When most people think about their childhood, they have happy memories of their pets, or the trips they went on, or the books, films, shows or games they grew up with. They always think that their current life is dull or bland in comparison.
We have a tendency to forget that our childhood was always riddled with negativity. No one seems to recall that pets die, trips weren't worth the grueling hours in the car and those media forms of entertainment weren't as spectacular as you remembered. If people simply stopped to think, then perhaps they would see how miserable their adolescence was.
They don’t understand the avalanche of emotions they experience during this early period in their lives. You remember when your mom bought you that ice cream at the park, but you've pushed that memory of your favorite cat running away into the back of your mind. Of course you recall that one time when you went to little Billy’s house and blew bubbles, but surely you've forgotten those hours you spent lying awake, fearful of the monsters in your room?
Ah yes; you remember them now. You’re not sure where they came from, or when they started appearing, but you remember them. You remember how you woke in a cold sweat among the twisted sheets. You remember how every shadow and every sound contorted into a looming figure or a shuffle across the floor. You remember the creatures of your nightmares hiding in the corners, under the bed, in the closet, in all the same places in which those creepy crawlies you hated so much resided.
But, of course, you eventually grew up. You realized that the monsters weren't real. You eventually realized that the figure at your bedside was simply the shadows of tree branches just outside your window. The feet shuffling across the kitchen tiling downstairs was actually the dog looking for crumbs and scraps. All those nightmares were just your imagination; once you grew up, you used your primitive form of deduction to piece things together.
But what if I told you that you were wrong in deducing such a thing?
That as you grew up you just thought you had rationalized what it was you hid from all those years? That those monsters you thought existed weren’t just figments of your imagination, but were real beings of the dark? And that with age you forgot how to recognize the signs of their existence?
But of course that isn’t at all true, is it? No; you’re smarter than that. You know better than that. I can’t persuade you into thinking otherwise. You know monsters don’t exist.
No. Not the ones you’re thinking of anyways.
I suppose I should explain myself. There’s no way I could convince you of such novelties before explaining myself.
I grew up just like you, just as any normal kid had at the time. I lived in my tiny room in the house my parents owned. I attended the local school, I had a few friends I played with and I liked the same toys and cartoons as everyone else. The only difference was that while all the other kids lived in houses along the main roads, mine was closer to the edge of town.
This area I lived in was on the very edge of a forest. I didn’t mind much, despite the fact that my mother had forbidden me to go inside I went in often enough. It was fun to climb the trees and poke at the many bugs in there. It was a fun place to go when I didn’t want to do my chores.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to piece together the history of this forested area. After researching quite a bit I discovered that there used to be a clearing deep in the woods. This was used far in the past as a parking ground for gypsy carriages. Those gypsies would reside in that clearing when they traveled through this town, and would stay there for weeks – months even – before they moved to next location.
They used the term gypsy rather loosely on record, as I don’t think that’s exactly what they were. They didn’t pick-pocket and they didn’t try to act as beggars. Aside from perhaps their arrival and departure, the townsfolk barely knew they existed.
I can tell what you’re thinking. Shortly after they left some weird stuff happened. Things went missing, people died and the town itself became some kind of freaky ghost town that everyone still lived in because, well campfire logic, right?
Well you’d be wrong. You know what changed? Absolutely nothing. Not a single solitary thing was different when those gypsies high-tailed it out of town.
So one day in the late summer I decided to trek into the woods. My mother had dumped me into the sandbox and informed me that I would have to make my bed later in the afternoon. She had few parental skills, and hadn’t yet grasped the concept of the backyard being unsafe for a child of my age without supervision. After she left, I dropped my little toys and made my way to the back of the yard where the path was.
I don’t know if you could consider it a path but that’s what I called it at the time. It was a narrow spot where although the trees parted to open the woods up, a few shrubs had been placed to block the entrance. An adult would be too tall to see a way through, due to how tightly they were placed, but I was still a kid. I was able to see the small gap between the bushes.
