Despite the covered area on top of the stairs, heat leaked into my clothes, causing me to break out in a sweat. It was, by far, one of the hottest days of summer. Unfortunately for me, that meant that Ocean Meadows was packed from open to close. My summer job as a lifeguard paid well, but sometimes, bratty kids and their more annoying parents weren't worth the dough. What made it all worth it, though, was Savannah Williamson. She was my coworker who worked at the partnering slide to mine. There were two slides in Ocean Meadows. One covered, the one I worked, known as "The Whirlwind." The other that Savannah worked was an open slide, for those not brave enough to face the darkness, called "The Gulf."
Nothing particularly stood out that morning. Children of all shapes and sizes came barreling through the gates as soon as we opened at nine. Savannah and I were stationed, ready to guard the slides with all our might. Every three hours or so, we'd switch out with other coworkers for a break, and then switch back in a little later. But, it was early morning, and the lines to the slides formed. The job was easy. Estimate that the kid was tall enough, send them down the slide (they had to lay down with their arms crossed), and then watch for them to reach the bottom, where Allison Winklestire swam. Allison was another lifeguard, posted to make sure the children swam out of the way fast enough and reached safety before another hyperactive child came barreling down.
It was about halfway through my first three hours, and, as stated, it was average. The screams of children as they hurled down the slides no longer bothered me. I had to send a kid back down the stairs because he didn't meet the height requirements. Then, I had to speak to his pissed-off parent that showed up five minutes later. I shared glances with Savannah the whole time, and she giggled as the mother yelled at me for being "inconsiderate."
Savannah and I made small talk as we waited for the children to get to the bottom. We talked about weekend plans, and I believe I invited her to see a movie with me Saturday night. Savannah blushed happily and agreed to go with me. Unfortunately, we never followed up on those plans. As what happened that day, that awful, horrible day, left a parent without a child and me without a mind.
It was nearly an hour before our first break. Sweat pooled on my forehead, and I was hoping Savannah wouldn't notice. A teenager in neon green swimming trunks went down "The Whirlwind." I glanced over my shoulder, watched him come out with a splash, then motioned for her to come up. There was nothing special about her. A child, no more than ten, stood, waiting for my signal. She had rosy cheeks kissed with freckles and water droplets. She came forward, stuck her body into the slide, and looked up at me with chestnut eyes.
"It's my first time doing this." Her voice was high-pitched, reminding me of my baby sister back home. She favored her, in a way. The way her eyes sparkled with possibly and comfort. But, somewhere behind those eyes, I saw fear.
I leaned forward, making sure she could hear me over the rushing water. "It's okay. It is loads of fun."
"Hey, buddy," a grown man called from behind me, "Some of us are waiting 'ere."
I held out a finger to silence him, but I heard him scoff.
"You've done this before?" The girl asked, calling all of my attention back to her pale face.
I nodded, and the guy in line groaned. I heard Savannah tell him to keep quiet. "It's fun, I promise."
"But it's dark. And scary. And there could be monsters."
Reassurance coated my words, "I promise that there's nothing bad that could happen. If there was a monster in there, it would have already eaten everyone else up."
She stopped to look around for a minute, eyeing her surroundings carefully. She leaned in closer to me and whispered. "Not just any monster. The monster."
I placed a hand on her shoulder. "It can't get you here." I didn't know what her monster was, but everyone has one.
"You promise?" A new look in her eyes, trust.
"Promise." I held out my pinkie, showing I meant it. And we locked our pinkies together, a sign of friendship in a single gesture.
After I let go, she did too, letting her body fall into the darkness of "The Whirlwind." Shouts of excitement followed her, and I smiled.
"Thank goodness, took 'er long enough." The man in line mumbled.
Not from those waiting in line. They all buzzed with excitement.
No shouts coming from the slide, from the girl, no anything.
I glanced over my shoulder to find that the girl hadn't reached Allison just yet. Puzzled, I turned toward Savannah, who was smiling at me.
"You were so good with her, you know." She said, causing my sunburn to turn a darker shade of pink. I did my best to ignore the warmth she caused in my heart just by speaking. I focused on the problem at hand.
"Has she come out yet?" I asked, but Savannah looked confused, so I added, "The girl. Have you seen her come out of my slide?"
