Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.
T-minus twelve hours since her last daymare. Lucille Amberly Flask was feeling good. The camera in her hand helped her discern between reality and hallucination. A Canon Rebel T3i was the perfect birthday present from her mother, Ruth, to match the best birthday adventure—a trip to Liard Hot Springs.
Luci snapped pictures of velvet-like wooden statues as they sped past in the green Volkswagen Beetle, road-trip paraphernalia packed into each side pocket of the small car.
Her mother pressed the brakes to slow to the speed limit as they entered Chetwynd, British Columbia. Luci wasn’t sure how to say the name, so she didn’t try. She knew the fastest way to make an intelligent person sound stupid was by pronouncing a word wrong.
The last town was Fort St John, and the next would be Prince
George. Parksville was home, but they still had fifteen hours
further to travel, as they weren’t halfway.
The breath-taking beauty of the north filled half of Luci’s
camera memory. She experimented with taking pictures between
her iPhone and the Rebel, comparing quality and features.
“This camera is lit,” Luci said.
Her mother beamed, “I think that means something good?
Oh! Make sure you get a picture of that statue,” she said.
Luci tried to line up her mother’s pointing finger to a single
figure. Dozens of wood sculptures lined the single highway stretch
that made the town. A wooden man stood on horse legs with a
broad animal face and twisted horns. He held a wooden scroll
in his hands and reminded Luci of Pan’s Labyrinth, her favourite
subtitled movie. A medusa-looking mermaid stood next to two
dinosaurs frozen in a violent collision.
“Oh, this one here,” Luci said. She snapped a photo of the
fairy hanging from a vine littered with dandelion seeds. A smooth
wooden parachute sat over the art. “Just like the fairy homes that
“That we build,” her mother said.
Luci laughed, “All I do is collect the building materials.”
“That’s the most important job. What’s a fairy home without
driftwood and discarded hermit shells fresh from the beach? That
statue is all wrong, though,” her mother said.
Luci thought it looked perfect. “How so?” she asked.
Her mother pushed the polygon glasses up her nose at a
stoplight. “Well, dandelion seeds are already a parachute in
themselves, called a pappus. The seed body is porous and creates a
vortex, an invisible parachute for the wind to carry them. Did you
know dandelions hold the record for the most travelled distance
without using a motor or wings?” her mother said.
Luci snickered, “I guess that’s why they’re such irritating
“Yes, but also no. People waste hundreds of dollars to rid
their yards of these nutritious plants. You can eat them raw or
cooked. They have loads of Vitamin A, B, C, E and K. There’s
even iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium in them. They’re
a very nutritious power punch disguised as an itty-bitty yellow
weed,” her mother said.
Luci watched her mother’s face crease from her smile, with
elegant laugh lines like ancient tree rings. Then she playfully
punched her mother’s arm. “Your nurse is showing again.”
“Careful, I’m driving,” her mother dramatically exclaimed.
Then winked. “You could cause an accident.”
Luci smirked. Then pointed. “Look at that statue. It’s a
grumpy cat like our Earl.”
Her mother chuckled, “I wonder how your father is managing
that silly Persian puss of ours.”
Luci clicked several more photos out the passenger window.
“He probably tied him in a work harness and hung him from the
That comment brought an animated laugh from her mother.
“Seriously though,” Luci continued, “everything’s beautiful
here. Thank you for bringing me up here, Mom.”
“It was nothing. Besides, the beauty of the hot spring was
well worth the drive.”
“Hmm, yes, but maybe a different campsite next time. One
without the toilet paper padlocked in the outhouses.” Luci said.
Her mother squared her shoulders and sat straight in the
driver’s seat. “It’s to stop the bears, not the teens,” she said,
mimicking the park ranger’s reply.
“His food recommendation was worth the conversation,
though,” Luci said.
Her mother laughed, agreed, then added, “The food at Toad
“Yes, thank you for stopping there too. The hats covering the
ceiling were epic!”
“Luci-two, I don’t know why you keep saying thanks. It’s your
sweet sixteen, and that’s a big deal. It deserves a big adventure.”
Her mother smiled and glanced from the road for a second. The
sun shimmered on the grey in her blonde hair like hoar frost
“I know, Mom, it’s just, with the camera too …” Luci blushed.
“I don’t feel like I deserve that much.”
“What do you mean? You’re a good kid, good grades, you
always come home after school. I think you’re a great kid.”
