The popsicle is going to kill me.
Not directly. No, it’s the heat plus the popsicle that will end me.
I remember those times when a popsicle melting was mildly annoying. Less to be eaten, more to be cleaned. It dripped down my leg, leaving a sticky trail of artificial flavoring.
Now, the popsicle melting is deadly.
I gulp and try to calm myself as it melts a little more. Because…
Every drip that slides off shaves more time off my life.
Every drop means I get closer to perishing.
Every little bit of cherry ice that dares melt makes me clutch myself in fear.
Even though it happened five months, thirty days ago, I still remember I got my curse. After all, how could I forget?
It’s the day that changed everything.
“Oh geez! I’m so sorry, Tori!”
I knelt down to pet my startled Zhelly—a baby Zhella, a kind of pet that has the small, furry body of a Yara and the cute, floppy-eared head of a Balt. “I swear I won’t accidentally step on your tail ever again,” I said solemnly, my straight face dissolving in a grin as she licked me.
I patted Tori one more time and continued my trot to the kitchen, where my mom was calling me.
“There you are!” She exclaimed. “Jay Moore, you've been on planet Yiika for sixteen years. You should know by now that when I say come here, it does not mean come here in five minutes!”
“Sorry, Mom,” I smiled, grabbing a donut off the table and munching a bite. “Why did you want me?”
“King Hark will be providing popsicles for any kids—they have to prove they’re under seventeen, though. Cherry is your favorite, right? Here’s six Airgead”—she pressed the coins into my hand—“which should be enough.”
“Thanks, Mom!” I hugged her then ran out the door.
Yiika was always hot. It had two seasons: Yeh and Tah. Yeh was warm, Tah was extremely hot. I wished I was a Freezer.
There was no way to get cool on Yiika. Our only source of coldness is Freezers—the small population of Yiikans born with the ability to freeze things. They freeze food, make frozen things like popsicles and ice cream and ice, and are like heroes to society.
There are only ten or so of them anyway, and they are closely regulated. They sell their services, but a cut of the profit must go to the king. Not that he needs more money.
Our rich but old king, King Hark, was the most powerful Freezer of them all. He was pretty nice, and often hosted events where he gave out free frozen treats.
It only happened once or twice a month, so I sprinted as fast as I could over the hills—until I got to the biggest hill of all, the one that you could see from everywhere in the village. The royal palace towered over me, providing a little comfort from the burning noon sun.
It was twelve-oh-five when I made my deadly mistake.
I got in line. But it was long. The king sat on an ice throne—must be nice to have your butt be cold, I thought bitterly—handing popsicles to the kids. I was impatient at the back of sixty people. I had to get home to finish my homework, and these children had all day.
Why should I have to stand in the back? I thought.
That’s when I did the regret of my life.
I cut. Everybody. I squeezed to the front, where I took a spot behind the kid getting a popsicle. Before he was even done walking away, I knelt before the king and said, “Cherry, please. It’s my favorite.”
I thought I was pretty polite, but apparently, the king thought something else.
“You cut!” He boomed. “You’re a liar, a cheater, a disgrace to this world!”
It wasn’t even that big of a deal, but he went on and one about how awful I was. I just stayed there, on the ground, as he ranted about how I was raised.
I did, my head still bent.
“You’re a disgrace to this planet, do you hear me? You’re going to be banished.”
My eyes widened. “From…where? Here? Our village?”
“No,” he said coldly, “the planet.”
My heart was thumping, pounding in my ears. “What do you mean?”
“You’ll be sent in a bubble-rocket tomorrow,” he said, “to Earth. Maybe the people there will take you in. You’ll be in the rocket for six months.”
My breathing turned shallow. What have I done? The little voice in my head said, scared. I was going to be sent away. From the planet. I was a Yiikan, so I didn’t need food or water to live, but surviving six months in solitary, in space, still sounded…awful.
I gulped. Gulped again. Then… “Is that all?”
“No,” King Hark bellowed. “You’re not only a disgrace to this planet, but you’re a disgrace to this world. You are not worthy of living.” I ONLY WANTED A POPSICLE! My brain screamed. I CUT A LINE, AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO KILL ME?!
I hadn’t realized I had said the last part aloud until King Hark frowned. “Yes, but no.” He waved his hand, and a red popsicle appeared. He handed it to me. “You like cherry popsicles so much? Here.”
I took a cautious lick, then stopped when I saw King Hark’s grin. “That popsicle is your life,” he said, “it is bound to you by fate. As soon as it’s completely melted…”
He made an ice bucket then stood up and kicked it into the hills. It shattered.
“What?!” I exclaimed. “But… but… it’s Tah! It’ll be gone in an hour!” My eyes widened again. “I’ll be gone in an hour!”
“Don’t worry. This popsicle is magic. You have six or so months before it's completely gone. Six or so months in the rocket, too. Now…I suggest you get back home.”