Savannah shook her head, looking down at Allison as she motioned for the next in line to come forward. "No, why?"
"She's not out yet."
"Dude, seriously? What's the 'old up?" The man in line grumbled. "I've been waiting for, like, twenty minutes."
"So has everyone else." I shot back, my eyes trained on the bottom of the slide. A few moments later, the girl was still not at the bottom. I leaned down into the mouth of the slide, calling into the darkness. "Hey, kid, are you still going down?"
No answer. More snarky remarks from the guy in line. Another silencing from Savannah.
"Kid?" I called again. Nothing.
I turned to Savannah, "Will you watch my line? Don't let anyone come down. I'm going to ride down and see where she is."
Savannah nodded, her perfect hair blowing in the ocean breeze. She offered me a smile. I smiled back. The moment was ruined by the guy in line who said something about a refund as he stormed down the stairs.
I took off my sandals and sunglasses and placed my feet in the rushing water. It felt good in the summertime humidity. Laying on my back, I pulled myself forward with my arms. The last thing I hear before I plummeted was the eerie and curious whispers coming from the people in line. I zipped down, being thrown left and right in the darkness. I did my best to focus my eyes, looking for any sign of the girl, but it was useless. Water dropped on my forehead, mixing with the sweat that had formed earlier. It was warm water, though, so I wiped it off with the back of my hand just before I splashed into the pool below. Confusion and sunlight crowded my eyes, as I did my best to adjust them on Allison. Her tan skin was scrunched at her forehead. I shook the water out of my ear and frantically looked around for the girl.
"I was gonna ask what was taking so long. Why haven't you sent a kid down in like, five minutes?" Allison watched a child skidded across the water from "The Gulf," helping them cross to the stairs while she awaited my answer.
To be honest, I didn't have an explanation.
"I sent one down. Like a ten-year-old girl. She hasn't come out yet."
"You're pulling my leg."
"I'm not. She's not there, that's why I tried to look for her, but she's just gone."
That got her attention, and she finally snapped her eyes in my direction for the first time. Fear crept over Allison's face as she looked at my forehead, and then at the slide behind me.
"What?" I finally asked.
"Are you bleeding?"
"I don't think so."
"Your hair, and your face, there's blood." Concern was woven into her words as she lifted a shaky hand to point at "The Whirlwind."
I whipped around, and then I swam closer to Allison. Little by little, the water was turning a light pink. Then a darker pink. Unless Savannah had split a pink lemonade, there was no logical explanation.
The two slides were shut down immediately. Allison radioed our boss, and I raced to help cut the water source. Savannah helped everyone exit the stairs in a (somewhat) orderly fashion. Panic swept over Ocean Meadows. The people were utterly irritated and curious.
Allison, Savannah, Mrs. Nash (our supervisor), and two other lifeguards joined us at the top of the slides. Wind tossed our hair as an anxious crowd waited below. There were other lifeguards posted around the pool, keeping anyone from entering. Now, the once pinkish water that was leaking turned a dark shade of crimson. Little bits at a time, blood, we figured, streamed into the pool. The water was turning murky and my stomach ached.
"Alright, listen up," Mrs. Nash was yelling. She always yelled. "As Michael has explained, a child went into this slide," she motioned, "and never came out."
Savannah shivered. Under any other circumstances, I would have wrapped my arms around her and pulled her in close.
"We've shut the water off and a team is working on draining the pool. We've notified the police to help search for the child, but the summertime keeps them rather busy. They'll send one over to investigate as soon as they can. Until then, we need to do everything we can to find this missing child." Mrs. Nash paused, clicking her tongue to the roof of her mouth. "The child's parents are trying to be located now."
As if on cue, a scream echoed from the crowd below. A woman, it sounded like. She was screaming a name, searching, looking. I watched as a lifeguard rushed to her, and spoke to her. The woman's movements were frantic. A sinking feeling slid down my throat and made a nest in my stomach. The woman, unmistakably, was the girl's mother, searching for her lost child. At that moment, Mrs. Nash's walkie-talkie crackled to life. A man's voice on the other end. "The child's mother is here with me. She says the girl's name is Lily Hartwell."
Mrs. Nash replied, but I watched the crowd below. Now, the lifeguards were beginning to shut down Ocean Meadows. A siren blared close-by. All because of this girl, this Lily. I was the last person to see her.
