Then I saw it.
A giant armoire in the back of the attic. I heard scuffles of feet running on the floor below me. It was now or never. With my heart pounding in my throat, I navigated over chests, picture frames, boxes and cable wire. Going over around a stack of boxes that touched the ceiling, I hit a lamp. I watched with horror as it toppled over. The thud it made was unmistakable; clearly something had fallen over in the attic. The scrambling downstairs stopped. I had minutes, maybe seconds. My knees buckled with anxiety and fear. My hands fumbled with door and my shoe scuffed the bottom of the armoire as I climbed inside.
Oh God, she’s going to open the attic door and just see me lamely trying to hide. But as luck would have it, I managed to shut the armoire door and slide behind some clothes just as the scrambling picked up again. I tried very hard not to breathe. I closed my eyes as if I could turn invisible just by wishing it. The scrambling moved on. I sighed, thereby causing an eruption of dust and dry air. I smelled mothballs, cat hair and old lace all at once and it made me sneeze. Again. And again. I coughed, trying futilely to clear my airways.
In my moment of dying, I didn’t hear the attic door open. That is why my heart nearly flew out my chest when the armoire door opened and a dark figure suddenly barreled its way into the closet with me. They didn’t smell like mothballs, cat hair or old lace. Instead of old lady, the smell was boy. Teenage boy. Something along the lines of fresh cut grass, dirt, and Old Spice. The mildly attractive scents were too much for someone who had nearly drowned in old lady a moment ago. I sneezed.
“Be quite or she’ll find us.” He ordered. I recognized that voice. And the smell made sense.
“Yeah, but shut it! Scoot over, your elbow is in my face.”
“Sorry, Moby Dick.”
A pause, then he asked: “Did you just call me a whale? Was that a fat joke?”
“A more of an insult than joke, but yes.”
“Well, maybe if the Snorlax in the closet moved over a bit, we could all have more room.”
“So now I’m lazy and fat. That’s uncalled for, Hurley.”
“Lost for a comeback, aren’t you? That’s a bit below the belt, eh Peter?”
“You’re not much of a family guy any more. You’re just a jerk, Newman.”
“Wait, shut up.”
“Don’t be such a loser, Costanza. Suck it up and accept your—,”
“I’m not kidding. I think she’s coming.”
True to his word, a moment later the attic door burst open (or that’s what it sounded like). It hit the attic floor and shuddered. Someone shimmed through and immediately began shifting through the junk loitering the wooden planks. We heard her muttering to herself.
“No, they can’t fit in that box, duh. Why would they behind a mannequin . . . or under some dresses? Good plan. . .”
The footsteps came closer and suddenly the armoire doors were thrown open. Light filtered through the heavy winter coats and I thought we were done for. Now that I could see my hand in front of my face, I looked up to face my intruder. Definitely Sam, with his light brown hair, a little shaggy now that soccer season was over. He had ditched his glasses, which made sense as to why he had fumbled to get behind the coats before.
What surprised me the most was where he was situated. Over me, to be exact. The right side was completely stacked with coats and even a suitcase, so he had tried to slide over, but that’s where I was, tucked into the corner. Lost in the dark and with a certain gangly-ness that had hit him about a year ago, he ended up with one hand over my head and the other pressed against the wood near my shoulder, apparently in an effort to make us both as tiny as possible. But there was still a good eight inches between us.
She paused, looking, trying to see any abnormality. Instinctively, Sam and I held our breaths. The steady stream of warm air that smelled like peppermint gum was suddenly cut off. I felt like five minutes ago: I was suffocated. Moments ticked into minutes and minutes into hours. In a world away, she was shuffling through hats and coats and jackets and dresses but never seemed to move away the right one to reveal the last two hiders. But at any moment, she could. And this time she seemed to be on the right track. She was close, so close and in a second, the game would be over. My heart was thudding so hard in my throat, it was a wonder the noise alone didn’t give us away. Sam’s shoulder shuddered and the arm behind my head slipped lower, until his forearm rested in the crook of my neck. He was just as scared as I was, his forearm sweaty and shaking.
She was closer.
We needed to breathe, the layers of clothes on our backs and the stifling dead air sucking out the last few drops of oxygen we had left. With every shuffle of clothing we heard, Sam seemed to draw closer to me. He came closer, away from the light, away from her who was so desperate to find us. My palms sticky, I dared to rub them clean. I didn’t realize I was groping his jeans until Sam jerked slightly. I forgot he was ticklish on his hips. His other hand grabbed my shoulder. Our feet were touching. She had thrown around more clothes, covering the light and it was pitch-black. Suddenly, out the darkness, in which I could only feel and smell, I heard his breathing, millimeters away from my cheek. Did he know I could feel his dry lips on my ear? His shirt knotted tighter in my hands. I could have sworn there was a small laugh between breaths, as though to say, “Sorry, I needed to breath.”
His shoulder dipped down as I pulled it to me. I took my first breaths of life in the dark, wet crook of his shoulder. He nearly shivered, but I yanked his shirt ever so slightly. The ghost-laugh went into my ear again.
We stood there, melting while frozen . . . until the armoire door closed. We were shaking fiercely, tottering on the edge, then the attic door slammed shut. Then Sam gasped and rolled backward, and out the armoire door. He fell, definitely with enough force to wake the dead. But neither of us moved. I stood there with my eyes closed and heart thrumming wildly. My fingers were numb. I think I smelled like Old Spice. Finally I pushed back some fur coats and saw two red converse shoes sticking up into the armoire.
“You okay, Sam?”
“Just realized I’m a little claustrophobic, is all.”
Later that night, after “Uncle” had rang profusely throughout the house, Sam and I came down from the attic. We had waited for a few minutes, completely expecting to be found after the crash. But we weren’t. Sam found an old box of checkers and we played that for the next hour. And by God, we won the game of hide and seek. And all we had to do was nearly suffocate.
Everyone else had been found after only thirty minutes. When we told her where we had hid, she only nodded and smiled. She acted kind of coldly towards Sam after that.
Then the pizza came and we all went into the living room to watch Saw IV with dinner. Sam was still pouring himself a cup of Dr. Pepper when Anna walked by, grinning, and said to me:
It was Sam whose face lit up as red as a tomato in the summer.