Empty Playgrounds

It was one of her bad days. The kind of day where it seemed no matter how hard she tried, she could not forget. She rememberd the slap of his little feet against the tile floors of the home they shared, the home where they had both grown up. He grew into a man, and she grew into her role as mother.

She remembered changing diapers, kissing skinned knees, macaroni and cheese for supper, and learning that there was something—or more precisely, someone—that was more important than herself. He had looked to her as he grew, came to her for advice, for guidance, and she had found herself to be more stern than she thought possible, acting harshly at times—but always with love—to help forge the child into the man he should become.

A man with morals, values, and common sense. The kind of man that knew better than to sip from The Fountain. If only she had been forged so strongly.

She sat alone now, her son long gone, only his memories remained, and those were faded. She tried to forget because the melancholy ache of regret was too much to bear. Sometimes she could trick herself and lose herself in her imaginings, but then there were those bad days.

Days like today.

She sat on the park bench with her wrinkled hands clasped in her lap. Dust and papers swirled in the breezes racing through the openings between the highrise buildings circling the park. The swingset haunted her. It screeched with loud, rusty protests as the corroded but still intact chains swung. The seats were long degraded and gone. Only metal rings that had once been set in the mesh-covered plastic remained.

She imagined ghosts riding those swings. The wind winding through the ancient and dried out husks of trees created otherworldly sounds. Children laughed, but there were none around.

She looked to the slide and smiled, remembering her boy, how he had stood up on that slide once, only to fall down. She remembered running over, terrified; scooping him up; and covering him with kisses while he cried. He had twisted his ankle, but that was all. He had healed and learned from his mistake. He always learned from his mistakes.

Unlike her.

Looking back, she saw it was vanity. Vanity, in the end, led her to The Fountain. It had started off innocent enough: a new diet, a new exercise program, a change of clothes. That moved on to more drastic measures: Botox, blepharoplasty, abdominoplasty, breast reductions.

Snip. Snap. Shape.

She wanted to remain young. She wanted to remain pretty. Looking at herself now in the rusted steel reflection of the slide, she shook her head. She was hideous. She was old. But that was as it should be.

No one should look good after hundreds of years.

But in the beginning, when first offered the promise of life eternal, nothing else had mattered. All that she knew was her thirst, and at first she had been satisfied. It was a miracle elixer. All of them who sipped from The Fountain found beauty and youth.

It took another century or so before they also discovered the emptiness which accompanied their vain blessing: the sicknesses, the overcrowding, and worst of all the loss. Survivors, they called themselves. She thought it a fitting word: Surviving. With her son gone—his body decayed and dried, returned to dust—it hurt too much to call this existence living.

She knew what she had become. She was the walking dead, lost in a world of empty playgrounds.

Ω

T.J. McIntyre  T.J. McIntyre's website has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna and Western Writers writing communities on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.

Other works by T.J. McIntyre

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