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Blogs » The Playground (Short Story) by Sean Maxwell Garland

The Playground (Short Story) by Sean Maxwell Garland

  • The Playground

    By
    Sean Maxwell Garland

    Copyright Sean Maxwell Garland 2009-2011, All rights reserved.


    The first thing Hale ever told me was that he was a monster. Next, he told me to run for my life; roaring a terrible sound that shook the ground, turning his hands into rabid claws, his eyes carrying an intensity that scared the living daylights from me and made me feel, for the first time, afraid.
    Hale followed by chasing me up a flight of stairs, across a swinging bridge, through a twisting tunnel, down a slide to where high-speed chase came to a crashing halt as we hit the monkey bars. I wasn’t able to swing out far enough to catch the next bar ahead of me and fell forward onto the sand, getting a mouthful as I dropped to my knees and arms giving way under the pressure. He jumped down in front of me and began moving towards me, slowly he crept until he was lunged over me, looking twice his size. Hale’s claws were still drawn and I could hear the monster heaving with anger or a grudge against me, wanting to make sure I was alarmed. I stared back at him, the sun temporarily blocked out by a cloud, casting Hale in darkness during midday. He did not look like a boy in my mind, to me he resembled all my fears: the dark shadows on my walls, the creature lurking under my bed, the monster within my head.
    I could not move, frozen to the spot and when I tried to scream, the shouting stayed entrapped within me, my lungs no longer filling with fresh air but with a dry and stale breath. My eyes locked with his, the gaze of the beast’s eyes growing bigger and bigger only Hale was deeply enjoying this feeling of being the ghoul. With a rush of blood, he took pleasure from drawing out every last innocence I had left inside me.
    I remember my mother holding me tightly, her hands hot against my cold bones, stroking my golden locks with her soft yet rigid hands, she too fearing the worst for me. I could not remember what I saw after that, only what I thought I heard. My mother screeching at Hale calling him a fiend, telling him what he had done and how ashamed he must have felt to be picking on such a small girl, scaring him just the same as he had stricken me only my mother did with her voice what I could not have done: standing up towards the beast.
    Just then, there was a soft sound as if the clouds were unleashing a pitter-patter of rain so delicately that it rolled off the gutters and dropped from Hale’s rounded chin. The rumbling had ceased, replaced with weeping and small sighs, sniffling and gasps for excess of oxygen.
    A lot had happened since our sandbox drama. Hale and I had grown up together through schooling and spent recreational time together with friends out in the fields, playing the same games but whenever the time came for Hale to become the monster, he was saved by the bell and somehow I felt I was rescued by it too.
    Then came the time when children made new games and the tiresome running from evil beings became as exciting as playing the lottery; we could continue forever, but would any of us really win? The odds of that happening were so slim that the idea of change was greatly appreciated by the group. The new games were not always successful or entertaining, but as a group none of us challenged each other to fix rules or perfect the game. Seemingly there were less holes in the way we would play and reinforcement would cause one of us to act as the leader, yet none of us had that adultery to us. Still, there was the occasional question from Hale, who constantly asked why the rule was a certain way from another and why it could not have been altered to his suggestion. As a group, we played with one mindset and went with the flow, even if as individuals we could have been more rational.
    Eventually, it came to the afternoon when Hale was given the chance to make up a new game. “Everyone sticks out their arms, flaps their wings, and fly like birds” he had said.
    This was the first conscious idea that the group had rejected. The children laughed at Hale and teased him, flapping their arms like winged beasts and chasing him through the grass, a memory of the old-fashioned “fun”. I could see from the sidelines that Hale wasn’t enjoying himself like he used to. His game had suddenly turned into a freak show where he was being chased out of the yard by his own creation. I remember him stumbling into a ditch and falling hard, flat on his chest. He lay there immobilized while the flock surrounded him and pretended to squawk like crows finding fresh meat.
    They had flown far away from me, I watched in the distance as the schoolyard monitor cut across the grass and shooed the birds from Hale. He didn’t get up, even when the monitor tried to get him on his feet.
    The next moment from memory was when all the children gathered and watched with fixated eyes as Hale got treatment. It had been the first time any child or the school had seen an ambulance on the property. Hale had been put on a stretcher and carried into the back of the ambulance as sirens signaled the departure from the playing field to the hospital.
    Weeks had gone by and by then, everyone had known the games we played by name without having to reiterate the rules to any newcomers. Eventually, the children bonded together and participated happily without any other incidences where foul play was to be blamed for delaying gratification.
    Hale came back towards the end of the school year and was forced to catch up on missed work. The students barely saw him anymore, even I had lost temporary contact with the boy and yet we knew he was among us although his whereabouts were unknown.
