Childhood Memories

I don’t remember much of my childhood.

I didn’t realize this until a group of friends and I were swapping stories of the dumb stuff we did as kids.  They passed around stories about putting firecrackers in mailboxes and sneaking into their neighbor’s backyard to eat the apricots off their tree, but as I opened my mouth to share a similar story, I realized that I had no stories to share.  I knew I had a childhood, obviously, and I could remember vaguely my childhood friends and such, but I had absolutely no stories to share at all.

I knew I’d played tag and hide-and-seek, but I couldn’t remember a specific time.  I knew I’d had sleepovers, but no image could be conjured in my brain.  I knew I’d had a best friend, I even knew his name, but I couldn’t think of what his face looked like.

I played it off then, but afterword I went to speak to my parents about this, hoping that perhaps they could jog my memory.  They didn’t have any specific stories either, but they did bring up something that jogged my memory.  The house on Campbell Road.  The other kids in the neighborhood and I were all obsessed with it.  They said that almost every day after school I’d go over to dare kids to knock on the door or peek in the window.  It seemed sort of morbid to them, but completely harmless.  The house was long since abandoned, and as long as we didn’t go inside the house, they didn’t seem to care what we did.

I asked about my friends, about the boy named Wayne Carter, whom I remembered to me my best friend.  They said they remembered me talking about him, but never got a chance to meet him or of the other kids I talked about.  Wayne never came over and never called, and eventually I just stopped talking about him.  They said honestly assumed him to be imaginary – I apparently didn’t have many friends – so they played along.

The mention of the house and of Wayne sparked at least a vague memory in me.  I could picture the house, but not Wayne.  I went there, hoping to find whatever forgotten memory I could.

The house was still vacant.  The lawn was a field of dry, yellow weeds and the gate that surrounded it was comprised of cracked wooden stakes leaning against one another.  I took a step into the yard, and felt the strange sensation of déjà vu so strongly that I was dizzy for a moment.  I took another step, then another, and could almost hear Wayne’s voice on the wind.

Mechanically, I walked up the porch steps, careful not to let the wood split from beneath my feet, and knocked on the door just as I had when I was young. 

I never expected to hear a knock back from the other side.

Three raps, just as I’d done, mirroring even the location of my knuckles on the wood.

I stood there, my palms sweaty and my face pale, wondering if I should try to open the door.  I reached for the knob, but before my hand touched it, it began to turn and the door creaked open.

A shape on the other side stood before me in the darkness.

“Hello,” it said in a voice that was chillingly familiar – because it was MY voice.

The figure stepped forward and before me stood a thin, haggard man about my age.  “It’s been a long time,” he said.  “Can we switch back now?  I want to go home.”

I shook my head, not understanding what he meant.

“C’mon Wayne,” the man said, his voice sounding childish now.  “You said it was going to only be for a little bit.  You never said it was going to take this long.  I want to go home to my mom and dad.”

And then I remembered.  The little boy walking alone in front of my house, knocking on the door, pretending that someone had dared him to do it, and me answering the door and offering him a deal to trade places for a little while.  Nobody would know, as long as he stayed in the house, and there were so many fun things in the house.  He’d never want to leave – not that he could anyway.  A smile and a handshake, and then I went home to his mother and father while he took my place in hell.  How could I have forgotten all that?

I smiled back at him.  “No, I don’t think we can switch back just yet.”

 

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