Short Story
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                         Return to Innocence
                                                 By Sean Goodman


 We humans have the ability to choose our memories.  It is ours to decide
whether we will remember the warmth of spring or the desolation of winter.  
Just as spring’s tenderness brings forth memories of our mother’s love, winter’
s harshness is a reminder of our father’s remoteness.  I had not discovered
this until the summer of 2012.   

 My life had become a routine after college graduation, a loathsome cycle of
mediocrity and boredom starting each morning at 9am and ending mercifully
at 5 pm in the evening: wake up, eat, traffic, work for an incompetent boss,
make lousy pay, go home, repeat.  My method for coping with this mundane
existence was a monthly walk to my old elementary school.  Having the
privilege - or should I say “embarrassment” - of living at home with my mother,
this was done with little difficulty.  Walking around my school allowed me to re-
live my childhood.  I returned to a time when I was not just another statistic;
every day an adventure, every stranger a friend, everything a wonderful
spectacle.  Now my life had been reduced to a satirical play.

 Walking from my home to the schoolyard was a visit to the past itself.  The
school was located less than ten minutes from my house, situated in the
center of a valley surrounded by bushes, trees, and hills.  On this particular
day, I decided to take the back way to the school, along a hidden pathway
between two small hills, home to lizards and rabbits by day and inhabited by
coyotes by night.  

 I always loved walking this way because of the fragrance of the sage and
chaparral: these were the first smells I could ever recall in my life.  The
combination of bushes, trees, and pollen created a bouquet that I equated
with my childhood.  These scents also played a major role in a dream I had as
a young boy.  I was no older than the age of four when I had this dream, but I
remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday:  I found myself in a ball pit
at a Chuck E Cheese, scampering among the balls with glee and complete
freedom.  At the end of the ball pit was a red curtain with a light behind it.  
Behind that curtain was the silhouette of a menacing figure.  I recall feeling an
intense curiosity of who or what was behind that curtain, but the rest was a
fuzzy collage of seemingly meaningless images.  I would often remember this
dream on my monthly walk.  

 The schoolyard was large in comparison to those at other schools.
Approaching from the back way I was able to view it in its entirety.  To my left
and down a small hill laid a large green soccer field spanning one hundred
yards with a tall blue playset of monkey bars at the end of it.  Nearer to my
left and up the hill stood the tetherball poles with hopscotch designs painted
at their end.  To my right stood the red handball courts, and behind them the
school portables that were over 40 years old.  In front of me laid black asphalt
and lunch tables that spanned the length of the soccer field parallel to it.  In
the center was a small tree with a small headstone at its base.  The tree and
headstone had been dedicated to Timothy Martin: a boy who was a year
older than I who had been killed in a freak accident.  

 Almost immediately, like a bolt of lightning, nostalgia enveloped my mind and
I began to hear the laughter of little children.   I envisioned the people of my
past as if they had sprung out of the ground like giant vegetables, and the
yard duties that had watched over us seeped out of the walls like concrete
mixtures.  It was a sentimental play I had created inside my head.  Act I,
Scene one: I am receiving my first kiss under a tree.  Act II Scene III, I am
getting into my first fist fight.  It went on like this each time I visited this
personal sanctuary until the final Act where I witness myself leaving the
premises to go off to Junior High.   

 I could still recognize all of the names and faces of all the children and
teachers.  I had seen this play hundreds of times, but today was different.  
Among the crowd of playing children I saw him standing there in the middle.  I
knew every actor in this play, the lead casts and the extras, but I had never
seen him before.  Timmy stood there with bright blonde hair wearing a yellow
Gecko T- shirt; blue corduroy shorts and brand new Vans sneakers.  Then
the children and teachers vanished and all that existed in the schoolyard was
Timmy and the sharp clanging of the tetherball chains.

 He was standing at the tree dedicated to him and as he began to walk
toward the portables, he turned and beckoned me to follow.  You may be
thinking that any person in a sane state of mind would think that they had just
seen a ghost and flee the schoolyard instantly, but for that moment I was in
the space between dreams and reality.  He wanted to show me something; I
could sense it as if an unspoken agreement existed between us.

 I met him at the portables, where underneath the ramps that led to the
classrooms was a tiny crawlspace.  As Timmy began to crawl under, I got on
my hands and knees and followed right after him.  Once I had fully entered
myself I fell about four feet below into a crawl space that was the width of the
classroom above.  It was filled with dirt, dust and spider webs, but in the
middle Timmy had propped a trap door open and was pointing down into it.  I
crouched and walked to the center where I saw that underneath the trap door
was a staircase.  My curiosity had turned to a feeling of dread, for then I
began to fear that I was being led to something sinister.

 It was a not a room, but a tomb.  Lit by torches in all four corners, but rather
than crypts occupying the spaces were three yellow curtains with shadowy
figures behind them.  In the middle of the tomb there stood a bedchamber
with tall posts holding a red curtain enclosing the bed. Timmy stood next to
me and looked up with a smile, revealing black teeth and dark green slime
oozing from his gums.  His face began to contort, going back and forth faster
than humanly possible.  He then ran toward the yellow curtains and began
ripping them down, and I realized that what he wanted to show me were
nightmares, my nightmares.  

When the first curtain was undone it revealed my mother kneeling, weeping
over the body of a burnt corpse.  In the second stood a woman in white,
smiling sardonically as her body contorted in unnatural positions.  When
Timmy came to the last enclosure there was nothing in it, and as he turned
around his features changed:  his face now translucent with eyes black as
obsidian.  His shirt was torn and the bottom half of his body was wet and
muddy as if he had been walking through a creek.  He then walked over to
the bedchamber and pointed to it, I was made to unveil it myself.  

 There behind a crimson veil stood a figure.  It remained perfectly still and
was more than seven feet tall, its arms huge with both hands holding blunt
objects.  It was the figure from my first dream.  I sensed that scent again, but
this time there was something rancid in it.  Suddenly the hair on the back of
my neck shot straight up, and I almost forgot to exhale.  While I chose to
remember the fun I had in my childhood, I purged the things that had kept me
up at night.  I forgot about the monsters from my nightmares; the burned
child, the white lady, and even Timmy.  I had forgotten about the monster that
had frightened me most.  The one who would visit me every night before my
dreams began, with a twisted smile on his face and breath that reeked of
alcohol.  

 I refused to unveil the curtain, whoever had cast Timmy as an extra in my
play had made its point.  As I left the tomb and crawled out of the portable
classrooms I took one last look at my schoolyard.  The play was over; the
actors, extras, and stagehands had gone on to another production.  My
childhood was a flower in a beautiful field of green pastures, fed by a rotting
corpse below, which had given it life.
About Sean Goodman