There was always a vision in her head of
the perfect life. A vision of a sweet little suburban
house only a short walk from a scenic line of sea
cliffs along the Pacific. A vision of a picture
perfect marriage there, to a man she knew from
college, and a vision of a wonderful little son
between them.

And she almost had that vision, because Daniel
was almost that son.

It was an odd thing that every teacher, every
babysitter, every adult who met the boy
remarked that Daniel was unusually quiet and
reserved for a five year-old. In the eyes of his
mother, he wasn’t quiet at all. He was very
friendly, polite, energetic. He was the model of
what a young boy should be. Perhaps, his mother
assumed, Daniel was only shy around other kids.

Other kids, she supposed, except for Luna.

Once his mother thought about it, Luna was the
subject of most conversations with her son.
Neither of Daniel’s parents had ever met her;
they only knew that she was from Daniel’s
kindergarten class. But apparently they were
inseparable. He spent recess with her, he sat next
to her in class. He walked to and from school with
her, as she lived just around the block.

The first time any discussion of Luna left their
house was during a parent-teacher conference
where the teacher suggested that Daniel be a
little more social. “He spends a lot of time off by
himself,” she said.

“Yes, off with Luna,” said Daniel’s mother. “It’s
sweet that Daniel and Luna are so close, but
perhaps they should spend more time with the
other children.”

The teacher frowned at her, this sweet, hopeful
mother of a sweet, normal son.

“Luna?” the teacher asked. “There’s no Luna in
my class.”

The next day, Daniel’s mother hesitantly asked
her son if she could meet Luna’s parents.

“No,” said Daniel. “I’ve never met them.”

“Alright . . .” She paused, glanced across the
room at her husband, who was watching the
conversation over the top of his newspaper.
“Then could I meet Luna?”

The day after that was the day everything
changed. It was the day when Daniel stood in
front of his parents, gestured to empty air, and
said, “Here’s Luna.”

The easiest course of action was to excuse Luna
as an imaginary friend, and for a while that’s
what was done. But as Daniel grew, and Luna
grew with him, the two became closer and closer
friends. By the time he was ten, Luna was the
only person Daniel spoke to anymore, and it
simply couldn’t be ignored. Daniel was bullied at
school. He had a habit of bringing Luna to family
events and trips and introducing her to anyone he
spoke to. After a particularly nasty incident when
the family took a trip to Europe, and Daniel threw
a tantrum when a stranger sat in what he dubbed
Luna’s plane seat, Daniel’s mother decided that
something had to be done.

But through the psychologists, and the therapists,
and the diagnoses and the pills that were
introduced, Luna persisted.

“They said I can’t come over to your house
anymore,” Daniel told her one day, standing on
her porch. Luna was just inside the door, her blue
eyes locked on him. How intently she always
listened to whatever he had to say.

“Why not?” she asked him. “Because they don’t
think I’m real?”

“They said it’s dangerous here.”

“It’s my home.” She frowned at him. “They hate

“They don’t hate you,” Daniel promised. The
words already felt old on his ten-year-old lips.
“They just don’t see you.”

He could tell that Luna wanted to say more, but
before she could, Daniel heard his mother’s voice
calling from behind him.

“Daniel! What did I say about coming here?”

Daniel turned around. She was standing at the
edge of Luna’s lawn, tapping her foot on the
sidewalk. “Come here, now!”

He turned back to Luna, who was looking over
Daniel’s shoulder at his mother. Those wide blue
eyes were narrowing.

“Bye, then,” said Daniel with a smile.

“They hate me,” Luna said, and then shut the
door and disappeared. Daniel paused for a
moment as his young mind struggled to handle
this complex conflict, and then he trotted away
from Luna’s house.

What Daniel couldn't see was that the house had
burned down. It had burned down five years ago,
and all that was left was the faint outline of the
foundation and a broad patch of dirt. Although his
mother didn’t realize it, the fire had occurred on
Daniel’s very first day of school.

The same day he met Luna.