Luci thought of her daymares that disrupted almost every
outing, including yesterday at Liard. She didn’t want to ruin
the mood, so she said nothing—then or now. Her mother shot
her a quick look, then back to the road. They sat quietly. The
road twisted up a mountain causing the old car to slow with the
An overhead highway sign warned of snow-packed sections
and icy conditions. Unlike Parksville in March, where there
wasn’t snow worth a snowball, the weather in the north was
unpredictable. Luci’s mother had driven them through all four
seasons to get to the hot springs. She admired her mother’s driving
skills, and now that she was sixteen, she couldn’t wait to write
her learner’s test. But right now, she looked forward to getting
home. Next weekend her friends would come over for pizza,
movies, and lots of candy. The house would be vacant for them,
mother’s promise. Her father, Brent, and little brother, Lane,
would be fishing for his ninth birthday. What better way to build
a family than three members sharing the same extraordinary day,
“How old’s Dad turning?” Luci asked.
“Fifty-two, he’s still got three years on me. Maybe for my
fiftieth, we can come to Liard again,” her mother said.
“Yeah, for sure,” Luci said, imagining all the pictures she
would get. “That would be summertime. Wilds know what full
bloom would look like!”
A perfect shot caught her attention. Luci centred the side
mirror where the ref lection of a charcoal mountain sat like a
picture in a picture. The mountain’s layered rock looked like
millennia-pressed books hiding secrets. She snapped the picture.
“Aren’t you glad you chose this trip over rock climbing with
your father?” her mother asked.
“Yeah, Lane is big enough now. He can go. I mean, it’s fun
and all,” Luci said, “but Dad’s competitive. He’s like a mountain
goat. I can hardly keep up.”
“I suppose he’s a little intense,” her mother said.
Luci smirked, thinking of all the Monopoly money found
behind the bookshelf for weeks after their last family game night.
“A little? Don’t you remember our last Monopoly game?”
“Yes, well, your father likes to win.”
Luci turned in her seat to find a drink. “He doesn’t let you
quit,” she said.
The back seat sat buried under luggage, shopping bags, and
snacks. Luci dug through to grab a bag of candy and a couple of
pops. “Do you want one?” she asked.
Her mother glanced at the haul and said, “Dr Pepper.”
The car dropped into a valley where the weather changed
dramatically. Cattails danced in gusts of wind, with dark clouds
A green highway sign claimed Prince George was still 140
kilometres away. They passed a decrepit gas station with boarded
windows and a door sealed by a plank of spray-painted wood.
Wind-torn billboards behind the failing building had their
meanings stripped away by incredible weather.
Luci had an idea, “Want to play a game?”
“As long as it doesn’t involve you driving.” Her mother
laughed at her joke.
“Ha, ha,” Luci said sarcastically. “No, I was going to say, we
should play a game with the broken billboards.”
“You want to fill in the missing words from the destroyed
slogans?” her mother asked.
Another three billboards flew past.
“Such a smart girl I have,” her mother said. “OK, how do we
know who wins?”
Luci lifted an eyebrow. “I see you’re just as competitive
“Well …” her mother trailed off.
“How about whoever gets tripped up loses.”
“Deal. You start,” her mother said.
A blue billboard approached, a classic yin-yang-looking
symbol coloured red, blue, and white had four words left on the
slogan. “Say it with Pepsi,” Luci read, then considered the puzzle
and added, “coming out your nose!”
“Meet the new smartphone,” her mom read on the next
board. “It’ll take your whole paycheque,” she added, then laughed
until she snorted.
Luci giggled as her mother wiped laughter tears from her eyes.
“I think you won,” she said.
“Tim Hortons, every cup,” her mother read the next one too,
then added, “tells you the winning lottery numbers.”
“Now you’re just showing off,” Luci joked. “Hey, a Tims is
only forty minutes ahead,” she read at the bottom of the same
billboard. “An Iced Capp does sound pretty good.”
“Good call,” her mother said.
“Made with chocolate milk and whipped cream on top,”
Luci said. She could almost taste the silky coffee. The windshield
wipers clicked on as light snow fell.
“Greenhouse for your soul,” her mother read.
Luci didn’t hear the punchline. Instead, her eyes trained on
the wipers as they left black streaks on the windshield. Shadowy
hands spread on the glass and melted into the car, heading straight
for her mother’s throat. Luci swallowed hard, thinking of what Dr
Premiate had told her: keep your cool, remain calm, and collect
Luci lifted the camera and snapped a photo.
“Woah, I wasn’t ready,” her mother said, but Luci paid no
attention to her vanity.
Luci’s hands shook as she turned the viewing screen on and
examined the picture. No shadowy hands. Instead, a blurred
image of her mother’s face turning to greet the shutter. Luci
fell into dark, miserable thoughts of daymares while her mother
happily tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
A new littering of billboards whizzed past, making Luci feel
dizzy as she tried to read them to distract herself. Then an extra large billboard appeared in the distance and caught her attention.
The picture was of a girl’s face with a website address scrolled at
the bottom. It’s a missing person’s report.
