“End to the Creepy Game”
Cali scrunched in the dark closet with her head against a box of Fruit Loops.
Is this mean? she wondered. I’ve won the last three–oh, ha!–the last four times. Even if he hasn’t stopped playing, he’s not going to like me using food against him.
Her thoughts made way for the sound of her cousin’s soft, halting footsteps. She held her breath, as much as to keep herself from giggling as to keep from giving away her position.
He stopped in front of her door so close she had to move her head to see through the slats at horizontal stripes of a black shirt and blue jeans. His head turned. Purple hair, ear, cheek. She’d left the kitchen light on to help cover her form in the closet’s shadow. He might not see any part of her.
She half closed her eyelids to cover the whites of her eyes.
The door creaked open.
She sprung up and yelled inches from her cousin’s face. “Boo!”
“Holy–” Hayden fell back, twisting, hitting his side on the island counter. He slid to the tile floor.
Cali threw herself beside him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you this time?”
“My breakfast!” he cried.
“I know, I shouldn’t have, but I realized I could fit and you couldn’t, and I’m sorry. Are you alright? I’ll get an ice pack.” One bare foot sank into soft object halfway across the kitchen. She lifted her foot to see the mutilated remains of a cheesecake slice.
“Great, Cali. Making me drop it wasn’t enough?” Hayden grunted with the effort of standing. “My boyfriend made that for me, you know.”
“You were eating cheesecake for breakfast?” Cali hopped the remaining distance to the freezer on the foot not coated in ick. “What’s wrong with you? You’d hit a sugar low by your second class.” She pulled the freezer door open and grabbed their ice pack.
He pulled the pack out of her hands. “Now I’ll get something on campus. Like ibuprofen and caffeine. You can clean up the mess.”
She yelled another apology to his back as he headed for the front door.
I don’t think he’s playing anymore.
* * *
When Hayden returned after dark, Cali tried to talk with him.
She set her history textbook beside her on the sofa. “I sent you messages.”
“I saw.” His book bag hit the floor with a thunk. He picked it up with a grunt after his shoes were off.
“How’s your back?”
His expression showed as much comfort as a thunderstorm. “Fine.”
“Hey-day, I won’t sneak around the house, anymore.”
The sofa creaked from his weight as he leaned against the back. “I don’t see the point, anymore.” Some of the dark energy in his face and voice escaped in a sigh. “You can obviously wake up in time to get to classes. So can I. Wasn’t that the point of creeping each other out?”
“Yep.” Months ago, he snuck into her bedroom to shake her out of sleep. The anticipation that one of them would scare the other each morning had encouraged them to wake earlier and earlier until they were no longer arriving on campus late or un-groomed.
“But I owe you one, Cali-girl.”
* * *
Mornings passed with as much anticipation as before, at least for Cali. Whenever she entered her bedroom or the bathroom, she locked the door. She padded through the house on the alert for sounds of movement or the smell of aftershave. Every time Hayden turned a corner, she couldn’t help but jump. He smiled and acted like nothing bothered him.
And why shouldn’t he? He didn’t have to worry about her popping out of strange places.
The biggest concern for her was the old rules didn’t apply. Hayden’s attack could come at any time from anywhere, and pleading to set rules didn’t help. He refused to say when or how he’d end her debt.
On the third week, she gave in. Doors stayed unlocked, and she turned her back to them as she studied. Other times, she wandered through the house with the hope of entering a trap.
Hayden struck on the fourth week.
* * *
Coming home from a particularly long day on campus, she hauled the front door opened.
“Surprise!” In the living room, about a dozen friends and classmates threw their hands in the air.
Hayden strode from the group to give her a hug. “Happy birthday, Cali-girl.”
Cali glanced over her shoulder at every smiling face. “That’s on Sunday.”
“It’s also today.” He gave her a warm smile. “Surprise.”
At the sight, tears welled in her eyes. A month of waiting and he’d scared her with kindness. “Hey-day, I’m sorry. I never imagined you’d do this for me. Are we even?”
His smile widened. “Just get some cake.”
She grinned in return and drifted to the dining table wait for a piece. The cake made her mouth water. Layers of gooey chocolate dripped onto one plate then another.
Her chemistry partner handed her the last piece. “You’re supposed to get the first piece, but you were busy.”
Shiny fudge filling jiggled on her plate. “Thanks for saving me one. May I have a spoon?” Something tapped Cali’s shoulder. She jumped around to face her attacker.
Too late, she remembered the slippery condition of her cake. Chocolatey goodness lay on the floor as ick.
Hayden said, “Now we’re even. You can clean up the mess.”
The above story is a revision of one that first appeared on Cristi Craig’s now-defunct blog. (She has created a new blog.) Cristi challenged me to write flash fiction inspired by a word prompt of “creep”. The challenge was timed. She gave me about a day to draft the original. The result was a contemporary story about cousins living together for college.
See a flash of another creepy game in “Hunting Boredom”.