Lee Anne closed her eyes. The afternoon sun warmed her face as she gripped the chains tighter and pumped her legs harder. Her efforts sent her soaring up toward the sky, back toward the earth, and then up again. Of all the things she did at the playground, swinging was her favorite. She felt lightweight and free, as if she could let go of the chains, slide off the seat, and fly over trees, houses, and backyards. Her world was private when she was swinging. Everyone else disappeared—the kids who ran and yelled as they played kickball, the teenagers who huddled together as they talked about whatever it was older kids talked about, and the moms who hovered over the little ones as they clambered up ladders and whooshed down the slides.
But something was different today. She heard a boy’s voice that said, “There she is.” The words were quiet, as though they were a whisper in her head. Lee Anne stopped pumping her legs, opened her eyes, and looked around. Were some of the other kids playing hide and seek? She scanned the playground for signs of a boy. The other swings were empty. Nobody was in the log fort or at the concrete tunnels.
Then she saw him. He stood across the playground near a cluster of trees that the kids called “the woods.” But he wasn’t looking for anyone. His eyes were fixed on her. She wondered if it was his voice she’d heard, but decided it couldn’t be. He was too far away. Most likely, she imagined it. Her mom said she had a vivid imagination. She closed her eyes again, pumped her legs, and aimed her feet at the treetops.
~ ~ ~
Stephan stood by the trees and watched the girl like he always did. But today, she opened her eyes and stared straight at him. Every time he was here before and watched her swing, she didn’t see him at all.
“That’s weird. She sees me?”
~ ~ ~
It was the whisper-voice again. Lee Anne’s eyes flew open. She slowed down and looked toward the woods. That boy was still there, watching her. She didn’t back down. Instead, she narrowed her eyes, wrinkled her nose, and gave him the “evil eye” stare. That stare always made her feel brave, even when she was uncertain about what to do. She studied him as she stared him down. His dark brown hair looked like he hadn’t combed it. It was the kind of hair her mom called unruly. He seemed older than her, maybe a year or so. A fifth- or even a sixth-grader. He wasn’t dressed like the other kids. Instead of jeans and a t-shirt, he had on a red plaid button-down shirt and matching plaid pants—like he was wearing pajamas.
~ ~ ~
Stephan saw her frown at him. He heard her thoughts, like always, and grinned at her evil eye stare. But then he took a breath as he realized what she was thinking. Had she heard his thoughts today? Was he the whisper-voice? That never happened before. He tried to control his thoughts so she wouldn’t hear them.
~ ~ ~
The whisper-words stopped. Lee Anne decided the boy must be looking at someone else and continued to swing. With her hands clenched around the chains, she aimed for the trees again with renewed determination. She soared up to the sky, down to the ground, and up again. For an instant, she wished she was a bird and could fly over the playground, past the woods, and past her house.
~ ~ ~
As he watched the swing carry her up toward the sky, Stephan could almost feel the breeze against her face. The experience was exhilarating. He forgot to control his thoughts.
“I wish I could fly, too.”
~ ~ ~
She heard the soft voice once more and stopped pumping. The boy with the unruly hair was still there. He hadn’t moved. But his stare had softened. His forehead relaxed and he smiled at her.
“Who are you?” She shouted the words. The joy of swinging disappeared. Now she was sick to her stomach. Only it felt like she’d swallowed a large hand and it was squeezing her insides. Her heart pounded, too, like a hammer slamming against her ribs.
“I wish you would go away,” she yelled.
Didn’t he know he was breaking the “code,” the unwritten rule that you don’t stare at people or, for that matter, talk to them across the playground when you don’t know them? Didn’t he know he was scaring her?
~ ~ ~
She’s afraid of me?
Shocked, Stephan stepped backward. He hadn’t expected this to happen. When he dreamed about her, he was always a silent observer. But now they were talking, sort of. Mind talking. He focused his next thought, as though he were talking to her out loud.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
~ ~ ~
The whisper-voice was inside Lee Anne’s head again. This time, her fear turned to anger at the boy, which gave her courage.
“Well, you did. So I’m leaving.”
