“So it’s not that I’m not glad that you’re coming, I-I just keep wondering why you’re doing it.”
The man paused, searching Lewis’ face before glancing away to stare at the ground. He began to speak, his large blue eyes glazing over as though he were somewhere far away.
“It’s for a lot of reasons, but mainly for my Lizzie. Are you old enough to remember losing anyone in the Sunder?”
“I have flashes of memory, I remember my parent’s faces although it seems like it gets harder every year.”
“Well, I was 22 when it happened, I’m sure any one of these folks could tell you the same story. One moment you’re staring at the love of your life, the next… poof, there’s a brick wall and you’re alone. For me, it was Lizzie.” He said, his voice dropping to a whisper as he said her name.
“You see, I was just about to graduate and I’d been dating her for a few years now. Never met anyone like her before in my life, being around her was like…” His voice trailing off as he glanced around the campfire seemingly searching for his words in the flames.
“Well, have you ever walked in somewhere and smelled fresh baked cookies? Just this pure happiness the moment you walk in. That’s how it felt. Perfect. Well anyways, we were getting ready for a night in, I’d bought this dumb musical about a circus that she loved and she was real excited. I came up to her room, and she was laying on the bed in these black leggings, the soft ones kinda like pajamas and this giant maroon sweatshirt she loved. I mean you shoulda seen her. She just had her hair done, and colored it this auburn honey color that glowed in the string lights we had draped over her bookshelves.” As he spoke about her, his eyes lit up, and a big goofy smile began to spread over his face. He laughed to himself as he mentioned the string lights adding “that was probably a pretty big fire hazard now that I think about it.”
“Anyway, I handed her the DVD and she starts setting it up, but then she says can you go grab my candy, I left it in the other room and I joke with her that she’ll have to get her own candy and she does this adorable Pweeeeassseeeee she’d do, but I didn’t budge” He seems to mimic her voice as he goes, laughing to himself after copying her “please”, his voice a high-pitched singsong.
“ Then she started making this cute pouty smile, her big, brown, puppy dog eyes too much to say no to. So I get up off the bed, walk into the other room, and grab em. Then I’m standing at the door looking at her just as I’m about to go in, and Lizzie sees me holding the candy. She looked up and smiled.” The man stops and catches his breath, and lets out a dreamy sigh as though he could see her smiling even now. The group sat silent, everyone rapt in the story, many of the older faces sharing that far-off look. For a few seconds, he sat quietly smiling to himself before continuing with a chuckle.
“Goddamn, that smile. It-it always started in the middle of her lips, because she’d suck em in like she was trying to fight it and then the sides of her mouth would slide up until this big toothy grin appeared as she crinkled her nose giggling. Man… that smile, it was like, well it was like the first day of spring when it’s cold and overcast but for a second the sun peaks out and that warmth just rolls over ya. That was Lizzie’s smile, always that radiant little sunshine, and it was the last thing I saw bef-before the wall appeared.” He stops, his voice breaking as a small whimper escapes his throat.
Lewis looks away, unsure of what to say but soon sees that the other older members of the crew are also crying. Each staring into the fire as rivers of tears roll down their cheeks. Small sniffles and strained breaths filling the air.
“One minute it’s the love of my life, the next a-a brick wall. I spent three hours smashing the damn thing down screaming, begging, for her to hold on. You can guess my face when all I found was that howling nothing on the other side. For a long time… a real long time I didn’t care about nothing, just felt empty inside. Then y’all come along, talking about finding the source of the Sunder. I get to thinking, if the source is in here with us, then we must’ve been taken, not them right? So I’ve spent every night since I met ya, praying… praying with all my damn might that she’s still out there spreading that sunshine smile. I’ll be damned if I don’t find some way to claw my way out of this hell and back to my Lizzie.” The man stopped, his eyes fixed on Lewis.
The firelight dances on his face, the tears still fresh. A quiet crept forward like a thick blanket until only the crackle of flames and the rustling of leaves filled the night. Each of the team, gathered their things, following some unspoken agreement to head in for the night. Lewis felt their pain, while he could not remember his parents, he still had lived with that hole in his life. All of the survivors knew it, a longing for that which had been stolen. Lewis lay on the ground, staring up at the night sky, and the frozen moon. As he began to drift off he thought to himself. Soon, soon we will be whole again. We just have to push on, not just for us, but for everyone.
