writing

SHADOW (a short story)

SHE DID NOT know where she was going. She had no idea if she was headed north or south, although she could probably take a glance up into the night sky to follow the stars. What she did know was that her hands were glued to the steering wheel of this nondescript car, and the car kept straddling the lanes, unsure where she was going too.

“Where am I, where am I, where am I?” she hissed to herself, lungs quaking with fear. No one responded. Who would respond?

Momentarily she was blinded by the hot sting of her tears, and the pain inside her was enough to blind her forever. But her eyes stayed open, and she saw through the blurriness the straight-shot arrow of the pine-fenced road. The darkness was almost quaint, if she’d take a moment and soak it in, but now it felt dead and gloomy, an invitation to a sepulcher.

“Okay. Enough,” she muttered to herself, certain that her teeth would snap out of her head from her frayed nerves. She needed to keep it together—or at least act like she could. Of course, that was easier said than done. She needed a memory, an image, a vision, anything, to remind her that she knew who she was. She had to fight through it.

But in this darkness all she could think of was… Well, nothing good. What she remembered was suffocation, a kind of suffocation that terrified her more than the blackness outside. A suffocation from despair, a suffocation from nothing going to according to plan, a suffocation from the person she supposedly loved most in the world, and…

She whistled between her teeth and bit down hard. Her jaw ached, but she had to distract herself, and this slight pain drew her eyes down to the wedding ring, where her promise for forever was chained to her finger, her body. Maybe she shouldn’t go back into those dark memories that would swallow her up, those memories that would force her to relive the pain over and over again, each time in a slightly different way. Instead her gaze darted to the dashboard. Sixty miles per hour. Pretty fast for a hair-thin road, especially when there seemed to be some fog rolling in. She pushed her foot against the brakes.

Nothing.

Though the car wouldn’t brake, it felt like her heart had bounced out of its cavity and smashed straight into her bones. She gulped down bile and pressed her heel down once more.

Nothing.

She slammed on the brakes.

Nothing.

She floored the gas pedal, and the car galloped to seventy.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” she screamed, punching the wheel, her knuckles bruising.

Realizing it wouldn’t do her any good to wound herself further, she concentrated on keeping the violence down, and considered some possibilities. Maybe she was dreaming, and this was some terrible, acidic nightmare that she’d laugh at in the morning, try to interpret with the Internet’s help; maybe this was her brain’s way of compensating for some traumatic event (and there were plenty of those to pick from), and she needed a good night’s rest; maybe she was just being silly, and needed to try the brakes one more time.

If there was a time to pray, it was now.

She did. Nothing happened.

Which meant that there was one more possibility, one that she refused to accept just yet: This was real. The car was moving all on its own.

Her hands unclenched from the wheel, and the car steered itself. It went perfectly with the road, as if it was a train on the tracks. And she knew the car wasn’t controlling her body, but it felt like it. Her chest hurt, and she gripped her collarbone, aching to breathe properly again—needing to breathe properly again. The bruises were nothing new, but they ached more and more with each passing mile, as she escaped farther and farther away, as she entered the unknown more and more. Her eyes bubbled with tears again, and she was certain she was losing it. This had to be a nightmare. It had to be.

But why did everything feel so real?

Something flashed nearby, a light sparking to life. The bright glow belonged to her cell phone that had fallen onto the floor of the passenger’s seat.

“At least the car is driving itself,” she hissed, and stretched herself to fish the phone from the darkness. She scooped it up and was ensnared by the simple text message that had made its way through, a remnant of her true life. The life she had abandoned in favor of this mysterious bolt from everything she had ever known.

Her collarbone ached.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

The slow drag under. She felt like she was in a pool, and someone was taking her by the back of the head, pulling her deeper.

WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER ME?

Why had she brought the phone? She should have left it elsewhere, tossed it out the window, so there would be no trace. So there would be no ability to fall for any more of his traps. He loved to set them, just for her. And when she’d realized how many of them waited for her, it was too late. Her misery was something she could change, but it would cost her everything she had: mental, physical, emotional. She just had to escape. She had to get out of there, even if it was the middle of the night, even if it was to nowhere at all. Nowhere was better than where she’d been before.

SARAH, I’M SORRY. JUST PLEASE ANSWER ME, OKAY?

She lifted her eyes again and caught the glimpse of the rearview mirror. The person she expected to see was not there, and in her stead was a morphed version of herself, an image of horror and grief. There were spots all over her face, violet and ugly. While she was revolted at the sight of herself, she barely moved, unable to believe the image she saw. How could she believe it, even when the proof of her pain was as clear as this? But suddenly… Something didn’t seem right. She knew she was hypersensitive—she had to be—but this was different. She scrutinized the mirror and felt her blood boil when, in the empty backseat, something shifted in the pitch black.

She screamed, slammed on the brakes again, and the car flew off the side of the road, crash landing in a nearby ditch.

