A repetitive ringing echoed throughout the small apartment, the sound of an alarm. Marcus was already awake however, his eyes staring into the blackness of space. A small picture frame lay face down on the bedside table next to him with the name "Isla" scribbled on the back clumsily in permanent marker. The edges of the frame were chipped and the glass itself was cracked. Seeing the frame, he hides it away in one of the drawers underneath. He had to focus on his work, his family had to wait. Suit. Tie. Glasses. He doesn't have to look in the mirror to know that he looks like garbage, but doing so confirms it. With the help of water, he manages to straighten out most of his messy black hair. He pushes back his glasses back upon the bridge of his nose, his pale complexion reflecting off the lenses. The usual routine, the same one that ends with him walking out of his empty apartment. A short drive takes him to his destination. The Bureau of Meteorology, Darwin Branch.
Even at one o'clock in the morning, the lights still leaked out of the windows of the building. It's white walls and tinted windows which stretched down the length of the two floors. Marcus trudged begrudgingly right into the main office, said his hello's and hi's and made a beeline to the "Atmospheric Phenomenon Research Facility". Upon reaching the facility, he was greeted with an intimidating metallic door. The door opened with a heavy groan, an empty, darkened room waiting for him.
He quickly sat himself down, starting by researching the most recent auroras. The recent occurrences had seemed completely random, just like the rest of them with no obvious pattern to when the auroras appeared and disappeared. Marcus knew that they had to be triggered by something. But what? Midway through analysing these new auroras, his phone buzzed again. Misty, his daughter. He quickly answered the phone.
"Dad! Mummy wanted to call you.", she yelled.
"I'll be home later, just go sit with mum for me" He switches the phone off and tucks it in his pocket.
Marcus sat sprawled in his office, glancing absentmindedly towards the bright monitors. The news for yesterday flickered in front of him. "AURORAS APPEAR AGAIN IN NIGHT SKY", "HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT THROWS HERSELF OFF BUILDING" "SEVEN CAR PILE UP ON PORPHYRIA RD"
The same morbid news told in the same morbid way. It was always the auroras and the deaths and the tragedies. "Nothing more, nothing less.", he pondered, "Hold on, nothing more?"
Sitting on his chair, he rolled over to the monitors and typed three words into the search bar: RECENT AURORA PHENOMENON
A list of results popped up instantly, a day ago, three days ago, seven days ago. On the monitor beside him, he logged into the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Again he typed in three words: RECENT DEATHS DARWIN.
A death today, a day, three days, four days, seven days ago. Putting them alongside each other, he could see a trend forming. Most of the auroras seem to align with most of the deaths.
"But not all of them. No, not all of them", he sat silently in his chair with his head clutched in his hands.
"There could be something here."
"But how?", he thought to himself, "Auroras occurring when someone dies? That's crazy!"
He looked once more at the deaths that aligned with the days. The high school student who committed suicide, the homeless man who overdosed on ice, and the intoxicated father who died in a car crash.
"What connects these people?", he contemplated. He decided to read more about each person, scrolling through pages and pages of the same coverage, the same story, the same gruesome deaths. The high school student was bullied constantly, she had just moved here and was tormented constantly online before she took her own life. The homeless man used to be someone's boyfriend before becoming addicted to ice. Abandoned by his friends and family, left to rot on the street. The alcoholic father was the same, a recent divorcee who drove under the influence and died for it. Three different people, but what connected them?
Suddenly, something vibrated in his pockets. He clasped the phone in his hand, and on it a familiar name flickered in the darkness. Marcus set the phone and put it on speaker.
"Dad, mum's locked herself in her room again." Marcus rubbed his eyes and spoke calmly into the phone.
"Just keep talking to her, do what we usually do."
"It would be better if you just came home dad."
"You know I'm busy sweetheart, I don't have the time for that."
Marcus sighed and mumbled into the microphone,
"Listen, I promise I'll come home. How about that?"
"No.", Misty whispered tonelessly, "You always lie. You promise and then you never come home. You're the reason mum is like this right now."
Marcus was speechless. As the dial tone blared in his ears he realised. His family. Everything his family faced. Everything was his fault. That was it, he was going to head home.
The whole trip would take him two hours to complete. From the middle of Darwin, out to the dusty plains of Tennant Creek. It would be three o'clock in the morning when he got there. Marcus knew there was every chance of an aurora occurring that night. But the journey had to be made, for her. For a minute, he thought the skies were taunting him, being perfectly clear without any clouds on the horizon. Almost as if the sky was inviting him to view it's next light show. Marcus knew this feeling well, because his whole existence had been him being strung along by life. The separation from his family, the loneliness his wife must feel. No, he knew this wasn't true. He knew that this wasn't life's doing, it was his own.
"Isla", he murmured subconsciously, "What have I done to you? This is all my fault, all of it. I should be the one suffering instead of you. Having to endure this neglect day after day."
As he drove from Darwin to Tennant Creek that was all he could think about. The thoughts encircling him so he could no longer focus. All he could do now was get there. What are the auroras? Were they a symbol, or was it a warning? The sun had sank before the horizon and the auroras were now playing together. The auroras were dancing, seemingly teasing him. He stared at them, lost. Marcus rubbed his eyes once more, he was losing focus. He had to stop. He slid into the resting point on the side of the highway. He took out his phone, and suddenly thoughts of his family slammed into the forefront of his mind. And then they disappeared, as if they were never there to begin with. He shook this self doubt off, and called Misty.
She didn't answer.
"No..' He turned the key in the ignition with an intentional slowness, scared as to what he would find. The drone of the engine was his only companion. The night set upon him with a ferocious intensity, the darkness of the world enveloping his field of view. The only thing which stood out in the darkness were the auroras. The damn auroras. As they rolled and swayed in the canvas of the sky, they seemed to point the way home. However, they now had lapsed into a simple poignant sway. They seemed tired, depressed. As the road stretched on a familiar sign ushered him in, "Welcome to Tennant Creek, The Territory's Golden Heart".
Within minutes, he found himself in front of a familiar lawn. It was decorated with a sprinkling of neglected tulips and a splattering of weeds. There were black and white curtains encompassing the windows, a single beam of light escaping from them. Marcus walked up the winding path to the front door. The door was beginning to splinter from the bottom, the paint was peeling off in all sorts of places. The previously black door was starting to reveal it's silvery undertones. The door swung open with a gentle groan. Instantly, a smell of rotting wood invaded his senses. Dusty pictures lay upon the wall, their frames aged by the passing of time. An orange gleam covered the corridor in front of him, it's source seeming to be the slit underneath the doorway at the end of it. Marcus gradually crept towards the door, like a moth drawn towards a light. With his hand he urged the door forwards and almost immediately, some kind of miasma hit him.
"This smell," he reflected, "It's the smell of…blood?"
"Oh God, oh God no. Anything but her." On the carpeted floor, a razor painted with daubs of crimson. Only the bathroom awaited him now. Isla was already waiting for him, clumsy cuts adorned her wrists. The blood that once ran from them like a fountain had already dried. Misty was knelt down beside the bathtub, the streaks of dried tears were etched into her cheeks. She didn't even acknowledge Marcus' presence. She was broken, distraught. Marcus fell to his knees, his suitcase clattered onto the tiles below. Isla's face was empty, void of any expression. An aura of emptiness seemed to be embedded in her features. Marcus scooped up her body, her arms swinging lifelessly. Marcus embraced her for the last time. The wind surrounded them, and the auroras danced around them once more.