Elden slept for most of the day. When he finally sat up from bed, his shirt tore away from the bed, and stretched away from his skin, in sweat. For him, it was like a wet band aid that was stuck on for far too long, slowly being peeled from the skin. Mid-summer was unbearable for most, but for Elden it was a relief. The simple refreshing satisfactions on days of peaked heat. To experience the exhaustion and beat down of the day cooking someone alive, then a cool breeze, or a wet pull of clothes from the skin allowing a cool touch, integrates itself into life, and everything seems to be marvelous. Even if only for a few seconds. Today was one of Elden’s favored days of the week–his day off.
Elden still lived with his parents in their average suburban home. It was a two story house, fair sized yard; front and back, and everything was always clean. After changing into clothes which did not stink of a gym locker that has gone years without cleaning–rancid onions, Elden set off for a walk. The walk was not long, since Elden’s goal was the neighborhood park only blocks away. With a large book wedged under one arm and a half eaten apple in hand, Elden felt that this day was already off to a good start.
Approaching the park, Elden saw that it was scarce of others. There was a couple playing tennis on the far side of the park, but no others were seen. Not even the playground held housing and imagination for younglings being watched by their authorities. Elden found a lone tree, large enough to produce shade for yards around. Elden sat in, what looked to be, the most comfortable spot within the bulging root structure, making sure the sun would set behind him. Elden sat with a flurry of dust; plumed from the disturbance of his body. He read while finishing his apple. Once Elden was done with his apple he held the core in the air, transfixed in the story being read. Over time, Elden began to nod off. His hand rested in the dirt, the core had rolled off on its own venture, one knee slumped over lazily, and the book, half in the dirt, splayed open. Elden’s bookmark blew away in the breeze, allowing the pages in the book to dance backward, toward the beginning of the story like a flip book. He dreamed yet another memory as a child. But older.
It was an open field at his grammar school. He walked back and forth with friends, searching for something. The dialogue from his friends was muffled, unable to decipher what was being said. Finally, a statement referring to a “buttercup” broke the silence.
He remembered this from before.
Elden and his friends were searching for buttercup flowers during recess. He was told about a theory with buttercups. He couldn’t remember it, so they all searched for a patch of the flowers to figure it out.
Elden was much farther out in the field than his friends. They were always told to never go too far out, since those on yard duty couldn’t see anyone out in the field. It was because some kids disappeared beyond the thick border of thorn bushes. At least, that’s how the story was told. Elden remembers students saying that Roger, a student known for relieving his stomach of its current occupants on a daily basis, disappeared one day after he came to close to the border. However, the next day, Elden saw him in class. Roger looked different, somewhat drained, but fine all the same. Elden overheard staff say, when he was sitting in the nurse’s office due to a fever, that the school was planning on fencing the field off from the thorns, but the schools budget wouldn’t allow it. There was no way they could afford to fence it off and keep the school running.
He looked back toward his friends. They were sprawled across the field, still searching with dedication.
All his friends were no bigger than his pinky nail in size now. He was close to the border when he resumed his search. Without much time, he found what they were all looking for.
He had found a very small patch of buttercups. Elden picked the only two from the ground. Elden selfishly thought that if they were to try out the theory among four people, why not use just one flower? He shoved one of the buttercups into his sweatshirt pocket for later and shouted back to his friends.
They arrived, shouting and arguing who should be the first to try out the buttercup. Elden thought to himself, since I found it, shouldn’t I get to choose? There was Tivon, Eve, Kaito, and himself. Kaito was more aggressive, stating that he needed to try it first and swiftly grabbed for the flower. Elden stepped back, hiding the flower behind himself.
Elden looked from Tivon to Kaito, then handed it to Eve, who stood there silently, watching the entire demonstration. Eve accepted it gracefully. She stepped forward and held it under Elden’s chin, allowing the flower to emanate a warm, gentle radiance above where the flower was placed. The morning sun shone on Elden’s skin, his jaw line the horizon. Eve said, ”that means you like butter.” With a smirk, she bolted off, admiring the flower as she ran.
Elden sat at the border of the field, watching while Kaito and Tivon ran after Eve, still whining about seeing the flower. Elden stuck his hand into his pocket, thumbing the flower he kept for himself. As he did so, movement rustled behind him, interrupting the silent, gentle breeze he now sat in. His hand left his pocket to support him while he turned to look. There was only a wall of thorns, but the sound of movement continued. The thorn wall opened to the size of a quarter directly facing him. A mechanical grinding rose from the bushes. The quarter sized hole began to grow until Elden could see a shadowed figure within. All that could be made out was a single, pin sized, glowing red eye. It didn’t approach, but it watched. They watched each other.
The recess bell rang. Elden quickly turned to look toward the school building. As he did so something grasped his shoulder.
It was skeletal and heavy. The bony twigs grasped harder.
Wide eyed in horror, Elden slowly turned to look at the weight which rested on his shoulder.
Elden woke underneath the tree, jerking his shoulder forward as if the hand had still been holding on. A child was crying at the playground. The mother ran to his aid, calling out to the heavens as she went. It was thought that the child may have fallen from the highest tower on the jungle gym, resulting in the awakening cry. What surprised Elden was when she picked the child up, the child had a large gash across their leg. The leg hung limp, swaying freely, side to side while the child lay in the mothers grasp. Elden expected a copious amount of blood to flow from such an injury. What was surprising to Elden was instead of blood, black liquid oozed from the injury site. Elden couldn’t see any muscle or bone through the black mess on the child’s body, which he took as a good sign. If anything presented itself besides the skin and what may be blood, an extended hospital visit was most likely in their future, along with an inevitable ambulanced chauffeur. They didn’t run off immediately, however.
The mother was frantic. She haphazardly bolted around in the same sphere of distance, only a couple yards, darting from place to place, her eyes only focused on the ground. Finally, she found what she was looking for. When she picked it up, Elden noticed that it shone in the sunlight. A mechanical object? Elden thought it might be a screw or bolt, but uncertainty dominated. Once they disappeared around the corner, Elden stood, ensuring himself that the child was alright and the shine was from a toy left behind. But why such dedication for such an elementary thing during a time of crisis? He couldn’t explain the wet, black substance, but would look for any that may have dripped onto the ground.
He noticed his apple core was engulfed in a moving black mass. Ants had claimed his once enjoyed meal. Elden didn’t bother picking it up. Brushing himself and his book off, he casually directed himself to the child’s site of injury. To his avail, he found a small pool of what oozed from the child’s leg. Crouching closer, Elden dipped his index and middle finger into the center of the sludge. It was indeed black. Wiping it between his fingers Elden noticed it had the same consistency of oil. Elden didn’t need to sniff the substance. The smell reeked and the stench resonated for yards around the area. Standing, Elden brushed it from his mind, like most things encountered. Elden wiped his hand vertically along his pants, hoping to clean off whatever it was that he touched, and headed home.
He had enough pleasantries for the day. Darkness was sinking in, and soon his week would start again. Elden needed to be ready.