A few seconds passed. Silent seconds, until there was a slight dripping noise. The stink of oil and blood rose through the air, and Sarah realized that a few drops of scarlet had fallen from her nose onto her wrists. Something sharp cut into her neck, a silver cross necklace. She then noticed that she was hanging upside down, her dark hair tumbled below her.

This night is never going to end, she thought to herself.

Everything seemed hazy, surreal, as if gravity itself did not work properly here. As if time did not work properly here. As if certain moments sped up like a bullet, and others slowed to a trot.

A car crash. She’d just been in a car crash. Her body was buzzing from the pain, but she gritted her teeth and managed to unbuckle herself. Before she knew it she was falling to the ground. She collected herself like a wounded animal and crawled through the broken window, surprised at the ease it took her to get out of the mangled car. Sarah pushed herself up from the wet, muddy earth and stood, analyzing the sight of the mess before her. She was really lucky, she decided, to have survived. Maybe it was more than luck. Luck didn’t seem to fit the bill when it came to how crushed the car was. A little ounce of hope dawned over her. It had to be a good thing she survived this, right? It had to mean something. She had been a survivor all her life, especially in these past few weeks, when his hands had sucked each breath out of her lungs.

As the thoughts flickered away, Sarah’s neck burned. She pushed her hand against a thin trickle of blood from where her necklace had cut her, and she repositioned it so the cross hung properly against her neck. Her fingers grazed against the silver.

Sarah walked along the back of the car. The license plate seemed to be the only thing still in one piece, tags from Georgia. How had she made it out of this? The sight before her was brutal. She kneeled down and examined the broken window she’d climbed through. She had to be careful, as she didn’t want to pierce her skin amidst the endless shards of glass, but her curiosity was killing her. She’d been stupid not to check the car when she had the chance. Yes, she’d been overwhelmed by the fact that the car was practically driving itself; in fact, it wasdriving itself, and she’d only been able to stop it when…

Her heart fell into her chest.

Sarah gulped and fell back, the shards of glass piercing her. Her body twisted from her awkward fall, and in the process she caught a glimpse of a dark figure emerging from the broken window. She bounced away as fast as she could, but she knew she was too slow.

She ran out onto the road, her throat raw from shrieking. There was no one out tonight, no one at all, and she felt the hope dissipate when she considered that she hadn’t seen a single car in what felt like months. Why couldn’t there be another car? Why did she ache to escape into the maddening darkness instead of a big city? He’d try to find her no matter where she went. It was her fault she craved isolation.

Isolation. The thing that had propelled her here. How she ached for it, and now she was here in this horrible nightmare. That thing in her backseat was the whole reason she’d crashed anyway, she remembered now: Ithad been there, an obscure shifting thing. She’d seen it in the rearview window, and it had terrified her so much that she’d driven straight off the road.

Sarah was definitely crazy. At least she knew that now. A woman who’d hopped into a black car in the middle of the night to escape her violent husband? Believable. But a woman who’d imagined a dark figure in her backseat? Who’d envisioned a car that wouldn’t brake or drive like she’d wanted it to? Maybe she was on drugs. Had she taken any drugs? Had she beendrugged?

She had to have made it up. She’d been running for a while now, and she was so tired, and her body hurt so much. All she had to do was take a peek over her shoulder, see if she was still being followed, but it was very possible that nothing would be there, that it had all been in her head. She’d been told that for months now, that she didn’t really know anything at all. So how was this any different?

Sarah was scared, but she paused in her tracks and turned around. At first, there was only the road again. Out in the distance was the glimmer of the totaled car, but there was nothing on the road. No psychotic masked ogre following her with a hatchet. No, there were only peaceful pines that seemed to blow back and forth in the gentle night breeze. And that creepy fog that seemed to inch closer and closer to her as time bled on.

Peaceful.

Almost.

As she rolled her eyes at how stupid she’d been, how crazy she must be, the hairs on the back of her neck rose, and her hands shook. She looked down at them and remembered the shards. In the moonlight her skin appeared normal. Normal for her. The bruises on her arms still glowed, imprints of man’s violence toward her. But where there should have been blood from the car crash, there was none. In fact, her entire body seemed to float, though she was tethered to the ground by fear.

The breeze pounded into her, and then there was a whistle, shrill and fierce. A garbled voice whispered into her ear: “Move.”

Sarah froze.

It said again, more forcefully this time: “Move!”

It had to be right there. It had to be, and before she lost her nerve, she needed to twist around to confront the dark figure. The thing that had been in her backseat. But before she could, the road lit up with the high beams of an approaching minivan.

A force slammed into her. Sarah was unsure what propelled her out of its way in time, but she fell to the shoulder of the road as the van whizzed by. As she stared down the street, the haze coming closer and closer, the van suddenly screeched to a halt. The entire image seemed vague, out of focus, as she pushed herself up and raced back to the scene of the crash. Sarah screamed as loud as she could, hating the sound of her voice, but she needed this driver to acknowledge her. He’d take her to the hospital, save her from this black hell, and she’d never go outside again. She’d never step foot in a car again, either. No, she’d walk everywhere from here on out, and that way no dark figure would appear in her backseat ever again. No dark figure would strike out against her ever again, whether that be a person she loved or a shadow in the blackness. She would make sure of that.

