Hallows Creek is a park that’s in my small town of Breckinoak, which is in a state I haven’t learned the name to yet. As long as I’ve lived here, it’s been a really fun place and Momma told me it was just as fun when she was growin’ up. It makes me feel lucky because my friends and I get to be here all the time.

The park was built when my Nana was a little girl by an old man and his wife. They wanted a safe place for their kids to play that was close to home. It’s a nice little park that has a small creek runnin’ through it with cute little fish that swim away when you try to touch them. I caught one once and pulled it out of the water. It wriggled in my hand, which scared me, so I dropped it. I felt bad, but Momma said he’s okay.

Momma is what they call a good caretaker—whatever that means. If it means she always makes me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after school, then I agree with them. She’s done that since I can remember. Sometimes when we run out of jelly, she puts banana on it instead. She’s real smart like that.

The trees change colors in the fall and that’s when the leaves drop. It’s one of my favorite things because the kids all rake up the leaves into one gigantic pile at the bottom of the slide and take turns slidin’ down into it. But the rule is you have to fix it when you’re done. I lost my shoe in it last year and we spent ten whole minutes lookin’ for it. My brother finally found it, though, so we continued to jump into the pile of leaves, but he made me take both my shoes off so I wouldn’t lose ‘em again and have Daddy beat my butt.

Daddy runs the bank in town, so everybody knows who he is because people have to trust the guy that takes their money from them. One time, Daddy took me to work with him and he brought me into the vault where all the money was kept and let me walk inside. It was pretty cool and made me feel like I was a spy. He used to get angry, though, if I tried to climb on him and play jungle while baseball was on TV. He’s not mean; he just isn’t afraid of givin’ anyone a good ole butt woopin’ if they deserve it. And he only uses his belt in serious matters. I’ve only had two of those, but my brother has had four.

My brother is seven and only a couple years older than I am. He and I get along for the most part because we both like mud and runnin’. When it rains outside, he and I jump into all the mud puddles at Hallows Creek. We make sure to leave our clothes outside, though, because trackin’ mud through the house is a serious matter in Daddy’s eyes. That’s how I got my second good woopin’. My first was when I found a dead mouse in the basement and tried to keep it for a week without Momma and Daddy knowin’. It was when I was four and still thought I had magical powers and could bring the mouse back to life. Momma found it while she was cleaning my room one day. She told Daddy and he gave me four good ones right over my butt.

This one time Momma’s friend, Mrs. Walters, got real sick; so we all helped her family by makin’ meals and inviting her son for sleepovers and stuff. I asked Momma why her friend’s son, Billy, was at my house, stretchin’ out my silver slinky, she told me it was because her friend needed rest. I believed her, but I put pepper in Billy’s pop at dinner and he didn’t even notice. Neither did Momma or Daddy.

Mrs. Walters never got better, so we all went to see her sleepin’ before they put her in her hole in the ground. When I asked why she was being put into the ground, Momma told me it’s so she can wake up in heaven.

I heard about heaven once in Sunday school. I remember because Miss Ellen was sharin’ the story of God with us, and she told us that one day if we behaved ourselves that we could get to go to heaven and live forever. I asked what it was like and she just told me it was a happy place. I was confused because everyone’s happiness is different. My happiness is when Momma lets me skip my bath for the night or when I can run and play all day and never stop. But Momma’s happiness is when she sees Daddy, my brother, and me all sittin’ down and eatin’ together. I told her I’d much rather eat where I can see the TV and she told me when it was my house I could.

Anyways, like I was sayin’, we put Mrs. Walters in a hole in the ground and Momma gave me a flower to rest on top of her spot of dirt. I cried because I wanted to have a spot of dirt too, and Momma told me that I’d have my very own spot one-day. This made me happy, so I started thinkin’ about all the things people would put on my spot of dirt. Dolls, a fish, maybe even a soccer ball—things that I could use when I woke up in heaven. Surely God wouldn’t care if I kicked a soccer ball around as long as I wasn’t disturbin’ anybody.

