(A scary story about children.)
I’m a teacher’s aide in a first-grade class outside Tacoma, WA. I brought the kids out for recess on Friday afternoon. It had just rained; the old blacktop was covered in puddles. The kids loved it. They jumped from puddle to puddle, splashing around in their cheery yellow galoshes and rain slickers.
Two minutes in, Lily Yamagata tripped over Sophia David’s backpack and skinned her knee. She was crying. I headed over to comfort her. I picked her up and brushed off the sand and grit. There was a hole in her tights and a little blood seeping from underneath. Nothing bad. Nothing she wouldn’t forget about in five minutes.
“You’re okay, Lily!” I announced, smiling. “Don’t worry, the nurse will get you a nice band-aid. What’s your favorite one?”
Lily sniffled. “Steven Universe.”
“Perfect,” I replied. “Hey Sophia, why don’t you hold Lily’s hand and bring her to the nurse, okay?”
“Okay Miss Schmidt,” Sophia agreed. She took Lily’s hand and they trotted off. The nurse’s office was right around the corner from the school’s entrance. I could watch them the whole way.
Kids whooped and giggled behind me while I made sure the girls got where they were supposed to go.
“Mr. Puddles!” someone yelled, and a few boys shouted in mock fear. It took a second, but I recognized the voice. Kayden Watabe. A pain in my a*s. There was a loud splash, followed by more shouts.
“Kayden,” I admonished, as the girls opened the front door and rounded the corner. “Don’t splash other people.”
“But Mr. Puddles is going to get them!” Kayden roared, and splashed again. The nearby kids scattered to avoid the water droplets.
The girls had reached the nurse’s office. I could see them through the front window. I turned around and confronted Kayden.
“Kayden, Mrs. Mussorgsky and I have talked to you about this.”
He hung his head. “I know.”
“And what did we say?”
“Don’t splash people who don’t want to be splashed.”
“Right. And what were you doing?”
“Splashing.” He paused. “But I was trying to make sure Mr. Puddles didn’t come.”
I grinned. Despite his obstreperous streak, Kayden’s always been creative. I loved reading what he wrote and his pictures were always remarkable. Dark, but remarkable. He reminded me of how I’d been at his age.
I squatted down and put my hands on his shoulders. “Look, just do me a favor and don’t splash your friends. If you’re good, I won’t say anything to Mrs. Mussorgsky. Okay?”
Behind him, a group of three boys were huddled around the big puddle Kayden had been messing around in. They weren’t laughing or bouncing through it. The water was still. The boys were motionless and unsmiling. That wasn’t a good sign.
Kayden answered, but I wasn’t paying attention to him. I straightened up and called out, “you guys okay?”
Something shimmered on the surface of the puddle. One of the boys whimpered.
Kayden whirled around and gasped, then ran toward them. “Get away from them Mr. Puddles!” he shouted, then leapt for the center of the water.
“Kay –” I started, but it was too late. He flew clumsily through the air and landed.
Dark red fluid exploded from the puddle. The three boys were struck by the spray. They began to scream with uncomprehending terror. I shrieked and ran toward them. Kayden’s clothes lay in a wet heap.
“Kayden!” I shouted. I picked the drenched raincoat and clothes out of the sickeningly-warm puddle and felt around. It was only about three inches deep. He wasn’t there.
The screams of the children got the attention of other adults in the school and someone called 911. I mindlessly fumbled around in the puddle until someone pulled me away.
I was questioned by the police, then released. Search teams have been looking for Kayden all weekend. The school is closed today.
I don’t know what to do. My bloodstained clothes are still sitting on the floor of my bathtub. I can’t deal with the thought of touching them again.
It’s not just the idea of Kayden’s blood that horrifies me. It’s not just the intrusive thoughts I keep having about how I could have saved him. It’s what I saw as the policeman brought me home after it all happened.
It’s the puddle I glanced at while the police car drove by the blacktop where the kids had been playing. The puddle that was glassy and unmoving, despite the heavy rain that had picked up not long after Kayden’s “accident.” The puddle that, no matter how hard I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear what had to be an an optical illusion, had the reflection of a pale, wide-eyed, laughing face.