A trip back to my childhood home brings my darkest memories to light.

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Chapter One - The Park

Six months ago I went home to Los Angeles County to the little ranch style shack where I’d lived until I was 11 and my family left the state my childhood home was in a certain middle-sized suburb there’s a few nice parks there a couple movie theaters a mall a highly regarded Hospital a school district that by the mid 90s had won so many awards that gentrification became a near overnight phenomenon I’m sure a few of you know exactly which middle size suburb I’m talking about if you don’t here’s another clue 15 years ago a child went missing there it was national news for maybe 20 minutes in the early 2000s post 911 pre-recession the kid’s name was Michael wall he was 11 years old short asthmatic a good little boy on a Saturday in May his mother gave him permission to walk to Atomic videos an independent movie rental joint with arcade games so long as he promised to be back by five for dinner at 3 that afternoon a passerby witnessed him wearing his favorite red hoodie climbing into a white 1998 Honda Civic driven by Kevin Gideon 30-something loner who owned Atomic videos he was never seen again they searched high and low for Micah and found neither hide nor hair Kevin Gideon was grilled by the cops he swore he drove the kid home he left him outside a little house no one believed him he’d always been a creepy guy Kevin Gideon and the story he told the cops was suspicious he didn’t remember what street Micah lived on and the only details he could recall about the house he’d supposedly left the boy in front of was that it was white and had big windows half the houses in town fit that description Micah’s house was blue the cops were in the process of obtaining a warrant when Kevin Gideon was killed it happened outside of 7-Eleven in Pasadena some local hero picked a fight with Kevin Kevin responded violence ensued and Kevin was pronounced dead at Huntington Memorial three hours after the back of his head connected violently with the asphalt his ten-year-old daughter Tiffany was sitting in the back seat of his white Civic waiting for Kevin to come back with Slurpees I heard she ran to him she watched him die then the Saga came to a tantalizing But ultimately disappointing end the cops finally pushed through the warrant to search Kevin Gideon’s apartment and video store and bald in a crawl space between the ceiling and the roof of atomic videos accessible by dislodging a loose ceiling tile they found Micah’s red hoodie his inhaler with his name and dosage sat in the front pocket his body was never recovered it became common knowledge that Kevin Gideon killed Michael wall and the case went cold I had my own ideas I’m a high functioning schizophrenic people get weird when I say so they think they’re going to say the wrong trigger word and send me up a bell tower it’s not like that I’m not like that I take medication and 90 of the time I live my life just like everyone else but whenever I’ve skipped a couple doses if I’m excessively stressed out and during one particularly scary period of sophomore year of high school when my meds crashed start hearing voices seeing Shadow People in my periphery and accusing family members of poisoning the coffee it’s not a good feeling and it makes it impossible to accurately assess memories of the time before I was diagnosed it’s like watching a movie with really great CG effects you know the dragon’s not real the dragon can’t be real because dragons don’t exist but its scales have texture and there’s a soul in its eyes and the child actor playing The Squire is just so damn convincing and there’s a tug on the eternally infantile curl of your ID perpetually asking what if my schizophrenia did to my childhood what a Mentos does to Diet Coke or maybe the schizophrenia was the Diet Coke in my childhood was the Mentos maybe I was always schizophrenic or maybe I became schizophrenic because of what happened to Michael wall Micah was my best friend the second day of kindergarten he grabbed the bounciest red dodgeball out of my hands I kicked him in the shin we were both sent to the principal’s office from then on we were inseparable I met Tommy who played soccer with Micah and Luke who lived with his grandmother across the street from Tommy the four of us formed a tight group we’d spend afternoons and weekends playing Mario Kart or exploring Alistar Park the tree filled Oasis in the city down the street from my house we called ourselves the four grand adventurers we’ve been raised on Nickelodeon and goosebumps but as our town was lacking in evil Sorcerers and scientific experiments gone wrong we had to contend ourselves with battling the monsters in our imagination we may do we were imaginative children we came up with our own mythology our own fantasy world with its own hierarchy of horrifying creatures all possessing powers and weaknesses one of them a spider-like creeper with long purple arms that shot poisonous quills like a hedgehog lived in my closet I was scared of chocolate milk of all things the powdery brown stuff that came in a tin with a bunny on it there was a bunch of them our imaginary monsters but to me they weren’t imaginary I’d swear up and down I actually saw purple tentacles sliding like worms inching from my open closet door to the foot of my bed and I felt the shooting sting of needles striking my body shielded only by my knit Pikachu blanket and the king of all the monsters known simply to us as the demon lived under a warped old tree deep in Alastair Park Aleister Park had a strange layout the front portion was a playground swings Lego colored play structure tall metal slide there was a basketball court and a softball diamond then behind all that was an acre of trees mostly Oak it was designed to be a little mini forest in the city but whoever did the designing hadn’t thought to put in any footpaths and the city didn’t maintain the area as well as they could have so by the time I came around thick weeds and jutting Roots made it a difficult place to enjoy we called it the forest Micah and I got lost in the forest once we were eight and it was getting dark we ran in frantic circles for an hour or so and then we found the Warped old oak tree embedded in an acre of graceful healthy trees that stood out it had a gray trunk a yard thick scraggly naked branches threatening to impale eyes Twisted exposed roots finally sweaty and dirt caked we scuffled our way out from that day on we were terrified of the forest the demon lived there we told