My memory self ran to the end of the pier, missing the boathouse entirely. Not the intention, but I went with it anyway. Maybe I’d see something.
The fog was so thick over the water that I couldn’t really tell if the water was an ocean, lake or river. I only know that I smelled fish and rotting things. The boards were wet beneath my bare feet. The two boats at the end of the dock rocked in water far from calm.
Moisture formed on my ethereal arms, on flesh that shouldn’t have been touched. It is merely a mental projection. In the fire, we can see drops forming on my hair, my skin. My past self looks like a fairy in all her glittering glory.
I walked slowly and carefully back to the boathouse. I thought that if I came at it from a different angle, an opening, something, would come to me so that I would at least see.
The wooden building remained closed by magical and mundane means. Even the doorknob refused to turn. I wandered around it for a while.
Nothing passed me. Nothing came out of the boathouse, real or imaginary. No smoke, no fire, no shadow or blink of light, nothing changed.
We can hear distant sirens through the flames.
I stepped to the door and reached for the knob. It finally opened as if it were never locked, as if I hadn’t tried it already. I stepped inside, confident that no one could see me, no one would feel my presence and all I did was look.
In the present, the boys gasp. They have not seen this before, nor did anyone describe it to them. A good decision, I think, because even now I probably should skip this.
(I can and do fast-forward the images in the flames. All I leave the boys with are impressions of candles burning, symbols painted in white, spattered by blood. I move my memory to the important part, the part I want to remember and make them see.
Once the fire-astral-projected-me moves out of the boathouse, things slow. I remember vividly (not just with the aid of the enchanted stone) walking through the mud, navigating carefully through toys, the swing, the picnic table, one step at a time. One foot in front of the other consciously willing myself to stay above the mud, to float over the puddles, around the maze of broken fence, the heaviness drains the ethereal feeling I should have had.)
I stopped at the gate, a large puddle in front of me, my feet barely inches above the mud. I heard something and turned my head.
There it is, the memory, the woman curled into the corner of the fence, scared out of her mind.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her skirt clung to her legs covered in cold mud. She pressed herself against the rough wooden fence, pulled her boys close to her.
(As far as I can tell, she’s seen nothing. But she knows. She knows. And it hurts her so deeply, she cannot even sob.)
She clung to her sons, young enough to be confused, listened as the sirens got closer. The oldest buried his face in her chest. She stroked his back as if he needed comfort. The youngest boy stared into her face, wrapped one little hand in long, untamed brown hair. The other hand, he placed so sweetly on her cheek wiped away the tears.
She finally sobbed when he kissed her forehead. She cannot stop. The sobs wracked her body, tore her in two.
(I cannot move. I am not there, not really, not physically. I cannot comfort her. I am ethereal, a breath on the wind, a disturbance in the fog, nothing more.)
The little boy, the youngest, the one wiping away his mother’s tears, turned his head. He looked at me. He met my eyes. He saw me.
(Let me repeat that: He saw me. He saw a mental projection of me wrapped in blue sheets peering into a world so far from my own I should never have known it existed except for the ether-disturbance centered in the boathouse. He saw me.)
I drop the image from the fire.
Those beautiful innocent eyes, not so innocent any longer turn to me.
Nick’s jaw tightens. He swallows. His fists curl, uncurl. He swallows again. All the time, he looks at me, accusing me. I know what he’s thinking. I know without going into his head. Because even though our eyes are locked, I do not dare go inside his brain.
I know what he’s thinking, because I’ve been there. I’ve been in his exact spot before. There is nothing I can say that will help. His mind is in too much turmoil for speech to make sense. I don’t think he can form a complete sentence.
Logan makes a noise behind us, breaking the tableau.
Nick shakes his head, stands and leaves the room.
Logan moves to follow, but I stop him.
“Wait til morning, Logan.”
“Well can you tell me what the hell that was all about?”
I stand and walk from the room without answering. Logan follows.
Even a warehouse on the south side of nowhere can feel like a castle in the right circumstances. I come to the roof often to get a little breather from constant vigilance. This is where I go now. Logan follows me. Our steps grind the tiny stones beneath our feet.
I lead him to the river view. Overhead, the stars are exceptionally bright in their blanket of night. There is no moon tonight. My town on the curving land to the north is light enough to reflect on the water and show us two shadows down by the shore.
A man and woman walk hand in hand.
The chill breeze that almost always comes with height tosses hair into my face. I push it away and beckon Logan to join me, leaning on the parapet. He stands next to me, hands in his pockets.
“Look at them, Logan.”
I point to the couple next to the river. “Them. You can barely see them from here. I understand.”
I move between the parapet and Logan, turning to face him. My palms hover over his ears, my fingers spread to encapsulate the air around Logan’s head. With a bit of magic, I zoom in on the couple, close enough to see that it is Josh and Katy from the bar last night. Well, that is nice.
We can see Josh stop and pull Katy close. He whispers something in her ear. All we know is that whatever he says, makes Katy smile. He wraps his arms around her and pulls her in for a kiss.
I drop my hands from Logan and kneel to pick up a sparkly rock from our feet. I make it dance over my knuckles.
“I can put the memory of this into this rock so that if my brain forgets, I can use it to remember.”
“OK,” Logan says slowly as if waiting for his brain to catch up.
“Now, we didn’t get close enough to hear what the man said to the woman to make her smile. Understand?”
“I cannot make up a memory. I cannot search through what I do not experience. I didn’t hear what he said a moment ago, and nothing in my rock is going to tell me years from now when I pick it up and examine the memory.”
His eyes jump around until they return to mine.
“So what we saw in the fire is all you know about that night.” It is a statement, not a question.
“All the questions Nick has, I cannot answer. I don’t know what happened. I know only what I saw. I only know that something in that boathouse disturbed the ether. I know, however, that the police reports are incomplete.”