When she neared the van, she felt relief and hurried up to the driver. He was a middle-aged man, clean-cut. A woman appeared beside him seconds later, and she must have been his wife, because her wedding and engagement rings glinted in the light. She yelled at someone in the back of the van. Must be their kid. A beautiful, happy family. A family brought into her horror, she realized guiltily.

Sarah shouted, “It was me! I need your help! This is my car!”

But the man seemed to care less. He was stepping closer to the wreck, a pained look on his face. Why wasn’t he listening? Sarah was screaming so loud, but he refused to acknowledge her. She moved up to him, patting him on the shoulder, but he didn’t budge.

“Scott,” said the wife, tears in her eyes, “we should call the cops. Call someone to get out here. Let them handle it. Don’t go over there.”

The fog came closer.

Her husband shook his head. “What if somebody’s in there? Someone was obviously driving it.”

“Me! I’m right here!”

The woman’s lip quivered. “Do you really think you’re going to find anybody in there?”

“Call the cops,” said Scott. “Don’t come near it, okay?”

Sarah felt like her heart would rip right out of her. Why couldn’t they hear her? They didn’t need to go to the car, not when she was right here. She was right here. “Why can’t you hear me? I’m okay, I’m alive!”

“Make sure the kids don’t see anything, okay?” Scott added, a thousand lines cutting across his forehead. He couldn’t have been older than thirty, but he seemed to have aged ten years in two minutes.

“All right,” agreed his wife, pulling out her cell phone.

Sarah’s bones hurt again. She screamed, terrorized by the fact that this couple didn’t seem to see her. Did anyone ever really see her? She trailed the man named Scott to the mangled car, and she heard him cough in disgust. She felt his terror when he stumbled back from the car, a grown man who’d seen too much, and she saw him vomit and recoil, hurrying away from what he’d seen.

“Why can’t you hear me?” she yelled at him. Why did this keep happening? She wanted some control back. She wanted her choice, her freedom. It had been gone so long. “Why won’t you listen? Why won’t anyone ever listen? What did you see?”

The stillness seemed to spin. Things were misting up again, as if she was experiencing severe vertigo. She tried to keep herself up, but when she heard Scott’s cries she shut her eyes and imagined herself a world away. Somewhere with a sunny sky, a tropical beach, her hand unmarked by the curse of a wedding ring. The thought woke her back to life, a place where suffocation would swallow her up. She’d never forget what had happened. It was her curse to bear. It wasn’t fair; it never was. But it was still here, just the same, even as she hurled her wedding ring into the crushed car. She should have tossed it into the darkness long ago.

The mist was sweeping over the trees now, sweetly devouring everything in its path. With visibility diminishing faster and faster, Sarah watched as the man named Scott rushed to his boring but practical little minivan. He wrapped his arms around his wife, tears dropping down his skin. Oh, how he would never let go. Oh, how his wife wouldn’t either. And, oh, how Sarah would always understand the feeling, the feeling that no one would ever let go, since the memories would stay with her forever, even when her own body did not.

Time sped up again, a mental mist hanging over like a veil. She was there, but she knew she wasn’t. Not really, or they’d be able to hear. They’d try to hear. And suddenly then there were cops and EMTs and passersby and the minivan and the darkness and the fear and the mist, a collection of souls who should not have been there to assess the wreckage. But it was their job to do so. She stood in the midst of them all, as they collected her physical body from the wreckage and they said things they didn’t think she could hear:

Oh, how sad it is.

Wonder if she was drinking.

Such a beautiful girl.

Not so much anymore.

Not so much anymore.

She listened to those who would never listen to her back. The fog came closer.

At some point, something caught her eye. A flash of moonlight spilled down onto the shiny, broken metal of the car like a spotlight. A shapeless black figure stood at the spot where she’d died. The thing was unimaginable, but it was there just the same. Maybe it too listened to those who would never listen to it back.

Sarah breathed the rich pine-scented air all around her. At least she could breathe again. “What do you want?” she asked.

“Move,” it said.

Somehow she understood what this meant. It was giving her a choice. She bit her lip. Her collarbone ached. Some scars never go away. If she followed the shadow, she was unsure where she’d go. But if she didn’t follow the shadow, she’d be stuck here, rooted in place, unsure where she’d go but alone.

The figure seemed to accept her resistance, and then it glided beyond the car. It passed by the men in uniform. It hovered over one man’s shoulder in particular, as if sensing something for future reference. But then it turned back around, and it continued on its path, slowly and quickly approaching the flash of a beautiful black car on the road. Shiny and new it gleamed.

As Sarah followed, she became aware that the fog hung all around the car, eventually closing up any connection to the realm where she’d once lived, and once died. It was a dismal fresh start, but it was an opportunity, and so she followed. Her blood boiled with nerves, but she’d made her choice. Sarah pinched the cross on her neck. It was the only thing she’d kept of herself.

