It is dark and red outside. Dark and red like the night our parents were killed. We sit together, bundled close against a rock outcropping, a few feet from the train track, a few feet from where we had been left. The train station that isn’t. Just a stop, really. A stop for us. To greet us only rock, black and wrinkled.
Matts huddles in closer to me, shivering, and we wait.
For Aunt Arran.
Afraid she would come.
Afraid she wouldn’t come.
“Will, I’m scared,” Matts whispers.
I wrap my arm around her tightly and smooth her hair. In it still lies a braid our mother had woven. A memory, a remnant of her. “I know Matts, I know. But we’ll be ok. Aunt Arran will take care of us.” The lie drips off my tongue, tasting of ash.
“Does Aunt Arran really live here?” Matts whispers, her wide eyes glancing around us. Somewhere far away, something explodes, casting a brighter light, orange arching through the red glow, then fades away. “There’s nothing here.”
“I don’t know, Matts…”
But she is right. We sit in river-bed of once molten stone kilometres wide, nothing about us but a few boulders, long since spewed from afar. At the base of each of the boulders, a spider web of cracks stretches across the now solid lava, having shattered it when it fell. The horizon bleeds into the sky as clouds – whether of storm or of ash, I do not know – churn down to meet it. No sun, moon, or stars keep us company as we wait. Just us. Us and a cold, empty world.
Silence stretches out between us, deafening, with not even a gust of wind to challenge it.
Then in the distance, we see it. A speck of light. White light, glowing, ever brighter.
Matts shirks away from it, trying to hide inside my jacket, our dad’s jacket, my jacket. “Is that Aunt Arran?”
I squint, trying to see some semblance of a shape amidst the light. “Maybe, Matts, maybe.”
“Will?” Matts says.
“Yeah?” I turn to look at her. She clutches at my jacket until her little fingers turn white. Her eyes stare ahead, at the light, at Aunt Arran, wide, wide, wide as the sky.
“The police didn’t believe me. I told them. I swear I told them it wasn’t her, just like you said to tell them, but they didn’t believe me.” Tears made of silver trail down her still pudgy cheeks, the last remnants of the toddler years she had only just left behind.
“You tried your best, Matts, I know you did.”
The light drifts closer still, halfway between us and the horizon.
“Are we going to die?” Matts’ voice is soft, gentle.
I hold her closer, “Don’t worry. Aunt Arran will take care of us. That’s what she does.”
“But she killed mom and dad,” Matts whimpers.
“I know, Matts, I know. That’s what she does. That’s how she claims people.” I glance around, hoping for a place to hide, a place to run, but there is nothing. Of course there is nothing. So I do nothing but wait… we do nothing but wait.
“What is she going to do to us?”
“I– she’ll take care of us, Matts. Everyone says she takes care of those she claims.”
“Why did they have to send us to her?”
“That’s just how it works… If they’d disobeyed, Aunt Arran would have sent smoke and lava into town until they’d just have to give us up. It’s easier like this. We’re hers now.” What is sacrificing a few children per year to save thousands? That’s what they always say, how they justify it. I understand, I do. I just wish it didn’t have to be Matts and I. Especially not Matts.
“Will, I’m real scared.”
“I know. I’m really sorry, Matts.”
Once again, we fall into silence, watching the steady approach of the light. Hoping to stay in darkness, hoping the light will never touch us.
Still, Aunt Arran gets ever closer, her shape more and more discernable. Giant, massive, the size of a building, creeping forwards on four sets of arms. Her body is long, snaking into the distance, smooth, pale, and glowing faintly. I have no idea what lies at the other end of her, whether she has legs, or if she is directly anchored into the land she roams. A large head, vaguely shaped like that of an alligator, with smoking hair-like mist on top, draws near. A pair of burning coal-red eyes gently smoke into the already smoke-filled air.
“Whatever happens, I love you, Matts, ok? I love you loads,” I find myself saying, heart pounding.
Then, Aunt Arran is upon us, standing over us, looking down at us, as we huddle, curled into each other on the cold dark stone. One massive hand, about the same size as us, lifts away from the ground and reaches for Matts, gently stroking her cheek with the back of one finger. Beside me, Matts whimpers.
“Do not fear,” the voice slithers out from Aunt Arran’s mouth, both wispy and coarse, her hand never leaving Matts’ face, “No harm may come to you here; you are mine now.”
I feel Matts relax next to me, her eyes widen, though not in fear.
Another hand reaches forward and strokes my cheek, hot, oh so hot, scorching, scalding, the hand by my eyes, blinding. I know I should be afraid, in pain, blind and burning, but I’m not.
I suddenly want to tell Matt’s to run, to run, to …
But it’s too late.
I know it’s too late.
She’s already gone.
I want to cry, scream, hit, but nothing happens.
I’m almost gone too.
“I will take care of you,” I hear Aunt Arran whisper.
Then, all turns pale and red.
Pale and red like Aunt Arran.
Lia Robles is a Canadian writer currently finishing up a minor in Creative Writing and Journalism. She doesn’t have much of a publication history yet, though three of her short stories have been featured in college-level literary magazines and her play “Morgan’s Ghosts” was selected and then performed at her university’s theatre festival this past September. You can find her on Twitter @liaroblesgil.