Kat awoke one morning as she always did. Sergio was already up and nearly out the door. She tended to sleep longer when she could, since she usually had to check up on Alice once or twice in the night. She did this so Sergio didn’t have to worry about it. He had work the next day and needed his sleep.
It still kind of bothered her that she couldn’t find her own job, and that she was expected to be the traditional mother. That said, Alice needed someone, and there weren’t many arms to hold her as consistently as needed. Thankfully, Alice was beginning to become more independent by one-year-old standards. She could be happily content in a little playpen as long as she had plenty of toys to occupy her. Large toys of course. Alice had a nasty habit of putting everything in her mouth. Not that this was unusual for children her age, but Alice did seem to do it all too often. Sometimes her curiosity was too much for her own good.
Kat brushed her teeth, prepared a small breakfast using leftovers from the night before, and fed and changed Alice. The little girl cooed as Kat finished securing her clean diaper. Well, at least the girl was generally a happy child. That was more than could be said for some.
Kat continued her morning routine, making sure Alice was content in her playpen before taking a quick shower. Another thing was beginning to bother Kat. She had wanted a normal life, but now everything was beginning to feel…too normal. Her morning routine was just one example. It stood in stark contrast to last year when they had been on the run from Invergence. Back then, a morning routine simply didn’t exist. Now, she seemed to move almost on instinct from one task to the next, barely even noticing what she was doing.
She came out of her thoughts to realize that she had begun preparing Alice for a trip to the park without even realizing it. See, this was the problem. When had Kat even decided to go to the park?
But she supposed it didn’t really matter. Alice loved going out and Kat could use the fresh air. It wasn’t like going to the park was a bad thing. Right? It was just…it almost felt like Kat was losing control of herself.
She remembered her conversations with Sergio a few weeks ago, when the tractor had mysteriously tried to run him over, for the second time since they arrived. Since then, they had kept careful track of the dates and that seemed to help. They no longer felt like they had just arrived in Greenfield. They were much more aware of the problems here, but that didn’t stop Kat from feeling like something was still guiding her mind, causing her to think about some things and not think about others.
“Come on, let’s go.” She said to Alice as she lifted her into a stroller and opened the door. Alice, eager for the trip outside, covered her eyes as they exited the house and the sunlight waved in their faces.
Already seventeen months old, Alice was growing in intelligence. She could say a few words and both Kat and Sergio were growing fond of talking to her. Sergio especially chatted with Alice into the night, telling her bedtime stories and never dumbing-down his speech to a child’s level. Kat liked that about him. He treated Alice like the intelligent girl she was.
“Daw” Alice chirped as she saw a neighbor walking their dog, passing a little girl bouncing a ball on her porch.
“Yep, that’s a dog.” Kat answered as she pushed the stroller down the street in the direction of the park. Again, she was struck by how familiar everything seemed, and it wasn’t just because she had taken Alice to the park several times before now. She could have sworn she had seen that little girl bouncing her ball before, in the exact same place.
Everything about this place made her uneasy. Was it just the time period? She couldn’t tell. But she wasn’t going to let it hurt Alice or anyone in her family for that matter.
When she arrived at the park, she paused. Mothers and children were strewn through the park, going about their own business. Kat knew they lived in a small town, but she could have sworn that she’d seen each of these mothers in the same places doing the same things the last time that she had been here, in this park.
Once again, Kat could feel that fog surround her mind, making it difficult to think, difficult to remember why the things she saw were strange. She shook it from her mind and found a place to park the stroller and let Alice out for a while.
The little girl was delighted to roam around the park, even if her mother had to pull things from her mouth on occasion. Kat sat on a nearby bench watching her daughter move about, far more nimbly than before. She could remember being here several times now, that much she had managed to remember, despite the fog on her brain. Sergio too was having an easier time remembering their stay, but some things still didn’t add up. Like why was Kat even here today? She felt like one moment she had been in the house, and the next in the park, as if no decision had been made.
She arose to get Alice, who had strayed a little too far away. Alice was walking now, to the delight and fear of her parents. A walking Alice meant that she was much more mobile and could find herself wandering when her parents weren’t looking. So Kat watched her like a hawk.
When she returned to the bench, she found a young boy standing there, maybe five or six years old. He had mousy brown hair and he was sitting right where Kat had been a few second before. She hadn’t seen him approach.
“Hi there,” she said. “What’s your name?”
The question left her mouth, though she was sure she knew this boy. She shook her head as the fog pushed in closer. She had seen this boy before, right?
“I’m Simon.” The boy was looking almost hurt, like she should have known that his name was Simon. And indeed, the moment he said it, Kat thought she remembered.
“Oh, that’s right. I think I’ve seen you before. Where is your mother?”
The boy said nothing now, his eyes growing dark. Lifting his feet onto the bench, he clutched his knees to his chest.
“Isn’t Norma your mother, is that right?”
The boy nodded.
