"There it is!" a fair-haired boy shouted, interrupting my solitude, quickening my interest. "Go on, Billy," he urged. "Time to show you're a Densen Dog." A small, freckled boy stared at me. "It's a swing, Dave." "Yep," Dave said, jabbing a third, larger boy with his elbow. "City boy knows his shit, eh, Anson?" Anson shrugged, digging a furrow in the dirt with a worn running shoe. I waited. I don't mind waiting. I've done a lot of it in my time. "I have to swing to join your club?" Billy asked. "That's all I have to do?" "Yep," Dave confirmed. Billy relaxed. Trusting boy. If I had a mouth, I'd smirk. Dave looked at his watch. "Hop on. We don't have all day." "What's the matter with it?" Billy asked. Not so gullible after all. He's looking for their angle.! In all the wrong places, I should add. My anticipation grew as Billy continued, "Is it broken?" Dave and Anson exchanged a significant look. "Nope," Dave answered. "It's haunted," Anson said, tone flat and challenging. "Haunted?" Billy exuded skepticism. "Who would haunt a swing?" "Total evil," Anson replied without hesitation. "A most serious badass." Forgetting that Billy was the initiate, Dave asked, "How do you figure?" "What else could haunt a swing and actually scare anybody?" Feeling smug, I considered Billy. I knew his wariness stemmed from the suspicion that he was about to be the butt of a joke rather than from respect for me. No matter. He'd learn. "Time's a wastin'," Anson said, shoving Billy forward so that he had to catch himself on one of my chains to keep from falling. Ah, contact. Delicious contact. My invasion was quick, complete, intimate and thrilling. Billy's fresh outlook sweetened the interaction. Young Billy had just moved to Densen County from St. Louis. His mot her claimed she wanted to be nearer to her family, yet Billy felt there was something more to the relocation. I certainly hoped so. The lovely family picture they painted-mom the architect, dad the accountant, big brother Billy and little sister Karen-held little interest. I wanted to expose the reality beneath the upper middle class veneer. Grabbing my other chain, Billy muttered, "This is lame." "He's chicken," Anson decreed, spitting off to his left, turning away. "Let's go." "The Dogs are probably lame too," Billy said, drumming his fingers on the green plastic sheaths that had been recently slipped over my chains for safety.Anson looked back over his shoulder and smiled. "Say that after you swing."Mumbling something uncomplimentary about Anson's personal hygiene, Billy climbed aboard and pushed off. I rejoiced. It had been too long between feedings. When he attained a rhythm I thought he could sustain under duress, I spoke to Billy's ! mind, "You're no chicken." Keeping my "voice" light, conversational, I continued, "Dave and Anson make it sound like you have something to prove. You don't. Not to them. Those two haven't sat where you're sitting. They didn't dare." A startled mind is a series of opening doors. My kind-well, I should say kindred spirits of my kind, exiled or no-can't resist slipping through as many as possible to feast on what lurks beyond. I chose a door of Billy's at random."They haven't seen what you've seen either," I whispered after taking stock. "Dave's parents always leave him with grandma. Anson gets looked after by one of his aunts or the lady next door. No nubile high school junior ever got high and decided to show them the most notable differences between boys and girls." Sexual excitement has elements of fear. I can digest them but the positive connotations sour the taste. I do like to begin a feeding on an upbeat note, though. Just the way a slow, suspense-buil! ding ascent makes the concomitant plummet more dramatic, a light strok e to the ego sharpens the deconstruction of self. "That adventure in babysitting would've been perfect," I said, "if her boyfriend hadn't arrived, grabbed you by your private parts, pulled out an Exacto knife and threatened to cut them off." He opened his mouth, but Billy didn't need lips, teeth or tongue to talk to me. Which was all to the good, really, because it was tough, and only going to get tougher, for him to make all those parts work together. "Who are you?" Billy's mind asked. "Someone who knows." I savored the first taste of true fear. "Knows what?" "Everything." "A ... about what?" "Isn't that obvious? I know you, Billy." A sharp pang of terror whetted my appetite. "Who you