By Corissa Haury
“Mom?” I call throughout the house. She doesn’t answer the usual, “I’m home!” I call out when I return from my best friend’s house in the evening. Over the water, the sun is setting, and I knew she would be cooking up dinner. That is, she usually is cooking up dinner around this time. I look at my watch. 5:57. Where is she? I take off my sneakers and leave them on a mat near the front door. The white male cat meows at me, a high Persian meow, from his place in the living room window. No one is in the living room. The kitchen is just beyond, a breakfast bar the only barrier between the cooking space and entertaining space. This cottage isn’t big, but it’s just enough for the three of us. Mom isn’t in the kitchen either. All the lights are shut off.
“Mom?” I call again, looking around for her. Something clatters in the bathroom. Probably the cat. Where is my mother? I look in the study room underneath the stairs, a tiny room with some brooms and the computer on a table with a chair. She’s not there. She isn’t in the rooms on the other side of the central stairwell either, not in the parlor nor the sun room. I wander upstairs to the few bedrooms and the bathroom, but she isn’t to be found. What the fuck? I think to myself. I get my cell phone out of my pocket and text her. The cat is weaving between my legs while I stand at the top of the stairs. It is fall, and cool even inside the house. I am glad I have a sweater on. Mom would scold me about my boots… If she were here. I dial her number and hold the phone to my ear.
Ring, ring. I hear that obnoxious digital sound, making me wait to speak to my mom.
Ring, ring. Every second she does not pick up makes me worry. I think of the dog outside. Maybe he could find Mom if she is nearby. She likes to swim, what if she went for an afternoon swim and got sucked out to sea? What if she is somewhere with a man I don’t know about? I always wondered if she had a secret boyfriend, why it seemed for years that she wasn’t interested in anyone. She doesn’t pick up her phone. I curse and hang up. Her voicemail is useless to me. I text her again, though she has not even ‘read’ my last text message. I swear again. The cat weaves between my legs.
Minutes later I am out on the ocean with the dog beside me, in the breeze. We have crossed the small street between our cottage-on-stilts and the sea. I look back at our little shack, swaying slightly in the wind. You can see it when you look at the stairs up to the front door, swinging back and forth. Its white wooden shell has been darkened and worn by salt winds and sea spray. Its roof is covered in bird shit, but it’s still sturdy. My galoshes are perfect for plodding through puddles to look out at the beach. I see none of my mother’s usual evidence of her swimming habits. She likes to leave a towel atop a stump or log of some kind, somewhere, to dry off when the sea has had enough of her, and she cannot resist its strength any more. I see no towels, anywhere. None of the various pieces of wood on the shore have anything but dried kelp or damp seaweed on them.
As the sun sets, a small drizzle comes in from the ocean to the island shore. It is a cold drizzle, and I have no jacket. I am forced to go back to the house and shelter there temporarily. I cry a little on the way home, as I cross the street. It seems like a dead town to me. In the autumn, most of the tourists and temporary summer vacation home owners have gone. Not many people are outdoors in this cold drizzle. I look away from the shores beyond the little shanty vacation town I live in, to the edges of the mountain tops beyond. The shore runs all the way around a northern cape on our island, and the mountains reign over the terrain just beyond our town. I can see the tops of the mountains just now overtaken by clouds as I look out the windows. I hold the white cat and try not to think of my mother, whose whereabouts are unknown to me.
The mountaintops are soon obscured by darkness and clouds. The drizzle becomes a rain, and I go to bed unable to sleep. I cannot watch TV, even that cannot distract me. I pet the white cat, but he wants to play. I am not in the mood. Out of my room he goes, and I shut the door and lock it. He can jump and catch the handle in the right moment. (There are downsides to owning smart animals.) I sit back on my bed, my head against the wall and my knee against the headboard. I look out my bedroom windows on the other side of my room, away from the nook my bed is tucked in.
Lightning flashes above the mountains and the sea. Dark shadows walk down the beach. At first I think nothing of it, as I watch the rain pound against the windows and look at the tiny lights of our neighbors’ homes flicker on and off in the night. I see soon, however, that the lurking hulks coming down the shore are taller than most men. They seem… Beast-like, almost as if… I shake off the thought, for it was a lightning flash, an illusion. There is nothing there.
How I long for my mother in that moment, in a way I have not longed for her in a long while. It is strange, to want your mother as a teenager the same way you want her as a very young child. Your mother is a protective force. Your mother shields you from harm and from the world. Your mother tells you that the hulking beasts walking on the beach in a rainstorm are not real. But my mother is not here. My heart pounds absurdly, unexpectedly, fearfully. I hate myself for being so afraid. My bedroom door is locked… I go to the window, careful to stay in the shadows. Thunder cracks overhead. Lightning strikes on the beach again. There are half a dozen of the tall figures. I am looking outside, watching them. They are hard to see when there is not light, but their advancing shadow are visible as they come nearer to the streetlights on the edge of the town. They look to be a quarter of a mile away.
I watch for a few moments more, attempting to determine where they are going. Their path seems very direct as I watch, almost as if they are heading for our house. My foolish, fearful heart will not stop pounding. What weapons do I have in this room? I begin to think. Thunder cracks again, scaring me a little but I welcome something as natural as thunder with these hulking beasts in the dark. How much time do I have? Is my next thought. Does this have something to do with my mother’s disappearance? I check my cell phone, on my bedside table. Nothing. No calls at all. Should I call the police? I think. Will they believe me? What would I say? Please come save me from the hulking shadows in the dark, my mommy didn’t come home? No… I can’t think, I can’t think.
I am back at the window. Lightning and the storm have receded. Damn you, damn you! I curse the weather. I was using your natural light! I scream in my head. But the hulking shadows pass by a street lamp. Something green, something reflective, shines in the streetlight for a moment, and then the creatures hustle into the dark.
I still cannot see where they are headed. I turn to search my windows for a way of escape. If they come in the cottage, perhaps I can run away to a public place, to a police station. I will need pictures, I will need evidence of the break-in… I grab my cell phone. I begin to pack a backpack quickly with various clothes, snacks, a soda, my cell phone charger, anything I will need overnight at a police station. What about the white cat? I think to myself. I feel a sense of dread, but I cannot unlock my door. Something fearful in me tells me not to, as I watch the six figures in the dark edge closer to my home.