I wink at myself in the water and watch it wink back.
All the children know you are not to play with your reflections. That letting them become familiar with you is how children get stolen away. Sliding through the reflection and fading to nothing.
I watch and it watches me back. With a small sigh I dip my hand into the water and break myself into glittering shards of light. Fetching the pail waiting on the bank I quickly fill it and head back to the house. Mother would be mad with me for playing with my reflection but Mother is not here. She left and has not written or visited like she said she would. I am stuck here with Father and the new woman who says she wants me to call her mother. I will not. It makes her lips pinch and thin when I refuse.
I have learned to escape the house as soon as possible or she gives me chores to do for the rest of the day. I run to the creek or to the abandoned farm that is on the other side of the hill. I play alone because the closest child my age lives on the other side of town and it would take us both half the day to walk to see each other. Plus Jane is obsessed with dolls and neither of us like the other very well.
When my mother left I worked hard to help my father with the farm but an eight year old can only do so much. Too often I was in the way so I started disappearing till dinner time. I was never missed.
Now I like playing alone. I talk to my shadow while picking berries or hunting for the hard kitchen apples that fall from the trees near the abandoned farm. I talk to the bees and birds that watch me wander. Overall I probably talk too much, but at home I don’t talk at all. The grown ups are too busy talking to listen to me anyway.
I have a secret person I talk to. A boy who disappeared into the reflections. When we were little we played together at ball and jacks. When he left his family moved away before I could tell them he was still there. He sits in the shadows on cloudy or mist filled days watching. I talk about what is happening on the farm or in town and sometimes we play ball like we used to.
He is pale, like all the color has been sucked from his skin. He watches me mute as I talk. He never answers. I roll the ball to him and wait for him to roll it back. His movements are always slow like he is underwater. I tried to bring him food for a while but he never touched it. I don’t think he needs it there. He ages alongside me and his clothes change from time to time. Sometimes he is gone for days or all I catch is a flicker of movement in the shadows if the sun is too strong.
Today the sun is too strong and I can see Simon pacing through the shadows flickering at the edge of my eye.
“I wish you could talk.” I say.
“Is it nice there? Is it better than here?”
He stops pacing and watches me from a corner, a thin shaft of light cuts a hole through his chest.
“It has to be better than here.” I mumble.
“No one sees me here.” I tell him, straining to see his expression. He watches me, impassive.
“If I was in the reflection could you talk to me then?”
He shifts, back and forth like a rock under moving water and then gives a small nod.
“Is it nice there?” I ask again.
Again he shifts and wavers in the light for a moment before shaking his head.
“Are there people who see you? Talk to you?” Simon gives a slow nod. His dark ringed eyes watching me as I shred a piece of straw.
“If I went into the reflection we could talk and be together. We could do whatever we wanted. Play any game, go anywhere we wanted.” I insist. He gives a slow shake of his head at this.
“We couldn’t?” I demand. “I wouldn’t be able to stay with you?”
He shakes his head again, eyes boring into me.
I mull this over for a moment, talking it out to myself.
“We could talk, but I could not stay with you. There are others to talk to but it is not nice there.” I trail off watching Simon flicker like a pale candle as the shadows move with the clouds skidding across the sky.
“I don’t want to stay here.” I whisper to him.
“If I cannot stay with you then I have to go somewhere. Have you been there?”
He nods after a moment.
“Can you go with me?”
He slid down the wall to sit in the deeper shadows there, after a moment he shakes his head again.
I fiddle with the hem of my dress. The woman has been making me wear them, saying I am too much of a tom boy and that I need to start acting my age. If it means wearing dresses and playing with dolls I don’t want to get any older. I was happy helping mother and father on the farm and wearing overalls, I did not need to change for her.
“If I go in the reflections can you tell me where I need to go?”
He nods quicker now. I nod back with a grin, “Then I will go in and you can explain it to me. I will go where I need to go and then come back and we can play.” I announce with finality. Getting up I brush off my skirt and grab my basket of berries.
“I will see you in the morning then.”
I grin as I trot through the mist. I said I would feed the chickens, which I did, but I also retrieved the small bag and basket I had hidden earlier. I changed out of the hated blue dress and into my overalls at the barn, leaving the dress in the hay. I wont need it. Now it is just after dawn and I am heading toward the creek. I am going to cross over and then I will find Simon and see where I have to go.
It seems like I have sat forever staring at my reflection in the water. With a sigh I start talking to it and now and then reach out like I am going to touch it. Nothing has happened so far. I am still sitting on the bank of the creek.
A flicker of movement draws my eye. For a moment it looked like my reflection turned away from me. I wait and am rewarded a moment later when it shivers again, like Simon does in the shadows. I feel myself grinning as I grab my bag and basket and reach toward the water.
For a moment my hand rests against the water like it is a bag before sliding in with a ripple. It is so cold. I try and pull my hand out, it’s too cold. Something grabs my hand and with a yell I hit the water.
I wake up on the ground, ice coating my eyelashes and hair. Everything around me is grey or black. A thick mist floats blocking everything more than a few feet away from view.
I don’t like this. Simon was supposed to be here.
“Simon!” I yell turning, trying to see. There is no response, only the soft sighing of the mist as it shifts and moves.
I yell for Simon again before sitting down. I will not cry, I will not. I hug my bag to me for a moment before pulling out my doll. Mother gave her to me before she left. She used to be hers. Brown yarn hair framed a cloth face. Dressed in a faded red skirt and yellow top the doll watched solemnly as I struggled to breathe. Pulling it close I gave it a fierce hug before getting up and picking up my things. Simon was at the barn. I just had to find the barn. If I was still by the creek I should be able to find the barn. I could walk there blindfolded from the creek or home. I just had to let my feet head there. Determined I kissed my doll and cradling her in one arm with my basket on the other I set off.