2020
SHORT STORY CONTEST
Second Prize
$100 Award

THE EDGE OF SOMETHING

by Audrey Ryer

There was always a vision in her head of the perfect life. A vision of a sweet little suburban house only a short walk from a scenic line of sea cliffs along the Pacific. A vision of a picture perfect marriage there, to a man she knew from college, and a vision of a wonderful little son between them.

And she almost had that vision, because Daniel was almost that son.

It was an odd thing that every teacher, every babysitter, every adult who met the boy remarked that Daniel was unusually quiet and reserved for a five year-old. In the eyes of his mother, he wasn’t quiet at all. He was very friendly, polite, energetic. He was the model of what a young boy should be. Perhaps, his mother assumed, Daniel was only shy around other kids.

Other kids, she supposed, except for Luna.

Once his mother thought about it, Luna was the subject of most conversations with her son. Neither of Daniel’s parents had ever met her; they only knew that she was from Daniel’s kindergarten class. But apparently they were inseparable. He spent recess with her, he sat next to her in class. He walked to and from school with her, as she lived just around the block.

The first time any discussion of Luna left their house was during a parent-teacher conference where the teacher suggested that Daniel be a little more social. “He spends a lot of time off by himself,” she said.

“Yes, off with Luna,” said Daniel’s mother. “It’s sweet that Daniel and Luna are so close, but perhaps they should spend more time with the other children.”

The teacher frowned at her, this sweet, hopeful mother of a sweet, normal son.

“Luna?” the teacher asked. “There’s no Luna in my class.”

The next day, Daniel’s mother hesitantly asked her son if she could meet Luna’s parents.

“No,” said Daniel. “I’ve never met them.”

“Alright . . .” She paused, glanced across the room at her husband, who was watching the conversation over the top of his newspaper. “Then could I meet Luna?”

The day after that was the day everything changed. It was the day when Daniel stood in front of his parents, gestured to empty air, and said, “Here’s Luna.”

The easiest course of action was to excuse Luna as an imaginary friend, and for a while that’s what was done. But as Daniel grew, and Luna grew with him, the two became closer and closer friends. By the time he was ten, Luna was the only person Daniel spoke to anymore, and it simply couldn’t be ignored. Daniel was bullied at school. He had a habit of bringing Luna to family events and trips and introducing her to anyone he spoke to. After a particularly nasty incident when the family took a trip to Europe, and Daniel threw a tantrum when a stranger sat in what he dubbed Luna’s plane seat, Daniel’s mother decided that something had to be done.

But through the psychologists, and the therapists, and the diagnoses and the pills that were introduced, Luna persisted.

“They said I can’t come over to your house anymore,” Daniel told her one day, standing on her porch. Luna was just inside the door, her blue eyes locked on him. How intently she always listened to whatever he had to say.

“Why not?” she asked him. “Because they don’t think I’m real?”

“They said it’s dangerous here.”

“It’s my home.” She frowned at him. “They hate me.”

“They don’t hate you,” Daniel promised. The words already felt old on his ten-year-old lips. “They just don’t see you.”

He could tell that Luna wanted to say more, but before she could, Daniel heard his mother’s voice calling from behind him.

“Daniel! What did I say about coming here?”

Daniel turned around. She was standing at the edge of Luna’s lawn, tapping her foot on the sidewalk. “Come here, now!”

He turned back to Luna, who was looking over Daniel’s shoulder at his mother. Those wide blue eyes were narrowing.

“Bye, then,” said Daniel with a smile.

“They hate me,” Luna said, and then shut the door and disappeared. Daniel paused for a moment as his young mind struggled to handle this complex conflict, and then he trotted away from Luna’s house.

What Daniel couldn’t see was that the house had burned down. It had burned down five years ago, and all that was left was the faint outline of the foundation and a broad patch of dirt. Although his mother didn’t realize it, the fire had occurred on Daniel’s very first day of school.

The same day he met Luna.

