Updated: Apr 15, 2022
By Cecilia Kennedy -
As narrow paths wind their way to the top of Lace Back Falls, Kelsie wobbles in front of me, growing tired. To my left, ragged edges of the path drop straight down the side of the climb. A line of aggressive hikers bunches up behind us, eager to pass, so we hug the dirt wall on the right to let them through.
As Kelsie’s steps slow, the limbs of a tree branch hang down so close that we can touch them—so close that Kelsie believes she sees something in the leaves: a sign.
“Reese!” she says to me, “Do you see the shapes the leaves make?”
“Kelsie, not now. This is the path, the one we’re on.”
But I know she won’t listen.
A magician, in the school gym, pulls scarves out of his sleeve. I don’t think he’s anything special, but I can see Kelsie’s right shoe swinging back and forth as she trembles and fidgets. She stands straight up and walks over to the magician in the middle of the performance and takes his scarves.
“These are my way out,” she says.
The entire school follows her up the stairs to the third floor and watches her tie the ends of the scarves together and lower them out the window. Eventually, they stop her, but I wonder why they let her get so far.
“No, Kelsie. I don’t see anything,” I tell her as she touches the tips of her thumb and pointer finger together to form a triangle of space between her hands. Raising her hands, she looks through the triangle and lines it up with the space between the leaves.
“Let’s go,” she says.
But I know she won’t last.
“But what about the fog?”
Kelsie once asked me if I ever felt like I was walking through fog or swimming through Jell-O. She said she felt like that every day—no matter how much she slept. And when they drew her blood and did tests, they found nothing. But Kelsie thought she saw something in the bruise that formed from the needle: an arrow pointing up.
“The fog’s always there,” Kelsie says.
And I always follow her. I have no idea what I’m expecting to find; it’s usually nothing. Today, though, to follow Kelsie’s sign means leaving all of those other hikers and taking our time, our own path, which somehow feels a little safer, the soil not so packed down by others’ feet. We climb, Kelsie and I, towards the sun. At the very top, we look down on the path, watching the hikers stumble over each other to reach the end.
“So, what does this mean?” I ask.
Kelsie shrugs her shoulders. In the sunlight, I can see the dark circles under her eyes. Her thin frame shakes.
The fog’s rolling in.
Abstract trees, painted in gold and red, are the latest sign that Kelsie has seen: a canvas painting worth thousands of dollars, hanging in a bank lobby—a bank that’s closed. Somehow, Kelsie has jimmied the lock, slipped inside, and triggered the alarm. The police came and arrested her. I come now to bail her out. She looks even more tired, her body leaning towards the floor.
“I was able to reach up,” she says, “and I saw that pattern—the triangle one in the leaves. I know I saw it, and I would have followed it right inside. I would have crawled right inside—between the leaves.”
The shapes of intersections, sidewalks, and boutique rooflines, clustered in the center of town, offer no relief. They’re too tempting for someone like Kelsie. Still, I take her past the shop windows and buy her ice cream, watching her eyes shift focus, while we walk slowly.
“Let’s sit down,” I say.
“No,” Kelsie replies. She’s pushing her arms in front of her as she walks, like she’s doing a breaststroke, and I realize that she’s swimming through the gelatin fog.
In front of the mattress store, she stops and looks through the window.
“In there,” she says. “I finally see it.”
Reluctantly, I go with her and watch her suddenly spring to life.
“If I just pull this mattress out into the street,” she says, much to the protests of the salespeople inside, “it will make the sign—the one I’ve been waiting for.”
I watch as she pulls the mattress onto the sidewalk outside, and lies down on top of it, face up, looking at the sky. She makes the triangle with her hands and points them up over her head, and when I walk back down the street and look again, I see it. I see that Kelsie, the mattress, and the triangle form an arrow that faces up. North to be exact. North on the street where I stand.
“You did it, Kelsie! You did it!” I shout, jumping up and down on the sidewalk. But Kelsie doesn’t move.
I run over to her, and shake her and tell her to get up, but her eyes won’t close. And that’s when I see a tiny space of air between Kelsie’s body and the mattress. The gap between her and the mattress increases by an inch. Six inches. A foot. Ten feet and more—until she floats up, catching the sleeve of a cloud, slipping through, finding her way out.
Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) taught English composition and Spanish courses in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. Additionally, she’s a columnist for TheDaily Drunk, an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and Running Wild Press, and humor blogger: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/). Twitter: @ckennedyhola.