The car door was already open for her. She took a seat, things feeling eerily familiar, eerily normal. There was a dull throb in her body which she was sure would never go away, as certain suffocations remain with us even after we’re dead. The door closed, she buckled her seatbelt tight against her abdomen, and she checked the rearview mirror, finding her shadow snug in the backseat.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened, is it?” she asked, not expecting a response.

“Move,” said the shadow.

She hit the gas pedal. The fog lifted, and the car blasted off down the road.

writing

CATCH THE WIND (a short story)

EVERY WHICH WAY there are faces.

Black, white, brown, yellow, red, pink skin. Giant, small, lopsided, almond-shaped eyes. Broken hearts, swelling pride, fragmented dreams, wondering what happened to fuel them this far.

A billion stories reside within the souls of these people, and the depths of discovery here have no limit. There must be millions on these busy streets, in the swelling metropolis of New York City, as the hubbub of car horns blasts from the roads. But I don’t want to be anywhere else, even as their body heat turns my cheeks ruddy and a woman falls over me.

 It is chaos: A sweet, simple, human chaos. A chaos I don’t pay attention to often, a deep dream that is blurred by my career, my family, the city itself. Usually I am a thoughtless wanderer, off to work, off to the routine. But for a strange reason, today, I watch those around me.

A girl on her father’s shoulders stares out in the sea of bodies asking for cotton candy.

Businessmen and women chirp into phones, sipping on warm coffees, pupils aglow with the thought of greenbacks.

A hipster dances past, headphones deep in his ears.

A young teenager attempts to read a novel without bumping into anyone else. Good luck, kid. I wish I had that skill.

A few paces ahead, the dark red hair of a woman catches my eye–that luminosity, the shine, a color that stands out anywhere.

But it’s when my mind captures individual faces, I am astounded by the complexity of our world, and how this is where I am meant to be at this exact moment. For a reason. My heart swells inside me like a rushing tide ready to break free onto warm sand. Humanity is unimaginable, incomprehensible, and I am a witness to the individual facets of this species. 

And then I see him.

Up ahead, a tall man glides down the road, a peculiar hat perched on his head despite the cloudy day, the perfect weather. He glances back, sweat trickling down his cheeks like dripping candle wax. My eyes unfalteringly set on him. He blends into the crowd. His head bobs over the regulars and the tourists, but there is nothing special about him. Normal features, normal attire, normal everything, really. Could be a banker or a teacher, who knows. He tugs on his hat a few times, pulling it closer to his crown. Maybe he’s a murderer, I decide in the loneliness of my skull; maybe he’s an angel. He glances back around him, avoiding stubborn souls sweeping down the sidewalk.

Somehow–and for whatever reason–he locks eyes with me. As my gaze focuses in on his warm amber irises, it happens like magic: He is gone, a departed ghost. A mysterious flash, within the blink of an eye.

I stop in my tracks. A man barrels over me, and then like the parting of the Red Sea, people swim around me down the street. But I pay no attention. I look down the way to the spot where I saw this man disappear, and a squirmy ache in my heart sickens me. What did I witness? He was gone in a literal flash, like the sudden disappearance of the sun on a perfect day.

With careful examination of the crowd, I see nothing. Even if he didn’t disappear or I simply blinked and he was gone, I would never be able to find him, not with the hordes of people pushing past me now. They pass me by, their arms grazing my flesh, and I realize how lonely inside I am, how crazy I must be. People don’t disappear into the clouds. With a thumping heartbeat, I look up into the sky, as if this is a plausible way the man left the streets. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

Tiny teardrops of water hit my nose. Did anyone else notice? 


AN EXPLANATION.

Oh, my beautiful readers! This post is one of the weirdest I’ve done in a while, and that’s because of the story around it.

As some of you guys know, I’m working on a novel right now called Church Boy. It’s a 55,000 word Christian romance novel that I’m hoping to publish soon. And somehow as I was editing this book late at night on August 5, I stumbled upon my Submittable account. What is Submittable, and why does it matter?

Submittable is a way for writers to query multiple agents at once. It’s an easy tool to use, and somehow I fumbled upon my account and saw my previous works I’ve sent off to agents in the past few years. And “Catch the Wind” was one of them.

According to this entry date, I submitted this short story to a magazine in February 2015. (Over four years ago, what in the world?). Now what’s really wild is that I have no trace of this short story on my new computer, and I don’t remember writing it. That being said, I know this short story is important, because as I read it, I thought to myself: Why not put this on the blog?

“Catch the Wind” is a short story that made me stop in my tracks, now that I’m reading it four years later, because it convicted me. It made me think that I pass so many people on a daily basis, and I ignore them. It isn’t humanly possible to recognize every single person on the face of the earth, but I do think we have a responsibility to put our energy into the people who come into our lives unexpectedly.