People always tried to tell Daniel that there was no Luna. They would cry, plead, scream the words at a poor, confused child and the pale blond girl at his side. Everyone seemed to think they were going to be the one to finally break through and change Daniel’s mind. Everyone thought they could connect with Daniel, that they were going to be the one to fix him.

They all stopped trying eventually.

“You think she’s not real,” he said to his mother one day. It was spring, sunny but unusually cold. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen while she was washing dishes. It had been a quiet day up until that moment.

“She isn’t real,” said his mother without turning to face him. It was something she’d tried to avoid saying for years, because poor Daniel heard it so much already. But he had brought it up, so she supposed it was fair game. She scrubbed at the casserole dish in her hands, remembering how Daniel had invited Luna over for dinner last night and insisted his mother add an extra place setting. Tears sprung up in her eyes, and she made sure not to turn around and face Daniel as he went on.

“She is real,” Daniel insisted. “She just isn’t your kind of real.”

“What kind of real is she?” She was trying to keep a teary warble out of her voice.

“I don’t know,” said Daniel. “There are a lot of kinds.”

She sighed. Dried her eyes under the guise of wiping her forehead and turned to face her son. He was watching her with dark, solemn eyes. Daniel was twelve, she thought as she watched him. He should have a twelve year-old soul. But what she saw behind his gaze was not a child.

She tried her best to smile; she would cry later. She would cry when her sister asked her if “the kid” was better yet. She would cry when Daniel was punched at school for refusing to give up a chair that was “Luna’s.” She would cry when Daniel and Luna began to have shouting fights upstairs, and she could only hear one side. She would cry many times over the course of his life.

But she would never cry in front of him.

“She doesn’t get me,” said Daniel. He was pacing, back at Luna’s house; over the years his parents had given up trying to stop him from going. “She barely even speaks to me.”

“She still hates me,” said Luna knowingly. “And obviously, she hates you, too.”

“Thanks,” said Daniel angrily. “Don’t be like that. She doesn’t hate either of us. She just doesn’t believe in you, and she doesn’t even try.”

“She’s awful,” Luna said.

“Oh my God.” Daniel ran his hands through his hair. “She just doesn’t think you’re real.”

“I know that I’m real,” Luna said confidently.

“Well, what if you’re not?” he snapped. He stopped pacing and glared at her. He was thirteen then, the first time he had ever dared to ask her.

“What if you’re just some figment? What if I’m crazy like everyone says?” He turned away and kept pacing. “Like everyone says.”

“I’m real!” Luna shouted, getting to her feet. “I know I am.”

“I know that you know,” Daniel said furiously. “But how am I supposed to?”

“This is ridiculous,” she replied. “And this isn’t you talking. You’re being affected by that friend of yours, Ben.”

Her accusation took all the anger out of him. “Ben is nice to me,” Daniel said softly. Luna just scowled and turned away.

Ben was a boy Daniel met outside of Luna’s house, a boy who cast a shadow and whose laugh everyone could hear. He was different from Luna in a lot of ways, but for Daniel, the biggest difference was the way each of them made him feel. When he was with Luna, Daniel felt cold— not the kind of cold that required scarves and cocoa, it was something deeper—but Ben wasn’t like that at all. Ben was sunshine, light, warmth.

Ben was the first person Daniel ever kissed, when they were fifteen. Ben was the first person Daniel met who never told him Luna wasn’t real, and never pressed the issue. Ben was the person who gave Daniel his first cigarette and his first shot of vodka. He was the first person Daniel loved.

“You never come by anymore,” Luna complained to Daniel one day. It was far from the first time she had criticized their relationship. “You never want to talk to me. And when you do, you talk about him.”

“Well, it’s not like you come by my house at all,” Daniel replied, lighting a cigarette. “You don’t want to talk to me either.”

“I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“You’re here to yell at me.” He blew smoke into her face, but of course she didn’t cough. “When was the last time you asked me anything about my life, except to rag on my boyfriend?”

