“Wait,” I say, flipping through my backpack and finding more loose pages. ” There’s more you should read.”
” More? How can there be more when everything I write is either half finished or destroyed? What kind of sorcery is this?”
I laugh. ” Perhaps one day someone will cast a spell making you as brave as the low born knight you envision in you seven book epic fantasy thriller you always dream about.”
She sits at the window, staring at the stars which dazzle and sparkle, dancing for her pleasure so she might not hear the argument erupting downstairs.
“You can’t keep going out there!” her mother cries. “Think about what it means for us!”
“I know,” her father replies, his voice mild and soft in a way that may placate his wife. “But what choice do I have? There are people dying, Sylvia, and the planet is falling to ruins. I must do something.”
“But why you? Why must it be you?” The anger subsides to tears, and her mother fights to hold them back, choking as she does so.
“Because who else is there? They have let us down, allowing greed and corruption to transform this place into a nearly uninhabitable wasteland while they themselves hide, hoarding everything their hands can snatch and deprive others like us the necessities we need to survive.”
She hears the front door open and slam shut. She tries not to watch, she tries to keep her eyes on the dancing stars, but she falters and looks down, her face pressing against the glass. Her father, wearing a thick hide made from the cow they had to slaughter because they said it would protect them, looks right and left, then crosses the empty streets where only one or two burn marks can be seen scorching the surface. They have been lucky; the attacks haven’t hit them as hard as Chicago and San Francisco, New York and Washington. Still, she is afraid. What if he doesn’t come back? Or worse, what if he does but he isn’t the same? What happens to them?
Tomorrow is her eighth birthday. They had planned a celebration at Toliver’s, a placed deck head to toe in bright neon lights which shined over a sprawling jungle gym and vibrant arcade. All her friends were supposed to come dressed as tigers or lilies, space cowboys or unicorns. But that place isn’t safe anymore and instead they are trapped inside, clinging to the bed frames and hoping their supply of Resistor lasts long. She watches her father’s back fade into the black, then looks up again at the stars.
“Please let him stay safe,” she whispers into the glass. “Please let him come back, and not burned and scratched by one of them. We didn’t ask for this. Or is this your way of punishing us for our crimes? I promise things will be different.”
That would not be a lie, she would see to it. She did not want her life to remain like this, where her mother spent her days staring listlessly into the television, neglecting her daughter, and her father plunged heedlessly into a battle that could not be won easily. She did not want to spend her days stuck inside with ideas that long to break out. “I promise,” she reaches for a piece of paper sitting at her desk by her beside and starts writing. “ I promise to change things so the grass is greener than ever before, the air is lighter and easier to breathe, the mountains stay tall and the ice so thick it could hold a thousand polar bears, and the people are nicer in a way that greed and corruption doesn’t cripple us.”
She folds the paper in half and opens the window. A cool breeze whips through the air, through her fingers as she pushes her hand out to meet it. “Please,” she turns her head once more towards the star, “Let this promise ring true and not be so foolish. How bad can it be to promise a future where things can get better so long as we are willing to try? I am willing to try. And if I don’t, if we don’t, then I suppose our punishment continues.”
The wind rips the paper from her hand and as it does so a star falls from the sky, making a promise of its own.