THE CHILDREN by Kristine Ong Muslim

Audio courtesy of Rish Outfield and Big Anklevich of the Dunesteef.

No one goes there anymore, except for the curious out-of-town folks who overhear the stories and read the back pages of tabloids where the articles about fertility beads, UFO sightings, weeping Virgin Marys, and the latest cures for cancer are splayed.

“They usually come in hordes–whole families complete with screaming babies, toothless grandfathers, pimply teenagers, and grim-faced adults and thrill seekers bored with the usual vacation trips to Jamaica and Cancun. During summer time when the activity in the playground is at its peak, an occasional group of well-dressed university people and self-proclaimed paranormal experts gawk in small groups from a respectful distance.

“The moment they arrive at that sinkhole of a town east of Utah, they rush out of their idling cars and nervously point their fingers to the playground for their companions scampering behind them. They call attention to the lonely wire-enclosed playground as if the movement in the swings is not too obvious to notice. Enthralled, they watch how the swings creak and arch up in the absence of wind. The chains rattle as the swings curl up in an arc.

“Is this for real?” one of them asks.

“No special contraptions or anything?” another one adds, laughing uneasily.

“Shit, will you look at that!”

“Mommy, why can’t we get inside and play?”

“Not here, baby, we can’t get inside. We are only supposed to look.”

“Look at what? I wanna go home.”

They say things like these all the time.

Always with worried glances from behind the barbed wire enclosures that line the isolated playground, they wonder at how the candy bar wrappers, the leftover chocolate still fresh on the edges of the licked foil, collect on the uncut grass. They notice the slides which remain shiny as if they are recently being used.

Years from now, none of them will ever forget the yellow-painted seesaws that bob on their own.

And when they return to their cars, they will never know what gets into the car with them until they get home.

Sometimes, an unseen tiny hand switches the television on to the cartoon channel.

Sometimes, cold maternal lips kiss the forehead of the toddler who is throwing a fit on the high chair.

An invisible weight jumps up and down on the white couch. The bouncing sound never fails to make them scream or resort to futile measures like calling a priest or the psychic hotline.

Someone rides the long-forgotten horse rocker stashed in the attic.

Someone steps on the loose floorboard.

The clatter of scurrying little feet trying on plastic funny shoes echoes across the empty hallway.

Something cold snuggles into the bed with them when they turn off the bedside lamp.

Happens all the time.

THE END

The Children first appeared in Vast Horizons, 2010

* * *

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing, 2010). Her poems and stories have appeared in over four hundred publications worldwide including A cappella Zoo,Aberrant DreamsAbyss & ApexAlternative Coordinates,Big PulpDark HorizonsExpanded Horizons, GUD MagazineKaleidotropeLabyrinth Inhabitant Magazine,OG’s Speculative FictionPaper CrowPollutoSounds of the NightSpace & TimeStar*LineTales of the UnanticipatedTitle Goes Here:, and Tales of the Talisman. She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award. Her publication credits are listed here.

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