Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
The playground at Kind Street park was always empty, but I didn’t know why. I’d never played there before, only driven or walked past on my way somewhere else. It was nice enough, if not a little un-kempt. There were swings, a climbing frame, a see saw and a very tall slide that I’d never been brave enough to go down.
It was the school holidays and my father had brought me to work with him that day. I had asked if I could go eat my lunch in the sun. He was too busy to take me of course. But, as it was just around the corner, he let me go to the park by myself. The trees that surrounded the rusty play equipment were swaying gently as I sat on the swings and began to eat my lunch.
My sandwiches were squashed flat but still tasty and I began to swing back and forth as I ate.
“Hello” came a voice from behind me. Startled, I turned around to see a girl about my age. She didn’t look very well and her clothes were filthy.
“Hello” I mumbled, my mouth full of sandwich.
“Do you want to play with me?” she asked. Her voice was soft and sounded far away.
“Ok, do you want some of my sandwich? It’s jam”
She shook her head, “No thank you. Shall I give you a push?”
I nodded and shoved the rest of my sandwich into my mouth. She gave me a tiny push and I laughed, “Harder!” She pushed me again and I flew into the air giggling. We played that way for a while. Not talking, just laughing. She didn’t seem to mind that I hadn’t offered to push her either. She was happy doing all the work.
After a while I stopped myself and turned around, intending to ask her if she wanted me to push her now. But when I did, I could see that her dirty face had clean spots in little lines all the way down to her chin. Tear stains? “Are you ok?” I asked trying to look her in the eyes. She turned away and sniffed, “I have to go now”.
“Oh, ok. I should probably get back anyways.” I gathered up the rubbish from my lunch and looked up to see a man standing near the tree line. He was tall and wearing a long brown trench coat, black pants and shoes and a black hat. He had a strange smile on his face, like pride but there was something else.
“Looks like your Dad is waiting for you” I said waving at him. The girl grabbed my hand and staring directly into my eyes she whispered, “He’s not my Dad. Don’t come back here again.”
Before I could say anything, she ran towards him and he held out his hand. She hesitated for a moment and then took it. Together they disappeared into the trees. I stood there for a moment, watching after them. I left the park that day confused and afraid. Something wasn’t right.
When I got back to my father’s workshop, I took off my jacket to hang it up and saw a small red stain on the back. How did I get jam on the back I wondered? I went to the bathroom to try and sponge out the stain.
Standing in front of the sink, I spread the jacket out to survey the damage. At first I didn’t believe it, but there was no doubt. There were bloody circles all over the back of my jacket. Little dots arranged in circles with smudges of blood.
I decided then and there that I was going back tomorrow. I needed to know what had happened to this girl. Why was she so sad, so dirty, who was that man if not her father? More importantly why was she bleeding from her hands?
The following day I could have gone to my grandmothers but I asked if I could go to work with dad again. “I like to watch you work” I lied. Why anyone would want to watch someone fix cars all day was beyond me, but my dad seemed very happy that I was interested.
I endured a long morning of stories about old cars and ‘the good old days’ until finally it was lunch time. “Dad, can I go to the playground again please?” He and his workmate were peering at an engine, thoroughly confused looks on their greasy faces. “Yeah, sure. Be back by 1 though.” He said, not looking up from the engine.
I grabbed my bag and ran out the door. This time I would remember to ask her name and make sure she was ok. I’d ask who the man was and if she wouldn’t tell me, well, I’d just have to follow her. I had it all planned out.
When I arrived at the playground, I was not surprised to see it empty. There was a slight wind that pushed the swings back and forth, the sound of creaking metal and rustling leaves filling the air. I decided to go to sit on top of the climbing frame so I could get a good view of the park. Maybe see where she came from this time.
I waited, eating sandwiches and scanning the tree line. After a few minutes I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around, dropping my bag on the ground and trying not to fall. There she was, the same clothes as yesterday, the same dirty face. Though this time a dark bruise surrounded her right eye, swelling it shut.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed looking around desperately with her good eye.
“What happened to you?” I asked, reaching out to try and touch her face. She batted my hand away, grabbed onto my arm and pulled me in closer, “I told you not to come back. Why are you here?”
