Asa sat, one knee under his chin, the other leg tucked neatly under his bottom, under his father’s tool table, giggling to himself with his hands over his mouth to keep from being heard.
He sat in the garden shed, a tiny, wooden workspace that his father had built years ago when Asa was just beginning to tell the difference between baby babble and the language his father spoke. He had crawled into the already-cramped space under the table and had surrounded himself with dusty boxes his father kept filled with old clothes, applauding himself as the true master of hide-and-seek.
He laughed joyously.
He knew it! He had told his father that he did not stand a chance! How could he, up against the real master of the game? He should have known, the silly old man, that after years of playing hide-and-seek Asa knew every corner of the house, and that no corner should be trusted. He had grown in wisdom, had realized that the best hiding place was not inside of the house, but next to it. He envisioned his father searching high and low, looking behind every bookshelf and in every wardrobe, traveling to the peak of the Zugspitze and the deepest part of the Rhine, even going so far as to look inside his grandfather’s grave to find him.
But he would never find Asa. Not in here, not in the best hiding place in the world!
He giggled again, this time much louder than the last. He clapped his hands over his mouth as he heard a sound from outside the shed.
He froze, staying incredibly still to keep from being found. He would not forgive himself if his rejoicing revealed him. He tightened his hands over his mouth, trying to convince himself that the footsteps approaching the shed were not real, that the game master would never be found, that he would spend the rest of his life in this shed, laughing and laughing at how his father never got around to finding him, even after years and years and years.
But, to his horror, the door of the shed creaked open, and there was his father, wearing a neatly-ironed uniform with several multicolored buttons on the chest and on the shoulders, a dress-up Asa had never seen before. His father’s chest and below was all that Asa could see, for the table he hid under blocked his father’s head from his vision. He stepped slowly into the shed.
“I know you are here.” The accent was heavy with German, and Asa knew at once that the man was not his father.
Realization sunk in quickly. Asa cursed to himself in Hebrew, anger forming a pit in his stomach. His father had slipped and cursed many times in front of Asa, claiming that it was an accident, that he should forget what he had heard, that he should never say those words, not to his father, not to anyone, not to himself.
But Asa cursed to himself now, going against his father’s rules because his father had gone against his. He knew why the man was here, and he did not want to believe it.
Asa had told his father, had repeated it himself over a hundred times, the most important rule: no one was allowed to have help in this game. His father alone must find Asa, that was the golden rule!
But here Asa was, about to be found by a man who was not his father! He knew he had chosen the best hiding place, and that it would take hours to find him, but that didn’t mean his father should have called for help! That was cheating!
Asa waited for the man to conclude that the boy was not in the shed, to walk out and continue searching elsewhere. But the man stood fixedly, as still as a statue.
Asa waited and waited, but the man did not give up.
The man closed the door of the shed behind him, and Asa accepted his fate, knowing with a pang that the man would not leave until he had found him. The man knew he was in here, and he was waiting for Asa to reveal himself. And Asa knew that when the man began overturning boxes and moving things around, in a few minutes, maybe even seconds, he would be found, and the game would be over.
He decided to stop mulling over being found and focused instead on how his father had betrayed him. He had cheated! He was a cheater! He had gone against the rules of his game, and now he would never play with Asa again. Asa would not allow him to, would not agree to it. He let out an angry huff.
The man heard the sound immediately. He walked over to the tool table and stood directly in front of it. Asa expected him to laugh and call out to his father, open the door of the shed and yell, “I’ve got him! I’ve got him,” hear his father run out of the house and into the shed.
Instead, the man got on one knee. He had pale, almost translucent skin and blue eyes the color of the German summer sky, with a pearly smile spread across his face. He extended a hand to Asa. When he spoke, his voice was icy.
“What are you doing in here?”
“This is my hiding place,” Asa said defensively.
The man laughed. “Hiding place? From me?”
“From my Pa. And you.”
“Yes, and my father is a cheater.”
A look of confusion passed over the man’s face.
“He has asked you to help him find me, so he would win this game. That’s cheating. My father is a cheater.”
The man laughed again, and the smile returned. It looked as if it had been painted on his face long ago. “Yes, yes. You got me.”
“What is your name?”
“Me?” The man looked childlike, with the sunlight in his eyes and the smile on his face. “Ludwig.”
Asa wanted to ask Ludwig how he had met his father, why he had agreed to conspire with him. He wanted to ask him where he had gotten his uniform, what the buttons meant, if his father had given it to him so he could dress the part. Asa had played seeker hundreds of times, but his father had never given him a uniform like that to wear.
Because he is a cheater. That’s why!
Anger quickly washed away Asa’s curiosity, leaving him seething.
Ludwig noticed the furrowing of Asa’s eyebrows and reached out to brush the brown curls away from his forehead. “Do not be upset,” he said, drawing back his hand and continuing to smile at him. “Come.”
“Aren’t you going to call Pa and tell him where I have been hiding?” Asa asked, his expression still sour.
“He is the one who told me where you would be,” Ludwig said. “He is already outside.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Asa. He would not leave this shed in defeat, he refused to. For since his father had broken the golden rule, he must pay for his offense, and that was losing, losing even though Asa had been found. He had been found, yes, but that did not mean he had lost. He would walk out of this shed a winner. It was only fair.
“You must tell Pa that I have won. I will not speak to him,” he said at once, jutting his jaw at Ludwig. “Even if I was found, he cheated, and so he lost.”
Ludwig appeared to not have heard him. “Come,” he repeated, extending his hand once again. “Your Pa is waiting for you outside. The game is over.”
Asa felt that he had said all he had needed to say, and so he would walk out of the shed with his head held high, knowing that he was the rightful winner, the unbeatable master of hide-and-seek. He would look his father in the eye, and his father would know that he had made a grave mistake. He would get on his knees and hail Asa as the true master of the game, one who played fair, one who won without the need to cheat. The image was enough for Asa to finally agree to go outside.
When he took Ludwig’s hand, the man’s grip was hard and cold, and when Ludwig walked almost silently behind him out of the shed, the boy did not see his father, and he felt chilled to the bone.
Christen Dimalanta is a 20-year-old writer from Guam. She is majoring in Literature because she is in love with words. When she is not writing about wolves, she is running with them. Their traces can be found on http://shewolfwritings.wordpress.com.