Dick slid the key into the lock and it unbolted with a quiet click. The door swung open revealing the dark interior of the home. He walked in flipping the lights as he walked past. The bulbs lit but then blew with a pop. The room again was blanketed in shadow. Dick walked to the window on the far wall and drew back the curtains. A thin beam of light streamed through the curtains casting sinister shadows along the opposite wall. Dick fell onto the couch finally resting after a long day. He turned on the television and began to flip through the channels. His eyes began to droop from the tiring day. The remote slipped from his hand falling to the ground. As he began to fade into sleep, a horror show played in the background.
“four escape from asylum, armed and dangerous.”
He awoke an hour later to his cell phone buzzing loudly. The news played on the television assessing the local traffic. Dick groped for his phone, finally pulling it from the depths of the couch. Ben was calling. Nell must have wanted to come home early; he thought. He answered and brought the phone to his ear. The line was silent for a few seconds, the hiss of the empty line filling his mind.
“Hello?” murmured Dick.
“Hi, sweetie” came the too familiar voice. Dick’s breath began to come rapidly as his chest tightened. A rushing sound filling his ears, the blood draining from his face.
“Jane, what have you done.”
“I just wanted to see my son, the rest was on them.”
“Where is Nell” demanded Dick, hysteria creeping into his voice.
“Closer than you think.” Upstairs a loud thud emanated from above him. Dick jumped at the sound and dashed to the kitchen. He pulled a knife from the drawers. Slowly, Dick crept towards the stairs staring intently through the darkened house. Each step sent out a quiet creek from the old wooden floors. As he reached the top of the stairs, slight sounds could be heard echoing down the hallway, the hissing crackle set his teeth on edge. The television in his bedroom was on. The light spilled into the hallway casting pale shadows that writhed along the walls. His heart pounded so hard he was sure it would give him away. From beneath his foot, a board moaned under his weight, the screech ripping through the house. The hissing static from the television began to grow. Soon they were screaming, the sound blared throughout the entire home like a beast tearing itself free. She knew he was there, there was little use in secrecy now. Dick burst through the door of the bedroom into the deafening cacophony. There sat Nell unconscious on the floor. A thin trail of blood ran from a gash across the top of his head. He ran to him but was suddenly struck hard at the base of the neck. Dick crumpled to the ground, an explosion of pain filling his head. Warmth flooded from his head and ran down his neck as spots danced across his vision. The air began to fill with the smell of iron. From his position on the ground, Dick stared at Nell, reaching for his injured son. The television went silent in an instant. A hand wrapped around his ankle pulling him back away from Nell. The crimson pool that streamed from his head painted the floor, forming a lake of blood. A Sharp stab pierced his side and his chest filled with a burning pain. More warmth erupted down his side as the foreign object was torn from his chest. Spots of black began to fill his vision as he coughed and choked on blood that dripped from his mouth.
Please God, no. It hurts, God it hurts so bad. I-I can’t let her have my Nell. He tried to rise, but his head seemed too heavy, as it resisted him swaying about. He finally gave in and let his head slam to the floor. The blood now covered all of the floor beside him, covering his face in a sheet of red.
“He needs me, I am his mom! Why couldn’t you just let us be happy?!” She stepped over him, her left foot coming down hard on his hand. The bones crunched but the pain quickly faded into the dull coldness filling his body. Jane’s Clothes were stained red, both fresh and dried blood covering their surface. She gently lifted Nell cradling his limp form in her arms. She stared at Dick, her sideways smile like razor blades. Jane stopped beside him and kissed his cheek.
“Goodbye sweetie, you know I’ll always love you.” She walked past him out and out the door.
“Please don’t” he whispered, but she was already gone. He could feel the darkness welling up inside of him. He no longer could feel the pain, but he writhed on the floor.
Nell, oh God Nell. I’m sorry I’m so sorry.
The cold grew until a final pained cough filled the nursery.
