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The Master Hider

I’ll either have to live out the rest of my teens, or I’ll be the statistic for another fucked-up government education.

Lucas is on the other side of the door with a gun. I feel like he’s waiting to give me time to find my spot, but that’s insane. Too insane even for Lucas, probably. I’m crazier than him. But when he kills me, he’s the one who’s gonna go down in the books as the crazy school shooter. How many times have I thought about shooting up this eff-ed up place? But I could think a thing like that a hundred times and never do it, and Lucas could think it once and go straight ahead.

It’s like he’s in the corner of my eye, as I swing my head from side to side, too quick to even see what I’m searching for in the blur. What could I find in the bathroom that would help me anyway? I should’ve hid in the cupboards with the chemicals in the science lab, squeezed into the trophy case, or slipped behind one of the red curtains in the theatre.

I was too scared to click the lock, in case that gave me away, and—fuck—there is no lock anyway, cause it’s the bathroom, duh, and all I have are the locks on the stalls, and what good are those when Lucas could just crawl across the tiles into the stall?

It’s dark in here, light only coming from the windows covered in bars. Someone’s flipped a master switch, like if the school’s dark, we can pretend that everyone’s gone or asleep or dead already. Go to sleep, little bird. Pretend there’s no one on the other side of the door. Sticky piss on the floors. Gum under the urinals. Disinfectant smell that’s dirtier than the smells it’s trying to cover. Blue veins of clumpy soap running down the sink.

He’s outside, and I’m under the urinals now, just pretzeling into myself, back pressed hard into those porcelain pipes, like they’re gonna save me.

But he’s not just outside. He’s here in my head—Lucas, my bud from middle school. I hear his voice saying, “You’re the master hider.” No, a master hider wouldn’t be in the bathroom. A master hider would be outside by now in the trees. Prison windows. No way out. Schools never want you to escape, until it’s too late. The only door’s the front entrance, with all the banners from the last pep rally taped around.

But Lucas says again in the swirling, panic flush through my brain, “You always find the craziest damn spots.”

            There are cupboards with extra toilet paper and stuff in the corner, and I could definitely squeeze behind some of that, but “You can do better than that!” I hear my imagination of Lucas shouting in my brain over a scary roar like the sound of that flushing toilet coming through an amp now.

On the far wall of the bathroom, the radiator has a bent and rusted panel loose. How much noise do I make if I try to jimmy it off? I wiggle it, and some rust comes loose, and eventually the whole panel, and how long has this taken even? The floor’s still sticking to my shoes, tugging me back. I climb inside, where there’s space beside the coils of heat, and squeeze the panel back in. Why are they even heating the bathroom in May? Nothing here has ever made sense. 

Maybe this is the moment when being a high school boy who still hasn’t gone through his growth spurt and maybe’s never gonna have a growth spurt finally pays off.

But Lucas is the master hunter.

He’s in the bathroom now, red sneaks on a white floor—no, that floor isn’t white, hasn’t been white in a long time. Blue veins in the sink. Blue light from the windows. Bad smells, bad smells everywhere. Rust up my nose.

He’s holding an automatic rifle, and I’ve never seen anything like it up close, but my cheek’s being branded by the radiator, and I’m too terrified to twitch.

“I saw you come in here, Simon,” he laughs, “and no one’s getting out those windows.”

He goes to the cupboards with the toilet paper—thank God I didn’t pick that—but he doesn’t even open the door. “Na, Simon. You’d never pick anything that easy.”

How did he get the gun into school without anyone noticing, they’ll say, but I bet I know. That enormous theorbo case. I bet they’ll find there’s no theorbo inside today. That’s one of the good things about Lucas. That he plays a giant-ass medieval instrument no one’s ever heard of, cause he thinks it’s beautiful.

He kicks a couple stalls open—bang, bang, fucking bang, but I’m not sure he’s even looking inside. His rifle’s pulling him straight towards the radiator, like they’re magnets.

He sees my eyes through the slits in the front and puts the gun up to the grill. He’s gonna shoot straight through into my eye sockets, and I squeeze them shut. But he’s scrabbling at the side panel.

“Fuck, Simon, how did you get in here?” And I feel a tiny bit of pride churning down my throat with the saliva I’m swallowing and the blood from when I chomped down on my tongue not to scream. “Shit, son, you were always good at hiding.”

Then he bangs the panel off, and I have the radiator on one cheek and the gun on the other, like so close I can’t even tell if it’s pushing into my skin, cause I can’t feel anything at all, not the heat or the shove of the gun. My eyes turn completely in on themselves. I’m just in a cave of that disinfectant smell and nothing else. 

I say, “Lucas, I love you,” because I’m gonna die, and he’s the only one left to say it to.

But actually it’s true, even though I know that’s an insane thing to say to the person who’s about to murder you as you crouch in a radiator. I love him. I totally love him.