I shook my arm free, “I wanted to make sure you were ok is all.” She shook her head and jumped down, “I’m fine, now you really need to go.”
“No. You can’t tell me what to do.” I said, hooking my feet around the bars of the climbing frame and gripping tightly. I grinned at her and after a couple of seconds she laughed, sighed deeply and picked up my bag. “I brought you some food. If you want it.”
She stared at me for a moment and then a small sad smile appeared. “I can’t, thank you though.” I shook my head, “Why can’t you and why do you keep telling me to go?”
Her good eye widened for moment and then she looked around the playground. She dropped the bag and ran to the slide, the see saw and then the swings. She reminded me of a mouse I’d seen in our kitchen once. Scurrying from shelter to shelter, hyper-vigilant and on alert.
“Are you afraid of him?” I asked as she ran back to the climbing frame. She nodded. “Did he do that to you?” I asked, jumping down. She nodded again, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“I think it’s Esther but I don’t really remember. He never calls me anything but “child”.” As she spoke she brushed her hair out of her face and that’s when I saw it. The palm of her hand. “What the hell?” I said, grabbing her hand I turned it over.
There was a bite mark on her hand. Deep and still oozing blood. I gasped and pulled her in for a hug. I felt such a need to protect her. “My name is,” I began, but she clamped her hand over my mouth before I could finish. I tasted blood. “He’s coming. Please go before he,”
“Hello children” came a sickly sweet voice from behind me. Esther dropped her hand from my mouth and hung her head. I turned around and there he was, the man from the tree line. He was wearing the same clothes as the day before, the same strange smile on his face.
“And who are you?” he asked bending down to my level. As soon our eyes met, I felt my stomach drop and bile rise in my throat. I felt a bit dizzy as I tried to find the bravery to say what I wanted to say, “None of your business.”
He let out a strange low rumbling wheeze that ended with a squeak. I think he was laughing. “That’s no way to talk to your elders young lady.” He said as he reached out a hand towards Esther. Not looking up from the ground, she took his hand and he pulled her close to him. She winced and the tears in her eyes began to flow freely.
‘Child, who is this girl?” he asked, yanking on Esther’s arm. She breathed in quickly through her teeth, in pain. “I don’t know.” The man did not seem pleased with her answer.
“Who are you?” I demanded. I ignored the feelings of nausea and dread and stood my ground.
“Do you know what courtesy means, young lady?”
I stared at him and shook my head. He and Esther began to circle around me. Esther seemed to be getting paler and paler by the moment.
“It means the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others. You did not give me your name when I asked you very sweetly. So, why should I tell you my name if you couldn’t show me the same courtesy?”
I sighed and rolled my eyes, “Jessica, ” I spat, “now, who are you?”
He let go of Esther’s hand and she dropped to the ground, pulling her hand close to her chest. I ran to her and held her around the shoulders, never taking my eyes off the man.
He smiled again, removed his hat and bowed to me, “Why, I am Mr Schrei! A pleasure to meet you Jessica.”
I noticed drops of blood coming from his hand.
“Well it’s not a pleasure to meet you. You’re hurting her!”
He laughed again and placed his hat back on his head. He walked towards Esther and I and she shook me off her as he got close. “Child, “he said, kicking her leg, “are you hurt?”
Esther shook her head.
Mr Schrei looked at me smugly. “See? She’s fine.”
“She’s not fine and I’m telling!” I yelled, scrambling up from the ground and running towards the road. Behind me I heard him laugh again and Esther let out a small scream but when I turned, they were gone. The only trace of them a few spots of blood on the Astroturf.
I arrived back at my father’s workshop, hysterical. He hugged me close and once I’d stopped crying I told him what had happened. He listened intently, at first sceptical but then when I showed him my bloody jacket from the day before his face darkened. He kissed me on the forehead, “It’s going to be ok.” He said as he picked up the phone.
The police came to workshop that afternoon. The detective was a balding man in his forties, with small beady eyes and a coffee stain on his shirt. His breath reeked of coffee and cigarettes.
“So, what was the girls’ name?” he asked, looking me up and down suspiciously.
“She said Esther. But she wasn’t sure.”