Luke and Tommy I saw it Micah said he saw it too it reached for us with thick gray scaly tentacles it growled like a steam engine flashing foot long rotten black teeth it opened its glowing orange eyes and in them I saw death and hatred we ran just narrowly avoiding its grasping putrid appendages I’ve reached into my subconscious many times to extract my last memory of Micah the best I’ve come up with is the two of us swinging in my backyard him wearing his red hoodie both of us giggling about some cartoon episode then there’s nothing but blackness as hard as I try I recall nothing of the day Micah disappeared apparently I was playing in my backyard with Tommy and Luke my teenage sister Alicia had been watching us then we departed for Aleister park to play hide and seek which we did until dusk we hadn’t invited Micah to come along we were mad at him because he’d ratted me out to a teacher for copying that’s what Tommy and Luke said that’s what Alicia said for me it’s all a blur the next memory I pull from the recesses of my mind is that of the children’s psychiatric hospital waiting room sitting on a chair with my bags waiting for my parents to pick me up I’d been there for three weeks because for months after Micah disappeared I woke up screaming I told my parents I’d seen him die the demon got him he’d been at Alistair park with us we’d been playing hide and seek and we ventured too deep into the forest a gray warded tentacle shot out of the darkness and wrapped itself around his waist Micah was dragged across the littered weed dense floor and before I collapsed into hysteria I saw the waning sunlight reflect off sharp rotten teeth and the angry flash of bulbous orange eyes it was then I was diagnosed with schizophrenia my parents drove me straight from the hospital to the airport we were moving to Miami that had been the plan since before Micah disappeared my dad had grown up there and wanted to be closer to his aging parents and with all that had happened my parents wanted to get me out of town as soon as possible the change of scenery was good for me on meds and away from my hometown and everything that reminded me of my vanished presumed dead best friend the nightmare stopped my therapist said I should get this all down put it all in one place feel the emotions I need to feel write an ending to The Strange messed up chapter in my life I need closure she said I’ve consulted the journal I kept during that time period and somewhat reconstructed it but I haven’t transcribed it directly I was ranting and raving by the end it’s been half a year since the events of June 5th through 9th 2017. my life’s been great since then I love my new job and I’ve started working out in the morning and writing at night my medication schedules organized to a T yet still I go back sitting at my desk in my Venice studio apartment grading math worksheets my mind wanders I’ll find myself humming along to matild’s little rhymes I imagine walking to my kitchenette taking out the tub of Nesquik I still keep in the back of my cupboard and pouring a thick line of brown powder at the foot of the coat closet or I’ll come across a hedge of jasmine flowers and instinctively look to the sky for the shape of the Moon the memories elicit fear but also a rush of excitement ecstasy then longing because for those five days in the midst of my descent into the Fantasy Realm of my childhood or my descent into madness I was the real me more myself than I’ve ever felt since I first left the Little House on Briar Rose Drive June 5th 2017 the decision to spend the summer in my childhood bedroom was made out of convenience more than desire our grandparents were dead the Miami house was sold my parents were in Europe for the summer on a long deserved vacation they wouldn’t be back until late July when their new condo in South Pasadena was completed I was supposed to move into my own apartment I’d finished college and found gainful employment I was Pious with my halo diperal and I hadn’t had a schizophrenic episode in five years my mother worried to the degree required of mothers but she my father and I were in agreement that a 26 year old adult should have her own space particularly a 26 year old adult about to start a new job come September I’d been hired as a teacher’s aide at Bayside Montessori in Santa Monica if all went well and my condition didn’t become too difficult to manage I would begin applying to masters of education programs in the spring I had found the perfect apartment the catch was I couldn’t move in until the previous tenant’s lease ended in August until then if I wanted to live indoors I had two choices the first was to find a sublet on Craigslist two 40-something creeps offering me a stained mattress for free I gained that option moot the second was to move back into my childhood home with my sister Alicia we hadn’t returned to the Briar Rose house since we left California but we still own the property my dad didn’t want to sell it he wanted to knock it down put up a mansion and flip it for seven figures property values were skyrocketing and pre-recession that’s what everyone else on the Block seemed to be doing each year another post-war ranch style shack was bulldozed for the time being Keith sized up the rental market for the neighborhood and put off a scheme indefinitely the rental income paid the mortgage the property taxes and then some that summer though there were no renters the last family moved out in February and my dad hadn’t found a replacement he was going to finally do it when he and Mom returned he planned on utilizing his father’s life insurance payout to finally bulldoze the little house and put up a tasteful two-story Victorian the plans were already drawn I drove past my street I was distracted by Aleister park down the block across Fifth Avenue which ran perpendicular to Briar Rose Drive the steel slide was still there the Lego colored play structure had been replaced I don’t remember there having been rings but even the upgrade looked overused and Sun bleached the sand had been replaced with that spongy black turf it was probably easier to maintain the grass was brown Beyond the Forest still stood tall thick oak trees dry and wild extending backwards forever well not forever extending backwards to a fence separating them from some Suburban neighborhood in the 70 degree cloudless daylight there was nothing threatening about Alistar Park scariest things that resided there were temperamental squirrels still though I shuddered childhood fears cut deep I saw the street sign too late and I pulled a u-turn on Radley Boulevard