In 2019 it is easy to hide behind a screen, especially in public places. We’re selfish people, and we tend to find momentary happiness in stroking our own egos, but I believe there is long-standing joy in strengthening our relationships with others. This can happen through budding friendships, waving at strangers, and casual conversation with an old friend.

What I mean is that we have a limited amount of time on this planet, and we need to make the most of it. When we see that someone’s hurting, we need to help him or her. When our intuition goes off and implores us to help another, we should follow this sense.

This life is much more about we can individually do. It’s about coming together, as corny as that may sound.

Because what if, going back to my story, we are the man who disappears into thin air? What happens then?

Okay, enough ramblings from me now. I just thought this story would be a perfect Friday morning blog post, and I hope you enjoy this little guy from a seventeen-year-old Katie Kay.

More on Monday!

-K. ❤

Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i (July 2019)

writing

JUMP (a short story)

JUMP

By Katie George

 

IT WAS THE grayest, dreariest day of the year at the Golden Gate Bridge, which seemed unfair—but also quite fitting. The fog floated upward, choking off the reddish glow of the Bridge for the visitors and commuters alike. The atmosphere was ripe with a terrifying eeriness, almost as if God’s sadness was blanketing the Bridge—but blanketing the people there too.

And then there the crazy ones—like me—who walked across at a time like this. My legs ached from the arduous trek across the Bay, but it wasn’t like I could see anything; it was much too misty to stop and say reverentially, “Wow! What a beautiful day!” While the throbbing in my thighs was annoying, it seemed as if something more substantial hurt underneath the surface. A manic restlessness, perhaps.

With my hands stuffed in my pockets, I was hard at work thinking, remembering thatafternoon with severe clarity: How it had been bright, the round sun like a gold ring up in the sky, the clouds wispy and cirrus, like little breaths from gods up above. The two of us had been happy then. She’d bought a gold necklace and strung it across her neck, saying, “You know, I should buy you one too.” In our childhood, we’d had two little lockets that, when pressed together, created a unified heart. When separated, the hearts were broken. Yet on that day at the Fisherman’s Wharf, we had admired our identical chains with pleasant smiles. Distance can’t break us anymore.

Then there was today. I was alone.

My mind worked in overdrive. It was like my body couldn’t stop, as if I’d been propelled like a wind-up toy. My entire body ached.

I wiped my hand across my face, and it came back wet. It was cold up here. It was freezing. My heart shivered, and I felt the tidal wave crash over me, like the thousands of others that had come before it. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. Some people survived when they jumped. The odds were infinitesimal, but still there. Why hadn’t Sarah?

A shiver glided up my spine, tickling me until I couldn’t hide the fact I was crying. Luckily, I’d been smart enough to forgo makeup, as this was the anniversary of the darkest day in my entire life. No day could compare to the stark burn of August 19th, 2013—at least in the specificity of my own little mental fortress.

For a moment my thoughts only churned around the possibility of escaping this prison. Why had I decided to come out here in the first place? It was loud and scary—as the cars whooshed by like bullets—and the fog refused to let up. And here I was, rooted to the sidewalk, wondering what was below that hadn’t been discovered. Skeletons lay at the shallow depths of the water beneath my very feet, cuddled in the silt and sediment of the estuary. My own sister had once been part of that place too.

I imagined that gold chain glinting in the darkness down below, wrapped around her lifeless body. It almost felt like a memory, yet I knew it had to be my overactive imagination. It was as if a jail cell had been opened, allowing a part of my mind to be released. It was true: Idid have an overactive imagination. I appreciated people and possibilities. Or was that something my sister did?

Everything was cloudy now, inside my body and out.

A few passersby greeted me with toasty smiles, but I was left frozen in this unique spot, unable to wave or respond at all. They looked like tourists who were at peace with whatever had uniquely happened to them. In a way, I was visiting like them, just stopping by; but in another way, I was here because this place had claimed something that was mine. Something I would never be able to take back.

The wind chill was impossibly biting, and for a moment, I stopped breathing. Sarah had attempted suicide once before. She’d jumped into a swimming pool and refused to breathe. That stubborn girl, who always fought like she wanted to, passed out as if she were about to take a dreamy nap with mermaids and starfish and cerulean seas. My father, with his bad back and clinical depression, found her face-down like a limp doll. He sprained a knee to save her life.

In the days that followed, Sarah simply said, “I didn’t mean to; I just wanted to feel what it was like.”

“How could you be so selfish?” I screamed so loudly it felt like my vocal chords could pop. “What is it with you and your fantasy about death?”

Sarah never answered the question. She only frowned.

“It’s a bit frosty,” chirped a voice behind me. My skin flared. I turned, wishing I’d brought a can of pepper spray. However, it was only an old man, a cap pulled over his head and a jacket made of wool and warmth hugging his frail body. “Are you okay?” I saw it in his eyes. He thought I was here to stumble over like the others before and after Sarah. Jumpers.

“I’m fine,” I said sharply, hoping I could convince both him and myself. The voice didn’t sound like mine. It sounded hollow. “I’m fine.”

