Regina Raiford Babcock
♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
Between the Statues
Have I ever really been happy anywhere else? This quiet little garden, hidden in the centre of a maze of well-kept paths and flowerbeds in the grounds of the town’s castle. I used to come here as a teenager, and even now, living hundreds of miles away, I associate this place with peace and calm and happiness. The garden is more crowded now — there was just a single statue when I first visited. Now there are five.
I told my family I needed some time. My wife looked daggers at me, but didn’t say a word. She knew things were tough at work, and our relationship hadn’t been at its strongest lately. So I drove down here, to the town where I grew up, and found a bed and breakfast. I barely slept, the first night, and as soon as it was light, I walked here and sat on this guano-stained bench. I felt such relief, such a sense of being in the right place. I forgot lunch that first day, and only left when my stomach’s growling got too loud to ignore.
The statues are all in a similar style, stone men and women with an ethereal quality to them. If you look at them straight on, they’re lifeless, stony-grey. But if you look just past them you can catch them glowing in your peripheral vision, almost vibrating with nebulous energy.
I feel so light here, as if I might float away. And when I think of my family, for the first time in years I feel relentless love. I even forgive my wife her recent granite hardness. If she and the kids would only join me here, we could all be happy together. I’ve suggested it a few times this week by email, but only my daughter replied, and that was with an emoji I didn’t recognise, but suspect was not polite.
I don’t want to lose my family, but I wouldn’t be too sorry to leave everything else behind. I don’t feel any sense of belonging at work, and aside from my kids there isn’t much left in life that brings me joy.
I’ve been paying attention to the gap that exists between two of the statues, an older woman and a modern-looking young man. If I look through them, get the angle just right, I can see them, in the corner of my eye, beckoning me to join them.
I send a loving text to my family, and throw my phone as far as I can into the bushes that surround the garden. I step into the gap between the statues, and close my eyes.
A voice in my head, in the air around me, tells me not to worry; it won’t be long, but it will also take forever. Somehow, it makes perfect sense. I open my eyes and smile. I know that this is the last time my expression will change, and I’m happy. This is my home now. I belong here.
Ben Coppin lives in Ely in the UK with his wife and two teenage children. He works for one of the big tech companies. He's had a textbook on artificial intelligence published, as well as a number of short stories, mostly science fiction, but also horror, fairy tales and other things. All his published stories can be found listed here: http://coppin.family/ben. Bienvenue à la Danse, Ben.
Regina Raiford Babcock
A desert of snow shoved against its blank paper sky. Detective Dave Laurie stared at the gray knife’s edge of the horizon. Laurie listened to the CSI techs murmuring. An empty tent with a torn mouth beseeched him. Despite the protective booties and the gift of hand knit socks from Anja, the cold had wicked up Laurie’s soles.
“Vince,” Laurie said.
“Sir, the search teams are gathering. HQ has allocated resources for a full sweep including helicopters. NOAA is only giving us a 10 to 12-hour window until that storefront rolls in,” Sergeant Vince Tran said.
Skittering over the crime scene, Laurie’s eyes halted at a lanky young pine snapped in half. Laurie answered Tran with a grunt. Interpreting Tran continued.
“Maryanne Mantooth placed a call this morning at 8:44. The witness came across the scene while looking for her dog, Bono. We have three tents still full of food and survival equipment, personal belongings and such. The thing is, sir, these tents had been shredded open from the inside.
“We have five hikers, grade II hikers that is, all missing. Boyd Hohl, Sonja Berlin, Rina Mahler, and the Fox brothers, Archie and Matty, no priors, all local, all friends, all missing. According to Winona McQueen, she was supposed to be on this trip but canceled at the last minute after a fight with her boyfriend Matty. Everything was copacetic, no bad blood between any of the kids….”
Tran trailed off. Laurie had walked away skirting the perimeter of the crime scene. He knelt near a splintered sapling in a bank of snow. Tran followed close behind. Laurie had caught sight of something peeking up from the fresh fallen mound. Tran bent over and saw it was a hiking boot empty except for a hot pink sock. Tran called over to one of the CSI techs. Wilson came over and began taking phonographs. The detectives walked away to give CSI some room.
“According to Lee there were five sets of footprints leading away from the campsite, footprints not boot prints,” Tran added.
Tran disappeared into his notebook reading known facts and following his superior as they walked the perimeter of the crime scene. Laurie’s straight-edged mind warped from ledge avalanche to alien abduction. Pinpricks of panic pierced his skin as Tran tossed information at him.
Nothing made sense anymore, Laurie thought. He strangled the urge to scream, laugh or cry. Cold collapsed on his tired shoulders. Four families were gathered back at the station, waiting for answers. He didn’t even know the right questions.
With a gloved hand, Laurie stroked a low-lying witch hazel shrub to stop the world from spinning. He knew this plant would have shown damage if there had been a windstorm or a tremor. What would shatter trees but leave a nearby shrub unscathed? Brittle flowers yellow bright against his blue latex gloves told him the answers he needed wouldn’t be found in the nature he knew.
As he flipped through his notebook with numb fingers, Tran cleared his throat nervously. Laurie didn't move. Fear frozen heavy in his guts, he thought about Rina, who used to babysit the girls.
Add Tran, "Bono is still missing too, you know Maryanne's fat little dog. It's not like fat dogs to stray. Weird, this is all so--"
“Let’s not start whistling the X-File theme just yet. We follow the evidence. First, we'll interview Maryanne about what she saw and her fat dog,” Laurie said, coming to his feet.
Tran grunted agreement. Together they headed back to the car carrying the cold between them.
Writer, editor, artist, and weird plant lady, Regina Raiford Babcock is working on her first novel, a genre-blending mystery. Raiford Babcock lives in an inner ring Philadelphia suburb and tries to save the world daily working for an environmental nonprofit and a DEI community advocate. Bienvenue à la Danse Regina.