LISTENING TO CAISI • by Nick Muzekari

Dominion, standing next to the cold, ashen gravestone, was radiant. His dark eyes emanated peace beyond words.

“I want to go back,” I said.

I could hear the wind, snaking its way through the trees.

“The outcome could worsen if your words and choices are not delicate,” he said.

What could be worse than my sister’s suicide?

“Also, your commutation back to your current time and place,” he continued, “cannot be guaranteed — unexpected return destinations are an unfortunate reality of the shifting process.”

I mulled over his last set of words for a moment, thinking. If I came back somewhere else in the world, I told myself, I would just catch a flight home. “Thank God for airplanes. Send me.”

In the empty, cool quiet of the cemetery, amidst the wet bark of lichen-strewn trees and broken carpet of muddy grass, Dominion stretched forth his hand and pressed his lilac palm firmly on my forehead.

Warm blackness.

Blue light, spectral whiteness.

A temperate, fresh breeze blew across my face. I looked around. I was in the backyard of the home I grew up in.

There, beneath the willow tree, hidden behind sagging leaves, she sat, dressed in light blue with white overalls and beat-up sneaks.

I went to her, bent down, and moved the willow leaves to the side.

She looked up at me; wet lines streaked the sides of her face. “Who are you?” she asked.

My heart and throat swelled. A calm wind gently shook the willow.

“I know you’re hurt,” I said, “I know… I know what your stepdad did.”

Her brows raised. She clenched her teeth. “Go away.”

“Tell your mom, Caisi, tell your teacher at school, tell the neighbor, tell…”

“How do you know my name?”

I looked deeply into her eyes — those beautiful amber eyes, how I missed them. “I know who you are. I care about you, a lot.”

“Are you my mom’s friend?” She sniffled and looked down, twirling a piece of grass.

I wanted to take her, to just pick her up and run, but to what end? I remembered Dominion’s warning.

“I know what your stepdad did last night… he’ll keep doing it unless you tell…”

She looked up, her eyes pointed, her brows sharp beneath her thin, ash-blond hair. “I tried telling my brother — he ignored me.”

“I know he did… I’m sorry, Caisi.”

“You know he did? You know a lot.”

I pressed my lips together. My legs burned from crouching. My heart burned worse.

“And he’ll probably continue to ignore me,” she whispered, a fresh tear streaming down her swollen cheek.

My guts wrenched inside me. Fluid rimmed beneath my eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you crying?” She wiped a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve.

I watched her little hand, so young, innocent. I turned away and bent my head.

The wind was still. A lone birdsong lifted in the distance. I could feel her watching me. I turned to her.

The grass and tree brightened up as the last of an overhead cloud finished its course in front of the sun.

How I wanted to hug her, melt into her shoulder and arms, squeeze her as hard as I could without hurting her. “Your mom and brother love you very much,” I said. “They were so happy the day you were born, did you know that?”

Caisi lifted her shoulder and looked to the side.

“I bet your brother will listen if I talk to him. What do you think, you wanna go get him?”

She played with a piece of grass, looking at the house. She got up and ran across the yard.

I waited.

She came back with a boy.

“Who are you?” he asked when they reached the willow tree, holding onto Caisi’s hand tightly, close to his side.

I turned up toward the horizon and breathed in deep through my nose. Turning my attention back to the boy I said, “So you’re Caisi’s older brother, Danny.”

He squinted. “How’d you know my name?” He glanced at Caisi.

I didn’t tell him,” she said, “he knew my name too.”

“I know your mom, and your sister, and you, Danny, very well.”

“What do you want?” he said.

I came closer and crouched down in front of him. “I want you to listen to your sister.”

Danny looked away and laughed.

I grabbed his arms, forcing his attention back to me. “Listen to her, do you hear me, Danny?”

“Let go of me, creep!” He wrenched his arms away. “You’re lucky my dad’s not home.”

I straightened. “Your dad… Danny, he’s not a good man…”

“Look, I don’t know you, get off my property before I call the cops.” He grabbed his sister’s hand and stormed off.

Caisi glanced back at me, her head bobbing up and down as she was pulled away.

“Listen to her, Danny, listen to what she’s trying to tell you!”

I remembered Dominion again and knew my brief time here was over — there was nothing more I could do.

They were gone. The yard was empty. I felt empty.

I walked along the side of the yard, back to the place where I had arrived. I waited, feeling I had failed her yet again.

A heaviness enveloped me.

Whiteness, blue light.

Blackness, warm.

I was on a rocky beach, surrounded by moving sea in all directions. The sky, searing blue, pressed down upon me in its overwhelming vastness, causing my head to spin. I steadied myself and glanced around. My body sank into the strange landscape around me as I remembered Dominion’s words of warning, and heard the pounding of the surf against the crags that were to be my gravesite.

Then the memories came — many memories — of Caisi. They were like flowers rapidly blooming in succession, exuding a sweet fragrance that filled my being with indescribable joy.

I smiled, hoping that, wherever Caisi was, she was remembering them too.

Nick Muzekari lives in Hatfield, Pennsylvania with his wife and five children. He enjoys exploring darkness, beauty, and mystery through story. His fiction has been published in Typehouse, Æther & Ichor, The Fable Online, and Story Warren. He is also the author of A Gift for Matthew, a picture book about the ancient art of Christian iconography, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

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