Beyond the Horizon

Voorheesville Short Story Contest Finalist Fiction by Ethan Hansen

Photo by Conrad Ziebland on Unsplash

Over the next eight days we will be publishing the eight finalists from the 2020 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. This, the next of our three finalist stories, made it to the final round of judging. Today, enjoy Ethan Hansen’s story, “Beyond the Horizon.”

Chapter 1: My Dreams

I remember these dreams I had in my early 20’s, laying naked, stranded on a dark blue surface that continued forever in every direction. The surface was so still, and calm, smooth, like a granite table. The air, cool and crisp, travelling over my skin, but now and again, a chilling bite  would pass. Watching above, through a veil of gray clouds, poised a great white, craterless full moon.  Not a dent or scratch in its shape, like a flawless pearl. 

It’s light poked silver rays through the clouds.  

The frigid water tingled my bare back. It’s not as if I couldn’t move, and yet, I laid there, like a toppled over, abandoned mannequin. The airs chill would bite me and nearly translucent hairs would stand up on my arms and legs. My pasta bowl of curls uncoiled into flowing strands, bobbing just below the surface. Rolling around and prostrating my body in all manner of various directions, unfurling my toes and spreading my fingers. My gray, thin muscles would tighten and I would hiss out and pull myself up, only to be confronted by an impending weight from the heart, an uncanny feeling that would pull me back down. The trial would begin, one of heaving, swinging, and pulling my limbs into position. Wrangling myself onto two feet.

I’d rub my eyes and look down at twiggy, gaunt feet, grayish, thin arms and legs. They stood upon the water, I stood upon that water. 

I had no interest in the great depths below the surface, and so, I dominated it. A smile crept up on my face and my heart would pound out of my chest . No silhouette of land on the horizon, no light of a passing ship. No place to run to, nowhere to go. Yet, my gray, flat legs felt nourished, they surged with a sudden strength. I bolted forward with no destination. 

I used to run track back in high school. The coach would struggle to recall my name. His attention was spent hawking over the top 5 on Varsity. 

It was a haunting, golden sky that watched over the track- the last event of the last meet of my last season. The heat consisted of myself, 2 other schools, and number five, “Alecia Bells”. Coach realized we would place dead last in the meet if someone didn’t place 2nd. And he had already ran Alecia in three other events.

At around the 200 meter mark of the 400 meter dash, when the coach really pressured me, I managed to snag the number five on Varsity from under Alecia Bells. I got 3rd.

I ran back into our school, charged towards my gym locker, and grabbed my phone, hidden away under a small mountain of dry, wrinkled gym clothes, it was an old Motorola. “I proved you wrong.” I slammed my mom with that text message. The team caught up to me, flooding into the locker room. I called them over to gather round the phone. Some smiled and laughed as I displayed my message, others furrowed their brows and shifted about. The idea that it was all a joke bounced around in my head on the quiet car ride home. All night that same tune rang in my head, the ones who laughed and smiled were the ones who knew nothing about me. To this day I’m not even sure I had texted the right number.

Chapter 2: My Life

After I started running, the dream would fade away. I would like to think I found land, or a boat, or just someone else. Maybe small fish lept from the water and I caught one in flight. Shit, it’d be a shame to miss that…

I doubt I would have made it that far. I doubt I would have wanted to let my feet leave the water.

When I would eventually wake up, and be pulled into the real world, I would lie still for hours, unmoving in bed, and close my eyes real hard. This time under the cover of a deep purple comforter.

The ceiling was an eyesore of popcorn and cracks. The plain white walls were plastered with Nirvana, Sublime, Joplin. I put up colorful lights strung together by a cord that skated through ceiling fan blades and unopened boxes of makeup and jewelry. The air was sweltering and stood still. The hardwood floor was warped and sticky. Patched over with a fuzzy blue carpet and a sofa bed pushed up against the wall. As midday turned to sunset, the chorus of the forest would creep in, harassing me. Chirps, twips, duuuuurssss. I felt the world’s great interference as the orchestra drowned out the hum of my loyal fan. They were alien and played off one another like a jam-session where no one knows each other and it doesn’t work. 

