Another short story of mine in the same horror vein as the previous entry. I wrote this whilst studying Psychology and English in the south-west of England. It is therefore inspired by my reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s horror stories and numerous psychology text books, so please forgive the gore and heavy-handed symbolism. Enjoy!
Line in the Sand
Although the cold wind was biting at one side of my face like a ravenous canine, the sun was also warming and caressing the other, resulting in a feeling of togetherness that I had not felt in years. I sat leaning lazily on one arm of the bench whilst I watched the children run rings around their parents like spinning tornadoes. The whole scene was slightly blurred and misted by the one eye that I had closed against the bright afternoon sunshine.
Light laughter turned my attention to the left and I saw two young girls whispering covertly to each other, in a seemingly separate world from those around them. Two boys of similar age were on the swing nearby, reaching such dizzy heights, it startled the butterflies into action that lay dormant in the pit of my stomach. All the while their parental guardians stood nearby like wardens on patrol, arms folded, legs taught and tight as if ready to pounce at the first sign of danger.
So picturesque was the scene that it sat in my mind on canvas, with bright hues standing out in the clothes my subjects wore.
Sharp voices pulled my head to the right. A massive shadow had been cast by the huge neighbouring church and as my eyes adjusted to the change in light, I saw a boy being read his rights by a looming father of seemingly massive stature in comparison to the guilty young man cowering under his gaze. An even smaller child was at the boy’s feet crying and cradling his knee. The scene soon dissolved as the scraggy haired miscreant was dragged away by the father; whilst the mother smothered the younger one in what only she believed was much needed attention.
I leaned back against the bench, feeling my back straighten whilst letting my eyes rest on the centre of the playground. I noticed that the shadow being cast by the old church had split the playground exactly in two. Straddling this frontier of light and dark was a metal see-saw, one side smiling and glinting in the sun, the other looking rusty and leaden through lack of colour. Suddenly, as if summoned from the earth, two boys of similar size leapt on and stirred it into action, one boy grabbing his end just in the nick of time before it flew up and caught him in the face. They slowly began to tame the metal giant and dictate a rhythm, and I began to notice that compared to everything else in the playground, it was by far the most obtrusive and nosiest instrument.
As I stared, I found the movement of the see-saw overwhelmingly hypnotic and it turned my stomach all the way over. At the same time the groaning and complaining of the see-saw’s rusty hinges filled my head, causing sickness, forcing me to grimace and close my one open eye, plunging me into darkness. Hoping it would help, I rolled my head to one side, turning away from the moaning, rocking creature. Muffled voices beckoned me to expose my eyes to the light once more and I noticed two women in my eye line, assumed maternal from the miniature coats they clasped in their hands. One woman was gesturing furiously with her free hand whilst the other nodded, just as animated, in response to what was said. As it took my mind from the see-saw, I began to tune into the conversation, my face emotionless and placid as I listened:
“I swear if he touches him again…”
“…It will be the last straw”
I suddenly wished I had not begun the curiosity. I wished that the park was empty. I wished I was somewhere else. Nausea climbed its way back into my bones and my head started ringing. Feeling altogether drained and tired, I let my head slide slowly down against the back of the bench. My body then followed and I lifted my heavy legs from the floor until I was lying flat on the wooden panels. I drew my knees up to my chest and once more closed my eyes. As I did I felt something cold and hard push against my thigh between the bench and my body. Tiredness overcame me and unconsciousness dampened the fire in my head, as the sounds outside soon dissipated into silence and I slipped into slumber…
…I found myself in a playground of my own making. In a world devoid of physical feeling the nausea was gone. It was a world also absent of sound and the previous divisions of light, for my park was trapped in a bubble, cloudy and gray. There seemed to be no colour in anything. I looked for light but the park was empty, silent and frozen, not unlike a lake in the depths of winter.
Although I knew I was trapped in a dream, I was also in control of myself. It was then that I also realised that I was no longer lying down. Instead, my feet rested solidly on the damp grass below and I was sitting, bolt upright, on a seat. It curved upwards in font and behind me and had a small handle at the front that my eyes now rested on. I was sitting on a see-saw.
Fear slipped its cold hands around my neck and my eyes dared not move from where they lay. The temperature around me suddenly plummeted and any light in the playground ebbed away as a thick mist begun to wrap its limbs around all that lay in its path. From an irrational fear of blindness, I built up enough courage to look up and along the frame of the see-saw to the other end. Through the fog I depicted the vague, featureless outline of a child, sitting mirrored to me, motionless.
But the second I laid eyes on the child, gravity abandoned my side of the equation. My end of the see-saw lifted up so violently that I released a soundless scream and tumbled forward from my seat. I began sliding helplessly headfirst down the monster’s spine. I dug my nails as hard as I could into the cold metal, an action both painless and pointless as the fingers held no purchase. As I slid, I lifted my head up to look into the face of that which awaited me and saw that the child, although still mostly featureless through the mist, was smiling, and had his arms opened wide to welcome me.
