I don't know why I was looking at the sky, but the first thing I noticed was the way all those perfectly white clouds seemed so much flotsam and jetsam amid the sunshine surf of the foaming heavens. God, but the sun was brilliant! It shone through the cloud cover in gilded rays, as though His very fingers jutted from the heavens to point out all the dark, vile, sinful places of the world. I forced a deep breath.
Something was wrong. Definitely wrong.
I lowered my gaze and breathed through my nose, hoping to catch a scent . . . a whiff . . . of what I could not say. But something, somewhere nearby, was dreadfully out of order.
That's when I noticed I was standing at the center of a playground. Swings swung, but were unoccupied. The merry-go-round turned, but no children were there to twirl it. Monkey bars were void of monkeys. The mock castle was empty of knights and fair maidens. And the sandbox was bereft of bulldozers and their childish foremen.
One unruly hinge from an empty swing sounded a monotonous measure. SQUAWK, SQUEAK, SQUAWK, SQUEAK . . . but this was the earth's only voice. I turned a full circle. No kites nor kite-fliers. No dogs chasing Frisbees, nor long haired teenagers to throw them. No fat ladies feeding hungrily from picnic baskets. No lecherous old men on the park benches. No young mothers with toddlers demanding ice-cream, for, indeed, I could see nary an ice cream vendor within miles.
And, quite possibly the most glaring mystery of all, just what the hell was I doing here?
My heart was a sudden flutter. I felt a bitter taste of panic rising up from the gorge of my confusion. I gulped another breath. And a third. I forced myself to think. Much as one might mentally retrace one's thoughts to rediscover the whereabouts of a lost set of keys, I cast backward in my mind for the memories that would tell me why I was where I was, and just what I might have been there doing. I found nothing. No slightest trace of a memory.
Not of sleeping. Not of waking. Not of rising, nor of bathing or dressing. I quickly checked myself! Oh, good. Clothes. I was dressed, at least. And wearing shoes. Boots, actually. Polished black boots. And jeans. And a t-shirt with an unbuttoned flannel shirt pulled over my shoulders. And, finally, an odd sort of pendant on a thick silver chain looped about my neck. Its design bore the semblance of a fierce beast pouncing upon a planet, its claws raking canyons from the earth.
But I remembered nothing of these things. Were these my favorite pair of pants, or did I hate the way they fit? What about the boots? What did they mean? Anything? I mean, did I FEEL like somebody that might wear boots? How would such a person feel?
What about my face? The sensitive palm of my right hand told me it was a man's face, not a boy's, and that it needed a shave. Maybe for a day or two. Not much longer than that, surely, judging by the bristle of my whiskers. No scars or deformities. Though I couldn't see, it didn't seem to be an ugly face. BUT I COULDN'T REMEMBER ITS FEATURES!
Had I never stared into a mirror before now?
. . . SQUAWK, SQUEAK, SQUAWK, SQUEAK . . .
I put my hand down and took another longer look around. I was standing to one side of a large park, within the boundaries of the playground area. Wooden posts with a cable strung along their tops outlined the area, and periodic signs declared 'NO UNATTENDED CHILDREN'. Beyond, I saw a pond where ducks should have been growing fat on white bread and popcorn. A stand of trees shaded a dozen stout tables and a long, low pavilion that should have been filled with barbecues and boisterous groups of drunken middle aged men. Still further beyond and to the south, a whole slew of soccer and baseball fields. Perhaps even a football field with bleachers way off in the distance. And there, a concession counter.
Its windows were opened for business. I thought I could see thin tendrils of smoke rising from its stacks, and there was, perhaps, a sizzle of hotdogs in the air. But no one was standing impatiently in line at the cash register. A few soiled napkins skittered across the grounds, but that was the only movement to be seen.
To the north, I saw a road. I thought perhaps the park was closed. I would find signs at the gates to tell me what was happening.
. . . SQUAWK, SQUEAK, SQUAWK, SQUEAK . . .
Walking in that direction, I passed by the swings. Their motion was in a state of decline. Lower and lower they went, slower and slower. The mechanism of an unwound clock. Grinding to stop.
My booted feet crunching in the inevitable gravel beneath the supporting arch of the set, I stopped the nearest pendulum with my hand. It was warm in the center of the seat, just where someone might sit. Cooler on the tops of the wide, flexible plastic restraint. As though someone had just been there.
Now the equipment was still and silent. The earth's last voice faded, save for the wind. Which babbled meaninglessly in my ears and ruffled my hair with the wildness of abandon.
Through the trees, past the pavilion, along a narrow two-lane blacktop road I walked. Over hill and through dale, so to speak, until I was delivered at the park's entrance. The gate was pushed open. Shadows of clouds raced over ground, across the road, through the gate, into the park. Shadows to play, but nothing more. Shadows and chasing streamers of sunlight. And the road, the black, silent, anonymous road glaring dully in flashes from the fickle games played out in a foaming sky. The road, and not a single car.