Then the rays of sun would storm my room through the cracks in the blinds. I’d squirm, toss, and turn. Straining farther and farther from the hope of sleep. When I’d finally had enough, I would pitch the comforter across the room and run to the kitchen. It was a fine kitchen, it’s plaster cabinets melded into yellow walls and popcorn ceilings with brown tables, brown hardwood floors, and brown wallpaper with a repeating pattern of a deer and a bird, 

I opened cabinet upon cabinet, then opened them again. Nothing. But a spark went off, and I rushed to grab the little cereal that was left next to the coffee-brewer. I ate one cheerio, shuffling up the creaking wooden staircase to my battered room door.

The ringer went off on my nightstand, Dad’s number flashing across the screen.  It took me a minute of staring at that phone before picking it up.

“Hey honey.”.

“Hey”

“I’m on my way home, and listen.”

“Yeah?”

“I was picking up water from the grocery store, they just fired Jimmy.”

“Don’t know who that is.” I said, picking corn flakes between my teeth.

“Marley, he worked at the Stop-n-Shop, the one on Main Street. There’s an opening, I want you to take it.” 

“No, you know how I feel about that.”

“Marley, you are taking this, it is an opportunity. I’d take care of all transport.” 

“There’s always someplace else, some other opening.”

“Marley…” he muttered, “I need help.”

“I know, I just need time to think, get my brain moving again.”

“We don’t have much more of that.”

“…Sorry.”

“We’ll talk when I get home.”

“Dad?”

 “Yeah?”

“What kinda water’d you get? Saratoga Springs or the one you got before?

“Saratoga Springs, are you happy?”

“Thank God, alright.”  

I hang up.

I didn’t wait for him to get home, I fell asleep as fast as I could. Didn’t even rinse out my bowl of cereal…

Chapter 3: A Closer Dream

Crickets filled the darkness that hid away the world. Curled up inside my blanket with my eyes shut. My body lay limp, I invited the great darkness to envelope me. Tucked neatly into a corner of the bed, my essence seeped into the void of sleep. 

The dream was back. But the once calm water trembled. A storm was stirring across that grayish-blue sea. The greenish, toxic night sky watched over me, reflecting it’s poisonous hue on the water. I stood there like a pole. Just ahead, the roar of crashing waves mixed in with the acute smell of gathering salt. It charged towards me. 

A heavy wave tackled me, and I gave myself into the water. It flung me raggedly, turning and twisting my body in a torrent of white tipped waves. My insides thrashing about as I was granted short bursts of air and yanked down into mouthfuls of tart, bitter water.

The ocean’s tantrum ended almost as soon as it began. I was cradled down to a calm surface; a flat table of grayish-blue in all directions. Back pressed to the water, my eyes fixated on a singular, flickering star above. I lay there, like roadkill. The frigid water channelling a tingling sensation to my back, and a clear childhood memory to my head. 

The swing-set at Aunt Sweenie’s house. She moved into a residential area when I was 5; mom told me I wasn’t allowed to know why, that always bothered me. It had a neighborhood watch, trimmed yards, everyone had 3 pets and went to the most prestigious colleges. and it had a community garden where she grew tomatoes and basil. There was one other kid in the neighborhood. He was the next door neighbor’s son. He spent his days throwing acorns into the street. They dropped from the oak tree in his front yard. 

Aunt Sweenie had a dry, grassy-green backyard. Which she neglected after she fired the lawn-boy. She had a rusty swing set from her childhood. It’s foundation was buried in knee high grass, nailed together with warped wood and lead paint. The whining of the rusted, crusty chains was a lullaby, the heat of the wood plank seat on my stiff jeans. The flaky, puke green color it had, my thighs burning as I swung back and forth, back and forth through the arc of the swing. I would often avoid my chores to visit the swing and my Aunt would spank me, she was old-fashioned like that. 

Then the next day I would do the same thing. 

When I swung, my heart rate would mellow, my hands would clasp the chains softly. I’d lose all thought as I swung up towards the blinding white sky, and back down towards the grassy green. Aunt Sweenie’s backyard didn’t look like the others. It’s long, pale green blades crowded around the swing-set and the abandoned glass table leaning up against the fence.  My legs parted the blades as I flew through them. As Aunt Sweenie kept busy sewing patches in my jeans. 

