Harrison Kim

The March Selected Writer is Harrison Kim

Please feel free to email Harrison at: kdharrison@live.ca

harrison kim


by Harrison Kim

At midnight, in a move against reality, I steered my purple Camaro into the wrong lane, separated from the right one by a concrete barricade. I bore straight into the headlights traveling towards Tracy and me. 

Tracy dropped her glass of rum and coke, and gasped, “What the hell are you doing? Pull over!”

“It’s two motorcycles,” I told her. “We’ll be fine!”

Tracy screamed in my ear. “It’s a car! Pull over!”

I watched those opposing headlights, two growing fires, a brilliant yellow. My drunken, blurred vision was clearing, and I could see that Tracy was right: these were no motorcycles.

With all that rum in me, I couldn’t back down. I stepped on the gas and the Camaro roared. “He will pull to the side!” I gambled. “I’m not swerving for him. Let him be the one who chickens out!”

The headlights seemed to split, and parted from one another. In between the brilliant orbs, a black hole opened. Now it was too late to change course; I could never turn in time. I sped towards the gaping wideness

Tracy yelled, “You maniac!” as the Camaro flashed through the dark hole.

“We did it!” I yelled back at her.

I slowed as we passed into darkness. I perceived a break in the concrete barricade, pulled through it onto the other side of the road. I bumped onto the safe shoulder, and turned off the engine. “Wow, that was close.”

“I thought for sure we were in an accident,” Tracy gasped. Then she laughed and turned to me.  “We’re safe!” she said. “You ran right through it!” She leaned and kissed my face, I felt her tongue against my skin, and turned my lips to hers.

“I did it for us,” I said.  “For the adrenalin.”

She laughed again and I kissed her deep, tasting the alcohol in her mouth.  I let her go and lay back in the seat. From the windshield’s edge I noticed a red flickering. “What’s that?”

“It looks like burning,” Tracy said. She looked up. “It’s coming from the sky.”

I opened the car door and stepped out on the shoulder of the highway. A warm drizzle fell with a pinkish tinge even against this dark night. Far above, colors roiled: magenta, scarlet, crimson, and yellow. “Wow, Tracy, come out and look at this!” 

But she was already out of the car, her long blue and blonde-streaked hair falling against her silver reflection in the Camaro’s window. Beyond the edge of the road, a small river shone brilliant. A white mist lifted from its very center. Rippling water made the only sound. 

“What is it?” Tracy gazed up at the sky through the drizzle. “Maybe the Northern Lights?”

“I feel funny,” I said. “I feel like I could float.”

“Maybe it’s the rum,” she said. “We both drank way too much.”

“It’s different,” I said. “I’m having trouble staying on the ground.”

I grabbed onto the car door. Above us, the sky opened further.

“It can’t be the Northern Lights,” I said. “They can’t shine through clouds.”

I looked down to stop the urge jump towards the heavens. White pine trees stood across the road, behind them only formless shapes. 

In the distance, I heard a baby cry. Was it coming from above?  I looked again. It sounded once more, but this time, I knew it was no baby.

“Do you hear the screaming?” Tracy said. She moved round the front of the Camaro. I saw her faux fur coat and her shining lips. She came close and touched me and I held her hand.

“It sounds like a cougar,” I said. “They wail like that.” I stared out at the formless wild across the river beyond.

“It’s coming from there,” Tracy pointed up through the drizzle, tinged now with red. 

I glanced at her face; at her waxen-white ghost skin that reflected off the silver river and the glowing bone-trees. I watched as she reached up for the red drizzle that misted down.

“It’s blood,” Tracy said. Her voice shook. “Falling from the sky.”

Above us now were unmistakable flames. They flickered like gas fires, blues and greens as well as hot whites and yellows, and the quavering wail opened from that place. Even in this thick, moist zone, a wafting motor oil scent wreathed round us, and my thoughts were, This is a nebula come to earth.

The eruption in the sky above resembled the explosion of a dying star.

“Oh my god, we were in an accident after all,” Tracy suddenly said. “It’s up there.” She raised her arms high. “Do you smell burning?” She turned, and seemed to drift. “I think its gasoline.”

I knew she was right. We had not escaped the oncoming headlights. I felt lightness in my body. I took a step forward and held Tracy’s waist. “We have to stay here.  Stop. Stay with me, Tracy.  We can’t be dead. We’ll make a plan.”

I looked over at the river, and heard its rippling. That sound steadied me, and the silver water sheen drew me away from the chaos above. 

“Stare towards the water,” I told her, and gently moved her head that way.

