It's strange what time does to your memories.
When I was a child, I told my parents about the signs and the hidden alleys and parks, and they would tell me that these were just memories of nightmares. Growing older, I am inclined to believe that: after ten, twenty years, my former certitude is starting to fade, as my childhood itself seems more and more like a distant dream.
And yet, sometimes, with a smell, a sound, a feeling, it's pulling me right back in. At these moments, I am once again ten or twelve years old, my skin covered in goosebumps as I rush through our door and into the living room, where it is light and warm, the things I have seen still so very present in my mind. Things I didn't remember from a nightmare. Things I had just seen with my own eyes.
I grew up in a small town, you see. Small in every way- we didn't even have any tall buildings besides the bell tower of our church, and even that tower didn't prove to be a reliable landmark.
On foot, I could make it to school in little more than twenty minutes. That's why I went to school by myself.
Even as a child, I realized that I probably wasn't very smart. I tended to get lost. Sometimes, I would walk up a hill or turn around a corner, in utter confidence that I was merely prolonging my way home by ten minutes or so for a little stroll in the evening sun. I liked to think to myself, dream to myself, and I still do. It works best when I walk. My mind cannot wander if my body is still. That's why I did this over and over again. When I ended up in the hidden places, it always took me by surprise.
I called them hidden places, but at first glance they didn't look any different from any other area in my home town. The architecture was the same. I never encountered any people or vehicles, but that wasn't surprising in itself. Even my own neighbourhood resembled a ghost town most of the day.
The special thing about the hidden places was that I would only see them once. Whenever I would try to find them again, even on a map, they just weren't there. Not that I felt bad about that. On the contrary. But I always managed to run into new hidden places.
It were small things that made me notice I was in a hidden place. Street signs. Posters. Flyers sticking out of garbage cans.
I remember walking down a little street, with houses to my left and a large hedge to my right. There is this yellow sign, and it doesn't look like any sign I have encountered before. It is a yellow rectangle. There is a little human figure on it, you know the kind. The stick figure is grabbed by a giant hand that is coming out of a hedge. Needless to say that the hedge and the hand are on the right side of the sign. Quite accurately, the sign reads: 'Beware of big hands'. There was rustling in the leaves to my right.
I remember seeing three posters stuck to the wall of a building. One said:
'Get your teeth in a bag! A bag full with your teeth, it is never empty! You will never run out of teeth!'. It had a hand on it that was reaching into a hole that was drawn in a way that it looked like it was ripped out of the paper, revealing the darkness beneath.
And the other: 'You have children? We will make your children YOU! Children will never be not-you ever again!' Underneath the text, there was a picture of two eyeballs of different size, rotated in a way that they seemed to be looking at one another.
And the last one, without any illustration, assuring me that: 'Everything is collapsible.'
But the worst thing I ever saw was the sign with the raccoons. It was a little sign in a park, white, with a raccoon on it, just like those signs that say 'don't feed the animals' or something along these lines. But this sign said:
'The behaviour of the raccoons will change.'