Raising his eyebrows and looking over at my father he asked, “She wasn’t sure or you’re not sure?” I rolled my eyes, “No, I’m sure. She wasn’t … because she said he didn’t call her Esther, he called her child.” The detective nodded and wrote that down.
“And what did she look like?”
“Dirty, her clothes were old and ripped. She had blue eyes I think and her hair is brown.” The details of her appearance were cloudy in my mind, like I was looking at her through a dirty window. I was forgetting.
“Ok,” the detective, shifting in his chair, “and what about the man?”
I opened my mouth to speak but I realised I didn’t know what to say. I closed my eyes tight and tried to picture him but I couldn’t focus on any details.
“Jessica, tell the detective what he looked like” my father sounded worried.
“I’m trying to remember. He, he was tall and he wore a coat…” I trailed off. That was all I could remember.
“For goodness sake Jess,” my father said, “You described him to me an hour ago!”
“Well, then you tell him! Because I can’t remember.” I yelled, my face hot with embarrassment.
“Fine. He was,a…um well he had a hat on. A black one, she said.” He too trailed off. Why couldn’t we remember?
Despite my story becoming patchy in the retelling and my inability to describe the man I said had frightened me so, the police decided to go to Kind Park and look around. They found nothing except my lunch and bag strewn about the playground.
When they police dropped my bag off at home that night, I heard the detective speaking to my father in a hushed voice, “The thing is, it’s not the first time we’ve heard a story like this about that place. But we every time we go to check it out, we find nothing.”
“So, she wasn’t lying?” my father asked hopefully.
“I didn’t say that sir, I just said there are stories about that place. Maybe your daughter heard one and took it to heart?”
“I’m so sorry to waste your time and thank you for bringing her bag back.” my father shook the detectives hand and smiled weakly. He was embarrassed.
“No problem. Have a good night.” The detective smiled and then seeing me peering around the corner he said, “Good night young lady”.
Young lady. I thought to myself. He’d said that. The man at the playground.
“Time for bed Jess.” Dad said ushering me toward my room.
Young lady. Those words echoed in my head as I lay in bed that night. I fixed my mind on them and built around it the image of a man. A tall man in a brown trench coat, a black hat, black shoes and pants. A disturbing smile. A name. Mr Schrei.
The following day, I wasn’t allowed to go to the park. Nor the day after that. My father was so angry that he didn’t even let me come to work with him. I had to stay at my grandmothers and watch her yell at the television.
I was so worried about Esther and what he was doing to her and no one seemed to care. I didn’t know why I cared so deeply. I didn’t know her. But I did know she was being hurt and she needed help. It was my time to do something important, to get my hands dirty.
I decided to go back to Kind Street park that night to do something. I didn’t know what. I just knew that I had to go back and help her somehow. Whatever it took, I was getting her away from Mr Schrei.
I crept out of the house as soon as I heard my father begin to snore. I tip toed past his room and peeked inside. He snorted loudly and turned over. I wish I’d woken him up. I wish he’d stopped me. But instead, I snuck down the hallway, out the front door and into the cold, dark night.
The walk to Kind Street took about half an hour and by the time I arrived I my chest was burning from the cold and my heart was pounding. I didn’t know if I was ready for this. I didn’t even know what this was. Why was I here?
The playground was lit up by a single yellow floodlight, moths fluttering and diving around its eerie glow. There was no wind that night, so it was strange that the swings were moving back and forth. I stared at them from the footpath until I’d mustered the courage to move forward. The second i stepped foot on the astro turf the swings stopped moving, their creaking chains suddenly silent.
My head was screaming, get out of here but I kept going. I headed towards the climbing frame again and once I’d clambered up its freezing cold bars; I hooked my legs around it. Reaching into my bag, I pulled out my headlamp. I wanted to be able to see them coming so, I put it on.
The headlamp shone out into the trees and immediatly I saw her. She was standing amongst the trees. I couldnt‘ really make out her features because she was too far away but I could see the blood on her face.
I gasped, jumped down from my perch and ran towards her. She was staggering towards me, her arms outstretched and shaking. As we drew closer to one another, I heard it. His laughter. It was quiet at first but the closer I got to the trees the louder it became.
