Flash Fiction: Hauntings (522 words)

The fires looked so far away, faint washes of orange and yellow between the trees on the mountain. It didn’t flicker, didn’t flash, just flowed under the packed leaves, eating and hiding and sliding with the wind.

The smoke came off it in sheets, drifting up to coat the sky in a flat plate of white-gray. Aidi thought it was a halfhearted rain cloud at first, but it was too flat, too wide, too steady through the entire day. It dissipated under the strength of the wind, instead of running ahead of it like the fluffed clouds on the other side of the sky.

Aidi took a breath and expected to smell it. If it was there, it was only a haunting, and she couldn’t sense it. She walked through her chores, the fire occupying the back of her mind, but only pressing in on her when she looked to the mountain or the sky.

Her mother touched her arm, catching her watching the orange light between the trees.

“Come on,” her mother said, and pulled her back to the house. The kitchen was thrown open, food pulled out of the cupboards, cut down from the drying racks over the table, half packed into baskets. Her mother motioned her toward a full basket, handing her waxed cloths to tie over the top.

“Are we going somewhere?” Aidi asked.

Her mother shook her head. “Maybe.”

“Because of the fire?” Aidi asked.

“Maybe,” her mother said. “We have to be ready if the wind shifts.”

Aidi worked quickly beside her. They stacked the baskets into the wagon in the barn, tied them in, and came back to the house to gather blankets and clothes, money and the things that couldn’t be left behind. Her mother started to move more slowly, as she touched everything in the house. Most of it was irreplaceable. They didn’t have room for more than a half-dozen things. Somehow, her mother still made her choices, wrapping a few precious things and stowing them between baskets.

Aidi couldn’t imagine leaving so much behind. She watched the fires drifting on the mountain every time she walked between the barn and the door.

Finally, her mother released her back to her usual chores, with a brief reminder not to go far from the house.

Her father was at the front door, standing with his hands deep in his pockets, perfectly still. Aidi stilled as she passed him. His eyes were closed, his face turned into the wind. He was listening, or feeling, or reading, and she couldn’t tell which. Another haunting, she realized, and she didn’t have what she needed to sense it.

Her father opened his eyes and smiled at her when he noticed her come to a stop beside him.

“Good morning,” he said.

She blinked at the greeting, the simplicity of it, the ignorance of the fire spilling smoke into the sky. But then, he wasn’t watching the fire, his back turned to it with the breeze pulling his hair back from his forehead.

His smile twisted at her expression, marking his eyes.

“We’re going to be all right,” he said.

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