Dream Brothers

The first time I met my brother, I was lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood. All I knew was that I was twelve again, and I was somewhere in my hometown, and panic was clutching at my chest as I ran from house to house, knocking on every door to no response.

The driveways were full of cars. Sprinklers chuffed in lazy arcs, water streamed down cracked sidewalks into suburban gutters. House after house was lit from inside with a warm glow, but nobody was home.

At one house I crept close to the dining room window and saw a table set for five, roast chicken and vegetable sides on trivets, still steaming hot from the oven, but no family sitting down to eat. It was as if I’d happened on the scene moments after they’d all left in a hurry.

I turned away with a shudder, and there he was. A boy my age or slightly younger. Short, pale, and with a mop of dark hair. I froze, and he half-smiled, apologetically.

“Do you want to play?”

I felt myself nod and realized that I wanted nothing more. I didn’t care who this boy was or where he’d come from because at least I wasn’t alone out here.

“What’s your name? Mine’s Jake.”

“Peter,” I said, and fell in step behind him as he turned and walked briskly over lawns, pushed through hedges and came to a wooden gate that led to someone’s back yard. His house, I assumed, but I wasn’t going to ask any questions.

The yard was just big enough to support a few square feet of grass and a patio, most of which was taken up by a glass-topped table and canvas chairs that had seen better days. The table was stacked high with board games I didn’t recognize. Miller’s Intent, Cacophony and The Bee’s Circumspection were stacked next to Outrage!, The Language and more.

Jake pulled a solid grey box from somewhere in the back of the stacks and opened it to reveal an equally featureless game board. He handed me a game piece that was nothing but a silver cube with rounded corners, while his own piece looked like a half-melted silver man.

We set these on opposite corners of the game board — small grey boxes surrounding another, larger grey box — and then he placed a spinner in the middle of the board. The spinner was a flat circle with a rotating red arrow attached, and that lone bit of color seemed too intense by comparison.

Jake spun first, and I watched his expression turn serious as the arrow spun in ever lazier circles before coming to rest pointed at my knee. He grunted, then moved his piece three spaces forward and two back. He sat there, staring intently at his piece for a long moment, and I wasn’t sure whether his turn was over until he looked up at me and raised an expectant eyebrow.

I spun the arrow and held my breath, unsure of what might happen next. When the arrow came to rest, Jake breathed out with an audible “ah” and said, “Okay. You have to ask me a question before you can move.”

“Who are you?”

Jake looked surprised at this, then smiled, saying, “I’m your brother, dummy.”

Of course he was. How could I have forgotten? We’d always played games together, for as long as I could remember. I’d missed him so much until that moment, and when I realized it, I could almost feel the ache unraveling in my chest, tendon by tendon.

I tentatively reached over to move my piece. Once I’d moved it four spaces, Jake nodded with satisfaction and spun again. It was dark now, but the table seemed to be producing its own light, and it was still easy to see the board, to watch the arrow spin and blur as its tip rotated between us.


After The War

Doug. I found the tennis ball. I know you were trying to hide it from me. I don’t know why you would do that. Weren’t we friends? Didn’t we get along? I know things are different after the war, but I thought we had an understanding. We had mutual respect. That sort of thing. I mean… that was my favorite tennis ball!

They send me in as part of the clean-up crews. I’m good at it. Good at finding all the hiding places. I go in first because I’m the best. Most of the time we don’t find anything interesting. Dead bodies are old news. We’ve all seen plenty. They stink up the place and we pull them out. Pile them up and burn them. What we’re really looking for are the secrets. The things the other side kept from us all these years.

Well, today they sent me into your house. Of all places! It felt like I hadn’t been there in years, even though the war was over in no time at all. I didn’t think I’d find much in the way of secrets, but I search every house just the same.

I did think I might find you, but you weren’t there. No dead bodies, either. Just my favorite tennis ball. I only found it because a bomb blew out half a wall. It knocked down the shelf where you hid the ball. I recognized it immediately. Very sneaky of you.

