imageTrevor Hambric
Reaching Into Shadows

My name is Sarah Porter, and I suppose you would say I'm eight years old.

I'm standing unseen in the corner while Angela sits at her dressing table by the window, her mother brushing her long black hair.

Sometimes, in moments like this, I touch Angela's hair. Sometimes I even lean in close and smell it.

But not tonight.

Not with the full moon hanging low in the night sky, making people believe things they shouldn't.

Angela's father and younger brother live here, too. But only she has any idea that they are not entirely alone. Only she can sometimes feel me.

And there's also another person — Angela calls him Uncle — a man who sleeps in a building out back, who watches her when she's unaware.

When the brushing is finished, Angela's mother kisses her on the forehead, and I dare to take a step closer.

The moonlight angling through the window falls low on my legs, slashing through my crumpled dress.

As soon as her mother has left and her footsteps have faded down the hall, Angela takes out a candle and perches it in the window. The pewter candlestick — it was mine long before Angela was born — is tarnished and faded, its base darkened by lifetimes of handling.

She turns her dresser lamp off and lights a match, stares at that wandering flame for a quiet minute before putting it to the candle wick.

Angela's the closest thing I've had to a friend in a very long time, and fire was my gift to her.

Tonight, the flame bends the wrong way into the breeze coming through the partially open window. I pass my hand through slowly, changing its course, until I notice a faint outline of my fingers, the flame licking up around them.

Angela notices, too. She moves toward the candle, inspecting, before I pull my hand away with a whispered, "No."

As much as I want to be close with her, I can't let her see me, can't let her truly believe I exist. I hate to think of her becoming fearful, dread the moment that I might have to leave this house.

I watch her watching the candle as the flame returns to its proper shape, a faint breeze pushing it in toward the room. In a moment, her focus changes, her gaze moves to something outside.

I turn to see 'Uncle' standing shirtless on the lawn, staring up at her. He smiles, and Angela gives a nervous wave.

"Come see the stars," he says quietly, just loud enough for her to hear.

And suddenly I'm scared.

Another, "No," escapes me, this one more frightened than the first, and Angela turns like she's heard some distant cry.

"I can't," she says meekly to the night.

It's in that moment that I decide.

Angela, my only friend, will turn this man away. She will use her love of fire against him. She will teach him the merciless nature of flame.

Not tonight. But soon.