Rain flicked against the window creating a continuous thrum, as the bus rolled through the city. Here he sat, the fogged glass cold against his forehead as he lay staring into the gray world outside. He hated the damp but, it proved to be relaxing in the sweltering heat of the bus’ interior. The soft squeal of the breaks hissed as the next stop approached. From the front of the bus, a quiet squelch of wet rubber announced the addition of some new passengers. Few seats remained within the densely packed bus. He was surprised, as a beautiful young woman slid into his neighboring seat. He glanced at the woman and she was astounding. Her eyes shone like two pools of amber in the dimly lit bus, their glow like witch-light drawing in his gaze. His eyes traced the soft roundness of her porcelain face. Her two lips like red half moons in a perpetual frown drooped like petals heavy with morning dew. Her beauty was exquisite but paled in comparison to the intoxication that was her voice. “Sorry to bump you, all the others were taken”. As she spoke a current of heat ran through his body setting him on edge. He met her eyes and spoke, his voice catching in his throat. “Not a problem, nice to see you.” “It’s quite a dreary day isn’t it.” “ it is, but I’ve always loved the mist, Reminds me of good books and warm evenings.” She eyed him looking him up and down, a small smile creeping over her, its splendor like honeysuckle and sunshine. “Your ring, are you married?” Her eyes darting to the aged wedding band he still wore. “Yes, I still wear it, though she’s been gone for awhile.” His lips pursed, his eyes glazed as memories drifted through his mind. “Are you married?” He asked looking at her hands. “No, haven’t found the one.” “Theres nothing like it. Once you find the person who fills every moment with wonder, anything else just seems… less. She was everything I ever wanted.” He stared down at the ring, his eyes stinging. “ You deserve happiness though, everyone does. Have you tried dating since?” “ When I said my heart was hers forever, I meant it. I loved her soul, she was the like the first bloom of spring and the boom of thunder as it rolls in the dark. She captured my hearts wonder and tore down every wall I ever built.”
She stared at him, a tinge of sorrow slipping into those honey pools.
“You never tried? Not once?”
“oh I did. I-I tried a lot, but in the end I couldn’t take it anymore.” His voice a whisper
“Why’s that.” She asked, a sudden sharpness to her tone.
“There is nothing worse than spending the night with them, and realizing that they could never be more than a pale imitation of what you truly want.” “I’m-I’m sorry to hear that” her eyes fell to the seat in front of her. She studied the lines cut by riders over the years, tracing them with her finger. The bus once again came to a jerking stop, sending her crashing into his side. His breath caught in his throat. Her soft body pressed against him brought forth a flood of memories. Soft breathing in the early morning, smiles that shone like starlight, holding his wife till the morning light. She paused for a moment pressed against him, his arm wrapped around her side keeping her from crashing into the aisle. She pushed further against him softly sinking further into his side. Her eyes slowly lifted meeting his, and the small embers within his heart roared to life. She turned, her shoulder pushing hard into his sternum with sudden, familiar coldness. He slid gently back away from her into the seat as he pulled back his arm.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want you to fall…”
“No, no it’s fine, I just… “ she gazed away, her face expressionless. “She was-she was everything I ever hoped for, my everything. People talk about how love is fiery, passionate, complicated, but our love was simple. Loving her was nothing, like dandelion wishes, magic but simple. All the misery of the world, gone like smoke in the wind. I knew that no matter what happened, no matter how terrible things got, our love was there like a safe harbor in a maelstrom.” “Sometimes things fall apart, some storms are too great to endure.” “I understood why it ended. Always said I didn’t but I did. We lost ourselves. I blamed her because she wouldn’t let me help, so she ran and there he was waiting.” “Maybe she couldn’t with you there. Maybe she needed to do it for herself.” “ I will never understand how you can tell someone you love them, while in another’s bed.” She paused looking out the rain streaked window, her breath slowing. She exhaled a deep heavy sigh and looked him in the eyes, their glow like god’s own mercy. He melted in their sight. His wounded, broken heart for a moment beating with ease once again. At this he felt every sinew of his form tighten, for years he had thought that this feeling had left his life forever. He looked at her, a smile creeping into his eyes, and for a moment so too did hers. Her hand rested on his, but then in an instant it pulled away. Those amber pools filled with ice that would rival that of the coldest winter’s howl. Where moments ago hints of that precious smile hung like lofty clouds, now only cold indifference remained. “Sometimes one must find peace where they may. Experiences are the sweets of life and a life lived without ecstasy is one missed.” The bus pulled to a stop this time a gentle roll and squeak of the break the only indication it had stopped. The rain came down heavier. It bounced upon the roof creating a thunderous roar. She sat beside him, tense, her muscles drawn up like wires of a piano. “She was everything I ever wanted but in the end, there was nothing left of that sweet girl I had known. She was a frigid selfish thing, too wounded to love another. I was in love with the ghost of a woman and when I saw that, my heart broke forever.” He paused, staring into those caramel eyes, in them he saw nought but the glaze of one who has lost all but the basest of interest. All she had once been was gone, she was but the shadow of the woman moments before. As he rose she stood allowing him to exit the bus. Turning he spoke. “For all the hurt she gave me, I wish I could take back all the hate I gave back. She was hurt, and scared, and I made it worse. I can’t say you didn’t deserve it, but I wish I had been better, because every night when I dream; I can’t see anything but the hurt that was in those deep brown eyes…” He paused, letting out a ragged breath.