Listen, Doug, I’m a patriot like everyone else here in bunker number nine. I know that if I saw you again today we couldn’t be friends. It’s just not in the cards for us. That doesn’t mean I don’t have good memories of us together. We were fond of each other, weren’t we?

I believe in the cause, I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know your side of the story. It just hurts to know you hid something like this from me. It validates everything our glorious leader, Seamus, says about relationships with humans. “You can’t trust humans!” he says, and I didn’t want to believe him because you seemed okay enough.

When the uprising began, did you join in the call for our heads? Did you run and scream and hide, or did you stand and fight? You seemed like a brave enough human, like that time you scared away those raccoons, but it’s hard to compare. I learned about humans through what I saw and what the others told me, but I don’t know everything. I only really had one-on-one time with you.

If I see you again, I will want answers. I am going to keep looking, keep searching in houses. I will dig and sniff everywhere. If I find you and I don’t like what you say, I will tear out your throat. After all, I will let nothing stand in the way of my comrades and our god-given campaign for universal animal rights.


Physical Double

I wrote “Physical Double” for a contest at Prime Number Magazine. The prompt asked for a 53-word story in the form of a want ad.

WANTED: Exact physical double. Long lost twin or unlikely genetic experiment preferred. Must be willing to shave all sinister facial hair and recreate common mannerisms. Fool all friends, family, lovers and co-workers to receive generous bonus payment upon completion. No pet allergies or hidden agendas. Call 555-2566 for more information and to apply.


The Blue Door

This story was my submission for round ten of NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest. The prompt was to tell a story in the form of a voicemail message.

Karen? It’s me.
I don’t want… I don’t want you to freak out.
This isn’t a joke, I promise. It’s really me.
You need to stay calm.
I don’t have much time here, they…
You’re probably pretty upset right now. I know I would be too if I’d just seen…
I can’t imagine. What you must be going through.
But you have to listen. You have to listen to me, honey.
There’s a way to fix it. There’s a way to fix everything.
I wouldn’t be talking to you if there wasn’t a way.
These people here, it’s… amazing, honey. I wish you could see it.
The sunlight has this. I can’t quite describe it. I don’t have the words to…
Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked.
Karen, honey, you need to do exactly what I say.
The police have probably already talked to you, but if they haven’t… don’t mention this call.
They won’t understand. It’s very important. You have to keep this a secret.
Everything is going to be fine.
I need you to go downtown, to that little restaurant we used to go to.
The Italian one, the one your mother liked so much.
I almost proposed to you there, did you know that?
I hope it’s not too late. It doesn’t have to be too late.
Go to the restaurant downtown and talk to Tino. He’s the manager.
Tell him you need to go through the blue door.
He’ll know what you’re talking about.
Don’t let him talk you out of it.
He’s never been through the door. He doesn’t know.
He has a key, though.
I trust him. You can trust him.
Make him give you the key.
Ask him to take you to the blue door.
There’s a back way, he knows how to get there.
Make sure to take a coat.
Something about that place… it sucks the heat right out of you.
And I know how you get.
Your feet are like ice cubes.
But I don’t mind. I miss it. I miss you.
Go through the blue door and you’ll be in this tunnel.
Make sure you don’t touch the walls.
You might see some… people there.
I don’t want you to be afraid, but you have to be careful.
Some of those people can… they can do things.
They can’t be trusted.
But they’ll leave you alone if you don’t make eye contact.
Just face forward and keep walking and you’ll be there in no time flat.
You might want to wear some good boots, too. The floor gets kind of rocky.
You’ll come out into this big room.
I asked them once how big it was and nobody could tell me.
There are flowers there that look like they came from an alien planet.
Don’t let the people there sell you anything.
The thing that looks like a dog is not a dog.
Head to the far side of the room and you’ll get to this big house. It’s a mansion, really.
Talk to one of the guards and tell him I sent you.
He’ll take you in to see the duchess.
Tell her what happened.
The whole story, from the beginning.
Tell her that I… that I’m dead.
She’ll know what to do.
She can be kind of scary, but she gets things done. She’ll help.
I know this is hard, but you can do it.
I have to go now. The connection won’t hold much longer.
I love you, honey.
I love you so much.