“You know, this is a bit of a strange time to be out on this old thing.” He blinked.

“Why are you here then?” My voice came meek this time, betraying me. So much for acting tough.

He lit a cigarette, his old hands wrinkled and big. The smoke rose through the air in swirls, like I imagined that blue water to do when a body fell into it. Ripples, each defined and sharp. “I’m here because it’s the anniversary.” Then I noticed his hand trembling. He glanced up, his blue eyes watery and old.

Had he lost someone he loved? Well, obviously he had. He seemed torn-up, but for some reason, it seemed as if there were something else. The fogginess swirled around us, draping us so we were alone together.

I’d stopped moving for once. I could feel the unease seep into my soul. The disgust plagued me. Why did this seem so utterly familiar, especially this particular spot? Restless.

“Me too.” Soft. Sarah would have been ashamed. You’re anything but soft. You’re my big sister, and I know you more than anyone else. She would have poked my arm and smiled too, because she loved me and I loved her more. This is what I wanted, remember? Don’t be sad because I made my choice.

Fat chance.

The old man was surprised. He placed a weathered hand on the railing. His chest heaved as he looked down. “It took me years to come out here. Years and years. When I came, I knew this was better than visiting that gravesite. ‘Under every tombstone is a story.’ It didn’t ring true this time. This is where it happened, so this is where I come now.”

My hand, a little thinker all on its own, wiped a stray tear from my cheek.

“I don’t mean to keep you long.”

“You’re not.”

“Sometimes,” he said, the smoke infiltrating my own lungs, “sometimes, I can see how easy it is for them. What drives them to do such a thing.”

I was quiet.

“It’s like this fog. It chokes you until you can’t see anymore. So what do you do? You either wait until you find the light—which might never come—or you go find the sun. It’s a very simple proposition. No matter what, though, it seems we’re always roaming.”

A murkiness ebbed over my mind, like an eraser swiping across a chalkboard, leaving a filmy wave of dust in its wake. The images in my mind were painful like raw slices of flesh. They were very, very personal.

Sarah had been nineteen when she jumped, and while it had been the culmination of a billion little acts leading up to that one point, I refused to let her deathdefine her. She had been a jack-of-all-trades, popular and nerdy, blonde and relatable, happy-go-lucky. She was the girl who offered a pen to those who needed one, and she offered to drive twenty minutes away to pick up a friend before school. Some hated her for her kindness, and others loved her for her generosity.

Though I was the older sister, people always said to me, “Oh, your sister is Sarah Nolan! What is it like?”

I’d look at them and smile, offended but understanding, and say, “It’s rough at times, but I can’t complain.”

In reality, I didn’t remember much about myself. I knew the basics: I hated bananas and had an affinity for queso dip; I had dark red hair that looked purplish in certain lighting; I wanted to be a doctor because my grandma had been one.

But what’s really there?

It didn’t feel familiar to think of myself so personally. It was as if my mind had closed itself up tight so I couldn’t see into myself.

One thing was for certain: Sarah was my best friend. When I turned twelve and she was nine, we hiked into this lush copse of trees behind our house, even though we both hated the outdoors. We walked nearly half a mile to a little babbling brook, where she’d jumped over the water with ease. It was barely wider than three feet, so it gave her added esteem.

“Look! I can jump over it!”

As she leaped back over, her foot caught, and she sliced the top of her ankle at the tip of her sock. There hadn’t been much blood, but it still pained her. She’d cried crocodile tears and made me carry her all the way back home. It was funny that I didn’t remember her ever telling me this, but the real reason she’d made me carry her was something besides her alleged injury. Under that emerald canopy, she had wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “You know, I don’t think I’d trade you, even if I could. Also, why don’t I have blue eyes?”

“Thanks, sis. Also, it’s genetics,” I’d said, enunciating that last word with precision. Never would I trade Sarah for the world, either.

In the present, the old man studied me like I was science. Quickly I turned on my heel and left. My body shook as one foot followed the next. It was a little rhythm for a moment, until I found my hands clenching the railing, the skin turning deathly white. I realized I was wailing. Some people probably thought I was a lunatic. I didn’t care.

“Sarah!” My lungs burned. “Why did you leave me like this?” Each whimper wracked my chest. “How couldyou?” The phrases came out jumbled. Slobber dribbled down my chin. How long had it been since she’d died? Time was scrambled like eggs in my brain. I knew the day she died like the back of my hand. It was the anniversary today, wasn’t it? How long ago, though? Years and years?

This is what I wanted, remember? I wanted to leave this place.

The afternoon before she jumped, Sarah had been herself, at least for a little while. My parents asked me to take her out around San Francisco, where I went to graduate school. “It’ll be good for her. She needs you to reallybe there.” It was true: We’d grown apart, as often happens with human beings. I had school and a burgeoning career, while Sarah had high school and all its activities. Her entire life had been based around the idea of attending one of the UC schools, and then, one late night, she’d told my parents, “I don’t want that anymore.”