Everyone in town was real sad that day Mrs. Walters went into her hole in the ground and her son, Billy, got all angry and left our town for a couple days. At least that’s what Momma said. I didn’t even know there were places outside of Breckinoak.

Mrs. Laurel was sad, too, the day she lost her son. He slept-walked right out of his house and fell into the stream in Hallows Creek. No one found him til mornin’. We went to see him sleep before getting’ put in his own hole in the ground. His mom put his favorite toy truck with him so that when he woke up in heaven he could play with it, which I thought was nice and asked Momma if she would do the same thing for me. She told me we would cross that bridge when we got to it.

There is a bridge in the middle of Hallows Creek that lets you walk over the stream with the fish in it. Every time I walk across the bridge I try to jump on it and break it. I’ve not been able to yet, but I’m gonna make it happen. My favorite thing in Hallows Creek, though, is to go swingin’ and have contests to see who can go the highest with whoever wants to challenge me. Mostly no one challenges me, though, because I’m the best and they all know it. I like swingin’ so high I feel like I can touch the clouds. I swear I did once, but my brother doesn’t believe me.

Hallows Creek makes me feel happy, like I can be whatever I want to be. Just the other day my friend Jess and I were playin’ house with some baby dolls that we hid behind some bushes. Of course, my brother and his friends all came and ripped their heads off so it became a game of ‘girls chase boys.’ Jess and I won, but girls always win, so the news isn’t really that surprisin’.

Billy came back on the fourth of July when all the folks in Breckinoak were havin’ a barbeque in my backyard. The kids all go to Hallows Creek to play tag and stuff and wait for our parents to call us in for food before the fireworks. That was a long time ago, though. Our parents never called us in that day so we all just stay here and don’t go to school or have the parents tell us what to do. That day that Billy came back was the day I went to sleep and woke up in my heaven.

Billy came into the park and was shoutin’ mean words about our town—some were words I didn’t even know were words. They were the ones Daddy shouted at the TV when baseball was on and Momma told me not to repeat them.

I was swingin’ on the swings when I saw Billy and I stopped because he had been gone for a couple days and I wanted my slinky back, even if he had stretched it out all the way. I didn’t know Momma had already taken it back from him. Anyways, he walked past all us kids in Hallows Creek and he pointed what I thought was a squirt gun, but boy was I wrong. It was a real one—like the ones in the movies that make loud noises before the people fall on the floor and bleed. Billy pointed it at Jess first, who had just reached the bottom of the slide. She wasn’t doin’ anything to him, but I heard a loud pow and she fell off the slide, hunched over in the woodchips she started oozing red blood. My heart started pumpin’ real fast and I was real scared that he was going to come after me and make me ooze red for wanting my slinky back. I thought if that was the reason then he could keep it.

Everyone was screamin’ now and runnin’ around. Billy just walked through Hallows Creek and shot all the kids he came across. Sometimes when he shot, the kid didn’t stop movin’ totally, so he would do it again. It made me sad because they were my friends and I didn’t know if I’d get to play with them again. I crawled into some bushes and hugged my knees tight, hopin’ that he didn’t see me and I could hide like they do in those huntin’ shows. I was wearin’ purple, which didn’t work so well, because Billy ended up seein’ me; and that gun hurt more than anythin’ I’ve ever been hit with. Everything went black and I couldn’t open my eyes for a while. I went to sleep just like Mrs. Walters and the Laurel boy, and that’s the last I remember of that day.

When I woke up I was in the middle of Hallows Creek with all the other kids, which was just where I wanted to be. Jess and I still play house. My brother still comes and rips our baby dolls heads off. We still chase after the boys when that happens, and the girls still always win. Jess still tries to beat me on the swings and Tommy thinks that because he’s a boy he can slide down the slide faster than me. The Laurel boy is back now, too. He mostly sits and fishes in the creek, but sometimes he joins in our chasin’ game. Mrs. Walters comes and plays with us, too. And we all get to stay here and play, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted.

Meghan Andes graduated from Eckerd College in May of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Literature. Recently, she relocated to Philadelphia and works as a marketing assistant.