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Ghosts of Janus

Day Al-Mohamed is co-editor for the upcoming anthology, "Trust & Treachery" and hosts the multi-author blog Unleaded: Fuel for Writers. In addition to speculative fiction, she also writes comics and film scripts. Her recent publications can be found in Lacuna Magazine, Crossed Genres anthology Oomph - A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and GrayHaven Comics' anti-bullying issue You Are Not Alone. She is an active member of the Cat Vacuuming Society of Northern Virginia Writing Group, and Women in Film and Video. When not working on fiction, Day is Senior Policy Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor. She has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst on issues relating to Health care, Education, Employment, and International Development. She loves action movies and drinks far too much tea. She lives in Washington, DC with her wife, N.R. Brown, in a house with too many swords, comic books, and political treatises.

She can be found online at DayAlMohamed.com and @DayAlMohamed on twitter. Her other work for Daily Science Fiction can be found at DailyScienceFiction.com.

The first bell of the New Year. Corporal Michael Bradley's gaze flew to the chronometer that glowed faintly in the heads-up display of his armor. He had waited all year for this. People always thought that All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day was when the living could speak with the dead, but the Romans were the ones who understood that the true day of communication with the afterlife was New Years Eve--Janus of Two Faces, one looking back at the past and one looking forward to the future. It was a truth that every soldier knew and held closest to his heart.
Michael could just now see his grandparents' lanky forms becoming clearer in the foggy haze, their brightly hued Earther clothing familiar from years of childhood memories. He could almost smell his grandmother's gardenia perfume. "Hey Grampy! Abuela!" He lifted the visor on his suit, the reflective mask clicking up and away from his face. "It's Mike!"
Their expressions were at first surprised, and then pleased. They waved at him. Abuela blew him kisses.
"I miss you both and I wanted to tell you how much you mean to me."
Grampy blinked, his eyes wet. "You still got the knife?"
Michael pulled the battered pocketknife from his belt. It was rusted and one of the two blades broken, but the American eagle and flag on the side were still visible. "The Sergeant said, 'No personal items.'" Michael winked at his grandfather, "But what he doesn't know, won't get me sent to dig latrines."
The older couple began to fade, "Bye! Love you!"
Michael whooped as the next image appeared, and he had to fight the urge to rush forward and hug his little brother. David, in his dark blue Operational Dress Uniform, was as clean cut and baby-faced as when he'd signed up with the United Naval Guard, three years ago.
"Mike! You asshole!" he shouted.
"I love you too, man." Michael replied, "Did you get that last package?"
David swallowed, "Yeah, it was the best present of my life."
There was a moment of awkward silence
"Wish I was with you." David said softly.
"One day, bro."
David's lips turned down, "One day." He snapped off a crisp salute, "But, you're still an asshole."
The foggy haze came together and then parted, "Michael!"
His mother's soft voice almost undid him. She was dressed in her favorite red sweater and jeans. "You look amazing, Ma."
"Oh, Miguelito!" she started to cry.
Michael reached forward but his hands just blurred the image and the haze fuzzed and swirled and reformed. This was probably the hardest visitation.
Michael glanced at the watch on his armored wrist, "Mom, there's not a lot of time."
She sniffed and wiped her eyes, "Are you well?
Are you happy?"
Michael smiled, some things never changed. "I miss you. All of you."
"Did you talk to your grandparents?"
"Yes I talked to Grampy and Abuela."
"Are you getting enough to eat?"
Michael choked down laughter at the question. "I'm fine," he reassured her.
She glanced behind her as if talking to someone who wasn't visible to him. "Sophie misses you too. She wanted to see you but..." His mother's voice trailed off.
Michael fought his disappointment. Sophie was the baby of the family and the most sensitive. "Is she with you?"
His mother's brows knitted, "It's only been a few months, and she's so young. She needs time to adjust."
"I can wait until next year." Michael said, sadness tingeing his tone. "Tell her I'll be waiting."
"I have to go." Michael rushed the words, not wanting his mother to see him cry. He cleared his throat, "Well...."
His mother wiped her tears but was silent.
Michael cocked his head to one side and gazed at her expectantly, "I can't say 'Goodbye' until you tell me to 'Be careful.'"
There was a sound that was halfway between a snort and a muffled cry. "You be careful, sweetheart." She said as she faded into the fog, "And don't forget to brush your teeth!"
At that, Michael did laugh.
There was a flicker and then the mists spun and coalesced into the figure Michael had been hoping for all year. She was blonde and petite, with green feline-like eyes.
"Hello Cat-Eyes!" Michael said, his tone deliberately light and teasing.
"Is it really you?" Lizzie's voice was timorous, "It's so real. I-I-I could just reach out and touch you." She reached out and the mist spun.
Michael's smile was strained, "No, but we can talk."
Michael grimaced.
"There's so little time." Her words echoed his thoughts, "I didn't want to do this. It's so hard."
"I know, baby."
"I'm a lifetime away from you!" Lizzie's expression was frantic, "I don't want to let you go."
"You've got my grandparents, and my mom, and even Dave to keep you company," Michael leaned against his battered laser rifle and attempted a casual pose, "And I'm only 365 days away. One year."
"Promise me something." Lizzie asked stepping closer, wringing her hands.
Michael felt like he couldn't breathe. He straightened. "Anything."
"Promise, that you'll always love me. That you won't forget me."
She started to fade, "You know that you're my soulmate, Michael Vincenzo Bradley?!"
"Forever Lizzie!" Michael shouted as the fog once more swirled and Lizzie was gone, her fingers reaching for him. Even covered in armor coated in filth, and grime, and blood, he couldn't help but reach back.
Michael's shoulders slumped. The echoes of the chime reverberated around him and time, like a heavy weight, settled on him. He sighed and turned away, trudging across fine Martian sand to the dusty grave where infinity awaited.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 20th, 2014

Author Comments

People always think Christmas or Valentine's Day is the loneliest of the year, but it isn't. New Year's Day is more than a memory of drunken debauchery of the night before, the time of year lends itself to reflection on what has passed and what is to come. The Roman god Janus held dominion over beginnings and endings and the transitions in between. As such, he was the deity of doors, passages, endings, and time. An interesting note is that because of these roles, he also presided over the beginnings and endings of conflict--war and peace. Depicted with two faces, he looks to the future and to the past. The story was written to reflect that and highlight some of the people for whom Janus' gift would be the most meaningful. I hope it is a sad tale but also one that reminds us to reflect on our lives and the people in them.

- Day Al-Mohamed
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