there was an easy mistake to make I barely recognized Briar Rose Drive what had been a lower middle class neighborhood was now a manicured block with Stepford aspirations multiple copies of last year’s Mercedes-Benz Lush Lawns Kelly Green despite the oft reported California drought Cobblestone driveways sprawling abodes with Spanish roofs except mine I recognized mine in a second my childhood home and the neighbors to the right it’s exact double we’re the only two on the Block that hadn’t been sold flattened and upgraded they crouched amongst the Mansions like a shriveled old couple on the bus cream-colored stucco walls chipped blue garage door huge bay windows front porch running the length of the house the lawn was yellow now the row of juniper trees that lined the West edge of the property had been cut down once Ferns and Lilies crowded the tract of dirt directly in front of the porch The Last Tenant tore it all out replaced Flora with gravel I didn’t see Alicia’s car I found the key my father had sent me and grabbed my suitcase from the trunk of my rented 2008 Civic my first thought upon opening the door for the first time in a decade and a half was just how small it looked the brown shag carpet was still there save for a tattered stained old couch and a yellowing pile of mail beside it there was no furniture I walked through the empty living room and down the small hallway peering into the master bedroom there was a double bed there with Messy blankets and a plugged in MacBook Air I saw Alicia’s books piled on the floor across the hall was the small bedroom the one that Alicia and I used to share there was a mattress and a box spring in the corner it looked all right though I wouldn’t want to shine a black light on it again I was overwhelmed by how small my old bedroom looked I remembered our deep red chest of drawers the little shelf where I’d arranged my dolls and stuffed animals the figurines Alicia used to collect we’d had bunk beds I’d had the top a large window overlooked the backyard across from the window was our hole in the wall closet with sliding doors the closet where the quill shooting monster lift it had served more storage than anything else old toys nice clothes we rarely wore as it was Tiny and perpetually Dusty before we’d moved to Miami my mom found a termite’s nest in the closet and the entire house had to be fumigated I felt an unwelcome hang of fear stupid I was way too old to be scared of the monster in the closet we had a big backyard it was the greatest hit of my childhood the huge lot on which my small house was situated there had been a swing set once the Jasmine Hedges had grown along the entire length of the west and south fences shielding us from view of the neighbors and producing creamy delicious smelling flowers in the summer

