At the Edge
There was an old park that lay just outside of the city limits. It was a beautiful park with lush, green trees and a burbling stream that meandered through the heart of it. It was a quiet place. The park was always a quiet place.
I grew up close to Glenn Park just at the edge the city. The din of the city never reached us, but the lights and the glow did. We were close enough to the countryside that there were thick woods behind some of the houses. The streets and rows of houses were well kept and clean with white sidewalks.The forest loomed, tangled and derilict just beyond the perfect houses lined up like perfect cemetary headstones. They were everpresent at the end of the sidewalk. The trailhead started closer to the road, but quickly dissapeared into the dark nooks between the trees.
It seemed like a peaceful neighborhood when I was a child, but there was something else about it I couldn’t shake about it. It was jarring to walk on a well lit paved path next to the twisted bark and thick undergrowth. The whole neighborhood knew this feeling, but not a soul mentioned it. The forboding feeling was swept under the rug, with a “How’s the kids?” or a “Did ya hear about the game last night?” The sickening small talk beat around the bush.
Even my own mother, a very observant and logical woman, went quiet when I asked about the woods, just past the last sidewalk. I was a curious and rather relentless five-year-old at the time. I shrugged it off when she shook her head and said, “It’s not a place for children to go and play, baby.” It was a grown-up thing, something I would only hope to understand later.
I was eleven years old when we found something we shouldn’t have.
It was a warm summer evening, just as the sun set. I was with my friends Micheal and Sam. My kid brother, Ben, tagged along because he was seven and only because Mom had told me. My friends invited me to go look for fireflies near the woods at the end of the sidewalk. There was a glow in the air as we set out. The sun was dissapearing over the treetops, there was the hum of the street lamps, and the faded moon hung in the sky. We looked into the darkening thicket for the familiar glow of fireflies.
“Ben, stop clinging!” I hissed. My brother had a fist full of my T-shirt. “You’re going to make me fall!”
“Why’d you have to bring him along?” Micheal complained as he stepped over a root. “He’s just a baby!”
“I’m not!” Ben retorted. “I’m seven and you’re the baby!”
Micheal turned around and pulled a face at him. We kept bumbling our way in the thicket, looking for an opening where there was promise of fireflies. It started to get darker as we went farther into the woods and soon it was the faint glow of our flash lights.
“What if there aren’t any?” Micheal asked, annoyed.
“I saw them last time!” Sam insisted. He continued to march forward while trying to get his flashlight to finally work.
“It’s getting really dark!” Ben cried. He still clung to the edge of my shirt.
“See!” Micheal spat. “A baby!”
“SHH!” Sam spun around. “If you knuckle heads dont’t shut up, I’ll leave you here!”
Micheal rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine!” He mumbled under his breath, mocking Sam. But we continued through woods.
It got even darker as we funbled our way through, looking for the light. The sun had gone down and it was completely dark out, save for the silvery glow of the moon. Eventually we got tired and stopped for a bit, just hoping to see that glimmering from the fireflies. Nothing.
“You’re a liar, Sam!” Micheal whined. His shoes were muddy and there were sticks and leaves in his hair. “We’ve been walking for a million miles.”
“Am not!” Sam returned. His flashlight was just begining to die, about to leave us in the dark. “They’re here!”
“Where?” I snapped “Now were lost!”
“Here…” Sam sighed and kicked a rock, defeated by the venture. It bounced down the trail and dissapeared. We sat in silence for a moment. We were tired and lost in the dark. It was eerily quiet.
I turned around after realizing that the familiar pull at the edge of my shirt wasn’t there any more. “Ben?” My breath caught in my throat. My heart felt like it was trapped in a vice. “Ben?!” I managed to squeak out.
My friends started to look panicked. “Oh, no…” Micheal whispered.
“BEN!” I called out.
“No, no, no no!” Sam’s flashlight flickered and went out.
Tears welled up in my eyes and terror overwhelmed me.
“Wait!” Micheal cried out and grabbed my arm. “We can’t get lost too!”
I wheeled around. “I need to find him!” I screamed as tears of fear started to stream down my face. I could feel Micheal’s nails dig into my skin. I sobbed, “You have to help me find him!”
“Let’s go.” Sam got up and found his way over to me. He held on to my arm in the dark.
The three of us walked in the woods, hand in hand, calling out for my brother. We stumbled over rocks, logs, and roots as we desperately looking into the dark. The last flashlight we had was faint and weak. There was a sound like a branch snapping behind us. We stopped dead in our tracks. Perhaps it was some animal passing by; perhaps it was somethin else. After we held our breath for what seemed like a thousand years, nothing was there as we pressed on and on.
My voice eventually became raspy as I continued to call out for Ben. And then I heard it. There was a wailing sound that sent shivers down my spine and turned into a pit inside my stomach. We looked at eachother with fear in our eyes. Our only light source was getting even dimmer.
“Ben?!” I called out into the dark. I could hear my own heart pounding.
There was a terrified scream and sob that I was all too familiar with. “Jane!” I heard my brother call out to me. “JANE!”
“Ben?” I left the safety of the dying light. I pushed through the branches and found my brother at the foot of a tree, pressed up against the trunk. He was as pale as a sheet, but his face was red from crying.
“I’m here! I’m…” I smelled it. That sickly sweet smell of decay and death. I rushed to my brother and pulled him into my arms.
“We have to get outta here!” He screamed. His fingers dug into my back as he clung to me.
“Jane!” Sam and Micheal pushed through the undergrowth. That was when I saw.. it.
The weak light fell onto the source of the smell. There was a trash bag that was torn open. What ever was in the bag was leaking and seeping out in a disgusting dark brown water. My throat went dry as I could make out the shape of a very small hand falling out. The face…
I will never forget what I saw.
We panicked the second we regognized what Ben had found. The four of us ran blindly in the woods, desperately trying to find our way back. It didn’t matter that we were tripping and ripping our shirts. We had to get out.
There were lights in the distance as we breathlessly careened towards what we hoped was home. As we got closer, the lights became clearer, a red and blue. The white hot flash of a police flashlight fell on us as we came out of the woods.
What happened next was a blur. I was sick to my stomach. I remember vomiting on the paramedic’s shoes as he came up to us. The sounds of people mixed in with the pounding in my head. Everything was spinning around me, the lights, the officers, my mind. The terrror seized me and it didn’t let go.
“Jane!” It was my mother standing in front of me. Her face was pale, hair a mess, and eyes strained from crying. I began to cry, wailing in my mother’s arms. We never went near the woods the rest of the summer.