People always tried to tell Daniel that there was
no Luna. They would cry, plead, scream the
words at a poor, confused child and the pale
blond girl at his side. Everyone seemed to think
they were going to be the one to finally break
through and change Daniel’s mind. Everyone
thought they could connect with Daniel, that they
were going to be the one to fix him.

They all stopped trying eventually.

“You think she’s not real,” he said to his mother
one day. It was spring, sunny but unusually cold.
He stood in the doorway to the kitchen while she
was washing dishes. It had been a quiet day up
until that moment.

“She isn’t real,” said his mother without turning
to face him. It was something she’d tried to avoid
saying for years, because poor Daniel heard it so
much already. But he had brought it up, so she
supposed it was fair game. She scrubbed at the
casserole dish in her hands, remembering how
Daniel had invited Luna over for dinner last night
and insisted his mother add an extra place
setting. Tears sprung up in her eyes, and she
made sure not to turn around and face Daniel as
he went on.

is real,” Daniel insisted. “She just isn’t your
kind of real.”

“What kind of real is she?” She was trying to
keep a teary warble out of her voice.

“I don’t know,” said Daniel. “There are a lot of

She sighed. Dried her eyes under the guise of
wiping her forehead and turned to face her son.
He was watching her with dark, solemn eyes.
Daniel was twelve, she thought as she watched
him. He should have a twelve year-old soul. But
what she saw behind his gaze was not a child.

She tried her best to smile; she would cry later.
She would cry when her sister asked her if “the
kid" was better yet. She would cry when Daniel
was punched at school for refusing to give up a
chair that was “Luna’s.” She would cry when
Daniel and Luna began to have shouting fights
upstairs, and she could only hear one side. She
would cry many times over the course of his life.

But she would never cry in front of him.

“She doesn’t get me,” said Daniel. He was pacing,
back at Luna’s house; over the years his parents
had given up trying to stop him from going. “She
barely even speaks to me.”

“She still hates me,” said Luna knowingly. “And
obviously, she hates you, too.”

“Thanks,” said Daniel angrily. “Don’t be like that.
She doesn’t hate either of us. She just doesn’t
believe in you, and she doesn’t even try.”

“She’s awful,” Luna said.

“Oh my God.” Daniel ran his hands through his
hair. “She just doesn’t think you’re real.”

“I know that I’m real,” Luna said confidently.

“Well, what if you’re not?” he snapped. He
stopped pacing and glared at her. He was
thirteen then, the first time he had ever dared to
ask her.

“What if you’re just some figment? What if I’m
crazy like everyone says?” He turned away and
kept pacing. “Like
everyone says.”

“I’m real!” Luna shouted, getting to her feet. “I
know I am.”

“I know that you know,” Daniel said furiously.
“But how am I supposed to?”

“This is ridiculous,” she replied. “And this isn’t
you talking. You’re being affected by that friend
of yours, Ben.”

Her accusation took all the anger out of him. “Ben
is nice to me,” Daniel said softly. Luna just
scowled and turned away.

Ben was a boy Daniel met outside of Luna’s
house, a boy who cast a shadow and whose laugh
everyone could hear. He was different from Luna
in a lot of ways, but for Daniel, the biggest
difference was the way each of them made him
feel. When he was with Luna, Daniel felt cold—
not the kind of cold that required scarves and
cocoa, it was something deeper—but Ben wasn’t
like that at all. Ben was sunshine, light,

Ben was the first person Daniel ever kissed, when
they were fifteen. Ben was the first person Daniel
met who never told him Luna wasn’t real, and
never pressed the issue. Ben was the person who
gave Daniel his first cigarette and his first shot of
vodka. He was the first person Daniel loved.

“You never come by anymore,” Luna complained
to Daniel one day. It was far from the first time
she had criticized their relationship.
“You never
want to talk to me. And when you do, you talk
about him.”

“Well, it’s not like you come by my house at all,”
Daniel replied, lighting a cigarette. “You don’t
want to talk to me either.”

“I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“You’re here to yell at me.” He blew smoke into
her face, but of course she didn’t cough. “When
was the last time you asked me anything about
my life, except to rag on my boyfriend?”