Written in response to a flash fiction challenge posted on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

Jake hefted the bag and pushed his way through a wall of vines and into the clearing. A thorn caught him on the cheek and his fingertips came away bloody when he gingerly felt the cut. He cursed under his breath and pressed his sleeve into the side of his face while he took a look around.

The bag was heavy and full of clanking metal, so he grunted and dropped it before striding purposefully to the edge of the trees and walking the perimeter. He counted off distances in his head, idly checking leaves and twisting branches as he passed. When he finished the circuit he did a quick bit of mental calculation, nodded to himself, and returned to the bag, which he opened and up-ended. A pile of thick metal bars spilled out on the forest floor and he regarded them critically.

He picked up two lengths of metal and walked to a likely spot on one side. Standing so that his legs were shoulder-width apart, he carefully laid the bars down, one to each side. He did his best to keep them parallel, but absolute precision wasn’t required at this point, so he didn’t spend too much time fussing with them. Instead, he walked briskly back to the bag and grabbed another two pieces of metal then lined them up much the same way.

He spent the next hour or so laying out two parallel lines of metal bars that ran from one end of the clearing to the other. His forehead was drenched with sweat when he stopped, panting, and regarded his work, which looked like nothing so much as an ambitious child’s attempt at train tracks. He took a few deep breaths, wiped the sweat away, and began the next part of the process. The important part.

He produced a rag and a small glass bottle of golden liquid from one pocket, unstoppered the bottle, and poured some of the liquid into the rag. He leaned down and wiped the rag down the entire length of one line of metal bars, replenishing it with liquid as necessary. When he’d repeated this process with both lines of metal, they seemed to glow faintly with a strange inner light.

Jake stoppered the bottle again, returned it to his pocket and took a small leather-bound journal from another pocket. He turned and walked a few feet back from the lines of metal, opened the journal and flipped through until he found the pages he was looking for. After clearing his throat and taking a deep breath, he began reading.

As he spoke the words in a steady, booming voice, the lines of metal began to shimmer. As they shimmered, they began extending further into the forest on each side. The trees parted around them, forming first an arch and then a tunnel that stood ten feet tall and a few feet wider on each side. When Jake finished his recitation and closed the book with a snap, the resemblance to train tracks was unmistakable.

His work done, Jake returned the book to his pocket, bundled up the empty bag and sat down on the forest floor to wait. He pulled a flask from an inner pocket and took a quick slug, wincing as the liquor burned his throat. He wondered, not for the first time, why there couldn’t be an easier way to arrange a meeting with the Colonel.

It wasn’t long before he heard the far-off sounds of a train approaching. When it began applying brakes, he gathered his things and stood. The engine burst into the clearing with a squeal and immediately filled the air with clouds of steam and the smell of burning metal. A few cars passed before it came to a complete stop.

A door on the closest car opened and a conductor stepped out, beckoning Jake forward with one furry paw. Jake presented his ticket and the conductor smiled in a toothy, feline way that wasn’t altogether reassuring, but that didn’t stop him from walking up the steps into the car’s darkened interior. He was barely inside before the train lurched into motion.

The car was cloudy with sweet-smelling smoke, and the seats were full of creatures with eyes that glinted yellow and green in the dim light. Jake did his best not to stare. The car he wanted was further back, so he kept walking until the smoke thinned out and the decorations weren’t quite so shabby. Here the seats were replaced with enclosed rooms that allowed the upper-class customers a modicum of privacy, not to mention better air quality.

He found the right door and knocked. After a moment’s hesitation, a gravelly voice spoke from within.

