Being on his own wasn’t so bad, Tommy thought. He ran away from home after his parents punished him for pulling a girl’s pigtail in his second grade class. First the dumb girl cried and told on him, then the teacher yelled at him and sent him to the principal’s office, then his parents took away his toys and wouldn’t let him watch Angry Birds, his favorite TV show. Well who needs TV when you can just leave home and do whatever you want.
That first day he left his three bedroom house in Sleepy Hollow, he walked for hours along the riverbank to see where the Hudson would take him. Westchester always felt safe so he wasn’t scared. He had lost track of how long he’d been gone but he was having the time of his life. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. Little kids dream of a life like this.
He didn’t know what day it was but it didn’t really matter because there was no one to force him to go to school anymore. After the river brought him to the castles of the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan, he stumbled upon a medieval festival at Fort Tryon Park. There were tons of other kids there – little boys in pirate hats and crowns and little girls in fairy wings and princess dresses. He wanted to dress up like a cool character too. How awesome was it that it wasn’t even Halloween and he could be whoever he wanted.
Flashes of green caught his eye and he saw a makeshift clothing shop full of cool toys and colorful costumes. He saw the familiar green outfit hanging on a rack – it was Peter Pan, with a green tunic, leggings and hat with a red feather. He grabbed the top and slid it on over his head and popped the hat on top of his light brown hair. The mirror was too dusty to see his reflection but he felt good so he skipped out of the tent to have some fun at the fair, the feather on his hat bouncing up and down.
A crew of boys were sword fighting on the lawn, swinging the wooden sticks wildly and clashing them against one another. There was a tent with dozens of wooden swords propped up on racks in the grass so he grabbed one to join in. He ran over to the boys and darted in and out of their circle, clanging his new weapon against the sword of a Captain Hook. A Tinkerbell sat on the wall nearby in green fairy wings and a dress covered in leaves, swinging her legs that weren’t long enough to reach the ground. Tommy ran up to her and gave one of her blonde pigtails a tug but she had no reaction. He thought about how mad his parents were the last time he did that.
“Watch out,” warned an on-looking parent, “Don’t hit anybody!” as a boy’s wooden sword swung within inches of a woman’s face. Tommy snuck up behind her and jabbed his sword into her ribcage. She didn’t seem to feel it though.
The wafting smell of turkey legs and funnel cakes made Tommy’s mouth water. “One pickle on a stick,” he shouted as he cut to the front of the line by the food stalls. “Somebody give me a pickle!” Nobody seemed to hear him, it was like he was invisible. After waiting for a minute, his impatience kicked in. He stood on his tiptoes and peeked over the edge of the table, spotting some orders of food siting in their paper bowls. He stuck his arm out and snatched one of the deep fried pickles, walking away while chomping into the crunchy skin as the juice spilled down the front of his Peter Pan shirt.
Tommy spotted a stone water fountain and ran towards it. He pushed the button again and again, watching the arch of water appear out of thin air with his jaw dropped in awe. He always had a fascination with water. He was hypnotized by the streaming waterfall he created and stood there unblinking for a few seconds until a man in a suit of armor came over to take a sip. It was 80 degrees that September day and there was sweat pouring down the man’s face so he knelt down to the fountain, knocking Tommy out of the way like he wasn’t even there. Like he was a ghost.
* * *
Mr. and Mrs. Hackett walked through the fair with their daughter Danielle, following the parade of witches, wizards, pirates and princesses that filled the park with chatter over the twinkle of a harp. It had been just over a year since the incident and they were trying to get out of the house more. It was difficult to be around so many people but they were doing it for Danielle. They knew it wasn’t healthy to stay holed up in their Sleepy Hollow house like they did for days at a time after the body was discovered.
Their seven-year-old son went missing two years ago. They suspected that he ran away from home, as he had often threatened to do when they reprimanded him. He had gotten in trouble in school that day so Mrs. Hackett took away his toys and banned TV. She didn’t know that he was actually going to leave. They spent four weeks waiting for the police to find something, combing the woods near their house over and over again. Mr. and Mrs. Hackett often spoke about how scared Tommy must have been, alone near the river. He was always fascinated with water – they should have known that he would have followed the path.
There were so many questions that would never be answered. To this day, they still didn’t know who killed their boy. They would never forget that final visit from the police. The knock on their door, the look on the cop’s face when he pulled out the Ziploc bag. It was all that was found to this day, scattered there on the riverbank only a mile from their house – a bag full of sweet little Tommy’s teeth stained with dark red blood.