It was a warm July afternoon, the kind of warm you would expect on a summer day in Southern California.
The kids were huddled in a corner of the back yard plotting their strategies for the annual game of hide and seek … a tradition started years earlier by the moms, dads, aunts and uncles. While Uncle Johnnie barbequed the Fourth of July feast, the seventeen visiting children would scurry to their secret places and wait for the adults to find them. The adults used this time to relax and enjoy the silence … and eventually search for their children, of course.
“Is it time?” Kyle bounded across the well groomed grass. “Is it time? Can we hide now?”
He always liked this part of the family tradition, but this year impatience held him in its burning grasp. Though Kyle was older than most of his eight siblings, this year he graduated from being “a younger child” to “an older child” within the entire clan, and would be allowed to hide on the hillside behind the property.
Everyone was preparing for the big evening. Uncle Johnnie added the final touches to the chicken legs and tri-tip while Uncle Tim poured extra lighter fluid to the heaping bed of charcoal. Aunt Jan checked her homemade biscuits while Grandma and the others prepared the rest of the meal.
“You’re asking me?” Uncle Johnnie smiled, washing the marinade from his hands. “I’m just the cook.”
“You can all hide as soon as Uncle Tim lights the barbeque.” Aunt Jan shooed the young boy from the bustling kitchen.
A bright orange glow dwarfing the light of the afternoon sun cast eerie shadows about the house. A pillar of flames thrust skyward causing frightened birds and helicopter pilots to alter their course.
“The fire’s going.” Uncle Tim poked his head through the door; the glow from his pink face seemed to accentuate the nubs of his singed eyebrows.
“Oh boy!” Kyle bolted into the yard. “Hey guys, it’s time.”
In a matter of seconds the entire herd scattered; a wave of silence washed over the house.
The seven older children scampered up the hill in search of their perfect spots.
“I found it.” Timmy pushed a small tree limb aside and peered into a tiny clearing encircled by trees and shrubs. He stepped with great care, wanting to avoid the thistles and other hazardous protrusions which blocked his path. He released the branch and squatted. “Nobody will see me in here.” The branch whipped back and whacked Andrea on the nose.
“I got dibs on the tree.” Joshua sprinted toward a nearby pine. He glanced over his shoulder at the pursuing mob. “You can’t catch me,” he laughed. The tickling of pine needles on his head caught his attention; he turned to look.
A low dangling pinecone smacked him square in the forehead, laying him out flat on his back.
“It’s my tree now!” Andrea walked past, giggling profusely.
The others proceeded to crawl under bushes, dive behind rocks or otherwise camouflage themselves; Kyle remained unhidden.
“Why can’t I find my perfect place?” he muttered, his exhilaration fading to frustration. He grabbed a large stick from the ground and swung it at low hanging leaves and pinecones. Disconsolate, he sat on a log.
The rustling of leaves caught his attention. “Oh no, they’re go’na find me.” He looked down the path, but there were no adults near. The tall, dry grass began to sway. “Dad? Uncle…”
An animal bolted out from the weeds.
“Oh my gosh!” Kyle fell backwards, landing at the base of a shrub covered in ivy. He pulled himself to his feet as the squirrel ran frightened up a nearby tree. “What’s this?” He scrutinized a gap in the vegetation. “This is perfect,” he squealed, having discovered a hollow behind the shrub.
He squeezed through a narrow gap, trying not to disturb the veil of leaves and vines. He paused on the other side, his mouth agape. “Wow,” he murmured. He stood at the opening of a cave staring into the deep blackness. “How far does it go?” He reached into his pocket, searching amongst his collection of candy wrapper and lint for his flashlight.
Kyle’s eyes grew wide with trepidation, but curiosity of the unknown drew him deeper into the crepuscular cavern. He pushed forward; dirt particles flying with every step, obscuring his already diminished vision. He felt his way long the wall; a cobweb brushed across his cheek.
His flashlight grew dim, but he pressed on filled with exhilaration. He found a large room near the back of the cave. The hide and seek game had long ago been forgotten; only the mystery of the macabre chamber remained in his thoughts.
His flashlight went out. He sat on a boulder, his mind swimming with imagination.
Having found the younger children, the adults endeavored up the hill in search of the more adventurous group.
“I see you, Andrea.” Uncle Tim pointed up into the tree.
“Oh man. No fair.” She started her descent.
“Your red shirt was kind of obvious,” her mom chuckled. “Aren’t you a little close to the end…”
The end of the branch gave way; Andrea tried to catch a passing branch in desperation.
“Thanks, Timmy. That could’ve hurt.” Andrea helped her cousin to his feet.
“It did hurt.” Timmy rubbed his keister. “Good thing I have some padding.”
In short time all of the older children had been found … All except Kyle.
“Last I saw he was sitting on that log over there.” Joshua gestured in the general direction.
The group scrambled up the hill.
“Kyle!” Rick barked.
Kyle remained mesmerized by the blackness, oblivious to the commotion outside the cave. His mind whirring like a blender set on high.
“Kyle!” his father’s voice resonated through the cavern.
“Uhh-oh.” The young boy hurried to cave entrance bursting through ivy covering in a cloud of dirt and debris.
Rick wiped the face of his silt covered son. “Maybe we should call you Dust from now on.”
“It was so dark.” Kyle’s face beamed with delight. “All those things … those fascinating objects that cannot be seen, those things that exist in the dark.”
“If you only knew how dark the places go, you’d be less inclined to venture in,” his dad replied.
These words would have a profound impact on Kyle’s life.
Although the preceding story is based on actual events, some of the facts may have been altered.
Well, maybe a lot of the facts were altered …
So I made up most of it, at least the names were real.
This is thrilling. I was expecting him to find a bear or a skunk in the cave, then I thought maybe he ran through some poison ivy to find his cave. You are a master storyteller. I hope you share this every year at your family reunion. I can just picture all of the younger kids sitting around you while you recite this story.