“Well, he’s turned you into some sort of monster!” Luna snapped. “I can’t believe that you smoke now, and you smoke when I’m around! How insensitive can you be? The only thing I can think about when you’re puffing on some cigarette without a care in the fucking world is the smoke filling up my house when it burned down!”

Daniel slammed his hand on his desk. “Then just leave!” he yelled. “I didn’t ask you to sit here and criticize me!”

“You’re an addict!” she screamed.

“And you’re a hallucination!” he yelled back.

Later, he couldn’t remember if Luna had stormed out or if she had simply vanished at his words, but one way or another she was gone. Daniel smoked the rest of the cigarette in stormy silence, and when it burned his fingertips he flicked it out the window and lit another.

He didn’t see Luna for weeks after that fight. He had to admit it was relaxing to be away from her for a little bit. Ben seemed to enjoy it as well, saying it would be good for the two of them to get some alone time. They spent time on the shore, at Daniel’s house, alone in Ben’s bedroom. Ben was right, it was nice. Ben introduced Daniel to people he realized he liked. For the first time since Daniel was five, he felt normal. But as it neared a month without Luna, Daniel began to worry that something bad had happened to his friend.

He tried to quit smoking, thinking perhaps Luna hated the smell so much that she couldn’t be around him. He remembered what she had shouted, that cigarettes made her remember her house burning down. Daniel knew by now that Luna’s house was an extension of Luna; like her, it only existed in his mind. But she had never admitted that it was burned, until that day. Daniel had thought she just didn’t know.

He was jittery and restless, and found himself at the library asking for old newspapers from eleven years ago. He curled up in a back corner, hidden by the stacks, until he found the article he was looking for:

A residential fire in the Ft. Bragg area that occurred Wednesday, September 7th claimed the lives of two people: August Collins, 31, and his daughter Luna, age 5. Marianne Collins, 28, was taken to Milford Memorial Hospital with severe burns and is currently in critical condition.

Daniel pressed the librarians for more news articles, later ones which featured Luna and her father’s obituaries. He combed the internet for her mother. He ignored countless frantic texts and calls from his own mother. He nibbled on his fingernails until his fingers were bleeding. Then he called Ben to come pick him up, and drive him two hours north to what Daniel hoped was the current residence for one Marianne Collins.

I dunno, Dan,” said Ben after Daniel read him the article.

“She was real,” Daniel said. “She was a real person.”

“Has it occurred to you that maybe when you were a kid you saw this newspaper, and you read her name, and then you kinda fabricated the rest? Out of nerves or something?”

Daniel took his head off the window and glared at him. “I thought you believed me.”

Ben sighed. “I do, Dan.”

“Are you serious?”

Ben sighed. “Jesus Christ. I’m driving you there, aren’t I? Look, man, I know you’ve been trying to quit smoking and things are tense. I don’t want to fight. I’ll take you wherever you wanna go, but don’t get your hopes up. You might not like what you hear from this lady.”

Daniel leaned his head back against the headrest. He opened his window and felt the wind against his face.

Luna was sitting on the porch of the little house when they arrived.

“Oh my God,” said Daniel. “Luna!”

“Wait, she’s here?” Ben followed him out of the car. “Where?”

“Right here.” Daniel dropped to his knees in front of Luna, tears welling up in his eyes.“Is this where you’ve been?”

Luna smiled wanly. “Thanks for coming.”

Daniel took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

No one could have guessed that Marianne had been in a fire. They would never have guessed how much she had lost.

The house was filled with photographs of some family: three children, a laughing father, and Marianne, looking pristine and lovely but always in long sleeves and scarves and gloves. The real Marianne stood before them that way, completely covered beneath the chin even though they were alone indoors. A huge Labrador bounced around the three of them, barking and sniffing excitedly.

Luna looked as though she was going to explode.

Marianne sat them down in the den without saying much at all. She took the newspaper article when Daniel handed it to her, read it over, then set it down delicately on her coffee table. She leaned back in her wicker chair and frowned at them.