Mrs. Nash started speaking to us again. "We need someone to search the slide since it's dry now. See if there is any sign of her there."
Without a second thought, I shot up my hand.
Mrs. Nash nodded at me. "Alright, Michael. You're up." She tossed me a flashlight, as well as a walkie-talkie, and offered me a warning. Savannah squeezed my hand before I began my journey.
And I was off, doing my best to slow myself when needed, pressing my palms against the side of the slide for support. The flashlight beamed up ahead, but so far, I saw nothing at all. Then, I heard it.
Drip, drip, drip.
I stopped myself with my hands and feet. Pulling the walkie-talkie from my belt, I pressed the button and radioed Mrs. Nash. "I thought you said they turned off the water."
A few seconds later. "They did."
I put the walker-talkie back on my belt with a sigh. I slowly let my hand off the side of the slide and slipped down further.
Drip, drip, drip.
It was steady.
Drip, drip, drip.
I rounded the next turn.
Drip, drip, drip.
It was closer.
Drip, drip, drip.
I was closer.
Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip.
It came faster now. I rounded the last corner before the slide ran into the pool, and then, I saw her.
There she was. Not on the slide. On the roof of it. I inched closer. Every part of her body was pinned to the top of the slide. If I went any further, I would be directly underneath her.
What's left of her, anyway. I could tell, upon arrival, that no life remained. In my short time on this earth, I knew life in someone's eyes. Her chestnut eyes once rimmed with possibly, comfort, and fear, were now lifeless. Dull. Bloodshot. Bored.
Her pale face was more of a ghostly white. I could not stop looking. Her throat was slit, causing blood to drip onto the slide from her wound and her mouth.
I nearly vomited.
Drip, drip, drip went her blood.
Drip, drip, drip.
But what shocked me most was the peculiar smile that curved on her lips. It was unnatural, inhumane. She looked like the monster that hid in my closet. I inched forward. Carefully, I reached out my hand, trying to figure out how she was sticking to the top of the slide like that. As soon as my fingers grazed her forehead, a scream escaped her smiling lips, and she plummeted, face first, onto the slide. A gasp escaped from me, a scream about to bubble over.
Mrs. Nash's voice rang out from the walkie-talkie, but I didn't listen. I watched as the girl, as Lily, slid down the rest of the slide. Sliding in her own blood. I believed I imagined it, but, before she rounded the final corner, she picked up her head, and she looked at me.
Her cold, dead eyes stared at me as her inhumane smile grew wider. And wider.
She kept sliding. I didn't dare follow. I heard her body hit the cement pool, as it had already been drained. People screamed. Mrs. Nash kept trying to contact me. I didn't move.
It felt like hours that I sat there. But I knew it wasn't long. After I emerged, bloodied and terrified, Savannah greeted me. She was crying. And for the first time, I realized that I was too. She wrapped her arms around me, frantically telling me about the state of the child. I didn't have the heart to tell her I already knew. That would also be the last time I spoke to her.
Ocean Meadows closed down for the rest of the season. People hung up signs and pictures of Lily as a memorial. Teddy bears were left on the sidewalk near the front gate. Our town cried. The next summer, Ocean Meadows sent out a message saying that we would reopen at the start of summer. People revolted. Ocean Meadows shut down, for good, shortly after.
Despite the questions surrounding the event, even those the police asked, I never gave them an answer. I never once told anyone what I saw that day. I didn't want people to know that I felt utterly responsible for what happened to Lily Hartwell. I told her the monsters couldn't get her. I lured her into "The Whirlwind." And that's where she died. Alone. And scared. Because of me.
No one ever solved the mystery of what happened to Lily. I've gone back to Ocean Meadows, searching for answers. I never found any. Just old bloodstains on the cement pool. Rust forming atop "The Whirlwind." Nothing. Lily's family, her mother, and everyone who knew her were angry. Angry about the ambiguity of it all. To be fair, I was too. There's not a day that I don't think about her. Her sun-kissed cheeks and her chestnut eyes. Her blood, dripping, dripping, dripping, dripping. Her smile. Whatever happened, it made me upset, knowing that I was the last one who ever saw her alive. Something killed her. And we'll never know what. She haunts my dreams every single night. I've been on medication to get them to stop. They don't. Lily Hartwell was an innocent. Her life, gone in an instant. Mystery grew thick. But others forgot. I believe that, if I told anyone what I saw, they'd never forget. But I don't want to tell. Lily's secret, her horrible, terrifying secret is safe with me. I promise.
