I had jolted awake even before my phone (my new phone!) completed its 4-cycle buzzing pattern for incoming messages. That's how I knew a message had arrived, you see. Leila had made it clear when she gave me the phone last week, showing me how to turn it to silent mode, how to tell apart a message from a call just from the buzzing pattern.
Have I mentioned? My new phone!
I instinctively squinted the moment the screen flashed on, and fought to keep my eyes open to read the message. In my haste and excitement I keyed in the wrong password twice, but got it right the third time (curse you sleepy fingers!). And then there it was, a glowing envelope, the start of the Game. As it unfolded, its contents spilled across the screen.
"3:00 AM - MESSAGE FROM LEILA - HIDE NOW, THE BOOGEYMAN IS COMING~ =)"
The Game was on! I flung the covers aside, phone gripped hard in my hand, and stealthily crept across my room and opened the door as quietly as I could manage. Just a crack, at first, as Leila told me to, just enough to see if anyone was out there.
But there was no-one. Not yet, anyway. Just pitch darkness, though I could swear I saw a tiny glow wink out from beneath the door to Leila's bedroom. A-ha, I thought, that's the light from your phone when you sent me the message! I patted myself on the back for that bit of deductive reasoning, then continued my journey to the utility closet on the far side of the corridor.
Because I had planned my route and practiced it many times in the afternoon, I was in the closet less than 10 seconds later. I settled down on the wooden flooring, and fumbled around till I found Mr Pickles, from where I had stashed him earlier. I smiled to myself, recalling how Leila had warned me that this Game of hide-and-seek would really test my patience. Puh-leeese, no-one's better than me at planning for things like this!
From downstairs, I heard scuffling against the front door, like boney claws against chalkboards. I recalled being frightened by those sounds, back when they first started a few months back, but Leila, Leila she explained that those were just the Boogeyman saying that the Game was beginning. It's like us saying ready or not here we come, she said. That wasn't so scary anymore, after that.
I gripped Mr Pickles in a bear hug, the excitement building up in my chest. I was suddenly seized by a compelling urge to turn on my phone, and admire this unexpected gift from Leila again. I had to settle for feeling its smooth buttons in the dark, as Leila's warning not to make any sound or even flash any lights from where I was hiding sounded off in my head. The smile came unbidden to my lips when I thought back to the day that Leila finally decided to tell me about the Game.
Listen, Leila had said one day, listen. You know those sounds you hear at night, sometimes? You know how you cried and thought they were from a monster? Well, you're right! But it's a Game, you see. And if you want to play too, you can! You just need to hide, and not let the Boogeyman catch you, and if you do, you'll get to keep this new phone I'm giving you. Yes, keep it! It'll be your very own phone!
Have I mentioned, my own phone! I had thought, briefly, of how Leila could ever afford to buy me a phone, but she was 15 this year and already doing summer jobs, so I guess it was about time she bought something nice for her sister. She's awesome that way.
BANG! The front door slammed, and then I heard the Boogeyman shuffle across the hall, and begin climbing the steps, one heavy footstep after the other, lurching, lurching to the top. If Mr Pickles could breathe, surely he would have been strangled by me by now, the way I was gripping him.
At one point, the Boogeyman missed a step, and I heard him slump against the railings as he uttered a Curse Word. I had to clamp my mouth shut to stifle a giggle - imagine, a Boogeyman tripping over himself!
Louder and louder the footsteps grew, and soon he had reached the top, just steps away from where I was hiding. I heard him claw the door to Leila's room, and then, for the first time, since I was in the corridor instead of in my room, I heard the Boogeyman speak.
"Leila... Leila... I know you're in there... let me in..."
His voice, gravelly and slurred, like he had just awoken from a long nap, chilled me to the bone. So this was what the Boogeyman was really saying, all those times I heard the moaning from my room! I then heard the Boogeyman try the doorknob to Leila's room, but it rattled as the lock held. Silly girl, I thought. If you lock it, he'd surely know you're in there! And if he finds you, I'll win the Game!
"Leila... Leila... if you don't let me in, I'm going to your sister's room... Leila..."
Silence. Then, from the inky darkness, I heard a soft click as the door unlocked.
A pang of guilt shot through my heart. Was this why the Boogeyman had never come to my room all along? Was Leila giving up easily today because it was my first time playing? I seemed to recall it taking a lot longer the last few times for the Boogeyman to find Leila, that he would stay outside and moan for what seemed like hours before he gave up and went away.
I almost jumped when the phone buzzed again in my hand. I looked down and unlocked the phone, trying my best to keep the light away from the crack beneath the closet door. There, the second message from Leila.
"3:15 AM - MESSAGE FROM LEILA - RMBR, DON'T GET CAUGHT NO MATTER WHAT! =)"
I smiled. She was letting me win this time. She really was the best sister ever (and I was going to be able to keep my new phone!).
Leila's door creaked noisily as the Boogeyman opened it and lurched in. With a slam, the door closed, lock clicking like a final postscript. Muffled noises then, words I couldn't make out, some banging on furniture. Oh Leila, you can't run from the Boogeyman once he's in your room! There's nowhere to hide!
The noises continued after that, just like when I was in my own room the past few times, shaking like a leaf in the darkness. I wasn't afraid this time though, after knowing it was just a Game Leila played, a Game I was finally allowed to join.
I must have fallen asleep after, because when the soft knocks came on the other side of my closet door, the pins and needles had fully festered in my legs. I almost let out a yelp - how did the Boogeyman know I was here?
"Hey, it's me, Leila. The Game is over. You've won tonight, you can go back to your room now."
There's no better feeling in the world than hearing confirmation that you've won a competition. I opened the door, and found Leila crouched outside, a weary smile on her face. I noticed her dishelleved hair, the streaks of sweat and tears on her face, and briefly thought it would be pretty fun too to have the Boogeyman chase you as you tried to run away. That was another Game all by itself.
As she ushered me back to my room, I caught a glimpse from within through the door which had been left ajar.
"Leila, isn't that..."
She caught my gaze, and pushed me back towards my room. "Yes, that's Dad. He... came in to help me with the Boogeyman. You know, to scare him off. Don't wake him now, he's sleeping."
Back in my room, under the covers, I hugged my new phone as I thought about this awesome Game Leila had introduced me to, and when the next Game would come. Listen, Leila had said, we'll play this Game as long as we have to, and the moment you lose, I'm taking the phone back!
But Leila wouldn't do that. Not Leila. As I said, she's the best sister, ever.