His lips curled into a small smile. “It’ll be your last time there, Say goodbye, Jay. Say goodbye.”
I took a shaky breath as I am whisked back to the present. My eyes dart around, taking in the view of my current location.
It’s nothing new.
I’ve been floating through space for five months, twenty-nine days. My bubble rocket is a large, clear sphere the size of a gym. It’s unbreakable, and the only way I can get out is through a small door that I can open just once—when I land on Earth.
Speaking of Earth, I’ll be there soon. Very soon. The bubble rocket magically hurls through space super-fast towards Earth, and it’s been doing that for almost six months.
My life, in the form, of a cherry popsicle, has been shrinking for almost six months.
I used to have hopes and dreams. I wanted to be an adventurer, to find the magic of how to become a Freezer.
Now, my only hope is life is to get to Earth before the popsicle is completely melted. I wanted to see this other planet. What do its inhabitants look like? Technology? I wonder about its hierarchy.
I hope it doesn’t have an evil king.
“EARTH!” I shout, jumping a second later. The only sound I’ve heard for the past half year is my own voice, but I hardly speak. Any sort of noise startles me, even if it’s my own.
But soon, I’ll hear other people’s voices!
Earth is in sight. It’s huge! And so pretty! Green and blue, wrapped in a bundle of white. I wish Yiika looked like this—and I knew what it looked like from space, seeing I had a blast-off on it.
I shut down the memory and focus on the gorgeous planet up ahead.
I glance at my popsicle. It’s in a clear sphere hanging around my neck—the sphere is made of a mix between plastic and glass, making it quite durable and hard to break. The temperature inside is a constant forty degrees by magic.
Anyways, the popsicle is extremely thin. A little bit of flavored ice lashed to a stick. I gulp as a single drop drips off the popsicle and into the pool of red sugar water at the bottom of the sphere.
I just want enough time.
Enough time to see Earth.
I have a couple days left to live, and a day or two before I get to Earth.
That seems possible.
Space is always dark, so I choose when I go to bed and wake up. It looks like I’m almost there, so I decided to go to bed.
Hopefully, when I wake up, I get to see Earth before my popsicle completely melts.
Before I die.
I try to make myself comfortable on the hard, curved floor, and although I try to blink my sadness away, a tear still slips down my cheek.
I awake to being smacked against the side of the bubble.
“ACK!” I holler as I crash to the ceiling and to the floor again. This took being jostled around to a whole new level! But why?
I look around. Actually, this time. And nothing prepared me for what I was seeing next.
I was entering Earth’s atmosphere! The planet is right below me now, the shapes of land getting closer and closer. My body flies to the tip of the sphere as I hurtle towards the Earth.
Suddenly, I’m afraid.
Will the bubble-rocket make it?
Most things burn up in Yiika’s atmosphere, but I don’t know about Earth. I know the bubble-rocket is supposed to be unbreakable, but does that mean it’s in-burnable?
I’m terrified as I continue falling. My back is pressed against the top of the sphere, with so much force pressing against me my body counters gravity.
There’s gravity on Earth! I haven’t encountered the sensation for so long! In the rocket, I just let myself drift around. It was super hard to sleep. Now, for my remaining time on Earth, I would be STUCK ON THE GROUND!
No, I tell myself, trying to shut the gleeful thoughts down. Earth might not have strong gravity. Plus, you might die—from the fall or from your popsicle—before you get there, anyway.
My eyes crash shut as I wait until I arrive at my destination.
It takes so long.
In reality, it takes only minutes for the fall to happen. But right now, it seems like I’ve been falling for years and years and years.
And now, I’m about to land.
My rocket just popped a parachute. How, though?! Magic, probably. The sphere is completely clear, so I would see any hatch. Anyways, the parachute is so huge my mind can’t even register the huge-ness.
I’m falling. Slower, now. I think it’s more magic to soften the fall. I’m back on the floor of the sphere as I drift down, down, down…
ONLY TWO HUNDRED MORE FEET!
I’m so excited!
I’m about to die, but I’m so excited!
I’m slowly floating down to the ocean. Oh look, everybody is staring up at me. Hey, these guys look like Yiikans! Nice!
My sphere crashes into the ocean. I get jostled around even more, but somehow, I’m alive.
Water is over the sphere now. I walk over—yes, WALK—to the hatch and pop is open. Water starts gushing in, so I swim out of the doorway and up to air.
I gasp and my lungs breathe.
EARTH AIR! I’m so psyched.
I, Jay Moore, am on Earth.
I glance at the popsicle around my neck as I flounder on the surface. I’d say I have twenty-four hours before it melts completely. Before I die.
I’ve never been this close to death.
I’m literally on the edge, on the border.
It’s certain. My existence will be gone in a couple days.
The thought makes me want to break down and sob. It’s really hard, knowing when and how you’ll die. I’ve known for months, although uts feel like years. The only reason I’m still sane is because I’m trying, trying, trying to be cheerful.