The dark blue hue of the dream came back, I stood up. In the distance, a woman of short, kept blonde hair and sharp business attire. She was floating, poised well above the surface. I sprinted with abandon towards her silhouette. I looked up gawking, when that uncanny feeling returned to my heart and pulled me down to the water’s surface. 

“Mom?” 

“Aren’t you glad I stopped the storm?”

I scanned her up and down.

“We don’t have much time. Please talk to your mother.” 

“Where’s your pearl necklace? Let me guess, you threw it out?” I said, 

“No silly, up there”

She points up to a string of 6 craterless, full moons, arched in the sky. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I didn’t look up.

“Why are you here?” I said.

“Marley, I didn’t have the choice to say no. We needed the money.”

 “It wasn’t about money.”

“Excuse me?”

“It was hate, you spent everyday trying to burn bridges. To me, to Dad…” 

“…You know that’s wrong. Marley…” she tilted her head to the side. My eye’s start to twinkle, my face planted firmly to the water’s surface.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“You’re so stupid, stupid, stupid…” I grovel. Mom began to float upwards. 

“Where are you going?” A rumbling in the water began around me, waves kicking up again. The shiny, round moons above began to penetrate the atmosphere, barreling towards me, flaming through the sky, and dwarfing me with their shadow.

Mom looked down at me “You have to let go.”

“What?”

“You have to be free, honey.” 

The sound of flames and splashing was the last thing that filled my ears…

Chapter 4: Get me the hell out of here

My comforter was damp with sweat, my itchy, bloodshot eyes cranked to the digital clock on my nightstand, 2:34 in the morning, it didn’t matter, I needed to get the hell out of that house. 

Dad would often toss his car keys onto the kitchen table downstairs before hibernating in the living room on his leather chair. I crept down the wooden staircase, each point of pressure creaked and whined despite my slowness. As I suspected, the keys were there on the table, exposed between a wrinkled Mustang mag and some Stop-n-Shop coupon clippings.

I rustled the front door to a crack, and outside forces made their way in, screeching wind. I used my back to hold the door open and charged through the darkness. I traversed the stone walkway to the driveway, barefoot and in my striped blue and white pajamas. I randomly pressed buttons until the doors unlocked, I huddled into the gray minivan.

I wasn’t shaking from the cold. 

The various meters and sticks and buttons and symbols and logos and mirrors melted into an incomprehensible blur. I sucked in the mint air freshener, slapped my forehead, and fumbled the cold keys into the ignition. I twisted the key in the wrong direction on my first try. I pulled out of the driveway.

The town was asleep. Its bumpy, choppy streets regulated by a soothing pattern. One of rhythmic orange spots from the street lights, my job was to get from one to the next. 

The sidewalks were decaying and the houses were detached from light and life, they stared at me and told me to go home. The sky was empty, say for a patch of thick, gray clouds illuminated by a tiny moon. Me and Dad were accustomed to the small, sleepy beach town life. I was never obligated to stay long in a crowd, not even back in school. 

Road signs were shiny colors and shapes attached to poles. Intersections led to narrow one way streets, splitting off and wrapping around again and again into dead ends and alleys. I would take one turn on a desperate instinct and end up coasting down a vacant road I couldn’t remember. My eyes were on a swivel, surveying and interpreting, failing to see the curbs and the stop signs and the red lights. I was forced to play this puzzle if I were to reach my destination. I had to traverse the twisting, overlapping streets. I scrambled together memories of Dad driving me through town, Bakery’s, pawn shops, clothing stores, anything I could connect back to.

The parking lot to the beach was vacant and unlit, I only stopped once I up-ended a curb against the lot. I blanketed myself with my arms and ran towards the beach, just parallel to the lot. My feet slammed awkwardly against the sand, the winds bit and howled at me. The pure nothingness of the dark stole my eyesight completely. I could only catch the small glistenings of the water. The crunch of my bare feet accompanied the chatter of my teeth ringing through my head. I wandered towards the sound of the tide and the twinklings of glistening water. It was waiting for me, a vicious threat ready to strike, it’s teeth bared. My frail knees crashed into the sand. The tide slinked towards me with devilish anticipation. 

The wind went silent.