Esther collapsed onto the astro turf near the slide and I ran to her side. She was covered in blood and their were bite marks all over her face, arms and everywhere that I could see. “Can you walk?“ I asked trying desperately to pull her to her feet. She shook her head, “I’m so sorry“ she croaked.
Confused, I tried again to pull her up, “Don’t be sorry, just get up. We have to get out of here.“ Again, she shook her head and I peered over my shoulder. “I’m dying. Just go. Don’t tell anyone. Just run and don’t look back“.
“Esther, no! I have to save you. Get you away from him. Just stand up please.“ I was crying now and the sound of his laughter seemed to peirce me from all directions. Esther wasn’t moving at all, in fact she was barely breathing. She looked like she was about to say something when all of a sudden Mr Schrei appeared behind her.
“Hello Jessica. I’m so pleased to see you again. Do you want to know a secret?“ he spoke softly and stared directly into my eyes.
I fell backwards in shock as he extended he removed his hat and bowed to me once again. His horrible laughter was so loud I had to cover my ears. There was a terrible low crackling to it and a squeaking that made my eyes water. He stepped over Esther and began walking towards me. That terrible smile on his face, “I have hands that scream“ he whispered before breaking out into that terrible laughter.
And then I saw, he wasn’t laughing. His palms weren’t palms at all, but little mouths full of sharp, blood soaked teeth shrieking with laughter and malice.
I screamed and began crawling backwards. Esther was moaning and trying to crawl towards Mr Schrei. His hands let out a strange sort of screech and he turned towards her. I reached into my bag and pulled out the only weapon I had. My fathers nail gun.
“Child, you’re done. You’ve nothing left. Here let me help you.“ His arms seemed to grow to twice their length as they clamped down on Esthers shoulders, sending jets of blood out from under his palms and causing Esther to cry out in pain.
“She was wonderful while she lasted. But she could only give so much.“ He said as his arms began to pulsate, draining the blood from Esthers writhing body. “I only take what I need you see but, I need so much“. His voice was so calm in the midst of this chaos.
“Put her down!“ I screamed holding the nail gun out in front of me.
He laughed, this time with his real mouth as his hands were to busy draining the life out of Esther. “Oh, this is delightful. Please, shoot. It’s been so long since I felt pain. I’d like to try it!“
My hands were shaking and I felt vomit rise in my throat. Swallowing hard, I pulled the trigger. The nail hit him in his left shoulder and his left hand let go of Esther and screamed.
I looked around hoping to see lights turning on at the houses surrounding the park but there was nothing. The street lights, the houses, the stars; everything was gone. The park seemed to be floating in a void.
“That was unpleasant but exhilierating“ said Mr Schrei as he pulled the nail from his shoulder, “I think it’s time we finished this.“ He pulled Esther close to him and into an embrace. He stroked her hair and said, “Thank you child, you’ve done very well bringing her to me. You can sleep now.“
With those words he plunged his hand into Esthers chest and squeezed. Esthers eyes met mine and I heard her whisper, “I’m sorry. I tried to warn you.“ Blood poured from her mouth and onto the astro turf as her eyes closed. Mr Schrei lay her gently on the ground and kissed her forehead. Then he turned towards me.
I had to run. But there was nowhere to go. He reached out to me, his arm extending slowly. I didn’t bother running, he would catch me anyway. As his hands closed around my shoulders and his teeth sank into my flesh, I thought of my father.
I thought about his face and I tried, I tried so hard to hold onto that image. I even thought back to his god awful snoring, trying to find something that would stick in my head. But it all drained away and then I was gone. I had disappeared into nothingness.
“There,“ said Mr Schrei, gently lowering me back down to the ground, “That wasn’t so bad was it.“ I shook my head. “The sun is coming up. Come child.“ He said sweetly, extending his hand to me. I wanted to protest, to tell him to call me by my name. But it was lost to me already.
I took his hand and his teeth sank into my palm. It hurt but I did not struggle. “That’s right. Good child. You belong to me now.“ We walked hand in hand into the trees. Me the girl without a name, and he the man with the hands that scream.
CREDIT : TheLadyCaza