When I was little I believed that when balloons flew into the sky they went to heaven and the people up there would catch them. This meant that if I sent a balloon with a message written on it my parents would receive it. This was something my family did in memory of my parents. My favorite time was my junior year of high school, when my aunt surprised my sister and me with 3 purple balloons. We were able to write messages to my Dad, which we had not been able to do in awhile . It felt good to send something physical and meaningful up into the sky. I know that they get them because I can feel it in my heart. Memories do not necessarily need to be happy to be favorites. Sometimes the best memories are in honor of the ones we love.
Thank you for sharing your memory with us.
I hope that someone might read it, and find that they are not alone in their troubles or find solace in such a beautiful moment.
Recently, it seems as though everywhere I look, on the news, or social media I find nothing but negatives. While it’s important to face problems, if we focus on nothing but darkness, we forget the dawn.
What is your favorite moment in your life?
I hope that this, might be a place that people can come together and share the things they love. This series, will begin with me and I hope that you, the readers, will send in some moments of your own. With every shared experience, we might build a place of warmth for everyone.
Please submit your memory @ firstname.lastname@example.org
My favorite memory comes from my junior year of college. I recently began to date someone really special, and I set out to do anything in my power to impress her. She often spoke of how much she loved her two younger brothers and I decided that I would buy tickets for all four of us to a theme park for Halloween. As an only child, I never experienced family outings with siblings but soon discovered that it is one hell of an experience. The boys were wild, and very excited to be going with us. I got to know them better, joking about one’s inability to smile, and the other’s impressive ability to name every element on the periodic table as we waited in line. We went through a few rides, and then decided to test our bravery in the haunted houses. She, and her brothers were terrified, jumping and screaming as each scare popped out from some hidden corner. The moment, that I will never forget, was as we exited the last haunted house. She and her brothers all were hanging off of me, wrapped around my arms and throat as they laughed and smiled. They let go and started teasing one another for being so afraid, poking and pushing one another, their eyes filled with joy. The pure happiness of spending a night, with what would eventually feel like family, was something that I will never forget. We walked out of the park, holding hands as the boys ran around us in the crisp fall air, and all the bad in the world just didn’t exist for an evening. I know that, it’s not some incredible or life-changing thing but to me, it was a perfect day.
sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.
“You know, I’ve really missed these evenings with you.”
“What is it that makes you love them so much, other than my incredible presence that is?”
“The smell of corn fields, and crisp evening air. The smell of leaves on the ground as they become an array of brown. It reminds me of young love and first kisses stolen under blankets… of late nights with friends now gone.”
The cold air ripped across the beach like a wraith lashing at exposed skin. Cold Harbor lived up to its name most days, but today especially so. The black waves slammed into the coast sending up a thick spray. Dr. Reid Clark stood near the road away from the biting spray. The sheriff had called earlier that morning asking for consultation on a death. He didn’t know how a researcher could assist on a homicide, or how the sheriff knew his name. However, the sheriff’s tone left little room for argument. The body lay close to the shore, with tarps protecting the scene. The deputies milled about near the body, while the coroner and sheriff spoke. Sheriff Day waved for Reid to approach from near the body. He began to walk down the embankment and into the sand, sudden anxiety gripping his chest. The sand was wet and cold, some it spilled into his shoe filling him with discomfort and doing little to ease his growing fear. He hated beaches, the sand seemed to never come out of his shoes, and the spray always coated his clothes in salt.
“Morning, Dr.Clark now I know you’re not an expert on animal attacks, but I thought maybe you could give it a try,” called Sherif Day over the roar of the wind. Reid quickened his pace and came to stand behind the sheriff.
“Good morning, sheriff. I can certainly do my best, but I’m more of a scientific historian. I’m sure your coroner knows much better than I.”
“Well Dr. Clark I’m rather new here myself and a little help can’t do much harm.”
“I’ll do my best, but again, I’m sure I won’t provide much insight.” Reid wished that the man would let him leave.