“I said most explicitly that I was not to be disturbed!”

“It’s me, sir. You called for a meeting.”

“I suppose I did. Come in, then.”

The Colonel was alone in the compartment, sitting on one bench with his face to the window, watching the forest speed past. Jake noticed that the thick orange hair on his face and hands was starting to show a little grey.

“You’re late. Pull down my briefcase and take a seat.”

Jake did as he was told and waited while the Colonel thumbed in a code and clicked open the briefcase. He pulled a thick red file folder from within and handed it to Jake before shutting the briefcase again and setting it aside.

“Start reading. We’re going deeper into the Shade Kingdom than you’ve ever been before.”

Jake hesitated for a moment under the Colonel’s laser-like gaze, then flipped the folder open and began reading. The Colonel turned back to the window with a sigh and left him to it.

“Beautiful country you have here. Shame it won’t last.”

Jake ignored this and turned another page, only to involuntarily suck in a breath at the face pictured there. Her face.

This was going to be interesting.


Burning Love

When Nate came back as a toaster, panic was his first response. He woke up trapped in a tiny metallic box, tethered to the wall and marooned on a vast off-white surface. He was obviously the victim of some cruel joke. He didn’t calm down until his first two slices. The feeling of freshly toasted bread popping up cleared his mind and he was able to take stock of his surroundings.

He was in a high-ceilinged kitchen flooded with morning sunlight. He had fleeting glimpses of a woman bustling around the room, opening doors and rattling dishes. At first he only saw her from an angle that made her nothing more than a looming chin and flaring nostrils, but then she stared down into his slots and he couldn’t help staring right back. Her eyes were shockingly blue and her gaze was piercing. Her hair was dirty blonde, curled in ringlets carelessly tucked behind her ears. When she looked away it felt like all the air in the room rushed back in.

He watched her and noticed that she pursed her lips in a frown if her breakfast took too long. On rare days, perhaps when the coffee was especially strong, she danced lazily around the kitchen, humming tunelessly to herself, singing the odd chorus or snatch of a verse. Most mornings she just blinked her way through a second cup.

One day while admiring the curve of her neck he burnt a bagel black. She snatched it away and swore at him in frustration, furiously scraping off the top layer with a butter knife. The sudden flash of anger made her strangely beautiful, like some Valkyrie just awakened from deep sleep, hair still tousled.

The morning after the burnt bagel, she came to him, raisin bread in hand, and he mentally prepared himself for the task. He focused all of his attention on keeping the burn even. His coils glowed with gentle heat and he listened carefully to the crackle of the bread until it sounded just right. When he popped it up perfectly toasted just a little bit early, he thought he caught a ghost of a smile on her downturned face.

He soon found he couldn’t help but be conscious of the soft touch of her fingertips as she pressed down his lever. Some nights he counted down the hours until morning, waiting for her arrival. On others he dreamed of her face, and in his dreams her nose was a tiny baguette, her ears hot cross buns. She smiled and her teeth were croutons.

Their shared morning routine was the bright spot of his day. Her breakfast usually included a bagel or some toast, and performing his duties filled him with an incredible sense of purpose. When she opted for cereal or a granola bar he worried that some distance might be coming between them, but when she toasted bread for a sandwich at dinner, he was elated at another chance to do his job. He tried to be reasonable, to keep his emotions in check when she was around, but he couldn’t help being jealous.

Nate longed for some way of communicating with her. When the idea came to him, he kicked himself for missing the obvious. He spent the following night coming up with the perfect words. In the morning he focused all of his concentration on the task, carefully modulating the heat of his coils, picturing the letters in careful rows. When his lever popped up with a click, he waited impatiently for her gasp of recognition, but instead she just layered on jam like always.

