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Remembrance Day by Bradley Sides

I’m first in line for Remembrance Day. I’ve been here since midnight. The announcement never said what time the gates would open—just that it would be early. Although the clouds are heavy, it’s nearly sunrise. The entrance’s wooden gate isn’t as solid as it used to be, so I peek inside. There are dozens of workers. Each one carefully walks the ground and finds a home behind a projector. These men work meticulously, connecting cords and flipping switches. With each flip, a lively holograph appears. Most of the hazy forms are recalled bodies of the old. Gray hair. Sunken faces. But there are a few kids. Small and lost in innocence.

I turn where I know Caleb should be, and I see him. My Caleb. My beloved son. I hold up my hand to wave, but I catch myself and stop.

Still, I watch him. He vanishes, but he appears again. The process repeats. It’s supposed to be this way at first.

 

“Welcome to Remembrance Day,” a man says as he unlatches the lock. He stands at the entrance and pauses, taking time to clear his throat. “Folks, what you are about to witness has taken me over fifty years to develop. Death isn’t what it used to be. And you’ll see that now,” he says. His voice is jovial and proud. He scoots to the side, clearing the path. All of the families behind me clap and howl as they enter the cemetery.

I don’t. I run to my son.

I call out his name as I sprint toward him. He turns toward me and darts in my direction. Even with the worker handling the projector, Caleb still cuts in and out.

When I get to him, I put my arms around his holograph and squeeze, but I only grasp air as my arms entangle themselves and collapse by my sides.

He looks up at me, and I stare back at him. His eyes. His face.

“I’ve missed you so much,” I say.

He nods. Then, he pats his chest and points at me.

“They can’t speak,” the worker behind the projector says.

I shrug my shoulders and laugh.

“I love you, Caleb,” I say. My boy smiles.

We go to his grave and sit down. I tell him about the past year. His baseball team. Roscoe, his Labrador. How I hung up all of his drawings. Even about how I sometimes play with his toys in his room. I ask if that’s okay, and he nods.

We sit for a long time. All the families do.

 

The same worker who made the welcome speech, taps my arm. He is different now. “It’s time to leave, sir,” he says quietly in my ear. He doesn’t look at me as he speaks.

He says that the technology won’t hold up much longer and that I shouldn’t see Caleb fade away. “It might be too much,” he explains.

I thank him and stand up.

Caleb gets up as I do, and he tries to hug me. His arms float around my body and collapse into broken pixels. He shakes his head. “It’s okay, buddy,” I tell him. This time, I pat my chest and point at him. His mouth moves. I don’t have to hear the words to know what he’s saying.

“I’ll see you again,” I say.

I walk away and turn back to look at Caleb, but he’s already gone. They all are—the living and the dead.

Remembrance Day is over.

 

As I begin my route back home, I stare up into the nighttime sky. It’s not the moon that floats above me; it’s Caleb. He lights the pavement before me.

I know the soft breeze against my hand isn’t the wind at all. Just as I know the leaves rustling on the ground aren’t merely leaves.

Everything is my Caleb.

It’s been nearly a year, and I still haven’t been able to pass the place where he died. Tonight’s the night, though. I owe it to my boy.

 

I step to the water’s edge, and my nightmare comes again.

Caleb’s glowing head bobs above the water—he’s drowning, dying.

The coldness takes my breath when I dive into the frigid water. I gasp, and my body shakes. Water flows into my mouth, but I push ahead. I look toward Caleb, and he’s almost within my reach.

I extend my arm to hold my son. But he vanishes. Again.

There’s a man at the edge of the water. The nighttime’s soft light illuminates his face; he’s the man from the cemetery. He holds a projector in his arms. “You were happy with him. Go back to your boy,” he says.

He’s right.

I don’t hesitate when I go under. My body stings, but it’s okay. Actually, it’s perfect. Everything is perfect.

A hand reaches for me, and I’m able to grasp it.

Bradley Sides is a contributing writer for Electric Literature. His recent fiction appears at The Airgonaut, BULL, Empyreome, Fluland, Ghost Parachute, Literary Orphans, Rose Red Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his debut collection of short stories.