The Man in the Silver Frame

Jen was preparing dinner when her daughter, Ellie, looked up from her coloring book and said, “Mama, when is my little brother getting here?
That caught Jen off guard. “Sweetie, you don’t have a little brother.” Maybe she was playing. Ellie loved to pretend and had numerous imaginary friends.
“But I will, Mama. You have another baby growing in your tummy,” Ellie said. “And, this one’s a boy. Like those other times.”
If Ellie’s question had caught her off guard, this statement nearly floored her. How could Ellie know about her previous pregnancies? She and Rick been scrupulous in not talking about them. But what freaked her out more than Ellie’s knowledge of those earlier pregnancies was the fact that she knew both were boys. That was something they hadn’t shared with anyone, especially not their daughter. As she stood there, dumbfounded, trying to process this information, Jen realized Ellie was watching her, waiting for an answer.
“No, shug,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m not pregnant.”
“Yes, you are. I can tell.”
“What? How can you tell?”
“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “I just can.”
“Well,” Jen said, “I’m not having another baby. I don’t think I can.”
“Why not?”
Damn. How do I explain this? “It’s complicated, but my body has trouble with that sort of thing.”
“Did you have trouble with me?
Jen smiled. “No, sweetie. You were no trouble at all.”
“But you had trouble with the other ones?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I did.”
“Well, maybe you won’t have trouble with my brother, either.” Ellie went back to her coloring.

Two days later, Jen was waiting in a conference room at Ellie’s school because she’d gotten a call from the administrative assistant asking if she could come down, that there’d been an incident involving her daughter. She’d blown out of the office so fast she’d barely stopped to tell her supervisor where she was going. Fortunately, Karen was a mom herself and let her go without any fuss. She’d been sitting there for what felt like an hour when she saw Ellie and her teacher, Chloe Hamm, come in. The woman settled Ellie in a chair, spoke to the secretary and then stepped into the office.
“Hi Jen. Thanks for getting here so quickly,” Chloe said, sitting down across the table.
Jen raised an eyebrow at that and said, “Well, when the school tells you there was an “incident” involving your kid, you don’t mess around.”
Chloe smiled. “Yes, I guess that’s so.”
“So, is Ellie okay?”
Chloe nodded. “She’s fine.”
“Okay,” Jen said. “So, what happened?”
The other woman took a breath and said, “Bear with me, because this is kind of a long story.” Jen nodded. “When the kids were outside this morning, Ellie and Josie were doing chalk drawings on the sidewalk and Dylan Masters and a couple of other boys walked up. The girls have had a few run ins with Dylan before, but so far it’s just been words.” Jen knew that. More than once, she’d listened to Ellie complain about the boy. Chloe continued, “Josie told me Dylan made a smart remark and drug his foot across their drawing, smudging it. She got angry and stood up to confront him and he pushed her down. Then, he looked at Ellie and said, ‘Got anything to add, runt.’ She said Ellie didn’t say anything, just went back to drawing. After a couple of seconds, he said, “Well, do you?” Josie said Ellie didn’t look up, but she stopped drawing for a second. Then, she told him, ‘No, you’ll be going home in a few minutes and we won’t have to look at your stupid face anymore.’ Dylan looked at her and asked, ‘Why am I going home?’ Josie said she put the chalk down and said, ‘You’re going to fall off the jungle gym and break your arm.’ According to Josie, Dylan called her crazy and he and his friends wandered off. A little later, they were playing on the jungle gym, and Dylan fell off and broke his arm.”
Jen remembered the conversation earlier that week. No. My daughter cannot predict the future. She took a breath to gather herself as Chloe continued.
“Then, things turned a little ugly. Dylan’s friends started calling her a witch. And, several other kids joined in. By the time I got things under control, Ellie was hiding in the bushes, crying.”
Jen’s anger flashed and she almost lost control. But she realized yelling at Chloe wouldn’t fix anything. After steadied herself, she said, “So, what happens now?”
“We called the school counselor and she believes it would be best if Ellie stayed home the rest of the week. You know, let the dust settle.”
“You think that will help?”
“I don’t know,” Chloe said. “But I can’t think of anything else.”

