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He sits by his mother, watching shadows flicker on the floor, forming patterns because of the clouds and the starlight. It's snowing outside, it always is, and it's cold.

He peers out the window. The moon is dark, but the stars aren't, and he marvels at their brightness, their beauty.

He knows that they could form constellations, tell stories, but to him, they are just a handful of glitter scattered across the sky.

Even so, he can feel their meaning and he watches them glimmer in wonder.

he turns to his mother.

"Tell me the story of why it's always dark again," he says to her, laying his head in her lap. A sad smile crosses her face, but she shakes her head.

"Not now, sweet pea," she whispers. "Sleep."

***

She sits by her father, fanning herself lightly with one hand. The heat is nearly unbearable. Even with the blinds shut tight, the sunlight still finds a way to sneak into the room, making it impossible to sleep during the resting period.

She shifts uncomfortably, looking up at her father. He's still awake, he always is, long after she falls asleep, and when she wakes up, he's already preparing a quick meal of dried meat and crackers.

She watches the way the shadows gather in the corner of the room, clinging to the walls and floor. She knows that shadows are only darkened reflections of her and her father, ghosts that never made it into the air, but still she can't take her eyes off of their darkness, their beauty.

"Tell me the story of why it's always bright," she says, leaning her head against her father's shoulder. He sighs, but shakes his head.

"It's time to sleep, kitten," he whispers.

***

The years have past, and he has grown. He face is pale and light like the moon, and his eyes are bright and can catch the slightest movement.

Now, instead of huddling under tattered, patched up blankets, he runs with the other children over the icy ground, through the cold air.

Everywhere is frozen or soaked and freezing, but he looks for the places where it's still dry, looks for food and paper and cloth and sometimes fresh water or ice they can melt down.

Today, he finds a small, lightweight box sitting on a ledge that he can barely clamber up to. He doesn't know if anything important could be kept in a box that size, but a feeling of mystery and magic covers to it.

"Is anything there?"

The voice comes from his companion, a thin, dreamy girl who seems to be made of gossamer and silk and moonlight.

He hesitates. For some reason, he doesn't want to share the package.

"No," he calls back, shoving the box in his pocket and sliding off the ledge.

***

She is older now. Her face is dark and tanned, and her eyes are accustomed to the never-ending brightness.

Now, instead of sweating from the heat in her barely darkened house, she walks with the other children, trying to conserve water. The air is always dusty, and the ground is dry and hard, but still they keep looking.

They search for the shady places behind crumbling walls of ruined houses, where the ground may be cool and moist enough for something to grow. They search for old wells, coarse grasses, succulents, whatever water they can find.

Today, behind the remains of a small, crumbling house, she finds a small glass globe with a white, sand-like powder in it and a little house. The top of it is dark, and light can't get in.

"Did you find anything?" her companion, a boy who's seemingly made out of dust and heat and sunlight asks her.

She shoves the globe in her pocket.

"No," she calls, coming out from behind the wall. Together, they walk away.

***

He opens the box at home, surprised and disappointed when he finds it only contains a dozen or so sticks.

He sighs, wondering what they're for. He tries waving them throw the air, blowing on them, breaking on them, but nothing works until he tries drawing with them.

Not wanting to use up valuable paper, he tries writing on the side of the box.

It bursts into flames, and he throws it on to the ground, watching it flicker and go out. Finally, he gets up the courage to try again.

The flames warm his face and hands, and he can see with startling clarity.

"I wish I could be somewhere where it's always this bright and warm," he whispers.

***

She puts the globe on her desk, watching the sandy powder swirl through it, landing on the house and the ground. It reminds her of something her dad used to tell stories about: snow.

The light doesn't filter through the painted top. Inside is dark and quiet.

She runs her finger down the side of the globe, feeling the cold smoothness.

"I wish I could be somewhere where it's always this dark and cold," she whispers.

***

The sun burns down on him.

He looks around, seeing sand stretching everywhere. There is no salvation, no water, no cool, soothing darkness. He can hardly see anything, he's blinded by the light.

He feels as if he's burning up. Sweat pours down his face, and he sinks down to his knees. The ground is hard and dry.

"Mother," he whispers, and then says it louder. "Mother! Come back!"

Nobody answers, and he's left alone.

***

The darkness is sudden and absolute. She's freezing - her ragged, thin clothing doesn't protect her against the bitter air. Everywhere the ground is frozen. Snow falls on her, piling on her shoulders, but it isn't the soft, beautiful white flakes she had imagined - it's icy cold, melting and soaking into her clothes.

She shivers. Tears roll down her cheeks, turning to ice before they can fall.

She sinks to her knees, looking up at the dark sky. The stars glimmer with a cold light, seeming to laugh at her.

"Father," she says through her tears. "Father! Help me!"

She doesn't get an answer. She only half expected one.

***

Not much changes after the children die, him from thirst, her from cold.

The parents miss them of course, but move on. They have to in order to survive.

The children keep searching for food and supplies, the adults keep raising the young ones, and the sun never sets nor rises.

The world continues. The wheels of time keep turning, and soon the two children are forgotten.

November 17, 2019 16:26

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