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Urban Fantasy Horror Suspense

“Don't you remember the playground?”


I didn't expect an answer, and already knew the one I was going to get, but Amelia humored me anyway.


“I don't know, dude, which one?”


I just shrugged, focusing my attention on the stacks upon stacks of film photos I had yet to develop. I had a pile going, ones from dad’s old camera, ones from my old disposables, and ones that had yet to be claimed. 


Amelia took my silence as me dropping the subject, only nudging my shoulder and reminding me not to stay up too late before our history project before slipping out of the garage. I only laughed, calling a goodbye to her retreating back. With the door finally closed and no reason for it to open again for the next few hours, I began to develop the film.


The first one to fade into existence was a scene I remembered. It was from my dad’s old camera. Why he lugged the heavy thing around in an era of smartphones and digital cameras, I didn't know at the time. He only told me that some pictures are better preserved on an old camera.


I was in the picture. I wasn't smiling, though the other kids around me were. Fifth grade class picture, 2014. I was nine years old then, a year younger than all the other kids. I think I'm grateful for that fact.


Standing next to me, with her right arm slung around my shoulder, was my best friend of seven—nearly eight, as she reminds me—years.


Amelia Morgan is smiling cheerfully at the camera. We had met earlier that year, on the first few days of school. I was the new kid, an awkward girl a whole year younger than everyone else. I was supposed to be some whiz kid since I had skipped third grade, but really I just liked to read. I had already resigned myself to sitting in a corner of the playground for recess and reading all year, when a bubbly girl with a missing front tooth and twin braids loudly announced that I was her new best friend, since no one else liked the Magic Tree House books and that was what I happened to be reading that day. Fast forward to the day of elementary school graduation, still best friends.


Maybe it's better that I didn't grow up in this town like all the other kids. I don't know if it's because I was younger, or I didn't grow up here, or if I was just different that I saw more than the other kids. The other kids don't remember the playground like I do. 


“The playground” refers to the shiny, bright, and tantalizing entity that was the Happy Smiles Daycare structure. Our school doubled as a daycare facility in one wing, and that playground was off limits to everyone except the daycare kids. The kids in my class found that infinitely unfair. No one was ever on it, anyway.


I poked through the unclaimed pile of already developed film. There were a few Polaroids, but even more printed photos on glossy photo paper. 


My hand stilled over one particular photo. I flipped it over, taking in the black Sharpie scrawl with a few words and a date. Sept. 27 - Sadie’s loving the swings! 


Mrs. Barton must have taken the picture. I didn't look like I was loving the swings. I looked honestly frightened, staring at something over Mrs. Barton’s shoulder. Probably the red glare of a brand new and never used slide, or the green glow of monkey bars not yet covered in the grime and filth of children’s hands.


I pulled the next photo up, the red light of the garage giving the scene a level of eeriness maybe it would have had if it was a movie scene.


Amelia is right beside me. We’re in the woods, on a hike with our parents. She’s holding my hand in her left, dimpled grin on full display. I smiled at the memory, I fell into a particularly muddy spot on the trail and couldn't stop crying. Amelia distracted me by listing every bird fact she knew, some of them real and learned from Wild Kratts, others probably made up. The small scribble on the bottom read in my mom’s tall and loopy handwriting October 5th, 2014. Sadie & Amelia.


I set the photo to the right, away from the others.


For a few hours, I simply pulled developed photos from the bins and pinned them up. A timeline of 2014-15, coming into existence. My brother’s thirteenth birthday party. Mom and dad’s anniversary. Halloween, where Amelia and I went as Daphne and Velma from Scooby-Doo. 


Every so often, a picture is sorted to my left. They all have August-October dates on the back.


Finally, the picture I started developing these old rolls of film for makes its appearance.


It's a picture my dad didn't take. It wasn't from my teachers. I took this picture, on a five dollar disposable camera I got from the convenience store around the corner. I only took two photos on it.


I snuck the camera to school in my lunchbox. At snack time, I moved the camera from my lunchbox to the pocket of my hoodie. Then I waited. Amelia and the other kids had been talking about sneaking onto the restricted playground for a few days now. A foggy October morning was the perfect time to do it without being caught. 


So at recess, Amelia tugged me along with some other kids and we all bypassed the playground our classmates had already flocked to, and instead tried to stifle our laughter as we were the first ones in our class to ride down the shiny red slide.


I mostly sat on the concrete platform that circled around the playground. I like to think I had a decent head on my shoulders, even at that age. Besides, the playground didn't appeal to me like it did to the other kids. It didn't reach out for me in the same way.