The car sped closer.
The girl was near Luci’s age with the same fiery red curls
floating around her face as if she were in zero gravity. It was a
strange photo for a missing person poster.
All the other billboards disappeared, and the missing girl took
all her focus. Her mother said something Luci didn’t hear.
The girl on the billboard resembled Luci.
The car was thirty feet away from the billboard. She saw two
moles dead centre on the billboard girl’s right cheek, identical to
hers. Luci felt sick.
At twenty feet, she could make out the words under the face:
At ten feet, she gasped. The girl didn’t just look like Luci.
The girl was Luci.
A mirror image of Lucille Flask as she was, sitting in the car.
The way the open window caused her hair to float around her
Luci finally found her words and said, “What in the wilds?”
“Mom, look at that billboard.”
“Which one?” her mother asked.
The car sped down the highway and then past the billboard.
She hadn’t had the chance to capture a photo. How would she
know if it was real or a daymare?
“That one that we just passed. The girl, she, uh,” Luci
“What?” Her mother glanced over. “You OK?”
Luci felt sick to her stomach, “On the billboard.”
Her mother shrugged, “There’s lots, Luci-two. Which one
are you talking about?”
Luci’s panic morphed into anger. “Stop calling me that! I’m
not two years old,” she snapped. “That billboard had my face on
it.” Her face felt hot, and that stupid piece of hair fell over her eye
when she whipped around in the seat to look back at the billboard.
“Come on,” her mother said, sounding exasperated, “what
did Dr Premiate say about these daymares?”
Luci cringed at the comment. She muttered through clenched
teeth, “This is different.”
Her mother sighed, “Look, I thought we were having a good
“We are. Can we just turn around? I want to go back. I need
to see if that was my face on the billboard,” Luci pleaded.
“Why would your face be on a billboard?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s getting dark soon, and now it’s snowing. We don’t have
time to turn around. Remember your coping techniques? You
need to tell yourself a different story,” her mother said as if reading
off the letter from her psychologist.
Acid bubbled in her throat. “Mom, that was my face. On a
“There are lots of girls—”
“No,” Luci said, “it wasn’t just any girl. It was me. My face!”
She felt an overwhelming urge to see the billboard for a
second time. The slim face burned in her eyes like a flashbulb
outline. “Can you turn around?” she asked.
“We’ll stop in PG, and we can call Dr Premiate.”
Luci’s frustration boiled over. She simply wanted to take a
picture of the billboard. Her camera lens had no brain patterns to
alter reality. A picture would tell her the truth. Her voice came
out with an unintended shrill plea, “Stop the car!”
“Sweetheart, please,” her mother said. She reached over to
reassure Luci, then snapped her attention back to the road and
Luci looked up.
A thick wall of fog cut the road in half.
The car spun; metal screeched.
The car slammed to a hard stop.
Luci’s head connected sharply with the dashboard.
A scream. Luci didn’t know if it was her or her mother that
screamed. Was that now, or had it been before? Luci blinked her
eyes open, and the sting of a head wound smacked her in the
face. She uncrumpled from the dash, fingers exploring a sore spot on her forehead. Bright-red blood f lakes drifted down from
Time had passed. Luci guessed four hours with the fog gone
and the sun high in the sky. Then she understood she’d been
unconscious. A cold snake of fear crawled up her back and dug
its razor fangs into her neck, forcing her to snap back to reality.
An intense pain banged in Luci’s head, complicating
everything: moving, breathing, even thinking.
Luci’s breath hitched when she saw the driver’s seat empty.
It had to be a daymare. Her hands shook as she lifted the camera
from her chest and clicked a photo. Her eyes were unfocused as
if refusing to see that the viewscreen showed her mother was,
The driver’s door was closed, the car sideways on the highway’s
shoulder next to a cliff drop. At the bend in the empty road was
a mountain topped with snow.
Luci’s hands refused to obey when she tried to unclip her seat
belt. Her fingers wouldn’t follow commands as her heart beat
erratically. Finally, she gave up on the seat belt and opened the
door to scream, “Mom!”
She screamed again.
She fumbled with the buckle and cried. And screamed for
Luci won the battle with the seat belt and stumbled out of
the car. “Mom!”
Her sloppy feet walked her nowhere. She yelled for her mother
and wept. A smell of burned rubber, dirt, and desperation hung in
the air. Luci moved in no particular direction, screaming “Mom”
with each step. Every heartbeat was heavier than the last.
Luci tripped. Got up. Walked. She screamed until her throat felt full of glass from calling for her mother. Her knees stung from
the stumbling collision into concrete from her frantic search.
A lump of panic lodged behind her voice box. What if her
mother was hurt?
No sirens or vehicles were approaching to help.