the grass while never cultivated was green and plentiful now the ground was yellow brown and Dusty my mom had the carcass of the swing set removed four years ago the sweet smelling Hedges had been torn out and replaced with high cinder block walls the only thing left in the yard besides dead grass and dirt was my dad’s chipping rotting old shed the shed now that’s a fun story after my parents bought the place they found a small collapsing underground bunker from the cold war in the backyard my dad found it hilarious that anyone thought the thing would survive a nuclear blast he doubted it would survive the next rainy season so we filled it with dirt and concrete and built the tool shed on top I took a couple steps I fished for sunshiny memories playing tag with Micah Luke and Tommy sitting on the swings and talking for hours until the sunset and my mom insisted my friends call their parents and go home I’d always felt guilty about what happened to Micah we’d been mad at him so we hadn’t invited him to come over and play with us if we had he wouldn’t have been at Atomic video that day and he wouldn’t have died I looked to the yard east of us my house is double threw the Rusted chain link fence at the bottom of that fence at the far end of the yard was a small patch that looked newer once it had been a child-sized hole I wandered to it I breathed in they say that smell is the sense tied strongest to memory and as the stench of cut grass and festering produce assaulted my nostrils the memories came flooding back an old man lived in that house we called him Colonel Lewis I can’t recall if Lewis was his first name or last name and I never knew whether he’d actually been in the military the kernel part came from the camouflage jacket he wore all we known about him was that he was about a thousand years old probably closer to 70. overweight and mostly blind my parents were called to Mrs Lewis who died when I was a baby and two Louis sons who hadn’t visited since then the old man was too stubborn or too broke to hire a nurse a neighbor lady did his shopping for him and besides that he had no need for assistance or companionship his backyard would have been identical to ours had it not been shaded by a gargantuan oak tree and cluttered like a junkyard two old cars sat eternally on blocks Tangled and Vines stacks of wood hosted cockroaches and beetles cinder blocks were strewn all over once piled but knocked down by natural forces over the years the carcass of what would have been a shed sat ruthless and rotting and carpeted with acorns against the far offense amongst the piles of abandoned construction materials Colonel Lewis had nursed another hobby a compost heap he’d had the gardeners throw grass clippings there mixed with rotting organic matter left over from his meals my parents helped my mom would gather carrot heads avocado skins apple cores then have Alicia army take them over to Colonel Lewis’s compost heap now the compost heap was buried under collapsed cinder blocks the smell of it still hung in the air when we were bored of my house Micah Luke Tommy and I would sneak through the hole in the fence and explore Colonel Lewis’s backyard it was always fun to see what kind of crawling things we find under the skeletal cars and the yard’s construction site like aesthetic was ideal for games of tag Colonel Lewis would catch us but he never really minded us being there so long as we didn’t make too much noise and he was half deaf too so it took a particularly loud clatter usually us sending a pile of cinder blocks careening to the ground to make him come plotting out and yell to be careful Micah died thinking we hated him thinking we’d never be friends again I closed my eyes and breathed in the sour vegetable stench when I opened them I was looking at a little girl she stood in Colonel Lewis’s yard amongst the collapsed cinder blocks directly on top of the buried compost heap she was a small child maybe eight or nine with porcelain doll skin and Ice blonde hair her face was round and her features delicate she wore a cute pink dress despite the messiness of the backyard there was not so much as a smudge of dirt on her she looked at me she smiled I gasped and jumped back she hadn’t been there a minute before I had no idea where she could have been hiding

hi I mumbled to the little girl where did you come from she took a step towards me still smiling she cocked her head something kicked in my brain something tapped my shoulder I screamed and Whirled around scaring the crap out of Alicia I’d been so lost in memories I hadn’t even heard her car pull into the driveway for the moment the little blonde girl next door was forgotten created my sister enthusiastically I hadn’t seen her since Christmas man Ainsley she said you’re jumpy today you’re the one who creeped out here like Michael Myers I’m creepy you were staring at the neighbor’s yard like you were possessed oh apparently the neighbors have a kid I turned back around Colonel Lewis’s yard was empty there was no trace of the little blonde girl I’d locked eyes with moments before I stood blinking my internal temperature dropped about 50 degrees what kid and what neighbors Alicia’s voice sounded far away the old man Mr Carlisle died last November that house has been empty since then.

Thank you for joining Mrs. Nightmare story time! Stay tuned for chapter two I hope to meet you again.

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Written by: Nicky Exposito - NickyXX

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