Falling. Everything is falling. Small white snowflakes are falling from the sky. Tears are falling, rolling down my face, leaving wet trails on my skin in their wake. My world is falling. Though the ground beneath my bottom is cold and hard and solid, and I feel the rough texture of bricks behind my back, I am falling.
Some people say that there’s a point in your life where you’re so low, you can’t get any lower. That there’s a place way-way down there that’s rock bottom, and once you hit it, the only way to go is up.
I know better. There isn’t a solid floor beneath to keep you from falling. Just a deep, dark, bottomless pit.
I don’t have anything to hold onto anymore. So I’m just falling. Down, down, down.
I always considered myself to be just about the luckiest person in the worlds. First off, I lived in Aurora. And everyone knew there wasn’t a better place to be than Aurora. It was a utopia. And not the kind that turned corrupt. It was a real-life, honest-to-goodness utopia, and I was lucky enough to live in it. Perfect government, no poverty, world peace, great environment. All that, and more. I had a great education, loving parents, the sweetest little sister imaginable, and good friends. My life was great. My life was awesome. My life was pretty much perfect.
Until the Burning, that is.
But let’s go back a bit further. To the day when Sybill Talon went from crazy to completely, undoubtedly insane.
We were at a Meeting of the Council when it happened. Many families, including my own, had been drawn to the Meeting also, as Meetings were matters of great importance. It was all pretty boring, as usual. Until Sybill Talon walked up to the stage. The chamber got all quiet, the kind of quiet that’s scary and makes you feel like something’s off. Well, something was off that day, and it was Sybill Talon’s mind. My parents told me to respect her, how she’s an accomplished “seer” and all that. Honestly, I thought it was a bunch of nonsense. Well, when Sybill Talon got up on that stage and started yammering on and on about how the world is gonna end, and we all gotta run and hide, because there’s gonna be a big fire and a betrayal and yada-yada, my opinion about the state that lady’s sanity spread like wildfire, and everyone else knew that Sybill Talon and her crazy ideas were completely insane.
The thing is, she was right. We were the ones who were wrong. And we paid for it.
The air was heavy. Oh so heavy. Heat pressed against me on all sides. When I inhaled, smoke filled my nose and mouth. I didn’t get up from bed. Didn’t want to acknowledge, to believe, that this nightmare was true. I just lay there, my heart pounding, a sickening feeling rising from my stomach to my throat.
Then, a scream pierced the the air. A human scream, filled with terror and pain. It sliced through the fog clouding my mind like a knife. And then I knew.
I threw my warm, fuzzy blanket on the floor. The blanket that was lovingly tucked around me every night. That I always fell asleep under, knowing that the next morning, it would still be there, and I would still be there, and everything would be fine.
I blindly ran out of my room, down the stairs, through the hallway, out the door. I barely acknowledged the chaos around me. The fires, the people, the crumbled buildings. I ran, I ran, I ran. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore. And then I walked. I walked until I could barely move my feet. And then I crawled, slowly dragging myself away from the horror behind me, in front of me, around me.
At one point, I must have lost consciousness, because when I opened my eyes, someone was shaking me, talking at me, meaningless words coming out of their mouth. They may have been angry. They may have been scared. They may have been kind. It doesn’t matter now. Nothing does.
The person motioned to a crowd of people ahead. They picked me up. I didn’t resist. They carried me to the crowd, shoving and pushing people aside as they went. On the other side of all the people was a sort of small, circular, turquoise doorway, with a swirling mass of darkness and light inside of it. This was a portal. I was being set inside of it.
There was a sound like rushing water, an odd tingling sensation, and a flash of light. Then I was face down on the ground looking at a cold concrete sidewalk. I sat up with my back to a brick building, and looked around.
I’m on a street corner. People walk past me, and cars spew exhaust and spray slush as they zoom by. Little half-melted piles of snow line the street.
I’m mad at everyone, at everything. How can people just keep going about their life, as if nothing has happened? How can time continue, moving onwards like it always does? The anger makes me want to jump up, to yell, to scream. But I’m afraid that if I open my mouth, the tight knot of helplessness and misery lodged in my throat will come out.
I hug my knees to my chest, and bury my face in my hands, letting my exhaustion take over, my heavy eyelids close. I can no longer cry my fears out into a warm embrace. I can no longer wipe my runny nose on a soft sleeve. I am alone. Alone.
My parents are on either side of me. We hold hands as we gaze out at the ocean, it's surface smooth as glass. The night is calm and quiet, and I feel peaceful and content. The sky begins to lighten as a bit of sunlight peeks out from behind the water. Dark blue is streaked with pink, purple, and orange as the sun rises higher into the sky, and the black waters below turn golden. The beauty of it all is overwhelming. I feel that I, too am rising higher and higher into the sky, soaring up and up and up. My father squeezes my hand. “Every night, the sun sets, dropping down below the horizon. And yet, every morning, it rises up into the sky again, just as beautiful and bright as it was before.” My mother puts her arm around me as she speaks. “And so must you. You must rise up, and live your life. We will be with you always.” After those last words leave her lips, they begin to fade, blending in with the bright colors of the sky, which also slowly disappear, leaving behind only the bright, golden sun.
I abruptly open my eyes, my mother’s last words still echoing in my head. The sun shines brightly in my face. I stand up, and a small piece of paper falls from my lap. Money. I pick it up, and walk down the street, where a crowd of people are filing into a bus. I climb up the steps, hand the driver the money, and walk down the packed aisle. There are no empty seats, so I hold onto a metal pole. The bus starts moving, jostling me up and down, back and forth. I tighten my grip on the pole. I have no idea what I am doing, where I am going. Honestly, I don’t really care. As long as it is forwards.
Twenty young children watch a teacher draw on a blackboard with their bright, curious eyes. All orphans. Their homes are destroyed. Their families are gone. They are sitting in a classroom, learning how to spell, how to count, how to read. They are learning what they need to know to grow up and do big things, and they are learning that out of their dark past can emerge a shining future, and that they hold their fate in their own hands.
The only proof they need is the woman in front of them, who was once just like them.