“Well, he’s turned you into some sort of
Luna snapped. “I can’t believe that you
smoke now, and you smoke when I’m around!
How insensitive can you be? The only thing I can
think about when you’re puffing on some
cigarette without a care in the fucking world is
the smoke filling up my house when it burned

Daniel slammed his hand on his desk. “Then just
leave!” he yelled. “I didn’t ask you to sit here and
criticize me!”

“You’re an addict!” she screamed.

“And you’re a hallucination!” he yelled back.

Later, he couldn’t remember if Luna had stormed
out or if she had simply vanished at his words,
but one way or another she was gone. Daniel
smoked the rest of the cigarette in stormy
silence, and when it burned his fingertips he
flicked it out the window and lit another.

He didn’t see Luna for weeks after that fight. He
had to admit it was relaxing to be away from her
for a little bit. Ben seemed to enjoy it as well,
saying it would be good for the two of them to
get some alone time. They spent time on the
shore, at Daniel’s house, alone in Ben’s bedroom.
Ben was right, it was nice. Ben introduced Daniel
to people he realized he liked. For the first time
since Daniel was five, he felt normal. But as it
neared a month without Luna, Daniel began to
worry that something bad had happened to his

He tried to quit smoking, thinking perhaps Luna
hated the smell so much that she couldn’t be
around him. He remembered what she had
shouted, that cigarettes made her remember her
house burning down. Daniel knew by now that
Luna’s house was an extension of Luna; like her,
it only existed in his mind. But she had never
admitted that it was burned, until that day.
Daniel had thought she just didn’t know.

He was jittery and restless, and found himself at
the library asking for old newspapers from eleven
years ago. He curled up in a back corner, hidden
by the stacks, until he found the article he was
looking for:

A residential fire in the Ft. Bragg area that
occurred Wednesday, September 7th claimed the
lives of two people: August Collins, 31, and his
daughter Luna, age 5. Marianne Collins, 28, was
taken to Milford Memorial Hospital with severe
burns and is currently in critical condition.

Daniel pressed the librarians for more news
articles, later ones which featured Luna and her
father’s obituaries. He combed the internet for
her mother. He ignored countless frantic texts
and calls from his own mother. He nibbled on his
fingernails until his fingers were bleeding. Then
he called Ben to come pick him up, and drive him
two hours north to what Daniel hoped was the
current residence for one Marianne Collins.

I dunno, Dan,” said Ben after Daniel read him the

“She was real,” Daniel said. “She was a real

“Has it occurred to you that maybe when you
were a kid you saw this newspaper, and you read
her name, and then you kinda fabricated the
rest? Out of nerves or something?”

Daniel took his head off the window and glared at
him. “I thought you believed me.”

Ben sighed. “I do, Dan.”

“Are you serious?”

Ben sighed. “Jesus Christ. I’m driving you there,
aren’t I? Look, man, I know you’ve been trying to
quit smoking and things are tense. I don’t want
to fight. I’ll take you wherever you wanna go, but
don’t get your hopes up. You might not like what
you hear from this lady.”

Daniel leaned his head back against the headrest.
He opened his window and felt the wind against
his face.

Luna was sitting on the porch of the little house
when they arrived.

“Oh my God,” said Daniel. “Luna!”

“Wait, she’s here?” Ben followed him out of the
car. “Where?”

“Right here.” Daniel dropped to his knees in front
of Luna, tears welling up in his eyes.“Is this
where you’ve been?”

Luna smiled wanly.
“Thanks for coming.”

Daniel took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

No one could have guessed that Marianne had
been in a fire. They would never have guessed
how much she had lost.

The house was filled with photographs of some
family: three children, a laughing father, and
Marianne, looking pristine and lovely but always
in long sleeves and scarves and gloves. The real
Marianne stood before them that way, completely
covered beneath the chin even though they were
alone indoors. A huge Labrador bounced around
the three of them, barking and sniffing excitedly.

Luna looked as though she was going to explode.

Marianne sat them down in the den without
saying much at all. She took the newspaper
article when Daniel handed it to her, read it over,
then set it down delicately on her coffee table.
She leaned back in her wicker chair and frowned
at them.

“And?” she said softly.

