Where the Dead Children Play
I remember the games. Back when the distinction between dreams and waking was so thin...when so much was possible.
The games we'd play...little dreams, little theatres; pockets of ephemeral reality, so vivid we could taste the blood and snow, feel the rain on our faces, the swords and fire in our hands. Most forget, or convince themselves that they do, remembering too painful, the world having shamed them into certainty.
I...I still play; I've never forgotten, when back gardens stretched into fairy tale woodlands, when a patch of dirt could be a desert or the desolation of an alien world...when stones were mountains, trees lunatic sorcerer's towers.
But now, I play alone. None of them remember, none of them want to; would likely not admit it, even if they did. No matter how deeply they want it.
Children's games; pretending to be what we aren't, what the world insists we are. Look! I am not here, in the same back garden where the dead child played, where it still does; a ghost in the grass, amongst the connifers, the plant plots...behind sheds, absconding through the secret gaps between fences into other realms; other gardens, wholly other states of being.
Still here. The other...the one the world wants me to be...he isn't; has always felt hollow, more ghost-like; the shirts and smart trousers he wears to the electronics store where he works...a costume, more a game than anything he remembers.
I never asked for him; never wanted to be him. Time I put him to bed; a life for a life, a sacrifice to the ghosts of yesterday.
These games...in the sun, in the rain; sitting upon the grass, feeling the damp soil beneath my fingers, smelling it. Something skittering over my hand...feathery and many-legged, something I close my eyes against, not wanting to see.
I sit, in the same space, another time; body protesting, too big, too cumbersome, the perspective changed so much, this might as well be an alien world; one that the ghost child certainly wouldn't recognise.
Things have changed, since then; the playground altered; mud-pits dug out to become fish ponds, plant-plots replaced by ornamental rockeries, stretches of lawn by pits of stone and gravel and coloured not-quite glass. Some sort of gazebo, a table and chairs beneath, where nobody sat, even when the ones who made it this way were alive.
But I still remember. The games and ghosts...still here, no matter how much they try to bury them, to smother them beneath empty, unasked for difference.
That child, who they murdered; that I let them. So much since has been an attempt to resurrect him; to remember him; a casual necromancy, digging through the toys he used to play with, the dog-eared, ripped and weathered comics in the loft. I want him back...more than these misty rememberings; I want to feel it again; reality so thin and flimsy, fear or want could rip it wide open, monsters behind every twilight tree, every shadow a nursery of demons, waiting for night and for his dread to call them. I want to be in that world of anything again, always have.
Child, they call me; the few, who I never truly wanted; the women that the world gave to me, that it insisted I chase. They've always been better at infanticide; at murdering the children, burning them, scattering their ashes. Always relief, after the tears, when they've gone, when even the scent of them has been exorcised.
Not one wanted, not one loved.
I try, contacting the boy I betrayed, when the loss of the child inside almost drove me mad; made me bizarre and bitter; the games turned to lies and cunning and cruelty. A man, now; his ghost here, too, the most beloved; the one who knew, who likely still remembers, at least a little.
My texts and e-mails go unanswered, many of them; the ones that mean something, unsent. I can't. Even if he does remember, what would it mean to him?; Just the games we used to play as children, how silly, how nostalgic... how strange and magical we were, compared to the rest, denied, for sanity's sake.
I remember. I remember making the wind blow with a gesture, a thought. I remember causing cloud to coalesce over the sun, for rain to fall. I remember the snow storm we once called down, laughing as the rest fled, as the teachers attempted to herd us inside.
Old, old magic; forgotten, that I can't do anymore, no matter how much I try, how hard I try to recall the means of it.
Even if he did come, if the ghosts sang to him, as they do to me, he wouldn't stay; wouldn't help me remember the magic. The first taste, the first tingle of it at his fingertips...he'd be gone, back to his wife and children, back to his home and job and television.
Because betrayal works both ways.
Only the children, the ghosts, can show me. Nothing that calls itself living, nothing that wants to be more.
