This story was written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge round 1, challenge 2; I was set an open genre, the setting of a children’s playground, and had to feature police tape.
Before reading, check out my thoughts first.
The Dying Days of Summer
By Lauren McMenemy
Written September 2011; 1000 words
The police tape was dancing in the breeze when she arrived at the playground; a tender wind playing among the climbing equipment, kicking up chips of bark and twisting its way to the swing set, where it found a willing partner in the black-and-yellow stripes of plastic. The sky was grey; twilight was encroaching. It was silent.
Too silent, for a place normally filled with families.
There was no echo of children’s laughter; hadn’t been for weeks. The playground had been off-limits, ever since…
…no, that’s not why she’s here. She’s not here to dwell. Neither is she here for answers. No one else could give her those. No one else knew; no one else saw what happened. No one else would ever know.
The police were already giving up, that much she knew. A mystery, they reckoned. Sure, the routine inquiries were being made and the requisite posters were stapled to trees around the park, but the rain had been washing away those, along with any evidence that may have lain hidden in the bark.
This park. This park had been so much a part of her life. She had come here to think as she wandered among the trees and the green fields. The rotunda with its summer Sunday jazz bands. The twin lakes, home to turtles and swans and giant golden fish swimming not too far below the surface. The tennis courts, filled with dads teaching sons and daughters the ways of future champions. The local teens with their boom box, putting together the next, like, totally amazing dance routine. The big old manor house, once the focal point of a family property, now selling Devonshire teas and ice creams to families from far and wide who had come to play, to relax, to feast, to dream.
It was the dreaming she had done.
Lying on the grass, on her back, staring up at the big blue cloudless sky. Dreaming of her future. A future that held who knew what, but one she was on the cusp of exploring. School was over. The world was beckoning. Summer would soon end, and she’d be heading off into the Big Wide World. Career? Men? Kids? Maybe. Who knew? Certainly not her.
And there she was, lying on her back on the grass, when she dozed off.
And there she was, lying on her back on the grass, when the park began to empty.
And there she was, lying on her back on the grass, dozing. Being watched.
Her sandals lay by her side, inside her straw hat, keeping it grounded. Her chestnut hair fanned around her, framing her pixie face, a face caught between adolescence and womanhood. The hem of her light blue summer dress – the one with the spaghetti straps and the big bright red flower on the skirt – was swaying in the breeze. Yes, summer was nearly over, and that breeze held the last promise of warmth in its tender arms.
And there he was, among the trees, watching her. Moving closer. Filming her. Filming the breeze lifting her skirt tenderly.
And there he was, beside her, lifting her skit tenderly.
Caressing her legs, up her thighs, between her legs.
And then she woke up. Focussed. Eyes wide with panic.
She did not scream. She jumped up, intending to run. But he grabbed at her ankle, and she fell back down. She manoeuvred, clawing at the grass, dirt under her fingernails, the scream caught in her throat, refusing to move.
None of it mattered.
He had his way with her. Big arms pinning her down. Entering from behind. The big red flower turning brown with dirt and blood.
And then it was over. And he was done. And she was released.
Survival instinct kicked in again. She jumped up while he caught his breath. She ran, she ran, she ran towards the play equipment, towards the swing set.
And she saw the others waiting.
They, too, had been watching. Taking it all in. Filming from afar. It was all on tape. Her horror in high definition, cinema-quality.
They were laughing.
They surrounded her. Orright, sweet ‘art?
They grabbed at her. Spaghetti straps snapped. Dirty blue skirt ripped. Slut, they called her. We saw you, they told her. We want a piece of the action too, they told her.
And she succumbed. She had no fight left; she let it be. Praying for it to be over so she could go home to her mum and cry, cry, cry it out. One by one, she met them in the most intimate way. Dress ripped. Hair pulled. They were laughing, laughing.
Then, one last desperate fight rose within her. As the third had her, she struggled. She screamed. She…
…no more. The fight was over. She lost. She lost in the biggest way possible.
Lifeless eyes, staring up at them.
Twisted girl among the bark, by the swing set. Dreams she had dreamed from this very place her whole life: over.
The ranger found her as he did his last sweep of the park before closing. He checked her pulse, he closed her eyes. He called the police. They called her family.
It was all over now.
And since then, she has watched the children play on the swing set. Learn the ways of future champions on the tennis courts. Choreograph the next, like, totally awesome routine in the courtyard. Lie in the grass, dreaming.
And she knows none of it is real.
For the playground she once knew has been closed ever since. The park she had known her whole life is a police cordon. Because of her, because of her death, because of her terrible end.
And from her eternal place, wandering this park, doomed to watch her end over and over and over again, like a bad old movie caught on repeat, she spies her tormentors, and closes her eyes, and prays it will all be over soon…