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Jimmy staggered and nearly fell from the force of his swing, baseball bat flying from his hands as the ball itself flew high in the air, landing at last just a hair over the foul line. To his right there was a spirited groan and laugh, but Jim’s sorrowful blue eyes never left the ball. Blankly, he stared for a few seconds more, then collected himself with a shake and turned to observe his daughter. The girl was still smiling, though the laughter had ceased, and she was now hefting a bat of her own.
“Your turn to pitch!” she squealed delightedly, squinting her eyes near shut as she ran to the batters box, nudging Jimmy out forcefully. He laughed to himself. For such a young girl, his daughter was quite the drill sergeant at times.
Laughter drifted away once again, making way for confusion. Where had the ball gone? Jim eyed the area where it had landed. It wasn’t there. Then where?
“I threw it to you, Daddy! It’s there in your hand,” said his daughter, exasperated.
Jim gave a start, not realizing he had spoken aloud. To his surprise, when he looked down into his palm he saw he had already donned his glove, and the ball was in fact resting in it. The whispers of confusion magnified, accompanied by shrieking tendrils of worry. How had he not realized that? Giving himself another shake, he strode to the pitcher’s mound and turned to face his daughter, her endless tresses of curly brown hair nearly fully consumed by the black bowl of a helmet atop her head. Strange, Jim thought, as he had no memories of bringing or even owning a baseball helmet. Doubtful tension now constricting his muscles like an invisible serpent, he wound up his throw and let the ball fly.
Jim cursed under his breath as the pale green door of his Subaru slammed into the concrete base of the lamp post jutting out of the asphalt of the parking lot, leaving a dent and an ugly mar on the paint. Nervously, he glanced in his rearview mirror to be sure that his daughter hadn’t heard his outburst, only to see the girl curled up in the back seat, sobbing softly. After a few seconds spent staring, immersed in concern, Jimmy was startled by a hiccup from the girl, and hastily got out of the car. He began to stride to the trunk to open it, but the sight of his mangled door stopped him dead in his tracks. How had that happened? As he asked himself, however, the answer struck him. Of course – the concrete.
Now muttering under his breath, Jim opened his daughter’s door and implored her to get out and help unload the baseball equipment. He was shocked to see her red puffy eyes, and stunned even further when they rose and bored through his skull, staring into the very core of him, terrifying him.
“I want to go home,” she muttered in a weak, frail voice. “I want to go home.”
She continued to repeat the phrase, receding to whispers, her voice like the slightest whistle of the wind. Eventually she was reduced to sobs once again.
Jim opened the trunk – had he walked back to the trunk? – opened the trunk nervously, hesitantly, only to stagger back at the sight of two baseball bats and one tattered, yellowing baseball. It all hit him so suddenly – he had been here. Here! No more than five minutes before – he had been playing ball with the girl! And then… so suddenly… they had been back in the car? Unwittingly, he gasped. What was happening?! What was –?
Jim’s neck jerked upward, startled by the noise of a car backfire coming from the overpass he was driving under. Had he been falling asleep? The man shook himself back into coherence. He couldn’t fall asleep… not with a new television in the backseat.
Suddenly feeling enormously worried for his television, Jimmy glanced in his rearview mirror to be sure the box hadn’t tipped. After a few moments dully wondering where the package was, he realized a small girl, curled up in the back and quivering, clearly weeping softly.
Blankly, Jim asked the child who she was, how she had gotten there. The sobs only intensified, filling the Subaru with echoes of a youth’s living nightmare. Jim repeated his questions, now feeling an inexplicable sort of rage. Unable to contain himself, the man leapt out of the parked car – parked? When had he parked? The rage mingled now with icy terror – When had he parked?! He ripped open the back door to his Subaru and found himself yelling at the child, demanding an explanation.
Eventually, he ceased, his voice spent. It was then that the girl’s puffy red eyes rose to meet his once again. It was then that the terror magnified tenfold, that he realized what had happened, what he had done. It was then that he realized that he had no daughter, that Samantha had been dead for years, though she had been the spitting image of this girl who was now curled in Jim’s backseat. It was then that Jimmy heard the sirens in the distance, swiftly approaching.