“Yes, the water’s pulling me in. I feel heavier.” She leaned forward, put her head on my shoulder. “That’s good.”

“We’ll drive away now,” I said after a few minutes.

Tracy jumped in the driver’s seat. “It’s not turning over,” she said. “Fucking engine is dead.”

I looked down at the dirt below my feet. If I glanced upwards towards the flames I knew I’d move towards the sky, into that fire, and become ash. I’d fall again with the red drizzle, scattered and burned.

“We’re still alive,” I said. “We have to stay on the ground. We won’t die unless we go into the sky.”

Again, faint screaming sounded from above, louder as we listened. A pink tinge of wetness washed off the road. I tried to focus on the river current. Where did its grey mist rise from? That would be the place away from this flaming chaos in the sky.

“It’s so quiet down here, Tracy.” I said.

She looked up at me, all green eyes and white teeth. She climbed out of the driver’s seat, leaned against my shoulder as I leaned against the car. “Why did you do it?” she asked, breathing so close to me. I never saw her face so alive and so real. 

We did so many wild things together. All the drinking and speed, the nights of parties and sex,
That was living the life, feeling the experience, being in the world for a good time, for the moment and its sensation and thrill. I loved her because she loved an adrenalin rush as much as I did. We were both reckless and daring. We never had consequences; we were the lucky two.

“Why did you do it?” she said again.

“To push the edge,” I said. “We’ve been pushing the edge for awhile now. You know that. It’s what we do.”

“I know.” She shook her head, lay it against my chest. “I wanted you to do it. I wanted to know if we could.” She breathed deep. “I can still hear your heart beating.”

I looked beyond her, and from out of the darkness beyond the Camaro, I perceived two small yellow dots moving. “Look!” I said.

“It’s those headlights again,” Tracy gasped.

I looked up the silvery river, noticed the road beyond the car narrowed, changed to a path. The two yellow glows advanced down that path.

Behind these glows, two shadows appeared, and between them, complete darkness. These forms traced their outlines against the night like pencil edges. As they came closer, the edges took human shape. The glowing yellow was a shine in the hollow slits of their eyes.

“They’re shimmering,” Tracy said. “They’re wearing masks.”

I found myself hypnotized by the light from the eye holes. I reached into the car for the rum bottle and stepped forward with it. “Here,” I said, offering it to the first figure. I was always glad when someone offered me booze, and I figured everyone else felt the same way.

A voice came from nowhere, and everywhere. “We were in the other car.”

I looked sideways at the river, saw all four of us reflected in shimmer, our shapes shadows on silver. For a second I knew that above those shadows, bones moved underneath skin and I wondered aloud, “Is that what we really are?” 

“We burned,” the voice said, a high shaky quaver.

One of the figures stepped closer, long black hair falling and from it the pale drizzle dripping, I stayed still. I held up the rum bottle, held it towards them. 

Tracy’s hands held me, her warmth around my back, it was beautiful to have her aliveness, her closeness. That gave me courage.

“Are you real?” I asked the nearest figure.

It repeated, “We burned.”

The other figure spoke louder and more certain. “You are the ones who hit us,” and it pointed to me, then Tracy. “There is the place it happened,” it said, pointing up at the sky that opened and closed in purple and magenta. The high screaming sounded once more, on and on as the heavens twisted. I wondered, Did I glimpse the glint of steel?

“We’re sorry,” Tracy said. “We screwed up.”

“It’s not our fault,” I said. “It’s this fucking booze.”

I whipped my arm back and threw the rum bottle furiously into the darkness. I heard a smash.

“It’s gone now,” I said. “It’s destroyed. I won’t drink again, I swear. Just get me out of this.”

The figures stood there, and behind the slits of their eyes the brightness flared.

“You are the one who drank the liquor,” said the nearest shape. “You made the decision to drive at us. Yes, it is your fault.”

My muscles tensed. A hot anger ripped through my head. “Are you listening to me at all?”

I stepped forward and grabbed the shadow form below the chin, and pulled off its mask, witnessed the roiling nebula dancing in the hollow of its head. I watched the swirling cars and the crashing within, and suddenly understood the whole accident from the others’ point of view.

I understood how the driver saw my headlights swerving into her lane; how she saw the Camaro’s brightness bear down. An odd droning came from the open face like a car engine whirring but also like chanting, like praying. I looked in, and my ears filled with that sound.

“I was innocent,” intoned the voice. The lips didn’t move; the speaking came from somewhere between us. The other figure stepped close to Tracy and removed its own mask. Tracy tried to push the covering back onto the hollow face, but the wraith ripped it off again and the nebula twirled from its empty skull. 

