Andrew sat excitedly in the flying ship on his way to the school, face pressed to the crystalline window.
“Bertha,” he whispered, “Can you believe it? We’re going to a school in the sky!”
Bertha, sitting beside him demurely, had her hands folded in her lap and continued to stare at the wooden floor. She nodded slightly, trying not to draw too much attention, casting a nervous glance at the other passengers, who by now were all either chatting excitedly or sleeping.
“I bet father never expected this. Imagine, Bertha,” he said reverently, “We’re going to be in a fortress floating in the sky, studying about how to fight against the evil Legions of Time. Listen, I already studied. ‘The Legions of Time are an evil and insane force, devoted to a single, fanatical cause. Their goal is to destroy the Origination, the source from which all humans have sprung.”
Bertha smiled palely just to listen to the sound of her brother’s voice. She could never quite figure out what was so appealing about this school, but if he was happy, then she was, too. He would talk and she would listen, and it would be as it always had been. She closed her eyes, feeling the vibrations of more than listening to the sounds of his words. The ship rocked slowly back and forth as it traveled through the sky. Peace.
“Excuse me.” A girl’s voice sliced through the air and pierced Bertha’s quiet. She, tall and imposing, sneered down at Bertha.
“Sorry,” Bertha said, barely a whisper. She almost was not sure she had spoken. She shifted to the side to allow the girl to pass through the narrow walking space.
“Weirdo,” the girl muttered as she slid by, giving Bertha a deliberate shove and tipping her world, making her collapse onto Andrew.
“Agh,” he exclaimed, his train of thought interrupted. “What’s the matter, Bertha?”
“Nothing,” she said meekly. “A girl pushed me.”
“That isn’t nothing,” muttered Andrew, face darkening like a storm front. “Don’t let people push you, Bertha. Where is she now?”
Bertha pointed timidly in the girl’s direction, hoping that Andrew wouldn’t hurt himself. “Don’t go,” she whispered. “You’ll get into trouble.”
“Trouble?” he asked, startled. “She pushed you!”
“But you’ll…” Andrew had already left. Bertha raised her hand out tentatively, but withdrew it as soon as someone turned his head in her direction. She stared at her lap, dread shaking her vision.
“Hey!” Bertha could pick out his voice through the others mumbling quietly in the crowd. “Hey, you. Don’t push my sister. Got it?”
“And what if I do?” asked the girl, loudly. “What’re you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to make you take that back,” he shouted. The ship was eerily silent. Bertha stole a glance up. Every eye was trained on the two combatants.
“Never,” she said. “And who are you, her big brother?”
“I am,” he snarled. “And who are you, the town idiot?”
“I don’t need to deal with you,” she snapped. “I have better things to do.”
“Like shove people?” Andrew asked.
“Go away, weirdo,” she said, and turned away, heading towards a group of people sitting in a circle.
“I will, coward,” Andrew said, and began walking back to Bertha. She lowered her head, trying to shrink into the seat. She was afraid everyone would stare at her. She saw Andrew’s shoes come tapping back on the wooden deck to take his place back by the window. “No one’s ever going to push you again,” he muttered, the other passengers staring at him. Time, for a few brief moments, was suspended.
Suddenly, the ship was slowing down. They were nearing the school, its elegant, light design allowing it to float peacefully among the clouds. Andrew glared out of the window, back hunched and eyebrows drawn, grunting. He reminded Bertha of a picture book they’d seen once full of mythical animals—there had been one called a “gorilla”. His thoughts were turned inward, his eyes withdrawn and dark, like they always were when Bertha was hurt.
They spun to a stop, the great sails of the skyship falling from their full bloom to settle into white folds, swaying slightly in the breeze. The sky, pure and so delicately fragmentable, was just barely held together by the bright rays of sunlight which shone with a magnitude unknown to the inhabitants of Earth’s surface. Bertha drew in a small breath, gazing out at the infinite blue space she would soon call home.
“Andrew…” Her voice trailed, like disappearing mist. She gazed in wonder, but her brother was not looking. Perhaps it was because she had spoken quietly. But she knew it wasn’t.
Why did he have to take so much pain onto himself? As they walked down the boardwalk, shoes thumping onto the wood, she cast a glance at him. He would protect her but hurt himself. It pained him more deeply than she would ever understand. That she knew with a certainty she could not explain. Perhaps it was because their years lived were the same, but more likely it was because she was fooling herself.
Or maybe it was because their father had sent them away.
“And Andrew and Bertha, the twins,” murmured the wrinkled teacher, scanning through her list. “All here.”
Andrew stood stiffly next to Bertha, trying to look at his classmates without being too obvious about it. There was a dull boy whose face resembled old dough, who stood with both feet planted flatly on the ground. A girl whose nose arched and pointed like the stinger of a wasp, and whose whining voice only enhanced the image. Another boy who was constantly distracted, eyes flitting from one end of the room to the other, his hair a shock of orange. All the same.
