Harold struggled to recognise the woman calling his name. At some primal level he knew her name, her occupation, her relationship to him. Just not at this moment. He looked down at his daughter hesitantly. Lucy gazed back, her school coat bulging from the soft toy stuffed inside.
“Daddy?” Lucy frowned. “Are you all right? Mrs Hammond wants you.”
“Mrs Hammond?” Harold looked back at the woman who was making her way through the playground full of five to nine year olds like a cruise liner through a flotilla of African canoes, only the other way around. “There's something different about her.”
“Different? I don't think so, Daddy.” She tugged on his hand. “Can I have my dinner money? The bell will go soon.”
“Of course. Sorry.” He dug his hand into his pocket for change but pulled out nothing but a screwdriver, one of those odd security ones with the star shaped ends. That was odd. He couldn't remember where he had any of those either at home or at the shop.
Mrs Hammond spoke again, having arrived at his periphery while he'd been distracted with the screwdriver. Lucy darted away, one minnow darting into a whole shoal. He looked up, noticing the way the head teacher's ebony skin stretched across the bone beneath, the darkness extending to her eyes, her irises; even her tongue. Only her teeth contrasted with the rest of her face, the old-bone yellow giving the appearance of white against the black lips.
He stumbled backwards. “Demon!” His voice was weak and hoarse, as if he hadn't moistened his throat in a long time. “Demon!” A little louder this time.
“Mr Waterman? Are you all right?” Mrs Hammond pressed forward and reached for his arm. He expected the touch to burn but it didn't. Just a firm, steady grip. “Do you need me to call an ambulance?”
Harold looked up. Mrs Hammond wasn't black at all, just a middle-aged woman with a trace of south London in her accent. Hardly enough to be classified as a demon. He straightened, tugged his jacked into order. “I'm fine, thank you.” He looked at the dozen children staring at him. “Perfectly fine.”