I know I only have a day left to live.
But I don’t want to spend my last day before death worrying about dying.
I’m going to swim to shore and have fun.
I’m going to forget about this popsicle.
“GAH!” I shrieked. “Ahh! No!”
Hands are clutched around my waist. What’s happening?!
“It’s okay,” a female voice says from behind me, “I’ve got you. You’re not going to drown. Just relax.”
I get the idea. This Earthling is trying to save me.
I let whoever-she-is swim me back to the shore. Once there, I climb onto the sand and face her. “Hi.”
My savior looks around my age. She’s in a teal tankini with her inky black hair falling down her shoulders in curls. Her eyes are a brilliant blue and her lips are extremely red. She’s easily the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.
“Hello,” she smiles.
“Hi!” I say again. A HUMAN!!! “Thanks for saving me!”
She gulps. I can tell she’s freaking out. “How…how did you come from the sky?”
“First,” I say, “let’s talk.”
She leads me off the beach and to a… weird, flat stretch of rock. Big hunks of…metal? were scattered around. The girl walks up to one and pulls open a door. A row of leather seats are inside. She pats one. “Come on in.”
“What is this?” I breathe when we’re both seated.
“A private place,” she says. “Now, please, explain.”
“I’m Jay,” I said, “Jay Moore.”
“I’m Zippora,” she smiled. “I live in Arlington.”
I’m contemplating how to answer when Zippora put her hands on her knees. “Are you an alien?”
“What?” I say in delight.
“Well, you just hurtled from the sky. In a bubble.”
“A bubble-rocket,” I correct her. “And, I guess I’m an alien. I’m not from here, anyway. See, I used to live on the planet Yiika. I messed up and got sent here. I’ve been in space for half a year. Also, I’m about to die.”
“What?” She says, horrified.
“Long story short, my life is tied to this popsicle.” I lift my necklace up so she can see the sorry excuse for a dessert. “As soon as this baby melts, I die.”
“How can you live knowing that?!”
“It hasn’t been much of a life in space,” I muse, “but I’m here now. And I have around a day to have fun.”
Zippora stares at my popsicle. “Can’t you put it in a freezer?”
“In a Freezer?” I squint. “What? I don’t want somebody eating it.”
We’re both super confused.
“All I know is that I have a freezer,” Zippora says, “and if you put your popsicle in there, it won’t melt.”
“A Freezer?” I say. “You can own a Yiikan?”
Zippora sighs. “Okay, what do you think a freezer is?”
“A Freezer is a person with magic ice powers.”
She giggles. “Well, our freezers are a kind of technology.” Another drips slides off my popsicle. “No!” I shout, looking down at my pop. “No, no, no! Hang in there, buddy!”
Zippora is definitely freaked out. I’m kind of amazed she believes me, but then again, she just saw me hurtle down from space. When that single Earthing came to Yiika ten years ago—he was an inventor, I think—we sure didn’t believe him, even though we saw him enter the atmosphere. It was especially hard to believe him when he spoke of a planet called Earth, but we eventually listened.
“I need to get you to my house,” Zippora decides.
She gets out of the back seat and a second later, she’s sitting in a seat in front of me. “Buckle up,” she says, glancing back at me. “I’m driving.”
Driving is terrifying.
The whole time, I was afraid the hunk of metal was going to jerk off course and kill me early.
Surprisingly, I lived.
We get to Zippora’s house just as the sun is starting to set. She takes out another bit of metal and slides it in the hole of her door. It opens and we walk in.
Her house is super different from mine. It’s cool—by which I mean cold, but it’s awesome, too.
Without even letting me admire her home, Zippora grabs my hand and leads me to her kitchen. In it is ANOTHER hunk of metal, tall and silver.
Zippora grabs a handle near the bottom and pulls.
I gasp. Part of the hunk of metal is a door!
I place my hand in and shiver. That’s cold.
“Okay,” Zippora says, “let’s put the popsicle in here. Can you break the container?”
I suck my breath in and smash it.
My life topples out.
Zippora scoops up the last bit of popsicle and places it in a bowl on the counter. Then, she puts the bowl into the…freezer.
Before she closes it, I watch as the popsicle melts a little. A drip is falling down, but before it slides off…
Frozen on the popsicle.
I gasp and swallow, my eyes swimming, as Zippora shuts the freezer. She looks up and smiles at me.
I tackle-hug her, so much salt water steaming out of my eyes I was afraid my tears ducts would break. I’m safe. I’m SAFE! The popsicle is frozen in time!
“You’re going to live a long, long time, Jay,” Zippora’s voice says from behind my neck.
I smile as more tears stream down my face. “I know.”
I bury my face in her shoulder, my body so full of raw emotion I’m afraid I’m going to burst. The curse is broken. I’m going to live. I finally choke out,