“Delilah,” the teacher called, her voice like a whispering flute, “What did I just say?”
As Andrew was turning around to look at Delilah, he heard her voice. Her voice. She was the one who had pushed his sister.
“You said,” she drawled lazily, “that the Origination is not a physical manifestation, but that it’s an idea.” She paused. “But isn’t it true that the Legions of Time also want to destroy said Origination? Then how would they do that, if they can’t physically alter it? Do they have devices that we’ve never heard of?”
“Good question, Ms. Delilah,” the woman said, her large, milky eyes barely blinking. Her round, speckled glasses rested precariously on her nose. “In fact, their idea of destroying the Origination suggests that they have some advantage over us that we don’t know about. They might have something that we don’t, and that makes them a very dangerous enemy. And that is why you are all here.”
Andrew’s hand flung up. He cast a sideways glance at Delilah, watching her composure.
“But how would we fight an enemy whose weapons we don’t know?” Delilah narrowed her eyes.
“A very intelligent question. Here, after long study of the so-called Legions, we have been able to analyze their strategies and consider all their likely possibilities. We…”
And slowly, her hooting voice began to fade, and it was just Andrew and Delilah, Andrew and Delilah speaking, Andrew and Delilah, voices one after another dancing in a fight, a continuation of the war that was started on a ship in the sky. And he watched Delilah begin to grin, a maniacal smile that seemed to leer at the world.
I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I forgot!
No! Please, please, stop! Mother, mother, I’m sorry…It hurts…
Why? Why do I always have to remember everything?
The groceries, I—it was one carrot! And I couldn’t remember that they’d left; anyone could have forgotten. I thought we could borrow the money from them. Mother, I couldn’t remember which type of drink you wanted, I’m sorry! I can’t remember everything, mother…No, mother, stop! Please, please…
Why do I always have to remember?
“That’s enough questions,” hooted the teacher. “Andrew, Delilah, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it’s time to move on. I’m afraid your classmates can’t follow your train of thought.”
Chris picked at a spot on his tasseled shirt, bored. He never was really interested in this sort of thing, but daddy had made him come anyway. And here it was uncomfortable and smelly and common, something he could not stand. He could be doing something useful right now, like having his clothes tailored. His new coat was beginning to attract dust. How horrible it was here! There weren’t even any servants. But no. Chris was of higher blood and should treat those inferior to him with tolerance and kindness.
“And now, we’ll begin to work in groups. Split into groups of four.”
And suddenly Chris found himself mixing with the commoners, stuck without a group. His head swept about frantically, looking for a group before he was forced to be with someone distasteful. Ah. He would be with the loud boy and his twin sister and another girl.
“May I join your group?” he asked, doing his best to sound overjoyed at the prospect.
The loud boy looked at him. His face was exactly like his sister’s, a square jaw but a pointed chin, smooth cheeks and curving eyelashes. His eyes were strangely triumphant. “Sure,” he said. They all sat on the floor, Chris using his handkerchief to dust off a spot for himself. It irked him that they had no chairs, but what could he do? At least they had large windows, like the ones at his house.
“What are we doing, exactly?” he asked, surveying them distastefully.
“We’re talking about the Seers of Truth,” the loud boy said. “Didn’t you hear? Anyway, I—”
Chris began to regret his decision to join this group. But it was done, and he might as well have fun. “I want to speak first,” he announced.
“Fine,” the loud one muttered.
“Wait,” Chris began, hesitating. “Who are the Seers of Truth, again?”
“Oh, great,” the third boy groaned.
“The Seers of Truth,” the loud boy began, “are people the Legions predict to be key in the destruction of the Origination. It is unknown whether they exist or not, but the Legions are currently combing the south because rumor has it that the latest Seer will come from there.”
“And why are we even talking about this?” moaned Chris.
“Because that’s why the Legions are attacking all the southern lords!” The boy was exasperated, Chris noted with amusement. “Don’t you know anything?”
“More than you, Loudy!”
“Hey! The name’s Andrew.”
“All right, Loudy. It’s funny how your sister’s so quiet. Is there something wrong with her, that she isn’t like you?”
“Shut up,” shouted Andrew, clenching his fists. “You’re such a brat!”
Chris watched satisfyingly as Andrew grew annoyed. What fun it was to see this boy grow angrier and angrier!
“Hey,” Andrew was saying, suddenly. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, me? Chris Daerys,” he drawled. Chris picked at his shirt again, and didn’t notice Andrew’s calculating glance.
“Daerys,” he muttered. “Daerys. Ah, the Daerys family! You’re very prestigious. Everyone in the south has heard of you.”
“Of course,” acknowledged Chris. “We are, after all, one of the richest families in the south.”
“It would be a pity if all your riches went to waste,” Andrew sighed. Chris nodded, heartened. “Such a pity if your inheritance were to be destroyed by the Legions.”
