, pointing with a wobbly arm to a corner of his room. His mother always thinks he is pointing to his toys. She never looks in his closet.

I visit him also at night when he’s sleeping. I listen to his puffs of breath, touch his warm, sleep soft skin, smell the humid baby smell. He might awaken briefly to stare at me with those huge eyes, but he never makes a sound. He just smiles, and goes back to sleep. He loves me.

The master bedroom has a big four poster bed with a bright soft quilt on it. It is the sunniest room in the house, cozy and inviting. Pictures of baby and many generations of family line the dressers. I search carefully, but no picture of me has appeared. Fancy clothes hang neatly in the closet and shoes are aligned in an orderly fashion below.  I’ve included some of my belongings as well—twigs and bits of leaves, a small spider. A light peach scent drifts from a sachet hidden somewhere. I have my own scent. I live in this house, have dimension and form. Therefore I am real.

I come here in the daytime, into the empty house, take crackers from the back of the pantry, or eat food from dust-covered cans of food. The rest I can get from the garbage can. Sometimes I wash up a bit in the big porcelain tub. I stand on the damp mat and let the air dry me. Then I’ll lie in the pool of sunlight that streams through the bedroom curtains, watching the lacy shadows on my body. The patterns comfort me.

Some nights I hear energetic love-making with quiet conversation afterward. I hear plans for the future and hopes for baby; what lies ahead for him. And sometimes, a mention of me.

“There’s that funky smell again,” she says, “Comes and goes. Weird.”

I want so badly to reach out from under the bed and touch them. But I don’t.

I am here Mother. I am here Father. I am waiting for you.

In my bedroom under the house I touch my souvenirs like so many secret prizes. I have bits of paper, notes and envelopes, pins, breadcrusts, seeds, clips, hair. Things my family has used and needed. Things they never notice missing. I use them now. I need them now. They are beside me in the dirt and darkness.

Tonight is my last message.

I’ve taken Mother’s pin. My first message to her specifically. All my attempts with Father have failed. Messages in the trash swept away, back into the garbage can. Wet messages hosed off the porch with a thoroughness I even admire. All gone. Mother is my last hope.

I will dig up her pin and wear it when the time comes.

Tonight.

This time will be different. This time will be perfect. Mother will open her eyes and see me, hold out her arms in welcome. Father will smile and say, “Welcome home.” Baby will touch me and laugh. I will laugh too, and join my family to live life as a real person, not as a shadow. Not as a Hider.

I’ve communicated mentally for years, sending directives to my family. Reassurances that I’m coming—wait for me, and I’ll find you. Even after my release, my thoughts sent the call. Living in shadows, unseen and invisible, in dirty streets and damp alleyways—hunger and cold and eyes staring through me. Waiting, always, for the moment of recognition.

I’ve done my best to help them remember. Maybe time has dimmed my messages. Then I see my eye color, my hair color. And I know this time I’m not mistaken.

Four times I’ve had to leave families. Four mistakes I deeply regret. Sometimes I vanished with no trace, like an unwanted ghost from the castle. Other times were—not so quiet. Unwanted sadness and waste. This time will be different. I know it. I know it.

The sun is setting just now. The sky is a brilliant pink with a bright splash of red near the bottom. Golden fingers reach into the crawlspace and touch my body with light. A good sign.

Happiness lies ahead.

I’ll wait for my family to come home. I’ll lie in my dirt and play silent word games, comforting games to me. Familiar words I hear in my head, rhyming in a sing-song pattern: Shame. Same. Sane. Cops. Corpse. Cope. I’m shaking with fright and joy. It’s not every day a beloved reunion takes place.

One more note before the beginning. I’ll be more careful this time. Just a bit of trash needed, but the thoughtful arrangement of color and shape will clearly convey the meaning: I love you. Do not be afraid.

Then tonight, when it’s dark, I’ll come into the house and awaken my sleeping family.

Dearest Mother. Dearest Father. Sweetest Baby.

I am the Hider. I am waiting, in my dark corner.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed The Hider, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.

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