Votive

Nina flipped up the personal mirror over her seat, placed her chapstick back in the central console, and turned up the radio. The music was new, at least to her. Some band she never heard of, but honestly, pretty good. She liked how it was kind of jaunty, high energy, but without overstating itself. So much new music was trying to be more than it needed, and this, this was just something you could really lean into, follow the groove.

She reached down the side of her seat and leaned it back, pulled out her phone, and checked for updates. 

No messages for the past half hour. That was fine. No reason to get concerned.

She read Rae’s last message again. “hey mom, could you come pick me up from blue oaks? meet you at the park’s front lot, if that’s okay. love you.” 

It was probably fine, only twelve minutes since Nina texted back that she was in the lot.

She adjusted her seat back up, getting ready to pull up Rae’s contact and call her when she noticed in her side mirror that there was a thick fog rolling down the mountains. The park was named after the way the fog made the mountains, more like hills, look sort of blue instead of green. A little further south and the mountains would be described more as smoky. 

Nina looked toward her rearview. “Hope she gets here soon. Don’t want to drive through that.” She looked back down and turned just a little, just enough to get a glimpse of movement. “You sure she said she’s on her way back? You know her, she can get kind of lost in the moment.” Nina saw the girl in the back nod, her hair bobbing.

Turning forward, she started to drum on the steering wheel. “Do you know the name of this band?”

Nina could see the girl shake her head no through the rear view mirror. Quiet girl, that’s for damn sure. And someone needed to tell her that less is more. Her lilac perfume was almost choking. “Mind if I roll down the windows a bit?” It was already a little cold out, but Nina would just zip up her jacket. She didn’t wait for a response before cracking the driver side window and taking a deep breath.

That fog sure was thick. A little closer than before. Weatherman said that the fog would reach town at the bottom of the hill before morning. Thank god Rae didn’t have class tomorrow. 

Wait.

In the fog.

Was Rae coming from down the highway, not the park?

Nina turned down the music to get a better look. She’d have no answer why if someone asked her reason. The girl in the back giggled, as if she found the whole scene just a little funny.

Definitely not Rae in the fog, too tall. And it looked like it was getting closer, moving in her direction. That girl needed to get here as…

Knock Knock

Nina jumped, dropping her phone. She looked over to the passenger window and saw Rae. She took a deep breath. “You scared me half to death.”

“Open the door.”

“You can say please, you know.” Nina pushed unlock.

Rae opened the door and got in. “Can we just get moving?”

“Buckle up, buck-o.”

Rae sighed and fastened her seatbelt. “Come on. It’s getting late.”

Nina turned the key and started to pull out. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just…can we get moving?”

“Yeah…yeah.” Nina pulled up to the highway, she looked right, and then left. The fog was closer still. She pulled out of the lot and started driving away from the fog and towards town.

She could swear in the rear view that whatever was in the fog was standing in the street lights now. Just a silhouette getting smaller and smaller. Around a corner and it was gone.

Nina relaxed her shoulders, let them fall. “Hey, not in trouble or anything, but…” She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “What were you doing up there so late?”

Rae shrunk in her seat. “I just. It’s going to sound dumb, but… there was this rumor going around, and like, a ritual you could do, but it required sand, and it’s not like we live near a beach or anything.”

“The sandbox, in the playground up there. Gotcha.”

“Yeah, so, I just got Kyle to drive me up there.”

“You know I don’t like Kyle.”

Rae sighed. “I know, but I told him to leave early, I swear.”

“I believe you! I believe you. Did you…did you do the thing? With the sand?”

Rae adjusted and sat up straighter. “Yeah, I had to, like, use this candle and place it at the edge of the sandbox and… I tried to talk with Sarah.”

It took a second for Nina to notice, but with the pause in the conversation she realized the radio was silent.

Rae continued, “You remember Sarah, right?”

Nina snorted. “Yeah, I remember Sarah.”

“Well, I really wanted to talk with her again, and this…I don’t know, felt like maybe I could.”

“Okay…”

“I don’t know, it was really stupid and the fog started coming in, and I got scared, like someone was watching, I don’t know.”

“Glad you called…”

Rae turned the radio back on, and the two listened in silence as they crested a hill and saw their neighborhood.

Nina spoke up. “Why didn’t you walk back with Sarah?”

“What?”

“Just, I mean, if we were going to drive Sarah back too, why didn’t you walk with her when you were scared?”

They stopped at a red light. Rae said, “Mom…no, Sarah’s gone.”

Nina slowly adjusted the rearview.

On the back seat was a simple lilac candle, lit and standing.


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