Lyza stared out into the darkness. The last orange lights of the city had disappeared some time ago and now the darkness was big and all over. It was everywhere, like she was in a submarine beneath the ocean. The thrum of the engine beneath her had once been annoying and uncomfortable but now she was used to it. It was cathartic and somnolent.
She looked toward the front of the car at her brother, sitting in the front seat with his hands at ten and two and his eyes gazing out through the windshield. Where she was she did not know, but he seemed to know where he was going. She didn't and that drove her nuts. She had felt this was a bad idea from the beginning, sneaking out of the house after bedtime. Her brother really wanted her to come with him, but he would not say why.
The only thought in her head was that they were running away. Two months had passed since the day he killed Big Bad Brother. She saw him change quite a bit. He told her nice things, the first one a story about the flower on her forehead. When he touched her arm or her shoulder or patted her back, he didn't leave bruises behind. When he talked to her, it was nice talk, without any bad words. And if one slipped, he always said sorry.
When she asked questions, he explained things in ways she understood, better than any of her teachers ever could.
And she asked him all kinds of questions. No matter how many she asked, even if it was the same one over and over, instead of getting angry and shouting and telling her to 'shut the fuck up, you little shit;' he answered them. Even ones that she thought were really dumb. She didn't want to ask any questions at all at first, but he made her. Well, he didn't make her, like he had made her cry or shake with terror or bleed or hurt. He would just tell her to ask in this really weird voice that made her not afraid and so she would.
Simple like that.
So when she asked where they were going, she was surprised when he said, "It's a surprise." Then he got kind of weird and said: "We don't have to go at all, but there's something I want you to see. Do you trust me?"
She didn't know he knew how to drive. He was only fifteen and didn't have a license. But still she trusted him, even when her nerves told her this was a bad idea. Her brother wouldn't let anything happen to her—not anymore, he promised that.
It was very late at night, way beyond her bed time. She had thought about what would happen when they got home and their parents found out they had stayed up past their bedtime. But she trusted her brother, and he said he would take the blame.
The car rolled to a slow stop. Lyza jerked her head away from her palm, her bottom still rumbling even though the engine was cut off.
"We're here," Kval said in a soft voice.
"Where?" His sister pleaded for an answer as he opened the door and got out. The door on the other side of the car from hers opened.
"About a hundred-eighty miles out of town. The perfect spot where we can see it," he replied, vaguely.
"See what?" She asked as she saw him take the blanket and the box of crackers.
He just smiled as he shut the door, and walked around the back of the car to her side. He knocked, and she opened the door. "You'll see," he answered, turning around and squatting. "Hop on."
Hesitantly she reached down and pushed the button to release her seatbelt. It clattered up behind her head, and after it settled she moved her feet to the side of the seat. She held onto his shoulders, and he caught the backs of her knees as he rose, shutting the door behind him with his foot.
The car light remained on for a few seconds, before winking off and it too became dark. She went up and down as her brother walked, his feet making loud crunchy-noises in the grass. The wind blew against her face, tickling her whiskers and her nose and the tippy-tips of her ears. They didn't walk very far before he released her knees and she was left to hang on her own for a second, while he fluffed out the blanket.
He stepped onto it, and knelt down so she could dismount. She stepped a few times on wobbly legs, feeling the grass yield beneath her shoes. It felt weird standing on top of a blanket; normally you snuggled underneath it and it kept you warm. It was kinda cool out. The wind blew again, ruffling her light jacket. Spring wasn't quite here yet, but winter had almost moved out.
Her eyes began to adjust as her brother led her by the hand to the center of the blanket. He sat down Indian-style, and she sat upon his lap. His chin rested on her head, parting her ears on either side of his cheeks.
She could hear the crickets playing their violins. There were many of them; a lot more than she heard from her bed back in her room. There were fireflies too, little dots of light floating around like Tinkerbell.
The moon was just a sliver in the cloudless sky. It was a deep blue; almost black but not quite. She could see little specs of light, and a few colors like red and blue. It looked like someone had sprinkled glitter on a black piece of construction paper, and shined a giant flashlight on it to make it sparkle. She took in a breath of chilly air, sinking against her brother for warmth.
He opened the box of crackers that he brought, and held it for her to reach in and take one. The crackle of the tough plastic was a very unwelcome sound to the crickets, a ruckus that made them lose their focus.
She munched idly, her tummy only a little hungry.
"Can you see the stars?" He asked.
"They're so pretty," she said softly. "Is this 'it'?"
"Not quite," he replied. "Can you show me where the Big Dipper is?"
"You can't see it?" She asked, pointing up at the constellation and tracing it with her finger, "It's right there."
"Oh, there it is," he replied. "Thanks."
Just then, they heard a snap off in the distance. Lyza whimpered as she stared out into the darkness, not really able to see anything other than dark, scraggly things that she told herself were bushes. Her brother rested a hand on her shoulder.
