(c) 2015 Francis Gideon
Danny hadn’t been to the park in a long, long time. Now at fourteen, the last memory he had was on the tire swing, spinning and spinning around, until he thought his skin would peel off and he’d turned himself inside out.
When he told Caleb the story, he laughed. “Your skin doesn’t peel off on the tire swing. But you do yourself inside out if you go over the bar on the regular swing.”
“Whatever, man. I was a kid. I think I was eight. Almost twice my lifetime ago.” Danny kicked the dirt on the grass, then walked onto the wood chips. “This used to be sand. I don’t know why it’s changed.”
Caleb shrugged. “Your swing is still there.”
“I know. But we can’t sit down.”
“It’s not dark yet.”
Caleb rolled his eyes. “Fine, whatever. We’ll wait.”
“Thank you.” Danny nodded. They were in high school now–so Danny knew they couldn’t be seen going to the park in the daytime. It was past dinner now, soon to be past both of their curfews. Danny had told his mom he’d be spending the night at Caleb’s house, and Caleb’s mother, especially on Friday nights when she went to the Casino, never checked if Caleb was home on time. So long as he was there in the morning, that’s all that mattered.
Danny glanced at the sun sinking down behind the hills. “Just another couple minutes, okay? Then we can go.”
“You care too much what people think,” Cable said. He walked over to Danny, and took his hand. Danny fought the impulse to pull away. He wanted to stay, he really did, but having people see him, having people know what he was, made his skin feel like it was peeling off. For real this time. Not by the tire swing.
But he stayed. It mattered to Caleb if he did, and Danny wanted to be there. For the next twelve hours, he thought, until Caleb’s mom comes home, we’re free.
“See?” Caleb said, squeezing Danny. “Not that bad, right?”
“No.” Danny smiled. He wanted to kiss Caleb, too, but he wasn’t that brave yet. The sun sank a little lower. He felt a mosquito on his arm. It was probably dark enough now. “I think we can play.”
Caleb bit his lip, excited. He let go of Danny’s hand so he could run forward, dive bombing into the swing. Danny went up and down the slide, across the monkey bars, and did absolutely everything he hadn’t done since he was a kid.
“Why do we stop?”
“Why do we stop what?” Caleb was still on the tire swing, lazing around as if he was on a river floating downstream.
“We stop playing. We stop being kids. We … become something else.” Danny huffed from exertion of the monkey bars, then paused to catch his breath more. “Stranger creatures. I don’t know. I feel like I don’t recognize half the adults.”
“Like they’re Body Snatchers?”
Danny considered this. Two weeks ago, the first time they had kissed one another, they had watched The Invasion of The Body Snatchers on TV. “Sure. That works. Adults become something that they weren’t before. Why does that happen? And if it is like the Body Snatchers, why has no one stopped it?”
“I have no idea. You think too much.” Caleb shifted on the tire swing, making enough of a space for Danny to sit. His body was tempting. Everything was so tempting. Another strange creature clawed inside of Danny, making him want everything about Caleb.
“Here,” Caleb said, patting the space. “C’mere.”
Danny didn’t argue. He slipped into the tire swing, wrapping his legs around Caleb as he did. When he kissed him, he tasted the hot cocoa they drank before they left, and the mac and cheese Caleb’s mother had made them before she left to gamble her night away.
“No one is around, right?” Danny asked, suddenly scared. He felt that prickle in his skin. The kind that he got the last time he was here when he was eight. Like he was being watched.
“Yes,” Caleb said, kissing him more.
But Danny felt it again. When he peeled away from Danny, he saw the green light. The swarming from the bushes. And he remembered why when he was eight, he had left the park and never came back again. “The monster. The monster with glowing eyes.”
“What?” Caleb gasped. He looked behind where Danny’s gaze was fixed, then sighed. “Those are just fireflies. You’re freaking out over nothing.”
When Danny didn’t respond, Caleb walked over to the bushes, standing in the middle of the glowing eyes. Danny gasped, then swallowed his fear. He waited on the edge of the tire swing, ready to run away. How did those people in the film defeat the Body Snatchers? He couldn’t remember. He and Caleb had made out until the end of the movie. And now he was going to be taken over by some kind of monster because he had been making out, not paying attention to anything else. Danny waited, preparing himself for the final jump-scare.
But nothing happened.
“See? Nothing is here. You’re imagining it.” Caleb touched the edge of the tire swing, his annoyed look turning mischievous. “Want me to spin you?”
“Okay.” Danny’s stomach swirled, his fear becoming something different under his skin. The glowing eyes turned to fireflies as he spun in circles, no longer worrisome. They can’t hurt you. Nothing can hurt you. That was a long, long time ago. The glowing eyes, Danny figured, were like the tire swing. Scary when you were young, but nice now.
“Faster,” Danny yelled. “I want to feel my skin rip off.”
Caleb laughed. Danny’s skin tingled from the spin, but nothing bad happened.
“Okay, okay,” Caleb said a moment later. “I’m tired. I have to–”
Danny kissed him. This time, he didn’t care who saw.
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Francis Gideon writes YA, contemporary, sci-fi, and paranormal romances, all involving LGBT characters.
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