Someone Who Was Loved by Craig Church

The red “59” flashed from the band on Kena’s wrist, the intensity of its color reflecting how urgent and precious each minute, each second, was. She had given everything for this time and yet, now that she stood here in the stillness and quiet, it felt undervalued.

The cocktail of aromas—the earthy spice of the towering redwoods, the sweet petrichor of the dewy earth beneath her feet, the brine of the distant ocean breeze—surrounded and overwhelmed her. The fragrances were vibrant and alive, teeming with an energy the synthetics back home could never replicate.

Crackles of twigs and branches broke the silence. Footsteps approached. Though Kena had been warned this could happen and explicitly commanded to avoid interactions, this was too sudden. She looked for a tree to duck behind, but there was no time. A bearded man in his mid-30s, sweaty and draped in hiking gear, stepped into the clearing and stopped at the sight of her.

While Kena had been outfitted with appropriate attire for this time and place—a backpack, khaki shorts, hiking boots, and a white tee wrapped in a red flannel shirt—closer inspection would give her away.

“Hey there!” The man said with a smile, tugging a plastic hose from his backpack and sucking down a stream of water.

An involuntary scoff escaped Kena’s lips. A pack of water, carried so casually by a man walking alone. She suppressed the urge to rob him. Back home, such a prize would fetch enough to recoup nearly everything she’d sold to come here.

The man extended the hose toward Kena. “Thirsty? I promise I don’t have cooties.”

Kena had no idea what cooties were, but the offer of shared drink confirmed this to be the era before eternal disease ravaged the planet. The more affordable, black market services she had procured were notorious for inaccuracy with time and date. She had paid extra for the care to precision, and was relieved to find the bargain met.

Do not interact.

She looked away from the man, shaking her head. He shrugged and tucked the hose away. “Where you headed?”

Kena swallowed hard. To reply would be interacting. To say nothing would invite curiosity. Perhaps a mundane exchange would bore him into leaving.

“The Pacific Ocean,” she said, eyes on the ground.

The man chuckled. “I should hope so. You’d have quite a trek if were you heading to the Atlantic. You been to Del Norte before?”

This will be my first and only time, Kena wanted to say. She shook her head.

“Not a big talker,” said the man. “I get that. Sometimes you just gotta get out in nature and be alone.”

Alone. Such a small, simple word, but it overpowered Kena. Her hand drifted to the pair of crude, metal bands on her ring finger as a sob shook her chest.

“Whoa, whoa!” said the man, alarmed. He jogged over to her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Are you okay? Anything I can do to help?”

Kena chided herself. This reckless interaction would get her recalled unless it was nipped in the bud here, now.

“I’m Devin,” said the man, tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder. “Are you in some kind of troub—”

He trailed off mid-sentence. Kena watched his eye line drift from her face to the inch of air surrounding her body. A slight, golden glow emanated from her, only perceptible up close as motes of pollen and dust shimmered in its light.

Kena stumbled back. “Please, leave me be.”

Devin held up the palms of his hands. “Sorry. I just want to know if you’re okay.”

Kena’s wristband buzzed as “57” dropped to “30,” her time halved as both punishment and warning.

“I’m fine,” she said, taking another step back while wiping her tear-stained cheeks with her forearm. Her instructions had been to walk straight forward from her apparition site, but the encounter had turned her around. “Which way is the ocean?”

“Just a couple more minutes’ walk,” said Devin, pointing down the trail. “I’m headed there, too, if you want company. No worries, if not.”

Kena set off in the direction of Devin’s outstretched hand.

“I’ll take that as a no,” he said to himself, content to follow at a distance.

True to Devin’s word, by the time Kena’s wristband read “28,” the forest canopy gave way to tendrils of fog evaporating in the sunlight. In the distance, the roar of crashing waves beckoned her forward. The dirt of the forest trail turned to mossy rock glazed in mist. Like a theater curtain drawn, a gust of wind carried the wall of fog away and Kena’s breath with it.

She stood at a cliff’s edge, the white rock cascading down into sand heavy with the remains of the tide. The heavens were saturated with the clearest blue, the warmth of the sun upon Kena’s cheeks a balm against the damp breeze whipping around her. Dropping to her knees, she gathered her pack and unsealed it, retrieving the small, white sphere inside. With a tap of her index finger, the sphere opened, its shell hollow and half-filled with ash.

She set it gently on the ground and tugged the metal bands from her finger. “It’s…” Her voice faltered, the salt of her tears stinging her lips. “It’s more beautiful than we dared dream, my love.” With a kiss, she placed the rings inside the sphere and snapped it closed, extending it outward. The sphere hovered above her palm for only a moment before streaking out over the waves and into the sea.

Kena rose to her feet, stretching her fingers out to touch the glistening mist. In the sunlight, her golden aura radiated.

“Who are you?” She heard an awe-struck Devin call as he stepped out from the forest.

Kena’s wristband vibrated angrily, a red zero flashing. She offered the man a smile and four words before vanishing into thin air.

“Someone who was loved.”

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