Jen knew she needed to talk to Ellie about what had happened. But the whole thing was so weird, she didn’t know where to start. They’d been home about 30 minutes, when she decided the direct approach was best. She walked into the den where her daughter was watching Paw Patrol. “Ellie, honey?” Ellie looked up. “Are you okay, sweetie?
“Uh huh,” the girl said, never taking her eyes off the television.
“Are you sure? That was a pretty scary thing today.”
“What thing, Mama?” Ellie said, looking up at her.
Jen had thought she was feeling traumatized by what had happened, and her silence was a coping mechanism. But complete denial? That hadn’t occurred to her. “Dylan falling off the jungle gym. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh, that. Yes, I remember.” Then she said, “I’m glad Dylan got hurt. He was mean to Josie.”
Jen was shocked.  Ellie was the most gentle, loving child she’d ever seen. “Ellie! We don’t say things like that.”
“But it’s true, Mama. Dylan is mean to everyone. The man said it was time he got his comeuppsance.” Ellie paused, then said, “What’s that mean, comeuppsance?”
“It’s ‘comeuppance’ and it means a punishment that someone deserves.” Then, she realized what her daughter had just said. “Wait, what man?”
“The man that talked to me after Dylan got hurt,” Ellie said. “I think he’s how I know things are going to happen before they happen.”
“Have you seen him before?”
“I don’t think so,” Ellie said. “But he said he was my friend and he liked helping me.”
“What does he look like?” Maybe it’s a school employee.
Ellie thought for a minute. “He’s tall, with white hair, and dark eyes. And, he wears an old-fashioned suit.”
“An old-fashioned suit?” Jen asked.
“Uh huh.”
“What do you mean?”
“I drew a picture while you were talking to Ms. Hamm.” Ellie dug into her backpack. “Here.”
The man her daughter had drawn bore eerie resemblance to a photo that she had found a week earlier in an antique store that the owner said dated to 1889. She loved antiques and she just couldn’t pass up the photo with its ornate silver frame. But there was no way Ellie could have seen the portrait because she had hidden it after Rick had complained about her spending. She looked the drawing, stunned. No school employee dresses like this. Hell, no one’s dressed like that in a hundred years. Should I call Chloe? And, ask what? If anyone had seen a creepy looking guy from the 1800’s hanging around the playground? She’ll would think I’ve lost it. No, I’ll wait and talk to Rick this evening.

After putting Ellie to bed, she walked into the den where Rick was watching SportsCenter. She sat down beside him, saying, “Honey, something weird happened today.”
“What was that?” he said, muting the TV. She told him about what had happened. When she was done, he said, “Yeah, that is weird.” He shrugged. “It’s probably just a coincidence.”
“Rick, she told him exactly what was going happen. How could that be a coincidence?”
He shrugged. “Power of suggestion?”
“What do you mean, ‘power of suggestion’?”
“You know that imagination of hers. She’s always coming up with weirdly specific stuff. Maybe this time, it predisposed this Dylan kid to fall and break his arm.”
“Seriously, Rick?” she said. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of stretch?”
“More of a stretch than our 6-year-old daughter predicting the future?”
She sighed. “I know it sounds odd.”
“Odd is an understatement,” he said. “Didn’t you say she drew a picture of this guy that spoke to her?”
“Yeah,” she said, handing him the drawing of a tall man with a shock of white hair and piercing black eyes that were very unnerving.
“Jesus, this guy is creepy as hell!” Then, “How could a six year old kid come up with something like this?”
Jen nodded. “It’s worse than you think.” She got up and went to the bedroom, returning with the antique photo. “I bought this last week,” she said, placing it on the coffee table beside Ellie’s drawing.
Rick looked at the two pictures and swallowed hard. “What the fuck?” Jen just looked at him. “Is this the first time she’s done this sort of thing?” he said. “I mean, I haven’t seen anything like this, but you’re with her more than I am.”
“The picture? No. But the other day, she told me that I was going to have another baby. I thought she was pretending. But now? I’m not so sure.”
He shook his head. “Okay, let’s not get carried away. People don’t just start predicting the future. Especially not 6-year-old girls.” He paused. “Not even ones who draw creepy-ass shit like this,” he said, waving the picture.
“Rick, she knew about the miscarriages.”
Rick stared at her. “What? Did she call them ‘miscarriages’?”
Jen shook her head. “No, nothing like that. First, she asked when her baby brother would be here. When I asked what she was talking about, she said I would have another baby and it would be a boy. ‘Like the ones you lost those other times’, she said.”
“Okay, I will grant you that that’s a little freaky. But I still think there’s a logical explanation.”
“Like what, Rick? What ‘logical explanation,’” she said, her hands making air quotes, “could possibly cover this?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But supernatural bullshit can’t be our go to answer.”
Jen just looked at him for a moment, then headed for the kitchen. “I need a drink.”

