Drama Science Fiction

On the night of her last disappearance, the Aurora was bright.

The snow was stale and the blue bird songs of summer had drifted into memory. It was quiet and cold, completely still. The air smelled like sleep and frosted winter windows.

She stood in the doorway of the cottage for a long time, facing the shadowy corners of her youth. The moonlight reflecting off the snow behind her cast a feeble blue light through the open doorway, obstructed in the middle by her warped silhouette. She thought she should feel sad to be leaving, but the sadness wouldn’t come. And even if it had come, it would have had to move on, for there was no room for it anymore. All the available space within her was taken up by something else: a knowing.

On the day of her first disappearance, the sun never set. It was July, and the sticky air was thick with mosquitos. So hot the dogs panted in their sleep. 

She was twelve. And she wanted nothing more than to be at the lake with her one and only friend, Jack. But instead, she was serving out a sentence in the kitchen, forced to polish the silverware in recompense for misbehaving at school. 

As she stood at the counter, lazily buffing a spoon and half-listening to her mother’s endless lecture, she spotted it: the white rock. 

It stood immobile and resolute in the thrashing northern sea, about two miles off the coast. 

“Emily,” her mother scolded. “Are you listening to me?”

“No,” she said absentmindedly. “Do you see that?” She aimed the half-polished spoon at the window. 

“See what?”

“That tall white rock.”

Her mother peered out the window, frowning. “That’s just a break in the waves. See? It’s gone. Now, pay attention. As I was saying—”

“It’s not a wave, Mother,” she insisted. “Look! It’s right there. It looks almost like a…person. Like a woman. Covered in white cloth or something.”

Suddenly her mother’s hand was on her forehead. “Do you feel all right?”

“No! I’m upset because you won’t look!”

With a sigh, her mother pushed her face up against the window. “I’m looking, Em. And I don’t see a damned thing!” She turned to her daughter again. “Perhaps we need to schedule a visit to Dr. Clark’s.”

“Yes, we do,” she agreed. “You should see Dr. Clark. Because you’re obviously blind!”

Fueled by childhood conviction, she dropped the spoon and ran out the door, ignoring her mother’s calls. 

They looked for her all evening, but the beams from their flashlights were pathetic in comparison to the eternal sphere of fire in the sky. She watched them from the wonky pine tree a few miles from the house, the trunk of which suddenly and inexplicably split in two halfway up. She found that she enjoyed being invisible. She reveled in the elevated perspective, watching her family scour the forest in vain. 

It was Jack who finally found her the next morning. He was in the village shop, stealing apples, when he overheard the news. 

“That Miller girl, you know, the odd one—apparently she ran away last night!”

“Always seemed a bit unstable to me.”

“Aye. Her poor mother.”

Jack ran up the hill and past the cottage, straight to the wonky pine tree, where he found her, asleep against one of the trunks. 

“Maybe it’s a lighthouse,” Jack said. He had climbed up himself, and now sat near her on a lower branch.

“It’s in the middle of the sea!” she rejoined. 

“It could be an old lighthouse,” said Jack, handing her half of an apple. “From thousands of years ago. Back when the earth looked different.” He took a bite of his apple half. “Maybe it was on a little island that sank. Or a big island that sank. Maybe there’s a whole ancient world under our feet and we don’t even know it.”

She considered this as they both chewed, juice dripping down their chins. 

“Do you want to see it?” she asked. 

Jack nodded, and they scampered down the tree and ran out of the forest to the cliff’s edge. 

“There,” she huffed, out of breath, and pointed. “Do you see it?”

“I do. I see it!”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

She breathed a sigh of relief, her sanity validated, and then began to laugh. 

In all the years to come, he’d never confess his lie. He hadn’t seen the rock. No one had.

That autumn, they attempted to build a raft to reach the rock. They spent countless hours tying logs together. They even gave the raft a name. But it broke apart within the first few minutes of its maiden voyage, for the waters of the northern sea were simply too rough and unforgiving. 

Multiple missions to reach the rock were dreamt up and carried out (unsuccessfully) over the next few years. One spring, they attempted to commission a small fishing vessel to take them to the rock, but the captain declined. At least, that’s how they interpreted his response. All he did was chuckle and walk away, reeking of fish and tobacco. 

One summer, they stole a canoe from the lake and tried to paddle out to sea. They made it almost half a mile before Jack passed out from a combination of overexertion and sea sickness. Or, according to him, food poisoning.

Their final attempt to reach the rock involved stowing away on a merchant ship the summer she turned seventeen. But they were found out within hours, and promptly taken home, enduring a tirade from the crew the whole journey back. Following that incident, they were forbidden from seeing each other. Thoughts of the white rock quickly fell to the back of her mind. And rage took the place of wonder. 

On the night of her second disappearance, the fireflies arrived. 

It had been almost two weeks since she had last seen Jack. Not only had her mother bolted the bedroom windows shut, but she’d also stationed herself outside her daughter’s room every night to ensure she wouldn’t escape. 

But her daughter was not a caged bird. She was an intelligent and conniving young woman who knew where her mother kept the brandy. 

In a show of good faith—or so her mother thought—she offered to make them a spice cake for Sunday dinner. 

“This has an interesting flavor,” her mother said. “What spices did you use, exactly?”

“I followed the recipe,” she said innocently. 

