Black Wood and Carrion Cliffs

Week 33: Written August 15, 2016

“Where is it?”

“Up here, I think.”

“You think?”

“Yes, it’s up here.”

Audrey didn’t sound so sure, but Candace followed her anyway. Already a few hours into this trip, she had no choice.

There had been a forest fire not long ago. The trees looked almost like the ruins of an old estate, with wrought iron fences everywhere built on top of dirt patches and dead grass. All that was missing was an old castle, the mansion of some long gone industrialist or manufacturing kingpin.

But instead of a castle, there was just the mountain and the cliffs. You couldn’t see the cliffs from this angle, but Candance hoped she would hear the water soon, crashing against the rocks.

If Audrey knew where she was going.

From behind, Candace finally saw a resemblance between Audrey and herself. Strange, considering Candace never looked at herself from behind. Nevertheless, walking through the dead trees, it was like an out of body experience.

It was even stranger, considering they’d only met a week ago. Audrey called her out of the blue after discovering that Candace was her long lost sister. It came as quite a shock; Candace always thought she was an only child, but apparently her parents had given Audrey away a year before Candace was born.

“I guess they weren’t ready for me.”

Candace sympathized, but she couldn’t relate. Her parents doted on her from birth. She never wanted for anything, up until the day they both passed.

“I’m sure they would’ve liked to meet you,” Candace told her on that first phone call.

“Would you?”

“Of course!”

They met at a cafe in midtown. It felt to Candace like a blind date, the kind you have at a popular place in a popular part of town, just to be safe. She didn’t know why she was so cautious. When Audrey introduced herself, Candace wasn’t even sure it was the right person.

“You’re Audrey?”

She was covered in tattoos and piercing, her hair a mixture of three bright colors and her clothes all black. Candace couldn’t see through the facade to the person underneath, couldn’t see the sister she didn’t know she had, not until she followed her up at that dead tree-lined hill.

“Is this where you hang out?” Audrey asked her.

Candace shook her head. “No, I just thought it was…easy.”

Audrey lit a cigarette. “Sure.” She offered a cigarette to Candace, but she didn’t smoke.

“Where do you live?”

“Around.”

Were they really sisters? Far more than a year separated them, and Candace initially felt that she’d done the right thing meeting her in such a crowded place.

But in the weeks that followed, they met up more and more. It was as if Audrey was shedding her skin — or Candace had acquired x-ray vision. She could finally see a person underneath all that tattoo ink and patent leather. She wasn’t blood yet, but at least she was no longer an alien.

“Have you been to the Carrion Cliffs?”

Audrey’s question came out of nowhere, while they were waiting in line for coffee. And Candace didn’t really know what to say.

“No,” she finally said, which was true. But she felt like that wasn’t a sufficient answer.

“Why not? Don’t you want to see where they died?”

No, Candace said in her head. But she didn’t say it out loud. What she really wanted to say was “Why the fuck would you want to go there?”

“Let’s go on Saturday. I hear it’s beautiful this time of year.”

That was the end of it. Then she went on to talk about some documentary she just watched, while Candace stared off into the distance. She just nodded her head and then went back to work afterwards.

On Saturday morning, Audrey picked her up in her Jeep and off they went to New Jersey.

The hike up to the dead forest took three hours. And at some point along the way, Candace came to terms with the entire outting. Audrey hadn’t said it explicitly, but she obviously wanted some closure. She had to see, for herself, the last place her birth parents had been before they died. While the location held the opposite appeal to Candace, the Carrion Cliffs were Audrey’s only way of reaching her parents.

“I can hear the water,” Audrey said, picking up her pace.

Candace followed as best she could, even though the air felt thicker and hard to breathe. Her ankles burned and her feet were sore, but she continued.

She could hear the water, too. It sounded like a busy highway, cars zooming back and forth, to and from the city.

Was this where it happened?

Suddenly, the ground just ended. It came upon them with the suddenness of a lightning strike. If Audrey hadn’t stuck her arm out, Candace would’ve walked right off.

They both looked down with caution. The drop looked so long and far, it seemed impossible to even survive the fright of a fall long enough to reach the jagged rocks alive.

“This is it,” Audrey said. “Can you feel it?”

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Do you still think it was a suicide?”

Candace turned to her sister. Audrey was still looking down, her eyes tracing a leaf that had been blown out into the open. It fluttered at one point like a feather, and at another point like an eagle. It flew on the breeze so well, it was hard to believe it wasn’t alive. And a moment later, it was gone, either forced out to sea or obliterated by the wind.

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you think anyone would choose to go this way?”

Yes, Candace thought, by the looks of the dead trees and the way the earth just suddenly, tragically, ended at the cliffs. It looked to her like the perfect place to die.

That didn’t make her feel any better, though.

It had happened five years ago, when Candace was 17. Her parents had gone for a hike — the kind of thing they always used to do on a Saturday, only this time they didn’t return. The papers called it “Another Accident at Carrion Cliffs,” she suspected something worse.

“If I thought they’d come up here to jump, I wouldn’t want to be here, either.” Audrey walked the edge of the cliff like a child on a curb. “But it was an accident, just like if I fell right now, it’d be an accident.”

Candace took a few steps back, feeling queasy. The dirt beneath her shoes shuffled and crumbled weirdly. There was no life anywhere, none besides her and Audrey.

“It wasn’t an accident,” she said, falling backward to the ground. “How can you breathe up here?”

“I don’t need to.”

Audrey skipped along the edge, leaping up into the air like a ballet dancer and then tumbling down like a child jumping into a pool.

“Why are we up here? Tell me. I thought you needed closure or something, but what’s the real deal?”

Audrey laughed for a moment and then shook her head. She kicked some pebbles off the edge and walked away.

“To help you get the fuck over it already.” She trod back the way they came, down the hill, into the blackened remnants of the forest and towards the lush woodlands below.