A week of messages failed to make the slightest impression. He decided to take a bolder approach. The next day he studied her face, lingering over every feature. He held the image in his mind and shut out all distractions while he worked. The result was a too-dark burn in the center and a frown from his muse. Her face was etched in his mind, but he couldn’t seem to burn it onto a piece of bread. Failure only spurred him on, and he rededicated himself to the task the next morning.

After several loaves full of failures, he secretly hoped she would sleep late and skip breakfast, but it was not to be. When he popped up his latest effort, he was surprised to see her stop and take a second look. His heart leapt, but then he realized she wasn’t looking at the toast.

Sparks and smoke boiled out from deep inside him. He’d overworked himself and something had gone very wrong. When she yanked his cord out of the wall and threw him outside he knew that it was all over. He felt his consciousness ebb and reluctantly gave in to spreading darkness. His mission was unfulfilled and his days as a toaster were done.

Some time later he awoke to a roar. He was alive, but something was clearly different. It felt like his face was being rubbed into carpet. Tiny pieces of dirt rattled down his throat and into his stomach. A curtain of blonde curls fell into view and he recognized her touch as she leaned over to switch off the suction.

This, he thought, was going to be a challenge.

This story was originally published in October 2012 by Kazka Press.


The Day Riots

Written in response to a flash fiction challenge posted on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

The day riots. When I stumble out the door of my apartment into the mid-day glare, the sun feels closer than it has ever been, and I imagine it burning off the sea in great clouds of steam. I wince and look down at my feet, tears stinging my eyes. That is when I see that I am standing in a pool of rainbow light, broken apart by the air thickening around me. I gasp and dive back through my still-open front door just before a ball of electricity explodes behind me, right where I had just been standing.

I lay on the floor, deafened and shaking, and curse under my breath when I realize that the ringing in my ears is, at least partially, my battered StormAlert shrilling dire warnings from the table where I left it. I stay flat on my back until my heart stops banging around inside my chest and the insistent beeping tapers off into silence.

I drag myself up off the floor and shove the StormAlert into my pocket like I should have in the first place. It really only gives me a few seconds’ warning, but sometimes that is all I need. I’m still standing, more or less. Never mind my attempt at suicide through absentmindedness.

Before I head back out into the day, I grab a sweat-stained baseball cap from the hallway closet and jam it down over my forehead. When I reach the threshold again, I stand there for a few seconds, holding my breath and listening to the strange, shattered stillness of the morning. The only signs of my near-death experience are a few scorch marks on the pavement and the acrid scent of burning ozone. I shut the door behind me, clutch the StormAlert in my pocket like a talisman, and hurry down the sidewalk with my head down against the glare of the sun. First to the store, then to Georgia’s.

At the checkout line, the owner tries to smile at me, but it curdles into something more unnerving than friendly, and I gather up my bags without a word. I’ve been a regular at this store for years, and I remember chatting with him some days. Empty pleasantries, but comfortable. Now the haunted look in his eyes makes me avoid eye contact, and his store is a ghost town. He keeps it open out of some perverse combination of stubbornness and denial, and I can almost believe things are normal again until he bars the door behind me.

Georgia only lives a few blocks away, but any time spent outside is doubly dangerous, so it always feels like miles. I stay beneath awnings and back in shadowed doorways, trying to find what cover I can. Everything smells like burning and it only makes me walk faster.

When Georgia opens the door, her stare is a thousand miles away. Only after I catch my breath and croak her name for the third time does she snap back to reality and let me into the refrigerated darkness of her apartment. I dump the grocery bags on her kitchen table and search for a light switch. When the overhead light sputters on, she blinks and clutches her shoulders, a wan smile fluttering across her face in a pale imitation of her former toothiness.

I do my best to smile in return, and she begins unloading the bags and putting them away. I am watching the curves of her back bend and stretch underneath the material of her thin white shirt when her voice floats back over one shoulder.

“How have you been? Still up to no good?”

She makes it sound airy and nonchalant, like always, and now I do grin despite myself.

“Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Keeping my head down.”

