Originally written August 2011 by Timm Holmes
Mark watched Elizabeth from the comfort of the park bench. She wasn't ten feet away from him.
Her long blonde hair blew in every direction as she went for broke on the swing, pushing harder and harder each time using her entire body to gain momentum. Each time she reached a new peak height, "Daddy, daddy look how high I am!" with the brightest smile in the park spread across her five year old face.
She looked so much like her mother. The last post card he'd got from Christina was three years ago. Shortly after she'd left him, their daughter, and the rest of her life for Los Angeles to become famous it had shown up in the mailbox. She had an audition for a recurring role on CSI. Mark never saw an episode with her in it.
The stranger sat down next to him. The man was older with salt and pepper hair, not quite a grandfather but a little old for a father.
A silent polite nod was exchanged between the two men followed by a couple minutes of silence, during which Mark watched his daughter move from the swings to the monkey bars.
Two young boys watched her make her way across the twelve rungs. One gave the other a little shove and Mark heard him say, "If a girl can do it, you can't be scared to."
Mark smirked to himself.
The stranger leaned forward clasping his hands together and leaning his elbows on his knees. He was moving his head around as if he was looking for something or someone.
Mark hadn't seen this man before. Enough visits to the park and you got used to a certain crowd and the usual suspects; the snob-moms, the loud family, the Me-First kids, and all the others that made up the animal kingdom that was the concrete jungle play park.
Something was tugging at the far reaches of Mark's
subconscious. A warning that something was off.
Not necessarily with the stranger. After all, it was a
public park bench. There were no rules about having to have a kid playing at the park to sit on the bench. Maybe he was just out for a stroll and got tired.
The stranger looked over his shoulder suddenly at the small expanse of grass that separated the suburban street from the park's parking lot. Mark followed his glance. Other than the handful of idle cars and the minivan, there was nothing to see – not even any traffic.
The stranger spoke staring straight at the park, the kids and their parents, seeing none of it.
"I was in my house, getting a glass of juice. I was hit with a wave of nausea. I was disoriented and felt like I just needed to get out. So I left the juice on the counter and walked out. I'm not even sure I locked the front door."
Mark listened intently. Something about the way the stranger was speaking demanded his attention.
"That was only fifteen minutes ago. Now I'm on this bench and the feeling's stronger. Something is wrong. Or going to be wrong."
The stranger paused and turned to look at Mark for the first time. The rims of his eyes were red and tears had welled up to the tipping point. The stranger blinked once and tears trickled slowly down his cheeks.
"You feel it too don't you?"
Mark was not scared because of the way the stranger was speaking, or because of the odd things he was saying. Mark was scared because he did feel it too.
Mark looked for his daughter. He'd decided it was time to go. Elizabeth had returned to the swings and it looked like she'd made a friend. Another girl about the same age was swinging on the seat right next to
her and they were talking about something, the squeal of the swings' chains repeating incessantly.