A few days ago I was visiting a local park and snapped the photo above. I’ve seen the park’s old archway lots of times, but for some reason in the cold January sunshine and covered with leafless vines it seemed rather sinister. Looking at the picture later I realized it was perfect writerly inspo for some spooky midwinter flash fiction. Enjoy!
Mom said the kid with the black eyes isn’t real.
When I first told her about him she thought I meant another victim of Taylor Thomas’s after-school ambushes. But when I explained that this kid didn’t have bruises but actual black eyes – no white part, no pupils, no nothing, just black – she gave me that look like she’s disappointed and that she feels bad I can’t keep honest.
I hate that look.
Plus ever since that thing with Dad I promised her I’d stop telling lies. She said she couldn’t take one more liar in the house. Said she wouldn’t see her only son turn out rotten like his father. I told the lies in the first place to keep her from looking so sad all the time, but they’d only made things worse. So when I promised I’d stop, I meant it. But by then it was too late.
Now she doesn’t believe me about the kid with the black eyes. No one does.
Well, that’s not actually true. Jordan does, but I think he’s just saying so because we walk the same way home from school and he’s even smaller than me and super annoying and Taylor pushes him around the most. Maybe he thinks there’s strength in numbers. Like if we walk home from school together Taylor will quit bothering us.
I want to tell him that Taylor’s bigger than the two of us put together, but honestly I don’t really mind the company. Walking home from school is when I see him. The kid with the black eyes.
We live in the good part of town. Our street has big houses that all face a wide green park and the lake. The park used to be a school a long time ago, but they tore it down or it burned in a fire. I can’t remember. But when they made the park they left the school’s old stone entry way, a big arch that leads nowhere. Mom thinks it makes the park look ‘picturesque.’ I just think it looks creepy.
And it’s even creepier now with the kid. I don’t see him all the time, but when I do he’s by the stone archway and he’s staring at me from the time I get off the bus until I walk up the front steps of my house. It’s hard to focus on anything but his eyes, but he’s got on weird clothes: jeans, but they’re rolled up at the bottom and kind of stiff, a red shirt with a collar and buttons. No one dresses like that anymore.
And, I don’t know. There’s just something about him. Something that makes me want to face Taylor Thomas any day over that kid with the black eyes. At least Taylor grunts, and spits, and smells, and calls me horrible things. He’s understandable. I know what he wants. But this kid, he doesn’t speak, doesn’t move, doesn’t even seem real. There’s something wrong with him besides his messed up eyes.
Like today Taylor was in detention and Jordan had Math Olympiad or something so I was on the bus alone. It dropped me off at the edge of the park and I saw him right away. Just staring like he always does, standing in that old archway with the dead vines. But today he did something different. He motioned for me to come over, real slow and, like, deliberate. Nothing else changed, not his face or anything, just that little wave of his hand.
I didn’t really want to. I mean, since I’m trying to be honest, he’s just kind of scary, you know. But I was also pretty sick of him. I thought maybe if I talked to him he could explain himself, and I could tell him to leave me alone. So I ignore the nerves and I come over.
When I get close to him I see he must be sick. His skin doesn’t look good, and his mouth hangs funny and he never blinks. I stop in front of the arch, but I guess I’m still not close enough because the kid motions me closer. This time I know I should just run home, but I can’t stop staring at his eyes. I can see my reflection in them. Like looking in the mirror. I see myself in them and something else. Something I can’t quite figure out. So I go closer without even realizing it.
And then in my head there’s a voice, but I never see the kid’s mouth move. It’s whispering something, and it’s hard to hear so I get a little closer. And finally I can see myself in his eyes clear as anything. And it looks like I’ve got bruises – two black eyes. But I blink and the bruises are all that’s there, and my eyes look like the kid’s and I think I scream or something. Before I do, though, I hear the whisper again.
Now your mom will believe you.
I don’t stop running until I’m at my front door. ‘Til I’ve run up to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face to try and calm down. I haven’t told Mom anything about it. Even though the kid said she’d believe me, I don’t think she will. Maybe I’ll tell Jordan. But I’m definitely not going to tell them about what I saw in the bathroom mirror.
It was just for a second, but I know I saw them. Bruises. Bruises that melted into my eyes until there was nothing there but two black holes.