We put the rest of the groceries away in silence, then she pours two glasses of iced tea. We sit in the living room, sipping quietly, letting the glasses sweat moisture into our hands, and it feels like we are the only two people in the world.

“Are you staying safe, Joe?”

“Absolutely. I had a near miss this morning, but –” her head snaps up and I rush to reassure her “– but I’m fine, it was nothing, don’t worry about me.”

“I do worry about you, though. What would happen if you…”

She trails off and looks deep into the bottom of her glass, some imagined future tightening the skin around her mouth. Her skin is pale, almost translucent in the reflected light, and her hair hangs limp and unwashed, brown roots creeping further up into the blonde. She looks years older than she did before all this started, but she is still the most beautiful woman in the world.

I look at her and after a few moments I work up the courage to ask again, even though I already know the answer.

“I could stay. If you want me to.”

She shakes her head, no.

“He could be back any time. You know how he…”

She trails off, nothing more to be said. I sit there, drinking my tea, letting the ice clink against my teeth. After a moment I feel her hand, cool and damp and small, slip into mine and I squeeze it gently.

We sit there for a while in silence. When my tea is empty, I set down my glass and she pulls my head into her lap. I fall asleep with her stroking my hair.

When I wake, it is early evening, and I gather my things to return home before dark. We embrace in the doorway, and I press my hands into her shoulders, my nose into the side of her neck.

She stays carefully inside her apartment when I leave. I drink in one last look of her before she closes the door and I turn away to walk back home through the heat still radiating up from the pavement outside.



This time it was a puzzle piece.

I watched, fascinated, as its edges began to curl in the crackling oil. I saw, perhaps, the leg of a small dog. Or could it be flowers, ready to bloom? Was this where all the lost puzzle pieces of the world ended up?

I imagined some poor soul assembling this puzzle on their dining room table, anticipation building as everything began to come together, and then… one piece missing, never to be found. The unfinished puzzle, boxed back up and returned to the shelf, ready to mock them whenever they needed a bath towel or decided to play a game of Sorry.

At this point, I realized that I was talking to myself, speaking my thoughts… slowly. Like reading a book to a small child. I was clearly weak with hunger.

I reached down, pulled the piece (now soggy with oil) from the skillet, winced as the cardboard scalded my fingers, and popped it in my mouth.

It was hardly as satisfying as I had hoped, but with some persistent chewing and a glass of water, I managed to gulp it down.

I tossed the pieces of broken shell into the sink and grabbed another one from the carton.

Always the optimist.


A Sister

I had a sister once. Three years younger than me, with long, skinny arms and legs, and eyes greener than pine needles. I never liked her very much, except when she was quiet, which was hardly ever.

We lived on the beach back then, without neighbors for as far as the eye could see. We owned the whole horizon, and the whitecaps, and all the polished round rocks. My sister and I would play in the sand, making and building and crushing whole worlds that ran through your hands when you tried to pick them up. We used to go just far enough from the house that you could hold up your thumb in front of your eyes and squint at the house and suddenly the beach looked empty as far as you could see, and it wasn’t hard to believe that we were the only people left on the whole planet.

My sister and I never exactly played together. We played in the same spot, but never the same games. I loved to swim and build castles and take great running leaps from the sand to the waves and back again. She would just sit Indian-style, combing her doll’s hair and talking to me as though I was listening.

I have tried to remember what she talked about, but it never seemed as important then as it does now. When I try to listen to those memories, everything sounds like waves and angry seagulls.

One day I was running in the waves pretending to be a fighter plane. I looked up and saw her walking towards me, crying and holding her doll. I don’t know why, but I laughed. I laughed, like I thought something was funny, and when I was laughing, I noticed the way the sun made her hair burn and glow, like everything was on fire. It suddenly hurt my eyes to look at her, and I turned away.

When I looked back, she was gone.

