We met on a dreary Sunday morning, the clouds hung low blending in with the heavy fog, the winds howled sending chills through my knitted cap. Our Sunday School teacher Mr Manston let us out of class early, as he often did and while the other children chose not to brave the harsh conditions outside, I foolishly did. I trudged out and down the familiar muddy pathway, past the small graveyard and out to the lifeless playground by the property’s edge. That’s where I saw him, sitting on the rusted swing set letting the wind rock him back and forth, seemingly unfazed by the horrid weather. His eyes met mine and mine his; he was a strange boy, dressed in stained clothing that I had never seen worn by anyone else before or since. He had an otherworldly glow about him, his skin looked as if it were made of porcelain and even in the harsh winds his neatly combed hair refused to move. In truth I was frightened when I first saw him, he’d never attended the church before and I’d never seen him in school but when he spoke I suddenly felt great sympathy for him. There was a sadness, a vulnerability in his voice, it almost trembled as if he were too afraid to speak aloud. “Who are you?” I asked, taking the swing beside his.
“Tommy.” He replied.
“I’m Maddie.” I smiled back.
Conversation was slow, we spent more of our time staring at our feet that day then we did talking but we got on well. We took turns leaping from the swings, trying to jump clear of the barked area around the play equipment. We ran up and down slides and attempted flips and somersaults over the monkey bars. As I saw the congregation filing out of the church I said my goodbyes and asked where he lived, “Maybe our parents can organise a play date?” I suggested.
“I don’t think so.” He said, “I stay over there.” He pointed to the graveyard.
“The graveyard?” I asked, thinking he was pulling a prank on me.
“Yes, the graveyard.” He sighed; he was telling the truth.
I’d never met anyone who lived in a graveyard and the idea filled my young mind with all sorts of excitement. “That’s so cool!” I cried; this bought a smile to his face.
“Most people think it’s weird.” He said.
“It is.” I replied, “But weird things are the most fun.”
In the coming months we became best friends. I’d often met him at the playground after school and we’d run around playing and talking until the streetlights came on. One night, caught up in laughter with Tommy I lost track of the time and arrived home well after dark. My parents alternated between shouting at me and smothering me with hugs and kisses, after that I was forbidden from roaming around after school and made to come directly home. “Your friends came play at our house!” My father would say; but Tommy couldn’t. No one understood him, no one else gave him a chance like I did. Tommy always said that he frightened people, that I was the only one who wasn’t afraid of him.
After my parents enforced the new curfew I didn’t have much time to see Tommy anymore, and when I did we didn’t get to spend long together. Months passed by where we only shared fleeting moments with one another.
Until, one afternoon when we were let out of school early before a long weekend. I conveniently forgot to tell my parents about the early home time and used the extra hour to go see Tommy. We spent the time swinging together, as we did when we first met. We shared jokes and laughed so hard I thought the priest back at the church would hear us and come shoo us away; but something was the matter. Tommy was being quiet, and not like he had been before. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I never see you anymore.” He said.
“You’re seeing me now.”
“I know but… I miss you.” He said, “I wish we could spend every day together.”
“Me too.” I foolishly replied.
“Really?” He asked.
“Of course.” I nodded back.
“There’s a way you know… A way we can be together forever.”
“What is it?” I asked. He reached into his pockets and removed a pocket knife with a chipped wooden handle, “This.” He smiled, “They used it on me and now we just have to use it on you.”
I eased of the swing, “Tommy…” I paused, “What are you doing?”
He flipped out the blade, “Don’t you want to be together forever? This is how we do it. The pain doesn’t last long I promise you!” A wound began to appear around his neck, it stretched from ear to ear. It began dripping crimson down his chest; I screamed as loud as I could and ran out of the playground. I left my helmet and school bag behind on the ground as I leapt onto my bike. “Maddie!” He cried out behind me, “Maddie!”
My tyres hit the mud path already spinning, flying down the narrow track my heart skipped a beat with each stone I passed over. I remember being terrified that my wheels would buckle beneath a misplaced stone or stick and I’d be left injured and unable to run away from the deranged boy chasing me. He seemed to give up as I passed the church, “You don’t know what you’re missing Maddie!” The words he yelled as I escaped replayed in my head all night. When asked where my helmet and bag went to I lied and told my parents I’d forgotten them on the playground. Despite my protests my Dad went out after dinner to retrieve them. He returned home fine with my things and I thought that perhaps the entire incident was behind me. I laid in bed that night reading one of my favourite books, my mind put at ease as I lost myself in a magical fantasy world. I fell asleep with the book still open in my lap.
I awoke in the middle of the night at about four o’clock to see Tommy standing out by my bedroom window staring in at me, watching me sleep. He flipped his pocket knife open then shut, then open and then shut again, “Come outside Maddie.” He said with a sinister grin on his face, “Let’s go home together.”
I screamed and both my parents rushed in to comfort me; he vanished before they got to me. I told them what happened but they said it was only a nightmare and to pay it no mind. For the rest of the week whenever I would lay down for bed he’d be there, I’d scream every time and every time my parents would rush in to settle me down. I eventually told them the story of Tommy over and over but they never believed me. “Just your imagination.” My Mum would say as she wrapped me in her arms and stroked my hair.
Finally, after weeks of tears and screaming they took me to see my first therapist, he didn’t believe me either. He came to all the same conclusions as my parents had, “Just a child’s vivid imagination.” He’d say. Months passed, then years. His visits became less and less frequent until finally he stopped coming all together.
I’m now in my senior year of high school and still tormented by the memory of Tommy, I must be the only teenager who gets a talking to for returning home before curfew. I won’t go out after dark, I won’t go around town alone and I won’t sleep over at a friend’s house or anywhere that I can’t be sure all of the windows and doors are locked. Tommy’s been gone for years now but sometimes when I’m alone in my room at night, I swear I can see him out of the corner of my eye. Against the darkened glass I see his reflection and no matter how fast I turn I can never get a good look at him, but I know. I know he’s still out there watching me, waiting to take me home.
By Taylor Thompson.