Autumn in the Park

Racing across the field, Samantha’s breath nearly choked her as it squeezed between thunderous heartbeats. Her pulse raged in her ears, echoing in time with her frantic footfalls.

He must not go.

“Andy!” she screamed despite the lack of air. “Stop!”

But he didn’t. The little boy kept running, laughing with his head turned back, teasing Samantha. He didn’t know. What three-year-old would know?

“Wheeeeee!” Andy yelled as he hurtled his tiny body into a giant pile of leaves, raked up by the park staff and left overnight to avoid overtime.

“No!” But she was too late. He landed right in the center of the pile, brown and red and yellow flying into the air as the leaves scattered, parting as the force of Andy’s body dove down, down, passing through the ground, and then disappeared.

“Oh, no,” Samantha moaned. “Not again.” Frustrated, she pulled out her phone and dialed the local police. “Maime, this is Sam.”

“Oh, hey honey,” came the response. Samantha was having a hard time talking – it wasn’t any easier to hear. But she knew Maime since she was little and that’s what she always said. “What’s up?”

“We’ve got another one,” she panted.

“You at the park?”

“Yeah. The family insisted. Said he needs air.”

“Lord, won’t they ever learn?” Maime responded, clucking her tongue. “I’ll send the guys. You make sure there aren’t any witnesses and we’ll take care of the family.”

“Thanks.” Samantha made her way to a bench, walking off the rest of her adrenaline before taking a seat. She scanned the area but there were no cars or bikes and she hadn’t seen anyone all morning. Just her and Andy. “You and Herb still coming?”

“Of course. We love BBQ Sundays.”

“Awesome, see you then,” Samantha replied before ending the call. With a sigh, she gave the park one last long, hard look. Nobody.

Her breathing had settled back down. Time to go.

It was sad. Kids had been disappearing in the park for generations. But did the newbies in town ever listen? They were told the park was dangerous, if not why. But no.

The townspeople had promised Beazille to keep the park maintained and anyone caught in its trap stayed wherever it was they went. In return, they had a bountiful harvest every year. Hardly anybody farmed anymore, but that was the deal their ancestors made and it was too late to change it now. They learned long ago that a deal was a deal. No use crying about it now.

A park vehicle showed up. Two men climbed out, their ears ringing from Maime’s call.

“It said to maintain the park,” Samantha called to them as she made her way to the parking lot.

“Yeah, we hear ya.” They pulled out their rakes from the truck. “It’ll be gone in a few.”

“Sounds good.” She used to get mad. Who left something as attractive to kids as a huge pile of leaves in autumn? If they kept up with it, Andy would be on the jungle gym instead of trapped in some hell dimension or wherever a creature like Beazille came from.

Not anymore. It wasn’t worth it. Besides, the compulsion on the park was hard to fight. Only Samantha was truly immune as the descendant of the mayor who signed the contract. Why blame them for something that wasn’t their fault?

Samantha jogged towards home. Maime was sending a crew to take care of Andy’s family. Either they would comply or find their way to the park. It was nice to know she wouldn’t have to deal with that so early in the morning.

Even if she was the one who had been babysitting the kid. She tried. She ran. She screamed. That had to be enough or guilt would crush her.

Samantha waved to the people she saw on the street. So many moved into town lately. It was the first time in their history they had people around who weren’t a part of the conspiracy.

They were obligated to hide the creature and its habits. Maybe they could find a way to chase people off. Until then, it was up to the founding families to cover it up.

“Back already?” her husband asked as Samantha climbed onto the porch.

“Yeah. Andy’s parents came back early,” she lied. Her husband was a newbie, too.

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