Dusk had found its way into the sky by the time Reiki came upon the cliff trail. She stopped to catch her breath, and brushed sweat and sand dust away from her eyes. The evening was hot. A crooked bone of moon had risen above the trees, bringing with it a dry wind that echoed over the sandstone and snake holes at the top of the bluff. It was during that silent and deserted hour, when all the rest of the world had gone indoors, that Reiki felt safest there. She would venture out as often as she could without her dad knowing. He hated for her to leave the house.
She wandered to the edge of the bluff, where weeds and stone gave way in an empty plummet to the tidal wasteland far below. It was a dead beach, a forlorn graveyard of sand and seaweed that stretched into fog and shadows at the far side of the bay. Waves rushed and thundered in the distance, farther out where the tide had retreated. The bluff stood perpendicular to the beach and reached deep water at its uttermost point. Reiki never went there. Ever since Jacob had fallen from the rocky crags at the tip, she had avoided it. She preferred to stay back with the stagnant sand below her. That wasn’t enough for her dad, however. He wanted her off the cliffs entirely.
She had tried to tell him that her brother’s death had been an accident, something beyond her control. They had been out there as a family that day, the four of them. It was Jacob’s second birthday. Reiki had been keeping an eye on him while her parents stopped to look at some wildflowers next to the path. Jacob started running, laughing, heading toward the cliff that jutted out over the water. Reiki’s heart leapt into her throat and she ran after him, calling for him to stop. He looked over his shoulder once, his eyes wide with delight, seeming to think it was all a game. Still running, not seeing, not caring, he stumbled over the edge and down to the rocks and water and shadows.
Somewhere in her mind, Reiki could still hear herself screaming.
She began to walk. Bits of stone crunched and shifted under her feet, clicking like old bones. It was the rhythm of the trail, a kind of bitter music, and she let it carry her where it wanted, not caring.
Suddenly a new sound came to her, a gentle melody, floating on the wind from somewhere ahead. She stopped, puzzled. No one went out there at night but her. She looked around, realizing with a start that she had unknowingly come almost to the extremity of the bluff. Cautiously she strode forward over a rise in the trail. A solitary human figure sat near the far ledge, quietly picking a guitar and singing. He faced the water, his back turned to the dead beach. Beyond his silhouette, the last light of the setting sun glowed across waves that moved and lulled almost in time with the music.
He must have heard her coming, because he turned toward her and grinned. “Hey there.”
She smiled back at him, though she wondered who he was and why she had never seen him before. He was young and attractive, dressed in loose jeans and a gray sweatshirt. Had he been there often and she had simply not known it?
He seemed to sense what she was thinking. “I like to come out here to worship. It’s such an awesome place.” He strummed a chord on the guitar, then muted it with the palm of his hand. “Do you come out here a lot?”
She looked over her shoulder, back toward the trail and the dunes. “Yeah.” She hesitated. “But this is the path where my brother died. Dad wants to keep me off it.” She gazed out toward the glistening water, feeling the peace and life of the place. “I think he’s forgotten where it leads.”
The boy shrugged. “That beach back there is so dark and empty. Sometimes it’s hard to believe there’s a beautiful ocean out here.”
Reiki nodded. “Sometimes.”
“But it’s here. Even when you can’t see it.”
Reiki found herself agreeing. Suddenly she realized that wandering the bluffs was a waste of time. Pointless. The end of the trail was a much better place.
And she knew her dad would join her there, once she had told him.
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