The jump rope dangled from Sally's hand, its six-foot length easily trailing well behind her feet. It was tightly braided, with colors that she'd never seen before. There was one similar to a deep-forest green, but with lighter shades interspersed evenly every few strands or so, and the other two were close to a rich mahogany, near a dark red. The different shades were clearly separated from each other, which not only added to the aesthetic beauty of the rope, but also increased its mystery.
Having found the rope lying discarded on the ground near a splintering green seesaw, Sally had been instantly mesmerized by it. Why someone would've left such an unusual and pretty item behind was beyond her. But she'd never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so she deftly picked it up and spirited it away under her arm.
And now here she was, back at the playground with her new treasure, totally ready to try it out.
Having mastered the Alternate foot jump and the Criss-cross, Sally felt confident to tackle her next hurdle: the dreaded Triple under. She felt a little unsure if she had the strength to perform such an advanced move, but conceded that practice makes perfect. She could do a few Double unders with relative ease, so simply adding one more revolution of the rope before she hit the ground couldn't be too difficult.
It was all in the timing.
The rope felt good in her hands as she took up her position between the oversized metal hulk of monkey bars and the twelve-foot tall, nearly vertical slide. A few deep breaths for confidence and she was ready.
Vague images of competing in organized competition drifted through her head. Freestyle routines were what she hoped to dominate one day, and possibly even speed events. She had her mother time her once for her thirty second speed and she clocked in at 98 jumps. Not bad in her humble opinion, but still in need of practice. Jolene Kempeneer held the world record of nearly 200 jumps, and although that level was unattainable for now, Sally hoped to get within 50 of it by the end of summer.
Holding the leather grips of the rope tightly, Sally proceeded to set herself up. She glanced around to make sure she was alone in the park, and satisfied that she was, began to swing her arms in slow, gradual movements.
The jump rope lifted high into the air from Sally's manipulations, sweeping overhead in one great arc. It flopped down on the sporadically-growing tufts of grass that dotted the playground, and rested there, awaiting its holder's next move.
Should I work on my speed? Or maybe start with something simple, like Alternate foot jumping. I still need to smooth out my basic moves; judges look at stuff like that sometimes.
There were so many possibilities, so many tricks that needed to be mastered, that Sally felt the inevitable weight of being overburdened on her shoulders. The Crouger; the Awesome Annie; the Inverse Toad. So many things to learn in such little time.
Never being one for patience, Sally rashly decided to dive into the water headfirst. She'd start with the Criss-cross and work her way right into a Triple under. Life was short, and if she wanted to be a Grand National champion one day she had to get busy.
Overhead, the blue sky was gradually giving way to a thick blanket of gray-white clouds that settled over the playground like a bad hairdo.
Sally felt annoyed that her practice time was being compromised by the lousy weather, but she carried on. Champion rope jumpers probably practiced in the rain or snow, she reasoned. Whatever it took to be great.
The Criss-cross was her target now. She could do it fairly easily, but only with her right hand crossing over her left. Being right-handed, she naturally gravitated toward that hand. She needed to work on getting her left hand over first, just like a drummer working on their ambidexterity. Everything needed to be synchronized and even. Both sides, all the time, no exceptions.
A sudden gust of wind blew in from the east, lifting the jump rope off the ground for a fraction of a second before laying it back down.
Sally flinched when the crazy thought that somehow the rope had moved by itself strayed across her mind. She'd never been one to watch horror movies, but the notion that something supernatural might be at play did prove to be irresistible.
Again focusing on her practice routine, Sally closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind of any distractions. She heard the wind rustling through the trees. She heard the distant rumbling of passing cars. She heard a dog bark from one of the houses bordering the park.
And then she heard something else.
Her eyes snapped open. Instantly, she glanced around in all directions, although she knew perfectly well where the sound had come from, and it chilled her to the bone.
The jump rope, that strange rope she had found very near to where she now stood.
It had moved by itself.
And then an even more terrifying thought occurred to her:
it was alive.
Sally stood perfectly still, too afraid to move, and too afraid to speak. Her head spun with a myriad of frightening explanations, each one worse than the one before, and all wholly unpleasant to think about. All thoughts about Double and Triple unders, and Criss-crosses, and tournaments flew out of her mind like a delicate flower in the wind. All that mattered now was survival…her survival.
Just drop the rope and run away. Run all the way home, and never look back. Once you're in your house, your bedroom, you'll be able to deal with this better. Just drop the rope and run away.
Sally unclenched her fingers to release the rope. She fully expected to feel it drop to the ground, but was hardly surprised when nothing happened. The rope was stuck fast to her hands.
A tingling sensation began in the tips of her fingers then, progressing smoothly but rapidly through her hands and up her arms. Curiously however, the strange feeling stopped when it reached her shoulders.
"Oh my God! What's happening to me?"
Sally's cries were not heard though; the park was empty. She had seen a woman earlier with her two kids; they were playing in the sandbox, but now they were nowhere to be seen.
And then her arms began to move, even though she wasn't moving them. She had feeling up to her shoulders, but it ended there. It was like she was an amputee, but with the weight of her arms still dangling below her shoulders.
The jump rope lifted off the ground as Sally's useless arms prepared to swing it up over her head. All she could do was stare straight ahead.
Cutting through the crisp air, the jump rope stretched out into a nearly perfect circle as centrifugal force turned it into a green and red halo. Up and up the rope swung, arcing over Sally's head before beginning its downward trajectory. It moved through the air like a sword through a sheet of silk, and made no sound. The air it displaced on its unnatural journey was simply eased aside seamlessly.
And then yet another horrible realization dawned on Sally:
her feet were rooted to the ground. And if she couldn't jump, what would happen when the rope came down?
"Help me! Somebody please help me!"
The rope was moving downward in slow motion, gradually making its way to the ground. It was a surreal image, one that could only be imagined by the insane.
The rope came closer and closer to Sally's feet. She tried not to think about what would happen when it reached them. She couldn't crane her neck at all to look around for any other people, forcing her to stare straight ahead at a dense copse of trees. And this lack of stimuli only added to her situation. The pain she felt was delicate, and yet burned with a searing finality. It yanked her from the comfortable realm of her life into a dark chasm of misery.
Falling to the ground, Sally became suddenly (and painfully) aware of her constricted throat, denying her even the ability to cry out. Her feet had been cleanly severed just above the ankles, and the rapid loss of blood weakened her immensely. All she could do was lay there, alone and dying an unimaginable death.
Her eyesight was fading, overridden by the agony in her legs, and the last thing she saw was the strange array of colors: a deep forest-green with lighter shades mixed in and a rich mahogany, close to a dark red. The colors slid across her field of vision, blinding her to her last few moments of life.
And then the only color she saw was black.
The jump rope slithered over the body, soaking up the ever-widening pool of blood beneath it into its fibers. The deep green braided into its strands gradually slid to a dark red, matching the existing red already woven into it. It briefly swelled to a girth the size of a man's leg as it digested its meal before shrinking back to its original size and colors.
The hand, gray, skeletal, and flecked with numerous grains of sand, shot up out of the sandbox. It was quickly joined by two others just like it, and all three of the ugly appendages groped along the borders of the box, searching for prey.
The jump rope sensed the hands and immediately wrapped itself around the stumps of Sally's legs. And with little effort, began to drag the body toward the sandbox.