are. What made you that way. Nothing concerning William Foresythe Baxter is closed to me. Nothing." "How do you know that?" Billy demanded. "Nobody here knows my middle name. Nobody. I made my parents swear. Karen, too." Billy bit his lip hard, ne! arly drawing blood. "She'd swing all day if she found somebody to push her. Or ... or if you moved for her on your own." Nodding to himself, Billy said, "Yeah, Karen told." "No, Billy." "Then who?" I laughed-exuberant, maniacal, a sound created to disconcert. "Use your brain, boy. I am." After a pause to allow my words to register, I said, "I got my information from you, Billy. There's no one else for you to blame." Billy clenched his teeth but wasn't able to completely hold in a whimper. "I'm out of here," he muttered. His brain sent signals to his hands to release my chains. They never arrived. "Ask and you shall receive," I said, laughing again, this time with genuine pleasure at Billy's misplaced sigh of relief. Under the pale light of a full moon, Billy stood in a diamond-shaped clearing in a dense, endless evergreen forest. A chill wind bearing the scent of rain added texture and an element of familiarity to the scene. A long, drawn out ! scream-always an effective gambit-ended abruptly in an unnatural silen ce. I waited and watched as only I could. In vain, which was a disappointment. Billy should have known something was amiss. A forest, however sparsely populated, is never still. Not even a forest that resides somewhere betwixt imagination and memory. "Where are you, Billy?" I asked to force the boy to react. "I don't know," he replied in a mental voice tinged with panic. "I don't know this place. And ... and that doesn't matter because I'm not there. I'm swinging." "You were swinging." "I'm still swinging. You're the swing." Determination, although impressive, isn't enough to beat me. "How do you know I'm the swing, Billy?" I asked. "Who else could you be?" The swell of Billy's uncertainty meant that there was someone he feared more than me. I know of no better way to prove that I deserve top billing in that regard than to persuade Billy to show him or her to me. "Who else, indeed?" I said. Billy's heart skipped a beat. "! Nobody," he said without conviction. Goal in mind, strategy in place, I waited. You see, I live, to the extent what I do can be termed living, for the thrill of the hunt. A trap is utilitarian; to chase to beyond endurance is art. Billy lasted almost two minutes before whispering, "Hello?" I didn't reply. "Hello?" he repeated louder, more strident. "Are you still there? Hello? Um ... Mr. Swing?" Basking in Billy's fear of being lost, I contemplated giving him a compass. A crutch that wouldn't support his Boy Scout self. Magnetic north doesn't exist where we are. Billy paced the deserted, oddly symmetrical clearing. "Is anybody out there?" he called. "Anybody at all?" Hopeful, Billy stopped, straining his ears for a reply. Never let it be said that I'm not accommodating. I gave him whispers, almost but not quite discernable as words. The trees muttered-voices pitched at just above the threshold of Billy's hearing. "You're not alone,! " I said, feeling Billy begin to calm. "But I wonder. Is that good or bad? What do you think, Billy?" Eyes scanning the forest, Billy backed up a step. Whisperers drew closer but their message became no clearer. Billy stepped to his right and turned in a tight circle, sensing he was surrounded. Whimpering, Billy closed his eyes and shook his head. I took his classical denial tactics as my cue to open another of Billy's mental doors, trusting his mind to twist what resided there to fit the current scenario. Eight shadows emerged from the trees. One to Billy's right tossed a ball in the air, snatching it before it reached its maximum height. With each throw and catch, the figure advanced on Billy. "Hi," Billy said, smiling, tentative, hopeful. "I'm ... I mean, I think I'm lost." The figure nodded and held out his free hand. Heart pounding, Billy said, "I'm Bill Baxter. Who are you guys?" "Your team," the figure replied, throwing the ball at Billy's head. Fear flooded Billy's psyche. Pleased with the beginning ! we'd made, I prodded his mind for a change in venue. Billy sat on a flat metal bench in a dark rectangular space. He pronounced himself safe, well away from a forest he didn't know and the crazy people who lived there. Steadying himself, Billy squinted out into the brightness beyond