This child stares back at me. I’m not really sure if his eyes see me, but he looks toward me as I look back at him. He looks to be about ten. He
seems so innocent. So gentle. He holds something in his hand, but I can’t tell what it is from here. It glints in the sunlight. It appears to me to
be something metal. Thin metal.
We stand in a vacant playground, outside a large, flat, burgundy and white building. Behind the child is a swing set. Its blue-rubber swings lie
empty, unmoving, depressing. A wooden punt rots nearby. Slides, ropes, soccer balls. It all sits abandoned. This schoolyard inspires a feeling in me
that I can’t quite describe. A strange sensation. The feeling of chasing a mirage in the Uncanny Valley. An unnerving familiarity. It occurs to me
that I must have been here before, but something doesn’t seem right.
The child in front of me raises his hand – the hand with the metal object. He holds it gently between his fingertips. Still staring in my direction,
he turns his other arm, outstretched, wrist facing up. He reaches out and slides the metal across his wrist. It leaves a red line. The line grows
until the red drips from his arm.
I want to do something, anything, to make him stop, but I can’t move. I call out, but he doesn’t seem to hear. He just keeps staring. And he
continues to cut himself, more of his young blood pouring from his wrist. I beg for him to stop. He makes another cut. And another. His
is wasted at his feet, and my
vision blurs. My head feels light, vacuous.
“Stop it!” I scream. “You never did this! I never did this!”
My words take me by surprise. I know this child. I know him. I know his thoughts, his emotions. His fantasies, and his nightmares. I know this place
– this playground, this feeling of being alone.
“You’re not alone,” I tell him. “You’re not. You’ve got friends, family, people who love you. You can’t do this. I know you. You never
did this. I know how much you wanted to, but you never did. Please…put the blade down.”
Finally, he appears to respond. His expression changes. His apathy disappears.
“Put it down,” I say again. “You can’t do this to yourself. You have so much still to do. You have so much of your life left. Look at me, look
in my eyes. You know me. You know you can trust me.”
He doesn’t drop the metal blade, but his hand falls to his side and slips into his jeans pocket. There is something there, in his pocket, that I
hadn’t noticed before. He removes it and aims it at me. My gaze fixes on the short revolver. Again, I am unable to move – this time paralyzed in
fear. I no longer know what to tell him. Yes, his apathy has gone. It has been replaced by rage that disfigures his preadolescent face.
“Can you move?” he says to me. His face distorts, but his voice is calm, determined.
I do as he says, stepping aside. As I do, I see a shadow cast on the ground. It leads behind where I was standing. It leads to a second, somewhat
older, child. This child is smiling. He must see the gun, yet still he grins wide, oblivious.
“Look who it is,” he says through his smile. “Why are you here? Nobody likes you. Why don’t you just go home? Go read a book or something.
That is all you do, right? Pathetic little queer.”
I see the gun tremble in the younger child’s hand. I know these words are nothing new to him. I know what years of these words can do to an
otherwise innocent mind. I know what I had so often wanted to do in return, just to put an end to it – what I had so often fantasized of doing.
“No one wants you here. Look around you. We don’t like you. There’s no one here for you. You’re all alone, and you always will be.”
As I say it, I realize the younger child is saying the same thing. The smiling child ignores us both.
“Or maybe not. Maybe you won’t be alone forever. Maybe you will find someone to love you. Another girl like you.”
I am unprepared for the force of the gunshot. It echoes in my head. I drop and cover my ears. I turn to see smoke linger at the end of the barrel. I
turn back in time to see the other child collapse, still smiling. Then a second gunshot, and a third. A fourth blows a hole in the smiling child’s
“No!” I cry, over and over again, though my pleas are useless. “No! You can’t do this!”
I fall to my knees. My head is pounding. My ears are ringing. My skin feels tight, tense. This child, this expression of my own troubled fantasies of
so many years ago – he stands over me, his face wet with tears. He drops the gun. He continues to cry. I don’t look up, but I sense his eyes on
“Do you forgive me?”
His voice is now shaky, uneven. Scared. Not like before. It betrays his need for approval.
“Forgive you? It’s not my place to do that.”
“Please,” he says. “Forgive me. You have to forgive me.”
He kneels next to me and wraps his arm around me.
I take him by the hand, and we stand together. I glance at his wrist. The cuts are gone.
“You don’t need me to forgive you,” I tell him. “It’s not up to me.”
He takes a step away from me. His hand slips from mine.
“Me either,” he says as I plunge backward to the ground.
The ground melts away, and I plunge into a vast ocean of darkness. My senses are overwhelmed by an incredible evil. The sour stench of bile. The
feeling of thick liquid on my skin, covering my face. My instinct to breathe is restrained by the urge to vomit. I sink only a little ways. A couple
feet at most. It might as well be a mile. The liquid slides over my body, twisting and wrapping around me. It burns as it seeps into my eyes. I gag,
and succeed only in taking in a mouthful of the vile fluids. Panicking, I gasp, but there is no air. My chest burns. My arms and legs struggle, but I
sink deeper. I fight to stay conscious, but I’m fading, as much from shock as from a lack of oxygen. I feel warmth. I see light. I hear a voice
calling my name. It is faint, as through a wall, but I hear it. It calls to me. It tells me to have faith.
“This evil can no longer harm you.”
He grabs my arm and pulls me out. I gag and collapse, vomiting at my saviour’s feet. The burning in my chest lessens as I expel a large amount of
the inhaled fluids from my lungs. I still see the light. It shines all around me. It shines all around him
. He looks down at me. His face
glows. His hair is white as snow. He holds out his hand.
I heave again, bringing up more thick yellow fluid. And the burning subsides. My breath returns. I take his hand, and he helps me to my feet.
“You were dead,” he says. “Now, you are alive.”
He looks out over the ocean, where I had come so close to drowning. I follow his gaze. The putrid substance is now water. Pure, calm water. My clothes
are drenched – again, with water.
“You have been washed,” he says.
“What do you mean?” I ask him. “I don’t understand.”
He stares at me for a moment. In his penetrating red eyes, I see a reflection of my own. He smiles and says to me,
“It is not your place to forgive.”
Then, silence. No movement in the water. No movement in the air. Everything is quiet. Simple. Welcoming. I feel at home in this place. This place
where the only light is the man before me. The one who saved me.
Something grabs his attention. He gives a slight nod as he looks over my shoulder. I don’t want to look away from him. I don’t want to, but I
must. I am unsure of what to expect. If he is the light, then what could possibly await me in the darkness?
I prepare myself, and I turn.