It grabbed me, sending a jolt through my spine and turning my skin ghost white. It wrapped its murky mass around me, attempting to constrict my movement. Soaking my pajama pants and tingling my feet. My heart exploded, my nerves took command of my body and leapt out of the water. I had narrowly escaped it’s grasp as the crash of a real wave followed. I was no longer in control. 

Weighed down in soaked pajama pants, I layed, surrendered inside the mini-van, cropped up on a curb. I caressed my throbbing forehead upon a cold, leather wrapped steering wheel. Pale, bony fingers draped over the dashboard. I was shielded from the howling wind by thick windows, the sound dampened and distant. The flaring in my nostrils was nurtured by the mint scent. And a singular, salty tear, slipped down my bumpy cheek.            

Back home, my father paced around a dimly lit kitchen, wondering where the hell his baby girl was. Her phone still on her nightstand. The keys and car vanished.

I swerved into the driveway around 5:00 AM. The retreat back home was sprinkled with dog-walkers, garbage men, grazing curbs, and the rising sun over the ocean horizon.

“You-you took the car?” 

My lip quivered. My eyes anchored to the grimy, white tiled floor of our kitchen. A few abandoned corn flakes left. My arms dangled awkwardly around my hips.

An LED-light hung above us, sterilizing the browns and yellows of the room with a stark white hue. Dad’s eyes were gone, a black visor of shadow draped over his brow. His black curls rimmed with a white light. He gripped the side of the kitchen table, his knuckles whitened. 

“Is the car- is it okay?” 

“It’s dark, I couldn’t tell.”

 “Did you hit anything?”

“…”

“Oh, Jesus. I should be at work right now,” he said, “Marley, why?”

The whole conversation is a distant effort. 

“I saw mom,” I said. “I had a dream, and I saw her.” 

“…Oh” 

Dad let out a labored sigh and wrapped a meaty hand on his scruffy, wide chin.

He hugged me and pressed his forehead to my curls. 

“Where’d you go?”

“The beach.”

He looked down at me, ”I don’t think it’s beach weather this time of day.” I laughed as tears and snot saturated his tucked in, wrinkle-free work shirt. “It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of that place.” He said, “I could use a day at the beach.” 

“Aren’t you mad?”

He wheezed out a chuckle, “You drive me crazy Marley.” Then he hugged me tighter. He reached over and picked up a strewn paper on the kitchen table. “If we’re going to the beach, you are filling out this job application.”

“Is that a bargain?” I tried to snag it from his fingers, but he held it high, out of my reach. “What are ya gonna do? Tear it up? Real mature.”

“Good idea.” I leaped for it again

“Wow, look at that energy!”

I smirked, “Fine, I’ll fill the thing out, just give it to me!”

“You’re gonna have to take it from me.” He started walking around the kitchen table, holding the application out of my reach. We played cat and mouse around the table, batting and baiting and watching for sudden movements.

“You gotta get to work!” I swiped at the application again.

“You know what, I’ll call up Rich about it, tell him to take over for today.” 

“You trust Rich?”

“I’m not gonna call just anybody. Now get some real clothes on, I got an idea.”

Dad sauntered down the hallway from the kitchen and got on the stairs.

He pointed his finger up, “You know what? I’m taking tomorrow off! We’ll go to the beach!” I followed him through the hallway and up the stairs.

“Dad, the end of the month is coming up.” Dad looked down from the top step. “What about it?”

“I like to have working electricity.” 

“Ok, your new job is gonna pay just fine.” 

“You’re serious about that?” 

“They’re gonna love you, don’t worry.” he said with a nod, “Now get some clothes on.”

We spent that whole day in the town, visited the ice-cream shop we used to go to as a kid. I couldn’t remember exactly how my old recipe went, but I never forgot that it started with the “mint cookie crumble” flavor.

I filled out that stupid application, still had no idea how I would pull together three references.

Another dream, another endless sea. There, I talked to Mom again. 

“Rainy days were beautiful in England. Charming.” Mom said.

I gave her no attention. 

Her eyebrows perk up, “Plenty of good people… Plenty of snobs too.”

I worked at a knot in my hair.

“You meet some interesting company in the marketing game.” she said.

I got the knot out.

