A Short Horror: Ruins


Modern Terror

Today’s prompt has everything to do with the darker places in our own minds. The closer we hold them to ourselves, for fear that others won’t like what we have to say, the more say they have in what we do.

I am convinced that by doing, we are creating. When we harbor hatred, anger, and fear they make themselves at home… molding the acts of “doing” into deeds that suit their own needs.

If it is in your heart, and you do not want it there, write about it and allow the world to see what darkness brought into the light can look like. Our demons are as large as the imagination that coins them, the bigger, and scarier they seem, the more you have to work with…

Here is to venting out the closets…

PROMPT

Shadows…

Charlotte had lived in this small town her entire life, all ten years of it. In her opinion, nothing had changed since the day she was born. The bank was still a bank, the stop light was still the only one of its kind in the entire county.

She saw the same faces, day after day, and found it quite maddening. She kicked at a clump of ice protruding from the snow covered sidewalk. The same one that she walked every day, to and from school.

As if on cue, Mr. Bartscher, the local postmaster shuffled around the corner, a scarf bundled up to his nose, and a glove covered hand full of letters and magazines. She could see his smile through the only part of his face left uncovered, so she returned it with a wave.

There were some perks to being isolated from the television lifestyle. The small town always seemed to be on the edge of something. People always found excitement, even if it was fabricated, they found things to whisper about with the housewife next door while exchanging pie recipes.

She rolled her eyes remembering her poor mother’s obliging smiles and supportive nods, while being bombarded with the daily gossip provided by their neighbor Miss Malone…

Adults were the worst. Nothing they talked about was exciting… She had yet to hear a topic that changed how she felt about the sameness of everyday the way that a zombie outbreak or alien invasion would…

No, someday, something would finally happen, and Charlotte would be ready.

She skipped over the curb and quickly crossed the empty street. Blinking through the slow falling flakes.

I wish something would happen now… The thought slid in unsolicited, as if someone else had placed it.

There was a loud crack from somewhere in the distance, she continued on her path unperturbed.

The truth was, the little town had changed, families had come and gone, and the bank had changed management, yet forgone the facelift of a remodel to save expenses.

Family farms had been traded, older people had passed on, babies had been born… and of those that left, not many came back… which maintained the balance of population.

Until recently anyway.

The people in classes above her own, seemed to grow up faster than she did. Every year there was a new group walking to the podium to receive their ticket out of the monotony. Each one harboring the secret hope that the next time they were seen by any of these people.

They would be successful…

More so than those who had flatlined after dislodging themselves from small town life, only to end up in their parents’ basement once more after realizing that the dreams they held were “unrealistic”. Moving back to the beginning felt much like failing, uttering the words of…

I am living with my parents for a little while, you know, until the economy picks up, or until I hear back from this company or that”.

… Tasted a lot like defeat… The truth was, for them, things were different. Life was different, the meaning of love and loss was different. Their purpose redefined, or worst… undefined… Modern day zombies…

Charlotte was so wrapped up in the sameness of her day to day life that she simply assumed everyone else was in the same boat.

Her boots crunched into the unblemished fluff, leaving footprints trailing behind. She glanced back at the empty street, hoping to see something familiar, but there was nothing, the snow masked familiarity, and pushed everyone closer to their heat sources rendering the town ghostly.

This feeling happened every year, so once again it was nothing out of the ordinary, simply seasonal. She heaved a sigh, the 12 block commute seemed like an eternity. Mainly because she was alone…

Or was she?

Catty corner to the bank was a raggedy old park, one that she remembered looking slightly different at an earlier date, if she focused hard enough. She remembered sandboxes, laughter, and vivaciously creaking metal, as it echoed its own giggles into the happy mayhem. She pictured this briefly as her eyes fell upon the white covered shapes.

Based on these memories, one would have never guessed, that beneath the cloak of snow lay rust infused jagged edges, beaconing anyone willing to risk tetanus to climb its ladder. The wooden outline of the swing set, was perfectly camouflaged under nature’s clever dusting. If it hadn’t been for a lump moving back and forth on the seat of a swing the small girl would have never noticed it was still there against the grey cloudy backdrop.

There was something different about what she was seeing. Without thinking she altered her path slightly toward the desolate park.

The lump began to form into a shape, a long black coat whose contents hunched over. Whatever it was, was barely human. A leg extended downward, anchored into the snow. She wanted to see it do something, something unexpected, but it repeated the same motion over and over again… Pushing to extend, sending the coat backward, then going limp, swinging forward and dragging the foot along with the rest of the carcass, replanting, and pushing back.

Charlotte became more frustrated with the blob as she drew closer.

Hadn’t anyone ever taught this Thing how to swing properly?

You don’t just push off, and let go, you pump and pull and push all at once… It’s being lazy…

As if the park needed any help looking pathetic!

She pressed forward, quickening her pace as she drew near.

The creaking chains groaned out their discomfort as Charlotte stomped up resolutely. The leg had pushed up once more, but froze at the top of its extension.

The small girl stopped behind the shadowed figure, suddenly unsure of herself… She felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as the head swiveled to meet her gaze.

