The first time you met, it was on the dusty, great subcontinent [I do not believe they call it that anymore], near a watering hole, beneath the shade of a willow tree. At that time, I do not believe that people had proper names—it’s hard to remember when exactly this tradition began—but it was you, sure enough, that crawled towards each other as if drawn by some mysterious and unknowable force on that hot, fateful day.
It was nearly four in the morning. Olive rolled over and tried sleeping her right side. It was very similar to her left. Maybe, she thought, if she could just close her eyes for a minute…it was no use. The thing under the bed was still breathing heavily and as long as it was there, sucking air through what she could only imagine to be a massive, pig-like snout, Olive wasn’t getting any sleep.
The thing under her bed—whatever it was—didn’t seem particularly concerned with the fact that Olive had a test on her multiplication tables in the morning, nor did it seem to care that it had spent an entire night for the promise of such a meager meal as Olive—poor, scrawny, knuckles and knees Olive—but at least for now they appeared to be at a sort of stalemate. It seemed as if the monster was, for whatever reason, unable to come out from his hiding spot to simply grab her off her bed, or else he likely would’ve done so hours ago. So long as Olive stayed tucked in, safe beneath her covers, the monster wouldn’t be able to devour her, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t ruin her night.
He awoke in a tomb of clear plastic. Wrenched from a dreamless sleep of indeterminable length by a terrifying tightness in his chest and throat sending a panicked signal to his brain, pinging off every single neuron along the way as it shot up his spine and jolted him awake—he couldn’t breathe.
You know the game. You’ve played it many times. At sleepovers, on Halloween, that one time at your first boy girl party—you remember, it was the one where you had your first proper kiss in the coat closet below the stairs. You know the rules to the game. Everybody in your hometown knows the rules.
A friend of a friend of your older brother told you the story when you were just a kid. Or maybe it was your cousin who told you? You can’t remember because by the time you reach a certain age, every kid in your town has heard the story, and every kid knows the game. How they heard it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows it and everyone plays it, and more importantly, everyone knows someone who’s played the game and lost.