“Paul Tipton, he was one of them. A ‘fascinating gentlemen’ you hear about in fairy tales,” she said, “We had wrapped up the first stage of marketing for the struggling “Puller magazine.” Mr. Tipton had been called in to supervise the second phase. Sure our work in the first month came up short, but that’s how it is, you don’t always hit the ground running. The last thing we needed was a freshly promoted supervisor to convince us we didn’t deserve our jobs .”

I squeezed out air, and walked forward past her. She let me go on for a while. I was off the hook. 

“What are you trying to do?” she threw at me. I kept walking. Then she was in front of me and I jolted back. “What was that at the beach?” 

I threw my fist at her, it phased right through.

“Your father works very hard for you, maybe he shouldn’t.” 

I scoffed, “You’re not even real.”

“Treat him well, while he’s still here.” She gripped her purse, “It’s time to grow up.”

I couldn’t keep my eyes on hers.

“I know…” 

Chapter 5: I must face it

Saturday’s air was blurred with heat waves. Blinding white seagulls scavenged in packs on the asphalt of the parking lot. Dad groaned over the sound of the AC, the lot to the beach was overflowing. Cars packed together like sardines. An unsightly conjunction of jagged park jobs and wasted space. Dad felt the steering wheel with pressure and whipped it on a turn, “When you were young it wasn’t like this.”  

Dad let me off, stubborn and determined to find a parking spot on his own. The blazing asphalt singed my feet and the air was sticky and dense. The squawking of seagulls, intermingled with the squawking of the people. I reached the sand. A gust of wind blew a sweet scent through me. One of warm, buttery fried dough. The fried dough spot near the beach was homemade. They were perfectionist’s who worked the butter in real slow. 

I was forced to take it all in. The sun pinched at the nerves behind my eyes and commanded them to squint. The heat singed my pale skin. Through my narrow vision, I made out footsteps in the sand that left its surface an imbalanced, shaky thing. I tripped, trampled, and shuffled my way through it, while bumbling residents around me cascaded elegantly through its coursensess.

I reached the shoreline, kids pranced about the shallow water like it was their kingdom! Splashing, yelling, laughing, crying. They ruled it with rapid, impulsive swinging arms and legs. They manipulated it, and embedded themselves in it. Adults lay stricken and lifeless on the sand behind me. Resting neatly on warm splashes of blue, green, and red. Some lay on beach chairs, shaded underneath parasols of many varieties. Some hold their children down and apply spf60 to their little backs. Some came alone, lounging, sipping their fruity drinks and eating their granola bars, reading their novels or sleeping.

The water knew I was coming, it was worked up. Sweat beads slipped down my forehead, I sunk into wet sand.

I would allow the water to come to me. I planted my feet, and allowed myself to be fully exposed. To be fully captive to where and when I was. I was rooted to the Earth, I wouldn’t turn around. Seagulls chirping, children splashing, and the tide rowing. It was natural, cyclical, beautiful, and it was inevitable. 

The tide slinked forward and wrapped its cold hands around my ankles. I bit my tongue, and tasted the iron in my mouth. The tide slipped back, washing away the wet sand glued around my feet. I was lent a reprieve.

The world coasted by uninterrupted. The kids still play, the adults still bicker and gossip. But the flow is destined to be interrupted, tainted by some unnatural force. 

“Hey lady?” slipped out behind me.

I turn around. He was a small, blonde thing, just leaving his chubby toddler days behind. His wild blonde curls tamed by water, clung to his head. He had a round, rosy face. His wide eyes were a pristine blue. His light, feathery eyebrows arched up, his big lips flat against each other and slightly turned down. 

He held up two small pails. “Excuse me, um, I have these buckets, and, cause I’m, I made a sandcastle, and it needs a river, and, so-”  My eyes locked on to the blue in his, they consumed my vision. His distant noise stopped and he smiled. He tilted his head down, keeping his eyes to me. 

“Hey,” I said.

“He’s a little shy.” A woman marched into my view. The boy took shelter behind her, continuing to gawk at me behind his maternal fortress. I had to look up to see her. The woman had leathery, rough tan skin, a worker. She had a bold, square jaw and a wide neck. She had blonde bangs shrouding squinty, hazel eyes. Her sun yellow hair fell straight as a needle, and she threw it back behind rigid, broad shoulders. “What did he say?” She looked down at the boy with a wide smile.