Kat paused to bring Alice back from another excursion in the wrong direction, then sat down next to Simon, holding Alice this time. Alice started to protest that she couldn’t explore anymore, but stopped when she noticed Simon sitting nearby. She fixated on the boy, slack jawed as she often was when she saw something interesting.
Simon smiled for the first time, and reached a hand to Alice, who did the same and their fingers met. Alice laughed in delight. Kat smiled. It was such a beautiful thing when Alice laughed.
“So where is Norma?” She glanced around, trying and failing to find the real estate agent.
The smile vanished on Simon’s face. “I run.”
Kat’s eyebrows furrowed. “You run? Run where?”
“Are you saying you ran away from your mother?” Kat tried to find the woman again, but still didn’t see her anywhere. “Why would you run away?”
Kat swallowed. This may be a more serious situation than she realized. “Come here, Simon. I just want to check a few things.”
Simon left the bench and came in front of her. Holding Alice in one arm, she used the other to check for any bruises on the boy. She found none, not even the small bruises she might expect on an active young boy playing in the park. Well, so much for that theory.
“How does your momma hurt you, Simon. Could you tell me? I’d like to help so that she doesn’t hurt you.”
Simon placed one arm on hers, and Kat gasped, but not because of his touch. Suddenly, the fog that had been there, hovering over her mind, was gone! It was like walking into a warm room and realizing that you had been cold all along. She could think! And it felt good.
She stared at Simon. “Wha…what did you—”
“And just what do you think you’re doing!” A voice boomed across the park, making heads turn.
Kat stood up, Alice still in her arms. It was Norma, and she was walking in their direction with fury on her face. Kat felt something tug at her pant leg and looked down to see Simon. He was terrified, trying to hide from his mother behind Kat’s leg.
“Simon came to me and I asked him where you were, no harm done.”
“Oh I think we all know that’s not true. This isn’t the first time I’ve caught you with my boy. What do you want with him?”
“I promise you, he came to me. I only tried to keep him safe until someone came for him.”
“A likely story. Come here, Simon.”
Simon didn’t move. He remained clutched to Kat’s side. Kat stated the obvious. “I don’t think he wants to go with you.”
Norma’s face grew redder. “I knew it, I knew you wanted to take him away from me!”
“Take him…now wait one second. Don’t turn this around on me. The boy is clearly scared of his own mother. What are you doing to him to make it so?”
“Children lack discipline, they require a firm hand. Without it, they grow up into delinquents. No child enjoys discipline. It’s why we call it tough love. But I need not explain these things to you. You clearly lack the spine to do what is necessary.”
Kat felt her face flush. Who did this woman think she was? Putting Alice down in her stroller, she straightened and met Norma’s eyes, stare for stare. She didn’t even notice the eyes staring at them from all directions in the park. This woman wanted to make a scene, then they would make a scene.
“He’s scared of you. That’s enough for me to call a social worker to investigate. I will do it.”
Norma laughed. “You’ll never find a social worker here, dearie. You might not have noticed, but it’s a small town here.”
“Then I’ll go to the city.”
“Mhmm, good luck with that.”
“I’m serious! If you’re hurting this kid, I swear I’ll—”
“You’ll do what, dearie? There’s nothing you can do. I, on the other hand, am an old friend of the police commissioner in this town. If you don’t hand over the boy right now, I’ll have you arrested for kidnapping.”
Kat glanced around for the first time since the argument started. People were staring at them, even the children. No, they weren’t staring at them, they were staring at her, specifically. Kids had stopped playing, mothers had stopped pushing their strollers, everyone was looking at Kat, as if to see what she would do.
Kat grimaced. This town…
She turned to face Norma again. “You’re not the only one with contacts among the police. And if they hear that you’re abusing this boy, you’ll never see him again. My friend, Lance—”
And that was when she saw it. For a moment, Norma’s eyes flared, literally flared a bright red. Kat stopped mid-sentence. Had she imagined it? Could it have been a trick of the light? But no, she had definitely seen the woman’s eyes turn red, almost like a flame.
Norma took a deep breath, her eyes back to normal. “I think perhaps we’ve taken this a bit too far, dearie.” Her voice was calmer now, composed. “If you really wish it, we can meet at the station tomorrow and discuss it with the kind officers. I’m sure we can sort this out in no time.”
Kat was about to give the woman another piece of her mind, when she felt something tug on her pant leg. She looked down to see Simon. He was looking at her, concern on his face.
“I’ll go,” he said. “Not scared.”
Kat bent down so she was at his level. “Are you sure, Simon? I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
“Not scared,” he said again. That wasn’t exactly encouraging to Kat, but before she could say another word, Simon had left her and joined his mother.
“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Norma said to Simon. Her voice was back to that sickening sing-song tone. “Now, say goodbye to the nice lady.”
Simon raised one hand to wave at Kat. He waved a hand at Alice too.
“I warn you.” Kat said as the two were turning away. Norma turned her head back to face Kat. “If I find any evidence that you’ve been abusing him in any way, I will find a way to ensure that you never hurt him again.”