I rushed to help her. I pushed the mask back on that shadow so hard it staggered backwards.  I forced my gaze down and bolted to Tracy. I took her hand in the darkness, bumped by the figures but this time they both remained motionless like tree stumps. I saw the last twisting colors rising from their heads in blue and red gas plumes, like spirits, then everything snuffed out, and they stood there, vacant statues.

I pulled at my own face to see if it was also a mask. I felt skin. I touched Tracy’s face and her warmth. At least we were still real. 

“Did you see what was behind those masks?” Tracy shivered, “We were in an accident, and you killed them, Chris.”

“But maybe it was their fault,” I said. “Why didn’t they pull their car away?”

Tracy looked at me and shook her head. “Nothing is ever your fault,” she said. “Either way, we have to leave.”

We began to walk away from the Camaro. The path upstream was a narrow black trail through the trees “I think if we go back far enough we can stop this,” I told Tracy. “We have to get out from under this patch of sky.”

We hiked through the dark, beside the misty river, night shadows from the moving universe above reflected in the water. As we walked, my feet stuck heavy to the ground. The sky seemed to curve as we moved higher, and it became darker. 

Behind us, the nebula writhed close to earth, jaws of maroon and vermilion reaching through the mist. The whole world burned behind us. It was hard work climbing because the path merged with forest. A clear way forward replaced by the slow going natural world, reminding me how it was before we had such speed and risk. 

“We had some good times together,” Tracy said.

“I keep remembering too,” I said, thinking of Tracy posing after a race, legs crossed on the Camaro’s roof, head back, her long throat brown and tight. 

“We pushed the limits,” she said. “But now we lost.”

“No, Tracy.” I looked up at the sky, quiet, a sweep of clouds and stars. “We’re going back to before this ever happened, to start again.”

Before us, the trees grew tall, their spiny shapes blurry through the mist. We’d hiked so far the river was now a trickling brook. How did we come such a distance so quickly? I thought. I stopped to see our progress.

The mist thickened. “Keep moving ahead,” Tracy said. “You’re slowing up.”

We could barely see each other’s shapes. The screaming and sirens of an hour ago had faded and disappeared. Now there were no signs or sounds of the accident in the sky or in our ears. 

Tracy held my wrist and did not let go. The mist vanished. We stumbled hand-in-hand out of the forest into the Uptown Parking lot where we had begun our night. The Camaro was there. It sat waiting on twilight-shadowed asphalt.

“We made it back in time,” I said. “I was right. It’s only nine o’clock and the accident happened at midnight.”

“Everything looks the same,” said Tracy. “Just like when we started drinking tonight.”

“Let’s get in the car,” I said. “This time we’ll drive it carefully.”

“I’m worried about coming with you,” said Tracy. “It’s too dangerous.”

I ran my hand across her shoulders, and down her back. “This time I won’t get out of our own lane.”

“Why can’t we just let it go?” Tracy answered. “We could take the bus back into town.”

“Do you see any busses? Or any people at all?”

“The world looks so empty,” she said. “There’s only us.”

All around lay heavy, damp air, the Camaro the only vehicle in the lot. The moon sat low in the sky, half full.

All day I’d worked in my garage, tuning up the car. All day I thought of smoothly pushing the accelerator, rushing Tracy and I up to Plateau Racetrack where we’d roar round the circuit. Then we’d listen to music and make love together in the back seat under the glow of the circuit signs. All day I had been dreaming of Tracy and I pushing the limits once again.

I unlocked the Camaro doors, and we jumped in. Tracy reached under her seat. “The rum’s still here.”

“Leave it this time,” I told her.

“Too late,” she said, examining the bottle. “It’s empty.” She turned to me. “Do you think this is exactly the same car as before?”

“Of course it is!” 

She looked at me. “We’re not the same people we were an hour ago. We’re not the same as before.”

“Don’t freak out. We have a second chance. Let’s take it.”

I started the engine and wheeled the Camaro out slowly. It sounded the same, perfectly tuned. I looked carefully both ways, then turned out onto the side road. From there, it was a short ride to the freeway. The engine rumbled and roared, like before.

“There’s still no traffic,” said Tracy. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

“I’m kinda sure,” I said, though two snowflakes are never alike, nor two fingerprints, and maybe not a rerun of the exact place wound back to an earlier time.

“If we’re already dead,” she said, “how can we come alive again?”

“We’re together, Tracy,” I said, surprising myself. “That’s what matters.”