I follow, I call to them, every day, in every way I know how; sometimes through the night, whispering the silly songs, the nursery rhymes and playground-limericks...
They see; eyes in the windows, in the evil, orange light; idiot eyes, pretending that they don't understand, that they don't want it, too. They don't come to me; don't speak to me or say hello in the street. That's all right; none of us ever have anything to say, anyway.
At work, Gary's office. They way he moves...as though there's machinery somewhere beneath the rumpled, salmon shirt, the mismatched tie. Clearing his throat, smiling...apologising before he's said a word.
"This isn't, like, a telling off or anything, Giles...we're not allowed to do that anymore. I'd just like to...talk to you about a few things, ask how you're getting on, you know?"
I can't help it; my eyes drooping, my shoulders sagging, the sigh leaving me before I can murder it.
He draws up, at that. Fat, pig-eyed, empty. Why am I here? Why do I even listen?
"...am I boring you?"
Time was, the lightning in my belly at this encounter would have made me sick. Nothing, now; only the ashes, swilling and swirling.
"Yes. Yes. You're so boring, Gary; so fucking boring..."
Blinking, those pig-eyes, those tiny, baby's ears...never having known this, before.
"...what do you think..?"
I rise, staggering out of my chair, slouching against his desk, holding myself upright, so tired, so fucking bored.
"You know, just like the rest of them. You know. That's why I'm here, isn't it?; You don't like to remember. I remind you, just by being here..."
"I...think you'd better leave, Giles. I don't know..."
"Stop it. Stop fucking lying. It doesn't work on me. I can hear them, I can smell them, even though you won't admit it..."
"Get...get out now..." Jowls trembling, chins and tits aflutter. Piggy eyes dark and glassy. "...I'm calling security."
Pens. Paper weights. Chairs. Staplers. So many ways; I might as well gouge his eyes out, for all the use they are to him. Perhaps that will help him see more clearly.
No. I'd lose the garden, then; the parks, the streets, where the ghosts play. I can't. I leave, laughing.
They call. I don't answer. They knock, they send letters. I ignore them. People come to the door; barking, deaf-blind, shadow-things; I barely hear, even when they hammer so hard, they shake the door on its hinges. Angry, angry letters. Soon, the phone and water, the TV and lights...all stop.
It's...fine. I don't want them.
I want this; the quiet, the soil, the grass; the rain on warm stone, on rampant weeds...the scents and textures of them, the ones that play here knowing them all so well...all around me, now; little girls, little boys; not merely smears on the air, but almost solid, almost enough for me to reach out and pull through...
Pangs in my belly, dust in my throat. It doesn't matter...none of it. Some dreams have to die to make way for waking...that's just the way it is.
It doesn't hurt, not really. Too far away, like it's always been; a bag of bones and itches. I won't miss it.
They come through the rain, dancing, laughing, screaming...shimmering things, silver skinned, as though made from moonlight. I remember them...remember them all; every stuttering, uncertain face; every smiling, weeping one of them...and they know me.
Black eyes, gaping, their scrutiny scalpels, lancing and paring, scraping bone. Why? Why do they hate me so much?
A new game and old. I fall, back in the grass, the soil, seeping away in the rain. They laugh, the old and young ghosts; the ancient children, whose stretching, splitting, broken masks are all mine. They laugh, as teeth and tongues take place of knives, as they take what I don't want; matter, meaning, life.
A new game, the stars so bright tonight, the rain luminous with their sacrificial light. The children rise as I do, though I rise further, away, away, from memory, from disappointment; from all possibility.
From the things I have called and made flesh, theirs still steaming and flowing, not quite solid. No longer ghosts, no longer mere memory; more, as they've always ached to be, caged inside; the bone asylum that they break and shatter, whose shards they stomp and dance on until it is ground into the dirt.
They scatter, laughing into the night, new games to play, new play-mates to call.
Tomorrow, the world will be a new playground, one that I will never know, whose games I'll never see. Only the stars, the darkness between, the relief of being adrift amongst them, and the silence of dreamless sleep.
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George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.