“That’s all I’m asking for,” The sheriff lifted the tarp off the body exposing a shocking scene. The fishermen’s body was mangled beyond recognition. Beneath the sternum, nothing remained, except for ragged strips of flesh that hung from the eviscerated torso. Reid stifled the need to vomit, hot spit filling his mouth as he turned away from the horror.
“What you think could have done it?” asked the sheriff. Reid composed himself, blinking away tears from the corners of his eyes. The crescendo of panic faded as he straightened his jacket, and began to repeatedly clench his hands.
“Maybe a shark, but I’ve never seen one do that amount of damage around, especially this far in the northern hemisphere.”
a large grey truck pulled over onto the embankment near Reid’s small purple beetle. Its lights flicked off and a man climbed out of the truck. He was short and somewhat heavier set. He began down the embankment, stumbling in the sand. He wore an old flannel shirt over a once white shirt. His stocking cap was torn and ragged in places giving him a disheveled look. This was compounded by the unkempt hair and beard that whipped about in the frigid gusts.
“Mornin’, Sheriff,” called the man as he approached the scene.
“Paul, this is Dr. Clark. He’s going to be helping out also,” said the sheriff. Paul grasped Reid’s hand and gave it a firm shake.
“Nice to meet you, Dr. Clark.”
“Paul is a fishermen from down in Port Royale since we’re so close I asked him to drive up and give it a look, same as you.” Paul walked closer to the mangled hunk of flesh, wincing as he saw the full extent of the injuries.
“That’s a pretty mean bite,I’m not sure what could do that, but God almighty I hope I never meet it.”
The trio stared at the body, uncertainty painting their faces with a tinge of fear.
“I’m going back into town guys, I’ll let the Coroner and his men finish up. I’d appreciate it if you two could think on what could’ve done it and both meet with me in town later.”
“Would this afternoon be all right for you two? I’ll be back around five,” asked Paul, glancing from the sheriff to Reid. Reid nodded, but continued to wish that they would let him simply leave.
“Sounds like a plan, see both of you later. Just come on down to the station and ask for me, Cindy’ll tell me you’re there.”
As the three began to walk up the sandy hill a wave crashed hard into the beach sending up a chilling spray. Reid jumped, the cold surprising him. He turned, facing the ocean and thunder echoed as swells and black clouds writhed on the horizon. He glanced back at the poor soul that lay on the beach, but something then caught Reid’s eye. A piece of coral had washed ashore. It was discolored, a strange green spine jutting from the side of the tendrilled mass of white spines. He walked toward the fragment, lifting it from the sea. The coral had grown up around the green plate-like thing. He took the strange fragment and carried it with him to the road.
“Hey Paul, you ever seen anything like this before?” He said handing the coral to him.
“Oh yeah, I’m not sure what the thing is but every so often one will wash ashore. It’s funny that kind of coral isn’t supposed to live around here. At least not near shore, its from way down deep.”
“Yeah that is funny… , oh thanks for the help.” Reid then took the piece of coral, and walked to his car. He placed the coral on the passenger floorboard, on an old-college t-shirt. The car was a welcome respite from the frigid wind. He stared again at the odd coral formation puzzled by the mysterious origin. He drove into town, rain falling with a gentle patter against the windshield, the streams racing along the glass. The slate gray sky blanketed the world in a dreamlike monochrome.
He drove into the small fishing town of Ophidian Bay. The town was small, home to only two thousand or so. The town had known better times. Once a hub for fishermen, now little commerce remained. Dr. Clark initially came to the bay in search of why the town had failed. The Smithsonian tasked him with discovering the cause for a piece on North American fishing. So far, he was uncertain why many of the fishermen abandoned the region. Ophidian Bay was well known for whaling during the first half of the century, but a series of terrible storms had ravaged the area. This caused the whalers to leave, but the fishermen left with them. Reid asked around the town for weeks, but everyone he met was tight lipped on the subject. The behavior perplexed him, it seemed to only occur in Ophidian Bay. The fishermen forty miles south, in Port Royale, were quite friendly and answered his questions without evasion. However, this spawned another mystery. Why was Ophidian Bay struggling, while their southern neighbors flourished? Port Royale expanded in the past century from a miniscule village to one of the most frequented stops along the northwestern coast.