An hour later, her mother was fast asleep on the sofa. 

She ran, feet bare, heart pounding, to the wonky pine tree, which they had transformed into a proper treehouse years before. She climbed up the branches as effortlessly as if they had been the rungs of a ladder, the fireflies’ silent song pulsing around her. 

She found him sitting against the wall of the treehouse, gazing out the little window. “Jack,” she whispered. 

He jumped with a start, but quickly recovered, pulling her into an embrace. 

“I brought you something,” he said, handing her an apple. She laughed and held it to her heart. “I spared no expense!” he joked, grinning. “Only the best for my Em.”

“I missed you,” she said, taking his hand.

“I missed you too.”

A shadow passed over her face then. “When my mother finds out what I did, she’s going to nail all the doors shut,” she said.

“I’ll never leave that house again.”

“Then I’ll burn it down,” he said, half-serious, “and rescue you from the flames.”

She smiled, but it faded quickly. And then, for the first time, he kissed her. 

They were young and full of loud, desperate emotions. They were not graceful, but they were gracious with each other. And despite their fear, they wanted nothing more. 

She had the sense to sneak back into the house before her mother awoke the next morning. In the moments before dawn, she crept up the stairs and slid into bed, pretending to be asleep. 

Her plan succeeded. So well, in fact, that her mother abandoned her efforts to keep her daughter under lock and key at all hours of the day (and night). And so it continued. She would pretend to be a loving, obedient daughter to keep her mother off her scent, and then, when the sun receded and the choir of crickets began, she would sneak out to the treehouse, where she knew he’d be waiting. 

It wasn’t long before she discovered she was pregnant. 

When she told him, he seemed to freeze in place, his mouth slightly ajar. 

“What do we do?” she asked.

They were eighteen and terrified. Jack was training to become a mechanic, working as his uncle’s apprentice at the garage in town for the last year, and she had just finished school, with plans to study anthropology at the university in the city, where he had agreed to search for employment once he’d completed his apprenticeship.

“I don’t know.”

They sat in silence for a long time after that.

On the morning of the third disappearance, the cottonwood seeds fell like snow.

She had just sat down to breakfast with her mother, and her stomach was in knots. 

“Mother, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Hm?” Her mother was buttering her toast, barely paying attention. 

But before she could say the words, a sharp pain sucked the air from her lungs and she doubled over in her chair. 

“Emily!” her mother gasped, jumping to her feet. 

She groaned in pain, clutching her stomach. And even before she saw the blood, she knew. They both did. 

She didn’t go to the treehouse that night. Her mother insisted she rest, so she spent the entire night in her own bed for the first time in months. It felt wrong.

Despite her fatigue, she couldn’t sleep. Instead, she stared out her bedroom window at the northern sea, glaring at the white rock. Did it stand in revolt, she wondered. Or in surrender? Because those, it seemed, were the only two options. 

She cried when she told him. And he remained frozen again, his mouth closed this time. 

On the day of the fourth disappearance, the sparks danced in the crisp autumn air, reaching wildly for the sky. 

The garage had caught fire.

There were no survivors. 

And so here she was. Back at the beginning. Alone. Standing in the doorway. 

On the kitchen table sat a note to her mother, secured under a half-empty brandy bottle. All it said was “With love, Em.” 

She closed the door. 

She went to the treehouse first. 

She hadn’t been there since before the fire. And in the years since, it had brought her a small amount of comfort to know that there was still a place she could call theirs. A place frozen in time, just for them. 

She climbed the branches as easily as she had a million times before, and brushed away a patch of snow on the little platform. And then she took an apple from her bag and set it on the exposed wooden floor of the treehouse. And said hello to the sadness one last time. 

She went to the docks next, where a small ship was waiting for her. The captain who had turned them away so many years before had finally agreed to help her, for the right price. She had no qualms giving him her money. She knew she wouldn’t be needing it. 

“You sure about this?” he asked, untying the last rope. “There’s nothing out there.”

She nodded. Resolute. Both in revolt and in surrender. “I’m sure.”

On the night of her last disappearance, the Aurora was bright. 

The captain followed her navigation, laying anchor when she commanded. He helped her into a dingy, and she thanked him. 

“I’m going to wait here!” he yelled over the wind. 

She didn’t care. 

She rowed to the white rock, propelling herself against the force of the waves. She was quickly drenched in sea spray, and her fingers froze to the oars. But she kept rowing. 

When she was finally close enough, she reached out her hand and grabbed hold of a catch in the rock. It was warm. 

She stood, unsteady, and nearly lost her balance. But she righted herself quickly, took a breath, and then leapt onto the rock. 

When she opened her eyes, she was back on the cliffs with Jack. They were twelve. And the air was warm. 

She felt her own arm pointing toward the northern sea. She felt the sweat on her brow and the muscles in her legs fatigued from running. She was out of breath. 

“Sorry, Em,” said Jack. “I don’t see anything.”

She turned. And sure enough. It was gone. 

May 06, 2023 03:57

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C. Charles
22:15 May 13, 2023

Really beautifully written. “The air smelled like sleep and frosted winter windows.” And “And said hello to the sadness one last time.” were two lines that really stuck out to me. Loved how you let the reader infer information from the text without outright saying what’s happening. Great story!


Kasey Kirchner
17:31 May 26, 2023

Such kind sentiments! Thank you so much:)


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