It's been two weeks since our last prompt from Chuck... oh well. I had this idea tonight - just spur of the moment kinda thing thought to write it.
It was always the same time of day – after lunch – when the park filled with children. They all raced towards the long line of swings to play the same game: to see who would go the highest!
Their squeals were the best.
I could hear them from the gazebo where I read my book.
But then, I watched one day when a mother came to collect her child from the swings, and found that her daughter was gone. Her little girl’s swing was empty and still.
She started looking around, called out her name, panic in her voice rising as she fumbled with her phone, tears muffling her request for the police to ‘come quickly! My daughter’s gone… she’s gone from the park!’
The next week, it happened again.
This time, I brought my book, but put it next to me the moment the children arrived and watched from my seat to see what was happening.
I didn’t want anyone suspecting me of kidnapping any of the children; so I stayed put.
“So, are you here every week the children come?” a woman’s voice asked to my right.
Glancing away for a split second, I nodded, “Yes… I normally read here waiting for my time to go and see my Grandmother at the hospital across the road. It’s nap time now… so the two hours I’m here gives me time to read – well, until recently.”
“You’re a cop… I get it.” I kept my eyes on the children – all ten swings of them, “That’s a great swing set the council put in. But they’ve been going missing for about a month – however nobody’s been noticing.”
“Not until now.” She said.
“Yeah, it only takes one Mum who goes looking for her six-year-old and, hey bang, everyone’s in on the case.” A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, a chuckle escaped my throat.
“True.” She nodded, “Can I see some I.D? I need to run it past the hospital.”
“Oh… sure.” I pulled out my wallet, felt for my license and handed it over. She quickly did a check on me and I came back clean – I was indeed waiting for the time to pass to visit Granny in the hospital; to read to her the works of Wordsworth – again. Yes, my Grandmother had Dementia, so rereading the same passages to her again and again was something I was becoming used to; but in my bag I had other books with me as well, just in case she remember other authors. As I looked down to push my I.D away, a scream cut the air, “Dammit! I missed it!”
We both stood and walked to the front of the gazebo as the mother raced into the brilliant sunshine, towards the empty swing where her son used to be; as its pendulum-like sway reduced quickly to nothing.
The police looked up, around and began searching…
“Damn… he vanished into…”
“…Thin air.” I finished.
I looked at my watch, “I must go… it’s time to visit my Grandmother.”
“Mind if I tag along?” she asked.
“If you want… she wouldn’t mind another voice.” I shouldered my bag of books and walked across the park, across the road, up the stone stairs to the old hospital on the hill.
Today, Grandma May was sitting in her recliner, all rugged up and looking outside at the sunny afternoon, frowning at the goings-on across the road, “What are they doing out there?” she turned, “Oh, Elizabeth, it’s so nice to see you again.”
She had mistaken the cop for my late wife, and I dumped the bag on the lounge near the rest room, “Grandma, this isn’t Lizzy, this is a cop. She’s working with the people across the road.” I walked over and looked at her, “You know who I am, don’t you?”
“Richard, you are my Grandson. You’re going to read me Shakespeare today. The Sonnets.” She smiled.
“Right… you’re lucky I have a bag of books on almost everything.” I smiled and turned to grab the bag as her hand gripped mine hard, and she started singing in a lilting tune “Don’t use the swings, don’t use swings, gobble-gobble… goes your soul… don’t use the swings, don’t swing too high…” she blinked, smiling at me, “Well, are you going to read me Shakespeare or not?”
I nodded, “Yeah… of course.”
Walking to the cop, I opened the bag and pulled out the sonnets of Shakespeare – a well-thumbed book I studied in uni – and shuddered at what my Grandmother had just done, “I have no idea what Grandma May has just said to me.”
“It’s an old myth of the park, which is older than the city itself.” She said, “I’ll look into it.”
Another week passed by and I never heard from the cop again. In fact, she vanished from the face of the Earth as though nobody had heard of her. I had a hard time getting anyone in the department talking about her because they were close-knit and wouldn’t tell me anything about her – not until I went to the hospital. This was where I found her in the room next to my Grandma May’s, sitting by the window watching what was going on.
I walked in, looked at her, “Hey. I know you.”
She looked up at me and started to sing: “Don’t use the swings, don’t use swings, gobble-gobble… goes your soul… don’t use the swings, don’t swing too high…”
“Yeah, what does that mean?”
She giggled like a little girl and pointed out the window, “Gobble-gobble by the goblin in the tree!” she blushed, whispering, “He steals your soul when you fly too high.”
