The blinding light stung his eyes and he squinted against it as he held his arm up for shade. He sensed that something important was going on right in front of him but the light was preventing his eyes from focusing.
As the unexplained light began to fade he could make out shapes and colors moving frenetically several yards away. Faint giggling could be heard punctuated with the occasional youthful shout. It was the easily recognizable sound of children playing. As his eyes adjusted to the light he was able to make out the scene in front of him. He was staring at a playground where numerous boys and girls enjoyed the warm summer sun as well as the swings and slides.
The playground was foreign to him. By today’s standards it was small and unimpressive. The swing set and slide were from a different time. There were no brightly painted wood structures that were the norm for today’s playgrounds. What he saw was a simple set of four swings with a large metal slide attached to the side. A few yards beyond the swing set was one of those vomit inducing, spinning rides that he remembered falling off of once when he was a kid and landing face first on the ground. He had thought that these didn’t exist anymore because of the enormous potential for injury. Several children were sitting on it while one older boy spun it faster and faster. He tried to warn them to slow it down but it seemed that they couldn’t hear him.
The playground was rimmed on three sides by a fairly dense forest of trees and in the back left corner was what appeared to be a large equipment shed that had a strange symbol spray painted on the side. It looked a little like an inverted letter Y written in fancy script.
His attention was drawn to a beautiful young girl dressed in bright green shorts and a dusty white tank top with bright pink lettering on the front that read Little Princess in frilly script. She was throwing a ball back and forth with another little girl just a few yards from the shed.
He slowly walked toward the two girls that, he guessed were about 7 years old. They smiled and chattered as the ball bounced back and forth between them. When he was about 10 feet away the ball got by the Little Princess and rolled along side of the shed and came to rest 5 feet beyond it at the base of a tree.
Little Princess happily gave chase. After she reached down to pick up the ball she turned and saw something behind the shed that stopped her dead in her tracks. The smile quickly abandoned her face and she stared slack jawed at the scene only she could see.
He immediately knew something was wrong and his own smile faded. He moved quickly toward where the girl now stood and peered around the corner of the shed to see what had so abruptly stopped the girl in her tracks. Behind the shed was a large unkempt man with a dirty white tank top and filthy, torn shorts. His mouth was open revealing an incomplete set of ill maintained teeth. His head was thrown back and his eyes were closed. He had one grimy porcine hand tightly wrapped around the forearm of a small boy no more than eight years old. He was guiding the boys hand around the rigid penis that was protruding from the fly of the disgusting man’s shorts. The sandy haired boy had a grimace of pain on his face and tears running from his eyes as they met the eyes of the Little Princess. The little boy’s eyes pleaded with the girl to help him. She saw the look on his face and for a moment she struggled with what to do. In the end she realized that she was too scared to do anything and she ran away as fast as she could. As she ran past her friend she grabbed her arm and urged her to follow. The two girls headed out of the playground and, presumably, home.
He stared at this in wonder. It was as if he was watching a particularly disturbing TV show. As he turned back to confront the man and his victim behind the shed he found himself staring at the inside of a small bedroom. The room was decorated in such a style that one could not mistake it for anything other than that of a small girl. On the Strawberry Shortcake bedspread was the small girl he had just seen racing out of the park. She was laying face down and it was obvious from the way her frail body shook that she was crying.
He walked over to the bed to console her when her head suddenly jerked off the bed and faced him. The face that he remembered from the park was gone and in its place was the hideous visage of the man behind the shed. The man’s foul breath enveloped him when, in a voice like a rusty chainsaw, he spat out the words “She can’t tell anyone” and then he threw back his head and maniacally howled laughter.
Brad’s heart immediately began to gallop as he watched the man lay back face down on the bed. Brad closed his eyes for a moment or two and when he opened them he saw his wife sitting on the bed in the little girl’s room. She stared blankly at the wall beyond his left shoulder and in the most haunting (or was it haunted) voice he ever hoped to hear in his life she softly said I never told anyone. She then turned to him and stared at him with black eyes that lacked any life at all.