Dr. Clark drove through the town, past the few remaining stores lining the main street. He took a left past the ancient bar lovingly called The Broken Oar. He continued down the aged, pockmarked road until he arrived at the only hotel in town. The decrepit structure seemed to lean with each gust of wind, the paint cracked and peeling everywhere. The shutters, what remained of them, hung loosely from the windows broken and flapped in the breeze. From its architecture it appeared that it once was quite beautiful. He found it haunting it’s lost beauty hung to the building like a burial shroud. Past decadence revealed itself in strange ways. His favorite was the massive chandelier in the lobby with string lights thrown about it as the wiring failed. The entire town mirrored this feeling. Once beautiful things now forgotten.
As he gathered his things, standing in the overgrown parking lot rain continued to form an oppressive wreath of grey. In his hands, the sharp coral felt cool and wet. The emerald plate seemed to shimmer and warp in the light. He passed through the cavernous lobby, climbed the stairs, walked down the long hall of the second floor, and arrived at room 33. His door swung open, moaning as it went. The lights did little to illuminate the room, He had found that dim and grey were the go to for the small fishing hamlet. Reid lay on the bed, thinking of the events from the beach, he still felt the man’s grey lifeless eyes staring up into him.
The fragment of coral rested on the small worn dresser in the corner of the room. For the past two hours Reid, researched everything he thought held relevance to the attack, and coral. The horrific wounds did not match shark attacks. While many sharks, including some quite large ones did reside within the waters, none left wounds similar to those of the fisherman. That which had shorn the man in two left strange round indentations along what remained of the sternum. Reid still could not drive out the gruesome image from his mind. The coral he discovered belonged to a species that resided in the dark some one thousand meters below the surface. Reid could not fathom how such a sample had risen up from the depths.
Perhaps it’s unrelated, I may just be grasping at straws, thought Reid, as he stared at the mysterious tangle of coral. The pale white coral appeared unremarkable, but the strange, angled plate still shone with that shifting, emerald light, that seemed to writhe and dance in the light. While the color and strange optical behavior appeared completely foreign, he felt some familiarity with the shape of the object. Reid reached into his bag, sifting through the contents. Finally, he found the pocket knife at the bottom. He pulled it free, and flipped out the blade. Reid wedged the blade between a small gap in the coral and the mysterious plate. After a few minutes of prying, and some erratic stabbing, pieces of broken coral fell to the floor. Now freed from the coral prison, he saw the true shape of the thing. The diamond shape was odd, and soon exposed the true nature of the object. While unlike any scale he had seen before, he recognized the sloped round edges that tapered into points. He set the scale back on the dresser, and lay on the bed more confused than before. He rested his eyes and slowed his thoughts,letting sleep take him.
Reid awoke two hours later unsure of the time. The eternal grey, of Ophidian Bay prevented any determination for time of day. He grabbed his phone from the nightstand, checking the time. He found two missed calls, and a voicemail from the sheriff. He pulled up the voicemail, and listened.
“Dr. Reid, Uh.. you know maybe you were right. This was a bit of an overstep to ask you to help. I could tell that you seemed uncomfortable and you know I think it’s best if my department pursues this case on our own from here on out. Hope you understand. I just think it’ll be safer.”
“Weird,” mumbled reid to himself. This morning the sheriff ignored all his many protests, adamant on needing Reid’s help. The gruff man did not feel like the type to change his mind seemingly on a whim. His mind began to spin, what happened between this morning and now. Something felt wrong, he could feel his face growing warm, as the hairs along his neck stood on end. A chill ran down his arm, as Reid became aware that it felt as though he were being watched. The room felt still, but it was as though there were some shift in the air. He jumped out of bed grabbing his keys, dashing through the door. He left his room, and bounded through the hotel towards his car, every few steps glancing about wildly. A blast of frigid Ophidian Bay air ripped at him as Reid stepped out into the crisp salty air. He climbed into the car, locking the door behind him. The heat began to warm him, melting away the cold from his joints. From the corner of his eye, a single curtain swung back into place in a second floor window. Reid pulled out from the parking lot, and began driving toward the police station, his heart pounding in his chest.
The sky was dark with rain clouds and although the worst of the storm had passed, there was still a heavy drizzle that caused the drain pipes to overflow on the roof. The water poured from the drain pipes like a broken curtain over the sidewalk that crossed in front of the school. Students gathered under the long roof that extended from the door to the road and waited for their friends before braving the muggy weather. Their uniforms were as damp as their moods, their clothes drooping as lifelessly from their bodies as their smiles did from their faces. Walking out into the misty rain, they all looked as though they were heaving the wet rags on their arms and legs. The umbrellas resting on their shoulders looked heavy with water as they dripped onto the ground where their shoes sloshed through the puddles. The students stuck without umbrellas used newspapers or backpacks to cover their heads when they ran across the road. Students like Hana, who could barely carry their backpack as is, which was weighed down by extra books, and didn’t take a newspaper from the art room or had friends to lend their umbrella, stood alone under the roof, waiting out the rain.