“And?” she said softly.

“Luna is a friend of mine,” Daniel said. Marianne raised her eyebrows at him, so he launched into the full explanation: how she had appeared to him at the age of five, how she grew alongside him, and how she was there right now, seeing and hearing the conversation. “She isn’t speaking now,” Daniel said, glancing at Luna’s stormy expression, “but if she does say something I’ll let you know.”

Marianne pressed her gloved fingers to her lips and considered this story. “You’re a crazy person,” she said finally. “That much is clear.”

“Hey!” Ben said angrily, but she held up a hand to stop him from talking.

“You’re a crazy person, or you’re some awful teenage prankster. Coming to rub my daughter’s death in my face, all these years later. You can’t just tell me the color of her hair and her eyes, and how she died, and expect me to break down. You could have done your research, you could have found a picture of her. I’m not an idiot.”

She said it less as though she resented them doing it, and more as though she were pleased to have caught them. Daniel opened his mouth to say something, but Luna spoke before he could.

“Tell her I remember Moon-Moon.”

“What?” He frowned at her, but she didn’t say anything more, so he repeated the message to Marianne.

When Daniel said it Marianne jumped to her feet, then almost instantly fell back into the chair. She stared at Daniel. Some new, wild horror had come into her eyes. “You speak with the dead,” she muttered, watching him.

“What is Moon-Moon?” asked Daniel.

“It’s her . . . her stuffed dragon. She loved the stupid thing.” Marianne leaned her head back and looked up at the ceiling. “You speak with the dead,” she repeated.

“That’s not true,” said Daniel. “I only speak with Luna.”

“I told you I was real,” Luna said dryly, like it mattered.

“What is she saying?” Marianne suddenly sat bolt upright, watching Daniel. “Let me speak to my daughter. What is she saying? Please!”

“Luna?” Daniel asked, but Luna was shaking her head.

“Fuck this,” she said savagely. “Fuck this other family in this other house and this stupid dog. She isn’t my mother anymore.” Luna stood up and turned her back on Marianne, who was still pleading. “Come on, Daniel. We’re going.”

Daniel stood up too. “I’m sorry,” he said to Marianne. “We have to go.”

“Are you serious, Dan?” asked Ben. “What are you doing?”

“Wait!” cried Marianne. She cried it again and again, as Daniel dragged Ben after Luna, away from the house and into the car. She stood in the driveway and wailed as Ben reluctantly started the engine and pulled out of the driveway. Daniel could hear her screaming, and Luna screaming back, and Ben rationally saying as they drove away, “Dan, Luna is starting to have a really bad effect on you. I think I’m going to have to talk to your mom. I promised her I would if this got out of control.” Daniel just put his head in his hands and tried not to listen. He could hear screaming the whole way home. He didn’t recognize all of the voices.

A few days later, Luna took him to the beach.

Not the same peaceful shore he was used to exploring with Ben, but the cliffs only a few minutes’ walk from Daniel’s house. The waves crashed against the rocks, sending plumes of salt water into the air. Wind tore across the bluff like flying daggers. Luna stood on the very edge of the cliff, just above the raging rocks and sea, and Daniel watched her from a little ways back. The wind barely rippled her blond hair. She was so thin, so delicate, but she stood like a tree in the raging wind.

“Now you know I’m not a hallucination,” she said. Normal people would have to shout to be heard through the wind and sea there, but Luna faced the ocean and spoke quietly, and her voice found its way to Daniel’s ears.

“I’m sorry I said it,” said Daniel. “I’m sorry I thought it.”

“I never doubted myself. Even if everyone in the world tells me I’m nothing, I am real.”

“You’re always so sure of yourself,” said Daniel.

“I’m sorry I left you,” said Luna. “I thought you were finally casting me out, forever. But you brought me back. Thank you.”

“I had to find you,” Daniel replied. “I . . . I need you, Luna. More than the cigarettes, or Ben, or anything. I need you.”

Luna turned to face him. “I think you and I are the same person,” she said. “We’re both living together, real together. Better together.”