What's a mirror with no glass,
not broken, hanging,
Don't mind her,
she's our friend
It's not what you think,
no no no.
She just does that sometimes.
It's normal, yes of couse.
No, she's just a weird kid.
What is that..?
Oh, no no no.
No, it's not.
We would never.
Rope, what rope?
She just likes to dress up.
oh dear, no,
we don't like that word.
for such a situation.
Perhaps it was ink,
she was a writer.
forgive my mistake.
this light in her eyes when she writes,
but the light never showed in the hanging reflection,
she would smile and look,
Yes, she's okay.
Just over done,
and now she sleeps.
How would I know a human neck would break so easily.
Poor girl, so fragile.
Worms in your bones, throbbing in starvation
you opened my veins to let crimson blood flow
wounds too deep, healing incomplete
tunnel light love retreats as I crawl on all fours
bloody wrists leave a trail of crimson chills
Scraped hands and knees, oh please, oh please
elevate me from the pounding rain of my tears
replace my bones before they rot in the ground
bandage my wounds from your continuing abuse
I’m crawling back to you like a moth to light, but
I realize I’ve drowned in your seas too many times
worms in your bones, throbbing in starvation.
An Old Friend
A man reclined in his aged, checkered armchair, gazing into the flickering fire that burned before him in his well kept brick fireplace. The piercing eyes of his father’s portrait gazed disapprovingly at him from it’s shimmering golden frame above the fireplace. The man held his pipe aloft in his hand, bringing it to his mouth every once in awhile to smoke as he listened to the rhythmic patter of the rain on his window and the spontaneous crackling of his fire.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
A look of confusion crept on the man’s face as he heard the knocking coming from his door. He was not expecting any visitors at this hour.
He heaved himself out of his chair and hastily attempted to make himself appear more presentable - brushing his pants down and smoothing out his cropped brown hair. As he peered through the peephole of his door, his mouth twisted into a grin.
“Oliver!” he laughed as he opened the door. “It’s been a long time old friend!”
A tall, dark figure entered the house, shaking the man’s hand as he towered over him.
“Yes,” the man’s voice rumbled like thunder. “It has been a long time, my dear friend.”
“I wish you had warned me that you were coming! I would’ve tried to clean up a bit around here!” the man laughed. “Now give me your coat before you drown my carpet!” he said, reached for his long black trench coat. Oliver flinched and pulled away.
“If it is alright with you, I would like to keep it on for now. I am still quite cold,” he said. “Besides, I was only outside for a moment, I am barely wet.”
“In that case, if you are cold, let us sit in front of the fire,” said the man, beckoning Oliver to follow his lead to the two armchairs resting in front of the fireplace.
As Oliver followed the man who had his back turned to him, he pushed back the side of his trench coat, letting a long, sharpened knife glimmer in the light of the fire. His hand flexed over the handle, clenching and unclenching. His calculating, piercing eyes fixed on the back of the man. As the man approached his chair and began to turn around to sit, Oliver quickly covered the knife under his coat to avoid the man noticing it.
However, the man paused before he sat down.
“I think I’ll put the kettle on,” he said.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Oliver.
The man strode off around the corner into the kitchen. Oliver stretched his hands out towards the fire to try to warm them, but they were shaking violently. As the man re-entered the room, Oliver quickly withdrew from the fire to avoid the man from seeing the state of his hands.
“Some weather we’re having, huh?” the man said as he sat down.
“Yeah, it’s been raining cats and dogs for days now,” Oliver responded.
A flash of lightning filled the room, followed shortly by a quick burst of roaring thunder, then silence.
“So,” the man continued, trying to strike up a real conversation, “what brings you here today?”
“I was just walking by and I thought it might be nice to see an old friend,” he responded.
“Yes, it has been quite some time, hasn’t it?” said the man, gazing into the fire trance-like. Images of the flames danced in his wide rim glasses.
“Are you alright?” Oliver asked after a few moments of silence.
