Shiloh's first real memory was the third day of grade school.
She'd been making memories for years before, oh, yes, but this was a memory she thought on often. It burned brighter than the rest, was heavy to carry, and brought a sting to her nose like she was about to cry. Other memories were of a dumber Shiloh, the Shiloh who didn't know anything about the world. She didn't want to be that Shiloh anymore, not now. Not with them.
The monkey bars was where the cool kids hung out. The grade sixes specifically. Sometimes younger kids would play on it, but the Big Kids could be spotted from across the playground from the top, like a coming storm at sea, and the others would get a chance to run away. Every recess, every lunch hour, every after-school care, the Big Kids reigned. Only some little kids could be on it when they were, and that was up to them who could stay.
There had been a different playground for Kindergarten, an enclosed playpen of sorts with a few boxes and balls and other such things that might pass for toys. The grade school playground was so much bigger. Like moving from a small town to the city, a foothill to a mountain, the moon to the sun. Shiloh had seen it in the distance before, but to set foot in it was awesome. At that moment possibilities of what could be played on the T-bars here and what stories she could reenact over there were bursting over her imagination like ripe fruit. There was so much to explore, to discover and accomplish.
The recesses were not long enough. She would only get to one rope bridge and study its intricacies on one half before the bell pulled on her leash and drew her back inside. During her carpet time her classmates and teacher would fade away into the background as she brought up images of the tunnel slide or the tire swings, coupled with a waterfall cave or medieval battleground, in both a princess in peril trying to escape some evil force. She had gone to bed on her second night concocting the tale for tomorrow's fantasy, staying up well into the night to imagine the details.
The memory was engraved at lunch hour. Her attention wandered from the rope bridge, where dozens of pirates surrounded her on every side and she was forced to jump into the crashing waves below, to the monkey bars. Immediately she saw a dome-shaped jungle fortress, vines and poisonous flowers winding through the squares and triangles. She wended through wooden planks and other children to the bars. She ducked through the gap at the bottom. There were spiders crawling on the jungle floor! She turned and began to climb to the top of the dome, slipping through and seating herself on a rung near the top. The spiders below tried to climb after her but could not tread the rungs so easily. They were the size of small dogs, squealing like tiny pigs.
"Hey! Little kid! Get off there!"
Outside of the dome was a group of grade six boys. The one who yelled at her was Thomas, or at least she thought it was Thomas, with pale skin, freckles, strawberry blonde fuzz with a tiny cowlick on his forehead. An apple for a body, knocked knees, and a gap between his front teeth. He would make a good Evil Pig King, she decided, invading from his pig pen lands to the north to take over the monkey jungle and hunt all the spiders.
"Are you dumb or something?" Thomas gestured at his ears and sneered at her. "I said get down, little kid."
His friends snickered. The fantasy faltered and began to crumble at its foundation. Shiloh stayed planted where she was, no longer fearful of the spiders.
"You're not allowed to be here, actually," said a second boy behind her. She contorted her body to get a better look of him. He was short, skinny, and looked younger than a sixth grader, though she knew he was. He tried giving her that adult look that meant "I feel sorry for you." "You're kind of not cool enough. You never play with other kids. You should go now." He nodded with an all-knowing look.
"No one was using them." Instead of that firm mad voice she had summoned, a soft murmur fell from her lips.
The boys laughed. "We're going to use them now. Go on, get down. Leave this to the big kids."
"What did you say?"
She didn't repeat herself.
"I think she said no," said another boy, one who stood a couple steps back from the others. There was an emptiness to his voice and Shiloh wasn't sure she'd heard him right. His hands were hidden beneath his coat sleeves, arms and legs rigid, body tight like a knot.
Something struck the back of her head, making her bow suddenly and tumble off the bar. She landed on flimsy knees and hit the ground so hard she felt it up her back. She tasted sand and blood on her scream. Trying to roll over was like trying to stab herself with a needle. Surely her legs were broken; all she could do was tremble on her belly and cry some more.
The Big Kids had since fled and Miss P had come to get her. After a few minutes of coaxing on Miss P's part, Shiloh tried standing on unsteady legs (though she insisted over and over that she simply could not walk into the school) and so Miss P carried her to the principal's office. Shiloh clutched desperately to her teacher's reflection vest. It's a lightsaber, Shiloh thought, and I can feel stronger so long as I hold it.
The fall had torn her stockings at the knee and left some scrapes. Shiloh swore she could see bone. Miss P cleaned it off with stingy stuff, making Shiloh cry more, and bandaged her up with big white wrap and tape. The principal, Mr. R, asked her what had happened and who was involved.
"No!" Thomas shouted indignantly when he was brought in for questioning a few minutes later. "We never!"
"Use your calm voice and tell me your side of the story," Miss P said.
Thomas hashed out a tale where they were playing on the monkey bars and Shiloh had come by to play, and when they asked her to leave she tried pushing one of the boys off and ended up falling instead.
"He's lying!" Shiloh whined.
"Enough," said Mr. R. "Both of you will be staying indoors for lunch on Monday to discuss this in my office." To this Shiloh began to cry softly and Thomas began to loudly shout about how unfair this was and she was the one who was getting him into trouble. Shiloh wanted to shout the same things, but it wasn't working for Thomas, and she hurt to much to speak, anyway.