by Tayden Bundy
A farmer found the girl strung up in a cottonwood three weeks after she had gone missing. The chain around her neck had been taken from the schoolyard, stripped from the overhanging bar of the swing set. She hovered above the ground, swaying to the music of cicadas echoing through the tree line. Her shadow danced below her with the breeze as her partner, providing her lifeless form a sense of animation before she would be cut down to lay dormant for eternity.
The town’s children protested their treatment the day after she had been laid to rest by locking themselves up in the school and throwing their plastic desks out open windows. They piled up like a colorful mountain, towering on top of each other near the front door. No one could get in after they secured the entrances with broom handles snatched from janitor’s closets. The disappearance and murder had shocked their little town. They had been holed up for weeks in their own homes, isolated from each other and they were ready to move on. The gathering at the cemetery had provided them a chance to converse with each other, allowing them to construct a plan they believed would exemplify their need to be rid of what they considered to be punishment for an act they had no involvement in.
“We want to be free!” They shouted in unison.
The rest of town congregated outside, some staring up toward the afternoon sunlight streaming over the roof, creating a visor with their hands over their eyebrows. Others chattered back and forth, discussing options of extraction. The sheriff fiddled with a loose piece of leather still somehow clinging to his belt. Twisting the soft material, he called up toward the children, not knowing if anyone in particular was in charge.
“What is this all about?” His eyes caught a sharp stream of sunlight, causing them to water. They were the first tears he had shed since the girl was found. He had been the first one to walk into the woods after the farmer had called it in. He had been the first one to place his gloved hands on her cold shins, ceasing her subtle movement as the wind whistled through the trees. The image haunted him, filling once mundane moments with flashes of horror as he went about his day. He couldn’t get the girl out of his head. He wanted to be free as well.
The children paused for a moment, silent for the first time in hours as they pondered over the question. They disappeared from the windows to discuss their answer as a group and then a boy who worked at the grocery store reemerged alone. “We want the chain back.”
The sheriff peered around at the townspeople, bewildered by their answer “Why do you want the chain back?”
“They found the man who did it. We want to get back to normal.”
By the end of the night, as the cicadas filled the air with sound, a new chain was replaced on the swing. The plastic seat swung above the gravel in the breeze, dancing like her feet, like her shadow. The desks remained piled up in front of the school until the following Monday when each student grabbed their own and walked into the front doors before sitting down, to get back to normal.
Tayden Bundy is a senior English major and history minor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is currently an intern for Prairie Schooner. He won first prize in the prose category for his short story entitled “Linger” in Illuminations and has also been published in Laurus Magazine.