Brad sat bolt upright in his bed with a muffled moan. The haunting image of his wife’s lifeless eyes was still sharp in his mind. His heart beat rapidly and he was bathed in sweat. Kelly had been startled out of her own troubled sleep by the sudden movement of her husband. She switched on the lamp next to the bed and turned to look at Brad and was frightened by the disturbed look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked while putting a gentle hand on the side of his face. “You’re shaking.” She pushed back a stray lock of hair from his sweat dampened forehead.
Most of the time, when Brad awoke from a particularly vivid dream, he would struggle to remember what the dream had been about; this time he found himself desperately trying to shake the dream’s images from his mind. He stared blankly at his hands, afraid to look at his wife for fear of seeing the dead eyes of his dream wife.
After several moments Kelly brought her other hand to his face and gently turned it toward her. Brad gathered up his nerve and raised his eyes to her face. It was with a seemingly disproportionate amount of relief that he found himself staring at the beautiful green eyes of his wife. He let out a shaky sigh and began to gather himself. Kelly stared at him patiently waiting for her husband to speak. When he did she was not prepared for what he had to say.
Cryptically, Brad began “I was at a playground…” He closed his eyes as if he were picturing the scene he was describing. It was a warm almost hot summer day. I saw kids playing…There was this girl…about seven or eight years old…she was playing ball with a friend… they were in front of a shed…the ball got by the little girl with Little Princess on her shirt” If Brad’s eyes had been open he would have seen the look of pure terror on Kelly’s face. “She saw something behind the shed …she was scared…I went to look and I saw it too…a man with a little boy…it made me sick…the girl and her friend ran away…then I was in her room and you app….” He opened his eyes and was stopped dead by the look on his wife’s face. “Kelly?...What’s wro…..realization dawned on him. “That was you” said as both a question and a statement. “That little girl was you.” Kelly put a hand to her mouth and began to cry.
Kelly quickly moved away from her husband and slid off the bed where she stood, silently, with her back to him. Brad stared at her back unsure of what to say or even what to think about what was happening to him. No no no no no no this can’t be happening Brad frantically thought. This is just tooooo much. Brad tried to think of something to say but nothing appropriate would come to him. Each time his mind conjured up something to break the tension, it would quickly dismiss it as being the wrong thing to say. The silence in the room was nearly deafening.
Finally Brad stood and walked, on rubbery legs, to his wife. He stood behind her for a moment still unsure of what to do. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her and she jerked away from him as if his touch carried a painful electric charge. Brad watched the back of the love of his life quiver almost imperceptibly as its owner sobbed bitter, long forgotten tears.
Kelly hadn’t consciously thought of that horrible day in more than 20 years. There are certain times, when the temperature and the sunlight and the overall feel of the day is just right that reminds her of that day. She will be going about her business and all of the sudden she will feel an almost over whelming sense of unease bordering on dread. It usually, only lasts a minute or two, but is enough to keep her spirits down for several hours.
It unnerved her to think that Brad had traveled back in time to that day and seen her cowardice. That was the problem wasn’t it? It wasn’t that that poor boy had to endure that monster’s perversions. It was the fact that his eyes pleaded with her to help and what did she do? She ran away. Not only did she run away but she never mentioned it to another soul. She worked for months on getting the memory out of her head. She never wanted to think of it again. She never wanted to see that man’s face, his greasy fingers, his filthy clothes or his gap toothed expression of pleasure and she especially never wanted to see that poor boy’s eyes begging her for help pleading with her to stop what was happening.