She sobbed, fell, and didn’t bother getting up again. Instead,
she pulled her knees to her chest. “Where are you?”
Long minutes passed. With tears spent, Luci wiped her face
to gather her senses. She looked up, cringing to see that she sat
beneath the billboard, findjustyce.ca.
The enlarged picture of her face stared back. She groaned,
lifted her camera, and snapped a reluctant picture. She wasn’t sure
she wanted to know if this was real or a daymare.
She checked the viewer and felt a rush of relief that she hadn’t
hallucinated the image. Instead, the picture was most definitely
her face—as real as the cold the snowflakes brought. A daymare
she’d finally conquered. Luci smiled. Then frowned. She dearly
wished her mother was there to see that she wasn’t crazy.
Luci’s head swam with uncertainties. She didn’t know where
her mother was, and she positively couldn’t comprehend why her
picture was on the billboard. She glanced at the car. The passenger
door sat open, but the driver’s door was closed. Luci didn’t recall
her mother leaving the vehicle or hearing the door slam shut. It
didn’t make sense that her mom would go.
She must have been in shock, Luci decided.
A snap of cold wind stung the cut on Luci’s temple. She
needed help. She dug in her pocket and pulled out her phone.
Spider web cracks covered the screen, sinking her chances of
getting help. Luci tried to turn it on. Nothing. She warmed the
phone with her cold hands and tried again.
“Garbage,” she said.
Saying it out loud made her situation feel worse. Luci threw the phone down the lonely road, causing a petrifying pinging
A silent fog rolled in like a ghost on a breeze. The damp
mist returned with renewed force, pouring from clouds that
weren’t there a moment before. A curtain of fog rushed at her
like a burst hydro dam. The blanket of white built with intensity
along the ditches, then poured out to hide the pavement. The fog
crawled along the highway, swallowing her cell phone’s grave as
she watched with wide eyes.
Luci regretted leaving the car when the mist clung to her
clothing, making her shiver.
“Get back to the car,” she told herself. She stood but cried
out in frustration when she realized she could no longer see the
“What have I done?”
Dread filled her veins with ice, and the fog ate her words.
She’d walked away from the only safety she had, and the thick
haze had gratefully accepted the car. Goosebumps covered her
skin. Cold or fear, she wasn’t sure.
Luci turned the opposite direction to see an undistinguishable
landscape. Alone on Highway 97, her mother missing and possibly
hurt, the girl collapsed to the ground, devastated by the situation.
She could no longer see the billboard. Instead, the fog sat
around her like she were drowning in a glass of milk.
She yelled for her mother until her parched throat threatened
The idea of her mother gone was suffocating. Luci didn’t
realize she was clenching her jaw until it throbbed. Her temple
stung, and her throat burned. She hung her head, wanting to
cry more, but fear drank the tears and left violent shakes behind.
The air chilled to a frigid icebox temperature. Her skin so cold it felt warm. Hot actually. She jumped up. She had to move
or do something.
Luci tried to collect her thoughts. She needed the car.
She shuffled her feet in small circles until she found the
edge of the highway. She followed the line for some time in one
direction. This method should have theoretically taken her back
to the car. But there were more fog walls. She listened for the
sounds of a vehicle, her mother, or a hungry bear. Instead, there
was silence, snow, and more fog.
Luci’s legs felt like they filled with sand as she walked. Worry
dragged her down even as fear drove her forward. A skiff of
snow fell, making her regret the choice of light f lat shoes for the
supposed warm car ride. The snow covered her footprints as fast
as she made them.
Luci turned around and walked twice as far back, looking
for an indication of something. Anything. She found nothing:
no footprints, no car, and no billboard. Only thick fog walls on
every side, seeming to box her in.
She plunked down, exhausted, on the ground. The fresh
snowflakes were so light they burst into the air like tiny feathers
and drifted back down. Inventory check. She emptied her pockets:
a pack of gum, a Chapstick, and some folded Kleenex—nothing
useful. She craved water to bite her thirst or a hug to melt the
worry. Maybe even a sweater to shield the cold. Luci sighed and
stuffed a piece of gum in her mouth. Everything else went back
in her pocket.
She clicked through photos of their trip on her camera. The
smell of sulphur from the natural spring clung to her hair and
brought her some comfort. A tear formed as she examined a
picture of her mother mischievously grinning with her arm bent
back holding a stone. A second after she had snapped the picture,
her mother had released her ammo at a snow-covered branch
above Luci’s head. Thousands of ice crystals had rained down on her bare shoulders, causing her to yelp. Yesterday was fun. Today
was a nightmare. And her actual birthday. Her lips formed the
word Mom, but her broken soul prevented her from speaking,
and instead, a whimper escaped her lips
Then someone, or something, hidden by fog, touched her
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