Amberly is an amazing girl, who I’ve had a crush on for years, but have only been dating for about a month. She has long, dark hair and glowing eyes, and the most perfect lips ever. She is smart, funny, and kind, always helping somebody. She is the kind of girl who is liked by everyone, because she hates seeing others in pain. In fact, she comes perilously near being perfect, except for one tiny, irritating flaw. Amberly is an incredibly slow walker.
Today, I pace beside her as she carefully lifts one foot, and puts it down, waits a second, then does the same with her other foot. “Come on, Amberly,” I groan after a few minutes of this. Now that we have been dating for 6 weeks, I am at the point where I can comfortably complain around her, and vice versa. “By the time we get to the theater, the movie will have already started.” She glances up from her feet only to narrow her eyes at me.
“Come on Madelyn, have a little patience,” she replies. “We still have plenty of time, and if not, we can make the next showing. You know how I am about open spaces. Either way, I don’t think these shoes fit right, and I don’t want to slip.” I open my mouth to complain, but then she raises her eyebrows and I close it, instead glancing down at the neighbor’s vivid green lawn. I do know how she is about open spaces, and if I want to be a good girlfriend, then I probably shouldn’t bug her about it. Besides, she’s right. It doesn’t really matter if we’re there on time. I go back to walking with her.
Because she’s made such a big deal out of it, I can’t help looking at her shoes. They look new, very nice. Every time she puts her foot down, the light on the top slides from red to yellow to green, while her other shoe does the opposite, just how every adult in my life has told me they should. However, after a few moments I notice that the lights are staying on yellow perhaps a little longer than strictly necessary, and that her ankles wobble slightly every time she takes a step. Realizing with concern that Amberly falling and hurting herself is a real possibility, I step a bit closer to her and hold out my right arm like a prince offering a princess to dance. She notices and smiles, clutching my hand and resting her head against my shoulder in a way that makes me want to leap for joy. My grin widens as we continue down the street again, a couple in every sense of the word. Then, I see him.
The boy is about five years old, round-faced and laughing as he runs up the street, brushing past us. He is heading toward another young child a few houses down. Time seems to stand still, and I watch, my eyes unable to close as the lights on his shoes flicker rapidly from red to yellow, then back to red. I see his mother yelling at him to slow down, desperately trying to reach him as the other young child and her parent both raise their hands, shouting at him to slow down. He doesn’t listen. Isn’t running outdoors the first thing every parent tells their child not to do? The shock numbing my system is quickly being replaced with icy cold horror, but I can’t seem to move. Suddenly, I feel Amberly yank her hand from my grasp and lunge at the child- but he is going too fast, and I must practically rip her arm out of her socket trying to keep her from falling as both her shoes blink red.
Amberly collapses against me, and I know she’s thinking of her father, of his death, and all I can do is try to comfort her, while the child continues to run recklessly down the street. We wait for a second that feels like an hour. Finally, it seems as if the child is about to reach his friend, and we are all about to sigh in relief as he begins to slow down.
Then, with all the cruel irony of a thousand pointless deaths, I watch him stumble, trip over his own feet. He staggers to the left, leans forward, instinctively putting his hands out in front of him to break his fall. I watch in abject terror as his shoes blink, excruciatingly slowly, from green to yellow... to red.
With an agonizingly pure cry of terror, the child suddenly flies upward, yanked away from the ground and up into the sky, where he lands with a horrifying splat, ten yards above our head. I hear his mother scream in agony as she watches his vivid red blood spread across the sunny sky above, staining the afternoon sun crimson and soaking into the clouds. Now Amberly is sobbing irrevocably into my shoulder as we watch thousands of dark, insect-like creatures swarm instantly over the horizon, blocking out the light with their long, razor-tipped claws and teeth. Even from the ground, we can hear their hisses and clicks, the horrific cacophony of bones being shredded, of flesh being torn apart. The child’s blood splatters across the sky, and the smaller creatures throw themselves at the small red puddles, the steaming bits of flesh discarded by their superiors. Some of the blood spouts all the way to the ground, where it mars the grass we stand on and clots in Amberly’s dangling black hair. I stand there, mouth screwed shut, but eyes peeled open. I can’t stop looking. And I will never un-see this.
A few seconds (or millennia) later, the horrific tearing sound finally stops, and the creatures scurry back to the horizon like cockroaches in the light, leaving nothing but a clear blue sky overhead.
A few numb moments pass before any of us can move again. When they’re over, all I can do is watch as the poor mother begins to stumble forward again, sobbing softly as she approaches the blood-spattered ground where her son last stood. I hold Amberly tight against my chest, her tears flowing freely up her forehead before they fall upwards into the sky, just as the child had.
For almost an hour, we stand there, waiting as the police showed up and questioned us, as the mother is taken away in the ambulance. We watch the false sky slowly fade into evening. Finally, I hear Amberly’s sobs quiet down as she sags against me once more. Gently pushing her hair back, I adjust my grip on her shoulders and slowly turn her around before taking a small tentative step back in the direction we had been walking from. Her eyes are closed, her hair bloody, and she seems a million years away, but I know that, in time she will be ok. And I know she can hear me when I whisper into her ear.
“Let's go home.”