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Away From Here

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Once there was a bridge, a railing, and a girl. And then suddenly there was no girl. Just a bridge, a railing, and a thousand regrets.

***


The world is dark and quiet. My sleeping bag is soft and warm. I open one eye, then two. My bedroom is empty - the walls are bare, the window's curtains are gone, and the furniture has long since been packed away. The only occupants are me and my sleeping bag. The moon outside the window is bright white, and the light it shines is cold and sharp. Looking at it, I remember why it is that I woke up. My dream. More like reoccurring nightmare. I see it every night.

I am floating in darkness. It's thick and heavy and swirls around me like current, making eddies and whirlpools as it moves past. Ahead of me, a figure draws steadily closer. She's beautiful, with hair that seems to melt into the darkness, and skin the color of the moon. She smiles.

"Hello," she says, her voice a whisper on the current. It flows over me and I feel cold. This girl scares me.

"What, no reply? How cold. Don't you know who I am?" No, I don't. "Of course you do." No, go away! "Come now, is that anyway to treat your big sister?" No, you're not her! She was warm and soft and nice… "But you knew, didn't you? You knew that she was silently dieing. Yet you did nothing. It's all your fault, Hillary." I am sobbing, and my tears are swallowed by the uncaring dark. It's not my fault! I didn't know! "You did, you did. How could you not see it? And to think, you weren't even there when I died." Everything is red. Her eyes, her skin, her hair, and the swirling dark - everything is turning crimson. It is swallowing me, and she is laughing, and then there is nothing…

"Hillary! Get up, we need to go!" A knock and a voice free me from my memories. I get up out of my sleeping bag and stretch, trying to forget my dream. I'm always trying to forget. Only sometimes it doesn't work.

"Hillary!" The voice, louder.

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Jeez." I roll up the bag and straighten my shirt. I slept in my clothes, everything else was packed. I open the door and am greeted my mother's weary face.

"Please come and eat, we need to leave soon or we won't have time to catch the plane." She ruffles my hair and smiles. "We have to go someplace else first." She turns and walks down the hallway, and I follow her into the kitchen. "Dad bought donuts," she says, pointing at a brown paper bag on the counter. "We'll eat something else at the airport."

The donuts taste like sugar and fat. Perfect comfort food. I finish mine and look into the bag for more. There's one left - a massive apple fritter. My mouth waters.

"Mom! Hey, Mom, did you and Dad finish your donuts?" I yell, my voice echoing through the empty house. My mother appears at the doorway to the kitchen.

"Yes, we did. Please don't shout, it's still only 5 in the morning."

"Then why is there one…" I realize with a start who the last one is for. "Mom, she can't…"

"I know," she interrupts, "but we didn't get flowers, and we had to bring something."

"So you bought her favorite donut?"

"Yes, we did. And now we need to bring it to her. Ready to say goodbye?" She smiles sadly and motions me out the front door. I grab the donut bag and follow her. Dad is waiting by the rental car.

"Hey, Hill, are you ready?" he asks, looking back towards the house. I look too and know that I'm not. This house contained all of my memories, my entire life, and now it's just an empty shell. Just like me. Not that that's something my parents need to know. I don't want them to have regrets; I want them to still think that they have at least one daughter left. So I lie.

"Yeah, I'm ready. Let's get going." With one last look at my house, I crawl into the back seat of the car and decide to never look back again.

***

I've fallen asleep. It's dark and quiet, like in my nightmares. In the distance I can hear a sound, whining and high pitched. It gets closer and closer, and as it passes me the darkness clears away, and I find myself riding in the back of an ambulance, its siren muffled by the interior of the vehicle. I'm holding onto someone's hand. It belongs to a person lying on a cart in the middle of the ambulance. I look to see who it is, and see that their face is blurry. I wipe my eyes and realize that I'm crying. The hand I'm holding is getting colder and colder, and their grip is getting tighter and tighter. Everything is turning grey. I'm sinking into the grayness, and the hand is still holding onto mine, pulling me down, down…

I open my eyes with a start. I'm still inside the car, but we've stopped moving.

"Hillary, are you awake? We're here," says my dad from the driver's seat. I look out the window and see that "here" is a cemetery. Her cemetery.

"Honey, if you're not ready to see her, you don't have to," says my mom softly.

"No, I'll go," I reply, unbuckling my seatbelt. I step out of the car and into the cool chill of the morning. Tombstones and trees plaques stretch off into the distance in front of me. "Where is she?" I ask. I almost don't want to know the answer.

"This way," my dad says, motioning us down a side path. "Through the trees." We walk down a gravelly path into a clearing. There is just one tombstone. I kneel down and place the donut bag at the foot of the marble and slab and look up at the writing etched across it:
LILLIAN RICHARDSON
1993 - 2011
DAUGHTER & SISTER
REST IN PEACE

I haven't cried, not once. Not when they found her, breathing, at the base of the bridge. Not when they rushed her to the hospital, not when she flat-lined. Not once in the eight months since my eighteen-year-old sister died. I've had to be strong; I've had to be there for my mom and my dad. I'd been doing such a good job. But now we were moving far away, across the Rockies to the other coast, to another life. We are all running away from the town in which my sister is buried. She can't follow us to our new life. Her ghost won't haunt my dreams over there, reminding me again and again that I saw it coming. That I saw the deadness in her eyes long before she took her last breath. Not once have I cried.

Now I am crying, sobbing, gasping. Who was I, thinking that I was above feeling pain, feeling grief? I am alone now, lost in my sadness. I can't see, I can't hear. All I know is the aching in my chest, the tears running down my face. My sister is gone. She can't come with me. I will fly away and then even her memory will be gone. She will be stuck in that silent house, in that silent cemetery clearing, all alone, forever. The darkness swallows me whole.

"Hillary. Hillary, listen. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry for what I did. But I can make it up to you. I'll take on your regrets and your pain, your sadness and your suffering. I'll give you back you smile. And then I'll leave, and you won't have to worry about me ever again. I love you, Hillary. Maybe someday you'll understand. Love, Lillian."

***


I open my eyes and see my mother staring into my face.

"Hillary, Hillary, are you alright?" Her face is creased with worry lines, and she looks about ready to cry.

"Yeah, I'm fine, " I say. "What happened? Are we at the airport yet?"

"Honey, you fainted at the cemetery."

"Why would we go there?" I ask, confused. The cemetery? Who did we know who was dead? My mother's face goes from worried to confused.

"Honey, we were there to visit Lillian, remember?" She looks at me searchingly. I have no idea who Lillian is.

"Who is Lillian?" I ask. "Is she a relative?"

My mother is silent for a long time. Then, looking straight ahead, she says quietly, "She's an older friend of mine who died recently. It's nothing to worry about. Mark, that's the turnoff for the airport, "she says, addressing my father. "Go back to sleep, Hillary. When you wake up, everything will be fine.





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