That night I lay back in bed, unable to keep my thoughts from drifting towards my revelation at the park.
Climbing out of bed as noiselessly as I could, I padded over to the door of my closet. It stood only slightly ajar, but it was wide enough for me to reach into the neatly folded stacks of my clothes and rummage around for what I was looking for.
A few moments later, I withdrew my arm and in my hand I held a ratty blue plushie that used to resemble a rhinoceros. Though the stuffing inside was clumped into uneven chunks, the cashmere fur was still as soft as I remembered it to be almost ten years ago.
When I climbed back into bed, ready to sleep, I sat Horace the Rhino down beside me. It’d been so long since I held my favourite stuffed animal. Up until today, I had no use for it.
I settled into my bed covers and lifted Horace again, only to place him down on my collarbone. The familiar tickling sensation I felt on my neck and chin was hugely nostalgic.
“It’s been so long. I almost forgot about it,” I whispered into the air.
I closed my eyes, and as the darkness slid like a sheet over my sight, the memories came flooding back to me, and I allowed myself to succumb to them.
Iliadys Camping Site. I spent every summer there with my mom and dad. I loved that camping site with all of my little kid heart, everything from the clearings where my dad would hammer down that tricky tent of ours, to the rusted metal grate where my mother would stick marshmallows on sticks and roast them for me, since I zoned out too much to keep them from burning. Even the too-crowded lake and its shores where I could never really move around as freely as I liked felt like a second home to me.
When my parents filed their divorce papers the year I turned six, I was scared about two things: my mother’s cheerfulness disappearing, and never being able to return to the camping site.
I hadn’t needed to worry about either of those issues. My mother’s eyes still crinkled in the corners when she smiled and her laugh was as happy as it had always been. In the year after the divorce, my mother had insisted that we make the two-hour drive to Iliadys, and that was where we met Jacoby and his family. That was where I had my first encounter of something genuinely strange.
Said camping trip was all right, really. I managed to soak Jacoby from head to toe when we grappled with each other, having kept my balance while he tumbled into the shallow part of the lake. I remember cackling like a little witch when he came out spluttering, his red-brown hair plastered to his head and water streaming down his face.
What had truly scared me took place the year after that.
My mother had sent me off to play with Jacoby while she snagged a nap inside our tent. Despite the sense of pride I felt about getting his name right, my steps were still grudging when I trudged over to the Harolds’ campsite and found Jacoby bouncing around a tiny rubber ball striped with all the colours of the rainbow.
“You again,” he growled. He snatched his bouncy ball away the minute I stepped within arm’s length as if he were afraid I would steal his toy and scamper away with it.
“I’m not happy to see you, either,” I retorted. I found it hard not to ogle the dandelions and small white flowers that surrounded him. Dandelion was the only flower, or rather, weed, I knew the name of, since my mother spent a whole lot of time in our garden muttering to herself while ripping them out of the ground.
“Why are you here, then?”
I winced inwardly at his verbal stab. Instead of letting my face crumple like I would with anyone else, I shrugged my small shoulders indifferently. “My mom’s taking a nap so she made me come here.”