“I know,” she nodded, and put her hand on my arm. The touch felt warm and the warmth felt true.

I stepped on the gas and roared onto the highway. This time I’d make sure we crossed the concrete barricade to the correct lane. I saw the barricade, I turned the wheel, and pushed the accelerator down.

It seemed right. “We’re in the clear!” I yelled to Tracy. She leaned back as the Camaro accelerated, then she sat bolt upright.

“Omigod. Why is the concrete barrier on my side?”

“I turned the wheel correctly,” I shouted, looking out Tracy’s window.

The car accelerated down the wrong lane. I pumped the brakes and nothing happened. Then the car sped up.

“We’re still inside this black hole!” yelled Tracy. “We’re gonna hit the other car!”

Ahead of us, I saw the headlights come, and like before, they parted as we blew through the
gap. Tracy held her hands over her face. 

I slowed the car, and stopped by the river. We sat in silence as the sky opened up above us once again, and catlike screams began. Tracy slowly opened her eyes and stared around her. I opened my side window, and smelled burning oil.

“This time,” I said as I exited the Camaro, “we walk a different way. We go downstream.”

“Look!” Tracy pointed above.

The sky rolled. The confusion of colors were now twice as brilliant, twice as intense, the red drizzle falling. The windscreen was slowly washed with it; crimson droplets forming on it edges. 

I pulled up my hoodie, opened the car door, and stepped out. Above, there was so much light that the clouds opened, pulling my gaze towards it, the river dull grey, without life. Tracy opened her door and stood gaping up, her lips and cheeks growing scarlet under the falling drizzle.

“I need to be with you,” I said. “In this darkness.”

“There is no darkness now,” She opened her arms to the glowing sky. “Can you feel the warmth?”

She moved towards me, almost floating around the edge of the Camaro’s hood.

“We’ve got to go into the sky,” she said. “That’s our fate; it can’t be changed.”

From out of the sky a siren wailed. “Wait, an ambulance is coming!” I shouted. “We could live through this.”

Tracy shook her head. “We’re already dead. Let’s go to the sky together.”

“No! No!” I cried. “It’s got to be a trap! We need to leave again!”

“Just let go,” she told me. “Don’t hold on to this darkness.”

Then I saw her spirit float up. I saw a transparent sylph, a spirit rising. Part of her mouth was covered with wet redness, seemed to harden and become a mask, as light gleamed down in the sparkling drizzle.

“Don’t go!” I jumped forward. “Look down! Look down and come back!”

Then the fiery nebula dipped from the clouds to touch the top of my loved one’s head. Her spirit rose into it, carrying Tracy’s shape and naked form, leaving behind a gaping, clothed shell over which fell a mask, like the masks I saw from the statue figures, gold colored and stiff. Behind that mask, the remaining nebula glowed through its hollow eyes.

I would not surrender to this apocalypse. I would not let anything take me where I did not want to go. I pulled myself towards the river and saw my twisted shadow in its waters. I plunged into the current.

I swam with my face down, taking breaths every half a minute until the sky darkened, the fires abated, and my body felt grounded again. Then I climbed out, heavy and wet, rested on the shore awhile within the new calmness of the night. 

After a while, I began to hike along the widening riverbanks. The mist rose from the river, a mist warm as my own body, holding me inside this place of forms and shades. The thought came that maybe I created this place, from my own shadow. Yet if I followed the river, it would end somewhere, outside of myself. There’s always an end. 

I’m sorry that I will never be able to drive the Camaro again. I expected the other car to surrender. They should have swerved out of my way.

I will be cautious from here on, walking through the dark, and I’ll never give up, not even when I think of Tracy. She makes me furious. Why didn’t she stay with me…where was her will, her love? She’s gone, leaving her hollow statue, and I’m following this strange and dreary river, pining for my freedom and release.

She chose to ascend. How could she fly heedlessly without me? How could she leave me to wander in the dark, to suffer the cost all by myself?

It’s her fault for leaving me all alone. She shouldn’t have done that.

Harrison Kim lives and writes in Victoria, Canada, with his editor and wife Sera. He has published stories at various magazines in the USA and UK. 

He worked thirty years as a teacher at a Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. Many stories he writes are based on the work experiences that he had there.

“Beneath the Burning Nebula” comes from an incident that almost happened to him. He once accidentally drove down the wrong side of the highway. Fortunately, the oncoming headlights all parted to one side and he and his friend escaped unhurt. He still considers this a miracle. And he thought, What if?

His blogspot is HERE