Her mind eventually pushed the memory so far back that it never fully reared its head…until now. The recollection was now so vivid in her mind that she could smell the pine trees that rimmed that old playground. She could here the squeak of the swings as a furiously pumping child happily urged it higher and she could feel the uneven hardscrabble underneath her light pink sneakers. She could clearly see her Little Princess shirt. Oh how she loved that shirt. It had become the first shirt she would look for when a new day dawned. If she could get away with it she would wear it everyday until it was so dirty that it practically stood up by itself. Her daddy bought her that shirt for her eighth birthday and she loved it so much that she covered her fathers face with kisses and slept with it that first night. It was rare that summer to see little Kelly without her Little Princess shirt.
After that day, however, she couldn’t bear to even look at it. It had become a symbol in her eight year old mind of all that was frightening and bad in the world. The next time her mother washed the shirt she neatly laid it out on Kelly’s bed knowing that she would want to wear it. Kelly, however, upon seeing the frilly words became ill and ran for the bathroom where she got sick. Not wanting to explain to her mother why she felt sick, Kelly quietly cleaned herself up and got dressed. She took the Little Princess shirt and hid it in the back of her closet. She would later take the shirt and surreptitiously put it in the trash.
Kelly still had her back to her husband as she re-lived that awful time in her life. It felt as if a long forgotten band-aid had been ripped off of her soul revealing a gaping wound that still had not healed. She desperately wanted to know how and why her husband knew about this part of her life but she realized that if she wanted that answer she would have to bring that incident out into the open and look at it in the harsh light. She had worked so hard at keeping it hidden she was not sure that she wanted it visible. In the end, what was going on with Brad was more immediate a need than the desire to forget a decades old memory of a disgusting man and a sad, desperate little boy.
Kelly finally turned toward her husband. The redness of her eyes and the deep pain etched in her face was almost too much for Brad to bear. She looked at him with a mixture of great sadness and great mistrust. The look startled Brad and he took a reflexive step back.
When she spoke, Kelly’s voice came out choked and horse “Wh…H…How could you possibly know about that?” Her voice pleaded
“I don’t know about that.” Brad said more than a little defensively “I don’t even know what that is. All I know is that I had this very vivid dream about a little girl playing ball and then all of the sudden I’m watching this filthy, disgusting thing molesting a little boy. Why would I dream about something like that?” he paused for a moment and then added, at almost a whisper “and why did you look so….empty?”
Kelly sat on the edge of the bed and put her face in her hands. Brad sat down next to her and placed a gentle hand on her back. This time she let it stay there and let herself draw comfort from it. “It was him” Brad said more to himself than to Kelly.
“Who?” Kelly asked without looking up in a voice that sounded thoroughly exhausted.
“Who do you think?” was Brad’s reply
Kelly lifted her head and glanced at her husband from the corner of her eye. After a beat she closed her eyes and let her head slump down between her shoulders. She realized that he was right. There was no other explanation for what had happened.
Without waiting for Kelly to say anything Brad said “I saw a symbol on the side of the shed. It looked like an upside down letter “Y” written in fancy script.”
Kelly looked up at her husband and said. “There was never anything written on that shed. I can remember that one time we tried to figure out what would be in there but we couldn’t because there were no markings on it.”
“The shirt that God had on tonight, had that same symbol on it.”
As Kelly tried to absorb that piece of information her mind was at odds with itself. On the one hand there was no way that Brad was talking to God tonight and on the other hand there was no way that he could possibly know about the boy at the playground. She was tired. She couldn’t remember a time when she felt this tired. She looked at Brad and realized the he looked almost twice as tired as she felt.
With a heavy sigh she said “Let’s sleep on this…OK? I just really need to lie down”
Brad stood up and crossed over to his side of the bed and climbed in. As he pulled the covers up to his chin he said “I’m sorry about all of this.”
She looked at him as tears welled up in her eyes and replied “None of this is your fault and I’m sorry if I made you feel that way.” She lied down and let out a shaky sigh and wiped the tears from her face.
Brad turned off the light and settled in. The troubled couple both lay on their backs and stared silently at the ceiling. After a moment their hands found each other and held on tight. Both thought that they would be awake for a long time but both drifted off to deep dreamless sleep in just a few minutes.