She hovers in the shadow of the tree, unseen, watching the children play tag. Tiny hands dart out, make contact. Then, the children fly apart, shrieking.
That brief moment of contact fascinates her. The memory of touch flits just beyond her recollection. There’s a sensation of comfort attached to it. Was it warm? She thinks it must have been.
Lost in thought, she is unaware of the child’s approach.
“Hi,” he says. He’s a blue-eyed lad with a mop of fiery red curls. He extends a chubby hand toward her. Dappled sunlight glints off of foil. “Want some candy?”
She stares at him. Why isn’t he frightened? Her awareness of human standards of beauty has long faded. Still, she knows how she appears to them: a gaunt, cadaverous thing, leathery skin stretched taut over thin bones, gimlet eyes glinting within deep-sunk sockets. Yet this child does not scream, does not run. He simply stands there, a guileless smile dimpling his cheeks.
A forbidden thought skitters across the surface of her mind. She knows what happens to those she touches, but the promise of human contact is overwhelming. She wants to resist. She also wants to be touched. The child’s hand fills her vision. It is the only thing that exists in her world. She watches her own hand slowly rise, thin, skeletal fingers unfolding.
“Hey!” The booming voice shatters her reverie like a clap of thunder, eliciting a startled yelp from her.
The Power surges out, carried upon her voice. The boy is startled too, pupils dilated in wide, blue eyes. An image of those eyes glazed over, dulled in death, invades her mind. With a swell of panic, she threads her will into the Power as it escapes. She can’t stop it but she can try to redirect it. Exhaling, head swimming from the effort, she thrusts her will forward, shoving the Power up. Away.
The birdsong in the branches of the tree above her abruptly ceases, replaced by the soft pit-pat of tiny, lifeless bodies falling to the ground in a feathered rain.
“Get away from my son, you sick freak!”
The father barrels into view, lunging for his child, but she is already turning away. She ignores his shouts. She doesn’t need to hear his impotent threats. She doesn’t need to see him scooping his son up in a protective embrace. What she does need is to get far away from this place and never return. The urge to look back, to look into the child’s eyes one last time is strong, but she resists. It’s enough to imagine their spark, their promise of potential. It’s enough to imagine the embrace of father and son. The love, warm and strong, flowing between them as they hold each other. It is enough to imagine these things, for she is deeply afraid that if she turns around, if she has to bear witness to those things which she can never again experience, then
Austin Malone is an author of short fiction whose work has
appeared in many anthologies and audio productions. He is also an occasional
voice actor, having narrated stories for such venues as Podcastle, Pseudopod,
and The Melting Potcast. When not lurking inside of abandoned buildings in New
Orleans, he can be found at his website, sippinghemlocktea.com, or on Twitter,