Amelia ran past me, right for the monkey bars. I had to admit I was tempted by them, but I hesitated. At that moment, I took my camera out, pointed it at a giggling Amelia, and took a picture. She disappeared in the fog for a moment, before reemerging. She swung to the end, raising her hand in celebration. I took another picture.


In the end, we were never busted. Maybe the yard supervisors didn't actually care enough to chase after us. Maybe they never even saw us. I like to think they never saw us, makes the whole thing less real. If I'm the only one who shares the memory, does it even exist?


I noticed something was off the next day. The group that had played on the forbidden playground consisted of me, Amelia, Tyler, James, Avery, and Katie. Tyler was out with the flu the next day. Katie complained of a stomach ache all throughout lunch. Avery left before lunch even ended, I never got the reason as to why. James complained that his ear was ringing, and was rushed out with an ear infection with twenty minutes until the school day ended. Amelia claimed she was okay. I believed her. I felt fine, too. A weird coincidence.


Amelia and I sat next to each other in our row. We liked to play pen and paper games between us. It was easy, since I was right handed and she was left handed, so we didn't even have to contort ourselves in a suspicious way to do it. 


Two days after we went to the playground Amelia didn't want to play. That might not be the right wording, more like she didn't understand what I was saying when I asked. Tic-tac-toe only got a blank look. Everything got a blank look. She didn't even look twice at the playground when we left for our last recess of the day.


Three days after the playground everyone was back at school. They were their normal selves again. Tyler was shoving James around as the two fought for the last soccer ball, Katie was making friendship bracelets, Avery was completely obliterating the rest of us at tag. Amelia seemed a little quiet, but it was nothing I really thought twice about.


I chuckled quietly as I raised that single photo I took to the light. I didn't know Amelia for long at the time. Maybe I couldn't have seen it. But this thing was good. Amelia’s mom never noticed anything strange about her daughter. Her dad never confided in my dad about his little girl changing too fast for him. But I noticed. 


I noticed in every picture past the day of October 23, 2014. I noticed the way Amelia held her bat in our t-ball team pictures. The hand she raised to block out the light in our beach pictures. The hand that held her sparkler during the 4th of July the following summer. The arm that was slung around my shoulder the day of our graduation.


Maybe I knew then that something was wrong. Because it was her right arm. Every single time, it was her right arm. 


Our desks were arranged so that Amelia could use her left hand to play our games. Our secret handshakes relied on the fact that we could twist and turn and still we could complete them. In our t-ball team, she was the only one who needed a left-handed toss. Because Amelia has always been left handed.


In my photographs, there’s not much visible. The fog was too thick then. But Amelia is there. The first one, she’s reaching for the first bar. Left hand first, as it always has been. In the second, she's cheering. Right hand pumped in the air, celebrating being the first one to swing on those brand new monkey bars.


I flicked the regular lights on. All my photos had developed, and I began the mundane task of filing them away in shoeboxes to go underneath my bed, ready to be forgotten.


The thing is, I don't think she was the first. Maybe there's a few, or ten, or a hundred kids out there who aren't the same as they used to be, after sneaking onto a playground that was off limits. I could have ignored it, probably. It was a small thing to have changed, after all.


But Avery didn't remember the playground. Tyler looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him if he was going to go back. James doesn't remember the day at all. Katie only asked me if I was thinking of the park down the street when I mentioned the playground. They can't see the playground anymore. But I can. I pass it every time I walk to school. I pass it every time I have to go to one of my brother's baseball games. Maybe it's not that they can't see it anymore. Maybe it just doesn't exist for them anymore. It took all it needed.


I asked Amelia, once. I was convinced I was crazy, that I had imagined the whole thing. She only looked at me, closed-mouth smile on her lips. 


Amelia didn't smile like that, but she does now. Amelia liked Magic Tree House books. She hasn't touched one since the beginning of fifth grade, maybe. Amelia was left handed, now she's right. 


The smile on Amelia’s face in my second photograph isn't familiar, either. It doesn't look like a child’s joy. This is something darker, more accomplished than simply completing some monkey bars.


I don't like to think about it. I just had to confirm my suspicions. Amelia’s my best friend. What does it matter who’s wearing her skin?


July 23, 2022 00:46

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3 comments

Raluca .
15:05 Aug 02, 2022

Captivating story! Can't wait to read more from you!

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M Atwood
21:05 Aug 03, 2022

thank you :)

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L. E. Scott
21:45 Aug 03, 2022

Spooky. I like it. The build up was fantastic. I guess to get haunted you have to actually play on the playground unlike your mc.

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