She was smiling, for the first time in nearly ten years, and Daniel couldn’t help but smile back.

“Thank you,” she said. “Now I know who I am.”

And Daniel knew, also. Or he said he knew.

Daniel tried to spend time with Ben, but the ordeal at Marianne’s house seemed to have passed even Ben’s tolerance for the unusual, and he had more and more excuses to avoid dates. On one of the rare occasions Daniel dragged him out to a house party, Ben drank a bit too much and started babbling about Moon-Moon.

“It’s fucked up, Daniel,” he said. “It’s fucked up that you knew that.”

“Of course I knew,” Daniel replied. He was struggling to hold Ben upright while not entirely sober himself.. “She’s my friend. You know, you know things about your friends.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” said Ben. “But—”

“I thought you believed me,” said Daniel. “Ben, you always said you believed me!”

“I believe you, I just don’t believe . . .” Ben shook his head. “I don’t believe in ghosts. But you knew that Moon-Moon shit, and now I don’t believe . . . or I do . . . I don’t know what I believe.”

Daniel just stared at him, and Ben stared back, then muttered something about Daniel being hot and tried to kiss him. Daniel stepped away before he could, and thought he heard Ben fall, but Daniel was already walking away. He stumbled out of a back door and leaned against the side of the house, trying to catch his breath. It was only a few seconds before Luna strode up to him from nowhere.

“Let’s leave,” she said.

And Daniel left with her. He kept seeing Ben after, and they acted like the trip to Marianne’s and the fight at the party had never happened. But they never spent as much time together as they used to, and something changed about the way Ben made Daniel feel. He wasn’t as warm anymore. So Daniel spent more and more time at home, chatting idly with Luna as he did his homework and drew up his college applications.

Daniel’s mother would watch him sometimes, when he was speaking to Luna in undertone (he didn’t like to talk to the girl if he thought his mother would overhear). She wondered what ideas Luna was filling his mind with. Or what Daniel was filling his own mind with, under the guise of some girl.

In the weeks after the incident with Marianne, Daniel’s mother began to seek out therapy herself. She didn’t tell Daniel she was doing it. A smiling, plump woman named Monica asked Daniel’s mother to draw what she thought Luna looked like in crayon. She surprised herself by sketching a gaunt, skeletal girl who hovered over Daniel’s shoulder and only whispered flattery and deceit.

She lamented to Monica that she was happier to have her son go out drinking and partying and what the hell else, than have him sit in his room with the door closed. She berated herself for leaving Luna unacknowledged for so long before starting Daniel on doctors. She cried over the inaction of her husband, who barely even spoke to his son anymore. And over and over, she repeated the words that were taboo in her own home: “She’s not real, she’s not real, she’s not real . . .”

“She’s not real!” she burst out at Daniel one day when he innocently mentioned he would be spending time with Luna after school. She wasn’t sure what had made her say it. Last time she had dared to, her son had been twelve. And how much had really changed in that time?

“She is real,” he said. He managed to cover his surprise at her words.

“She’s a lie you tell yourself,” she snarled.

Now Daniel began to feel afraid and worried that her customary smile had only been a mask. In this moment the mask was off. “Luna isn’t your kind of real,” he said, the same exact way he’d said it five years ago.

“She’s no type of real!” his mother screamed. “She’s a lie!”

“She’s my friend,” said Daniel plaintively.

His mother slammed her hand into the wall, and most of the anger went with it. She stood there silently, watching Daniel watch her. Then she leaned into the wall and slid to the floor.

The silence sat on them for a moment, and then Daniel stood up. “I’m late for school,” he said, and left without another word. He left her sitting there on the ground, a shell of herself.

Daniel didn’t come home that night. She found him instead around the block, curled up and sleeping in the abandoned, overgrown lot that had once been Luna Collins’.

