It was my time with Bentley. I get him every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I was so excited I felt like I was going to burst when I picked him up at 7am from my ex’s house. It was still a little dark out but we headed to the park anyway. This was where we spend a lot of our time on these days and I didn’t want to miss a moment. When it’s my turn to have him, I try to make the most of it.

Tonight was going to be more special than any other day we’d had together this entire year. He was just old enough to remember it this year and Halloween fell on one of my days. I couldn’t wait to take him trick or treating and snap a hundred pictures like the proud dad that I was. He’d be going as a dragon with gray and white stripes on his belly. I couldn’t find a costume that matched, but I tried to. I planned to take him out in one of those inflatable T-Rex costumes that had gotten really popular online in the last few years, it was vaguely related and the best I could do on short notice. I couldn’t wait to share my love of Halloween with my three year old.

When we got to the park, I should have noticed something was up. Everything about today has been wrong. The sky bled with unease and thick fog hung everywhere, making the early morning like something gloomy from a bad movie. It was all there, I just ignored the signs.

I pushed Bentley on the swings for a while. He giggled and screamed with delight and when he bored of this, he went straight for the playhouse. It was an old thing, made of wood with a worn plastic tunnel slide. It had two sets of old wooden stairs on either side, which he began to run up and slide down over and over. I couldn’t really fit in the house itself so this was kind of one of those moments on our playdate that I stood idly by and cheered him on. The most important thing was that he was having fun. Then my phone rang.

Bum-ba-bum-ba-ba-ba

Caller ID: Alex 😍♥️😍

Normally I don’t take calls during “Bentleytime.” I had just started dating Alex and I’d explained this to him. Twice. Too many things can happen to a kid if you take your eyes away. I sent the call to voicemail. He was a great guy but very needy when it came to phone interaction. And Facebook. And Instagram. Lately I’ve been wondering if it was even going to work out because he doesn’t seem to understand. My kid is my priority. I pushed his call to voicemail and cheered as Bentley came rushing down the yellow plastic bend of the slide.

“Whoa buddy! That was a good one!” I said. “High five!” High fives were his latest thing and it was beyond adorable. I ruffled his hair.

“Again! Again!” he cheered, clapping his little hands and skip-running back around to the stairs.

My phone rang again.

Bum-ba-bum-ba-ba-ba

Caller ID: Alex 😍♥️😍

Goddammit. I pushed the call to voicemail once more. Bentley came rushing down the slide with his eyes squeezed shut and squealing in satisfaction.

“Woooooo!” I cheered. “there’s no stopping you little dude!”

Bing

One new notification

New Text From Alex 😍♥️😍: Please call. Something wrong.

I rolled my eyes as Bentley ran around to the side of the playhouse. “Hey buddy, Daddy’s gonna make a phone call. You keep playing okay?” I watched him run up the stairs one last time.

I took a seat at the bench on the eastern side of the playground a few feet away from the playhouse. Splitting my attention between my son and the phone. Something strange hung in the air. A cloying scent reached me that I knew but couldn’t place. Alex answered on the first ring.

“Hey babe,” I said. I tried very consciously to keep the irritation from my voice but couldn’t tell if I’d managed. “I’m at the park with my kid. What’s up?”

He was hyperventilating on the other end of the line. When he spoke, he spoke very quickly. “I lost my cousin. Aunt Lanna dropped him off so I could babysit. He was in the guestroom and now he’s gone!”

That smell? What was that smell? I began looking around, trying to pay attention to the call.

“What do you mean he’s gone?” I said. I stood up and began to search the sides of the bench for the source of that awful odor. It smelled like death.

“He’s just gone.” Alex said. He began sobbing lightly on the other end of the line. “It’s happening all over Springfield. I saw on Facebook.”

“Why are you on Facebook? Why were you trying to call me?” I asked him. “You should be out looking for him!”

I crouched to my knees. I’d found the smell. Lying broken beneath the concrete bench were the rotting bodies of three dead blackbirds. Their eyes were gone, replaced by swarms of ants using the holes as a doorway. They moved in and out carrying bitesized pieces of their insides away in a straight line. I stood and backed away, feeling my stomach churn.

“Are you there? Did you hear what I said?”

“No.” I said. “You cut out for a second.”

Alex’s sobbing grew louder. “I looked out the window and he was climbing up the side of the building. Everyone on Facebook says–”

“Again,” I said. I couldn’t mask my irritation anymore, “Why are you on Facebook? Go outside and find him!”

“I told you!” Alex shouted. I held the phone away from my ear. “I can’t–”

I didn’t hear the rest of it because I’d dropped the phone and began to run towards the playhouse, where Bentley was standing, 15 feet above the park playground…on the roof of the playhouse.

“BENTLEY!” I shouted. He smiled and waved and walked on his little wobbly toddler legs over the peak of the roof.

I reached the playhouse and began to climb to the top of it. By the time I got there Bentley was no longer on the roof. I jumped down, twisting my ankle in my land, but adrenaline kept me from feeling the pain for long. He wasn’t anywhere. I looked under the playhouse. I looked up the chute of the slide. He was just…gone. I went around to the other set of steps on the backside of the playhouse and gagged. In a pile of dense feathers laying across the planks were more dead blackbirds. There must have been a least ten, laid in a haphazard heap, slowly being devoured by ants. They were surrounded and illuminated by the flickering light of seven candles. A wave of nausea hit me and I puked. This could not have been here before the phone rang. There was no way. I would have seen it. I would have smelled it.

Coughing, I shouted my son’s name again. “BENTLEY?!”

Then I saw him. He was walking away from me through the fog on the sidewalk that led out of the playground to the west. He walked hand-in-hand with a man almost seven feet in height and cloaked in a black robe. I took off after them in a sprint shouting the whole way. They began to step out into the road, crossing to the other side.

“HEY!”

They were in the center of the busy street. I’d nearly reached the edge of the sidewalk and the street myself. Cars blared their horns and tires screeched, but they just kept slowly walking. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the chaos of the street…

And found myself at the other end of the park. Next to the bench…I was back where I’d began running after them. They were further away and getting further still. I ran again, ignoring the confusion, and as I stepped out into the chaos of the street…

I found myself back again, at the other end of the park. Next to the bench…

Twice now, I’d run out of the park on one side and emerged on the other…on the completely opposite end and back where I’d started. I couldn’t leave the park. I tried to chase them in another direction, sprinting past the northern-most edge of the park… Only to find myself on the southern-most point. It was like an old video game. Running off the end of the screen only pushed me to the opposite end.

I watched him take Bentley through the fog and around the dark shape of a building’s corner and vanish from my line-of-sight.

I’m waiting for the police to get here so I can file a report, but I don’t know how much of this I can tell them… They’ll think I’m out of my mind. I also don’t know why they haven’t gotten here yet. I called them almost an hour ago. It’s strange, but the candles and the birds have disappeared. I’m not sure when it happened. Thankfully earlier in a hopeless moment, I thought to take a picture… (img10312018.jpg)

How could this be happening? What is going on in Springfield? Who was that man and why did he take my son? I just end up back where I start from as soon as I try to step out of the park. I don’t know what to do. I can’t stop him, but I keep trying. I’ve already seen that same looming, enormous figure walk by a few more times. I’m beginning to wonder if it may not be the same dark spectre or a legion of them. They came from different directions each time and went around that same foggy corner before disappearing.

Once it was that thing and an old woman that he led around the corner. Next, that thing and a teenage boy. I saw it three more times after that; each time with other kids holding it’s hand.