1996 is a year that will always stay close to my heart. It was the year I started high school, my little brother was born, and I got my first girlfriend. Yep, there really wasn't a downside about that year. There is one thing that, for years, I couldn't understand until I recently talked with my mom.

It was October and the trees of the dense forest that sat just behind my backyard were turning a bright orange hue and the crisp air of fall flowed throughout the sky. I had just started the four year long trek of high school, which I was excited and terrified about all at the same time. The feeling I had during the first few months of high school was that of awe from the drastic change of going from the spiritless and somewhat lazy attitude of my elementary school, to the vast amount of school spirit and pride that was emanating from every corner of my high school.

One chilly Sunday afternoon, I was walking home from my friend's house, the leaves crackling and crunching underneath my feet. I had slept over at his place the night before, a night that had been passed by staying up until 2 am while playing my friend's newly released Super Nintendo and drinking a vast amount of Mountain Dew. As I walked down the side of the highway which passed by my house, I noticed the old park which sat on the other side of the highway.

It was a pretty decrepit and old park where everything from the slide to the monkey bars were covered in rust. Someone who was visiting my town would automatically think nothing of that park, but for many kids my age we remember it as a symbol of our carefree childhood. It was a place where kids could play and have fun, despite the swings seeming to always have gum or bird droppings on them. Okay, enough nostalgia, back to my story. I noticed the park because there was an odd sound coming from it, almost like a little girl. I ended up shrugging it off, as I had a crap ton of homework on my plate.

The next day, I had just gotten off the bus from school, and I was exhausted. I walked for a good five minutes with my girlfriend, Jane, before she had to go to her house, which left me walking home by myself. I usually walked home by myself, but I enjoyed the time because I got to think about things that interested me. I would often think about my strategy on how I would tackle that night's homework or how much I hated my french teacher, Mr. Samson. This time, it was different. As soon as Jane left for her house, my thoughts were interrupted by the same sound as the day before. It got increasingly louder until I walked in front of the park I mentioned earlier. Feeling worried and frankly annoyed by the moans of sorrow coming from the park, I decided to walk over to where the sound was coming from. As I arrived at the park, a small voice seemed to come at me from nowhere.

"Can you help me mister? I know I shouldn't talk to strangers, but I'm lost and I can't find my mommy."

I turned around to see a little girl, about the age of five, sitting on one of the old park benches, tears streaming down her cheek. I felt a wave of guilt hit me for not checking here when I had heard her cries the day before. I could barely tell what she was saying due to her constant sniffling in-between words.

"Calm down," I spoke softly to the little girl, "I'm sure I can help you. Tell me what happened."

The fragile girl seemed tall for her age and she had long and silky blonde hair which seemed to stream down her back like a river. Her voice seemed soft and depressing. She explained to me that she didn't know how but two nights earlier, she had woken up in the park and couldn't figure out her way home. I asked her name and she told me it was Hailey.

We had a good conversation for a good ten minutes or so before I told her that I would go home and phone the police so they could finally return her to her parents. So, I went home and phoned the police about a missing child.

The strange thing is, they had no record of a missing kid named Hailey. I went out to talk with the poor kid some more, but when I got to the park she vanished. After days of worrying for her, nothing came up. I rang up the police and again, no new information. Which brings us to the present day.

A few days ago, I went to my parents' house for dinner and I decided I would finally bring up the topic with my parents. It had been bugging me lately so after a huge dinner that only French-Candaian families can offer, I sat down with my mom after my dad fell asleep.

I told her about my experience with Hailey. After I gave my short tale that you just heard, my mom showed me a picture, her eyes welling up with tears. It was a picture of a young girl with freckles and long blonde hair. Mom told me the picture was of my older sister, who died before I was born and before we moved houses to the one I lived in. My mom said she was taken from her room at night and her body was found decomposing on the old park bench at the park, which is now demolished.

The thing that really gets me is that my older sister's name was Hailey.