Hana was one of the only boys left. He took a seat on the bench near the wall which was sheltered partly by the roof and partly by the row of trees beside it. The trees weren’t so tall. The other students made a game of it to touch the lowest branch and it was almost a right-of-passage if you could climb to it without getting caught by headmaster, whose office was in the nearest window and almost always open. Hana thought it was a bit childish but even he, as he sat there with plenty of time to himself to think, wondered if he could touch the lowest branch yet. It was his first year in middle school and it would be ‘cool’ if he could come back the next day, this early in the year, and boast about touching that branch first. He would surely be noticed, maybe even by that girl he met in Class 2B.
He blushed, the youthful adrenaline kicking to life in his heart as he battled with his options. It was like having those little voices on his shoulder, whispering hot lies into his ears.
They’ll all think you’re cool. She’ll think you’re cool.
He gulped, tempted to try it.
He stood up, fingers twitching on the straps of his backpack.
When he last checked, the office light was off, all he had to do was touch it.
Or climb it.
“If you’re going for the tree I would wait on that. Don’t worry, no one else is will get the glory first. I’ve been listening to the other kids and I haven’t heard anything about it since the year started. It was a big deal last year you know, I’m sure the message was passed to you seventh years. I’m in my ninth year. My name’s Mackenzie Watanabe by the way, what’s yours?”
Mackenzie had long, light coloured hair tied back and his eyes were blue. He looked like the typical ‘American’ Hana heard about, breaking school regulation with his hair length and his unbuttoned uniform. Any taller and he might have thought he actually was one, even with the proper accent. He looked strange but not any stranger than his name sounded.
“Mackenzie?” Hana tried to mimic how he said it but it came out like it had been grated.
“That’s right!” Mackenzie gave a hearty laugh, his shoulders bouncing. His wet uniform seemed weightless the way he effortlessly moved under them. He dug one hand in his pocket and held an umbrella out with the other. “It’s foreign. My dad is the headmaster and he lived overseas for a while. He liked the name but I don’t think he realised how much of a pain it would be for all my friends. He told me to go on ahead home, want me to walk you first? You don’t look like you have an umbrella and it’s typhoon season. It wouldn’t surprise me if the weather turned nasty here in about an hour or so. Here, let me walk you.”
Pushy like an American too, Hana thought as the umbrella handle was thrust into his face.
“What’s that look for?” Mackenzie asked, inspecting that twisted look of fear on Hana’s face as he pushed the umbrella handle down from his chin. “Is it the name still? What’s yours?”
“Hana Saito,” Hana said softly. Mackenzie had to lean in to hear him and Hana stepped aside.
“Hana, you said?” Mackenzie asked. “We both have odd names don’t we?”
“My parents wanted another girl,” Hana clarified. “It’s not like it’s uncommon.”
“Still…,” Mackenzie hummed and rolled the handle in his palm. “At least we have something we share right? That’s the first step to becoming friends.”
Hana could have thought of ninety-nine different ways of how to be cool to make friends. Meeting the son of the headmaster, an upperclassmen with a weird name, was not one of those ways. Touching the tree branch or even climbing the tree sounded cooler by far and it would have been much easier just to do that but since they started talking, the rain had pooled at the base of the tree. Hana stepped away from the deep puddle and crashed into Mackenzie, who caught him by the shoulders.
“You okay there?” Mackenzie asked casually as he stood Hana upright across from him and checked for any signs of injury. If Hana pretended he stepped on his ankle wrong and sprained it, it would have saved him a load of embarrassment, but he couldn’t think of the lie fast enough. Mackenzie was already looking passed him at the tree.
“If you want to climb it that badly, I could stand guard–”
“N-no! No, I don’t want to,” Hana sputtered.
“But you were looking at it again–”
“If you want to walk me home we should go now,” Hana said quickly, pointing at the mist cloud that sunk low on the road. “The rain looks like it’s letting up. I don’t want you to catch a cold for staying out in it when it gets worse.”
“I’m made of pure steele like the superhero!” Mackenzie laughed. “I’ll never get sick!”
