Most children are taught at a young age about ‘Stranger Danger’. It’s the time when their expectations for a perfect world full of good people are dashed, and to add salt to an already-burning wound, their childhood is crushed like a fresh leaf underfoot.
Their wonderous, big-eyed, childish glow is muted by the fact that not everyone loves you. That not everyone holds your wants and needs and safety close to their hearts. That not everyone will hold your hand when you cross the street.
It’s when you start to look around at the world and you see kidnappers and murderers and thieves and rapists lurking behind every innocuous and smiling face. When you stop talking to strangers and making friends outside of your comfort zone. When you cling to your parents, your courage crushed and your fears multiplied ten-fold.
But, of course, there are always exceptions. Children who choose to believe in humanity. Children who believe that nothing bad can happen, no skinned knees or scraped wrists, as long as they don’t cheat on their next vocabulary test. Oh, they’re aware, of course, of strange men in white vans giving free candy to children. But stuff like that is the work of fiction, or it happens to faraway people. Never at home. Never to good children like you.
These children know that danger exists. But they won’t recognize it when it tries to hide.
My parents attempted, like most other parents, to teach me about stranger danger and the faults of the world. But I did not believe them. Why would anyone hurt me? I’m so adorable. I’m invincible!
Another lesson of theirs, however, did seem to seep into my skull. They told me that if anything bad were ever to happen (they never specified, but I assumed they meant skinned knees and scraped wrists) to tell the nearest adult.
Adults are to be trusted. They are always good and they always know better.
I, as a child, believed this full-heartedly. I had experienced first-hand the cruelty of children, but without much contact with adults aside from my teachers and parents, I had no reason to disbelieve my parents’ words.
Children are so awful, how could adults be the same? I was sure they out-grew their monstrousness at some point.
Thankfully, nothing bad ever happened where I had to trust my life to some random adult. I mean, there was that time I got lost at the Target and I was mentally preparing myself to do some stranger-talking, but my parents were just one aisle over. So…
When I was in second-grade, I was visiting family in Bangladesh. We were at my cousin’s house, which, as I remember it, is a single apartment building. Behind the building is a forest and in front of it is a field and the area isn’t densely populated aside from the people living in the single apartment building.
The field was absolutely packed with forget-me-nots and they would always stick to your clothing when you walked anywhere and there were tons of puddles that made an excellent jumping ground.
One day, my cousin, my brother (Scorpion), and I were playing in the field, just doing what children do. My parents and my aunt were in the house, just doing whatever it is that adults do (probably gossiping over tea). My cousin was about ten, I was seven, and Scorpion was three.
We were having an amazing time, running around and splashing in puddles, the air humid and hanging heavily, plastering sweat to our faces, when a random man on a motorcycle appeared on the road in front of the apartment.
He was wearing a black jacket and dark pants and we’d never seen him before. He asked us if we wanted a ride on his motorcycle. But he could only take two of us. His motorcycle wasn’t large enough for all three.
My cousin, Scorpion, and I quickly discussed who should go. All three of us wanted to go, obviously, but we had to decide who would be left behind.
One of my uncles has a motorcycle, too, but he rarely let us go on rides with him because he thinks it’s dangerous. But motorcycles aren’t dangerous. They’re fun. And how could something so harmless hurt?
Eventually, we decided that Scorpion and I would go since my cousin lived in Bangladesh and would occasionally get a ride from my uncle. But Scorpian and I lived in the States and a motorcycle was novel for us. Straight out of a comic book.
We asked my cousin to tell our parents where we had gone.
We were so very considerate and cared so very much for our safety…
Scorpion and I climbed onto the motorcycle, seated in front of the mystery driver, all laughter and giggles. How lucky we were for a benefactor to magically arrive and whisk us away for fun without warning.
The ride was exhilarating. I could feel the wind combing its fingers through my hair and I could smell the damp earth as the motorcycle ate it away.
But the ride continued for longer than I had expected. We were bordering on fifteen minutes. The wind turned cold and the earth turned sour. I realized how fast we were going. How much distance we had covered.
I realized I didn’t know this man’s name.
My brother was still laughing.
I started to fidget. I asked, “Can we go home now? I’m getting tired.”
The man didn’t look at me. His dark eyes were glued to the road. “Don’t you want to ride a bit longer? It’s so much fun.”
Scorpion replied, “Yeah! Let’s keep going.”
I am starting to panic, but I keep a blank face for my brother. I hold him closer.
My cousin had told me stories of infants stolen in the night. Their organs cut out and sold. I’d seen the blind men without eyes on their faces, nothing but empty sockets. I thought that she had been trying to scare me. She’d told me of little girls and boys taken and never returned. Their families grieve, but they move on with time. The little girls and boys tortured for more, more, more.
The anxiety in my stomach grows, building into a monster, clawing at me and scraping away at all self-control. I can feel the pieces flake off onto the road and they are run over by the motorcycle’s wheels, torn up by the wind, and left in the ground far behind me in a moment’s time.
I breathe in. I breathe out.
But then, I see it.
The field with the forget-me-nots and the puddles where children play.
The man slows and stops. He helps my brother down and then me.
My family is waiting, my cousin in the front.
This story is the inspiration for my short story, A Dreamer in The Darkness. Getting on that motorcycle was a really stupid idea. I was in a strange country so far away from home. I couldn’t read in the language and I could barely speak it. So many things could’ve gone wrong, but luckily, they didn’t.
Sam, the main character of A Dreamer in The Darkness, is based on me as a child. His story is what could’ve happened.