The Lights of Ember Vale – a 900 Club Short Story

The 900 Club has posted its latest short stories. The chosen genre was Magical Realism and the two word phrase was “never forget”. If you haven’t already, please do check it out, you’ll find a diverse and original collection of short stories and there are brand new stories posted on the last day of every month. Below is my latest effort.

The Lights of Ember Vale

by Martin Bolton

Samuel gazed across a moonlit sea of leaves. The view from the observatory, high in that lonely house, took in all of Ember Vale. Since he’d been alone he had spent every night there, waiting intently for the vision he saw so often in his dreams. The lights.

Rumours about what happened to his father, Professor George Bukowski, had circulated in the nearby town of Ember. Since his father’s disappearance, Samuel had ventured away from Ember Vale less and less, until eventually he became a complete recluse. Now the place was shunned altogether by the townsfolk, and he was left alone, waiting for his time. He knew it would come soon, his dreams grew more intense, and yet his memories of them remained frustratingly vague. He remembered the feeling well enough. It was a feeling of home, of peace, of completeness. A feeling of belonging. Something he had never experienced in his waking hours.

It was the vision that eluded him when he woke, as though what he saw in his unconscious did not translate into the sights and sounds of this world. As though he saw them with different eyes. The only things he could remember were the lights, out there in the woods, beckoning.

His father was a Professor of Astronomy, and this had been his observatory before the night when he walked silently from the house and vanished. He had been well respected in the community. Educated at Ember University, he had lectured there before buying the house in the middle of Ember Vale to set up his observatory. It was the perfect spot, away from the bright lights of the town, to watch the stars. It was also the dream location for Professor Bukowski to start a family, or so he thought.

Samuel was fifteen when his mother disappeared without a trace. The search of the surrounding countryside found nothing. She had been at home, Samuel was in his room and his father was in the observatory. There were no signs of a break in, she had apparently left the house without even her shoes and wandered into the forest never to be seen again. It was a night he would never forget, not because it was the last time he saw his mother, but because it was the night Professor George Bukowski stopped watching the sky and started watching the woods. And the first night Samuel dreamed of the lights.

Samuel had always been a misfit, and was only interested in reading alone in his room or wandering the woods, deep in his own thoughts. After his mother’s disappearance his father had confined himself to his observatory, that was five years previously. A year ago his father had left the house one night and walked into the woods. He too had left no trace, not even a footprint. It was then Samuel went to the observatory and found his father’s journal.

The journal began on the night his mother had disappeared. It was the first night Professor George Bukowski, whilst searching for lights in the sky, instead saw them in the woods. The professor’s journal began with various scientific theories as to what he might have seen, gradually he began to connect these theories with the disappearance of his wife. After a few pages the journal descended into incoherent ramblings about parallel dimensions and an overwhelming sense of longing for something he couldn’t describe.

Samuel’s father had become increasingly distant since his mother vanished. He had locked himself in the observatory and rarely emerged. When he did he was gaunt, his eyes sunken hollows, his skin a pale grey, as though he had died but his soul somehow still inhabited his body, waiting for its time to leave. Samuel felt the same way, as though he belonged elsewhere. He had seen the lights again in his dreams the night his father disappeared, and the next day he took the professor’s place in the observatory.

This time there was no search, no news stories, no rumours, he told no one of the professor’s disappearance. The man had been locked away from the outside world for so long it had moved on and forgotten him. Samuel knew the knowledge of what happened to his parents was buried deep within his subconscious, a distant memory that would not reveal itself until he was ready. And there he waited, day after day, for the vision to return in his conscious state. For the tantalising calling that remained just beyond his grasp, in the fleeting glimpses that so far confined themselves to the misty plains of his unconscious mind.

As he watched the distant trees, Samuel’s sleep deprived mind conjured indescribable shapes and colours, a kaleidoscope of swirling patterns danced before his eyes. He wondered if he slept, or if he was in some other, hitherto unknown state of consciousness. He tried to blink, to clear his vision, to be ready for his calling, but everything was foggy and indistinct. Soon the shimmering patterns shrank, until they were painfully bright lights in the blackness. He could no longer see the moonlight on the leaves, or the stars in the sky, just the lights in the woods.

Samuel rose from where he sat, exultant. Slowly he left the observatory for the last time, and walked bare-foot into the woods, to join the lights.

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