The next morning, not long after she woke up, Jen realized she felt…different. She couldn’t put her finger on why, though and she headed downstairs. When she walked into the kitchen, she could smell the coffee Rick had brewed. Normally, she loved that aroma. Not this morning, however. At the first whiff, her stomach did a little flip. She poured herself a cup, took a sip, and threw up in the sink.
“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m pregnant.”
Rick, who had walked in while she retched into the sink, said “What!?”
“I’m pregnant. This is exactly how it was all the other times.”
They both decided to stay home from work that day. In part, because they were freaked out by all that was happening. But also, because they agreed that they needed to find out just what the hell was going on. Rick got dressed and went to Walgreen’s to pick up a pregnancy test while Jen nursed some ginger ale and waited for Ellie to get up. In the interim, she took the test. Positive. Great, Jen thought. My daughter’s a psychic.

At 10 o’clock, when she still hadn’t come down, they went to her room and found her huddled in the corner. Jen knelt beside her. “Honey, what are you doing?”
The fear etched on her daughter’s face when she looked up startled Jen so much, she almost fell over. “Hiding,” Ellie whispered.
“Hiding. From what?” Ellie shook her head. Jen stroked her arm and said “Sweetie, if you don’t tell me, I can’t help you. Now, what are you hiding from?”
“I don’t wanna tell,” Ellie said. “If I do, he’ll hurt me. And, he’ll hurt you, too.”
“Who will?”
“The man,” Ellie said in a voice so low it was barely audible.
Rick sighed and Jen could almost feel his annoyance. “Is he here right now?”
“No,” the girl said. “He left when you came in.” A pause. “He doesn’t like you and Daddy. He says you might make him go away and he likes it here with me.”
Jen looked over her shoulder at Rick with an expression that asked what she should do next. He shrugged and then indicated they should go back downstairs. Jen scooped up her daughter and said, “Nobody’s going to hurt anyone around here, sweetie. Now, let’s get you some breakfast.”

  Later, while Ellie was distracted by a bowl of Froot Loops and Peppa Pig, Jen and Rick discussed what had happened.
“What are we going to do, Rick?” Jen said. “I think we’re way beyond coincidences and imagination.”
Rick shook his head. “No… well, maybe. Shit, I don’t know,” he said.
So, what are we going to do, Rick?”
“Why do we need to do anything?” he said. “You know how she is. Give her a couple of days and it’ll be some other weird thing.”
Jen stared at him. “What the hell is wrong is wrong with you? This is serious. If there’s something wrong with her, I want to know. And, I want to fix it.”
“What, like take her to the doctor or something?”
Jen sighed. “Maybe. Or a therapist.” She paused. “Or, maybe even something supernatural.”
He stood there a minute. “Okay. Whatever you decide, I’ll support.”