“Thank you.” I patted her arm, gently.
“No! No touching!” she screamed, “Strange man! Strange man!” her arm swung around! I never saw the backhander coming!
I came to in Grandma May’s room. She was sitting in her recliner shaking her head, “There’s a new one in the next room.”
“I noticed.” I sat up wincing at my sore head, “My God – goodness, she hits hard.”
“It was Elizabeth… she swung on the swings late last night and the Goblin in the trees took her… her soul. They found her on the swing this morning; the same swing.”
Looking over, forgetting my pain, I watched her, “She came back?”
Grandma May nodded, “Like me, she was too old.The goblin likes young souls. But when he finds old ones, he… makes us get sick like this.” She tapped the side of her head.
“I could get the better of him.” I said.
“Grandma… I’m already sick… I have a brain disease. I’ll end up killing him – if not, I’ll get him out of the trees.” I smiled, “Which swing is it?”
“Four… four seasons in a year… four quarters in an hour…” she said, “Poe today?”
“Poe… ‘The Raven’?” I smiled.
“My favourite.” She smiled back.
I was there before the children… in the fourth swing, waiting for them to arrive. I had left my bookbag at home today and looked up at the large Oak Tree above me as I moved my legs out in front, then tucked them under – making the swing go higher and higher!
Up to the front! Wind in my hair, sun on my face!
Back, back! My hair pulling into my eyes and the sound of the breeze in my ears!
Aahh, the freedom of how it feels to be a child again!
I had to let myself reconnect with my inner child so I could overcome my fear of heights and just let go of how they made me feel so completely helpless and out of control…
Rough, smelly hands grabbed me around the chest,“Got you! Hey! You’re not a child!” A guttural voice spat in my face, “The second one this week!”
“No I’m not a child. But you made my Grandmother the way she is now… and that means it’s personal.” I snapped.
“Really? Well, you’re in my kingdom, sonny boy, and you will do as I tell you.” He long, spindly fingers clicked and crackled, readying themselves to wrap around my head – to turn me into what the cop had turned into, to what my Grandmother had turned into, “Get ready to be sucked dry of all of who you are! You’re going back as a vegetable!”
“Do your worst.” I grinned, knowing that my medication was about to kick in – the overdose was about to happen; I could feel it.
His right hand wrapped around my head like a weeded helmet and roots of his ‘fingers’ invaded into my ears, beginning to suck on my brain’s nutrients. But they didn’t stay long as he too felt what I had done to myself, it was too late by that time. I began to have a seizure from the overdose and wrapped my arms around him, crushing him as I convulsed and rolled onto my side.
“No!” he grunted as we fell from his dimension and out of the highest branches of the tree and onto the ground.
Time had passed by quickly as it was night-time and police were waiting nearby with an ambulance. As we both hit the ground, the emergency services were in attendance at once to assist me, making me throw up all the medications I had taken as soon as possible – or so I was told. The hideous thing that had fallen out of the tree I was attached to? Well, they didn’t know what it was, but they knew it was the ‘thing’ that had been stealing the children.
The following week, the swing set was dismantled and shifted to another part of the park – just to be safe.
Two weeks later, I visited Grandma May to find her sitting on the edge of her bed, dressed, her carpet bag packed, smiling at me, “Richard! It’s so good to see you! Are you here to take me home?”
I turned to see the doctor standing there, “It happened three days ago. She sat up in bed asking what she was doing in hospital and how long she’d been here. We had to explain she had been here for the past five years after an incident in the park across the road involving the swings.”
“So, that’s how she knew the nursery rhyme.” I whispered, “What about the cop?”
“Elizabeth? She was in the room next door.”
“Oh… two weeks ago, she suffered a huge medical problem. She started convulsing, throwing up and overdosing on Epilum, Topamax and Tegitrol… these drugs weren’t in her system. Her organs shut down immediately and she died. But when the M.E looked at her, she also had a shattered ribcage and a huge head fracture which is in line with falling from about five metres. She had also had suffered a stroke. We don’t know how she suffered all this from being in a room on her own.” He shrugged, “She also has no family either and put you down as her husband.”
“Husband? Oh… my Grandma did keep saying she looked like my late wife, Elizabeth. As for the medical overdoses, I know how all that happened, but you wouldn’t believe me.” I turned, picked up Grandma’s carpet bag, “Are you ready to go, Grandma May?”
“Isn’t Elizabeth with you?”
“No. You know she died five years ago.”
“Oh that’s right… in the park across the road…”