Editor's note: This is the fourth year of the Rotary Club of Summit County/Summit Daily News short story contest for local high school students. This year's winners read their stories at the Rotary's Jan. 8 meeting and were awarded certificates and cash prizes for their achievement in creating an original work of short fiction. Today we feature the first-place winner, Tessa Wetherbee, who is 14 years old and homeschooled.
A shower of brightness across the sky. A doomed star falls, leaving a trail of bright white behind it, a reminder that it once existed, that it once rested on the soft comfort of the sky.
"What's that, mummy?" squeals a little girl, tugging her mother's weary hand, a hand that has been tugged on too much.
"Just a star, sweetie. Just another dying star," says the mother, in a worn out voice. She doesn't care about dying stars.
"It looks sad. Do you think it would be sad to die like that?" her daughter asks, gaze fixed on the still glowing trail. The star is gone.
The mother sighs. She doesn't have time for a daughter who watches a star die. She glances down at the digital display on her forearm. The neon numbers state the time - 11:50.
"Sweetie, it's getting late. The deck will close soon."
"Just a little longer. Please?"
The mother's mouth pulls down at the corners, and she rubs her tired eyes beneath her visor. She doesn't even have the energy to argue.
"Fine. A little longer." She says, her foot tapping impatiently on the cold metal walkway.
The little girl pulls her mother closer to the railing that guards the observation deck. She turns her face to the greenish horizon, the tall, spindly buildings reaching up like flame to lick the sky. Far below, at the base of the faintly glowing wall, lies soft, sifted sand.
Are those little star footprints in the sand? She leans out over the railing, her thin arms propping her up, as they slide from a tired grip. She is almost horizontal now, a superhero in baby shoes.
The mother looks, sees her daughter spread out against the sky, and lets out a scream, cutting the night in two.
The girl is not listening. Through her visor, green-tinted, as everything else is, the little girl's milky blue eyes are fixed on the spread of silver sand, those star prints. The mother is quick, a darting flash of vermilion on blue-black.
But the girl is quicker. She slips over the edge, leaving her mother to grasp at the ghost of her shoes. There is another scream, and the night shatters to pieces.
"Please! My daughter, she's fallen over the edge!" the mother wails, looking down the long, empty observation deck. There is nobody there. Perhaps, when she broke the night, the mother was left alone on her own separate piece.
A man comes running down the deck, wearing a sliver of a dark green suit that melts into the darkness and a golden helmet, a strange contrast.
"Oh, thank god. My daughter she, she ..." The mother's words run together, spilling out, and the man leans closer, trying to catch them.
"Slow down. What happened?" The man asks, with a steadying voice and a steadying arm.
The mother sways on the man's arm. She takes a deep, rattling breath. Her hands fly out, point at the railing.
"My daughter fell over the rail-she fell off the wall! You have to do something!"
The man's face turns very pale beneath his green visor, giving him a ghastly tint. His mouth flops open. He races to the ledge, looks over. They exchange sharp, panicked words.
The man inputs a code into a panel on his arm with shaking fingers, as the mother crumples to the platform, which reflects the watching stars like silver water.
Very soon, the deck is alive with people. Lights are held over the rail by trim white and green robots, their faces frozen into the perfect picture of calm. But it is only that: a picture. The robots feel nothing at all.
Experts and medical crews arrive, the base of the wall is searched, and comforting words - it will all be okay - are said.
All night, the deck swarms with emerald green-clothed officials, like a frantic flock of exotic birds. But it is too late. They will work all night, but it is too late.
A girl fell through the night, outlined by a white glow. Her arms spread out, a splash of green on a green wall. It would be a long time before she hit the sand.
What is that, mummy?
Just a star, sweetie - just another dying star.