By Sheila D. DeGroff
Several years ago, for many years running, every evening my unwavering course toward home took me by Trust
Park. It was a very tiny plot tucked tightly inside a cluster of old homes, shameful and hunched, cowering
before the tyranny of the weather. Even in the noon sun they were gray and smelled of a moldy August
evening. They were identical even in their differences, together making quite the dismal scene for the passerby,
who inevitably and unknowingly quickened his pace to find a locale more pleasing to the eye and heart. This
instinct led most to speed past the small park without even the slightest awareness of its existence.
The park held up two sagging, wooden benches and a few rusty swings that promised a future tetanus shot. A
cluster of sweet gum trees attempted to keep the benches company, their growth stunted by neglect and the
onslaught of fumes from the passing, uncaring cars. In the center stood a large stone angel holding an empty
birdbath above its bowed, modest head. One of its wings had been broken cleanly in half. A red fence badly in
need of repainting made a crooked circumference and a small cobblestone path wound its way through this
strange menagerie like a garden hose left in the yard by accident. If possible, the forgotten park would have
burst into tears. I think it is the saddest little spot of land I have ever seen.
I had driven by this park by a score of hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, and that day was the first
day I spotted a living creature within its boundaries besides the occasional bewildered squirrel. Driving by I
gaped as if I had seen some horrific, bloody accident. A young boy was on one of the swings, his back facing
the road from which I claimed my perspective, not really swinging, but instead kicking his feet listlessly at the
dirt below. He wore dark pants and jacket, nondescript and bearing no noticeable identifier. His head hung so
low that I could not discern the color of his hair, or determine the presence of a hat. It seemed that his back
was bearing his weight under considerable strain, as if attending to some tedious, awful chore.
Being late autumn, the leaves had all left the comfort of the trees to partake in the mass exodus to the gutters
and sewers. The day was gray upon gray and a wet chill hung in the still air. It struck me as very odd that a
child would be outside at all, especially at Trust Park. But I had my own business to mind, so I continued on
I lived in a small flat located roughly two miles north of Trust Park. I shared the flat with an older gentleman,
Warren Orange. Ordinarily I despised sharing my living quarters with anyone, but he was neat and kept to
himself, and halving the rent was extremely beneficial, so I sacrificed my privacy. He and I rarely spoke, but I
could not help but tell him of the boy in the park. Being a native of the area, he knew of all the local goings-on,
and I hoped he could educate me in its history.
Warren retired from Steward Frisk Electric Supply Company, the biggest and currently the only enduring
manufacturing facility in our tiny, stagnant community. His gold watch, still in its original packaging, occupied
the top shelf in the small closet in the front hallway along with his stainless steel lunch box. Each wore five
years of dust, evenly settled along all the upper surfaces like snowflake memories that have died and fallen from
Warren was a careful man, obsessive in his habits, religiously devoted to routine. Always he wore the same
starched shirts and pressed slacks, dull and bland to the eye. His fingernails were clipped and filed twice a
week and scrubbed every evening before bed. His newspapers, all nine titles, were stacked with mathematical
precision by the door at the end of each day. He rarely left the flat. I suppose that when one reads nine
newspapers every day there is not much need to go out into the world. If Warren knew
no tales of Trust Park, then no one would.
Warren listened to my brief story over a late dinner of ham and beets. When I had finished speaking, he
remained silent. Finally he rose and went to the kitchen. He pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the far cupboard
and selected two mismatched glasses from the drying rack. He returned to the table and wordlessly filled them.
He took one for himself and handed me the other. I watched him tip the glass to his lips and empty it with three
large gulps. His hands were trembling.
He pulled one of the straight-backed chairs to face mine and seated himself slowly and carefully, in the fashion
of all old men who are waiting for their tired spines to collapse at any moment. He motioned toward my drink
with his hand, waving it upward toward my mouth, now hanging open.
I stuttered, "But-but you don't drink!"
He smiled without cheer. "I do now," he responded. He leaned forward, rubbing his forehead slowly. His eyes
met mine, and I began to feel the birth of dread in my belly. "Are you sure?" he asked. I blinked and tucked my
lips into a question mark. "Are you sure you saw the boy?" he asked, a little impatiently.
I nodded. "Yes, positive. On the swing."