“Uh, I-I’m not sure, I-” Then the tide was back. I couldn’t help it, I yelped.

The lady rushed to my aid. “Ma’am?” I backed away. She let off. There was a silence. She was looking at me differently now. “Ma’am, you’ve been standing here an awful long time, is everything OK?” 

“Yeah, sorry.” 

I turned around, thinking of home, that’s when I was bumped into. I looked up. 

“Dad?”

“You’re giving up?”

“What?”  

The mother and that kid were boring a hole into the back of my head.

Dad looks over my shoulder and gives the water a good look, “You used to love the water, what’s wrong?”

“It’s not hot enough to go in…”

Dad didn’t believe that.

“Marley, why’d you wanna go to the beach?” 

“That’s your question?”

“Marley, why are we here?”

“…To have fun, I guess.”

“Ok. Why are you here?”

 I looked at the boy and the mother.

I looked at dad’s hairy feet.

“…To swim…”

“Then what’s standing around gonna do?”

I let out a fake chuckle.

He turns me to the water, “We’re going in there and we are gonna swim.”

He begins to guide me along.

“I can’t. I’m not ready!”

“You’re my baby girl! You can swim if you want to!”

We were in the tide and I hadn’t even noticed.

“Keep pushing, lets go.”

From my flank the little blonde boy chased after us. The water reached his hips. I heard his mother from the shore, “Trevor!”. His oversized head bobbled around as he marched through the water to my side, to our side. He kept giggling with his tongue out and smiling at me and Dad with a missing canine tooth. His wild curls unbounded from his wet forehead and bobbed around with a feathery weight. 

I look behind me, there’s his mother, without a swimsuit, chasing after him. 

I laugh at it all.

Dad’s pushing me through the water.

“Look at you!” he said.

My hips are in the wading water.

Seaweed is slithering between my toes.

“Holy crap, no, no, no, we’re going back!”

The boy was bobbing in the water beside us, his mother scoops him up and rocks him and scolds him. 

The mother notices what the boy was following- a girl whose breath fires out like a gun. 

She saw guiding her a man with focused eyes and calloused, caring hands, and for the briefest of moments, the pair struck her. She experienced a feeling, some sweet mixture of nostalgia and  The boy took notice.

When the girl was young, or younger – she participated in a ritual with her mother, they were to visit the town’s cinema once a month. The theater block was a burst of neon red on the brown and beige storefronts of the town. It was built into the corner of a large brick building. A vertical sign descended the corner, “The Palace” it read. Under the sign was a bannister, movie titles announced boldly in hot bulbs of light. 

There was one visit that was particularly nerve wracking for the girl. She and her mother slipped into their firm, red seats. Laughing, screaming, and crying through a fourth viewing of their favorite movie. After the suspense, romance, and betrayal had ended and the popcorn was swept away for the next crowd, the girl and her mother bickered their way home.

“I think Charlie should’ve killed Mary. That would be way cooler.” the girl said.

“Then how would Mary have married James?” the mother said with raised eyebrows.

“Oh right…”

The mother parked the car in the driveway and the girl tugged at the mothers vest.  

“Momma, I have something for you. Me and Dad bought it.”

“He made you use money from your savings pig?” the mother said, “What’d I tell you about breaking our rules?”

“It wasn’t much at all! And I wanted to do it, that’s the truth!”

“Just remember, honest money isn’t cheap, it’s a result of sacrifice.”

“I know Momma.” the girl mutters as she reaches into the pocket of her puffy jacket.

She reveals a silver, clam shaped box. “Open it.” With a wide smile. 

“Wow! What could it be?” 

“Open it!” 

Her mother gives her a warm look, “Calm down now.” 

She opens it up and gasps. “Oh my-” 

“Do you not like it?”  

“I-” her eyes glistened now, she wrapped the gift around her neck slowly. Now she shined, and glew bright, like a star. The girl smiled at her mother. “Show Dad!”

Their beach town house was brown and yellow, everything was a punch of wood and outdated wallpaper. 

The girl’s father laughs as they walk through the shoe room. “Just as I pictured it.” 