Even though she didn’t want it, she did agree to try it out. She left college within a month and found herself lonely most of the time. It seemed like everyone was headed into very different directions, and she was stationary.

So, remembering that one day at the babbling brook where I was her little savior, I decided a day out together would be nice.

Sarah and our parents lived in sunny Santa Barbara, so we met halfway, and then I showed her the sights: the fishy smell at the Fisherman’s Wharf, the busyness at Union Square, my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. We shopped and dined like nothing was amiss, like my sister hadn’t been depressed for the past few months, like we still didn’t understand why. I bought her a little windblown butterfly painted lilac and teal. She’d cradled it in her palms and said, “Thank you,” but it wasn’t what she’d said—it was how she’d said it. It was the brokenness I felt as I remembered that day. It was the bittersweet happiness. I loved my sister. I would never do anything to hurt her.

I wanted this.

We did not go to the Bridge that day. Of course we saw it, how could you not? It was out there, and I made references to it. I chatted like my life depended on this conversation, when it was really the other way around. “Look at it, Sare! Can’t you see it? What a testament to humanity!”

Her eyes became vacant when their gaze landed on that Bridge. Maybe it was my memory of that day that created this vision.  Maybe she understood she would fling herself from there. I finally stopped mentioning the Bridge altogether.

That night, underneath a cloak of crystal-clear sky, Sarah vanished from my studio apartment in the heart of the city. The next morning, I found my keys missing and my car gone. The terror that pounded through my veins was murderous itself, but somehow, I pulled myself together for that morning. Somehow, I called my parents and told them Sarah had vanished with my car, and I wasn’t sure where she was. Somehow, that morning, when the cops greeted me with blank stares and said, “We think your sister has jumped off the Bridge,” I managed to pass out and become hospitalized for a week straight.

Sometimes, I saw visions of her standing with me, like she had stayed on Earth. She never stayed in the same place for long, as if the movement she had craved her entire life had suddenly been given to her. These visions were nothing more than dreams, perhaps. Weird things happened in hospitals.

The honest truth was Sarah Nolan, my beautiful sister, had been a jumper. In my study of those like her in the years afterward, I knew the statistics like the back of my hand. Only 2% of jumpers survive impact. That alone was enough to elicit the pain inside me. Sarah Nolan had become a statistic, even though she could never be defined by this fact. To me, she’d always be my little sister, the only person in the world for whom I’d die.

Out in the distance, a little sliver of light began to peek through the endless grayness.

Someone in the distance cried, “Help! Help!” It was from the direction where I’d met the old man.

A woman clutched her lover. They were locked in some sort of weird embrace, staring at a man standing on the ledge of the beam. The woman shouted, “She’s going to do it! She’s going to jump! Help! Help!” It was like a spotlight had been cast on them for a moment, highlighting their terror. She? But it’s a guy on that ledge.

Like a slap to the face, I opened my eyes and saw the spotlight—and that couple—was gone. One moment they were there, and the next… It was almost as if it had been a memory, listening to the screams and the fear and the desperation from them.

Then two perfectly blue eyes filled my vision. Two very familiar blue eyes. Blue the color of azure ice. They were smiling eyes. Happy eyes. The last image I’d seen before I hit the steely water.

They weren’t Sarah’s. They were Leah’s. They were mine?

Shake it off. Help the guy!

Now, before me, this new jumper was shaking uncontrollably, his body wobbling as he hung onto the support beam. Tears dripped down his face, but it was impossible to tell if it was the condensation or not.

I imagined Sarah watching from above. What had she been thinking before it happened? Sadly, I realized the strip of gold in the sky had diminished completely, almost like a dying ember. Yet the ember had begun to burn inside my heart, and I felt her with me, and I understood she wanted me to live my life since she didn’t have the chance anymore. But this wasn’t just about me.

The young man clutched the support beam, the zest in his eyes gone, the vacancy becoming mortality. “This is what I want!”

“No, trust me! It’s not!” I reached out a hand to him, praying he’d take it.

Down the road, I saw the old man turning back. The mist began to swirl around him so that he looked like he was disappearing from this jagged earth. Sometimes, I can see how easy it is for them. What drives them to do such a thing. He began to step closer and closer to us until I heard, very slowly, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

I glanced up, my heart rocking back and forth in my chest. The young man’s mouth was wide open, his shame and terror as evident as the foggy day. He stared directly at me.

“You can’t stop me,” he said tearfully, a collection of sobs blanketing the air around us. Those words were hauntingly familiar.

The spotlight returned, just for a moment, so I could see that couple who had tried to talk me off the support beam. This couldn’t be just an overactive imagination anymore. They had tried to save me.

It was my choice to save him.

I raised my hands defensively. “No, I can’t, but you can stop yourself.”

“Don’t even try! I’ve already made up my mind.” His voice was hard. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the old man approaching steadily, his eyes sullen and grotesque, as if he were watching his own death sentence. He hobbled like his life depended on this one mission, this ability to be part of this distinct event.