Warren sat back in his chair and stared at his shoes. He finally spoke.
"Trust Park was built about thirty-five years ago. The so-called City Planning Committee decided the
impoverished youngsters of Middletown needed a safe spot from which to throw rocks at passing cars. It
opened in the spring; fresh and new, yellow and red. They hired clowns and such to pass out balloons and
popcorn. The TV folks were there, getting some shots of the children on the new slide for their segment on the
news in between the war and the latest local atrocities. To show something wholesome to keep the sheep
thinking that the big bad wolf was a safe distance away.
"Everything was business as usual for the next few years. Every day of every summer that little place had at
least a dozen youngsters galloping around. Things were good back then. Frisk was growing and the packaging
plant opened. New houses and restaurants were underway, a few streets got widened and the school began to
get crowded. Aside from the occasional brawl at Brand's Pub this was a quiet town. It was only a matter of
time before it all went to hell.
"And as all these things happen, it happened suddenly. One bright July day, there was an accident in the park.
Everyone who was there to witness it is either dead or far, far away, but the story goes as follows: a young
boy by the name of Jacob Ackley fell from the top of the tall slide that stood at the center of the park. His
head smacked the wing of that angel, cracked it clean in half. The angel's wing was cracked, I mean, although
his poor skull didn't fare much better. Most folks said the boy lost his balance. Others say he was rough-housing
and the momentum carried him straight towards the statue. Some speculated that a local bully pushed him. But
whatever happened, the boy was killed instantly."
Warren shook his head and studied the floor.
"His parents blamed the City. They took a crew to the park and measured the distance from the slide to the
angel. The statue was over twenty feet away from the base of the slide. Both the slide and the angel were
anchored into the ground; they hadn't been moved or tampered with. The witnesses all stuck to their stories,
they said the boy 'just fell' onto the angel. You can imagine the chaos as the City argued that it was, ‘not
physically possible for the boy to fall from the slide onto that angel; he would've required his own wings,’ they
said…and pardon the pun. The parents argued that sixteen witnesses—including adults—couldn’t all be wrong,
and the lawyers were just trying to end the ordeal as quickly as possible and move on to their next set of
victims. It was obvious that something extraordinary—although quite tragic—happened that day, but no one
would whisper a word of it beyond a closed door and a trustworthy ear.
"Finally a breach was made; the city was tired of the bad publicity. The local hoodlums stole the poor boy's
tombstone and hauled it to the top of that slide, which had become a sort of symbol of death. Parents forbade
their children to go near the park, threats were flying via the U.S. mail, and when a group of outraged parents
attempted to topple the slide, the city's backbone gave way and they awarded the Ackley family a hefty sum
of money. Most definitely, it was enough to move them out of town and into a
much nicer house halfway across the country. So the Ackley's took their one remaining child and moved away,
the slide was taken down, never to be seen again and the park was essentially abandoned. Within a couple of
months, the gossip turned to the field of marijuana being grown south of the town limits. Jacob Ackley was old
Warren rose and headed to the kitchen, his shoulders rounded and weary. I was silent as he rinsed the dinner
dishes and toweled them dry. Finally I spoke.
"What aren't you telling me?" I asked, almost afraid.
Why on earth, I thought, would a man like Warren be shaken by the news of the sighting of a child in an old,
deserted park? Granted, the park's history was gruesome,
but it hardly seemed to be worthy of such distress.
Warren, surely sensing my doubts, shot me an exasperated glance.
"Christ!" He yelled. "Don't you get it? That boy could not have fallen from that slide onto that angel! It was too
far away. Something…something carried him over the edge of that slide. There's a reason why you never see
anybody there anymore. An unnatural event occurred in that park, an event beyond the boundaries of our
meager laws of physics and clumsy logic. Something that we can't begin to understand lived in that park. And
it's still there."
Sleep that night was punctuated with loud, vague dreams that shifted and turned, pulling me to and from the
antipodean realms of consciousness and sleep. Upon one of my fitful awakenings, images from the surreal
lingered behind my eyes for my waking mind to witness: the boy on the swing, little clouds of dust angrily
billowing around his restless feet, turned toward me so slowly that the sun's revolution could have passed him
by. The image of his face…so detailed and yet so horribly void, stung my retinas. His eyes were clear and gray.
