Writing Prompt: “Remember a time when you were scared, where you felt like you were experiencing something strange/supernatural/preternatural. Something scary, something real.”
When I was a kid, I used to creep out of my bedroom at the top of the house, descend five flights of stairs into the basement, climb up on the washing machine, and creep out of a window that had a broken latch and didn’t stay locked.
I couldn’t have told you why I did this, exactly. I was a kid, and it was forbidden and exciting. I liked the way the air was cooler and fresher at night. I liked being the only person awake, walking through a neighborhood with no one else but me, the raccoons, and a couple of foxes. I liked the way shadows pooled under bushes and on the lea side of garages. And it was always hard for me to sleep, as a kid. It felt like I was always awake and never sleeping. So I broke out of the house, and I walked.
Sometimes, I would walk to the park about a mile away from my house and play. There was a pile of equipment on top of a hill in the center of the park—swings and a jungle gym and a metal slide that gave uncareful kids second degree burns on their butts in the summer. I would walk there and sit on the swings and swing back and forth, tilting my head back, watching the stars rock in and out of my vision. Sometimes I’d lie on the bottom of the slide and just stare up there. I don’t remember thinking about much—not about how far away they were or about wanting to travel among them or anything like that—just that staring up at the blackness made the static in my brain feel quiet.
This one time, though.
It was a usual night. I’d snuck out and was swinging on the swings, and was just thinking about heading home, scuffing my feet in the gravel to slow the swing down, when I happened to look down at the hill instead of up at the sky and there was a man there. He was lying flat on his back, in overalls and heavy work boots, hands laced behind his head. I could see the shadow of prolific whiskers across his cheeks and down the front of his shirt.
I froze. I had never, not once, seen another human out on my late night wanderings. Sometimes a car, but never someone out walking. Not even an insomniac dogwalker. Being able to forget that other humans existed was part of why I liked going out.
The man didn’t move.
I wondered how long he had been there, and then realized that he must have been there longer than I had, and that I just hadn’t seen him when I arrived, because if he’d walked up the hill while I was swinging I would’ve seen him. He’d just been there, not moving. Had he been listening to me? Was he asleep? Was he dead?
I hopped off the swing and took a few steps toward him, stopping at the end of the playground gravel, trying to see his face. Was he awake? Was he dead?
I couldn’t see his face. He still didn’t move.
I should leave, I thought.
I took a few hesitant backward steps, moving away from him. I didn’t want to turn my back on him.
At the edge of the playground, I turned and ran. There was a soccer field between me and the street and I sprinted across it, faster than I ever had during soccer practice. When I got to the sidewalk, at the true border of the park, I turned and looked, wanting to make sure he was where I’d left him.
He was. I could see the tan of his boot’s soles in the moonlight. But he was moving. He was…expanding. Rising up. He was taller than the playground equipment. His arms were out, huge and growing, and his shadow fell like wings over the soccer field. He took up the whole sky. I could feel him staring at me, like a mouse feels the eyes of a hawk. I have no idea how long that moment lasted. It could’ve been seconds or hours. I didn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
And then he was gone, wings rising and disappearing, the stars re-emerging. The hill was empty.