It was just low enough to be disguised by the tilt of the ground, and I was just small enough to squeeze under. Mother would question the state of my pants later, but I was a smart kid. After scooping some sandbox sand onto the knees of my trousers she’d never know the difference.
The forest itself was far more interesting than the bland landscape of the yard. It was filled with towering trees, loud birds and colorful bugs. They all melded together into a magical thing. It was something neither my beige box of sand nor the faded blue interior of my room was ever able to equal.
Feeling adventurous that day, I had decided to delve deeper into the waist-high grass. It had seemed so inviting, so... peaceful. The branches seemed to curve upward to form a concave roof high above my head. It was such a welcoming sight that I just had to go deeper.
After wandering for quite a ways – or perhaps only a short ways; you’re never sure in a childhood memory, are you? – I came across a large clearing. The trees overhead dispersed, and the grass thinned to knee-height. I had never made it this far before, and I took some time to take in the atmosphere. That was when I noticed the clearing wasn’t entirely empty.
In the right-hand corner of the field lay a carriage. The bright pink, yellow and blue paints had long since faded away, and gave way to cheap wooden frame. The windows were dusty and no longer opaque, though there wasn’t a single crack. Upon closer inspection I noted that the back-left wheel was missing, and so the vehicle in its entirety was perched at a most peculiar angle. I didn’t understand then, but now I believe that the wooden wheel had lost or broken a key piece. Not wanting to interact with the township surrounding them, the travelers took the wheel with them in hopes of one day repairing it and returning.
I recall that the golden knob on the door facing me intrigued me so. As a raven to jewels, I closed in on it. Heated by the high noon sun, the gilded handle practically burned to the touch. In order to reach, I was forced to climb the front-most wheel and leaned in enough to grasp it tightly. With tiny hands, I was able to turn it and pull the door wide open.
Disappointment overwhelmed me as I realized what was inside. There wasn’t a hidden treasure trove of gems so small filled with the legendary crystal balls and tarot cards, nothing of the sort. In my adult years I would have assumed that they would have taken every last one of their valuables. But alas, I was barely more than an infant. I didn’t know any better and had set myself up for frustration.
The fabric of the seats hadn’t fared any better than the outside of the carriage. They were slightly torn, and discolored from many years in the weather. Indents were pressed deeply into them, hinting at where people were once seated. Intricate carpet lined the floor and ceiling, and shelving was built inside for storing luggage.
It was then that I noticed something on the back-most corner of the shelf. Upon closer investigation – and after wiping away a few cobwebs – I pulled out what seemed to be a small wooden box. It was engraved with symbols I didn’t recognize. Gemstones riddled the top and sides, and the metal hinges were rusted shut. I could tell I would be unable to open it with my bare hands.
I don’t remember the next course of events very clearly. I’m certain that upon returning to the entrance, I heard my mother calling my name. I waited until her shouts grew quiet before I ran for the sandbox. Noticing the box was still clutched under my arm, I buried before continuing to the front of the house. She concluded upon seeing me that I had been playing in a place where she couldn’t be heard. She then made me make my bed, and fed me peanut butter and jelly for lunch. My day went on as normal, and she tucked me in once night had fallen.
I listened ever so carefully, making sure my parents were both in bed before I made my way outside again. My father had always been a heavy sleeper, and mother never paid much heed to noises in the night. I made my way out to the little beige box in the middle of the yard, and was careful not to soil my pajamas. I pulled out the box and took it back to my room, making sure as to not to step on the creakier side of the steps. Once inside, I went back to bed with the container safely underneath me.
When morning had finally arrived, and mother had awoken me to a bowl of cheap cereal that tasted suspiciously of cardboard, I returned to my room. I pulled out the box after I was certain neither of my parents would be checking up on me.
I scanned my room; I needed something to pry it open with. I wouldn’t be able to smash it over anything in fear of alerting my parents. Remembering a small toy soldier contained within my toy box, I grabbed it and wedged it into the hole between the two halves. I worked it along the crevasse to ensure there was no dirt in the way, and eventually inserted it into the center of the front. I forced as much weight as I could on to the little figure until the box gave way and the lid flew open.
