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  • Writer's pictureLuke Ramer

Beneath the Streetlights - Flash Fiction

*Also available on YouTube in audio format*

I was ten years old the night my childhood died.

We were playing Manhunt in our friend Mark’s sprawling backyard lined with towering maple trees. Mark was the new kid, with rich parents who didn’t mind the neighborhood boys being a bit louder at night, as long as we stayed off his father’s lavish garden. There were eight of us, but my best friend Ross and I were inseparable. This was before girls, cars, and alcohol took over our lives. Those streets were our own little slice of paradise.

Manhunt is a game consisting of two teams, one hides and one hunts. The home base was under the streetlight at the corner of 2nd and Chestnut Streets. You returned to base once you got caught by the other team. We all took it seriously, dressing in dark hoodies or camo sweats. Bragging rights were our social currency.

After the first round there was a cool breeze, and Ross came running back to base. He seemed nervous, his shaved head slicked with sweat, his green eyes darting in all directions. I chalked it up to us being a bit younger than the other kids. It was intimidating at times. They didn’t bully us exactly, but they weren’t afraid to rough us up a bit.

After the second round there was a light rumble of thunder in the distance, and Ross was shaking, claiming he had heard someone whispering to him from the giant bush in the center of the garden. The older kids mocked him, called him a pussy. I chalked it up to a prank.

After round three it began streaking lightning and pouring rain, and Ross didn’t come back to base—he didn’t come back when we all started screaming his name. Everyone left to search the neighboring yards in the torrential downpour. But I stayed behind, walked through the forbidden garden, and checked the bush Ross had mentioned. I found a small space cleared out inside—with an upside-down bucket on the ground and peepholes cut through the branches. We never saw Ross again.

Our parents didn’t let us play outside much after that.

I was eleven years old when they found my best friend’s body and a few kids from out of town buried beneath Mark’s father’s garden.

After Mark’s father went to jail, we still didn’t play outside much. Our paradise had been tainted. Soon we moved on to teenage drama—and those days of our youth drifted away into a past life.

I’m forty years old now as I take a ride out to my hometown and walk down Chestnut Street. Mark’s family is long gone; I’m not sure who lives in the house now, but the garden has been paved over, and there’s a basketball hoop where the bush used to be. I don’t see any children playing in the streets or yards, but I notice many televisions flickering in the house windows. I see a teenage girl with oversized pink headphones take a trash bag to the curb. She stares at her phone the whole time, and goes right back inside. An older woman walks down the street with her small children, sees me, and tucks them against her hip as her pace quickens. A half-moon hangs in the sky as I stand on the corner where our Manhunt base used to be, and I can still feel it in the air—the innocence of our youth. It’s a shame that innocence must die as we grow up—one way or another. The streetlight flickers. I wonder if the entire world has lost its innocence. Or did we all use a few evil people as an excuse to become overly guarded, self-absorbed, and paranoid? I look up at the streetlight and it flickers again, and I miss Ross. But I take comfort in knowing I’ll always have my memories of a time long forgotten—beneath the streetlights.

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