    Eventually my mother explained to me the reason for his absence. “Hale has broken both his collar bones,” my mother had informed me, she touched the area between my head and shoulders that kept everything in place, “he also popped his shoulders loose. Terrible accident, but that’s karma.” My mother’s words stung like a bee sting, yet she was somewhat right. Still, Hale had become a better person from that moment and was a friend I intended to keep, with or without mother’s permission.
    When it came to the final week of elementary school, Hale returned to the normal classes and joined us in celebrating graduation. His mother continued to be at his side, the reason for being there became clear: Hale had both of his arms in slings and therefore needed mommy to be his hands. He looked like someone whose arms were tied behind his back, defenseless and vulnerable so we all had to be careful around him. He was not allowed to participate in games anymore as his mother feared another injury would occur, instead Hale continued to focus on schoolwork.
    The summer before the switch to junior high, I met with Hale to talk. I had rarely seen him and we would be going to the same school once again and therefore it was best to make certain we were both prepared for the sudden change that would come.
    Hale was busy doing mathematics when his mother showed me to his room and when I entered, he barely lifted his head from his workbook.
    “Come in, Bonnie.” He said so coldly.
    “Hi Hale, how have you been?” I asked cheerfully with the utmost positive spirit glowing from my face. I really was happy to see him, although it did not appear he felt the same.
    “Not bad.”
    “You still need to catch up on schoolwork?” I asked, I knew the answer already, but the air was thin and the tension thick.
    “It’s just to keep my mind,” he said trailing off, scribbling into the workbook, “focused so that I’m well prepared for further problems.”
    He continued to calculate, entirely in his head while I sat at the edge of his bed, watching him and scouting his neat and proper room. His bed had grown from a crib to a king size mattress, a tad over exaggerated yet the distance that was building between us was never this noticeable.
    “Beautiful day outside,” I said, staring up at the ceiling but I might as well have been talking to the walls. “Want to play after?”
    Hale put his pencil down. He gave me a stern look before scratching his forehead in frustration. “I need to finish my work.”
    He made having fun seem like such a chore. If it was pleasure he was absorbing from the mathematics, I felt rude to have even intruded. We went silent again. Hale acted much different than before, his playful self replaced by a pad of paper and a pencil and numbers. The calculations made me eagerly wanting his attention so I pressed on to get what I wanted.
    “I got this shirt from the corner store,” I said, stretching it out from the bottom so he could see clearly. “Do you like it?”
    “Nice.” Hale said, without raising a finger or moving a muscle. The pencil did all the talking; the scribbling and erasing driving me wilder by the second. Look at me, Hale. Look at me.
    I got up from his bed and walked over to his bookshelf. He had a giant one, with rows upon rows of literature, yet the middle rows were bare. The highest of which belonged at the top, his math books and science magazines primarily, while as I made my way down the books dropped in sophistication and fell under the category of fantasy where childish books stood. He had a lot of those, yet in between nothing. I found this to be strange.
    I bent down to the lower shelves to read some of the titles. They were of magic and make-believe, superheroes defeating villains, men developing animalistic powers, monsters-I had never asked him about that afternoon at the jungle gym if he had remembered it at all, for there was something inside of me that still feared him and should I have said something, the monster would have returned from below the sands and overwhelm him, chilling me once again in a frozen coma of fright.
    “Do you remember when we were younger?” I asked Hale.
    Hale didn’t give me one bit of attention, “I don’t recall.” I felt my jeans slip lower, my butt likely exposed. This should give him something to look at, I thought, and yet when I peeked over my shoulder eyeing him, he did not take a glance. The frustration inside me grew like a poisonous flower.
    “We were playing together, it was the first time we met. You scared me and my mom yelled at you and then you went home. Remember?” Still, Hale remained motionless.
    “No, I don’t remember Bonnie. You are distracting me.”
    “C’mon Hale, there’ll be time for that later! Come play with me! Let’s go outside and do something!”
    Hale threw down his workbook and sprung from his bed. He had grown taller, I thought, much taller. He was infuriated yet he hid it from me and possibly from himself.
    “I need to do this,” he said calmly, his eyes tightened and pupils beating back and forth as he stared me down. I felt my skin burning up from the inside, the summer heat internal. “It is important for me to work. I’m sorry but maybe there will have to be another day.”
    He was looking at me with such intensity, such anger yet his voice was cool and calm, deeper than from when we were much younger. It grew deeper and deeper as he spoke causing my hair to feel like it was being massaged, a rigorous feeling.
    I slept that night, later dreaming of him flapping his arms hysterically until they snapped and he cried with pain. I dreamed I was there to comfort him, and I did so by rubbing his shoulders softly, touching his arms and smoothing them out. He would look at me, as I would him, our eyes locking. But then the dream would lose the battle and a nightmare would ensue. Hale’s arms became hairy, rougher to the touch feeling like sandpaper yet I continued to rub until my palms were red and sore. He grew hair from every place, his devilish eyes returned to being large and black, bug eyed and enraged caverns. He loomed over me like a large shadow, wrapped himself around me and whispered in the deepest voice imaginable, Scared?