A lifelong fan of speculative fiction, Alexis A. Hunter specializes in all things mythical, ethereal and out of this world. Her work has appeared most recently in The Ghost IS the Machine (a Post Mortem Press anthology), Title Goes Here: Web Edition and Interstellar Fiction. To learn more about Alexis visit www.idreamagain.wordpress.com.
I pause after sliding the door shut behind me. The interior of the trailer is heavy with hazy twilight. Strangled beams of the setting sun slip between the edges of fire-engine red curtains. I sigh and lean against the door, just breathing in the silence. My gaze travels lazily over the walls; I flick on the lights.
I should go home. Instead, I linger.
The project binder I came for sits on my desk five feet away. Rick is waiting in the car outside, probably already pissed at me for taking too long.
I just don't want to go home.
I glance at the artwork of my day-care kids: crayon smears on bright green and red construction paper, edges soggy with glue that barely holds the piles of glitter around each side. Most of the drawings are nonsensical – the scribblings of kids ages one to six. I smile.
Then I spot a drawing that shouldn't be hanging up anymore. It's stuck to the thin wood-paneled wall behind my desk.
My lips sag open. Eyes bulge wide. There's a tightness in my chest.
Yellow construction paper. Billy didn't like having the same color as everyone else.
Black crayon in thick, chunky smears. He never did color with the other twenty-three colors in the box.
A wobbly-circled face with angry, cartoonish V-brows.
"Who is that, Billy?" I asked him just one week ago.
His dark eyes traveled to mine. He pouted, the expression exaggerated by his swollen lower lip.
"Me," he said, and crossed his arms.
"Why are you mad?"
His gaze darted to the clay jar sitting on my desk, but he never answered me.
I suck in a deep breath as I push the memory away and approach the wall. My breathing comes rough and shallow. My fingers tremble as they brush the edge of the drawing.
My eyes sting and I have to wipe them to clear my vision.
Shaking my head, I snap the drawing off the wall.
"I didn't know," I whisper, crumpling it between my shaking hands.
I hurl it across the room and collapse into my office chair. My hands settle on the binder I came for, but I can't seem to rise. It feels like someone is standing on my chest, pressing me back into the chair. My mouth gapes in a desperate gasp for air.
A faint humming emanates from the far side of the trailer, near the coatrack with its rainbow pegs and shoe cubbies. My gaze is pulled like a fish being reeled in.
The drawing lies on the carpet in a crinkled ball. As I watch, heart slamming inside my chest, the paper begins to unfold all on its own. Its edges smooth out methodically, one by one.
I try to scream, but I can't.
Then he appears.
His head only comes up to my waist. Particles of darkness form his body. No light. Just that ebony pitch like his eyes as he glared up at me the last day I saw him. The particles are ever shifting, rearranging. Every line of his body, his face, even his eyebrows, is dark and exaggerated as if drawn by a thick Sharpie.
He lifts the paper and slides towards me. No, that's what I expect. Instead, he actually steps toward me, though the black caricature of his Transformers shoes never touches the stained carpet.
"Billy," I gasp.
He stops before my desk, looking up into my eyes. A spasm rocks through me. Not pain, but hot prickling sensations. He sets one murky outlined hand on the desk. His frowning face swivels from me to the jar near my binder.
"I'm so sorry." I try to shift forward in my seat, but I can't. He's still not looking at me; he's focused on the clay jar. Something softer sweeps over the sketched-in shadows of his face. Something sadder. "I'm sorry, Billy. I didn't know...I really didn't."
He didn't speak much in life, guess it makes sense he doesn't say much now.
Tears crest in my eyes and sweep down my face. My shoulders shake with the sobs I've been suppressing since I found out little Billy's father killed him. One blow to the head – an accident, the man claimed.
I should've known. The swollen lip had practically screamed the truth.
"I thought...I thought you got in fights at school. That's what your Mom—Oh, Billy, I'm so sorry."
His gaze returns to me. Inky arms fold over his chest and I almost laugh at that so-familiar position. Instead, I ask, "Are you here to kill me?"
He blinks. Several times. Then shakes his head and extends one pitch-dark digit toward the jar. "I just want a cookie. You said no."
Whatever held me still, whatever pressed on my chest and threatened to choke the life out of me suddenly releases – snaps away like a rubber band that leaves only a lingering sting. And then I realize that weight, that pain was not projected by this inky ghost-child. It came from me. From my guilt.
"I did say no, didn't I? You wouldn't share the black crayons with Mindy, remember?"
He shrugs. Pauses. Then looks up into my eyes again with those chunky-black, unending eyes. "...Can I have one now?"
I choke on my tears as I nod and lift the lid off the cookie jar. He almost smiles, just a tiny curve of crayon lips. Easing forward, he sticks his hand inside the clay and lifts out a chocolate-chip treat.
Clutching it tight in his fingers, he nods at me. Then he turns and shuffles back toward his drawing on the floor. He stands over it, looking back to me.
"You didn't say it," he says, voice low and on the edge of a lisp, like I remember.
"Say what?" I rasp.
"You didn't say – 'what do you say?'"
I press trembling fingers to my lips and speak through them. "What do you say, Billy?"
Then he does smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Riley."