Title: Where No One Can be Found (1228 words)
Word Count: 1,228
Notes: Trigger warning, this piece contains allusions to suicide and self harm.
He is two eyes and a wide smile in the fuzzy semblance of a man. She is reminded of the exact nature of his condition when she goes to touch his shoulder and her hand passes through him. He offers an apologetic shrug like, what can you do, and they both move more carefully after.
He says “I almost didn’t think you would come.”
She laughs. “I almost didn’t, thought I was going crazy when I heard your voice.” They move through the forest, one whisper quiet (dead silent, haha. And she tries to punch him for that, forgets again that this isn’t how things should be) and the other alive and rustling underbrush and snapping twigs and wait, can we stop, I need to catch my breath.
Soon, all too soon, the dirty grey of pre-dawn slides into the sky and they find themselves at the bridge. She leans over the railing and looks down, down, down. The river is a thin thread far below.
“Hey,” he says. “Come with me.” She thinks about it – he smiles hopefully at her – and she says “I don’t know if I can.” He sighs, jumps, fades out of existence mid-leap and she is left alone for the moment.
The walk home is shorter – she sticks to the road – and it’s one, two, three turns before she’s stomping muddy feet on her own doorstep. It’s too late in the morning to reclaim sleep, a quick hop in the shower and a downed shot of caffeine via coffee as she skips into work shoes and all but slams the door on her way to her car.
The workday passes in a sleep-deprived blur. There is the perfunctory small talk with co-workers, the gentle simmer of slipping patience with the clients – and then suddenly she’s back in her living room, dropping her keys on her couch and shimmying out of her clothes and collapsing gratefully into her bed.
She sleeps straight through till morning.
It’s another month before he comes back to her. The sky once again gently lit by flickering stars and the smiling sideways moon. “Is this how it has to be?”
He nods, slides through a bramble bush and has to wait for her to stumble her way around it. She’s wearing jeans this time, and boots and a sweater, no more ruined pajamas for her. “The guard is strongest when the moon is full and when it’s empty. Nobody ever thinks to run away when it’s like this, waxing thin.” Holds his arms out to encompass the world beneath the sliver moon.
“But you still have to go back?”
“The world still turns.” Cryptic not answers; she wishes again that she could hit him.
Their walk is quieter this time, it hasn’t been so long between visits and she enjoys his presence more than his words anyway. They follow the same not-path as last time and she realizes this is going to become a thing, finds herself staring down at that river and asks, “Did it hurt?”
He ignores her. Watches the horizon, watches the sun creep slowly and steal their time away. “Come with me.”
She grips the railing; feels the old metal beneath her hand, the way time has rusted it in places. It was probably beautiful once, shiny and new and full of hope. “I don’t think I can.”
She watches as he jumps, pulls himself over the railing and throws himself into the air; arms spread like he’s greeting a lover and then that’s it, he’s gone again.
Her boyfriend breaks up with her before the next meeting. She doesn’t want to talk about it, and her friend doesn’t say anything beyond “what an incomprehensible dickhead.”
She touches trees, leaves, and listens to the sound of underbrush being crushed beneath her feet. “What do you do all month, when you’re waiting to come here?”
He passes through an oak, reaches up to swipe ineffectively at a branch. “I don’t know, nothing, I guess. What do you do when you’re waiting for me to come here?”
She pulls a flower, a night jasmine, and shreds it’s petals between her fingers. The scent is going to linger for hours. “Nothing.”
The bridge and the pause and the question. She smiles and shakes her head. “I wish you could stay.” He says nothing and repeats his final moment for her again.
This time, it’s her brother. Taken away for possession with intent to distribute and it’s bad, a small town and everyone knows everyone’s news. His kids go to live with their mother, three states over and there are promises to write but already she can feel the distance between them.
The night comes and she fills it with banal chitchat and he knows something is up, snaps “what is with you today?” and she doesn’t talk again, even when he asks the question they both know is coming, just shakes her head and turns away. She can’t watch him leave again.
She loses her mother in a car accident. It happened on a Sunday morning; on her way to church, of all places, for early mass. It was a drunk driver coming home from the dive bars. The EMT says it’s likely she felt no pain; that she passed quickly. But it doesn’t bring her back.
“Can you find her, wherever it is you go when you leave?” she asks when he comes to visit and he just looks at her funny, like he doesn’t quite know who she is anymore. Or maybe it’s himself he doesn’t recognize, reflected in her eyes.
“Maybe, I don’t know. I’ve never tried to find anyone.”
“Please.” She wants someone to hold her, to let her cry but everyone is dead or gone and she sucks in the air, trying to remember to be thankful that she can. That she can breathe and feel the bark of the tree beneath her and that she makes noises when she walks.
“Come with me.”
Thinks of the funeral plans she still has to make, shakes her head, and holds onto the rail until he’s gone.
Next goes her job, of course it does. Downsizing, you understand, it’s from the higher ups, corporate decision. Last one hired and all that, it’s nothing personal. But sincerity doesn’t pay the bills and she slips and it’s all downhill on her belly from there.
It’s not pleasant seeing him anymore, but she can’t help it. Still goes out her back door, into the woods, after all, how much longer will she even be able to walk this path?
She doesn’t even try to look at him anymore, can’t remember the exact shape of his smile but that doesn’t matter.
“Come with me,” he waits for an answer. She stares down at her shoes, tracing a pattern into the rail absently. He’s gone.
When the foreclosure notice arrives in the mail, she isn’t the least bit surprised.
She doesn’t tell him, hasn’t told him anything recently but he’s still there and they still walk and the option is still presented.
“Come with me.”
She leans over the rail, looks down at the river so far, far, far below for the first time in months and considers her answer.
This is an older piece, originally written in 2012, reprinted here for your viewing pleasure.