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Departure

Over the past four decades, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold novels and more than 350 short stories. Her works have been finalists for the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, and Endeavour awards. Her fiction has won a Horror Writers Association Stoker Award and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award.

Nina does production work for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She teaches writing classes through Wordcrafters in Eugene and Fairfield County Writers' Studio. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

For a list of Nina's publications, check out: ofearna.us/books/hoffman.htm.

I sat on the bed and watched my slender, curly-headed, seventeen-year-old brother Darwin pack a suitcase. He was leaving the farm. People under eighteen never did that unless they were cast out.
Darwin had many gifts. He could gentle animals, find water, and coax plants to sprout and bloom. He was the opposite of an outcast. He was a family treasure.
I was thirteen and had no visible gifts yet. I might get cast out. What would I do without Darwin?
"I won't be gone long, Emma," Darwin said. He laid his hand on my jittery knee and gentled me before I realized how nervous I was. The charm flowed from his fingers like warm water, relaxing my muscles so much I lay back on his bed, too floppy to sit upright.
"They should send a grownup," I said to the ceiling. We all spent time in town; we had to go to public school to learn how to deal with the world outside. But we never left the farm on long trips until after we were sealed to the land at eighteen.
It was harvest time, and the farm couldn't spare anyone else to visit the branch of family we'd just rediscovered after more than a hundred years apart. Darwin was gifted, but he wasn't as strong as the grown men yet, so not much good at physical labor. His strength was in his head.
What if he didn't come back?
"Just a week," he said. He folded another shirt and put it in the suitcase.
The gentle wore off and I sat up, crossing my legs on the bed so I wouldn't get jittery again. "You'll be able to teach the lost cousins everything they need to know about our gifts in a week?"
"I won't teach them everything," he said. "Just enough to get started." He latched the suitcase and put his coat on. He stood at the door of his bedroom. "Coming?"
I followed my brother down the stairs to where the family waited to say good-bye. Family from all the other houses on the farm were there, too.
I stood on the lowest stairs and watched Darwin push through the crush of people who patted him on the back, pressed luck charms on him, and handed him snacks for the journey.
I hunched my shoulders and buried my hands in my jeans pockets, afraid of losing him. Afraid I'd be lost without him to comfort and stand up for me. I wondered whether there was something out in the wider world that snatched people who left the farm and didn't let go of them.
At the front door, Darwin stopped and looked across the crowded room. His gaze met mine. "Come back," I said in a voice too faint for him to hear.
"I will," I thought he said. His lips moved in those shapes, anyway.
He didn't.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 1st, 2022


Author Comments

I wrote "Departure" while working on my 2021 NaNoWriMo novel. I wanted to explore some of the characters and relationships in the novel, and also to write a Furious Fiction contest story. The FF prompts worked with my questions about my characters. The outcome of this story changed the direction of the book.

- Nina Kiriki Hoffman
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