We haven’t been close in ages, like not since middle school, probably, and now we’re in 10th grade, but once this guy meant a lot to me. He’s smart and he’s funny, and he knew I was good at hiding in more ways than one and knew how to ask the right questions to poke the dirty crap burning inside me out into the air before it exploded. We weren’t best friends in that stupid way people think of—I hung a bunch more with my soccer team, feeling alone the whole time—but I trusted him to know when I needed him to nudge out my secrets. God, I missed him when he stopped doing that. When he was too sad inside his own head to get inside my sad fucking head anymore. We both got too sad for hide and seek.

Lucas used to show up on my front step in 7th grade when I didn’t feel like going to school. My mom let him in, even though it was early in the morning. She’d say, “He’s hiding again,” but he had like a sixth sense about it anyway—I mean, he’d showed up. Sometimes I’d get up at 6 in the morning, just to find a good hiding spot before my parents woke up. Like, I’d actually set an alarm so I wouldn’t have to go to school—that’s how nuts I was. I’d hunker down at the back of the closet with all the extra towels and T-shirts piled over me, so you couldn’t see my shape at all, and wait for Lucas. And he’d find me, wherever it was.

He didn’t grab the towels, but he’d know I was there, and he’d sit outside the closet or wherever and he’d say, “Don’t let these motherfuckers get you down. If you don’t go, I can’t go either.” And eventually I’d come down from the closet shelf or whatever, and we’d walk to school together. We never talked much once we got there, but it was good to have him out the corner of my eye. I could tell how it’d suck not to have him there with his massive legs pressed against the metal cage of the desk built for smaller inmates, and how, same for him, it’d suck not to have me. He hummed a lot to himself, and he could make the best sound effects ever and do awesome imitations of people. He drew all over his hair with red Sharpie. People thought he was weird but, like, cool, too. His humming was the only thing that told me I wasn’t the only real human in a world of robot aliens.

I think I actually had perfect attendance in 7th grade, even though I’d tried not to go to school so many times. Like, I got a certificate or something at the end of the year. And Lucas bust his guts laughing.

After a while, I got too sad to play games. Waiting out my life under our kitchen sink didn’t seem any better than waiting it out at school, worrying people wouldn’t like me and even more afraid they would. Lucas missed the game, though, I think. We spent more and more time hanging with the kids who felt like robot aliens, and less and less time with each other.

And I am just filled with love for this psycho poking a rifle in my face, and if anyone would blame him for wanting to shoot up these jackasses, it’s not me. If anyone would blame him for wanting to kill me, it’s not me.

Red sneaks kicking at my little hole. Dark blue underwater light in the prison now. Long streaks of god-knows-what trailing off the feet of the toilets. And I’d give anything to hide in my house one more time, and for Lucas to find me.

“I love you, Lucas.”

How fucked-up is it that even now he’s the one ray of light for me in this hellhole?

  Something bangs. But it’s not the gun, just the bathroom door hitting the sink and cracking it. Someone in some kind of uniform runs in, and Lucas and his rifle flip around, but he doesn’t have time to shoot before they’ve shot him in the chest a couple times.

He’s lying on the floor, not even as long as his own theorbo, and it’s gross—this floor is so gross. I hate to see his hair on the dirty tile there, with all those stains from all the years, all the messed-up motherfuckers who passed through.

Now there’s a second guy in a uniform. He says, “Get a paramedic,” but the other one who’s on the ground with his hand in Lucas’ hair says, “There’s no need.”

The second guy tries to pull me out of the radiator, but I cling to the coils and stick my fingers through the grill at the front and don’t let go. It’s cleaner inside.

That flushing sound in my mind goes on and on, but there are other sounds now, too—everyone in the school running and screaming. How are they still running around? Wasn’t Lucas stalking me outside the bathroom for ages? 

Lucas’ blood fills the cracks between the tiles like the piss of some guy who missed, like vomit running down a toilet bowl, like streaks of blue soap in the sink. And I’m glad to think that they never get this floor all the way clean, that they won’t get all his blood up.

The first guy gets on a walkie-talkie and tells someone the situation’s been “handled.” “We’re OK now.”

They’re ignoring me, and I’m ignoring everyone except Lucas. I’m still in the radiator and haven’t decided yet if I’m ever coming out. And even the rusty stink of the blood doesn’t drown that disinfectant smell.

I think, one day I’ll finally get out of high school, and one day I’ll forget what Lucas’ blood smells like, and I’ll be super tall and adult and have a beard, and one day I’ll walk down the street and from an open door, I’ll hear the strings of a theorbo being plucked.


R.M. Fradkin has short fiction published or forthcoming in Terrain, Fiddlehead, Cherry TreeCleaver Magazine, and SAND Journal, among others. She just finished her MFA at Oregon State University and is at work on a novel set in an experimental forest. 


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