That made Hana smile and he forgot about the flooded garden next to the school. Mackenzie held the umbrella between them and walked Hana out to the road, to the next sidewalk and toward the docks.
“This way you said?” he asked. Hana nodded quietly while they joined side-by-side on the sidewalk. Mackenzie was near the road and Hana walked along the edge of the path, beside the docks. He stared at the water as it knocked against the boats. Their ropes creaked when they yanked on the hooks. The rain picked up in the wind and slapped the boats until they banged against the docks. The umbrella in Mackenzie’s hand whipped inside out and flapped behind them.
“Hold on!” Mackenzie called, grabbing Hana by the arm to pull him from the edge while he fought with the umbrella. The wind settled and the umbrella fell and scraped the ground. Mackenzie turned it out.
“Sorry about that,” he chuckled. “Looks like the storm’s going to come rolling in soon. Are you alright? You look sick, you’re pale.”
Mackenzie moved in front of Hana and put their foreheads together to check his temperature, which to him, seemed on the higher side. Hana registered it only after he pulled away and smiled at him.
“We’ll get you home and I’ll make you something to eat. You look like you just sucked down all that sea water out there and the salt in the air isn’t helping, is it?”
Mackenzie grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him along, his other hand held the umbrella out in front of them to block them from the biting rain. His long hair had fallen out of it’s tie and stuck to the back of his neck where his wet collar sagged and sloped toward his shoulders. Hana stared at him and thought he heard him talking but couldn’t make out what he said with the wind howling around that wobbly umbrella. Some of the rain that caught on it’s folds splashed him and he ducked to save his eyes. The mist rose from the streets and raced beside them like large, white waves, curling in and pushing against them over and over again. Hana felt his feet dragging on the sidewalk as though he were wading knee-deep through a river. If Mackenzie hadn’t been holding onto him, pulling him forward, he would have been stranded by the storm.
“Almost there right?” Mackenzie asked, louder than before, snapping Hana from his daze.
“Almost,” Hana coughed as the rain pelted his tongue with it’s rusty flavour.
They reached the hill that lead to his house and Hana nodded his new friend in the right direction. He knew the streets by heart because he walked to and from school every day. As they weaved through the streets, the rain began to die out though Hana believe it was the houses that took the brunt of the torrent and it was them that waded through the aftermath. For a moment, when Hana looked away from the docks below and saw the back of Mackenzie’s head, he could have sworn that had been running from something. From the storm maybe? Had they run at all? They were already at his house, standing in front of the door while Hana fumbled for his keys but he didn’t remember how they got there. His ice cold fingers barely knew what they were doing as he twisted the key in the door.
They removed their shoes when they stepped inside. Mackenzie was the one who shut the door because Hana stood in the breezeway like a statue, trying to familiarise himself with the dark halls ahead of him.
“This has to be the right place,” Mackenzie muttered to himself. “The key worked….”
“Y-yeah, this is it,” Hana replied absent-mindedly, his fingers moving onto the buttons of his uniform jacket as though they had a mind of their own.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Mackenzie asked as he set his own jacket on the rack and offered to put Hana’s there too. Once they dried as best they could with the towels available, they hurried to the bedroom to change into some lounge clothes.
“You’ll have to b-borrow my sister’s things,” Hana said, holding out a pair of pink sweatpants to Mackenzie, who accepted them with a mischievous grin.
“They’ll fit you better than any of mine– hey!”
Mackenzie danced out of his uniform and hopped into the sweatpants with a shirt half over his head while he wriggled himself into the main hall.
“I’m getting you something to eat! You have a fever! Lie down already!” he called back to Hana, who stood with his dry clothes still in his hands, staring dumbly at the hall.
Hana, half dressed and about to put his shirt on, jumped and blushed to his ears when Mackenzie’s head popped in the doorway.
“What kind of ramen do you want? I can make eggs too. And do you like tea?”
Hana thought that if he stood there, glaring at Mackenzie, that the guy would take a hint and leave him to finish in peace. But that stupid boy couldn’t read the room and was more anxious for his answer than to pay attention to Hana’s disapproving brown eyes.
“Anything is fine,” Hana told him with a sigh as he pulled his shirt on. “I’m not picky.”
“Okay!” Mackenzie grinned at him, waved and went back to the kitchen. The clanking and the crashing made Hana flinch but if there’s anyone stupid enough to cheat fate and truly never get hurt, or sick, Hana placed a hefty bet on Mackenzie Watanabe.