‘Finding the Light’ by Georgia Lawrie: Gawler Short Story Competition; Winner, Youth Section

That’s the thing about living in your own head; you can imagine everything just the way that you want it. It doesn’t matter that she no longer cares about you, or that you’re struggling to finish that book assignment, or that you have no idea how to get to where you want to be. When you live inside your mind, facts don’t have to be facts anymore. You can create it all, and mould it all, until high school’s done and dusted and you’re married to her with two kids and you’re driving your sports car to all the destinations of your dreams and you’re living out the life that your thirteen year old self always imagined for you. You don’t have to live by the rules of the universe, because you are inside your own, and you control it.

So on the days where everything just feels too hard, too much, too difficult, I put on my favorite music and drift away, and think of everything I hope to achieve rather than everything I haven’t.
“Gabriel? Someone’s here for you.” I heard Mum calling me, faint over the sound roaring from my headphones. Damn, time to come soaring back to reality. I switched off my music and took a second to collect my thoughts before standing up and heading down the stairs, yawning; that stupid assignment had seen me up till one in the morning.

“Mai?”
She was standing in the kitchen next to Mum, the sunlight spilling through the window to gently stroke her brown curls and pale skin. Man, I wish I was the sun, and could brush my hand so carefully against her face.
“Hey.” Even her voice was magical.
“Hi.” I couldn’t help it; I smiled. Even after everything, even after the past few months, I felt just the same about her as I had since third grade.
“I was wondering if we could talk.”
And I knew, then, that I forgave her. It didn’t matter that she’d broken my heart back in June for a footballer with a tattoo scrawled over his ribs, because she was here and she was about to tell me that she was sorry, that I was the one for her, that I meant the world to her and she couldn’t cope without me. I nodded at Mai, and then began to take the stairs, motioning for her to follow. I sensed a smile drift across her lips, and I turned around to catch it, returning it with my own.

When we got to my room, I took a seat on the carpet, my back against the bed frame, and Mai sat beside me. Was this really happening? Was she really going to admit she wanted me back? Hesitantly, I reached out and stroked my thumb against the back of her hand. When she didn’t whip her palm away, I took it in my own and felt another grin alight my face.
“What’s up?”
“There’s something I need to tell you.” And all of a sudden she was crying,and burying her head into my shoulder, her body heaving with sobs as she struggled to put her thoughts into spoken words. “When I broke up with you…” ·
“Do we really have to go back over that?”
“I need to tell you something. The new guy -”

“I don’t want to hear anything about that jerk.” I pulled back the hand which had been brushing gently across her back. It had been weeks, months, but the pain of rejection was still as raw as ever. “Listen to me, Gabriel. There was no other guy.”
“What do you mean?” I frowned, confused. Her breathing was calmer now but tears were still leaking silently from her blue eyes, ironically the colour of a peaceful summer’s sky, while rain lashed against the windows and a storm began to whirl inside my mind.

Mai wiped at her face with the back of her sleeve, trying to compose herself despite the wave of emotions flooding her every thought and action. I didn’t know how to protect her from these thoughts, and now that I was hearing this, I didn’t know that I wanted to.
“I just wanted to keep you away from all the drama going on in my life, Gabriel.” “What drama?”
She ducked her head. “At home.”
“What about home?”
“Family stuff.”
“Family stuff?”
I know I sounded insistent, but this was the girl of my dreams and perhaps she was telling me that she hadn’t given up on in the way that I thought she had. But what was going on that was causing her so much grief?
“This letter will explain it all.”

She slowly extracted a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to me. I held her gaze for a few moments, and then brought my attention to the note.
“Do you believe me?” She asked quietly once I’d folded it back together.
“Mia…”
“You think I’m lying?”
“No, I think we need to get out of here, and go to this supposed safe place. Right now.” I jumped to my feet, my hands flying to reach items of clothing, paper, my pocket knife, anything that I thought might help us.
“You’re going to drop everything… for me?”
I stared at her for a second, taking in the innocence of her eyes, the sweetness of her lips. “I’d do anything to take you away from danger, Mia, you know that.”
“Even this?”
I zipped my backpack shut. “Even this.”
“I’m scared, Gabriel.”
I looked her straight in the eyes. “I’m not going to lie; so am I. But we have to do this.”
“How are we going to get there? What will we do once we get there?”
“It’s not too far from here. It’ll take us a couple of days by catching buses and walking and once you’re safe there, I’ll head back home.”
“When will I see you again, Gabriel, after you go home?”
I hesitated for a few moments, and then eventually, merely shrugged and turned away. The answer was probably never, and how I could say those words out loud? How could I speak that, and feel the pain drip from my voice like spray-paint down a graffiti-ed wall?
“How long have you had this letter?”
“I got the first letter a few months ago, which is why I broke up with you, Gab; I didn’t want to put you in danger. I thought it would blow over, part of me hoped it was just a joke, that the person who sent this letter would forget about me, but then I got this one this morning. I don’t know what to do, Gabriel,what do I do?”

Her voice was almost hysterical, and tears were leaking once again from her bright blue eyes, and I wanted to tear the letter into shreds and destroy the very thing which threatened to destroy her.
“And you believe that this is… real?”
Mia shoved her hand deep into her pocket and pulled out a golden necklace. “Gab, I know I have magic. This necklace controls it.”
And I knew that she wasn’t lying, that she was serious, that this was more than dangerous. I knew that she wouldn’t lie to me about this, that she wouldn’t make up this elaborate story, that this was real and scary and true.
“Why didn’t you didn’t tell me sooner?”
“I thought I was protecting you by not telling you, by breaking up with you, by not returning your calls or texts. I thought you wouldn’t want to get caught up in all of this. It’s dangerous, and it’s terrifying, and no one will believe us. I didn’t know where to turn, so I’ve just been lying low for the past while. But it’s not working, Gabriel, and I don’t know how much longer I have. The Darkness is after me.”
I wrapped her up in my arms and breathed softly onto her neck, soaking in the scent of her conditioner and her perfume.
“I’ll make sure you’re alright, okay? But now, we have to grab some food, some supplies, and get going. I don’t know how much longer we have until this… Darkness comes after us.”
“Please don’t leave me to deal with this on my own, Gab.”
“I won’t be able to come with you into this safe place, but I will stick by your side every second until we reach it.”
“Promise?” She drew a sleeve across her eyes, wiping up the tears.
“I promise, Mia. Now we’ve got to go.”

I finished throwing the last of the necessaries into my bag and grabbed Mia’s hand, bringing her with me as I raced down the stairs and started slamming cans and packets from the kitchen into the backpack. Mum walked into the room and looked surprised once she’d seen the haste in our footsteps. “What are you guys doing?”
“Emergency road trip.”
I met her gaze and tried to communicate the desperation tearing through my mind. She seemed to get it was vital; she frowned, but then took a step backwards, leaving the path towards the front door clear.
“Thank you, Mum. I’ll be back in a few days. I’ll send you a message tonight.”

We hurried out the front door and began to sprint down the driveway towards the nearest bus stop. I kept glancing over m shoulder, paranoid,  scared, frightened:J that this… Darkness would jump out at us at every turn.

We, reached the stop just as a bus was pulling up.
“Are you ready for this, Mai?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“We’ll find the Lightness,  I promise, and I’ll look after you until we get there.”
And so began our Quest to Find the Light.

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