Hey it’s the Inktober Flash Fiction Show with your host, Cantatwisted. Today’s entry once again comes with a content warning for severe injury to a child.
Gemma could count up the seventeen times her mother had told her not to go too high on the swing. Each time she mentioned it, annoyed that her warnings were not taking root, she made it sound more forbidden and more exciting.
“What will happen?” Gemma asked her.
“You will fly off and break your skull, and your brain will fall out of the gaps, and you will die,” her mother said.
But something suggested to Gemma that this wasn’t the whole truth. Her mother knew something, like when she talked about Santa or gave explanations of where babies came from that differed each time and never quite stood up to scrutiny.
So Gemma climbed out of her bedroom window and ran through the moonlit park to learn more. Either she would discover that her mother was wrong – and that the truth was much more interesting – or she would be dead, in which case she probably wouldn’t care.
The swings were damp and the rust from the chains had stained the edges orange. Each was bent in the middle, and there were cigarette butts all over the ground. Gemma wriggled into place, kicked the ground and swung into the air, her laughter cutting through the night breeze. Focus took over as she kicked and flew, and kicked again, working up the momentum to go higher and higher. Then, somehow knowing it was right, she jumped.
She broke her skull. She did not break her skull. She passed out. She remained conscious. She flew over houses and into clouds, and above mountains, and onto a shining meadow of wheat on a floating crag in the sky. A boy and a girl of her own age ran to greet her. “Welcome!” they called.
“Where am I?” Gemma asked.
“In the Kingdom of Cautionary Tales,” the boy said. “I am Tim. I played with matches. What did you do?”
“I went too high on a swing.”
“Oh we’ve had a few of those,” said Tim. “This is Angela. She thought her mum’s pills were sweets.”
“They were sugar-coated,” said Angela. “And crunchy.”
“Oh,” said Gemma. “It sounds like we’ve made some big mistakes.”
“Only if you liked where you were before. Did you?”
Gemma thought about this. “Not very much.”
“We have a funfair and a waterpark here,” said Tim. “There are ponies to ride and a bouncy castle that’s the size of an actual castle. You can still go back to where you were if you prefer, though. For a while.”
“Not long.” He pointed to a door behind her. “That door will close, over the next few hours. You must decide.”
She lay on tarmac, and ran in a field, and bled, and did not bleed. Her face was radiant with life, and pale and bloodied. Dusk came in the meadow, and a campfire, fireflies, and hot chocolate with marshmallows. Dawn came in the playground, and the scream of sirens.
She had no thoughts at all.
She thought hard about whether to return.