Euphoria laid its warm blanket over my body, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to keep sliding, to fall into the child’s arms, to stay in this world that was utterly devoid of pain, to stay asleep, to rest. But as soon as the idea manifested itself, I was pulled out of my dream and abandoned, alone, back into the real world…
…I awoke on the bench to a world only slightly similar to mine. The sun had drifted out of sight behind the church, stealing the light and warmth from the playground. The park sat empty, without purpose and reason. I sat up slowly, raising my head from where it lay. As I did, a flood of pain poured into that side of my face and set up camp right behind my eye. My hand flew to its rescue and applied pressure with the palm. I suddenly wanted to leave this place. The park seemed so unnatural when alone, without that which it was created for.
I planted my feet on to the grass below and stood up straight. What seemed like hibernation sickness seeped through my body and I felt cold, alone and frightened. I began to resent a world, sometimes so beautiful, that was so full of pain.
The pain in the right side of my face had grown unbearable, I couldn’t bear opening my eye so I turned, half blinded, and started walking away from the park. As I reached the start of the tree-lined path that ran alongside the church, I encountered what felt like a shield of ice, as the wind whistled its eerie tune back down the path towards the playground behind me. I shuddered and released my hand from my face in order to thrust my freezing hands into my pockets for respite.
But as I did, pain soared from my right hand, up my arm, to join the pain in my head. Almost at the same time I heard a small rip of cloth and a cold pain burst into life in my thigh under my right pocket. I heard a scream leave me and fly helplessly down towards the playground in the arms of the wind. As a reflex, I pulled my hand out of my pocket, which only seemed to triple the coldness and pain that was now down the entire side of my body.
A second after pulling out my hand I heard, despite the howling wind, the clink of metal on the concrete path below my feet. Dumbstruck, I looked down in horror at the bloodstained kitchen knife that had landed on the ground, and now stared back accusingly into my face. I began to shake my head violently from left to right, as my eyes examined the cold, black handle and hungry teeth still dripping in my blood.
My body began to shake along with my head and I instinctively moved my hand into my eye-line so as to examine it. Fear and disbelief collided as I saw that the knife had severed my hand almost in half and two of the fingers were cut through to the pure, white bone beneath. Looking back down at the unfamiliar blade in the path, I saw that the wind was trying in vain to lift it from its place. It rattled against the concrete as if it too suffered in pain. In its death throes the metallic rattling sounded cruel and appalling as the wind threw the noise around in the air. Every part of me began to feel weak.
I stumbled back and collapsed onto the ground as my wounded right leg gave way beneath me. I lifted my head and looked at my thigh to see that the knife had cut through my clothes and stabbed me hard in the flesh. As I raised my leg, blood poured down to my crotch and soaked it. I yelled in something other than pain and for more than help, which only rekindled the fire behind my eye and my hand instinctively slammed against my face, leaving blood all over my eye and cheek, sending a fresh wave of pain down my arm.
Panicking, I picked myself up, but my head had already begun to lose its grip on my body and I was rapidly losing control. I tried to walk again, weaving down the path, dragging the wounded leg, my arm hanging limp against the side of my body. They both seemed to bleed unnaturally fast and the world swirled and pulsed in front of my eyes.
I heard a deafening groan from the playground behind me and spun around. The things still alive in the park were beckoning me back, and the see-saw’s moans seemed to mimic my own. The wind pushed the swing and spun the roundabout to begin a cacophony of torment. Blood and tears crippled my vision, but I saw the knife on the ground about half way down the path and I looked in horror at the winding river of blood that clearly displayed my route on the ground.
Encased in pain and carrying on down the path I looked around me. The windows from the church looked on in pity. The blood red of the stained glass glowed in the darkness, and the guttering cried in agony. The wind whipped the trees on my right into a frenzy of laughter and I cowered away, waving my good hand in front of my face, trying to drive the branches away. I dropped my hand back to my side as coldness spread to all parts of the body that had now given up saving my life. My mind would soon follow.
I got to the end of the path and with what little strength I had left, I turned onto the path that lead to the front of the church and stopped at the entrance. I let my head tip back slowly and I looked up at the arch over the door. For some reason I was not surprised to see the boy from my dream, arms open wide. I stopped trying to run away and instead let everything that was left me inside reach out. My head returned back to level, and my mouth dropped loosely open as my eyes landed on the glass doors at the entrance to the church.
My reflection stared back with one half of its body covered red in blood.
All feeling rushed out of my head and my body. But before I fell to the ground for the last time, I wondered if I would son return to my playground.
The one that sat empty and silent.
The one without pain.