Peri Munter, Writer

She remembered her first time there. She closed her eyes, thinking of it, letting the volatile memory resurface. “Luce, remember when I didn’t come home from school last week?” Her wide-eyed eight year old self nodded, looking up into her brother’s face, quiet as a mouse. “Do you know where I went instead?” His inky eyes, though they may have seemed cold as a winter’s night to others, always spoke of untold adventures when they shone at her. She remembered clearly his touch, fleeting hesitance making it light upon her shoulder as she shook her head, young face continuing to regard his with childish curiosity. Matt bent down and looked into her eyes- not at her eyes, but directly inside, almost as if he was reading her mind, and opened his mouth. “Well, if you promise not to tell anyone, I can show you where I went. My secret hiding place” And in response, she unfroze with a wide grin and a breathless nod.

She flew back to earth with a start as her foot met a rock. Startled, she tripped and almost hit the ground, just saving herself by grabbing the rusty bike rack next to the abandoned school. Catching her breath, she let go of the cool rail and leaned against it, feeling the warmth slowly draining from her body with the memory. She closed her eyes, willing it back, but too late it was gone again, faded with her slowing breath. She sighed and cracked her eyes open again, feeling an emptiness settling into the hole in her chest worn deeper and deeper over the years since her last adventure there. She jolted herself upright, shoving away that last memory, and spun around, trying to outrun the unwelcome thoughts.

He came in her dreams. He appeared in the halls at school, joining the between-class rush but dissolving into the sea of people when she tried to get a better look at his face, catch his eyes. His deep, dark eyes. If eyes were the window to the soul, his remained tightly boarded up no matter what the weather. It was only there, inside the empty shell of a building, that a light began to ignite behind the cracks in those dark windows. And so on her walk home from school, she took a little detour and found herself back in front of the silent building.

Creeping around the perimeter, she searched for the entrance. She sifted through years of static, searching for a flashback, a snapshot of those stolen visits. All she came up with was a staircase and ghost-like fog, drifting, weaving around her mind and distorting her recollection. After rounding the building twice, she slid down the brick wall and pulled her knees up to her chest, burying her head in her arms. Her mind gave up on its scavenger hunt for the foggy memory and she drifted off, exhaustion surfacing as her mind emptied. Hours fled silently, stealthily, without her even noticing. The gradual nighttime chill that accompanied the fading sunset finally pulled her away from the locked up building.

He continued to haunt her waking hours, shadowing her every movement and dissipating into the crowd the moment she turned her head. The abandoned building slept on, oblivious to the girl’s daily ventures to find a way inside. Every day she wandered around the property was different. Her second time there, she felt like a sleepwalker, seeing everything as if through a clouded glass, time having frozen somewhere along her trip there. Another day her mind bounced around in spurts of highenergy hyperactivity, almost as if trying to escape the boundaries of her head. That day, her mind had dropped the anger that had been stewing steadily ever since she woke up, and replaced it with a rock. Several rocks, to be precise. The first stone wasn’t heavy enough. The second one was way off target. And the third wasn’t a rock at all, but a dried conglomeration of mud and gravel. It was her fourth try that finally met the elusive window and sent lightning-bolt fractures across the clouded glass. Her hand fumbled for another missile and with a snap, sent it flying through the pane. The glass burst and showered inside the room. After knocking the last few shards out of the window pane, she hoisted herself into the abandoned school, careful to avoid the broken glass on the inside floor. Her first steps led her into the stale air of a large, open room. Overturned shelves lay stiffly on the torn carpeting, almost as corpses waiting for embalment and burial. Or perhaps this was not their morgue, but their mausoleum. Shivers slithered up her spine and she withdrew, a sudden chill nudging her into the hall again. Her hair lifted gently away from her face, caught in a distant ghostly breeze as she made her way away. Away from the jagged window, away from the recumbent bookshelves and the shredded flooring, away from the insistent push and pull of the wind, the interrogative glare of the lights, the people, the pressures, the world. She knew this hall. It was stamped into her mind. The cool of the late afternoon faded as a dry, summer heat rose, dust swirling together to form a tall figure. He held out his hand, and she watched as another, younger girl grabbed it tight. He led her farther into the abandoned school, the young girl looking up into his face with adventure glowing in her eyes, his grin mirroring her excitement. And as abruptly as her flashback began, it fizzled out. The floor rolled beneath her feet as she jerked back to reality, swaying for a moment, staring down the stretch of hall undulating in front of her. She could, still, almost see him picking his way through the corridors, feel the reassuring pressure of his hand over hers. Protecting her, then guiding her, then teaching her. Releasing her. And finally, by his own hand, disappearing from her.

