Gray Metal Faces – February 12


The northern lights shot into the sky in columns of luminous green, the color of garish Halloween decorations, with a backlight of yellow, capped with warm orange tips. The columns pulsated, alternately rising and falling against the sky’s black canvas rhythmically, as if synchronized to music Rune could not hear.

The teen stood on the shore of the lake, gaping up at the display. He sighed, and felt relaxed, at peace, for the first time all day. These lights, they did not ask anything of him, weren’t there to judge him, did not care about his existence even. They just rose, pulsated, illuminated his vision from the horizon to high above his head.

And then, they were gone, leaving the sky black, as if someone had flipped off a celestial light switch. Please stand by, an unspoken voice apologized.

Rune remembered the lights had temporarily disappeared earlier, at least once during his trek along the lake. He stood, waiting for the cosmic lightbringer to flip the switch back on. Maybe this was the reason for his long walk in the cold night, maybe he sensed the lights would be there —

Cool. Jezz had said that, as he had gotten out of her car parked in his family’s driveway. At the time he hadn’t known what she was referencing, but he remembered her looking away to her left. Was this the reason for his journey? Had he picked up her suggestion, headed in the direction she had been looking, trusting he would find what she had seen?

The sky remained black. The pause in the celestial light show allowed him time to be honest with himself. As impressive as the northern lights had been, he hadn’t come here to watch them, or to find the lake, or struggle through the forest. He hadn’t come to find anything, but rather to get away. From his father, from Double-J, from Bark Bay, from fencing. And, from Annie. And what she’d said that afternoon.

Fourth Saturday, Early Afternoon

“No there isn’t.” Her face betrayed no emotion, showed no sign of sharing the dismay that so pained his heart. “We just need to stop dating, that’s all there is to it.” Annie brushed her long brown-pony tail off her shoulder, let it fall down her jacketed back.

Rune released his hold on the handle of his house’s front door. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, the fencing tournament was over, Coach Dan had dropped them off at his house, they were going upstairs to his room (concealing the sounds of their loving wrestling from his father would only add to their excitement), she’d stay for dinner, might even still be there when his mother and brother returned from hockey. She’d call her parents to pick her up when she was ready to go home, which Rune knew wouldn’t be any time soon.

That was the plan. And what she had just told him, no, that was not in the plan at all.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. That’s how she’d started the conversation — no, it was We can’t date anymore, but before that was No, I can’t go inside, and There’s something I have to tell you. Rune desperately tried to arrange her words in his memory in order to understand, to control this situation.

“You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?” The words came out of him reflexively. “Double-J, is it him?”

Annie rolled her eyes. “Double-J so much as touches me, I’ll deck him. There’s no — there really isn’t — ” it was one of the few times he saw her being uncertain — “I just don’t think you know what you want.”

He could hear himself pleading with her, and saw her reply with cool defiance. “No, I really can’t stay.” And then he heard the sound of tires crunching salt on asphalt, looked past Annie and saw her parents’ white Cadillac pulling into the driveway.

And then she just walked away, saying she was sorry, and telling him to take care of himelf. She approached the Cadillac, opened a back door, and got in. Never looked back. The door closed, and the Cadillac pulled away.


He fell to his knees on the lake shore, waiting for the northern lights to return.

It was over. He’d pleaded with her, couldn’t remember the words he used (other than please, repeated several times) but he’d definitely clamped his hands together, like a hungry man begging for bread. She’d never wavered, showed no willingness to change her mind. Just walked into her Caddy, and rode away. And he’d known her long enough, well enough, to have any hope that she’d change her mind.

He had lost her. Cold crept into his knees like ants. The sky remained black.

A sound, the first Rune heard above the humming of the distant dam turbines. At first it sounded like a piston or some other device striking against metal, but softly; he focused on the noise until he realized there was a rhythm, those were piano keys he was hearing. He continued listening, began recognizing the melody. It was a song, a popular one, this wasn’t a recording but somebody was playing it, on a piano, in one of the cabins along the lake. Rune nodded; the song was sad but beautiful, and the pianist was performing it quite well.

The sky above Rune erupted again in a brilliant display of green jets streamed with red, like fireworks launched from the surface of the frozen lake. He looked up, smiling, felt his body relax, muscles sighing from relief.

“So . . . ” Several words came to his mind, were rejected before they reached his throat, none able to convey the effect of the dancing lights above him. It was just . . . “So.”

Then the memory of everything he’d experienced that day erupted into his consciousness. Finishing last in the fencing tournament, Double-J kicking his ass, Annie saying they shouldn’t date any more. Annie breaking up with him. Annie riding away in her family’s Cadillac.

Above him, the northern lights quivered. And then, began to take shape.

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