Lee Anne relaxed her legs, which slowed her momentum. She dragged her toes along the worn patch of dirt, and the swing came to a halt. She let go of the chains, hopped off the seat, and ran to the log fort.
~ ~ ~
Stephan’s mind reeled with surprise and confusion. He wasn’t sure what to do next. Usually, he stood near the trees and observed the girl until he woke up. But this time she saw him, heard him—and shouted at him. Without thinking, he followed her toward the little log house on the other side of the playground.
~ ~ ~
Lee Anne sat on the wooden bench and leaned against the confines of the fort’s rough walls. The hammer in her chest slowed and the invisible hand that gripped her insides loosened its hold. The teenagers and toddler moms were close now. Their chatter was comforting. It made her feel normal again. Safe. She looked over at the woods and was relieved to see the boy had left.
Lee Anne turned and gasped, speechless. The boy with the unruly hair was sitting on the bench next to her. She folded her arms across her chest and scooted as far away from him as she could, scrunching herself into a corner of the fort. She didn’t trust him.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“Stephan.” He smiled. “You saw me today.”
“You heard me too?”
“Duh, yeah again. You talked to me while I was swinging.”
“I didn’t talk to you. I thought about you, and you heard what I was thinking.”
“I guess that’s how they work now.”
“What do you mean, ‘that’s how they work’? What are you talking about?”
“My dreams. I’ve watched you swinging before. I knew what you were thinking. But you never saw or heard me until now. In this dream.”
Lee Anne’s forehead creased into a frown. “You’ve been spying on me?”
Stephan shrugged. “Not really. I only see you when I’m dreaming.” He paused. “But I do wonder why you and this place are in my dreams so much.”
“That’s creepy. Go away and leave me alone.”
He grinned. “I can’t. Not ‘til my dream is over. That’s how it works.”
“That’s it. I’ve heard enough about your dreams and how they work.” Lee Anne faced him with as much bravado as she could muster. “Leave now or I’m going to scream.”
“Suit yourself. Won’t bother me.”
She took a deep breath and shouted “help” as loud as she could. But none of the toddler moms or teenagers looked in her direction. Didn’t they hear her?
“It’s a dream.” Stephan spoke as if he read her thoughts again. “They’re not real. You’re not real, either. You’re an imaginary girl.”
“Imaginary? That’s crazy. I’m real.”
He shrugged again. “When I wake up, you’ll be gone. You won’t exist until my next dream.”
“You’re totally nuts!” Lee Anne squeezed her eyes shut and willed Stephan to leave. Then she felt him pushing and pulling on her shoulder, shaking her.
“Stephan, stop it!” Lee Anne snapped. “Just go. Vamoose!”
“Honey, are you okay?”
Lee Anne opened her eyes. One of the toddler moms hovered over her. Her hand gripped Lee Anne’s shoulder.
“That boy was bothering me,” Lee Anne said, scouting the playground for Stephan. She didn’t see him anywhere.
“Oh, honey,” the mom said, “there’s no boy here. You fell asleep on the bench a while ago. I heard you muttering and then you shouted. You must’ve had a bad dream.”
Relief swept through Lee Anne. It was a dream. Her dream! Stephan wasn’t real. As her mom would say, he was a figment of her imagination. She stepped out of the log fort and noticed the sun was low in the sky. She guessed it was close to five o’clock and ran home before her mom came to look for her.
~ ~ ~
Stephan woke up with a start. He peered at the clock next to his bed. It was five minutes past midnight. He had the dream again. But this time, the girl saw him. She heard his thoughts, too. And she talked to him.
This new twist in his recurring dream was intriguing. It left him wide awake, unable to go back to sleep. He thought about the next time he would see her. What they would do. What they would talk about. Would this imaginary girl become his imaginary friend? He hoped so.
Check out “The Boy in the Woods.” Lee Anne saw him standing across the playground near a cluster of trees. But he wasn’t looking for anyone. His eyes were fixed on her. #Fiction #ShortStory #Dreams #Kids #ParanormalTweet
Written by Allorianna Matsourani