“Luna is a friend of mine,” Daniel said. Marianne
raised her eyebrows at him, so he launched into
the full explanation: how she had appeared to
him at the age of five, how she grew alongside
him, and how she was there right now, seeing
and hearing the conversation. “She isn’t speaking
now,” Daniel said, glancing at Luna’s stormy
expression, “but if she does say something I’ll let
you know.”

Marianne pressed her gloved fingers to her lips
and considered this story. “You’re a crazy
person,” she said finally. “That much is clear.”

“Hey!” Ben said angrily, but she held up a hand
to stop him from talking.

“You’re a crazy person, or you’re some awful
teenage prankster. Coming to rub my daughter’s
death in my face, all these years later. You can’t
just tell me the color of her hair and her eyes,
and how she died, and expect me to break down.
You could have done your research, you could
have found a picture of her. I’m not an idiot.”

She said it less as though she resented them
doing it, and more as though she were pleased to
have caught them. Daniel opened his mouth to
say something, but Luna spoke before he could.

“Tell her I remember Moon-Moon.”

“What?” He frowned at her, but she didn’t say
anything more, so he repeated the message to

When Daniel said it Marianne jumped to her feet,
then almost instantly fell back into the chair. She
stared at Daniel. Some new, wild horror had come
into her eyes. “You speak with the dead,” she
muttered, watching him.

“What is Moon-Moon?” asked Daniel.

“It’s her . . . her stuffed dragon. She loved the
stupid thing.” Marianne leaned her head back and
looked up at the ceiling. “You speak with the
dead,” she repeated.

“That’s not true,” said Daniel. “I only speak with

“I told you I was real,” Luna said dryly, like it

“What is she saying?” Marianne suddenly sat bolt
upright, watching Daniel. “Let me speak to my
daughter. What is she saying? Please!”

“Luna?” Daniel asked, but Luna was shaking her

“Fuck this,” she said savagely. “Fuck this other
family in this other house and this stupid dog.
She isn’t my mother anymore.”
Luna stood up
and turned her back on Marianne, who was still
“Come on, Daniel. We’re going.”

Daniel stood up too. “I’m sorry,” he said to
Marianne. “We have to go.”

“Are you serious, Dan?” asked Ben. “What are
you doing?”

“Wait!” cried Marianne. She cried it again and
again, as Daniel dragged Ben after Luna, away
from the house and into the car. She stood in the
driveway and wailed as Ben reluctantly started
the engine and pulled out of the driveway. Daniel
could hear her screaming, and Luna screaming
back, and Ben rationally saying as they drove
away, “Dan, Luna is starting to have a really bad
effect on you. I think I’m going to have to talk to
your mom. I promised her I would if this got out
of control.” Daniel just put his head in his hands
and tried not to listen. He could hear screaming
the whole way home. He didn’t recognize all of
the voices.

A few days later, Luna took him to the beach.

Not the same peaceful shore he was used to
exploring with Ben, but the cliffs only a few
minutes’ walk from Daniel’s house. The waves
crashed against the rocks, sending plumes of salt
water into the air. Wind tore across the bluff like
flying daggers. Luna stood on the very edge of
the cliff, just above the raging rocks and sea, and
Daniel watched her from a little ways back. The
wind barely rippled her blond hair. She was so
thin, so delicate, but she stood like a tree in the
raging wind.

“Now you know I’m not a hallucination,” she said.
Normal people would have to shout to be heard
through the wind and sea there, but Luna faced
the ocean and spoke quietly, and her voice found
its way to Daniel’s ears.

“I’m sorry I said it,” said Daniel. “I’m sorry I
thought it.”

“I never doubted myself. Even if everyone in the
world tells me I’m nothing, I am real.”

“You’re always so sure of yourself,” said Daniel.

“I’m sorry I left you,” said Luna. “I thought you
were finally casting me out, forever. But you
brought me back. Thank you.”

“I had to find you,” Daniel replied. “I . . . I need
you, Luna. More than the cigarettes, or Ben, or
anything. I need you.”  

Luna turned to face him.
“I think you and I are
the same person,”
she said. “We’re both living
together, real together. Better together.”