In his senior year of school, Daniel would take his mother’s car and disappear with some frequency, sometimes for days at a time. She usually wanted to go out looking for him, but her husband usually talked her down. Sometimes if she called Ben, he would know where Daniel was, but most of the time no one could account for his whereabouts.

“We haven’t gone far enough yet,” Luna always said, whenever she and Daniel would go driving. They would go for hours, following the sun, following the road, following nothing and going nowhere. “We need to go farther.”

“We’ve been on the road for such a long time,” Daniel always replied. “I’m hungry. I’m tired.”

“Keep driving,” she ordered. “Because I’m not.”

They drove, and drove, and drove, and each time Daniel’s hands began to shake from hunger, or he felt dizzy, or he became so tired he was about to collapse, and he eventually had to pull over to the side of the road.

“Keep going,” Luna urged him every time. “I feel fine, keep driving!”

“We have to stop,” Daniel whispered hoarsely. “Luna, we have to stop.”

Each time it would be a little longer in the car before Daniel stopped listening to Luna. Each time he did, he apologized again and again. And each time Luna cried and pounded her fists against the windows hard enough to break them, and nothing happened except the sound echoed in Daniel’s ears.

The summer came. Daniel graduated high school. He was fighting with his mother, he was fighting with Ben, he was fighting with his therapist and his psychologist and his pediatrician. He was fighting with Luna.

In the early hours of the morning they got into the car, the sun just cresting the horizon. She did not allow him to bring snacks, or water, or his phone.

They day grew hotter and hotter as they drove. Daniel moved his hand toward the air conditioner, but Luna said no. He tried to roll down a window and she stopped him. So he just drove, the sun beating down, no wind or fresh air to lessen its weight. Daniel hadn’t eaten since the evening before, and it was nearing two in the afternoon. He and Luna drove in silence. She fixed her eyes on the road ahead of them, tapping her foot.

“Can we stop?” he asked. “We’re going to run out of gas.”

“No.”

“It’s hot,” he pleaded.

“No.”

“I’m tired, I’m hungry. Luna, please.”

“Shut up and just drive!”

“Where are we going?” he whispered, close to tears. “Where are we ever going?”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“Luna, this is horrible!” Daniel cried. “We need to stop! We need to refresh! People can’t just keep going forever and ever without stopping!”

“BUT I CAN!” she screamed. “I CAN! You get tired and hot and hungry! Even the fucking car needs gasoline, but I’m fine!” She slammed her hands down on the dashboard with all the force she could muster. “I’M NOT LIKE YOU! I’M-NOT-REAL!”

Daniel turned to stare at Luna with his eyes wide, his world shattered, his life changed. He locked onto her bright blue eyes, and saw all the pain in them, all the doubt, all the awful tortured half-life of Luna Collins. He opened his mouth to say something to her, say anything at all—

And then he hit the car in front.

At 3:22 p.m. on July 7th, a single patient was admitted to Milford Memorial Hospital.

Daniel awoke there to find his mother dozing at the foot of his hospital bed. Sitting next to her, wide awake, was Luna.

“Are you alright?” she asked him instantly. “You broke your nose, and your arm, and the doctor said you have a concussion. How do you feel?”

Daniel didn’t answer her. He just stared. She asked him again if he was alright, then asked three more times before he spoke.

“You’re not hurt,” he said. “Not at all.”

For the first time in his life, Daniel saw Luna Collins cry.

After that, there was no more driving. Daniel sat in his room, or in a doctor’s office, for the better part of a month. He decided to take a gap year before college. He sat and listened as Ben explained to him that their relationship just couldn’t last over the long distance while Ben was at school, and it was better to just break up. He took all the pills he was given and nodded at all the suggestions. He no longer tried to correct doctors when they called her a delusion, or a figment, or any medical term. He didn’t speak about Luna at all. Daniel’s doctors took this as a sign of hope, that perhaps the crash had caused some sort of reverse psychotic break. Daniel’s father agreed.

Only Daniel’s mother seemed to sense the truth: Daniel had simply given up.

