THE PALL BEARER
The Park has eyes
The rain on the car windows, reflected in the shadowed light, spread outwards like grasping fingers slowly inching toward him and the park seemed to have a filmy shroud hanging loosely over it. He shivered, but not from the cold. It was not the best weather to come to the Park, but his Uncle never seemed to notice the weather apart from to wrap him carefully in yet more layers of clothing. His mother always said that he was ‘neither salt nor sugar and would not melt’, but sometimes Mark wished for a different Park. This one was scary and he always felt like someone was watching him from the shadows of the trees. Watching and waiting.
As usual, the Park was empty and as he walked towards it hand in hand with his Uncle the wind blew the swings and moved the see-saw, causing an eerie long creak to commence and cease in rhythmic time to the sound of his foot steps drawing closer and closer to them. The empty swing pitched forward and back, seemingly with a life of its own, and the sense of foreboding grew stronger within him. He clutched his Uncle’s hand more firmly and tried to banish the childish thoughts that the swing already had an occupant and that he just couldn’t see them. Without a word, he was swept up into the seat and the chill in the air increased as he was pushed gently by the hand and the wind alike. It was exhilarating, almost like he was free and flying through the air, rather than just being sat on a swing and a part of him wanted to laugh.
He could feel the eyes on him though; from somewhere beyond those trees.
The swing’s movement caught his eye before he even heard the child’s laughter. It was a movement that distracted him from his purpose. He turned to watch them, secure in the knowledge that he couldn’t be seen. He had time to watch a while.
The child was very young and was wrapped up against the cold, but Alex knew from experience that some things could get in no matter how well you guard against them. The man pushing the child was tall and thin with a gaunt look about him and even though the weather was biting, he wore no gloves. His hands were long and so were the fingernails. He still thought it was surprising how many of them had a penchant for long fingernails. His hands looked blue and veined with the cold. Alex smiled wryly with the chill of inner knowledge. If the man wore gloves then he would not feel his touch upon the child and Alex knew all too well that it was the sensation of skin upon skin that contained most of the pleasure. The child was too innocent to sense the danger.
The man was looking down at the child with an air of detachment and Alex guessed that he was probably family, but not close. There was nowhere more dangerous than within the bosom of the family, where things may be seen but can be easily dismissed.
‘Uncle Johnny was their favourite; Auntie Ruth always bought them such lovely things’…no-one ever guessed that there might be a hidden agenda, least of all the child. Then again, thought Alex, maybe some did, but it made it easier for them if someone else was their victim now. But he knew that even if they had moved on, you could never be safe, never forget.
“Higher! Higher!” the child cried as the swing began to slow. The man was consulting his watch. Alex was already forming scenarios. Were the parents coming soon? Was he meant to return by a certain time? Did he have time to touch? The scowl on Alex’s face deepened and he moved closer, leaving his task half finished.
With one big push of the swing the child was silenced and the man informed the child that it was nearly time to go.
“Aw, do we have to?” Mark whined as he was just beginning to enjoy himself.
Alex paused as he turned away with his back to the Park. The child pleading was like pouring salt upon a wound. He knew how it played out but he wanted to change it. Change it for the child; change it for all innocent children like he’d once been. And he could. Now he could.
He watched as the man reached up in order to place the child upon the ground. He held him in such a way that the many layers of clothing ruched and raised. Alex saw him reposition his hands. To anyone else it looked like he was securing a safer grip upon the child, but to Alex it was an invasion. A slight of hand that had dark connotations but, he wondered, did he have the time for this distraction? Was it safe to leave the task unfinished and unattended for long enough to…and there, the man lingered upon an exposed slash of skin for a little too long before he released the child. He watched him run to the slide for the last go that the man had promised.
A quick glance around confirmed to Alex that the Park was still occupied by others. There were only a few but if they were to wander towards the copse rather than towards the car park...he turned towards the trees resignedly and began to walk back to the safety of the shadows. Maybe he was wrong this time and if he wasn’t, he would see them again. This was Alex’s place. He would be back and so would they. There was always next time.
The child called his Uncle and begged, “Just one more time, please?”
Alex halted and reeled around as though he had been shot. It was that one pleading word. He reassessed his surroundings. There were no dog walkers. They were always the most likely to head to the woods. There were no courting couples either. Just a couple of solitary pensioners feeding the ducks and, of course, the man with the child. The decision was made. He would follow and soon he would be burying more than just the one body.