In The Mist
Once upon a time, there was broken girl, with a broken family, in a broken world.
The world was fighting itself. One side of the globe against the other. Constantly, we lived in fear of the day when enemy troops would attack, or when a devastating missile would drop from the sky and kill us all.
My father left to fight in the army years ago. He didn’t return.
“He was a brave man,” my mother would often say, stroking the dank black hair away from my eyes.
I didn’t want him to be a brave man. I just wanted him to be my father. I often wondered if he had died already, or if he was risking his life daily on the front lines. My favorite daydream, however, was that he was steadily make his way home. To us.
My family lived in a small, pale blue tent, bleached white by the relentless sun. Rooms had been made by hanging sheets from the ceiling. It wasn’t the best arrangement, but it provided a little privacy.
A small head, topped with unruly dark brown hair, poked its head into my room. The cream-colored sheet that marked off my space had been brushed aside as my little brother spilled into the room. He had developed amnesia several years ago; my mom and I gotten him to remember us, but sometimes his memory would short circuit, and he’d scream when he saw one of us.
He grinned a gap-toothed smile at me, dimples appearing on his tanned cheeks. “Jen,” he whispered. “You’ve gotta see this.” He scurried to me and grabbed my hand, tugging me toward the door.
I rose to my feet and ruffled his hair. “Yeah? What’s out there, Eli?” I followed him out of the tent.
Mom was waiting outside the tent in her ratty bathrobe. Her hair stuck out at odd angles. She looked only half awake.
The sun was just starting to come up, and mist lay over the ground. Eli pointed into the thick, damp grayness. “Do you see him?” he asked eagerly. “It’s Dad! Mom, Jenni, he’s come home.”
My heart skipped a beat. Dad had come home? After years of wishing and praying, it was finally happening! Though the voice in my head told me that it was too good to be true, I peered into the mist. Maybe Eli’s eyes were better than mine, because I couldn’t see a thing.
Mom glanced at me. The dark circles under her eyes made me want to cry. She hadn’t slept well since dad had left and Eli had gotten amnesia.
I shrugged, to show her that I couldn’t see Dad.
Eli could barely contain his excitement. “He’s right there! He’s home!” He grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. “He looks just like he does in the pictures you showed me.”
I still couldn’t see him.
Mom got onto her knees and held Eli’s head tenderly with both hands. “Baby, what do you see? Can you tell us?”
Eli pointed into the distance again. “It’s Dad.” He was starting to cry. “He’s in his a-army uniform. There’s an eagle on his sh-shoulder. Can’t you s-see him?”
Dad wasn’t coming home.
Mom hugged Eli tightly. I crouched beside them and squeezed what remained of my broken family. Eli had an overactive imagination, and often had trouble telling fantasy apart from reality. Sometimes I wished I was like him. Fantasy — especially if Dad was in it — couldn’t be so bad.
Some things are too good to be true.