Dec 31 2010
Z’Aria was where Callie expected her to be, back in her squat under the deserted overpass. She looked up from her reading as she heard Callie’s footsteps on the gravel and debris scattered across the ground.
“Oh, you got the key! I was so happy when someone in Iris’s house said they knew about it.”
Callie held up the key to show her an affirmative.
“You were lost for a long time, I got tired of waiting and walked around looking for someone else to help. I even went by your place to see if you’d gone home somehow and found your letter to me. I wanted to help so much but didn’t know how! I didn’t find anyone for a while but when I walked past Iris’s big house that weird glass bubble was gone. They are so nice there!”
“I’m sure they are.”
“And they said Iris had found a key and that they’d heard about you and could deliver it. And they must have, here you are!”
“Here I am.”
“Did you find anything while you were lost?”
“I think I might have found a solution to all this craziness, and where all the people went. And how to stop it.”
“That’s wonderful! I’m tired of being scared and hungry all the time, it would be good to have things change.”
“Change often isn’t easy or pleasant, even when necessary.”
There was silence for a moment while Callie continued to look steadily at Z’Aria. The girl was a bit slow but she eventually started to put the subtext together. Callie watched the interplay of thoughts and emotions move across the other’s face and waited.
Z’Aria shifted on her seat and looked uncomfortable. “Those stories about the lady in the Box…the kids weren’t just making those up, were they?”
“I never heard those stories. But if I had to guess, I’d say they are more accurate than not.”
“Oh.” Z’Aria appeared a bit sad as she thought about this. “So what happens to me now?”
“I believe you’ll become part of the solution,” Callie replied.
“That part sounds nice at least. Will I be remembered?”
There were at least two answers to that one, and Callie found herself giving the nicer one. “By me, most assuredly. I have a method for never forgetting these moments.”
Z’Aria looked up at the overcast sky, her eyes looking moist at the corners. “I watched the stars all night last night. I would have liked to know why they were so different from back home. What happened to me, why I’m here. Just…why.”
Callie didn’t have a response to give her.
“It wasn’t the story I thought I’d have. At least the end will make some sense.”
That was as good a cue as any. Callie moved forward. This one was gentle and quick.
Afterward, Callie pulled out the paper with the snippet of paragraph that had first led her to Z’Aria. As she’d suspected, the words were already fading as she read. She reached the last word just as it disappeared into the perfect blankness of the page’s whole. A death perhaps more final than any Callie was familiar with.
The sky appeared to grow darker, and tiny vibrations shook the ground for a moment. Callie pushed the paper back into her pocket and hurried toward home. There were a few last things to take care of before her guest showed up, which would be quite soon now that the invitation had been delivered.