Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Will descended the stairs of the small plane and found herself under a lavish sunset. The Upper Peninsula airport that marked the end of her long flight was as different from the Chicago hub as a place where travelers landed could be. The air felt cool and clean. Small craft were scattered hither and yon like a fleet of toys. A group of skydivers trotted across a grassy field toward a plane waiting anxiously on an airstrip to complete the day’s last haul. Will felt a prickling desire to join them, but she turned, with an air of resignation, toward the tiny terminal. Polly’s face was a mask of studied nonchalance as she met her sister. Will reflected that the expression must have taken days to achieve. No doubt she had tried on more honest reactions to her dubious homecoming — disappointment, frustration, pity, contempt — and found them too harsh for her delicate features. The moment that bitter observation crossed her mind, Will realized she was once again projecting her self-loathing on the innocent. Polly’s careful neutrality was a sure sign that she expected it. The sisters embraced and kissed lightly, each reining in the intense emotions that threatened to bring down the crayon-lit sky. They bustled about, loading luggage and arranging themselves in the car. Once they could look at the road ahead instead of at each other, conversation might be possible. “You might not recognize her,” Polly said, breaking the silence. Will tried taking a breath. It worked. “You mean she’s starting to look normal?” she quipped. Polly shot her sister a remonstrating look, but Will saw her mouth twitch. “If anything, she’s more eccentric. She looks like an extremely eccentric, very sick old lady.” “Eccentric. Hell, you’re eccentric. I’m fucking eccentric. Mother’s lunatic or psychotic, or some other ‘ic’ in a category all her own.” The silence returned. Will leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. “You know, you don’t have to be so hard around me,” Polly murmured. “I know you.” The sky’s luster had faded to shades of blue and purple-gray. “Anyway, she’s dying.” A sharp pain stabbed deep into Will’s gut. What gave her sister the right to pronounce a death sentence so coolly? To put that idea out into the universe where someone might pick it up and make it so? “Maybe it will be good for her.” She hadn’t intended that to come out. She struggled to redeem herself. “I mean, she’s always going on about ‘the other side.’ Maybe she’ll get there and find some kindred souls.” She laughed. I’m sounding manic again, she thought, but the words kept falling out. “Maybe that’s heaven — finding someone who understands where you’re coming from.” Polly turned onto a road that took them into a pine forest, and they mutually abandoned the effort to speak. Will savored the peaceful gloom of the darkening woods. She inhaled deeply, and memories filled her. Once she and Polly ruled this territory. Together, they discovered the path that led down a steep bank to the “Silver Stream,” as they named it, and together they followed its twists and turns one fateful day all the way to the “Bottomless Pool.” They had lost track of time on the journey, and Will’s worry blossomed into alarm. Night was falling, and they were in the middle of the forest. She remembered looking through her twelve-year-old eyes at her sister, and seeing a scrawny, tired, scratched and muddy six-year-old looking back with a wide blue trusting gaze. Polly would have followed Will anywhere. They couldn’t go back the way they came, Will knew. The stream was tricky enough to negotiate in daylight. Polly might slip and hit her head on a rock. Anyway, it the little girl was worn out, and the air was getting cold. As Will attempted to think through her mounting trepidation, she caught the flicker of a distant light in the corner of her eye. At first, she thought it was fireflies, but she soon realized there was just one light, and it was moving toward them. With a mixture of mortification and relief, Will realized it must be a flashlight. Mother must have sent a search party after them. She grabbed Polly’s hand and hurried toward the beam. “Hello?” Will called tentatively. Then, a little louder, “We’re over here.” No answer came, but in a blur, the light was in their midst: a lacy, glowing orb that seemed to Will like a bit of moonlight that had dashed down to take a closer look at Earth. It danced toward them, then moved away in a repetitious pattern that soon made sense. “It wants us to follow it,” Polly whispered. The girls cautiously walked toward the glowing ball. It twirled merrily, changed its shape, and splashed a dazzling display of color onto the night air around them. Polly giggled. She was enchanted, unafraid. The light led the children to a flat trail that widened as the trees thinned. Will heard the unmistakable drone of a car engine. They emerged from the woods onto a grassy pasture bordering the road that connected their town to the rest of the world. In the dark, Will was uncertain which way to go, but the little light shot ahead encouragingly, turning sharply as it reached the road, as if pointing in the right direction. Her heart swelled with relief. “C’mon Polly,” she called. Silence. Will turned around, suddenly afraid again, and saw her little sister lying in a crumpled heap on the grass. “Polly!” Her sister’s lids lifted slightly, but the eyes behind them barely registered. Polly was an inch away from deep sleep. Will struggled to wake her up. “C’mon, I’ll give you a piggyback ride,” she urged. Polly rallied long enough to clamber aboard and throw her arms around Will’s neck. Will held tight to her legs and leaned forward a little as she trudged up the road toward home. The light was gone. Polly slammed on the brakes and lurched to a halt, jolting Will back to the present. A deer bounded across the road in front of them. Polly cut the engine and waited. After a moment, a fawn scampered across. The silence gradually came alive with bird sounds and the rustle of wind high in the trees. The last bit of daylight tossed dappled shadows across the road before them. “Polly?” Will said softly. “Yes?” “I’m either having a prolonged nervous breakdown, or I’m going crazy like Mother.” The dusk gathered around them like a cloak. “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it,” Polly said. She started the motor and drove. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m on the goddamn bridge! I lost my job — my life.” “Maybe the life you lost is one you weren’t meant to have.” “Oh. So I chose the wrong career? That’s it? Everything I managed to achieve has been an effing big mistake?” “I’m not saying it’s all been for nothing. I’m just wondering out loud if… if maybe you’re meant to do something else.” “Like what?” “I don’t know.” “Great.” “Sorry,” Polly snapped. “I’m a little preoccupied. I sort of forgot that the desire to see Mother one last time isn’t what brought you here. I guess I’m thinking a little more about her dying days than your mid-life crisis.” “I wish you’d quit saying that. You don’t know that she’s dying. Nobody knows.” “She does. She’s decided.” The woods melted away, and they drove through open farmland in the evening’s last light. It was fully dark when they reached the outskirts of the sleepy town and veered onto a narrow road that bordered a tree-ringed lake.
This is Excerpt №6 of The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady
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