“Oh, excuse me!” the man responded, shaken from whatever deep thought he had been in while gazing into the fire. “I haven’t quite been myself lately,” he said, chuckling to himself.
The rain seemed to pick up, pounding on the windows of the man’s home. The man stared at Oliver, eyeing his coat.
“Are you sure you would not be more comfortable taking it off?” he asked.
“No, I’m alright with it on,” Oliver responded. Again, silence.
“Have you heard about Jamie?” the man asked finally. Oliver’s face looked nervous for a moment, but he quickly returned to neutral.
“Yes, quite terrible to see someone die so young. You were pretty close to him, right?” Oliver asked.
“Yes,” he said. “We all were.”
The room was filled with the sound of the storm outside.
“You know,” he said, breaking the silence, “the police are beginning to suspect that it was a murder.” His eyes darted from the fire to look into Oliver’s. “Strange, huh?”
“Yes,” Oliver responded, unfaltering. “Very strange.”
“But, we should be used to it by now, shouldn’t we? Afterall, it’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened to us.” The man got up now, but rather than approaching Oliver, he loomed over the fire to stare at it again, his arms resting behind him.
“What do you mean?” Oliver asked. A bead of sweat dripped down his face and onto his coat.
“Well, remember last month? When Rebecca went missing?” he asked.
“Ah, yes. They found her a few days ago, didn’t they? Dead in the river?”
“Also strange, isn’t it? Another one of our close friends, dead?”
“And get this - the police are also beginning to suspect she was murdered, almost like there is a pattern,” he said. He looked back over at Oliver with a piercing look. Oliver looked away into the fire. “Not only that, but Peter and Tabitha are missing now, which makes everyone in our group of friends dead or missing,” he said. He paused. “Besides us of course.”
“Yes, I agree, it is very unusual. Do you think we have a serial killer on our hands?” Oliver asked, now dripping sweat.
“Possibly, but you know what’s unusual about that?”
“The police have found evidence suggesting each person was killed in their houses, with no signs of forced entry. Almost as if they let the killer in - like they were an old friend.”
“What can I say, the situation is very strange, I’ve never heard of anything like it, especially around here.”
Thunder rumbled, and Oliver’s sweaty and slippery hands began to hover over where the knife was hidden as the man looked back into the fire.
“You know,” he began, now starting to smile a bit, “it’s not like these are the only missing and murdered people in the city though. Just last week, someone down the street went missing. The police still haven’t found him, or his body.”
There was another long silence.
“Wait, Peter?” Oliver suddenly asked, confused.
“What about him?” he asked.
“You said earlier that he went missing.”
“Yes, quite sad.”
“Well, I haven’t seen anything in the papers about it,” Oliver said. The man was silent. “In fact, I saw him only this morning, on my way to work.”
Suddenly, the kettle began to whistle out of control. The noise it blasted echoed across the room, and the two jumped slightly from where they were, startled. The man looked away from Oliver, his back now facing him.
Oliver leapt from his seat, now brandishing the knife in his hand and lunged at the man. However, he was slow, and loud. The man spun around and grabbed the fireplace poker that was laying next to him. He thrust it forward, sending it right through Oliver, stopping him in his tracks.
“Quite strange, isn’t?” the man asked him. “That all of our old friends go missing or are dead? Almost like one of us were involved.” He slid the fireplace poker out of Oliver, and he collapsed to the ground, making a loud thud. “I have made quite the collection now, haven’t I?” he now said, mostly to himself as Oliver bled out on the ground.
Oliver seemed to try to say something, but all that came out were shakey gasps. The man strode over to the kitchen and removed the kettle from the fire. It was then he noticed that the storm outside had stopped. There was complete silence for the first time that night.
He sighed before walking back to the living room where Oliver was now laying dead. A smile briefly displayed on his face as he realized the irony in that. He looked back at Oliver. His face was twisted in fear and sadness.
“Now, don’t look so sad!” the man said, now approaching the body. “I have lots of friends in here for you!” He heaved the man up by his arms and dragged him across the room, leaving a trail of blood.
He yanked open the coat closet door as he said, “I sure am lucky you didn’t want to put your coat away.” He laughed at this for a few moments in a chilling, cackling laugh that echoed throughout the house.