The mother whispers into his ear, “How much was it?” “It doesn’t matter, don’t give it another thought.” She pulls away from his ear but remains in his face, staring into his anxiety with twinkling blue eyes. “How much was it?”. The father breathed out a little and looked down for a second, then back at her, “Three-hundred and eighty nine dollars.”. The mother closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose with boney fingers and fake nails. She falls into the father’s chest. “I wanted to do something special.” he justified. 

“How much did she put in?” 

“She gave me $10.” 

“You should’ve used more, David.” 

“I’m selling the boat. I’ve been thinking about it.” The mother glares up at him, and pushes a finger into his face. 

“Mom?” 

She switches gears with a smile, “Honey. Go set the table for dinner, alright?” She raises her eyebrows. 

“Listen to your mother.” said the father. The girl stares right at the mother with suspicion, and pivots begrudgingly to complete her order. 

The father grasps the gift strung around her neck. “C’mon, look at ‘em.” The father says, lowering his tone. 

“They are beautiful.” she said. 

 The father matts a stray hair down on her head, “It was her idea, you know.” 

 The mother heads for the door to the hallway, 

The father stops her with a hand on her shoulder, “She just handed me a ten dollar bill and-”                                                 

“Don’t sell the boat,” the mother interrupted as she flipped a bang back.

“We never use it, it’s a piece of junk.” the father justifies. 

The mother stops short at the doorway, “Sell my surfboard. I won’t need it till next year anyway.” 

“…Yeah…” 

Dinner came with a last minute order of pizza. The kitchen table had all the utensils in the right order and it didn’t matter. The coffee table in the living room with the sharp corners was where they feasted. The father lounged back in his leather chair, the girl sprawled out in front of the TV, covered in its light. The mother sat on the mangey couch with a mug of tea. Everyone wore their casual home clothes and soaked in the smell of pepperoni and heavy air. 

The mother held the remote towards the TV, she stood with it, primed for several moments of nerves before shutting it off. “Marley, come here.” Marley comes over. “I need to tell you something, something you deserve to know.” the mother crackles out. The father watches from his chair in the back of the room, no longer lounging, but sitting up stiff, with a bent over posture. Marley stands scared. 

“December 18, I’ll be going on a trip, and I’ll be gone for a while.” 

“What kind of trip?” 

“It’s for my job, honey.”

“Will you be back for Christmas?” 

“No, honey, I won’t. I’ll have to go across the sea.” The father’s head falls, he longs at the door that leads out of the living room. 

“What is there across the sea?”

“It’s for my job. So we can make money.”

“I don’t care about money, we don’t need money! I can make us money!” 

“You need to go to school.” 

The girls lips turn up, “Tell them you can’t go!”.

“I can’t do that.” 

The girl’s quivering

“I’m sorry, baby.” 

“No! You can’t miss Christmas, you can’t! How can you leave us?!”

 “Can’t we go with you?” 

“No.”

The girl pulls her shirt down by its fringes.

“You’re horrible! You’re a horrible mom!” 

The girl shouts, flailing her arms at the mother, squeezing her. “Dad will still be here,” the mother says, her voice breaking. My tears flood out. I grab my mother’s pearl necklace and yank it, splitting the whole thing apart, the glowing stars once strung together on a glimmering silver string rain down on the carpet and in-between couch cushions. “Marley!” Dad barked. Dad marches over to me and pulls me to the hallway door by my arm, “Go to your room!” 

That whole night, although it would never be the same, Dad did his best to peice Moms gift back together. He had work at 4 am.  

Dad pulled me from the water.  

“See kiddo? You’re alright.”

After a great moment of exchanges and glances, the pair without words switched positions. 

The father brought his daughter down close to the water, he put his hands on her back and let her fall towards the dark blueish-green surface. 

She emerged from the surface, gasping, blinded by the sun, spitting out strands of hair. Her black curls unwinded and highlighted by the sun. 

“Marley, hold your breath when you go down.”

“I know. I’m not an idiot.” She jostled her head like a wet dog.

“And your nose.”

“Oh.”

“You ready?”

She looks to the sand.

“Screw it.”

“That’s my girl.”

The father lowers his daughter back into the water.