I heard their voices again. It was like their screams came deep within my core, within a well of pent-up knowledge. That woman shouted, “Just come down from there! Come down!”

The wailing subsided. It went silent. The old man and I exchanged a solemn look as we waited for the young man’s next move. He tugged on his shirt over and over again. “So now people start to care?” His words were like chains to his audience. What could we do to free him? What could he do to free us?

I realized my legs had stopped moving. I was standing in one position.

I had once asked that question, simply in passing to my sister. It had been a dreary day when we were both in high school. It had been a good day for us, I thought, since our parents had let us drive to Oxnard for the afternoon by ourselves. It had been a beautiful day, one spent along the majesty of that turbulent, mysterious Pacific. Simply, she sprained an ankle, and it cut the day short. She’d been so angry after that, I wanted to slap her (but when did I not?). When we returned home, our parents fawned over their little girl. My chilling words had been, “So now people start to care? This matters—but everything else doesn’t?”

I found my voice then. The young man was staring down, waiting for one of us to rise above and be brave. “Yes!” I moved a step closer, believing deep down he wouldn’t hurl himself into that abyss just yet. “Yes, we care!”

The young man seemed surprised. He said nervously, “I don’t think so.”

“If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t be standing here watching you do this.” My own voice was keen. The toughness had returned. The ability to wallow diminished, the ability to soar returned. Sarah had killed herself like this, by jumping off this Bridge, and there had been many before her—and many after her—who had done the same thing.

“We can’t stop you,” I said pointedly, “but think of your family. Think of what it would do to them to see you up here.” Why does this sound so familiar?

He cocked his head at me. “I don’t have family.”

“You have to have someone.”

The old man’s presence behind me sharpened my senses. He stared up at the situation, but he was deathly quiet, almost as if he weren’t really there. I turned my head and pressed on the old man’s winter coat. He turned toward me, something fierce in his eyes. He blinked, and then we both focused on the jumper.

“You can’t jump!” I screamed, my voice like broken glass. It didn’t sound quite like me. It sounded muffled by the pain in the air, the chill of the afternoon.

The young man shook his head. “I… I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

It came back into focus.

The toasty smiles.

The couple on the bridge.

My own tears as I stood above the Bay, watching those blue waves crash into each other.

There is something about a memory that can trigger an explosion. The shrapnel rammed into me like I was being pushed off the Bridge. “I… Leah, I don’t know what’s real anymore.” My hand instinctively reached up to touch the curvature of my neck.

The gold necklace.

It hung against my neck.

I opened the locket. A picture of Leah, with her big blue eyes, was enclosed.

The shocking reality of the situation hit me like a train at full speed, as if I had been left on the tracks like a little cocoon of a human. This Bridge, the ethereality of it all, the vividness of terror—and that gold chain.

It had been a gift from my sister.

I knew Leah, my beautiful sister, who taught me to believe in mermaids and starfish and cerulean seas. Leah—my sweet Leah. The memories came over me. The happiness from that afternoon before I gave it all away. This was my grief, my penance, my hell: To remember what I’d done to her, how reckless I’d been, how I hadn’t sought help beforehand. My Leah was out there, somewhere, her life being lived. She no doubt wondered about me. She no doubt had sorrow, and strife, and her own demons, too. Leah, I wanted to scream, I pray you got over this.

Leah.

I turned toward the old man. He stared at me with recognition. He must be dead, too. He must have jumped—just like me. We both turned toward the man on the ledge, his eyes now glassy and vacant. The sky behind him seemed livid with rage. I said, quite carefully, “What is your name?”

“Jonah.”

“Jonah, you can step down now. Here, take my hand.” We made contact, and he stared at me like he believed he was crazy. Was this reality or not? The only thing that mattered was his understanding that some people do actually care.

“What is your name? Your hands are so cold!” he exclaimed. Behind him, a light suddenly brightened. It may have been my “overactive” imagination. It could have been a memory. It could have been God calling us home. Whatever it was, it reminded me of my sister.

I finally remembered the answer to his question. A warming smile tickled my lips. “My name’s Sarah.”


AN EXPLANATION.

IMG_6402
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA (April 2017) A gray, dreary day, as I envisioned the setting of this short story.

Here is another writing sample from me. 🙂 I wrote this short story for my first creative writing class in October 2016. The writing exercise was actually pretty cool: My professor had us choose two slips of paper from a cup, and we had to write a story based on these two slips. What were my words?

Somber and Golden Gate Bridge.

I remember thinking, Gulp. 

And then everything came to me, like a lightning bolt.

I hope you all enjoyed this short story. “Jump” isn’t the most light-hearted, but I hope there were good takeaways from it, and I really encourage all of you to listen to those around you. We meet people for a reason, and there are so many who could use a friend. Therefore, please be willing to lend a hand, and do your part to be kind to all with whom you come in contact.

Thank you guys, and as always,

Until next time,

-K.