Speculative Science Fiction Coming of Age


That’s the best way Gina can describe the land below her as she sits perched on the edge of the hill. It’s the tallest hill around and it’s taken her an hour to reach the summit—although it was a very leisurely hour.

Now she looks down to where the rolling plain, with its windswept golden grass, meets the blue horizon. The sky is stamped with fluffy white clouds, and their shadows flow across the land below her, making a patchwork of the prairie.

The closest neighbors’ farm is over three miles away. On the other side of the hill, eight miles to the west, is the little town of Germans that is the center of civilization around here. Gina half smiles. They’ve been living in America for four generations, but they still call themselves German. The old farmers who get their morning coffee at the little café discuss the weather in a mishmash mix of German and English, as do the old farmers’ wives who serve them. Gina’s grandparents did the same thing. She has fond memories of them sitting at the kitchen table playing pinochle with their friends on Saturday nights, drinking shots of homemade redeye and switching languages when they didn’t want little ears to overhear the juicy gossip. Gina tried taking German in high school, but the language she learned was different than the everyday language her grandparents spoke.

But there are no words—German, English, or otherwise—up on the hill. There are no sounds of anything manmade. No highway, no traffic. Only the ever-present wind as it rustles the prairie grasses. It rustles her thoughts too, blowing through her mind and removing a year’s worth of stress and city.

Remote, yes. But Gina prefers words like secluded, wild, free.

Her coworkers know that she comes out here every year to hunt fossils on her grandparents’ land. She knows that she comes out here for decompression and memories.

Far below her, she can see the winding creek that twists like a snake through the prairie grass. Nestled into that curve is her grandparents’ farm. The farmhouse will always be white in her memory, though most of the paint has peeled away and exposed the weathered gray wood. The barn has collapsed. The vegetable garden is overgrown with weeds. Only the aluminum machine shed stands relatively unscathed, though its green-painted metal has faded with the years.

For years growing up, she would spend two weeks every summer on this farm. Farm life, farm chores, were a novelty to a young girl, and she never stayed long enough to tire of them. She looked forward to her fortnight of freedom every year. Then one year, her normal weeks fell through, and she arrived earlier in the season than normal.

That year, she discovered, she was not the only one staying on her grandparents’ farm.

“Gina, meet the Allins,” she remembers Grandma saying. “They spend a couple weeks here each year.”

How old was she then? Seven? Eight? Old enough to know better, but she still said it:

“They look funny.”

Because they did look odd. Their eyes were very large and wide-set, their skin was very pale, and she had never seen anyone with hair that color.

Grandma had glared, but Mrs. Allin had laughed. “We come from very far away, Gina. Everyone looks like us where we’re from.”

After all these years, Gina can’t remember their accent. She knows they had one, but so did her grandparents, and in her child’s mind, everyone spoke funny there. So she had just sassily stuck her tongue out at Tira, the older girl. “Bet I can run faster than you!” she had challenged, and she had taken off.

And Tira and Pip had shrieked and laughed and tried to catch her, and they were friends.

For two weeks Gina had had two sisters who had helped her collect the eggs from the chicken coop and feed the lambs and weed the garden. They had giggled and whispered in a great conspiracy as they had dug through the rich dark soil and filched radishes and carrots fresh from the ground.

Grandma had taught Mrs. Allin to make homemade kuchen and pigs-in-a-blanket. And Grandpa and Mr. Allin had spent their days in the machine shed making whirs and buzzes and screeches and drinking Schlitz.

And one night the three girls had had a great adventure, tip-toeing out the door once the adults had gone to sleep and climbing to the top of the hill—no mean feat in the dark, even with the full moon—and gazing at the wide velvet sky and the diamond stars as they lay on the grassy ground.

Tira, her face bathed in starlight, had lifted her arm and sighted along it. “There,” she had said. “That’s our special star.”

Gina had followed her pointing finger to the twinkling blue gem. “I want a special star too,” she had said.

“You already have one, and you can see it whenever you want,” Pip had said. “But you can share ours, too.” And the three girls had lain there for a very long time before sneaking back down the hill into their beds just before dawn.

Time moves differently for children than for adults. Two weeks had both lasted all summer and flown by. Gina had found herself hugging Tira and Pip tightly as Grandpa started the truck for the long drive back to the city where Gina’s parents had waited for her.

“I promise I’ll write!” she had promised

Tira had blinked back tears. “We don’t have an address you can write to. We live too far away,” she had said sadly. “But we’ll think of you a lot.”

Gina had waved furiously through the back window of the truck as she watched the two small figures become smaller and smaller through the dust of the gravel road.

She never saw the Allins again.

Grandpa and Grandma had never mentioned them afterwards. Gina had no idea if they had spent the following summers on the farm. She had never asked. Old Germans know how to keep secrets, and some things even eight-year-old girls know not to talk about.

At the crest of the hill, Gina stands and stretches before starting the long walk down. A cloud covers her in its shadow as her hand pulls an artifact from her pocket. Her coworkers know that she comes here to hunt fossils, and she does indeed have a lovely collection of ammonites that she has found on the creek bed. But the fossil in her hand is the type she has really come for.

She found it in the machine shed, among the forest of rusty bent iron that used to belong to trucks and tractors and combines. It appears to be a small piece of metal, but it has curious glyphs carved onto it in a language she’s never seen, and time has not touched it. It is still as shiny as it was thirty years ago when, she assumes, Mr. Allin dropped it while he was working with Grandpa.

She has a small collection of similar pieces at home, but she does not display these like she does the ammonites.

Very far away indeed, she thinks.

Gina walks from her grandparents’ land without looking back.

May 24, 2023 01:37

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