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Fantasy Drama

As Paloma walked, the sounds of civilization grew softer and softer, a deafening silence overtaking the night.  She barely registered the wood under her bare feet, or the chill of a breeze in the middle of June.  When she reached the edge of the dock and look out over the water, memories swarmed her brain, buzzing through her skull until tears dripped downwards.

You are being ridiculous, she scolded herself.  Two minutes, that’s the longest you’re allowed to let yourself cry over this.  Her mind ticked down each second.

Once time was up, she dried her face, shutting her eyes.  Come on, Paloma,” she said, cursing the hoarseness in her voice.  “Stop being ridiculous.”

She turned to leave when she had a terrifying thought: she had no idea how she got here.  There wasn’t supposed to be a dock at this part of the lake.  Her car had just been in her line of sight, but all that stood there now was an empty, silent forest.  The hairs on the back of her neck stood.  She was not safe here, and she knew it.  Heart pounding, she turned, nearly slipping on the slimy boards. 

Someone stood in her path.  Soft curls and blue eyes brought a name to her lips, the sound just barely escaping her: “Malachi.”

This couldn’t be Malachi.  She knew that this was some trick, some mirage created to hold her here.  She gritted her teeth and prepared to fight, to scream, to do anything to get past whatever creature stood before her.

Looking in his eyes, the spark of rebellion died.  Maybe, a small voice whispered in the corner of her mind.  Maybe it’s really him.  She set her jaw, the tiny voice shouting over and over, finally fighting off the swarm of other thoughts insisting upon themselves.  Yes, this had to be her Malachi, she decided it would be.

When he walked forward with open arms, she longed to run into them, to rest her head on his chest and wrap herself into his familiar warmth.  Instead, she turned to the water.

“It’s a lovely night,” he said.  His voice was the right one, the one she was so familiar with.  

It must be him.

“It is,” she said.  She looked up for the first time, both to avoid those eyes and see if there was any truth to his statement.

Trillions upon trillions of stars danced above her head.  She gaped at the swooping of their constellations over the blue night illuminating the world in an ethereal glow.  In the silence, she thought she could almost hear them twinkling, laughter from the heavens as they danced far from the worries of earth.  Humanity had lost sight of most stars by building taller and brighter structures with each new civilization.  In Paloma’s age, one could only hope to see more than a handful of stars on a clear night.  This display far exceeded even the wildest of Paloma’s dreams.

Paloma gazed out where the reflections of these lights danced on the water’s surface.  The swirling sparks called out to her, inviting her to dip down and swim into the night itself, into the heavens, into a world devoid of betrayal.

She sat at the edge of the water, a foot just reaching its surface.  As she kicked out ripples, Malachi sat beside her, hip to hip, just as her Malachi would.

There was that ache of memory again.  “Remember stargazing with me?” she asked.  “We were camping with Alex and Marlow, but they went to sleep early so we had to stay with the fire.”

He nodded but didn’t comment on the night as expected.

She continued, “You said you’d never gotten a good look at them like that since you always lived in a city, so I showed you my favorites.”

“Right.  The one with the belt was first?”

“Orion.”  She glanced at him, eyes lingering on his familiar, perfectly imitated smile.  “He points East, towards home, and he’s always been easy to find.”  Looking up again, she sighed.  “I don’t think I could make him out in this sky though. Malachi, where… when do you think we are?”

“Maybe nowhere and maybe never.”  He laughed as though he told one of his classic jokes.

A reflexive laugh escaped Paloma before the dread returned.  “This many stars would be impossible so close to town even decades ago.  Malachi…”

She stopped herself from asking again, because the answers frightened her. Maybe nowhere, and maybe never.  

  “There’s a legend of a dock frozen forever on the same night,” Malachi said, answering her unasked question.  “They say there’s some ancient magic holding it in place and hiding it from the rest of history.  This might be it.”

“So, the world can just pass us by while we’re here?”  She tentatively rested her head on his shoulder.  She knew it was wrong, knew she shouldn’t indulge herself, but her memories and emotions sloshed through her head, drowning out any resistance to this temptation.  His head lay on top of hers, as it always had, and she closed her watery eyes.  The familiarity of it all hollowed her chest.

