• P. R. O'Leary

Fiction: Heads or Tails


Photo Source: Pixabay

The earth felt the same as it did twenty years ago. A thick carpet of pine needles. The scent of sap. Sunlight streaming through branches thick with green. But before, twenty years ago, there wasn’t an eerie silence. There was an energy and life to this place. Footsteps sounded cheerful, not foreboding. And the wind whispered softly through the trees.

The last time I was here two little boys stood at this intersection and argued. The boys were taking the scenic route home through the park. It was after school, almost summertime, so the sun was still high in the sky and their blood was hot. It started as an off-hand remark which escalated into a discussion and then soon after they were making rules for a race.

The path through the park was an oval, so they could either go left or right and still end up on the opposite side of the park.

Their idea was to each take a different path and see who got to the other side first. But, although no evidence could be presented, they both knew the left side was faster. So they stood there arguing about who gets to run to the left until they did the only logical thing that they could do.

One dug out a dime with his grimy fingers. The coin was flipped. The sun glinted off its face as it twirled into the sky, moving in slow-motion up and then down. At least, that is how I imagine it looked twenty years ago. It’s funny how I could have almost no memory of such an important event in my life. Did I flip the coin or did Mark? Was it heads or tails? I remember losing the coin toss, and I remember running down the path on the right. I remember the elation of winning the race and the fear when Mark never arrived at the finish line. I remember walking home and telling my mother Mark was missing. I remember walking over with her to Mark’s house to get his mother. Then the fathers. Then the police. The fear. The panic. The tension. I remember all of that.

When they didn’t find Mark the first night, I remember being too scared to sleep. I remember the guilt that plagued me as day after day went by without finding him. And I remember the hole that was left in me when they never did. I remember changing schools. A new house, new friends. High school, college, a job.

And now, as I wander down the path in my old town, the path on the left, I remember the feel of the Earth. The carpet of pine needles. The scent of sap. Sunlight streaming through branches thick with green. And I remember Mark, and how he is no longer here, and how I was a coin’s edge away from me being gone and him walking this path right now.

But I don’t remember anything about that damn coin toss.

A story of mine was chosen as an Honorable Mention for Best Horror of 2016 by Ellen Datlow, and over a dozen of my pieces have appeared in Weirdbook, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and other venues.

You can find my work at www.PROleary.com, and you can find me at my geodesic dome in central New Jersey.