His face seemed tired, if anything at all. He did not blink, or open his mouth, or raise an eyebrow. His tiny fists
clenched the peeling chains supporting his swing. He continued to turn, and when he finally stopped his eyes
shifted away from mine and landed somewhere beyond my line of sight. I followed his gaze to the stone angel.
The angel, renewed and doubly winged, came alive in one fierce moment and looked directly at me, spreading
its wings upward and outward in the manner of a bird trying to frighten an enemy. And finally, in the last scene
of my nightmare, the angel opened its awful, stone mouth and screamed.
I did not go to work that day. I rose early, having given up my quest for sleep, and left the house before
Warren awoke. I walked to Trust Park, determined to see the broken, lifeless angel and drive the hideous vision
of its wakening from my mind. The sun, still hiding behind someone else's horizon, offered a faint glow in the
east that was barely sufficient to illuminate my path. The wet chill from the day before, strengthened overnight
and stabbed my exposed face and neck like icy needles. I cursed myself for not wearing my parka.
I reluctantly admitted fear as I approached the park. With barely enough light to discern color, I had significant
trouble determining the beginnings and the ends of shadows. No cars moved, no lights shone from nearby
houses and no slipper-clad men were being walked by their dogs. I was alone.
I stopped along the battered red fence, my hand resting on its rough surface. Before me was the small gate
which would provide entry to the park. I nudged at it with my shoe and it swung open silently. I was caught by
surprise and expected an eerie, haunting squeak from its old hinges. Instead it swung open as if it were newly
I shook my head and said aloud, "You're being silly."
I stepped through the gate and onto the cobblestone path.
It is difficult to describe what happened next. The cold in the air and on my skin somehow sank into my bones
and blood when my feet came to rest on the cobblestones. My breath caught in my throat and suddenly there
was light, as if the sun were overhead, providing a beautiful summer day. It could have been summer, indeed, if
not for the dreadful cold. The sound of children at play came to me from the other side of human
understanding. I turned, as frightened as I had never been before and saw the stone angel to my left. It was
shiny, polished and new. Both of its wings reflected the
sun, creating a glowing effect all around its head and upper body. It looked past me, smiling at no one in
particular. Beyond it stood a gigantic, bright-yellow slide. Children crowded its tiny eagle's nest, pushing each
other and shouting playfully as they each sought a turn to tumble down its shiny metal ramp and into the sand.
I noticed one young boy in particular looking down on me from the top of the slide. It was the boy I had seen
on the swing the day before and in my dream that night. His eyes were big, somewhat frightened and somehow
very, very tired and old. I shut my eyes against this vision very tightly, fuming at my own cowardice. I opened
them again in time to see the boy in midair; like some slow-motion replay in a sports game, he fell out and out
and down, onto the angel's wing. His head collapsed inward against the stone, and the snap of the concrete
wing echoed through my ears. The boy's neck twisted in a way it never should have and his body bounced
when it hit the sand. Blood splashed laterally, soaking the sand and forming burgundy lumps. The children
screamed. One little girl in the eagle's nest leaned over the yellow rail, shrieking for her mother and reaching an
arm towards the boy. The slide was a great, grinning, yellow clown. And in the fashion of my dream, the angel
looked at me, into me and began to scream in a sickening mix of rage and victory, the broken edge of its
severed wing dripping with crimson blood.
My sprint carried me home, though I can hardly recall instructing my muscles to move my bones. Warren was in
the kitchen and was startled when I burst into the room, sweaty from my race against panic.
"I saw it," I gasped, leaning against the butcher's block to support my trembling legs. "I saw it!"
"You saw what?" Warren asked.
"The boy, the same boy, I saw him die," I blurted.
Warren blinked twice, deliberately, as if dragging his eyelids across his orbs would somehow clarify my rambling.
"What on earth are you talking about?" he asked, handing me a glass of water.
I rolled my eyes in frustration, waved away the refreshment and then offered him an abbreviated chronicle of
the morning's events.
When I finished, he smiled dryly and said, "There's never a dull moment with you around."
I could not help but snicker, thankful for the tiny humor. I hoisted myself onto the kitchen counter and leaned
my head back against the cupboards, studying the yellowing ceiling tiles as Warren studied me.