Empty eyes stared at her briefly before lifelessly reverting to the ground and beginning its back and forth once more.

“What are you doing?”

She asked, voice full of curious displeasure.

“What are you doing?”

It echoed back apathetically.

The question puzzled her. At first she had been heading home. Then she was set on telling this person what they were doing wrong and how to fix it. Now, she was not sure.

She shuffled her boot around in the snow nervously.

Back… and forth…

Back… and forth…

“Are you trying to teach yourself to swing?”

There was a pause, filled only by the screech of the chains under the pressure of dead weight, they had not been used for quite some time.

“I learned how to swing here…”

The voice caught slightly, as if there was more to be said but he chose instead to choke it down.

“Why not try the swings at the school park? They are newer, and don’t squeak so much.”

The coat straightened slightly, she could see movement in the shoulders.

“You shouldn’t be here, it’s cold.”

The voice trembled.

“Who taught you how to swing?”

Once again she couldn’t hide her displeasure with his technique.

Silence…

She moved to the front of the swing set toward the empty seat next to the stranger.

Suddenly she was excited…

This is different… All of it is different.

“If you pump your legs and pull on the chains it makes you go higher. Like this.”

She grasped the icy chains, the soft plastic of the seat was more rigid than she remembered it. Running her feet backward until it was fully extended she hopped into the air, pulling her knees upward to keep her boots off the ground she leaned into the chilly air, gaining momentum, the speed of it widened her smile.

She was so caught up in the activity she forgot momentarily that she was giving a lesson.

She glanced over at the dark stranger. He had slouched farther into his coat, one hand loosely placed on the chains, while the other he had slipped between the upper buttons of his jacket, where it remained hidden from sight. She stuck her feet into the ground indignantly stopping short and shifting in her seat to get a better look at the man.

He had stopped moving altogether. His open eyes were glossy, if there had been a sparkle, or twinkle it had burnt out long ago, leaving his face colder than the snow and more lifeless than the rusty slide he was staring at.

She may as well have been alone. Getting up from the swing she moved for her disheveled backpack.

“Don’t leave… Please..” The voice came out as a whisper, but for the first time there was something else. A feeling…

The girl placed her frozen hands into her pockets. Unsure of what to do.

The dead eyes looked up at her, and for the first time, she really saw the person they were attached too. He looked to be her sister’s age, which meant he was probably supposed to be away at college. His face was disfigured by some unnamed source of pain.

Charlotte, like most children, could feel more than she could understand or put words too. She felt differently about this man. He needed something, but she couldn’t figure out what…

“What are you doing here?” She whispered back…

Through the silence he stared intently into her eyes. Willing her to understand, trying to convey what he couldn’t state out loud. He turned his head, looking back at the slide once more.

She understood, sometimes by saying things outside of your head makes it seem more true. Which is why gossip was rampant, people had to say things that they couldn’t do themselves and pin someone else’s name to it, to see what it would look like in their peers eyes.

They both sat, lost in thought… One thinking of childhood lost, the other of that to come…

“Stop acting like a child”

The thought crept into her mind, once again unsolicited. Charlotte had heard this on more than one occasion, each time sounded as silly as the last… If I cannot act like that then what should I be acting like? The alternative was starting to look just as bad.

If every adult was told constantly to stop acting like one, would the world would be full of children?

She gazed up at the stranger seated on the swing above her… would that be such a bad thing?

Maybe things weren’t meant to change often, maybe each change signaled a new end leading you to the end of all ends.

Was he already there?

His haunted eyes followed her as she positioned herself in the snow. Meaningless, pained, lost and destitute. Charlotte didn’t know what any of those words meant, but she could feel each permeating from his sockets.

She imagined her older sister feeling the same way. Away from home, sitting on an abandoned swing set, in an empty town, with no one to talk to except a little girl or boy who couldn’t understand. Tears welled in her own eyes.

Without another thought she reached out a cold hand and touched the icy fist balled around the swing chain.

“I won’t leave you.” She whispered through a shiver.

She thought she saw a tear glistening through the strangers’ eye. She watched as it grew larger. He turned his focus to the small hand clenching his knuckles, wincing as he shifted.

“What hurts?” The innocents’ eyes widened, concern pouring through every syllable.

He responded in a shaky wheeze.

“My heart.”

The tears streamed down his face as they sat in silence. She, gaging the weight of his words, and he trying to find more of them.

He was wheezing loudly now, lips turning an unnatural shade of blue.

“We should go,” She had pulled her scarf from the backpack lying between them.

“This town isn’t real, it’s not like the rest of the world…” He continued coldly, as if he had not heard what she had said.

She stood, coiling her wool woven scarf around his neck.

“Everything out there is senseless, you feel like a ball being dropped into a spinning roulette wheel.”

She stood back and gazed at him, trying to picture what he was saying.

“… Hoping you can keep up with the rotation, but inevitably you are spit off to the side while it continues,”

That sounds awful…

Charlotte thought, zipping her coat as far as it would go. Her eyes wandered around at the peaceful streets surrounding their haven… Maybe change wasn’t great after all…

“You like swings?” He asked, looking up.

Swings! Now those she knew something about.