This time, she was sure she saw it. Norma’s eyes flashed a brief red. That definitely wasn’t just the light. But before Kat could say something, Norma spoke again. “You do what you think is right, girl. I will do the same.” And without another word, she turned and led Simon away from the park.
Kat watched her go, then looked at the other spectators in the park. Immediately they turned away and resumed what they had been doing, almost as if they had never stopped. The sound of laughter filled the park as children continued their play. Alice was the only one not making any sound, unusual for her. She was staring off in the direction that Simon had been heading.
Well, enough of that, Kat couldn’t wait to get home now.
Alice babbled in time with the bouncing stroller as Kat raced back to their home. She passed a few people on the way. Were they staring at her? She thought she caught several of them glancing in her direction, but all looked away the moment she returned their gaze.
Eventually she arrived at home. Sergio wasn’t there yet. If today went anything like similar days in the past few months, Sergio would come home upset and talk about nearly getting killed by a tractor. They had experienced a day like this every month, around the same time. Could it be the same time?
Before Kat could check the calendar, she heard Sergio open the door. He was home from work early. Just like before.
“Hey love!” Kat said as he walked through the door. “You’re back early.”
“Yes. And it’s the strangest….thing.” He broke off. Kat had recognized it too. They had said the exact same words last month. They were reliving a day!
“The tractor?” she asked.
He nodded, “Norma?” he shot back.
Kat also nodded. “We need to figure out what’s going on here.”
“Agreed. You don’t suppose we’re in some sort of…I don’t know, time loop?”
“Maybe, I don’t know how that all works. Though we’re not reliving the same month every time. I’ve noticed some things that are different. Today, for example, I saw something I’ve never seen before.”
And she told him about Norma’s red eyes she had seen twice for a brief moment. To her surprise, Sergio didn’t seem that surprised. He merely nodded. “Yeah, things have changed for me too. Sometimes just one worker dies by the tractor, sometimes others do too. This time I was prepared and no one got hurt, or tried to hold me down, though several of the workers were looking kind of weird, like they didn’t like having me there.”
“For me, it’s only escalated. I didn’t even realize it until Simon touched me, but I remembered all the times that I’ve talked to him and Norma. Each one was more…heated than the last. I can’t imagine what will happen next time.”
“If there is a next time. What if we can stop it?”
“How on Earth would we do that?”
Sergio leaned in close. “I suspect those ghosts have something to do with it. Have you ever noticed that on the day that you see Norma, and the day I run afoul of that tractor, it also happens to be the day that Lance goes to fight those ghosts. Every time.”
Kat frowned. “That’s too much of a coincidence.”
“I think so too. Maybe if we put our heads together, we could fight those ghosts and…”
“No, Lance has that covered. I don’t want you or I risking our heads again. Alice needs us and we can’t afford to endanger ourselves.”
“We’re already endangered by my estimation.”
“So maybe don’t go to the granary next time?”
“I tried that today, Tom all but shoved me in the truck and drove me there himself. We’re being pushed in a certain direction, I think.”
Kat could agree with that. It was the same way she had felt pushed to visit the park today. But now she felt different, ever since Simon had touched her. Was he somehow involved in all this?
Sergio stood, “Well I’m training with Lance tonight, so I’ve got to be off soon. We have anything to eat?”
“Just some leftovers from yesterday, and there’s a box of cereal on the counter.”
“Great, I’ll have some of that.”
He poured himself a bowl of the cereal, added some milk and began chowing down. Kat decided she was a bit hungry herself, so she followed suit.
“Eee,” Alice said, understanding that it was time to eat. Kat smiled and began preparing a bottle and some mashed banana.
They ate without talking, with only Alice’s babblings to break the silence. Sergio scarfed his food down quickly and began to get ready to leave. It was his turn to train with Lance this week, and he wasn’t messing around it seemed.
“What’s the big hurry?”
“Oh, I just don’t want to be late. Lance wants some help again working on some of his tech. So I’ll be a little late coming home tonight.”
Kat nodded absently. He had done the same thing last month. Had it even been the same day as the tractor incident? She couldn’t remember. Something didn’t sit right with her about the explanation, but Sergio had never lied to her before, so…
“You’re not going with Lance to fight the ghosts, are you?”
Sergio turned to face her. “Of course not, I’m just making sure his equipment is up to the task. He does all the dangerous work.”
“Okay,” Kat felt an unexpected wave of emotion pass through her. Her eyes felt moist. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Seeing the look on her face, Sergio, to his credit, came and wrapped his arms around her. “I’ll be fine. We’ll figure this out, trust me.”
She did trust him. Squeezing him tight, she nuzzled her face in his chest and enjoyed the feeling of his arms around her. Then, he broke the embrace and set off out the door, leaving her alone in the house with Alice. She had a good thing going with Sergio, and he was right. Somehow they would get through this together.
So why did she feel so cold?
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