In the dim of twilight, the girl slipped onto the property again. She sat curled up against the side of the school, pressing her head against the wall and staring blankly up at the spiritless clouds. Quietly, she reflected on her week, turning over his appearances in her mind. They seemed more and more frequent, anywhere, any time, any reason. A constant sense of foreboding urgency followed her from day to night, to dawn, to dusk, and every minute in between. Her knees pulled in closer to her chest as she ducked her head and let finally static fill her patchwork mind. Her hand traced the patches of peeling paint, picking flakes from the water stained wall. She shifted her head to watch the crumbling plaster float to the ground like dusty, dingy snowflakes. The universe seemed paralyzed, time suspended for that single infinite moment before the sun shifted. The fading light bleached away all but the last traces of color, bathing the yard in shades of grey. Sighing, she pushed up and murmured a goodbye to her pensive surroundings, silently vowing to return another day. Night was approaching, and she no longer found comfort in darkness.

Her dark footprints landed on the other side of the window and traced her dripping path deeper into the building. Faltering at the doorway, she looked backwards. Through the window’s broken glass, skeleton-like branches provided a stark contrast to the dusky sky. Rain poured from the sky in buckets, collecting anywhere there was space. The first sign of spring, her brother would have murmured to her. Washing away the winter to start anew. Her fingers worried the fraying hem of the too-big sweatshirt she had snatched up blindly that morning. The deeper she travelled into the building, the farther away the outside world seemed. The rain dulled to a gentle hum on the roof, then evaporated entirely as sunlight fractured the worn-out clouds and beamed triumphantly through the foggy windows. But even in the new warmth, she shivered again, feeling his presence stealing alongside her trembling body. Like a second shadow, he materialized beside her, falling perfectly into step. Even with his longer legs, he matched her stride and yet seemed to tread with much heavier a burden. Wordlessly, her fingers wove between his and squeezed tight, as if afraid to let go. Really, there was no ‘as if’ about it- she truly was dreading the moment when their grip weakened. But the answering pressure that enveloped her hand told her he wasn’t planning to let go, either. The two siblings moved as one, both knowing where their footsteps would lead. Walking out onto the rooftop came as no surprise. However, for the sister, it was being led to the roof’s edge that brought a wavering confusion. But his comforting hand anchored her safely and ignoring her trepidation, she lowered herself beside him, feet dangling out high above the ground. Finally she turned to him, watching him survey the horizon in front of them. His eyes still hadn’t changed. Murky as ever, just as she remembered. And his hair- creeping towards his eyes, hanging low over his forehead. His huge paws could still cradle hers, just as they did so many years ago. She half smiled, remembering with painful nostalgia the steadiness of his hands, the constancy of his companionship, of his existence. Until the day he left- the day he left and never returned. Her mind was drowning in questions, but her lips were frozen, too nervous to break the silence for fear of destroying the moment along with it. Finally, she shifted.

“Matt?” A gentle smile stretched out across his face, his wistful expression reminding her of overcast skies, the way clouds stubbornly hung over the few rays that tried to break through. His smilethat was what had changed, the unnerving difference between her memories and this Matt. “Matt?” She echoed herself, softer this time, to no response but his almost invisible movement. He let her lean into him, held her from slipping too close to the edge as she breathed, slowly, slowly, carefully, cautiously. She could feel the lazy, sunny air hovering around the two, interspersed with the occasional cotton-ball cloud as time passed sluggishly by. A slight sigh escaped from his mouth and swirled around in the air, ghostly in the way it cooled to a chilly breath. From high above, a raindrop spiraled down onto her open palm, landing with a mellow splat. She clutched his hands tighter, sensing the gradual shift of realities. Another raindrop landed on her arm, trickling down to meet their entwined fingers. The water seemed almost to melt into him, his complexion washing away with every faster, falling drop. The girl’s breath caught in her throat he pulled her from the rooftop’s edge and back towards the inside. Lingering at the threshold, her heart pumped furiously as they embraced. With her head buried in his fading shoulder, all she could hear was the rapidly increasing pat-pat-pat of the rain on the roofing tile. Her suddenly soaked sweater hung heavily on her thin body, raindrop after raindrop pelting her empty arms. The girl lifted a pale hand to shield her burning eyes as she turned to survey the rooftop once more. Squinting through the harsh sheets of rain, she thought for a moment a wavering figure had turned at the edge of the roof, raising an arm in farewell. Then again, it was probably just her imagination.