Writing Prompt: Playground

It looks like any other school playground in existence; nothing special about it. Over on the west side, there’s a crappy pave job with a storage shed and shakily painted goal areas if the kids want to play soccer or football. There’s a steel rod mounted in a pair of spare tires with a flimsy piece of twine holding a repurposed dodgeball if you’re into tetherball.

On the south, you’ve got a wide spot of dirt, monkey bars holding court in the center, the rusty exteriors daring anyone to keep their grip and not go sprawling in the divots left from previous combatants. A few sawed-off tree stumps serve as the thrones the bigger kids sit on while passing judgment on the freaks and geeks, and behind that is the fence that serves as the boundary for games of Red Rover.

On the east side, only the older kids hold sway, having carefully mowed the overgrown weeds and drug out old pillows to serve as bases when they played America’s favorite sport. Sometimes one of the younger kids would wander out there, and return screaming when he got beaned or one of the bigger kids decided to give him a friction burn for daring to tresspass.

To the north was the institutionally styled main building, looming over the lot like a dark god. There were basketball hoops and hula hoop stands by the building, but no one uses them; it’s too close. No one likes to be too close to the prison when they don’t have to. Only the misfits sit there, the ones who’ve been exiled from every other group, the ones too afraid of the bullies to leave the teachers’ protective gazes.

Underneath it all, something is waiting. Listening. When lightning hits the tetherball pole in the middle of the night, when shadows caper across the monkey bars, when unknown shapes scurry through the thick weeds that mark right field, you can almost hear it. It listens, and it scowls when the children laugh. But when they yell as the bully sucker punches them and steals their lunch, when they bite down on their lips, hoping not to scream and thus avoiding worse punishment when one of the nuns takes the sharp side of a ruler to their knuckles or their backsides, when some kid or other hides behind the storage unit behind the soccer goal and cries because they just can’t take it anymore, it smiles.

In its smile there are daggers instead of teeth, and its eyes are black orbs of ink. All the children know about it, dream about it, though they don’t know that they know. Every one who graduates or transfers away is secretly glad, freed of psychic chains they barely acknowledge were holding them down. But for every one who leaves, there’s always another coming in, and no one ever asks why there’s so many more bruises and tantrums among the students than there are at similarly sized schools. They all know, but either don’t care or are secretly glad.

One day that thing will get tired of listening, tired of subsisting on just the scraps of horror and guilt and sorrow that have kept it complacent for the fifty years St. Teresa’s School has sat atop its resting place. On that day, when lightning strikes and the shadows dance, it will come up. Then even the nuns and teachers and parents will learn to be afraid, afraid of what they fed and fostered all those years.

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