"It's okay," he said.
"I'm scay-ard," she admitted sheepishly. "It's dark..."
"You think there are monsters?" He felt her nod, and heard her nervously nibble on the cracker. "Do you think I would ever-ever take you to a place with monsters?"
She thought about it, letting the cracker soak against the roof of her mouth. When it started to taste a little sweet, she swallowed it and said, "No." It made sense now that he said it. She wouldn't have to be afraid, at least not so much.
"Silly." He teased her, squeezing her shoulder gently. "Even if there were monsters," he explained, "they can't touch you. This blanket is magic and they can't step on it."
"It is?" She asked timidly, looking down at the plaid design.
"Why do you think I brought it?"
She thought for a minute. That made sense too. Her brother had an answer for everything. But he still wouldn't tell her; "Why are we here?"
He shushed her, "We're here to see it," he said quietly.
"What's 'it'?" She asked back, her tone quiet but also sincere.
"Be patient," he said, "and look up at the Big Dipper. You'll know when you see 'it'."
Lyza did as her brother told, gazing up with him at the sky. It was so beautiful, how all the stars twinkled and winked. She wondered what they did during the day, and thought to ask her brother but it was so peaceful and quiet, now that she wasn't afraid of monsters.
Her nose tickled when the wind blew again, carrying the crickets' song with it. Minutes upon minutes passed, and Lyza began to get sleepy and dreamy. She saw the stars wiggle and dance in her vision, her eyes so focused on the brightest one in the sky. It took her by surprise when, all of a sudden, she saw a white streak across the black sky out of the corner of her eye.
She glanced in that direction, thinking it was just her imagination, when all of a sudden another streak flew by.
"Here it comes," her brother stated just above a whisper.
Just then, the sky lit up with dozens of little white lines all about. She stood up and turned around, gazing up with stupor and wonder as she stepped on the blanket to and fro like she was hypnotized. "Wha—what izzit?" She asked, eyes darting from one line to the next as they appeared, moved across the sky, and then disappeared a moment later only to be replaced by new ones.
"A meteor shower," her brother replied, watching his sister.
"Meet Eeyore shower? We're going to meet Eeyore?" She glanced down at her brother excitedly.
"Oh, no no," he said with a smile, "Meteor; it's one word. This is a shower of meteors."
"Oh..." She replied a little disappointed, but then she looked back up and gazed at the spectacle again. "Those lights are... mee-tee-yors?"
"No," her brother corrected kindly; "The meteors make the lights. You know how when boats go really really fast, they make that line of water behind them?"
She nodded, her lower lip falling to let her mouth gape open like a turkey in the rain.
"Well, instead of water, meteors do the same thing with lights."
"So they're like boats?" She asked.
"Exactly," he nodded.
He watched her. He had no interest in the display above; that was all for his sister. Her display was what he wanted to see.
It had been three weeks of going cold turkey. It was like a switch had been thrown. He practically doubled in height. After the shakes and the rest of the withdrawal his mind was clear and uninhibited. He could feel his thoughts' miscibility.
His grades were piss-poor, and he was determined to get them up to As. He spent sleepless nights studying all of the stuff he should have learned since middle school, even borrowing some of his sister's homework to practice on the simple stuff, correcting a mistake of hers here and there.
Unfortunately he spent so much focus on that, that he all but ignored his sister. He didn't mean to, he just got so tired staying up all night. His sleep schedule changed so that when he got home all he could do was crash until ten at night, long after she went to bed.
It caught him off-guard when she asked if he was back on drugs. He had no idea how much courage she had to muster to outright ask that to him, but the point was he was going about his change completely the wrong way.
From that very moment onward, he had an odd craving that he couldn't explain. It was like his drug-cravings, but worse. And he knew drugs couldn't do anything to curb it.
This moment, though, was curbing that craving.
He had to see it, he just didn't know why. It gave him a feeling that at first made him uneasy because it made him feel like he was high. But it was different than that. It wasn't followed by the crash; the depression and the tiredness. It didn't make him tremble or quake or sleepy.
It made his heart swell. It was almost getting too big to fit in his chest. It made him smile, made tears well up in his eyes. And unlike the high, this feeling stayed with him. He watched as she stared mesmerized at the wonder above. Her mouth open wide, buck teeth shining in the waning moonlight. Her ears swiveled back, and the corners of her little gape curled upward and she giggled, swinging her arms a little as she saw a fast one zip across the sky.
He eagerly awaited her next question. He knew she would have more, she always did. He loved answering them; loved the look in her eyes when she learned something new, something good. The questions motivated him, he would have to know everything he could to answer whatever her mind could contort into words. She appealed to his patience;
"Where are they going?" She asked.
"To Ever-Ever Meadows," he replied.
