Emma and I climbed the hill behind town and looked at the sight below. The buildings were huddled together with strips of snow between them. The dark strips of road were the only things left uncovered. It was dark and quiet, and day would bring nothing more than light. It was always quiet now. Half the population was either dead or had moved away. The other half of the town was hushed, as sad people tend to be.
My eyes strayed to the south side of town where there was still a great deal of snow piled up near the road. The snow plows hadn’t taken it away. Every time I saw that pile I thought…
“Did the plows not take that snow away just to make everyone feel worse?” Emma voiced my thought.
“That’s what I always wonder…” I said, “And I think they did.” Emma took my hand and we walked down the long hill into town. The dark streets were lined with shops and houses. I felt a sense of dramatic irony as I passed those buildings. Their outsides showed how unchanged the town was striving to be, but the insides were unthinkably changed. Many of them were empty or had people missing from them, and there was no changeless exterior that could convince me otherwise.
We paused outside of Mrs. Martin’s antique store. There was a sign in the window that read, ‘Jillian Anne Martin. Your memory will live on.’ “I used to love going there,” Emma said, echoing my thoughts once again.
“Me too. She used to give us those little buttons. We haven’t gone there in a long time…” I said, wishing that I had gone before it was too late.
We continued to walk through town until we came to the small school. The bright red brick reminded me of all the good times I’d had there with my friends. Nevertheless, I wanted to keep going. “Have you seen the list?” Emma asked.
“Of course, but I don’t want to see it now,” I whispered as if I was in a shrine.
Emma pulled me up the steps to the front door of the school. There, a list was posted.
HAVE YOU SEEN THESE CHILDREN?
Kimmy Gordon – 8: Red hair, green eyes. Last seen on Southside Hill, November 15.
Greyson Smith – 5: Black hair, blue eyes: Last seen on Southside Hill, November 15.
Veronica Mills – 11: Black hair, brown eyes: Last seen wearing a pink coat on Southside Hill, November 15.
Toby Denison – 14: Blonde hair, green eyes: Last seen on Southside Hill. November 15.
I tore my eyes away from the list. It went on and on. “This doesn’t tell the whole story,” I said, wiping away a silent tear.
“Kimmy loved a challenge,” Emma started, “And she loved being in charge. Veronica was a sly trickster…”
“And a ridiculous diva sometimes,” I finished, smiling.
“And Greyson…” Emma started, her voice breaking, “The sweetest kid ever, and a master at silly jokes.”
“Toby…” I started, staring intently at his black-and-white photograph. His eyes smiling. His mouth smirking, “He taught me how to skate and I taught him how to make paper airplanes…” I tore myself away and started down the steps, “He was… amazing.”
Emma followed behind me as we continued through town. My cheeks were cold, but my eyes burned and my head ached. I adjusted my scarf to cover more of my face. The silent town was too much for me. Everyone had died and left me all alone. “Here they are,” Emma said. I was walking steadily out of town, but Emma had stopped.
“Not now Emma. Not tonight.”
I turned, my arms crossed over my chest, “I’ve done a lot tonight Emma, but I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can. You’ve done a lot tonight. You can do this,” She said, her eyes shining brighter than I’d ever seen them.
I hugged myself and turned to the cemetery. I walked through the gate with Emma and pointed to a small tree in the center, “There they are.” Emma grasped my hand tightly and together we walked over to our parents’ graves.
“In loving memory of Corbin Matthew Fisher and Georgia Lily Fisher. Amazing souls who spread love and kindness wherever they went,” Emma read the stone aloud. I placed a kiss on the wilting flowers I had set there the day before.
“Goodbye,” I whispered.
Somehow we found ourselves at the top of the hill in front of our house. The sky was brightening. It was time for everyone to wake up again. Emma squeezed my hand and turned to me. I ignored her. At some point in that walk up the hill I had remembered something. “Kelly…”
“Emma,” I said, without turning.
“No Emma,” I turned to her and hugged her as tight as I could.
“It’s time for me to go Kelly. Surely… you’ve realized by now…”
“You just came back to me. I’m not letting you go,” I said and found myself sobbing.
Emma pulled away, but still held my hand, “You have found me, but you never have to let go.”
“I know… I always have. But when you leave, the sunshine will leave my life again.”
“There will be sunshine in other places.”
“I know,” I said again, loosening my grip on her hand.
“Then let go of my hand Kelly.”
“You can. You’ve done a lot. You’re so strong.”
My tears slowed, “I love you Emma.”
“I love you too Kelly…” And I let go. Her hand was gone. I turned. She was gone.
I shivered. The morning was cold. It was time to go back inside. It was time to help my Grandma pack up the last of the boxes and leave. It was time to get into Grandma’s van and start a new life in a new place, but I would never forget this place. The place where I first learned to walk, first learned to love, and first learned to cope.
I slipped through the door and felt the silent emptiness surround me, but something was different now. I was full.