The car stopped outside the caravan they’d stayed in when Sean went missing. Keith caught his breath and waited for the shake in his muscles to cease. His parents didn’t always remember Sean. For months, they’d insisted Keith never had a brother, and he’d suspected they’d be happy to forget him, too. Perhaps that’s why they’d come here, hoping something would gobble him up. The caravan door creaked open offering a dark hollow within.
“It’s too dark,” Keith said, hovering on the step. His parents disappeared inside.
A girl skipped past, her coarse pigtails swinging. She turned to Keith.
“They keep the curtains closed in the hot weather so the holidaymakers don’t melt in that old fossil,” she said, and then skipped away.
When Keith last saw Sean, he’d been standing on the top bunk, his telescope trained on the night sky. The stars shone brighter back then, or perhaps it was that they seemed full of purpose, something they could pluck from the sky and take home as a souvenir. Keith pressed his hand to the pocket from which the telescope poked. Had Sean melted? Had he captured a bolt of sunlight in this fairground trinket that struggled to enlarge the moon? Drawn away from the here and now, he heard his parents shuffling about within the caravan. He’d stay outside until they drew back the curtains, as they always did. His legs shook, muscles atrophying.
Pulling the telescope from his pocket, his fingers brushing something that caused him to shiver, Keith looked through the telescope into the dark and saw Sean seated at the table, flicking a fly off the back of his hand. Keith’s heart quickened.
Sean half-turned, and then buried his chin against his chest, his fingers fretting the edge of his mud-spattered t-shirt. Keith heard his brother whisper ‘Go away,’ but he heard it in his ear and not from across the room. A sudden rush of darkness, followed by a belly button, pressed against the telescope lens as Keith’s father pushed him off the step.
“I’ll just cart all the bags in myself shall I?” His dad said, mumbling.
Dropping onto the grass, Keith looked up at the dark hollow of the caravan. As he lifted the telescope to his eye again, his mum opened the curtains erasing Sean. Now the telescope offered a slightly enlarged view of a bag, which bulged with tins and bread. Keith reached out, his fingers tracing the space his brother had occupied. A gulp caught in his throat, his eyes stung. Wiping away a tear, Keith dropped the telescope. It hit the side of the step shattering the lens.
Keith picked up pieces of telescopic glass and held them to his eye. They reduced rather than enhanced images and didn’t offer Sean. Taking a deep breath and carrying his own suitcase, he stepped into the caravan. Despite the sunlight pouring through the window, he didn’t melt.
“Why did you forget Sean?”
His mum dug into the carrier bag and pulled out a loaf. She didn’t answer him. Outside the caravan, the skipping girl stopped and stared in, her mouth a perfect shocked O. She pulled her grey cardigan tight to her chest and bit her badly-painted lip. He half-waved, but then thought better of it.
Keith hefted his suitcase into the double bedroom where the curtains remained drawn. Reaching up to open them, he recalled the girl’s warning and hesitated. It had grown silent outside the bedroom, the hustle and bustle sounds of arriving at camp gone. Sunlight slipped over the doorway, as though searching for him.
“Mum,” he shouted, but she didn’t reply. “Dad.”
Before Sean’s disappearance, they were a happy family, normal, functional. Standing in the doorway, sunlight cutting across his toes, Keith looked into the living area. His parents were outlines, fading things melting in the sunlight.
“Stay,” he shouted.
For a moment, his mother turned but then the sunlight cut through her belly and she was gone. His fingers gripped the doorway and he felt he’d stood thus for decades, always in this doorway, always watching his family melt away year by year.
Keith shuffled to the window and, before he closed the curtains, he saw the girl with pigtails standing just outside, the O still painted on her wrinkled lips. Not so young after all – seventy-six at least.
Sagging into the seat opposite where he’d last seen Sean, Keith pulled a yellowed flyer from his pocket where it had nestled against a telescope. Boy Missing, Sean Evans, August 1967. There’d been no flyer when his parents went missing the following August, stolen by the bogeyman Grief. A hint of them remained for Keith though, locked in this static caravan where they all waited to join Sean.
WRITTEN BY CATE GARDNER
ILLUSTRATED BY JASON HICKS
Cate Gardner is a British horror and fantastical author with over a hundred short stories published. Several of those stories appear in her collection Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits (Strange Publications 2010). She is also the author of two novellas: Theatre of Curious Acts (Hadley Rille Books, 2011) and Barbed Wire Hearts (Delirium Books, 2011).
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