            After that, Jen decided she had to get out of the house for little while. She took Ellie and went to Drusilla’s. Dru was a friend from her college days and was what Jen like to call “alternative”. Rick referred to her as “that crazy hippie”. But, a visit with Dru always brightened her day and she needed that right now. Dru also had a goofy black lab that Ellie absolutely adored, and she thought a little animal therapy might be good for the girl. She and Dru sat on the patio, drinking tea and watching Ellie and Max play. “The last few days have been a little crazy,” she said.
“Oh?” said Dru. “What do you mean?”
Jen filled her in all that happened. “And, to top it all off, Rick is being so damn passive about it all. It’s fucking insane, you know?”
Dru frowned. “I do. Especially about Rick. I’m still not sure what you see in him.”
Jen sighed. “Dru, please. I don’t need this.
“Sorry.” Dru sipped her tea. “Do you know what this man looks like?”
“That’s another crazy thing. Ellie drew a picture of him, and he looks just like a man in an antique photo I bought last week,” Jen said. “But there’s no way she could have seen it because I stashed it away after Rick had a shit fit about me spending money.”
“He has a problem with how you spend the money that you earn?” Dru said.
“He kind of had a point. You know how I am with money.” Then, she said, “And, the picture cost $250.”
“So? It’s your money. You should do what you want with it.
Jen glared at her. “Dru.”
“Fine.” Dru thought for a moment. “Did any of this stuff with Ellie happen before you bought the picture?”
Jen considered the question. “No, it didn’t. Why?”
“I’m not sure. But–” Max began barking and snarling, the hackles on his back rising up.
“What the hell?” said Jen. She watched the dog, noticing that he was facing away from Ellie, moving back and forth as if to keep himself between the girl and some threat. “What is he doing?” she said, looking at Dru.
Her friend was very still, and all the color seemed to have drained out of her. It was like she was in a trance. Her lips moved slightly and then the spell was broken. She turned to Jen. “You need to get that picture out of your house. Immediately.”       
“What?” Jen asked. “What’s the photo got to do with anything?”
“I think there’s an entity attached to it. And, it’s evil,” Dru said.
Jen’s mouth hung open for a moment. “That’s crazy, Dru. There’s no such thing.” Jen was used to her friend’s peculiarities, but this was bit much. “And, how can you know it has anything to do with the picture? You haven’t even seen it.”
“Jen, you know how this works. I just know, okay?” She looked at her. “Get. Rid. Of. That. Picture.”
Just then, Ellie came running over to her, jumping in her lap and burying her face in her mother’s shoulder. Max patrolled the perimeter of the yard looking for whatever it was he had sensed just a few minutes ago.
“It was the man, Mama. He was trying get me, but Max wouldn’t let him.”         
Jen stroked her daughter’s hair and looked over at her friend. “Okay, Dru. What do I do?”

“What do you mean, ‘No’!?” Jen said. “This is my child. Your godchild.” They had moved inside to the kitchen, Jen and Ellie seated at the table while Dru brewed them some tea.
Dru held up her hands. “Exorcism isn’t my thing, Jen. I had a bad experience once and I don’t get near that kind of thing anymore.”
“A bad experience? What does that mean?”
Dru started to speak, then closed her mouth before saying, “I won’t get into specifics. Just know that people almost died. Okay?” She looked out the window for a minute. “I can give you a few things that will help, though.” She walked over to her pantry and pulled out a bundle of some herbs and a large bag of salt. “Here,” she said, setting them on the table in front of Jen. “Take this.”
“What is it?”
“Sage and salt,” Dru said. “Spirits don’t like either one. They can’t cross a line of salt and burning sage will purify the house when you’re done.”
Jen looked up at her friend. “Can you at least tell me how do this?” Dru shook her head. “Well, where the hell am I supposed to find out what to do?” she said.
Dru shrugged. “They say you can find anything on the internet.”

Rick wasn’t thrilled that she’d brought Max home, but he softened when he saw much good the animal did for Ellie.
“I’m not really a fan of Dru, but I have to admit, this dog is a pretty good idea. Ellie feels better just having him around and that’s worth the hassle.”
As they were talking, the dog came into the kitchen where they were and let them know he had to go out. “Shit,” Rick said, reaching for the leash. “Now, I have to walk the damn th–” He was cut off by Ellie screaming.

They met her on the stairs, the little girl in tears. As Jen knelt and embraced her daughter, Max tore past her to Ellie’s room, stationing himself in the doorway and barking ferociously. As Jen sat back to examine Ellie, she noticed a dark stain on the girl’s pajama top. She lifted it up and revealed three shallow, evenly spaced slashes across the child’s midriff. Rick had arrived just in time to see the injuries. Jen looked up at him. “Okay, I’m doing this. With or without you.”                 

Rick walked into the den where Jen sat with Ellie asleep in her lap. “So, what do we do?”
“We get this thing out of our house and out of our lives. Right now.”
“I get that,” Rick said. “But how do we make it happen? Is there someone we can call?”
“No,” she said. “We have to do it ourselves.”
“What?”
“You heard me,” she said. “Dru couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help. But she did say there might be something on the internet. I’ll do some research and see what I can find out.”
“Are you fucking serious? The internet? I can only imagine the crazy ass shit you’ll find on there. You’ll have chanting and burning incense.” He shook his head. “No. Just… no”
Jen couldn’t believe how stubborn he was being. “Jesus, Rick!” she said. “We’re talking about our daughter. I’d think you’d want to do whatever you had to, to keep her safe.” She looked at him. “You said you’d support whatever I decided. Remember?”
“I do,” he said. “And, I will. Within reason. This? This is not reasonable. Jen, we have got to approach this rationally and with a clear head.”
“Well, Mr. Rational, you saw what happened to your daughter. What clear-headed course of action do you recommend?”
Several times, he started to say something, but nothing came out. Finally, he said, “Fuck, I don’t know.”
“That’s what I thought.” She nodded at the sleeping girl in her lap. “Take care of Ellie. I’m going to do some research.” As he headed to their bedroom, she opened her computer and got to work.
           