She was smiling, for the first time in nearly ten
years, and Daniel couldn’t help but smile back.

“Thank you,” she said. “Now I know who I am.”

And Daniel knew, also. Or he said he knew.

Daniel tried to spend time with Ben, but the
ordeal at Marianne’s house seemed to have
passed even Ben’s tolerance for the unusual, and
he had more and more excuses to avoid dates.
On one of the rare occasions Daniel dragged him
out to a house party, Ben drank a bit too much
and started babbling about Moon-Moon.

“It’s fucked up, Daniel,” he said. “It’s fucked up
that you knew that.”

“Of course I knew,” Daniel replied. He was
struggling to hold Ben upright while not entirely
sober himself.. “She’s my friend. You know, you
know things about your friends.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,”
said Ben. “But—”

“I thought you believed me,” said Daniel. “Ben,
you always said you believed me!”

“I believe you, I just don’t believe . . .” Ben
shook his head. “I don’t believe in ghosts. But
you knew that Moon-Moon shit, and now I don’t
believe . . . or I do . . . I don’t know what I

Daniel just stared at him, and Ben stared back,
then muttered something about Daniel being hot
and tried to kiss him. Daniel stepped away before
he could, and thought he heard Ben fall, but
Daniel was already walking away. He stumbled
out of a back door and leaned against the side of
the house, trying to catch his breath. It was only
a few seconds before Luna strode up to him from

“Let’s leave,” she said.

And Daniel left with her. He kept seeing Ben
after, and they acted like the trip to Marianne’s
and the fight at the party had never happened.
But they never spent as much time together as
they used to, and something changed about the
way Ben made Daniel feel. He wasn’t as warm
anymore. So Daniel spent more and more time at
home, chatting idly with Luna as he did his
homework and drew up his college applications.

Daniel’s mother would watch him sometimes,
when he was speaking to Luna in undertone (he
didn’t like to talk to the girl if he thought his
mother would overhear). She wondered what
ideas Luna was filling his mind with. Or what
Daniel was filling his own mind with, under the
guise of some girl.

In the weeks after the incident with Marianne,
Daniel’s mother began to seek out therapy
herself. She didn’t tell Daniel she was doing it. A
smiling, plump woman named Monica asked
Daniel’s mother to draw what she thought Luna
looked like in crayon. She surprised herself by
sketching a gaunt, skeletal girl who hovered over
Daniel’s shoulder and only whispered flattery and

She lamented to Monica that she was happier to
have her son go out drinking and partying and
what the hell else, than have him sit in his room
with the door closed. She berated herself for
leaving Luna unacknowledged for so long before
starting Daniel on doctors. She cried over the
inaction of her husband, who barely even spoke
to his son anymore. And over and over, she
repeated the words that were taboo in her own
home: "She’s not real, she’s not real, she’s not
real . . ."

“She’s not real!” she burst out at Daniel one day
when he innocently mentioned he would be
spending time with Luna after school. She wasn’t
sure what had made her say it. Last time she had
dared to, her son had been twelve. And how
much had really changed in that time?

is real,” he said. He managed to cover his
surprise at her words.

“She’s a lie you tell yourself,” she snarled.

Now Daniel began to feel afraid and worried that
her customary smile had only been a mask. In
this moment the mask was off. “Luna isn’t your
kind of real,” he said, the same exact way he’d
said it five years ago.

no type of real!” his mother screamed.
“She’s a lie!”

“She’s my friend,” said Daniel plaintively.

His mother slammed her hand into the wall, and
most of the anger went with it. She stood there
silently, watching Daniel watch her. Then she
leaned into the wall and slid to the floor.

The silence sat on them for a moment, and then
Daniel stood up. “I’m late for school,” he said,
and left without another word. He left her sitting
there on the ground, a shell of herself.

Daniel didn’t come home that night. She found
him instead around the block, curled up and
sleeping in the abandoned, overgrown lot that
had once been Luna Collins’.

