“We have our parts to play. Listen. Hidden traits can be revealed.”

The two Seekers began in unison, eyes tightly shut as everyone scrambled in delighted panic. The long-legged Irish sisters took risky spots behind a smaller vehicle, close to Base. The judge’s daughter hid behind her family station wagon. And lastly, the mischievous dark-haired fraternal twins ducked behind bushes in front of another neighbours porch. The Sisters giggled, shushed each other, then had another fit.

“7! 8! 9…” shouted the Seekers.

I debated joining the Sisters, with Base strategically close and an easy run from all directions. But it didn’t feel right. I stopped mid-dash at a cluster of three grouped Birch trees in my front yard. This was the spot.

I wedged myself between two larger ones, ignoring the scrapes on my legs, and crouched low to the ground as leaves crunched under dirty hands. My heart beat furiously, a steady knockknockknock against my chest. I could smell earth and damp. Sweat beads formed on my forehead as I tried to even out my breathing through flared nostrils, sucking in fresh cold air. Eventually, the melodious symphony of crickets and toads replaced the steady thumping from my excited heart. I felt ready.

“…19, 20!! Ready or not, here we come!”

I crouched lower, my head inches from damp ground. Breathing deep, I watched through the Birch trees. I watched as the Seekers mumbled to each other, then parted.

I watched the Hunters.

Seeker Tommy ran towards the Irish Sisters. YOU FOUND US! peals of laughter emitting from them both, as he tagged Katie first. Seeker Julie calculated her steps then gave chase towards Judge’s daughter Cheri and the mischievous brothers, Lee and Jon. The brothers split-up and ran towards Base, but Cheri stood her ground. Julie targeted her supposed easy kill before Cheri, at the last moment, ran away from Base, further down the street. Julie stopped chasing and looked for someone closer and slower, growing desperate.

Seizing my chance, I sprang like a gazelle and ran. Julie gave chase after me but I was too far ahead. I touched the edge of Buick, Base, before she could claim victory.

“Yeaaaaah! Wooooooo!!” I yelled, grinning. “I win! I win! I’m alive!” Everyone laughed. “Okay, let’s go again!”

In the distance voices called. Katie turned and grabbed Caroline’s hand.

“We gotta go now, time for dinner.” The Sisters skipped hand-in-hand towards the silhouettes of their parents standing outside.

“C’mon, let’s play!” said Jon and Julie.

As they started counting, I ran towards my secret spot nestled among the Birches. But this time, I wasn’t as careful. As I stepped onto the wet grass I slipped and twisted my ankle. Grimacing, I looked down and my skinned knee and tender ankle. There was no way I could run to Base.

“11, 12, 13…”

I glanced up at the Birches.

The hardest part was the first branch. After that it was a piece of cake. I quietly crept up, up, up until I was just high enough and out of sight. The dense foliage of other surrounding around the Birches provided plenty of stealthy cover.

“Here we come!”

Julie ran immediately to the Birches, having seen me run there previously. I should have known better, Julie was a good Huntress and I got lazy. High above her, I grinned in amazement as she circled in puzzlement, before running to the cars with Tommy and other neighborhood kids.

“Kids, time to come back!”

“Ah man, 5 more minutes, c’mon!”

“It’s time for dinner, time to come in!”

Tommy and Julie shrugged and ran back home. Other neighborhood kids did as well. I watched them all as they walked/ran back inside with their parents.

When everyone had gone, and the street quiet, I climbed down and returned inside for dinner.

The next morning, I walked over to the Birches. It was the end of summer and the sky looked a bit grey. But how the Birches gleamed against the drab skylines. All three had beautiful white parchment bark, which could be stripped away in long, thin sheets. Three beautiful white trees in the middle of a lush green enclosure. Each standing proud and majestically.

I climbed the tallest one.

Higher than last night, I surveyed the cul-de-sac. I watched families come and and cars whiz past the main road outside the cul-de-sac. Kids yelling in their homes, in the street, in their backyards and driveways. Laughing, crying, talking. Televisions. Stereos. Radios blaring. People shuffling in and out of cars, homes. Band practice, cheer practice, baseball practice, swim lessons, tutoring lessons. Cars driving past the neighborhood. Cars driving through the neighbourhood. Parking, leaving again.

I watched ants trail up one of the branches. The sway and tug and pull of life, as wind tousled my hair and leaves rustled on the ground, around my Birch. I watched everything. My small world view.

When the street lights flickered on, illuminating the dark street and parked cars, I felt peace. I then heard neighbourhood kids playing tag, screaming in delight as they chased one another. The thrill of hunting your prey. The thrill of being caught. The grandiose thrill of being alive.

I climbed down to join.