"This is crazy," I muttered.
Warren said nothing. Silence hung in the air and eventually allowed the tedious ticking of the hall clock to reach
my senses. This brought me out of my daze and I hopped back down onto the floor. Warren raised his hands in
the air, palms facing upwards, a gesture of a question.
"Well?" He called after me.
I did not answer; I had come to a decision. I gathered a notebook and a pen and with a brisk pace made for
the front door. Passing near the hall vent produced bumps on my drying skin and responsibility directed me to a
closet for a coat and hat. I offered a quick, loose farewell to Warren as I exited.
Behind me I heard him exclaim, "Where are you going?"
Intent on my mission, I jogged to my car without turning back.
When I arrived at my destination, I was met with locked doors and a sign pointing out my obvious oversight: it
was barely seven in the morning, too early for patrons. I chose to wait outside on the marble steps, scribbling
madly in the tattered notebook, hurriedly attempting to capture every detail of my experiences thus far, lest I
should lose even one frozen image to the vacuity that threatens knowledge.
When my pen recalled all that my memory could muster, I detected the slightest odor of doubt. The doubt
began to swell and with a tiny voice it began to question the reality of my witness and the authenticity of my
absurd inferences. After all, what had I experienced? What had I seen? Nothing more than the lopsided efforts
of a tired imagination, I thought. A boy in a park meant nothing but what it was. And the dream, and the
vision? Perhaps I had grown too accustomed to the pace with which I walked each day, and created some
lively beat to spark a dance. Perhaps the dinner of ham and beets had been the tainted embodiment of prankish
Puck, nourishing my childhood eye, long since shut, back to health. Whatever the cause of my recent delirium, I
determined that I should return home and sleep it away.
I rose from my seated position on the cold steps and was still straightening my back when the door opened
behind me. An old man in janitorial garb motioned me near. He grinned, his toothless mouth more black than
white and winked.
"I saw ya sittin' thar, fer over an hour, and them steps is much too cold fer a bum to take." He patted his own
rear vigorously and again produced his gummy grin. "Don't open 'til this afternoon, today, but if ya please, I'll let
ya in as long as I be here, cleanin' and such."
He stepped backward, holding the door open just far enough to allow me to slide inside at an angle with my
belly pulled close. He shut the door quickly, glancing
around furtively, ensuring that no one witnessed his tiny crime. He stank of bad-label booze and old furniture
hosting mold colonies and I was anxious to be rid of his company, grateful though I was for his deed.
I retreated quickly, mumbling fast, yet sincere thanks and walked briskly past the main desk towards the narrow
hallway leading to the basement steps. I took the steps by two and easily navigated my way through the
stacks, following that tiny child of memory that keeps dominion over the mundane details of geography. My
fingers easily found the necessary volume and plucked it from its place upon the shelf. I claimed the nearest
table as my own and prepared myself for my chore by examining the familiar walls of the haven of my youth.
I had spent many of my early childhood days in the library, even in the summer months. Many of those days,
I'm sure, should have been squandered fishing by a pond, or in the fields behind the school where the other
children gathered to play the games we as adults can no longer bring ourselves to enact. But being of a unique
nature—and mostly misunderstood by my peers—I chose solitude, punctuated only by the passing company of
the smiling, blue-haired librarians in the same building which I now inhabited. Its wide columns, smooth tiles and
high ceilings might have been my own mother's womb, as well as I knew them. To me, every angle and texture
seemed to form a pattern leading upward, toward some mystic entity lounging among the vines and flowers of
the ceiling's fresco, casually swirling about in a goblet some wine of greater understanding that I wanted to sip.
It was home.
My parents passed away while I was still young, leaving me to the care of a great-aunt. My life became my
chores, tending my aunt's jungle-like gardens. I forgot books and mystery, but instead embraced earth and
thorns. Rarely did I wonder what course my life would have taken had my parents not expired. Over the years,
as my youth faded, I accepted what was before me with no complaints. I obeyed my elders, I achieved what I
was told I must achieve, and I held the hearts of those around me with a gentle hand. Yet
neither did I question, or speculate, or dream. I slowly forgot passion; so slowly, in fact, that I forgot it had
ever made me its home at all. Perhaps one thorn too many had found its way through my skin.