In his senior year of school, Daniel would take his
mother’s car and disappear with some frequency,
sometimes for days at a time. She usually wanted
to go out looking for him, but her husband
usually talked her down. Sometimes if she called
Ben, he would know where Daniel was, but most
of the time no one could account for his

“We haven’t gone far enough yet,” Luna always
said, whenever she and Daniel would go driving.
They would go for hours, following the sun,
following the road, following nothing and going
“We need to go farther.”

“We’ve been on the road for such a long time,”
Daniel always replied. “I’m hungry. I’m tired.”

“Keep driving,” she ordered. “Because I’m not.”

They drove, and drove, and drove, and each time
Daniel’s hands began to shake from hunger, or he
felt dizzy, or he became so tired he was about to
collapse, and he eventually had to pull over to
the side of the road.

“Keep going,” Luna urged him every time. “I feel
fine, keep driving!”

“We have to stop,” Daniel whispered hoarsely.
“Luna, we have to stop.”

Each time it would be a little longer in the car
before Daniel stopped listening to Luna. Each
time he did, he apologized again and again. And
each time Luna cried and pounded her fists
against the windows hard enough to break them,
and nothing happened except the sound echoed
in Daniel’s ears.

The summer came. Daniel graduated high school.
He was fighting with his mother, he was fighting
with Ben, he was fighting with his therapist and
his psychologist and his pediatrician. He was
fighting with Luna.

In the early hours of the morning they got into
the car, the sun just cresting the horizon. She did
not allow him to bring snacks, or water, or his

They day grew hotter and hotter as they drove.
Daniel moved his hand toward the air conditioner,
but Luna said no. He tried to roll down a window
and she stopped him. So he just drove, the sun
beating down, no wind or fresh air to lessen its
weight. Daniel hadn’t eaten since the evening
before, and it was nearing two in the afternoon.
He and Luna drove in silence. She fixed her eyes
on the road ahead of them, tapping her foot.

“Can we stop?” he asked. “We’re going to run out
of gas.”


“It’s hot,” he pleaded.


“I’m tired, I’m hungry. Luna, please.”

“Shut up and just drive!”

“Where are we going?” he whispered, close to
tears. “Where are we ever going?”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“Luna, this is horrible!” Daniel cried. “We need to
stop! We need to refresh! People can’t just keep
going forever and ever without stopping!”

“BUT I CAN!” she screamed. “I CAN! You get tired
and hot and hungry! Even the fucking car needs
gasoline, but I’m fine!”
She slammed her hands
down on the dashboard with all the force she
could muster.

Daniel turned to stare at Luna with his eyes wide,
his world shattered, his life changed. He locked
onto her bright blue eyes, and saw all the pain in
them, all the doubt, all the awful tortured half-life
of Luna Collins. He opened his mouth to say
something to her, say anything at all—

And then he hit the car in front.

At 3:22 p.m. on July 7th, a single patient was
admitted to Milford Memorial Hospital.

Daniel awoke there to find his mother dozing at
the foot of his hospital bed. Sitting next to her,
wide awake, was Luna.

“Are you alright?” she asked him instantly. “You
broke your nose, and your arm, and the doctor
said you have a concussion. How do you feel?”

Daniel didn’t answer her. He just stared. She
asked him again if he was alright, then asked
three more times before he spoke.

“You’re not hurt,” he said. “Not at all.”

For the first time in his life, Daniel saw Luna
Collins cry.

After that, there was no more driving. Daniel sat
in his room, or in a doctor’s office, for the better
part of a month. He decided to take a gap year
before college. He sat and listened as Ben
explained to him that their relationship just
couldn’t last over the long distance while Ben was
at school, and it was better to just break up. He
took all the pills he was given and nodded at all
the suggestions. He no longer tried to correct
doctors when they called her a delusion, or a
figment, or any medical term. He didn’t speak
about Luna at all. Daniel’s doctors took this as a
sign of hope, that perhaps the crash had caused
some sort of reverse psychotic break. Daniel’s
father agreed.

Only Daniel’s mother seemed to sense the truth:
Daniel had simply given up.

“I know how to fix everything,” Luna said one
day, quietly. She was sitting in the corner of
Daniel’s room, watching her reflection in a mirror.