his haven. From that direction, someone asked, "What are you waiting for, Baxter?"I heard Billy think, "For the lights to go out." He pushed that thought aside to say, "I'm not sure." "Don't be a smart ass. Get your glove and take the field." A strong hand clasped Billy's upper arm and propelled him forward. "I'm not warmed up," Billy screamed as he stumbled out under the lights. Whirling around after catching his balance, Billy faced an empty dugout. This time, Billy heard the whispers on the wind. "Whiner, Baxter." "No injury too small." "Billy's got an itsy-bitsy bruise; put him on the DL." "My arm feels like it's gonna fall off!" Billy shout! ed. "It does!" Billy lay on a sofa in a small homey room, peering up cautiously through tear filled eyes. "Where does it hurt?" a tall hooded man asked. "Shoulder," Billy mumbled. "Any idea why?" "I pitched a complete game yesterday. Mom says I overdid." "What do you say, Billy?" Terror warred with a desire to tell his secrets. After swallowing several times, Billy managed, "I ... I say ... Wait! Who did you say you were, again?" "I didn't." The man lifted his hood, revealing a blank flesh-toned mask instead of a face. Billy leapt off of the couch and fled. The faceless man made no move to stop him. Billy wondered why until he ran out of the living room of his St. Louis house directly into his former baseball coach's basement. "No," he said, skidding to a halt. "This isn't ... right." "Damn straight, Billy boy. We need to do something about that." "Mr. Eridle?" Billy backed away, heading straight for the door. This must be the bane of young Billy's existence. Did his mother know or! guess? Is this unprepossessing individual why the family left the city? "Who'd you expect?" Eridle replied, smiling at Billy. "This is my house, champ." Rallying, Billy demanded, "When?" "Come again?" "What's our record?" "Eight and three. We're hoping to finish in first place with our star pitcher on the mound tomorrow afternoon." Billy paled and fed me near to bursting with negative emotion. "What year?" he asked. "Your last." Billy turned to run but the door was gone. The room was empty except for he and Eridle. Shoulders sagging, Billy pressed his back against the wall farthest from Eridle. "They call you a star, champ. The star." Eridle held up a blue aluminum bat. "Your parents. Your teammates. Their parents. Everybody says Billy Baxter's the real deal." Eridle crossed the room. "It's always Billy this and Billy that, when what really matters is the team. The team, son. You remember them? The other eight folks scattered ! around the diamond." Eridle sighed. "There's no I in team, Billy boy. There's one in Billy and two in William. I guess that explains you and your ... what's the word you kids use... oh, yeah, posse." Eridle twirled the bat and took a practice swing. "There's an I in pain, too, Billy boy. Think on that a minute." Eridle brought the bat down and Billy's right shoulder exploded in agony. Bending over Billy, Eridle hissed, "You go crying to mommy or daddy and I'll give your pal Ginny a dose of my medicine. Shouldn't let girls play ball, anyway. Confuses things. There's enough wrong with this world without a tomboy at second base." Clutching my chains tighter than nature intended, Billy screamed his lungs raw. Indifferent to pain, caught up in his terror, he kept screaming. His distress wasn't difficult to understand. Isolation had been Billy's only defense against a violation that he couldn't report until I took it from him. His mama had moved him away from the stimulus but she couldn't erase damage done. And Billy couldn't hide it from! me. Triumphant, I let him fall forward onto his knees. Billy retched until there was nothing left in his stomach and suffered dry heaves until his chest muscles ached too much to continue. Needless to say, Dave and Anson were long gone by the time Billy opened his eyes and pulled himself to his knees. Stained with vomit and dirt, he huddled to make himself a small target. When nothing overtly threatening appeared, Billy crawled away. Not back in the direction he'd come with Anson and Dave, just away, blindly, mindlessly away. An odd parallel. Once, before I came to appreciate its unique charm, I wanted to escape this swing, too.
x x xA well-told horror tale from an unique perspective--Ms. Picard has spun a winner in her first venture at anotherealm I look forward to more shivers from her. How about you? - GM