As my fingers played the yellowing pages of the tome before me, I found myself recalling my mother's face from
distant memory. She was speaking, possibly singing, in complete silence, a moving picture exclusively for the
eye of my mind. My fingers plucked and strummed, turning and scanning, sliding across the dividing crevice
between the pages and trailing upward again, directing my sight, whose work was now doubled and divided
between the tiny, blurred words and the memory, however accurate or inaccurate, of my mother. My lungs
found the rhythm and began to push and pull in time. Time, with its usual mysterious persistence, swept me
toward its abyss.
A minute or an hour later, I am not sure which, but suffice to say it was soon enough; I was sucked from the
vacuum by one powerful moment. That moment, like so many others I had filled before, simply lay in waiting,
finally and randomly revealing itself and all its vision that could no longer be contained. Perhaps some moments,
like people, are greater than others. And so it was with that moment, one tiny fraction in the equation of that
morning in the library basement where my breath suddenly caught halfway through its process and my hands
stopped abruptly on a seemingly insignificant page. My mother's face, once in motion in my mind, froze like the
breath in my throat and the two halves of my vision came crashing together and spliced as the picture above
my fingers matched the portrait of memory.
My mother's photograph, faded by the slow cruelty of compounded years, looked up at me from a tired
newspaper clipping casually laid among random stories of violence and commerce and legalities. Beside her, my
father; in front of her, myself; all dressed smartly in church attire. The headline above read simply "Child Dies in
Horrific Accident." The caption read "The Ackley family attends the funeral of their beloved Jacob." The story
told the tale of Jacob Ackley just as Warren had, and turning the page to follow it revealed more photos and
the truth, delivered into my gut like a fist. In one photo was the boy I had seen in the park, Jacob Ackley.
Beside him I stood, smaller, smiling his smile.
Doors, their presence unknown to me previously, opened slowly inside my memory: Jacob, my brother, chasing
me through our old house, squabbling over toys, eating a chicken dinner with our parents. Jacob, my brother,
looking down at me from the eagle's nest of that grinning clown slide, his face twisting from a childhood
expression of playful innocence into something old that has witnessed too much. Jacob lifted by a force unseen,
falling silently with the angel turning to catch him. The sound of the cracking wing, a mistake. A demon
shrieking; blood and disbelief. My mother's sobs, my father's shudders and rage. A funeral, a small white casket,
smooth and cold to the touch, sealed with the truth and the last bit of warmth that I would know inside.
Warren sits at our Formica kitchen table, his back to me. He turns. His face is pale, gray. I feel pain in my
chest as though sharp, twisting metal was shredding my heart and lungs. I want to speak, to seek some
comfort, but no words come.
"You came back," he says. He steps closer to me. His skin is smooth, non-porous. He takes my notebook from
my trembling hands and lays it on the table behind him; there is finality in this, a sense of realized anticipation.
I can't move.
"You came back," he repeats; he smiles something empty and distant, "after your parents died. You weren't
gone long. You came back. Do you remember?"
I nod my head slowly. I can't breathe.
"Do you remember.me?"
His face is stone. His hands are stone. Wings with feathers of stone unfurl behind him, filling our kitchen. Tiny
trails of dust fall from between their folds as they move and the sound is that of gravel crunching underfoot. His
hands are still, quiet rocks at his sides, but the wings move like arms, the feathers like fingers, moving toward
me, reaching for me.
The angel grins.
"You saw me. You see me now."
The tips of his wings are inches from my face, and coldness so pure and lifeless radiates from them. The dry,
rock finger-feathers touch my skin and I see what he is: icy patience, a deliverer of eternity, perfect death. My
heart has stopped beating.
"Do you see?"
"I've been waiting to show you. I've been waiting since you got a glimpse of me, when I was eating the soul of
your little insect brother. I've been waiting to take you to the Vacuus. Do you see it?"
I can not scream. I am not breathing.
The angel is inside me now, the stone beneath my flesh. My senses begin to merge. I see cold. I hear darkness.
I taste the empty hollow of my silent heart.
"Do you see?"
I push out the last remaining air from my lungs in a hoarse whisper.
I hear my own thought with perfect clarity and precision: These are my last words and no one will hear them.