“What?” he asked dully.

“I have to leave,” Luna said. “Completely. I can’t
live like this any longer.”

Daniel didn’t protest. He couldn’t truly think of a
reason to. “Where will you go?”

“Both of us,” Luna corrected him. “The last time
we went to the beach, I was right. We are the
same person. You’re a part of me, or you are me.
I can’t go anywhere unless you go too.”

“Then where are we going?” he asked.

“I don’t know the final destination,” said Luna.
“But I know the start.”

And again she took him to the cliffs above the
ocean. It was much different than the last time
they were there. Pouring rain swept through the
cold air. The ground was slick with mud. The wind
and waves were deafening.

“Hurry!” said Luna. “We have to get to the edge.”

He followed her. Two pairs of footprints in the

It was terrifying to stand on the precipice. The
ground was so slippery it felt like it was shifting
beneath Daniel’s feet. The wind was pulling him
toward the edge and then pushing him
backwards, away from the waves that sent sprays
of seawater, mixing with the rain. Water was

“Are you ready?” asked Luna.

Daniel felt some sense of doubt then. He feared
this terror of nature, of course, but he feared this
small blond girl even more. His hand, in his
pocket, found his phone. No more Ben, he
thought. Who else could he call that would care?

He pulled it out, looking through his contacts.

“What are you doing?” asked Luna. “No one else
is a part of this. It’s just us.”

Daniel wondered if she was right, if there really
was any part of him left connected to the real
world. He made his decision, and sent one last
text to one last trace of reality:

At the beach. I want to say goodbye.

Then he tossed his phone into the sea.

“Where does it go?” he asked Luna. He could
speak to her in undertone, and she could speak
back. These winds were part of the real world,
not like the two of them.

“I always thought I was real, that I was here with
said Luna. “I knew I couldn’t be seen, but
that didn’t make me make-believe. I thought I
was real. I thought you and I were the same. But
we’re not.” She glared at him, tears in her eyes,
bitterness. “We aren’t the same at all. You’re a
person, and I’m not. And I got latched onto you,
and I changed you, and I ruined you. I ruined
your whole life—”

“Luna . . .” he couldn’t think of anything to say,
and she just shook her head.

“I’m just a big mistake, and you’re the huge mess
that mistake caused, and we have to be the ones
to clean it up. You’re the only reason I’m still
here, Daniel. So we both have to go.”
She took
his hand then. She didn’t look down, but looked
out, over the sea, toward the horizon.
“We have
to do this together.”

“Together,” Daniel said quietly. He took a step
closer to the edge, and then another, until his
feet were right on the precipice. He was just
between the real world and what lay beyond.
Perhaps he had been his entire life. And Luna was
standing next to him as always, waiting for him
to take the leap. This was something she couldn’t
do without him, and he was finally ready to do it.

But before he could, Daniel heard his name.

It was not the way that Luna spoke. This voice
couldn’t slide through wind and rain and storm.
This voice was hacking its way to him from the
land behind, fighting to be heard, and against all
odds Daniel heard it. It called him again, strained
and struggling. Perhaps that horrible struggle was
far more real than an effortless calm. And that
struggle, all that effort, was in calling
his name.
It was for him.

Daniel turned away from the ocean, and let go of
Luna’s hand for the very last time.

His mother came into view gradually. Her voice
became her silhouette, and then a figure, and
then a woman who tore across the mud toward
her son, grabbed him around the waist and
dragged him backwards away from the edge of
the cliff. They fell to the ground together, but she
only held him more tightly there, screaming over
and over, “Daniel, don’t jump, don’t jump, for
God’s sake, please!”

He lay in her arms, very still, his face halfway in
the mud. He listened to his mother cry for what
he realized was the first time. He could just
barely see that back the way he’d come, trailing
away into the storm, were two pairs of footprints.

Daniel’s, and his mother’s, and nothing more.

Audrey Ryer is an undergraduate student at Ithaca College,
where she studies creative writing and screenwriting. Her short
stories have been featured in Ahoy Comics. Audrey lives in New
Jersey with her family.
by Audrey Ryer
Second Prize
$100 Award