Skipping Stones

Elvira, Ohio has the dubious honor of harboring the only known instance of a completely child-based cult. When it began or who started it is up to the unknown. But from May-August of 1965, the entirety of Mrs. Hardin’s fourth-grade class became participants in a bizarre series of rituals that shattered the peace of the small town forever.

The first instance of the cult manifesting itself was what appeared to be a simple playground game not unlike hopscotch. 20 children marked out a series of squares in chalk on the blacktop and numbered them. Stones were tossed into the field, and for each number a cryptic phrase was called out. “Violet—down to the west! Ian—curl through and out!” Elora Hardin noted that the game would disperse immediately as she approached. The children would lie when asked the nature of the game, denying they had been playing anything.

More and more of the children’s time became devoted to the series of games. They would walk in form from the school to their homes, refusing to acknowledge any children from the other grades. They were closed off and emotionless, speaking only when spoken to. One parent jokingly referred to them as the Kinderarmy. The humor covered up a deep-running concern within the town. The children began eating only in shifts, some fasting for a day before allowing themselves to feed. A child on a fasting shift could not be forced to eat, not through threat or physical punishment.

It was during the 4th of July picnic that the falling ritual was first discovered. Pastor Eames observed the children clustered by a nearby bridge spanning a dry creek. As he watched, the children picked a participant through unknown means. Henrietta Marley stepped forward, crossed her hands over her chest, and hurled herself backwards off the bridge. Eames made it to the bridge in three large steps. Anthony Brown had stepped up to be next. Eames reached out to grab the boy. Heady Carcer dove forward. Eames reached out to catch her. Anthony, no longer restrained, fell backwards off the bridge.

No one knew what to do. Child psychology was in its infancy. While the children who had dropped from the bridge were not seriously injured, the rest showed a startling lack of empathy for their fellow nine-year-olds.

The town instituted a curfew. The children were put on lockdown at their own houses and not allowed to see each other. Somehow cult-specific terms still managed to travel among the imprisoned children. Joe Ramsey, a traveling salesman, witnessed a gathering of children on the village green as he drove home in the early hours of the morning. Parents checked the next day, but could find no evidence the children had left their rooms.

School had adjourned for the summer, and so parents were hit with a dilemma. Did they dare keep their children locked in their houses all summer long? Or could they risk unleashing them for further strangeness?

A compromise was reached. The children would be let out for specific hours of the day, to interact in supervised groups. The children’s first act on being reunited was to separate into groups of three or four and stand silently, staring at the ground between them. The children did not speak at these meetings. They communicated by touch and followed an unknown set of instructions. Their games were highly structured and complex. As their parents watched, the children walked in kaleidoscopic patterns

The children stopped communicating with their parents. The few with siblings would act as if the other child did not even exist. No technique the parents tried worked on their children. Punishment, positive reinforcement, all fruitless.

On August 18th, the children clustered in the corner of the field instead of dividing into groups. There was a moment’s whispered conversation. Violet Parker broke away from the group and approached the adults.

“It’s been decided,” she said, her first words in over a month, “it has to be me.”

Violet’s eyes rolled back in her head and she began choking. Violet’s mother and two other parents rushed her to the nearest hospital, a whole county away. Doctors could not find the cause of her sudden fit. Despite their ministrations, Violet Parker died at precisely 3:15 in the afternoon. Left behind in the distraction, the remaining fourth graders stepped into the long grass surrounding the field and were never seen again.

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