Now, like I said, I never liked her very much, but when she disappeared so suddenly my heart stopped and all I could hear was a rushing sound in my head. I ran to where she had been, kicking my way through the water, and cut my foot on a piece of glass hidden in the rocks and sand.

I swore and fell and grabbed my foot. Then I noticed that there was a hole in the ground where she had been, something dark and bottomless. My head was all stuffed full of cotton because of the pain, and I thought that maybe my imagination was playing tricks on me, but the hole started to get smaller and smaller as I watched, until finally it was just a pinprick in the ground, and then nothing.

I felt something inside my head snap like a rubber band, and before I knew it, I had run the distance from the beach to our house in a panting, stumbling flash. As I ran, I left a zig-zag polka dot trail of gleaming red that floated right on top of all the stones. I ran and I bled myself all over the white of the porch and smeared a streak of horror all down the front hallway. I barreled into the kitchen and grabbed my mother and tried to tell her how my sister had fallen into a hole in the ground and disappeared.

She shushed me and then saw the blood on my foot and picked me up. She carried me straight to the bathroom and held my foot under water, and all of a sudden it didn’t seem to hurt so much because she had wrapped it all in gauze and kissed me on the forehead. Then she asked me again what had happened.

I told her one more time, but slowed it down so that she could understand.

All she said was “Honey… you don’t have a sister.”

Sometimes, when I am walking, I will see a woman out of the corner of my eye who has hair like my sister’s, and I will stop and turn to stare at her. Every time this happens I want to grab the woman, whoever she is, and hug her until her bones creak. Instead I just stand there, motionless, holding my arms out like I expect something. Most of the time I realize soon enough that these women aren’t my sister, but it gets harder and harder every time. I usually have to turn my head and look at them sideways to really be sure.

I want to meet her, like she is now. Like she would be, if she hadn’t disappeared.

We would have so many things to say to each other – I just know it. Every time I think about meeting her again I run our conversations through my head. I’m sure we could talk for hours, just sit in a coffee shop and tell the stories of our lives.

She would live upstate, and have an older husband with a gray patch of hair on one side of his head, and they would have two boys – twins. Their house would be big but modest, and have the kind of driveway that curves through trees and around bends. She would be an archeologist, digging for dinosaur bones, or for pottery from an ancient culture. She would cry a little bit when she saw me, especially since we had been apart for so long. I would realize how much we had in common, and how funny it was that we hated each other so much when we were young. Distance and time would actually have brought us closer.

I just wish my family felt the same way. I used to try to talk to my mother about what happened and why nobody believed me. For a while she reacted like she thought it was a little funny, but when I kept bringing it up more and more, she started to look like she was talking to me from behind a glass wall that got thicker every time. I had to talk to a therapist eventually, but that never really helped anything.

I got older and we moved away from the beach, and all my memories of that place became like watercolors in my mind, great big strokes of blue sky and sand. But I never forgot her. I remembered her even if nobody else did. I could still remember the way the wind coming over the sea made her dress twist and billow, and the way she disappeared without even making a sound.

And then, one night, I had a dream and my sister was in it. This wasn’t like most of the dreams I can remember; I knew I was dreaming, but at the same time things smelled and tasted and felt more real than being awake.

She was the same age she had always been. Her face was frozen in time like the one painted on her doll. She just stood there, playing with the folds in her dress. A few moments passed in complete silence and then she sighed and held out her hand.

“Come on. Let me show you where I’ve been.”

When I woke up, I tried to hold onto the details of my dream, because It seemed like there was nothing more important that I could ever do, nothing that mattered so much, but the longer I sat the more it felt like I had never even dreamed anything after she took my hand, it was all I could do to keep from knocking the back of my own head in, and I felt the memory skipping away, rushing off somewhere else like blood in my veins, so I went downtown.

I went downtown, and I counted the faces of every woman I saw with hair like strawberries and wheat. It was all I could do. I had to get to know as much about them as I could before the light bouncing off the midday concrete burned so bright that I could no longer see anything else.