She smiled and nodded.

“Don’t ever stop pumping, promise?” He looked at the little girl in green imploringly.

“I promise,” She whispered back. She felt a prickle at the back of her neck.

“So you like slides also?” His voice cracked.

She continued nodding her approval at the topics.

“There is more than one way to get to the top of the slides right?”

She scrunched her nose, thinking hard.

“Up the ladder or I guess you can go up the slide too, but I get yelled at for that.”

He let out a pained chuckle, the hand inside his jacket clenched more tightly.

“When you get into the real world, they will yell at you for doing things your way. Don’t let that stop you. Whichever way you decide to climb to the top, let the anticipation of reaching it push you through their judgements. Promise?”

She remained silent for a moment, playing pictures through her imagination, a whistle blowing as the recess monitor walked toward the slide, shaking a finger at her for blocking the line of children making their way up the ladder. The children on the ladder realizing that what she was doing was different than what they had always done,  began making fun of her. She hadn’t done it again since… Maybe no change wasn’t good either…

“Promise…”

“I promise” She said, resolutely… Beginning with recess the following week.

Evening was close, with the sun locked away behind clouds it was getting dark fast. A chilling breeze forced its way through her jacket, straight into her bones.

The boy let out a wet cough and sputter. She could see something dark at the corner of his lip.

“Are you sick?” She asked, frightened now as she gazed into the abysmal bloodshot haze.

“Do you like merry-go-rounds?” He asked more softly than before.

She could almost see the scenes of his childhood playing across his face as he remembered the joy they had brought him in earlier years.

“Don’t let them change you, you make sure that when you jump in for a spin you do it like it was a merry-go-round… NOT a betting table. Do not turn your leap into a gamble and do not gamble on your leap.” He hesitated, regaining his breath a faraway look etched into his expression. “Once you decide and no one else, you are ready to jump in, hold on for dear life and don’t let them tell you when you are done.”

She nodded, a look of confusion stifled as she weighed the comparison, a smile took its place and she continued to nod more fervently.

He looked into her eyes once more.

“Promise?”

“Yes I promise, but you are freezing, where is your home?”

“I will be heading there shortly, you should go home too now.” He said weakly, trying to offer a smile.

“Are you sure you are okay?” She asked her new friend, she didn’t understand it, but she felt as though things had changed… She felt different…

“I will be.” His eyes glowed, revealing who had once sat behind them.

“One more thing, do you have a paper and pencil?”

She reached into the bag she was getting ready to sling over a shoulder.

“In here!” She chirped, happy to be able to give him something in return.

She rummaged through the contents until she found her favorite SpongeBob Pencil and a piece of her handwriting paper. The fancy stuff.

“Thank you.” He murmured, so softly she could barely hear it.

“You should go, thank you for staying with me,”

The child shouldered her backpack. It felt heavy and unforgiving under the weight of the wisdom baton passed to her. The world outside of this town was different, and not the kind she had hope for. Suddenly, zombies and aliens didn’t seem so scary. The unnamed foe who’d single handedly brought her strange friend to his knees, before vanquishing his light had replaced both in the category of “monsters who visit your nightmares”. Her feet fell heavily one after another… as if they knew each step was leading her closer to the one that would step into the abysmal unknown.

Charlotte glanced back, the shadow hadn’t moved from his place on the swing. In fact, it looked as if he were melting, sinking further into himself each time she blinked. Her heart squeezed. Somehow she knew she would never see him again. That was all the motive she needed. She spun on her heel and ran to him, squeezing him into a hug, the way only a child can. He stiffened under the pressure, a pained groan slipped through his lips as his body relaxed… slowly the hand moved from its hiding place and found its way around her small body, folding her inward shakily. After a moment his arms fell to his sides unable to maintain their hold, try as he may. The girl released him and with one more heartfelt look, she went her separate way.

With each step the interaction faded into a memory, though her mind was still on the playground set. Don’t gamble, don’t give up, and don’t let them tell you to be different than what you are, so you can be the same as them.

Charlotte reached her block as the last of daylight faded into the floodlit concrete walkway leading to her house.

 

 

The next day the town was a buzz with whispers and tall tales of an unidentified man who’d been found dead in the old park. Cause of death, a gunshot wound to the chest. Some said it was a murder, others a suicide, the remainder voted an accident since it sounded better. Things like this didn’t happen in their town…

So away the town spun. The only common aspect between each weave was that everyone wanted a piece of the pie. All parties involved by proxy wanted to be the first to give a detail no one else had heard. So each added their own spice to the pie. Before long his story was more mythical than an alien abduction. No one dug deep enough to realize it was not the gunshot that had killed him. No one cared enough to add a name to the mix. Not one of them questioned the SpongeBob Pencil found clenched in his hand. Or the true content of the cryptic, blood covered note found crumpled in his pocket.

No one except the little girl in green, who knew more but said less than anyone else. She was left with questions. Questions that left her hungry for answers and starving for understanding. They gave her the courage to delve into the monstrous depth of the outside world. She would never stop searching for the villain who’d broken her shadows heart, leaving it festering until the only foreseeable relief was snuffing it out completely.

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