The Shadow People

Prompt Day #339: The cops are investigating bone marrow found on a swing set or other playground set. Write till you uncover the crime.

So, this started out in my head as such a cool story, but then I had a long night of call and an exhausting day at the office and when I sat down last night to work on it, it seemed more like I was just listing events rather than telling a story. A tired mind just refuses to be creative. I muddled through as long as I could because the idea had a lot of potential, but I was so tired, I had to leave it. This morning, I had to make a decision, start over and be one day behind or just “get it on the page” as some popular writing advice books would say. I decided that I would just get it on the page with the knowledge that Hemingway was right when he said “The first draft of anything is shit.” This is a first draft, it has some potential. I’ll put it in that file and maybe someday you’ll see it again in a much better form.

 

The Shadow People

                “He’s cute. Is he your only one?” The woman sidled up to Jill, her eyes on Keenan. Keenan sat alone dragging his feet through the dirt beneath the swings. Other children ran through the play area, squealing and laughing. Jill assumed Keenan was being shy. They had just moved here and he had a hard time making friends.

Jill nodded. “Yep. It’s just me and Keenan.” She said. “I’m Jill Ackers” she held her hand out. The woman shook it.

“Naomi Wynters” She said. “That crazy little toe-head chasing everyone is Britta and the one pushing kids on the merry-go-round is Benjie. You must have just moved here.”

“That obvious?” Jill laughed

“Small town.” Naomi answered with no hint of humor. “So, have you considered having any more children?” It was a bold question for a stranger to be asking as far as Jill was concerned.

“No.” she left it at that.

“Well, he looks lonely. You ought to, if you love him.” She said and without waiting for a response, walked away. Jill stood shocked for a moment, watching the rude woman gather up her kids and leave. The other mothers took a cue from Naomi and gathered their own. It was hard not to notice (especially with Naomi’s final words still echoing in her ears) that every mother there had more than one child. Weird.

“Keenan! Come on, time to go, Baby.” She said. Keenan obediently got up from the swings and walked over to his mom. “Hey, kiddo” she ruffled his hair. “Why’d you decide to sit all alone? You should have asked the kids if you could play.”

“No. I don’t want to. I might fall and get cut or scraped up.” He said.

“Hmm, well, you might” Jill said, trying her best Mommy knows best voice “but you might have a lot of fun too. Besides, everyone gets scrapes and booboos. They heal up ok.” She opened the car door for him. He slid in and as she was about to shut the door he answered.

“But I don’t want the shadow people to get me.” The door was shut when his words made full sense in her head. What the hell was he talking about? She got a chill and ran around the back of the car and got in.

“What are shadow people?” She asked

“They eat kids. The get inside them through scrapes and stuff and they eat their bones.” Keenan explained matter-of-factly.

“Honey! Where did you hear such a thing?”

“I didn’t. I just know. They live there.” He said.

“Where?”

“At the playground. They’ve eaten a lot of kids. There are a lot of pieces of bones on the ground mixed in with the rocks. Didn’t you see?” He sounded completely nonplussed by what he was saying. Meanwhile, Jill had goosebumps running up her arms.

“Keenan! Where did you hear this stuff?” She was trying to stay calm and focused. She was considering turning around, going back, looking for bones. If he was right, she needed to call the cops.

“Mom, They live there. I see them. All the kids can see them, but they like to get the ones all alone, like me. That’s why I had to stay on the swings. If I play and get hurt, they’ll get me.”

“I’m going to call the police when I get home. If you saw people watching you, then the cops need to know.” Jill told him. He shrugged. It was true what they said about kids; they were resilient.

Keenan was busy eating dinner when she spoke with the police. She elaborated on his story of the shadow people, telling them her son had told her about some people watching him and that he showed her some bones that she thought might be human. She was embarrassed to say that she threw them down out of fear and they left. The officer promised to investigate and she hung up.

It was all over the local news the following morning. The police had found several bone fragments at the playground and actual traces of bone marrow on the chains of the swings. The reporter said that it would be some time before DNA tests were back but the community was left to speculate whether these were indeed the bones of Abigail Wynters who went missing after playing in that playground five years ago.

Jill stopped in front of the TV. Wynters was the last name of the woman who had told her to have more kids for Keenan’s sake. Perhaps there was a reasonable explanation for the comment that came off so rudely. After his father came to pick Keenan up for the weekend, Jill decided to make a trip to the playground. She had a feeling Naomi would be in the group of onlookers.

She was. Jill watched from afar, looking for she didn’t know what exactly in Naomi’s face. Naomi stared with a flat affect at the investigation. Jill hesitated. She could not imagine losing Keenan, her heart broke for this woman, but she also realized there was a heavy fear sitting in her guts, because whatever Keenan saw was real. What had he seen that she, as his mother/his protector, had not? She needed to know. That need propelled her forward to Naomi.

“Was Abigail your daughter?” She asked, announcing herself at Naomi’s side. Naomi showed no surprise and did not turn to face Jill.

“Yes. My first and only for some time.” She said again without emotion.

“And that’s why you said I should have more?” Jill asked.

“No. No child can ever be replaced. I shouldn’t have said that to you. Someone will pay for that.” She said. Everything the woman said was a mystery. Jill couldn’t be silent this time.

“Then what did you mean? Why would you say something like that to me?”

“Because the Shadow People target the kids who are alone. When you take them to the playground, they should always be in pairs or more, otherwise what happened to Abby will happen to Keenan.” She turned now and looked Jill right in the eye. There was nothing that rang untrue or irrational in that look or the words she’d said. Jill couldn’t breathe.

“Keenan said he couldn’t go play because he Shadow People would get him. What are they?”

“I don’t know, they’ve been there forever. They steal children, they eat them. The kids can see them, we can’t” She shrugged

“But how could you believe in them then? Isn’t it more likely there is some lunatic loose in this town?”

“No. Shadow People. And they aren’t loose in the town, they stay in the playground…..As long as they get their supply of children. Which is why I will be shunned if anyone finds out I warned you in any way. Those of us who have learned the hard way, we have an unspoken pact to keep it to ourselves, let someone else’s kid pay for our children’s safety. I shouldn’t have said anything to you.”

“But…” Jill started, still confused.

“I shouldn’t be seen talking to you now. I’d like for you to go. I need to stay, I need to see them working to find what’s left of Abby. Please go, please.” The pain in her voice broke through.

“Ok, I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble….and thank you for the warning.” Jill said

“He’s such a sweet boy. Don’t bring him back to the playground. Make them work for their food from now on.” She said and turned her attention back to the people combing through the stones for the meager remains of her daughter.

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