The sky is dark and angry, rain dumping from the dark clouds. You lay on your back in your bead, staring blankly at the ceiling. There is so much on your mind, all the things you escaped to be here, all the people you ran away from. And, on top of all that, you’ve got your first day of this new job. Nothing is going the way you’ve planned and there’s nothing more you want to do than roll over and cover your head with your blanket, blocking out the world pressing in on you. But you can’t. Instead, you throw off the covers and pull your legs out of the tangled sheets. Sighing, you stand and get ready for the day.
A pale sun has just begun to peek out from behind the lingering clouds when you walk out the door. The grass is glistening with dew, making the lawn look like a field of emerald glass. Your foot catches in a crack on the sidewalk and you stumble, catching yourself moments before you meet the ground. Just dandy you sigh as your brush yourself off. A wonderful way to start the morning.
The rest of the trip goes smoothly. Puddles dotting the sidewalk are the only indicator of the early morning rain, and the air smells of dampness and engine exhaust. As you make your way to the newspaper editing establishment where you work, you see other pedestrians on similar excursions. A woman with a stroller, the child inside wining in contempt. A group of adolescents stroll down the street, pushing each other and laughing. An important looking man standing across the street, cell phone pressed against his ear. But you stop dead I your tracks when you see a man, maybe mid-twenties, standing directly across the street from you, just staring. He has short cropped sandy hair tucked under a blue cap, and wears a worn-out jean jacket and a pair of aviator sunglasses. His expression is void of emotion and extremely focused. A truck moves between you and the strange man, momentarily blocking your view of each other. You crane your neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the person, but when the truck passes, the man is nowhere to be seen. You take a second to scan the streets, hoping to identify the adversary in the sea of faces, but he’s gone. You shiver despite the warm sun and pull your jacket tighter around your body. It’s nothing you say to yourself. Just a trick playing in my imagination. You chuckle lightheartedly, a weak attempt to try and convince yourself that nothing was wrong, but you walk just a little quicker down the street.
Breathing a little easier, you step into the door of Editor Smith and Co and make your way towards your office. The Editor Smith and Co is a small, single level establishment with cheap carpet and squeaky doors. James D. Smith, the founder, sold the company over a decade ago and the new owner, Natalie Jones, doesn’t have enough money to change the name even though she constantly voices her distaste over it.
“Good morning,” says the woman at the reception desk. “How can I help you today?” her smile was warm and innocent, a perfect face framed by perfect hair.
“Um,” you stammer , “this is my first day on the job. My name is Ashton. Ashton Blaire.” You fidget uncomfortably, fingers drumming against the side of your thigh as you survey the scene around you. It’s a simple enough reception area, though not very big. The desk you currently stand at is in the very center of the room facing a pair of glass doors. The grey carpet lining the floor looks like it could use a good vacuuming, and a few chairs are lined up against the sides of the room, though seemly seldom occupied.
“Oh yes,” the girl’s blue eyes sparkle with recognition. And her perfectly manicured nails click and clack on the keyboard as she types. “I see you know on the register.” She holds out a hand and smiles. “My name is Victoria.” You take the outstretched palm, marveling at how perfectly smooth it is. “Right this way.” Victoria stands and smooths her already perfectly straight blouse and makes her way to the large doors behind her desk without checking to see if you’re following.
She leads you down a long hallway, doors lining either side of the wall. Each door is adorned with a golden plaque, the names and jobs of those who work there etched in. After what seems like forever, Victoria stops in front of a plaqueless door and notices your lack of supplies.
“Didn’t you bring anything for your office?” she asks skeptically. “Pictures? Binders? Anything?”
You hesitate, not knowing how much to reveal about your past. “I had to leave my last job in a hurry.” She raises an eyebrow, not convinced. “I didn’t have a whole lot of time to pack up.” Victoria is still skeptical, and looks like she’s about to ask a question. But before she can get the words out, you slip into the office and shut the door behind you, throwing a hasty goodbye over your shoulder.
You press your back against the wall, breathing heavily. The image of the strange man on the street flashes through your mind. It can’t be, they never could have found me. You think. I thought I covered my tracks!
You collapse in the simple black spinning chair facing away from the desk, suddenly exhausted. The navy-blue walls of the small office feel like they’re caving in, suffocating and crushing you. You swivel the seat away from the walls, hoping to break the illusion. A single starched white envelope is placed in the middle of the desk, unmarked.
Your sweat turns cold as you reach for it carefully, as if it’s a rattlesnake coiled to strike. You tear open the seal and extract an unfolded piece of paper the size on an index card. On it were written seven words scribed in thick black marker.
HIDE AND SEEK IS OVER. YOU LOSE.