by Paul Gray
Kelly’s fussing with the mason jar, spinning it slowly, fumbling at the lid. Inside, Catherine’s ghost shines, lighting up the car. Flickering tendrils snake up the dash, weightless upon my hands.
“I’ll miss the beach,” I say, my eyes locked ahead.
“There are more oceans,” says Kelly.
We’re soaring along the desert road, trailing miles behind us. We’re going east, into the mountains, away from lives carefully constructed. I look back in the mirror. Mark and Clayton are glaze-eyed and wasted, chasing unseen dreams.
Catherine is fading. When we left L.A. she was so bright I could barely even look. Kelly hid her in her coat as we passed other cars. We’ve not seen another for a while. I fight the urge to say something with every passing minute.
“Here,” says Kelly at last and I feel my shoulders ease up.
I pull over by a culvert spanning a dead river.
“It’s time?” asks Mark.
He’s pulled himself back from the edges, but his eyes are sunken and his hands tremble. He helps Clayton get out as I cut the lights.
We walk along the sandy riverbed, letting our eyes adjust to the little light cast down by the stars.
“She’d have liked this,” I say, but the words don’t taste right.
Kelly directs us to sit. Clayton smokes a cigarette, staring at the cherry like it’s the only thing in the world. The youngest of us, he’s never really mastered slipping back and forth.
I pass around the jar and we sip from it. Catherine’s ghost isn’t acrid or bitter. It’s wonderful, but I only take a little. Kelly goes last, then seals the jar and places it in the sand.
We hold hands and we listen as the world begins to thrum. We’re out of sorts, but the music guides us back to each other. We sing.
The silence between our notes is deafening. I remember Venice. Catherine leading me up the fire escape of her apartment. Staring out at the flotsam of a distant storm.
“We are the words,” she had whispered.
It’s time to let her go. Shivers rock me.
Kelly is as composed as ever. She opens the jar and everything shimmers. Bright and fierce, the light is almost blinding. It spirals out, cold and crackling. It spins around, drowning out the stars, burrowing its way through ears and throats and skin to our hearts.
There’s a series of notes from a day that lingers. A pattern of sound not unlike words. It spills and stretches, draped over the towns and cities and through the places we’ll pass in between.
The song slowly fades, written over by the drone of insects and the occasional howl of a night creature.
We’ll wait until dawn. Then we’ll drive. The others will sleep as I draw a new line on a map. Trace it back to a rooftop at night and the feeling of fingers threaded through mine.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Spelk, 365 Tomorrows, The Wild Hunt, Between Worlds and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. Paul spends his days working for an artificial intelligence company that’s teaching machines how to think. He spends his nights dreaming up stories. Follow him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com.