My eyes hurt as the brightness of the room filled the closet. My eyes had adjusted to the minimal light that leaked through the shafts. The man tossed Oliver into the closet beside me, then stared at me. I tried to say something but he had duct taped my mouth shut.
“How are you today?” he asked me with a malicious grin plastered on his face. He closed the door again, leaving me in a world of darkness, death, and stench once again. As I tilted my head upwards to where the sky would be if I could see it, I wished he would just kill me already.
She stood, frozen in the centre of the room. Frozen too were the bodies around her; their mouths carved brutally upwards into horrifying facsimiles of smiles. Unlike her, they would never move again.
The gap between beats of her heart felt like millenia, as every detail wormed its way into her mind and made a home there.
What have I done?
The only sound in the grotesque silence was the steady
as red tore away from lifeless fingertips.
From the empty space behind came a press at her shoulder, and warmth on her neck.
“It’s your turn.”
alcohol on her breath as she stumbles into the gas station bathroom.
the light swings to and fro, flickering gently, like the glow of the lights on the decade old,
polyvinyl christmas tree at home. home, well. place of residence this holiday.
or, maybe the light is more like a...like a, fuck it, nevermind.
she flushes the toilet, growing dizzy at the quick swirl down the drain.
she stumbles out and catches herself on the sink that likely hasnt been washed recently.
the mirror is sparkling, but somehow dirty, refecting the light but multiplying her reflection. the three versions of her vary greatly; one is normal, one is the current, drunken, state. the other has oozing black eyes and a tongue that drops for miles, framed nicely by sickly-sweet, blood dipped fangs. she's kinda hot, that version, she thinks.
she leaves. she thought she heard footsteps behind her.
getting to her car was not in a hurry, despite her better judgement. it was freezing cold, breath fogging out like her joint from a couple hours ago. she shouldn't be driving, but what's the worst that'll happen? death? merry christmas to her!
the footsteps grow louder as she gets closer to her car. it doesn't phase her. she unhooks the pump from the side of her car that, come to think of it, needs new tires and oil. she climbs in and revs the engine, cutting on the highbeams and driving off down the long, winding road back to her parent's house. there's a looming figure resting in her rearview, grinning devilishly, ear to ear. she hadn't notice. she won't notice. long fingers wrap around the headrest, ready to strike, but she ruffles her hair and cuts off the lights, locking her doors before walking inside the house with a deep sigh. the being lingers on her back like a leech; sucking her every fiber out, demonic smile growing wider and wider with the more blood it consumes. no one notices, they never have. not when she was a child, not when she is nearing 30. a quick hello to dad and a successful grab for the bottle of tequila, and up the stairs she goes. the more she drinks, the more it feeds, the more it grows and festers and explodes in pure ecstacy; it feels so good, so bubbly and warm and, oh that's it, click off the lights and cut on that lovely hippie music, smoke another joint and feed it, let it devour you whole, like you need it to. like the only way you feel good is to embrace that darkness. let the blood dipped fangs and endless black eyes eat you whole, little girl, just like you let your mother eat away at you, like you let your unsuccessful love rip you to shreds, like you let every single blood thirsty animal drain you to a crisp for just a second of bliss. you haven't changed, you never will. your best friend is a lighter and a never-full bottle of liquid death, what do you expect? oh, you hear your father yelling about the tree lights flickering, but you're flickering too, darling. you're going to burn out, just like those yellowed lights that suffocate the plastic trees.
A silver blade kisses rosy cheeks,
gentle breath fogging the winter air.
Her hand trembles, so she tucks it under her leg, hiding it.
Hiding. Always hiding.
Behind the thick sweatshirts and layers of makeup,
behind the empty complements and white lies.
Behind the perfect schoolgirl persona she works so hard to maintain.
Perhaps it had worked too well.
Now, this boy stood across from her, eyes glittering with lust,
regarding the sweet little thing in front of him,
coaxing her impatiently into an alley,
caressing her with the tip of his blade.
"It'll be quick."
"You'll like it."
Decision made, she raised her eyes to meet his...
The tears he was expecting were absent, the fear gone.
For a fraction of a second, the time between two heartbeats, perhaps,
pure joy flashed in her eyes, a dark malice that sent fear crawling up his spine.
"Shhhh," she soothed, prying the knife from his suddenly still hands.
"It'll be quick."