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Kenzie peeped out the window, the white curtains encircling her dark hair like a halo. The building sighed under the battering wind, and dark clouds swirled in the night sky like vultures while the rain clawed at the cool glass.

I propped my head on my hand, blowing the stray hairs out of her eyes. She didn't blink when my pale fingers brushed her cheek, tracing her scar. She was intent on watching the storm outside the window.

Lightning flashed, illuminating her in ethereal blue light.

"I'm here for you." I breathed the words in her ear.

Thunder clapped, so close that the house vibrated. Kenzie shrank under the window sill, her head sliding out from under the curtains. A shaft of light fell through the opening she created, casting the rows of bunk beds in a pallid sheen.

She crept back to her cot, careful not to rouse the dozen other girls. I followed, not bothering to conceal my footsteps. The sleeping children would not hear me.

She burrowed under the sheets, tucking her teddy bear into her stomach. I perched on the edge of the bed, sinking through the covers until we were face to face.

"I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

In the impenetrable darkness beneath her covers, my skin seemed to glow, but her pupils did not contract when they rested on my glimmering form.

I smiled. "Let me be your nightlight."

The sirens were quiet at first, but it wasn't long before the girls stirred. One by one, they sat up and watched the window. The curtains drifted placidly, unaffected by the howling winds outside.

"What do we do?"

It didn't matter which girl said it because they were all thinking about it. In unison, they descended from their beds and shuffled to the window.

"Look at the trees move! I think that one's about to snap!"

"I've never seen a storm like that before."

The oldest of the girls, perhaps eleven or twelve, said grimly, "It's a hurricane."

"Anna, what's a hurricane?" The girls watched Anna with wide eyes.

Kenzie hadn't moved from her cot. I tugged on her hand, urging her to stand up.

"Bad news." Anna steered a few girls towards the door, gesturing for the others to follow her. "Come on, Ms. Werner will know what to do."

The girls filed out, Anna conducting them away as she held the door. "There's no need to cry, Lanie, you're safe. Hannah, walk with her. Leave your shoes, Bella, you can grab those later."

Finally, she tilted her head, studying the lone girl frozen in her bed. "Hannah, do you think you could find Ms. Werner? I'll catch up with you in a minute."

By now, I was grabbing her shoulders, but my translucent hands slipped through her. "Come on, Kenzie, get up. You have to stay with the group. It's not like what happened to me, you'll be okay."

Anna sat down on top of me, and I drifted away from her body.

She tucked Kenzie under her arm, guiding her to the door. "Don't be afraid, Z, I'm here for you." Her voice was like a salve to my little girl.

She nodded, her tears glimmering in the wan light.

My girl. My girl.

I followed them down the staircase, feeling more insignificant than ever as my feet only grazed the floor.

Ms. Werner paced the interior hallway while the girls sat facing the wall, their English textbooks folded over their bowed heads. The radio chatter that had been informing them of the tornado's whereabouts had ceased, and static had replaced its insight. The wind berated the building, and the structure seemed almost alive as it shifted and rocked.

Once Ms. Werner turned the corner to check on the rest of the girls, Kenzie stiffly stood, tiptoeing down the hall towards the exterior door. I trailed her, my brow knitting.

"Z!" Anna hissed. "What are you doing? Come back!"

Kenzie's voice was rough with disuse. "I can't."

I rested my hand on her shoulder. "You're safe here. Stay here. Please."

Anna hesitated before she abandoned her book on the linoleum, chasing after the girl. "Why not? What is it?"

Kenzie pushed Anna away. "My momma's in that storm."

I choked on a sob. "Baby, I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."

Anna gaped at her. "Z, don't be crazy. You know your mom is d-" She swallowed, averting her eyes. "She's not in that storm. Stay with us, Z."

Thunder boomed, and everyone flinched. Kenzie whimpered. "I can't leave my momma out there."

My girl, my sweet baby girl.

I enveloped her in my arms, but she slipped through me, walking to the rattling front door.

I barred the exit with my body, shielding her from the torrent outside. Her tiny hand passed through me, grasping the handle.

Anna lunged for her. "No, stop!"

The double doors burst open, pounding the interior with wind and rain. Kenzie fell, cracking her head on the tiles. Anna slipped, but she caught herself. She shouted something, but the wind devoured her words.

I cupped my hands to my daughter's face. "Wake up, baby. I love you, wake up. I'm right here."

A tree limb slammed into the house, and Anna ducked to avoid it, but a branch scraped her forehead. She grabbed Kenzie's hand, pulling her into her arms.

Kenzie didn't stir.

Anna closed her eyes briefly, her head bowed, and laid Kenzie on the ground. She rose, fighting to place one foot in front of the other.

My light was reflected in the raindrops peppering Kenzie's skin. Her hair whipped, and I tried to smooth it, but the strands slid through my silvery hands. Her eyelids fluttered, but I couldn't tell if she or the wind did it.

My girl. My girl.

I sank to the floor, unable to feel the pounding rain. No, it only washed through me. I was nothing.

The rain stopped. Anna must've shut the doors. I knelt over my girl, my angel. The floor was slick with water, and I could see my flickering, ghostly reflection in the puddles. My lip trembled.

My girl. My girl.

A tear fell from my cheek to hers. It was bright as a pearl, a glimmering jewel in the dark. I wiped it away with a shaking hand.

My girl. My girl.

Her skin became silvery and bright like mine, and her eyes drifted open. "Momma?"

She shot straight up, holding me, breathing me in.  "I needed you, Momma. Why did you leave me?"

"I never left you. I'll never leave you." I pushed her away gently. "It's not your time, baby."

She bit her lip. "I miss you."

I felt her, reveling in the sensation of having her in my arms for the last time. I guided her back to her prone body, laying her to rest within it. "Goodbye, baby. I love you forever."

When Kenzie opened her eyes again, she couldn't see me. Anna was crying over her, but the sound was distant to Kenzie. She only stared right through me, searching for me in the dark, but I too bright to be found in shadow.

"I love you forever, Momma."

June 08, 2021 20:50

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1 comment

Tommie Michele
17:06 Oct 14, 2021

This is such a sweet story, Kate! I love your descriptions, especially your first paragraph: "the building sighed under the battering wind" has to be one of my favorites. The sense of closure between Kenzie and the mother was a really nice way to wrap up the story, as well. Nice work! --Tommie Michele


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