Contained within a soft, velvety purple fabric was a single gold coin. Holding it up to the light, I was able to see that beautiful circular patterns surrounded a single yellow gem on one side, and a sentence written in a language I didn’t recognize on the other side. It seemed to glitter in the light filtering in through the windows. The coin felt somehow lighter than it should have been, and I was drawn to it.
I pulled it out every so often to see it, but otherwise, I kept it hidden from my parents. I had to bury it down under clothes opposite to those which coincided with the current season. I was able to keep it my own personal secret for a few years.
One day, I attempted to take it with me to class. We had grown out of the childish little show-and-tell presentations of our earlier grades, but we were still able to bring things in for projects. Recently we had been given an assignment that required us to bring in something from our early childhood to present to the class. I thought, what better, than my cherished gold gypsy coin?
I stuffed it into my pocket and I remember not being able to keep my hands off it. My fingers danced along its rim and the gem gave off warmth that I couldn’t resist; it lulled me. I took my hand off it only briefly to grab my bag and waved goodbye to my mother before immediately stuffing it into my pocket again.
I stepped to the edge of our lot to wait for the bus. I was so caught up in anticipation, in excitement, that I was already feeling the first few flaps of butterfly wings deep in my stomach. I could hardly contain myself when I heard the familiar putt of the large yellow vehicle’s motor. When it pulled around the corner I looked up, so happy and proud. It had pulled up to the street-side and the doors opened for me to step in.
That’s when I saw it.
The fluttering bugs deep with me were instantly replaced with the jabbing pains of disgust and fear. In the driver’s seat, instead of a familiar sight of the cheery man I was used to seeing, I was face-to-face with a creature of foul appearance. Its eyes were black, beady, and showed no intelligence. It had a purplish-black appearance, as if it had been rotting underground for weeks. It was naked, and its sex was missing. It smiled at me with rotting teeth.
I screamed like I never had before. I turned and ran for the house, just in time to see a second creature come to the door. This one was also naked, but was more feminine in figure. Its sockets were empty, and black, soulless holes took their place. Its form was thin, bony and appeared weak. What was likely once a free-flowing fluid was now crusted on the inside of its thighs. It opened its mouth and produced a low gargle as it spat.
I don’t remember, but from what I can gather I then turned to run and smashed headfirst into the door of the bus. My vision blurred, then grayed, then blackened.
I awoke in bed in a hospital. Powder blue robes had replaced my school clothes, and tubes and needles poked out of every cavity. Mother was seated next to me, and explained to me that the doctors wanted to do a few tests to make sure I was okay. I now know they were really testing for mental illness.
I would have thought they were smarter than that.
Once I was confirmed to have been physically healthy-aside from the three stitches across my forehead, my clothes were returned to me. It was good to get out of the smock, but oh, it was so much better to have that coin back. I felt its weight in my pocket. So light, and warm,
After a lot of screaming and fighting I was finally able to figure out what had happened. It took me all these years to piece it together, but I finally have it. Those doctors, after seeing me point at them and howl in fear, diagnosed me with what must have been a severe and incurable case of dementia or schizophrenia or whatever disease of the week they felt like dishing out. They have me locked up here because of it.
But I know the truth. This coin was a gift. It was given to me by some higher deity, and has granted me the power to see people for what they are. That bus driver was a gluttonous pig that thought only of his member. My mother, dearest mother, had passed herself from man to man so many times that she lost her identity. These are the monsters that hid from you in your sleep. That neighbor down the street from you? The one that waters her flowers every morning? She’s one of them. So is that man who taught math down at the school a few years ago. And we couldn’t possibly forget your dearest and closest of friends, could we?
I know all, and I see all. Even you’re not free from the eyes of the coin, the eyes of God, now my own eyes. I know all about your sin. All about your little secrets, all those things you took when you were little all those lies you said in your childhood.
But you can redeem all of it.
If you just set me free.