The islets look like turtles with mossy backs, sleeping breathless in the placid lake. Nothing stirs. The Arctic summer has flooded the sky and erased the landmarks between hours and days. I walk around in a daze, wide-eyed, not knowing how tired I am, like a child whose parents are dead and now she can stay out as late as she wants. Seagulls cry out in the distance, behind the mountains. The plaque by the road promised a sunken village – perished a hundred years ago, or yesterday, or maybe not yet, it’s hard to tell. I kneel on the jetty and lean close.
Kelp grows in my childhood bedroom. Brown curls sway like wallpaper come alive. Beyond the forest, I see my father. He sits at my desk, reading my journal.
When he looks up, his eyes are beer caps. I hear the hiss, the clank on the kitchen counter. I hear myself pant, take the stairs two by two, sprint down the corridor, knowing I’m late.
My father floats close to the surface. Where have you been, his mouth gapes.
I lie facing the water, the farthest from home I’ve ever been. I watch the ice-capped peaks turn upside down in the lake. A feather sails down from the sky and comes to rest on its reflection. I’ve roamed this starless land so long I don’t remember how old I am.
A jellyfish floats into view, then another, and then more. They twirl around in pink ballet dresses, swarming a slow dance around the sunken walls. I flatten my palms against the lake, pressing the fragile window between our worlds.
Where have you been, my mother asks.
She glares at my hair and my nails and my face. She digs a finger in my collarbone. She tells me I won’t be like them. She calls them names she won’t explain. Her mouth curves into a pout, just like a seagull’s, and I know it’s a bad time to laugh but I can’t suppress a giggle.
My mother shrieks and swoops down from a hot sky.
I don’t remember where I am. I try to recall yesterday, but time slips through my fingers like in dreams. The lake is gone. Stone huts are scattered along a dirt road. Where is my car? I know the flood is coming; it’s on the plaque. It will take six minutes, after the rockslide.
From now on, the seagulls control everything. They take over the town square; nothing happens without them knowing. They follow me until I don’t go anywhere at all. They listen to my calls until I stop calling my friends. They read my thoughts and punish me for them until I stop thinking. I get top marks at school. I grow up, I move away, I find a job and drive a car and go on trips. I’ve run this far but they’ve found me and now I’ve run out of time.
Thirsty and sun-beat, I stumble along the dirt road, looking for my car but finding only a knotty churchyard. I read the inscriptions: the same name on every tombstone. People were named after their village, bones and rocks buried under the same fate. Two seagulls perch on the last headstone, half-sunk into the valley floor.
You think you’re in Norway, says my father.
But look, you’ve never left, says my mother.
The mountains respond with a rumble, the sky begins to shake, and the seagulls fly away with a shrill laugh.
Kati Bumbera is a video games writer who ran away from the city to live between the mountains and the sea. Her short fiction has been published by NFFD, Roi Fainéant, The Fabulist, The Fantastic Other, and The Disappointed Housewife.