I miss the old days when kids could roam the "world" of their neighborhood without parents worrying about someone snapping them up.
Then again, I guess there was always an element of danger regardless of the era.
You know, it's actually funny how much you can "get over" as a kid. You forget things... terrible, weird, and otherwise scarring things that you just kind of put out of your mind one day. It's not a purposeful thing, it just happens. You break a bone one day, and the next you get a puppy. Broken arm? What broken arm?
It can be absolutely chilling when those memories come back, by the way. You'll be perfectly fine and happy, working or watching television... and it'll hit you again.
You remember that freakish event and suddenly you're eight years old again. In a split second, your bank account, your job status, the home you've worked for... they all mean shit because something terrible came back and you're a vulnerable child once more.
For me, that memory is "the field out back". The kids on my street used that phrase so often and with such excitement that it almost became a single word to us.
Let's go to thefieldoutback. Want to play Army in thefieldoutback? There was a dog in thefieldoutback!
That field... to this day I have no idea who owned it. Developers who never touched it, I guess. It was an expansive, flat span of reddish-brown earth and a waving sea of overgrown weeds.
When the Milkweed went to seed out there, it was like Christmas snow.
There was a creek that ran through that field, and a small hill on the other side, far away from the houses. I can't count how many times we'd all search for crayfish in that creek... how many times we fell in or pushed each other... and that hill was always so perfect for sledding.
The field out back was more of a home to us than anywhere else.
The thing that keeps coming back to me... it happened on one of those normal days when I was aimlessly wandering that Utopia with a friend named Frankie Butler. He wasn't my best friend, and wasn't even my own age. I could easily remember when he had been born - mostly because his Mom breastfed in front of me once and I was terrified.
I didn't really think much of it, but looking back I suppose I was more of a free babysitter than a friend. Neither of us knew that, of course.
During this outing, we decided to jump the creek at its narrowest point. I was Aquaman, and he - in what I regarded as childish even then - was "Do-Everything Man".
He jumped first and easily cleared the water. Then it was my turn, and maybe because I was older... heavier... my foot stuck in the mud.
I pulled at my foot, more annoyed than scared, only to find that my shoe was completely enveloped in the mire and wouldn't come loose.
"You're stuck!!" Frankie shouted in horror, "I'll go get Mom!!"
I shook my head and protested because I was clearly fine, but it didn't matter. Frankie was off like a shot and halfway home as I was still calling out that I didn't need help. It was time for Do-Everything Man to save the day.
With a groan and a few choice words, I pulled my foot free of the shoe and stood in the mud with that one pristine white sock quickly turning brown. Reaching down with my hands, I eventually worked the abandoned shoe out of the offending matter and shook it off.
The thing was all but ruined. Mud EVERYwhere. Outside, inside, through the eyes or whatever you call the lace-holes. I made the slow, up-down journey home that one experiences when wearing one sole.
"Psst!" came a voice from the weeds.
The overgrowth was between waist and chest height, varying wherever different weeds had begun taking over small sections of the land. My friends and I would often stray off the path our feet had beaten through the brush in order to play hide 'n seek or to find interesting creatures... but this was immediately different.
I knew Frankie and I had been the only ones there. Funny thing, this was actually the first time I could remember being alone out there. I think we'd all stayed in groups before then, just because it was more fun that way.
Confused, disturbed, but curious and filled with what I assumed to be bravery, I pushed back the greenery and followed the sound. After a few steps, I found a rotten, bug-eaten fencepost that had all but fallen over. A few strands of wire still clung the post, leading down into the soil.
As I passed the post, a spur of barbed wire caught between my sock-clad toes. Soon after, red began to commingle with the dirty brown staining.
"Sorry. I should've told you about that."
"Who are you? Where are you?"
"Keep coming, you'll see."
"I have to go, actually. I'm playing with someone."
"Please? I need help!"
The voice was insistent, but pleasant. I had no reason to believe this wasn't someone who needed my immediate assistance. The voice wasn't creepy or threatening or even angry that I kept hesitating and asking questions. It was just... there.
After a few moments I came to a small clearing. On the opposite side of this strange, dead-brown area I could see more fence posts with rusted and haphazard wire. In the center of this spot was a small, brown burlap sack.
The sack was tied at the neck, and I could see there was something inside due to its lumpy nature. A set of small shoeprints much like my own lead straight to it.
"Finally!" the voice sounded relieved.
I laughed. "What the Heck, kid?"
"Someone put me in here!!"
"Someone bad, let me out! Untie the sack."
I approached, and as I did the bag started to move. The lumpy form inside wiggled in anticipation and seemed to pitch and heave as if breathing faster and faster.
My hand froze about an inch from the dirty, wet knot.
"Why'd you stop?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry."
"Well let's go!"
I withdrew my hand.
"How did you know I stopped?"
The sack ceased moving entirely and lay motionless as if in thought.
"Come on, let me out. Don't be mean! I can't breathe, I think I'm dying because I'm inside of a sack!"
I took a step back and looked around for any sign of an adult. I would've settled for Frankie just coming back alone.
"I should get someone." I finally croaked, my mouth dry.
The sack shimmied slowly across the ground, all the way up to my feet.
"No, please, come on, do it now. I'll give you some of my Transformers."
"I have a lot of Transformers and Voltrons. My Mom and Dad are rich and I have every toy. I have all the toys, and some of them I have two. Come on, let me out of here and you can pick some. No off-limits."
That set off all sorts of alarms for me. I don't know why, but I like to think it's because I had been warned against strangers offering gifts. That might be giving myself too much credit, however, as it was probably just a very strong gut feeling that something was wrong.
I once again inched away from the rough, stained object.
"I don't think I should, I have to go."
"Noooooo..." came the responding whine.
I turned to run. As I did, I caught a glimpse of the sack itself turning upright, as if standing to its feet. I bolted to the weeds, looking back over my shoulder to see it toddling on its ends, bound neck flopping back and forth atop its dwarf-like form.
"Meanie! Meanie! MEANIE! MEANIE! MEANIE! MEANIE! MEANIE! MEEEAAANNIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"
I think that's what comes back to me most often... that shrill, child-like scream of outrage... to this day, it still makes me feel deep in my heart like I did something cruel.
The sack didn't follow me out. I don't know if it stopped at the path, or the old fence... I didn't look back again after that, and ran all the way home - muddy shoe in hand.
That shoe. I don't know if this is going to surprise you, but after all that my major concern was that my Mom not see what had happened to it. I actually ran the thing under the back yard hose... got all the mud out with a stick and leaves... and THEN I went indoors to safety.
Kids. It's amazing what you can get over... what you can put behind you the minute something else important comes to mind...
She never noticed, by the way. The shoe dried out and I got rid of the socks. Both, just to be sure.
In fact, there was only one problem I hadn't foreseen... and it had nothing to do with anything I had done. Get this; I was already playing Nintendo when Mom came in and told me what was wrong.
"You just came from the field out back, didn't you?"
"Well, Frankie's Mother and I were just wondering if you know when he's coming home."