J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Old and New
The dappling of the sun across the wet leaves was like mirrors. I felt as if, had I been small enough, I could have slipped into another world, a world that matched ours in every way, except it was filled with otherness. The otherness I couldn’t define, but I knew it existed. And I was so wrapped in the daydream of other that I didn’t realize at first that Jenny had been talking to someone---not me--for quite some time. And it wasn’t the incessant chattering of a child talking to herself, because I heard a hushed reply.
I sat up from our blanket and looked for my young ward. She’d wandered across the small field we’d pick, her red jacket bright against the leaves. She was facing me and no one was near her. I looked around the clearing, standing. There was no one I could see through the trees, either and as bare as they were and I would have seen them.
But I know I had heard a voice. I crouched by Jenny, helping her build her pile of leaves. “Were you talking to someone, Jenny-Bear?”
She nodded quickly and smiled. “Yeah, he was funny.”
“Who was funny?” I tried not to sound worried, but with an empty clearing and a strange “he” on the run, my spine was starting to ice over.
“The man with the funny accent.” She dropped a few more leaves onto the pile, then separated them, making smaller mounds.
“Where is he?” I asked, glancing around--partially for her benefit, mostly for mine.
“He’s gone now.”
“But wasn’t he just here? How’d he leaves so quickly?” I tucked her hair behind her ear. “Can he fly?” I laughed, nervously.
“No, he just disappears.” She lifted her arms. “Poof.”
I tapped my boots and sat back, not minding the damp ground now that the problem had snowballed into a mystery that still gave me the creeps. “What did he look like?”
“Like me,” she said, holding her hand out for a high five. I gave her one. I was sure she meant white, and not black, like me, but I had not be sure.
“Cute?” I joked.
“Blue eyes,” she replied, pointing to her eyes.
“Blonde hair?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Dark hair.”
“And what was he wearing?”
“What was weird?”
She shrugged, bored with the conversation. “Like something from an old movie.”
I felt the pinch of a headache and decided that perhaps it wasn’t a big deal, perhaps she’d just made it up and I’d made it up and we could just pack up for the day and head back to the house. Being a nanny didn’t pay well enough to go into forensic science.
“Alrighty, let’s head back to the house, Jenny,” I said, standing and wiping off the back of my pants. I walked back over to the blanket and folded it up, holding it under my arm and waiting for Jenny to walk over.
She did so, but slowly; she was nearly pouting, but not quite. She normally with mutter a thing or two and I typically pay no mind, but what she said today made me stop dead: “He said that’s just what a mammy would say.”
“He said...” The word dried up in the confusion that suddenly beat down on me. I turned Jenny toward me. “Explain yourself right now, Jenny. Who told you I was a ‘mammy’?” It wasn’t hurtful. It was just stupid. And outdated.
“The man,” she said, her lip trembling already.
“There is no man, Jenny,” I said sternly. “Please, just be honest.”
Before she could speak, something behind me moved. Not someone necessarily, not something--it was just that shift in air that let you know something was right behind me. I turned and pushed Jenny back in the same motion, but what I saw--I couldn’t protect her from. I couldn’t protect me from it. It was the man. And he was like, Jenny--white, dark hair just like she said. But he wasn’t like us. He wasn’t alive. He didn’t speak, but the look on his face...well, it was constantly changing, nearly swirling and I felt the terrifying pang of vertigo. First, he looked pleasant, nearly handsome, but it moved to rage to disgust to lechery. I feared even taking a breath, let alone taking a step, but I needed to run, to scream. I was sinking into that mirror world, could feel my spirit slipping from the glove of my body.
“Go away,” Jenny said from behind me. The man shimmered. She grabbed my hand and stood in front of me. I still couldn’t move, but tears started rolling down my face. I didn’t know if it was because of the fear or the heart tweak due to her bravery. “You’re not funny anymore. Go. Away.” The second time she said he splintered in the sunlight and flitted to the ground. “Ready to go home, ‘Manda?”
I started shivering, but then I could move. I wiped at my face with the other hand, but desperately kept hold of Jenny’s hand with the other. “Yeah,” I said, voice as shakey as my body. I didn’t look behind us as she walked away from the clearing, but I still felt as if there was something behind us. It didn’t matter. There were clearly spirits everywhere--both old and new. I looked down at Jenny.
J.M. Blackman is a Language Arts teacher, author rep'd by Gina Panettieri and a feminist. She endeavors to review nearly everything she reads and is a happy wife. She's a SFF enthusiast, loves dark humor, and has an unhealthy need to protect the image of Batman.