Swings creak and they wake me. It’s 2am and I wonder who would be on the swings at this hour. I pad towards my window to peek across the street to the playground and spot a figure on them. Cloaked in a hoodie and pajama bottoms, I can’t exactly tell whether it’s a man or a woman, but again I wonder why they are on the swings at this hour.
I watch them for a while and eventually the swing stops. They sit there idly, staring at the mulch. A noise to their left brings their attention from the ground and after seeing nothing they glance in my direction. I duck, even though I know they can not see into my window or possibly know from this distance that I am watching them.
They remove their hood and I finally recognize the person. I think she is my neighbor. I wonder why she’s out, alone at this hour. Why she sits sadly on the swings in the middle of the night.
I creep past my parent’s bedroom and sneak out of the house. She hears my front door close, but doesn’t know which one it is and even though she searches for the sound she doesn’t spot me and returns her gaze to the ground.
I move swiftly across the field between my house and the playground and by the time I cross the street my feet crunch in the leaves and draw her attention. Her gaze comes up to meet mine, but she doesn’t move. She just kicks her feet in the mulch to start her swing again.
In the swing beside her, I also place my feet in the mulch, bare and cold in the fall temperature. I say nothing at first. Both of us still and silent and it’s comfortable.
But then she speaks. She turns to me and says, “I used to see you all of the time and I always wanted to say something, but she was always with you.”
I know who she is. She is my girlfriend. But I’m shocked by her admittance. I don’t know how to reply. She continues with, “I know it’s inappropriate for me to say anything like that, but…” and she stops herself.
Still, I don’t know how to reply. There’s a girl in my neighbor hood whose wanted to speak to me, but hasn’t because of my girlfriend? Suddenly I feel brave and cool, like I could say anything to her at this moment. But the words don’t’ come to me.
Instead I ask, “Why are you out here alone right now?”
“Because I’m stupid,” she says.
I reach out for her, but never connect. My action brings her eyes up to meet mine though. Eyes so vivid even in the dark, and only lit by the street lights, they burn into me. “How are you stupid?”
Her bottom lip juts out for a moment and she sucks in her breath, then she says, “I don’t know. I just do stupid things.” She pauses and as if she knows I’m waiting for an explanation she adds, “Like taking walks in the middle of the night alone.”
I nod to myself, my eyes on the ground now. “Yeah, you really shouldn’t be out here alone at this hour.”
Silence hangs between us for a moment until she kicks her feet in the dirt again. Her swing creaks and I join her, but after a few swings she steps out of her seat in one fluid movement.
Standing now, she stares at me and replaces her hood. Then at a whisper she says, “I should go,” and she turns away from me.
I start to stop her, but I don’t really know what to say or why I should stop her and so I let her go. I do not move until she’s out of my sight and just as she rounds the corner at the stop sign I finally make my way across the field back home.
I’m left with fuzzy thoughts. I never asked her name, I don’t know anything about her, but I find myself wondering about these things as I climb back in bed.
In the morning when I wake again, I’m not entirely convinced I didn’t dream her until I realize my feet are dirty and I know that I at least, for certain, left the house in the middle of the night. Whether she was really there or not is still questionable, but I was there for sure. No doubt about it.
All day the image of her plagues me, but I tell no one. And even though I remember her being my neighbor, I can’t seem to remember where she lives nor do I see her at all while I linger outside.
When night falls though, I am woken again by the sound of the swings. From my bedroom window I see her, dressed in the same pajama bottoms and hoodie as the night before. Without even consciously thinking about it, my feet are in motion towards the playground.
Her eyes meet mine as I approach and her hood falls from her head, but she says nothing and quickly returns her gaze to the ground. I plant myself in the swing next to her and enjoy the company.
The creaking of our swings is in sync and the fall air is cold and frigid against my skin. Her feet look blue even though they’re caked with dirt. Again I wonder why she’s out here alone and this time the questions escape my mouth.
“Why do you keep coming out here so late, alone?”
Her voice is muffled and dead, “Do you really care Ryan?”
She knows my name. I’m distracted by the fact that she knows my name. I forget about her response or my question. “How you do know my name?”
Those eyes of hers burn into me again as she stomps her feet into the mulch to stop her swing. She looks angry or hurt, which I can’t really tell. She stands, pulling her hood up over her head and shoves her hands into her pockets. “Why don’t you remember mine?”
She stalks off and this time I stand to stop her. “Wait! What is your name?” But she does not stop. She rounds the corner at the stop sign and disappears into the night.
I don’t know how I feel heading home. Confused, disturbed, curious. Should I remember her name? How would I know it? She seems familiar, a neighbor I’ve seen before, but did I know her name?
The following day I feel sick with guilt. I want to apologize for not remembering her name, but I have no idea where to find her. When night falls I wait for the sound of the swings instead of going to bed. I intend to make things right. But just before 2am I hear her scream.
I look out my window towards the playground and she is not alone. A tall man dressed in black holds her against his chest, his hand covering her voice. I race down the stairs, not even trying to stay quite.
Outside the fog is so thick I can hardly see where I’m going, but I follow the sound of the leaves crunching as the two of them struggle. By the time I hit the mulch their muffled fight disappears and the swings creak. I worry I’m too late, but she is there just like she always is. Her hood pulled up on her head, her feet caked with dirt.
My heart is pounding and I try to catch my breath as my head circles the playground looking for the man, but outside of the swings I see nothing. The fog is too white, a blanket of smoke completely surrounding us. “Where did he go?”
She says nothing. She just swings.
I step closer and she finally looks at me. Her eyes seem darker than the night before, her expression looks pained. It stops me in my tracks.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she says and her gaze falls back to the ground. She kicks her feet in the mulch to strengthen her swing.
I feel tired and relieved all at the same time, over a girl I don’t even know. I plop into the swing next to her and admit, “I thought you were dead.”
Her swing stops and she glares at me, her fingers curled tightly around the swing chains. “I am dead,” she says and she stands.
I join her before she can start into the fog, but when I reach for her she slips through my fingers. My hand stings it’s so cold and my heart races. Could she really be dead? Have I been swinging with a ghost for the past couple of days?
“What do you mean?”
She turns to face me again and her eyes look even more sunken, like if she could she’d cry. “Why don’t you remember?”
She mumbles “Nothing,” and starts towards the stop sign.
“Wait!” I run to catch up with her, but when I reach her again I can not grab a hold of her. Just trying makes my hand feel frost bitten. I shake out the pain and she turns to face me.
“Remember what?” I ask again.
“This,” she says and she reaches out to me, placing her hand on my arm. It sends a chill through my entire body, like I’m freezing over. I feel like I will shatter I’m so cold. Even my eyes feel like ice and it’s then that I see it.
I see it all as it’s happened before, the same three nights over and over again, always ending the same. The girl on the swings, alone at night, and she dies. I saw it all, but I did nothing to stop it.
When I finally recover I’m sitting on the sidewalk, alone and cold. The fog has dissipated and she is no where to be found. I don’t understand what’s just happened and I still don’t know her name, but I know in that instant that I’ve been spending my nights with a dead girl on the swings. As I make my way home I try to make sense of it, but I can’t. I’m just too tired to absorb it all. Do I even believe in ghosts?
In the morning I wake, feeling exhausted as if I didn’t sleep. I try to recall my dream from the night before, but it’s lost to me. I’m unexplainably cold as I slide out of the bed and notice my feet, caked with dirt, but I have no idea why.
Happy Halloween LJ Friends!
Peace - Sarah