The blazing sun sent out waves of shimmering air over the cracked pavement. It was the middle of July, that time of year when nothing will grow. No one was out tending gardens or mowing lawns. A lone figure walked down the sidewalk, out of place, an outsider.
Dave treaded over the brown grass which lay between the blocks of the sidewalk. His sneakers made no sound making contact with the cement. For the umpteenth time, Dave wished he had brought a pair of sunglasses for everywhere he looked it was too bright. Even the sidewalk glittered back at him. Like many other things, he had forgotten sunglasses and now it was too late. He looked around as best he could and marveled at his surroundings. It had been ten years since he had last seen this neighborhood. It hadn’t changed much.
Actually he couldn’t tell if it had changed much or not, he couldn’t remember anything about it. Before his seventh birthday lay a vast gray blur, only clearing intermittently and then only for seconds, sometimes revealing a nameless face or location before dissolving again. The street he was walking down seemed vaguely familiar, giving him a feeling of deja vu. He stopped at the corner and looked around. The houses betrayed no secrets. Dave looked up at the street post to get his bearings.
For an instant, the gray fog lifted, giving him something to go on, but far from satisfying his insatiable appetite for knowledge. The park was down aways. He still didn’t know what the park was supposed to mean to him, or why he had a compulsion to go there. Shrugging he followed his thoughts, hoping for the best.
The park, he found, was completely without merit. Wedged between houses and swampland, some rusty swings and a weather-beaten slide were all it had to offer. The grass was sparse and litter tumbled across the park, carried by the wind flying over the marsh. A number of bushes grew up around the park, but like everything else, they were wild from abandonment. Dave stood on the sidewalk. The park seemed familiar. Perhaps he had once played here-
“Dave?” The sudden call made him jump. He whirled around and came face-to-face with a boy about as old as he. His face was pale and he was dressed in white shorts and a t-shirt. For a moment, there was only the wind; both looking at each other in silence. Finally, he spoke again.
“Don’t you remember me?” Dave searched through the dark corridors of his mind, staggering blindly through the fog, but he was triumphant. Dave returned with a name.
“Bob…” Bob nodded.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. Dave nodded. “What have you been up to?”
“Not too much. How about yourself?”
“Well, you might say that I take care of this park now,” Bob replied. Dave looked around at the trash and untrimmed shrubbery, but said nothing. Something seemed wrong now. Dave squinted in the sunlight and looked at the park again. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the grass. One foot, then another. Eventually his feet brought him to a spot in the ground where the grass was textured differently than the rest. The fog in his mind now seemed to cover an ocean shore and information ran up on shore like discarded driftwood. Bob had followed him and was standing behind him, two steps away.
“There… there used to be a merry-go-round here…” Dave said absently. Bob nodded again.
“They had to take it out about three years ago. It was getting dangerous; kids would fall off of it all the time.” Bob explained further, but Dave was no longer listening. He was staring into space in the general direction of the slide. On the top platform stood a boy about seven years old with light tousled hair. He was staring at Dave, squinting in the sunlight as Dave was, an unreadable expression on his face. Though Dave realized he must have moved before the boy had been born, he seemed familiar. A name nagged at him.
He turned to Bob. “Who is that?”
Dave asked again, “Who is that kid on the slide?” Bob looked over then at Dave again.
“What kid?” Dave turned.
The boy was gone.
“I don’t understand…” Dave walked towards the slide. “He was there a moment ago –”
“Why did you leave?” interrupted Bob. Dave stopped to face him again. For some reason. Bob seemed hostile. Dave couldn’t figure it out. It made him uneasy.
“I don’t really remember,” said Dave. “It was so long ago.”
“What do you remember?” Dave stared at his feet. He looked up with a smile.
“Well, I do remember these swings. I remember we’d go back and forth, going higher and higher then we’d jump off into the air!” He pushed the swing seat and flakes of rust fell from the chains. Bob remained impassive, still vaguely hostile. Dave avoided his gaze and watched the swing slowly come to rest with the squeak of unlubricated parts.
“Why did you come back?” asked Bob almost accusingly. Dave shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know. It just seemed like I had to.” Bob nodded, satisfied with the answer. Dave looked over at the slide again. The boy had returned. His hair blew in the wind; he had an enigmatic smile now. Dave blinked and he disappeared once more.
Dave stalked over to the slide angrily. “What the hell’s going on here?” Bob followed with a smile and watched Dave storm around until his anger evaporated leaving only some primal fear. He stopped and returned to Bob’s side.
“I don’t like this,” he mumbled.
“Why not?” Dave didn’t answer, asking himself the same question. It was just a slide, just a stupid slide. The answer came back, echoing. Mocking him. It’s just a slide. A cold pressure on his arm made Dave come back to his senses. Bob was pulling him up the stairs to the top platform. The wind grabbed at them. Dave shivered. Bob laughed, a hollow sound which the wind carried away.
“The culprit always returns to the scene of the crime.” Bob laughed again. Dave reddened.
“Don’t laugh at me!” he shouted. “What’s going on here? You’re mad at me about something, what? Who are you anyway?”
Bob’s face turned serious. “Don’t you remember?”
Snatches were shooting out of the fog, fragments of conversation. Bob was there in his thoughts.
“We were playing on the slide…”
“We did that a lot,” said Bob coldly. “What do you remember about that last day?”
“Nothing,” Dave lied as more images rushed out like scattering bats in a dusty attic. He could no longer see Bob, or the park. He was seven again.
“We were pushing each other around…”
Bob nodded. “I wanted you to stop, but you wouldn’t.” Dave shook his head, still in the midst of his flashback.
“No. I kept pushing you…”
“Like you always did. Then what?”
A broken beam, a foot-
Bob grew anxious. “And?”
A boy hit the ground head first-
Bob repeated his question, “And?”
The boy was unmoving. Dave looked out in horror, “And… you… you died.” Bob nodded. Dave took a step back. “What are you?”
Bob took a step forward. “Call me your conscience. For ten years I’ve waited for this.” Dave took another step back.
Another step ahead. Bob continued. “You never did know when to quit. When it was too much.” Wide-eyed, Dave took another step back.
Another step forward. Bob finished. “Now things will be right again.” Dave tripped on a broken beam and fell against the railing. The sky tumbled wildly as Dave flailed for balance. A sudden gust of wind touched him and he fell to the ground, unmoving.
The body lay broken and bleeding in the hot July sun. A shadow loomed over Dave. A boy dressed in white shorts and a t-shirt with his hands on his hips.
“I told you so, but you didn’t listen,” the boy cried in a pre-adolescent squeak.
“Bobby!” someone cried, their call carried across the swamp by the wind. Bobby turned away from the body.
“Coming!” He ran from the park leaving the swings, the new slide and the merry-go-round. They sat silently, waiting for someone to come and play with them, to give them life. There was no hurry, they had ten years.
And the sun beat down. It was time for lunch.