My name is Alex Costantino. This is a retelling of an event that happened eleven years ago, back when I was five years old. I hadn't given it much thought until a couple nights ago, but thinking about it now makes the few strands of hair on my neck stand on end, as if they were trying to out root themselves. I should probably note that I don't remember much from my early childhood, but this moment stands out like a Miley Cyrus fan at a Nine-Inch Nails concert.
In kindergarten, and I remember distinctly, the caretakers would make a conscious effort to make sure that you took off your shoes before your afternoon nap. As a young boy who couldn't even tie his shoelaces, this frustrated me greatly.
So, I decided one day that I wouldn't bother taking them off. I would hide them under a small sheet that I would borrow from the playroom. I grabbed the sheet and yanked it upward, stumbling back as I did so. The sheet was a lot taller than I was. The Jenga blocks originally atop the sheet were now scattered across the floor. None of the kids really knew how to play Jenga, we considered it to be more like 'who can knock these blocks down in the coolest way'. Sometimes the caretakers would set up a game for us and try to teach us how to play, but it would always get knocked down by one of the kids who became disinterested.
I walked back over to the blue exercise mat that substituted as a mattress, making sure that nobody was paying attention as I laid myself down and pulled the sheet over me as inconspicuously as possible. To my delight, my small black sneakers went unnoticed. My friend Jacob shot me a mischievous smile from the mat next to me, fully aware of my devious plan. The rest of the children were blissfully unaware of the anarchic actions taking place. I knew that if anybody else knew of my wicked scheme, they would be quick to inform the caretakers of my activities; in a feeble attempt of gaining their attention and respect. I looked back at Jacob as the caretakers lowered the curtains and left the room and I fired a victorious fist pump. He snickered and rolled over.
I laid my head against the pillow, and closed my eyes.
I awoke on the same blue exercise mat, brimming with joy after realising that my scheme had worked; but something was off. The room was still dark as the sun tried desperately to force its way through the curtains, and all of the children were still asleep. I was never the first awake.
This filled me with excitement, as if I had just won some kind of imaginary competition, and I strode victoriously to the kitchen, to the caretakers, to collect my imaginary prize. I pushed open the door to the kitchen and my jubilant feeling was replaced with that of confusion and fear.
I walked into the kitchen to find the caretakers asleep on the hard, wooden floor. Reflecting on it though, I realise that they most likely weren't asleep. Their bodies were contorted into strange positions, their legs twisted and their arms bent, though their faces were plain, unnerved. Two of the caretakers were propped up on chairs on either side of the room. One sat there lifeless, with a wide smile across his face. His head was positioned to stare directly at the door. It felt like he was staring at me the whole time. The other caretaker had his face in his hands, sobbing. I approached him cautiously, and prodded him.
I looked back across the room and began to tremble.
The Smiling Caretaker was now staring directly at me, with that same, chilling smile.
I felt my legs begin to tremble when I suddenly felt a tug at my sleeve. The other caretaker, his face no longer obscured from view by his hands, was horribly disfigured. His left eye appeared to have been recently gouged, fresh blood pouring from it's socket, the other filled with wild fear. His nose was half detached from his face, and his lips were cut off. He said only one thing.
"Get out, now!"
I didn't need much convincing, I pivoted on the spot and sprinted straight out of the room. I could feel the smiling caretaker's cold gaze pierce me as I slammed the door to the kitchen. The main foyer, in between the kitchen and the playroom, was where the kids slept. I shook each child, desperately trying to wake them up to no avail. I got to Jacob.
His body had been contorted, like the caretakers in the kitchen. His arms past the elbow had been bent sideways, and his legs had been twisted so his feet faced in the opposite direction. His face, like the caretakers', was plain - with his eyes wide open. I heard a blood-curdling scream come from the kitchen. I turned and ran to the safest place I could think of - the girl's bathroom. I ran through the play room when I knocked my foot on something. I looked down and saw a fully constructed Jenga tower.
"Play with me."
My eyes opened wide as my legs shook uncontrollably. I turned slowly.
The Smiling Caretaker stood in the doorway to the kitchen. The crying caretaker was in a pool of blood on the floor behind him. I felt tears stream down my cheeks as I trembled in fear. As I said before, I don't remember much from my childhood, but this was an image I will never be able to erase from my memory.
He was wearing the caretaker's normal uniform, a blue polo with the site name (which has since been lost to me) sewn on it's left side, and tight, black trousers. His only distinguishable feature was that abnormal smile - It looked as if the corners of his mouth were about to tear open.
I was frozen in place. I knew that if I made any sudden movements, or broke his gaze, he would surely kill me. Even at 5 years old I was fully aware of the concept of death. He slowly started pacing towards me from the other side of the room, and I knew I had to run. I burst through the door to the bathrooms, and ran left to get to the girls. I ran into one of the stalls, fiddled with the lock and sat up on the toilet, choking back tears. I heard the door to the bathroom slam open. He must have seen me run to the girls bathroom. I shut my eyes tightly.
I heard a creak as he opened the door to the first door and let out a small chuckle.
I was in the fifth stall.
It took everything I had to resist the urge to scream.
As his laughter slowly became louder I began to think of my family.
Footsteps. Please help me mummy.
creak. Please help me daddy.
His footsteps approached my door.
He placed his hand against the door, creating an explosive crash in the deathly quiet. Hot tears streamed down my face, my eyes remained shut. The Smiling Caretaker began cackling maniacally on the other side of the door, lasting only a few seconds.
There was a soft knocking on the stall door.
The knocking slowly became more violent, until it eventually became a loud banging. Above the loud banging I could hear (barely) the cackling of the smiling caretaker.
Everything stopped again.
"Let me in Alex."
I shut my eyelids so tightly it felt like I was crushing my eyeballs in their sockets.
"I love you."
I started sobbing softly.
"Let me in Alex, let me love you!"
He went on for what felt like hours while I cried uncontrollably in my stall, screaming for my mummy, telling him to leave me alone.
The only thing separating me from certain death was a fucking door.
I realised that he was now trying to kick the door down.
The bathroom latch was beginning to come unhinged.
Suddenly, I awoke to my father shaking me in my bed at home, begging me to know what was wrong.
"I, wh- wasn't I at kindergarten?"
"Alex, it's the weekend!"
I was dumbfounded. There was no way. I was certain I fell asleep at the kindergarten. To this day, I am still certain of it. I can remember waking up, brushing my teeth, being driven there, hell I can even recall the day before. It was too vivid to have been a dream.
I still have no viable explanation as to the events that occurred.
I often wonder if someday I'll wake up back in kindergarten, on that same blue exercise mat... or even if I'll wake up in that stall, with The Smiling Caretaker on the other side of the door waiting for me to accept him.
To love him.
I never slept with my shoes on again.