He stood, and leaned over to pick her up. She continued to gaze, and began reaching up as if to try and pluck one right out of the sky.
"They're carrying dreams," he explained. "Wishes and dreams from little boys and girls, so that they can be granted and come true."
She continued to watch in her stupor, but her brother noticed exactly when the gears in her head clicked. She gripped his right shoulder just a little tightly. She gasped and looked at him. "Will it take mine, too?"
He smiled and straightened her jacket. "Why do you think I brought you out here?"
He set her down and watched as she thought really really hard. As she thought, she shined more brightly than any of the stars up above.
This, this was his sister.
Goodness and beauty. He wanted to teach her these things. He wanted to see her learn wonderful things, for when she did it put his heart at ease if only for a little bit. She should have known these things all along, and learned what she had learned already much much later. But she learned everything out of order, all a mess and hodgepodge, and he had a lot of work to do; lots of crossed wires to straighten. There were many things she had to unlearn. This night was just the first step, and it had taken a long time to plan it and make it just right, for her.
In kindergarten she learned wickedness and fear. The moment he pressed the burning doobie against her scalp, she had learned to be afraid of him. She had learned that people who were once nice could be mean. She had learned that bad things can happen for no reason; simply just because. She had learned that she was weak and powerless.
In first grade she learned pain and grief. She learned that bruises hurt, and that cuts bled. She learned that bones broke, and that spirits broke, too. She learned that under her bed was a safe place. She learned that being with Emmy she was safe. She learned that piddling herself was her only way of coping with extreme stress.
In second grade she learned despair and apathy. She learned that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't change things. She learned that resisting made things worse. She learned that there was no point in hiding. She learned all sorts of cuss-words and swears. She learned how to be a ghost, how to skip school, and how to be silent at all times.
She had learned all of these things and passed every one of their tests, with him as her teacher and proctor.
Now, she was almost done with third grade. Halfway through, she had learned things that were sure to have broken her forever. Death. Sadness. Hopelessness.
She almost learned to give up. The memory still haunted him at night, of her hands clasped around the little baggy. She admitted that she wanted to try some. She had thought about it, considered it, meditated on it. She believed it was an option, a road to take, a future. After so many years of resistance and defiance against something she knew was inherently wrong, through oppression and subjugation and abuse she came to the conclusion that the only option was if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. She had actually decided that she wanted to do it, but didn't know how.
Thank God she didn't know how.
She almost learned that, in reality, there was no safe place in this world. That behind the wonder and the beauty was only malice and ugliness. She almost learned that every moment sought to harm her in some way; tenderize her with anxiety and then take a piece of her and chew on it, savoring the flavor of her agony.
He had already learned everything. Learned it a long time ago. But there was one thing he was ignorant of the entire time. It took a friend to show him that. And that friend spent his dying breath teaching that lesson.
Why did it have to take that much? It didn't need to happen. He could see, he just... chose not to. And because of his choice... Of all the beautiful phoenixes that could have risen from those ashes... why was he the thing that got to walk away?
What if it had been him? He felt like it should have. But, what he said the day before... it was like Jimmy knew. Jim was always the smarter one; maybe on a trip he saw the future. He could have said no; should have said no. But... all he did was make him promise. Promise not to let harm come to his sister.
He already broke that promise. Broke it before he made it. But he could keep her from learning the harms of the world.
He would be damned if he let that happen. She couldn't learn those things. She could not give up and learn that the world was ugly. He would prevent it at any cost. She would know only hope, see only wonder and joy. Because...
Because he wanted to see it, too.
But he couldn't see it on his own; he had forfeited that path far too long ago. He needed her to show him, had to see it through her eyes. He was the blind one; all she had to do was open her lids.
And tonight, he got his first glimpse, thin as the moon above but hopefully... Oh please, let it be waxing.
"No," he hushed, "don't say it out loud. It has to be a secret-secret."
She looked up at him with dilated eyes. She nodded, closed them, and made her wish.
They watched on as the spectacle lasted for several minutes more. Slowly the number of streaks became less, and less, and less, until at last there were only a few remnant sleepy-heads racing along while still putting on their pants.
He sat back down, and she joined him, fishing another cracker out of the box. She nestled into his arms again; he felt warmer than before. “Are you crying?”
”Your eyes are watery. Why are you crying—why are you sad?”
”I'm not sad,” he said with a smile. But the way she scanned him, the way she bit down on her cracker and slanted her gaze just slightly to the left, let him know that he failed her polygraph.
”Did you get to make your wish?” She questioned.
He looked down at her, and a frown formed on his face. “I don't get to make wishes,” he said somberly.
She whimpered. “Why not? You should get to make them too!”
"Shh,” he hushed her, “I'm too old, sissy. Besides," he hugged her tightly; "The wish I was gonna make just got granted."