“I know how to fix everything,” Luna said one day, quietly. She was sitting in the corner of Daniel’s room, watching her reflection in a mirror.

“What?” he asked dully.

“I have to leave,” Luna said. “Completely. I can’t live like this any longer.”

Daniel didn’t protest. He couldn’t truly think of a reason to. “Where will you go?”

“Both of us,” Luna corrected him. “The last time we went to the beach, I was right. We are the same person. You’re a part of me, or you are me. I can’t go anywhere unless you go too.”

“Then where are we going?” he asked.

“I don’t know the final destination,” said Luna. “But I know the start.”

And again she took him to the cliffs above the ocean. It was much different than the last time they were there. Pouring rain swept through the cold air. The ground was slick with mud. The wind and waves were deafening.

“Hurry!” said Luna. “We have to get to the edge.”

He followed her. Two pairs of footprints in the mud.

It was terrifying to stand on the precipice. The ground was so slippery it felt like it was shifting beneath Daniel’s feet. The wind was pulling him toward the edge and then pushing him backwards, away from the waves that sent sprays of seawater, mixing with the rain. Water was everywhere.

“Are you ready?” asked Luna.

Daniel felt some sense of doubt then. He feared this terror of nature, of course, but he feared this small blond girl even more. His hand, in his pocket, found his phone. No more Ben, he thought. Who else could he call that would care?

He pulled it out, looking through his contacts.

“What are you doing?” asked Luna. “No one else is a part of this. It’s just us.”

Daniel wondered if she was right, if there really was any part of him left connected to the real world. He made his decision, and sent one last text to one last trace of reality:

At the beach. I want to say goodbye.

Then he tossed his phone into the sea.

“Where does it go?” he asked Luna. He could speak to her in undertone, and she could speak back. These winds were part of the real world, not like the two of them.

“I always thought I was real, that I was here with you,” said Luna. “I knew I couldn’t be seen, but that didn’t make me make-believe. I thought I was real. I thought you and I were the same. But we’re not.” She glared at him, tears in her eyes, bitterness. “We aren’t the same at all. You’re a person, and I’m not. And I got latched onto you, and I changed you, and I ruined you. I ruined your whole life—”

“Luna . . .” he couldn’t think of anything to say, and she just shook her head.

“I’m just a big mistake, and you’re the huge mess that mistake caused, and we have to be the ones to clean it up. You’re the only reason I’m still here, Daniel. So we both have to go.” She took his hand then. She didn’t look down, but looked out, over the sea, toward the horizon. “We have to do this together.”

“Together,” Daniel said quietly. He took a step closer to the edge, and then another, until his feet were right on the precipice. He was just between the real world and what lay beyond. Perhaps he had been his entire life. And Luna was standing next to him as always, waiting for him to take the leap. This was something she couldn’t do without him, and he was finally ready to do it.

But before he could, Daniel heard his name.

It was not the way that Luna spoke. This voice couldn’t slide through wind and rain and storm. This voice was hacking its way to him from the land behind, fighting to be heard, and against all odds Daniel heard it. It called him again, strained and struggling. Perhaps that horrible struggle was far more real than an effortless calm. And that struggle, all that effort, was in calling his name. It was for him.

Daniel turned away from the ocean, and let go of Luna’s hand for the very last time.

His mother came into view gradually. Her voice became her silhouette, and then a figure, and then a woman who tore across the mud toward her son, grabbed him around the waist and dragged him backwards away from the edge of the cliff. They fell to the ground together, but she only held him more tightly there, screaming over and over, “Daniel, don’t jump, don’t jump, for God’s sake, please!”

He lay in her arms, very still, his face halfway in the mud. He listened to his mother cry for what he realized was the first time. He could just barely see that back the way he’d come, trailing away into the storm, were two pairs of footprints.

Daniel’s, and his mother’s, and nothing more.

______________________________

Audrey Ryer is an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, where she studies creative writing and screenwriting. Her short stories have been featured in Ahoy Comics. Audrey lives in New Jersey with her family.