Malachi asked her about her evening, about her family and her dog and her art studio and everything she would eagerly elaborate on.  And she babbled on and on about their old adventures.  Card games, hikes, a time when they were trapped in a gas station overnight by their friend, it spilled from her in an unending stream.  She fought off the bitterness tainting each memory, forcing a smile or a laugh instead.

On some level, she felt time slipping away, the familiar ticking of seconds in the back of her head, but with each story and each easy smile on his face it drifted further and further into her mind.

If this was to be her eternity, then she had stumbled into eternal bliss.  

She shifted her head on his shoulder, the ache of her neck the only remaining indication of time.  “I could get used to this,” she sighed.

“No, you couldn’t.”

She barely caught the change in his voice, the bitterness leaching warmth from his tone.

He continued, controlling his words.  “It’s horrible being trapped in a moment alone.”

“But we aren’t alone?”

He looked down at her.  “Of course, Beautiful.”

Beautiful.  How she loved the way he said that to her.  He used it to describe flowers, and stars, and her: imperfect, clumsy, unlovable her.  He was the first to call her that outside of her doting parents, and she feared he would be the last.  She fought memories of the last time he said it when he was explaining why he didn’t…

Malachi placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

She shot up, glaring at him.  “What do you think you’re doing?  You can’t… this isn’t how it went!”

His eyes widened.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“You can’t do this!”  Her fists balled the fabric of her shirt.  “You can’t get my hopes up again, not after you’ve broken my heart once.  It was broken already, so why did this… why did today…”  She hated the pitiful sob wracking her body.  “Where’s your wife?”

He paled, blue eyes flickering to green for a second.  “I didn’t know he was married.”

“Of course, because you aren’t him.”  She wiped her face, sitting next to him again and allowing herself fifteen seconds to regain some composure.  She was ridiculous for entertaining this fantasy and hated herself for how easily she fell into their old rhythm on this rotting dock, but she had held hope that the stars had brought them together again.

“He got married this morning.  After all these years, he was married to someone else, and I was the last to know.  I went for a drive to clear my head, and when I saw the lake we used to go to, I got out to walk its edge again.  I thought the walk could help me realize how foolish I was for thinking his feelings would change.  Instead, here I am, stuck on some dock with a lie of what I wanted him to be.”

The man was quiet for a moment.  Wordlessly, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  She melted into the affection, craving the warmth even if this wasn’t Malachi.

“I’m real,” he said.  “Just not him.  I… this disguise is from your memories.  From the way you saw him, and the memories between you two, I thought…”

“So did I.  Those days we spent together, all the small moments, it all just fed a false hope finally shot dead today.”

She ran a hand over the boards, over the slimy rot at the edge facing the water.  He never cared, so why do you? She asked herself, plucking a splinter from the wood.  “I was blinded by what we had, and so focused on how… safe it felt with him to ever consider what would come next, and how his story may not have me in it.  I belong in this place of frozen stars and rotting wood.”

“No one belongs here,” he says.  “People visit, and I hold them for a time to hear their stories, but they always go on to make more.  It’s what travelers do.  They get stuck from time to time, but they move on to the next adventure.”

Paloma stared into the eyes of the one she loved.  “I don’t know any story besides the one I wrote for us.  How am I supposed to move into a new one?”

His smile was distinctly not Malachi’s, a sweet, sorrowful upturn of his lips that didn’t quite reach his eyes.  “By letting it happen.  You can leave here, and let a new story come to you.  Embrace whatever comes next and know it will be even greater than what was lost.”

“How does the next one start?”

“However you want it to.”

She pursed her lips.  Another question finally worked its way into the air, “How… how do I leave?”

He nodded to the end of the dock furthest from the water.  “Pick a direction, and you’ll find your way to the next adventure.”

A final teardrop fell from her chin.  She leaned forward and placed a kiss on his cheek.  “Goodbye, Malachi.”  She stood and walked away.

She stopped where the dock met fresh grass.  “What’s your name?”

“Lysander,” he said, his voice transformed to a lighter, more melodic sound.

Paloma smiled.  “Lysander, find me whenever you escape this place.  I hope you find the start to your next story.”

Her feet moved from wood to grass, and she let the light of the stars guide her back to the road.

January 23, 2024 19:29

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1 comment

Emily Heneisen
21:10 Jan 31, 2024

Wow, the amount of emotion you fit into such a limited space is impressive. I’m sad that this is just a short story; I think it would do well as a full book or novel, and I want to see Paloma and Lysander in their next adventures!

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