Chris frowned, lines on his forehead forming. “But that isn’t going to happen, is it?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” mused Andrew. “What if the Legions were to pillage your estates and ruin everything? What if they’re doing it right now and you don’t know about it?”
“That’s ridiculous,” laughed Chris, but he began to wonder. “Anyway, if that happens, Daddy will come and find me, and he’ll just buy a house somewhere else.”
“But what if he doesn’t survive?”
And Chris didn’t notice Bertha touching Andrew’s sleeve, didn’t notice the pained way she looked at him. All he thought about was the what-ifs. Because what if Daddy didn’t come find him? What if Daddy never came to find him?
And, for the first time in his life, Chris Daerys began to wonder—and began to fear.
I think I know now.
I know because the world told me.
I know because of the way you come home at night sometimes. I know because of the way you scream at Father, and the sickening thuds afterwards. I know because at the end of the month when you and Father count the bills, you always slip some into your pocket in a way so he can’t see. I know because Andrew and I don’t go to school. I know because when we went to the hospital that Uncle Edwards money paid for and saw you lying there, Father said all your blood vessels in your brain turned into one. I know now.
I have to remember so you can forget.
I had to remember so you could leave your troubles behind.
Bertha said nothing as she walked by him, clutching her books to her chest. It vaguely jogged a memory in the back of his head. She never said anything these days, but now he remembered that she used to talk.
Delilah had been watching him, he could tell. But he wasn’t going to say anything. Yeah, so he had been kind of mean to that Chris. But he deserved it for being a brat about Bertha. Andrew was right. And now he would forget about it, because he was right, wasn’t he?
The hallways were tall but bright, their large, glass-paned windows letting in the sun. The dormitories, the dormitories…where were they? Students flowed through the hall every which way, and there were no signs anywhere. Andrew decided to try out a smooth flight of spiraling stone steps, the handrail white and green, which a few students in baggy, comfortable clothes were descending.
They led up to a great open area with a high, decorated ceiling, which had two gateways on either side, each adorned with carved stone vines. One side was pink and the other blue. Andrew felt immensely satisfied with himself. Bertha, of course, said nothing.
“There you go, Bertha,” he said, motioning to the pink gate. “I’ll be going now. If you have trouble, just yell, okay?”
She peered up at him, eyes liquid, and turned around and walked away, her pale fingers holding the books to her chest, and disappeared in the crowd.
Andrew faced the great arching blue gate and began to walk. This would be his home for the next few years; this would be his haven. Inside the arch was a turn and then a gigantic open area filled with white beds. A giant window facing the east opened into a balcony at the far end, and Andrew’s heart quickened. This is where he wanted to be.
Rushing over, he placed his bags down onto a bed near the window. Looking more closely, he realized there was a glass door, which he opened. Out he walked onto the thin stone balcony, railings intertwined with vines. His feet tapped until he reached the edge, and he gazed into the blue sky. The sun was not much stronger, though he was so high up, and he leaned on the railing and gazed down.
Fields of green sprawled through mountains and valleys, rivers splattered across the land like a child’s painting. Looking closely, he could make out dots of northern settlements, brown sprinkles in fields of green. To the south, the land was browner, and at the very edge of the horizon he could make out patches of snow. The south always had it harder, for they were the ones with the snow, the ones with the cold that would never escape your bones, while the north had all the balmy weather and prosperous crops you could ask for. Andrew loved the south, his home, the place that was closest to his heart.
But to the south he could also see the fires, the patches of darkness where a village used to stand. And he could feel the clock in his heart, counting down the seconds the south had to fight against the Legions. Andrew gazed at his two hands, resting on the smooth stone so carelessly, with bitter disgust. He would fight the Legions. He would save the South. And then, then, he could return to the earth. And he would face his father.
“Bertha,” Andrew mutters angrily, throwing himself onto the single, think, creaking mattress, “I hate him.”
He has bruises on his face, on his arms, on his back, and a throbbing scar on his cheek. He and I used to look alike.
“I bet Mother loved me,” he says, picking at what little is left of the filling. “I bet she was kind and sweet and caring and she loved us.” His eyes strayed to the plaster chipping on the walls, and I know he is inventing the sound of her voice in his head.
“Bertha,” he says quietly, “why don’t you talk anymore?” And now his eyes, so much like mine, are rising up to meet me, and I know I can never tell him why. Because if I speak, I am afraid I will forget. And I must never forget. He, blood of my blood, can speak for me. But, already, he moves on.
“Life is horrible,” he moans, complaining. “My life is nothing. I wish we could just get out of here. I wish Father were dead. I wish…I wish I could do something in my life.” And I can tell he is sincere. I know. But I no longer have anything to say to him, so I say the only thing I know how.
“Andrew,” I say. Startled, he looks up, and his eyes are wide. The air is still, frozen like a layer of ice.
“I will remember you.”
Age 13, Grade 8
Hunter College High School