They were sitting in the living room as the sun came up, the picture on the table in front of them. Dru had taken Ellie to her house, so they were alone.
Rick looked up from the picture “So, what did you come up with?”
Jen stretched and rubbed her eyes. She had been up all night, poring over the web, looking for anything that might help. “It looks like there are two ways we can go. One, we take to an antique shop and sell it. That gets it out of our house, and we can recoup at least some of the money. Two, we destroy it.” She yawned. “But we run the risk of pissing it off and making things worse.”
Rick cut in, “Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Option One it is.”
“Hang on a minute,” she said, holding up her hand. “Do we really want to take a chance of passing this thing on to someone else?”
“Honestly? I don’t fucking care. I just want this over in the quickest, easiest way possible.”
She sighed. “Rick, I do not want to put this kind of shit on someone else. And, I don’t think you do either.”
“I’m not sure that’s even a possibility, Jen. So, why would I care?”
“After all we’ve seen,” she said, “do you really want to take that chance?”
“Shit,” he said. “I guess not. So, how do we go aout destroying this thing?”
“We’ll burn the picture and submerge the frame in holy water for a while. Then, we’ll take it to a jeweler, and have it melted down. Hopefully, that’ll take care of things.”
“One question: Where are we going to get holy water this early?”
She grinned. “I made some. Like Dru said, you can find anything on the internet.”
“Okay, I guess we’re doing this.” Jen started to get up. “Wait a second,” he said. “Didn’t you say something about maybe pissing it off?”
“Well, yeah. It is a risk,” she said. “But a calculated one.”
“What’s that mean, ‘a calculated one’?”
“It means I got the information about destroying it from a Catholic website and the stuff about it getting pissed off a ghost hunter site.” She stood up. “The Catholics have been doing this stuff for a couple of thousand years. I think I trust them over ghoststalkers.com.”
“Okay,” he said. He picked up the picture and tried to slide the back out of the frame, but it wouldn’t move. “What the hell?”
“Hang on a minute,” Jen into the kitchen and came back with a spray bottle. “Holy water,” she said and began to mist the frame. It popped out of Rick’s hand and fell to the coffee table, shaking violently. They watched for a moment before it stopped. “Maybe we should do this outside,” Rick said.
“Good idea.” Jen picked up the picture and headed toward the back door. As she did, books on the shelf to her left began vibrating as did the curios alongside them. As she took another step, they all flew off the shelf in her direction. She dodged them, but a snow globe hit Rick in the leg an almost took him down. They made it to the kitchen where the drawers and cabinets flung open and emptied their contents. The cutlery they kept in a block on the counter came flying at them. Jen dodged most of them, but a paring knife buried itself in her forearm. She pulled it out, the adrenaline in her system keeping her moving. Rick tried to open the door, but it was stuck fast. Jen took hold of the knob and together, they were able to pull it open. Out in the back yard, she ran to the picnic table where she’d arranged a metal pan and lighter to burn the picture and a bucket of holy water for the frame. The holy water she’d sprayed on the picture earlier must have worked because, when she tried to pull the back off, it slid out. She thrust the photo at Rick, yelling, “Burn it!” as she immersed the frame in the bucket. When Rick set the flame of the lighter to the photograph, a horrific scream assaulted their ears, dying away as the portrait was consumed. As an unearthly calm settled over them, they looked at each other for a moment and then embraced.

9 months later, they arrived home from the hospital. Jen had carried the pregnancy to term and though it hadn’t been as smooth as the one she’d had with Ellie, she’d made it. And, they had a beautiful baby boy as a result. Rick helped her up the steps while Dru and Ellie followed with the baby. It was a moment of pure domestic bliss.