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LITTLE SHADOWS CRYING BIG TEARS
If a large city can afford to support a major football team, you would think it could afford to pave a darn road once in a while - especially one of the main streets leading right through the center of downtown.
I had not been to Jacksonville, Florida for at least 10 years. The last time I was there was in 1991 when I managed to get together 10 or so of the former orphan kids, who had been raised with me in the Children's Home Society orphanage on the south side of town back in the 1950s.
It was not quite dark when I finished my meeting with the lawyers, so I pulled out of the downtown area and decided to take a drive over to the orphanage just to take a look around. By the time I got to the orphanage it was almost dark, so I decided it would be best if I not enter the orphanage grounds. Instead, I pulled off on to the Spring Park Elementary School property and headed toward the small park owned by the City of Jacksonville, located at the rear of the baseball diamond next to the back of the orphanage.
I sat in the car for several minutes with my headlights on looking at the six-foot high fence, which surrounded the entire orphanage. I reached over and turned off my lights, got out of the car and walked very slowly over to the large, rusty metal frame - a frame that now housed worn out old swings. Swings which I, and many other orphans from the children's home had never been allowed to touch and had only seen from inside the prison--style area for more than 10 long, lonely years. I sat down in one of the swings and rocked myself back and forth, never allowing my feet leave the ground. I tried to remember exactly where I stood for hours, days, weeks and years with my little fingers sticking through the fence while the children, who were not orphans made fun of us, threw rocks and called us names.
This strange numbness came over me and the darkness, which now surrounded me, appeared to be getting even darker. It was a very strange and unusual feeling. Then there was total silence all around me. I could not hear a single sound, even though there were cars passing by, off in the distance. All of a sudden, I heard a rustling sound coming from the large clumps of bamboo where we kids use to hide after they would beat on us. Then I swear, I thought I could hear the sound of a young child sobbing. I slowly got up from the swing and cautiously walked over toward the fence to look around.
I never was one to believe in ghosts or anything like that, but this was spooky. I walked down the fence about 50 feet, found nothing and then turned around. Again I heard the sound of a small child crying, but this time, the sound came from the other end of the fence area. I walked back down the fence, one step at a time, until I reached the other end where the fence and locked gate were attached, but still I found nothing. I stood there totally motionless and quiet for about five minutes, but heard nothing more.
I walked back over to the swing set, sat down on the end swing, and began to rock back and forth. As the moon came out from behind the clouds, I could again hear the sound of the passing cars driving down Spring Park Road.
It had now been 41 years since I left the orphanage. It was the very first time that I had ever sat on these free swings on the free side of the fence, as a free man. What was so strange about this event was that I still did not feel free and I did not know why. I was now a real, full-grown up person. Free to go, say and do as I pleased. Oh God! How I longed to sit in that swing as a little boy and be free like all the other kids who had parents. "Please, dear God, let me feel free just for this one little moment," I thought.
The moon slipped behind the clouds, dragging a long dark shadow behind it, and once again the darkness and silence fell over me.
"Shhhhhh," I heard someone whisper.
"Who is there?" I asked.
But there was no answer. I grabbed the swing chains with my hands and pulled myself to my feet. I stood there quietly with the back of my legs still touching the swing seat and with a slow, silent motion, I carefully scanned up and down the entire fence, but I could not see anyone. I blinked my eyes several times trying to adjust to the darkness. There now appeared to be, as I counted, "one, two, three, four, five, six" small shadows standing inside the orphanage fence, and each one of them was crying.
"You kids from the orphanage?" I said.
But there was no answer.
"You kids are going to get in trouble being out here."
Still, there was no answer.
"BOO!" I said real loud as I took a large step forward.
But not one of the shadows moved or said anything, so I immediately stopped and once again, backed up against the swing set.
The light of the moon was now moving very slowly across the baseball diamond and toward the fence as the clouds moved away. I would soon be able to see who was standing at the fence. As the moonlight struck the fence, I saw every one of the six shadows disappear, as if by magic being sucked into the moon's own soft light.
I stood there for several minutes in total disbelief and then started slowly walking up toward the fence where I had seen the small, dark shadows. I placed my hands into the metal slots where the dark figures had been standing, just like I had done as a 6-year-old orphan boy. Suddenly, I jerked back off the fence when I felt something wet on my hands. I removed my Zippo cigarette lighter from my pocket and struck it so I could see what was on the fence. As I moved down the metal wire structure, I found that it was wet at each and every spot where I had seen a child's shadow standing. The remainder of the fence was totally dry. I brought my hand up to my nose to smell, but it only smelled of salt. I wiped my hands on my dress pants, walked back to my car, sat down in the seat and leaned my head back on the headrest. When I looked up, I could now see six small children sitting on the swing set. I slowly reached over and flicked on my headlights, and they all instantly disappeared.
As I do not believe in ghosts, spirits or anything of that nature, I would not have thought anything more about this incident, except for one thing. There was absolutely no wind whatsoever and all of the swings were now moving back and forth. I could once again see and hear all six of the small crying shadows, hands and fingers sticking through the holes in the metal fence - all looking directly at me through the six-foot high steel fence. However! This time the moon was not behind the clouds.