When the girl was little, her mother passed away. Her father was told by her associates that she had had a sudden heart attack in her office while working overnight. They found her body when they checked in for work the next morning and went to her for help with a piece. The closed-casket funeral was held at the cemetery in her small beach town, where her family had waited for her. The mother was originally a New Yorker and a bustling caravan of urban relatives and friends came to mourn. They brought chocolates, talked of the mothers beautiful drunkenness, poured out wine in her honor, and smelled of the city. In-laws, siblings, step-siblings, mothers, fathers, a husband, and a daughter; all circled around a 5 by 10 hole in the ground. That day the weather was sunny and blue and great, as it often was in the small town.

And when that daughter came out of the water, she poured her soul out onto the sands, screaming to a fierce wind that blew through the coast of a small, sleepy beach town.

Chapter 6: Hey, Mom

I lay on warm, clear water. Bare skin, completely naked. A surface of bright blue reached out as far as I could see in all directions. I stand up and look down to see healthy feet, standing upon clear water with the wonder and twinkle of a young boy’s eyes. I could see clearly the fish swimming below. Above me, fluffy white clouds shaped in mounds and one, singular sun, poised at the behest of the sky. It was a burning flash that gave light to the world. The breeze was cool and refreshing. Right in front of me, mom. 

“I saw you down there. That was very brave of you.”

“Do you remember when I was younger, when you took me to the beach for the first time?” I said. 

She stepped closer.

“Of course, honey.”

 “What was I like?”

 Mom steps closer.

  “Your father said it was the waves that calmed you down.”

Maybe he was too poetic for his own good. Then again.

 “You’d cry and cry and cry, then we’d bring you to the waves, and like a switch…”  

 I squeezed my hands.

“Mom?”

“Yes?

“Where are we?”

Mom looked around, “You tell me.”

“I asked you.” 

“You tell me.

“Ok, well I don’t know. Either an ocean or a sea”

“Bingo, a sea.”

“How do you know?” 

“If you walk for long enough, there’s land. I’ve seen it.” Mom said. 

“No, there’s nothing out there. Just look.”

“It’s over the horizon, Marley.”

“Well that’s stupid, it’s too far. We might as well just sit here till I wake up.”

“The people on the land were fair and wise. They invited me into their culture. I learned how to drink from seeds, how to create dolls and bake treats for the children. They didn’t speak to me. As it happened, they had no language.” Mom stepped closer. Her breath poured over my face, I felt at ease. “Saying goodbye was the hardest decision I ever made. I could never sleep, I never ate, never could focus. It was like drifting in and out of a nightmare for 12 months. My body told me ‘no more’.”  Mom moved my hair, “You were being denied your mother’s love.”.

My eyesight was a watery blur of blue and blonde. My head felt heavy and pulsing.

“It tore me apart, Marley.” she said, “But I’m here now.”

Her arms curled around me, I followed suit. It was a vivid touch. One that surged through my arms and legs and fingers and warmed me down to the bone, flushing out the tension in my muscles. Her fingers curled around my back, her chest to my chest, her head on my shoulder. She pulled her hands up to my shoulder blades and rested her head on my other shoulder, I followed suit. I smelled her perfume, a sweet scent. My stern jaw relaxed. The feeling of the water on my feet faded away. She pulled back, grabbed me by the shoulders and looked at me. Her face was flawless, pale white, and angular. Her eyes like the water, blue, calm, and clear. I stood stricken, not in grief, or sadness. Not in light, or happiness, but in something else. My mind was a stream, flowing unobstructed, its destination unimportant.  

Her grip on my shoulders weakened, and I sensed a gentleness to her presence. Her spirit was fading, chipping away and floating off like paper scraps. But her smile stayed to the very end, as she split into fragments and went with the wind. The pieces of her spirit shimmered bright as they floated away. I knew she was going somewhere, but I didn’t know where, and that was fine. 

And then I was alone, my nose filled with her scent. What was coasting over me wasn’t air, what was blinding me wasn’t the sun, it was her, all her. And as I walked forward, towards whatever was over that horizon, my presence faltered, a numbness flushed through my body and a blinding white light struck my vision. 

I awoke in my bed, and shed one last tear.

About Ethan Hansen 325 Articles

Ethan Hansen is a junior at Clayton A.Bouton High School. His story, “Beyond the Horizon,” was a finalist in the 2020 Voorheesville Short Story Contest.