Jared stared out at the lush green “clouds” for awhile, imagining that anything below didn’t warrant his attention because he was so far above them. In reality, they were just trees that would die, and he wasn’t so much far above them as he was just barely. Still, just barely could be stretched to create a world’s length between him and the motley crew below.
An angry orange sphere was falling in slow motion through the green canopy dotted with rooftops. Some chimneys jutted from the canopy too, trying to capture their meager slices of color before the moon came out.
“Jared! Time for, um, dinner!” Aunt Misty called from the somber foot of the stairs. A real person from reality was calling.
“A minute!” Jared replied. A little terse, but she was used to it. The State had ordered meatloaf, but Aunt Misty was crafty and would hack into the system to show footage of one of their past meals.
When Jared descended the stairs, though, he smelled the savory meatloaf. He cursed underneath his breath and walked into the dining room.
“Why meatloaf?” Jared asked as he sat down.
“It’s what your Uncle would’ve wanted,” Aunt Misty replied, bringing the white dish with her and setting it on the center of the table.
“But I don’t want it. I’m alive,” Jared said. Aunt Misty’s lower lip quivered, and she walked out of the room. Jared sighed and tried to find whatever dark hole she climbed into. Despite the house being fairly small, when Aunt Misty didn’t want to be found, that was it. Jared always wondered if there was a secret passageway or something.
“Aunt Misty,” Jared called out, walking out of the kitchen only to lose three hours of his life. After he had apologized thoroughly, he conjured the excuse of taking out the trash so he could go see a friend. Aunt Misty was always concerned that the sirens would find their way to her doorstep if Jared went out by himself. But Jared had been doing this for years and everything had turned out okay.
“At least you don’t have to worry about your Uncle anymore,” Jared’s friend Sasha said to him as they skipped stones across the river. The night was pleasant and green. Lights shone from the porches of houses not that far off.
“I heard they find some way to come back,” Jared replied, not looking at her. “I’m afraid to go to Jimmy’s house. They were swallowed by something. I don’t know what.”
“We don’t have anything to worry about beyond the usual. Let’s just skip stones,” she said.
“Well, if I decided to go to Jimmy’s house sometime, would you go with me?” he asked.
Sasha looked at him, then patted his leg. “Of course,” she said. “But it’s been a really hard day. I just want to watch the ripples.”
Jared obliged and waited while the ripples went off like fireworks. The moon had waited all day to put on a show, and it didn’t disappoint. The frogs lent their noisy throats to the commotion by the river, and Jared relaxed for a bit, taking it all in. Soon though the porch lights started to die off one by one, and the anxiousness returned. Sasha didn’t seem to mind, but she was like a rock. She faded into another one of nature’s holes for a minute, then returned.
“I can’t let you walk home quaking in your boots,” she said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“Thanks. But you’d be wasting your time. I don’t want to go home. What if Uncle Tom comes back?”
“He’s cremated. How would he?”
Jared shook his head. “Dunno.” Sasha sighed, knowing she couldn’t argue with that. She put her arm around him and loaded up CoinBonanza on her phone. That always seemed to distract Jared.
“I got 100 coins this time. Pretty good, eh?”
“Well, it was on my phone. So they’re mine actually,” Sasha replied. Jared drooped a bit, but he managed to work his way up the ladder leading to his bedroom window without too much trouble. He opened the window, sliding inside with the grace of a discarded velvet sheet.
“Be careful!” Sasha said from the base of the ladder. “I mean, you don’t have to be, but…”
Jared gasped when he saw the spindly shadow of his Uncle Tom.
“Why should I bother punishing you when the State will beat me to it?” Aunt Misty’s voice drowned out the sirens. Jared knew she was right. Then he started to wonder if the sirens were for him, and if Sasha would be able to escape in time.