Authors: Rebecca A. Rogers
under the stars
REBECCA A. ROGERS
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2011 by Rebecca A. Rogers
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
First Edition: August 1, 2011
ALSO AVAILABLE BY REBECCA A. ROGERS: Silver Moon (Silver Moon, #1)
For those who believe not all fairytales end happily.
Kathy, Jenn, Krista, Jamie, Susanne and Sarah—Thank you for reading this and giving me your honest and invaluable opinions.
You helped me more than you know.
Stars plummet from the sky. In hours of darkness, they are lights when we have none. But during the daytime, they are flaming balls of disaster. Entire towns are destroyed when the spheres hit. And now my family and I can do nothing but watch our home join the ranks of the demolished.
We resume traipsing through a scorching-hot wasteland, where the dirt and sand grinds against the soles of our feet. The sun perches on the edge of the sky, filtering rays through the holes in our clothes. My lips are cracked; they bleed almost every day.
“How much further, do you know?” I ask. I don’t have the energy to turn around and look at my mom. My little brother clings to my side, but his strength is waning, too—his grip isn’t as tight anymore.
“Not far,” Mama replies. Over the past few days, her condition has deteriorated. She was once a simple woman with rosy cheeks and skin like a porcelain doll. Now, her face is bronzed, and the blush is gone. Her eyes are hollow, sunken pits. Her hair hasn’t been combed in God knows when.
My little brother, Mattie, is growing thin. With what little food we have left, I’ve been giving him my rations. He’s only seven—ten years younger than me. I know he’s scared. We all are. What if this new settlement rejects us? Where will we go then?
sounds behind me. It’s Mama. That’s the third time she’s collapsed since we began this trek over a week ago. I rush to her side. This is one of those moments I wish Dad were still alive. He’d help carry her, and all I’d do is take care of Mattie. But now I have both of them to look after.
Mattie’s tears have washed clear paths down his soiled cheeks. He just stands there, like always, and doesn’t know what to do.
“It’s okay, Mattie. Mama’s gonna be okay,” I say, hoping my words will bring him comfort.
I gently pat Mama’s face. She groans and rolls her head from side to side. I try to block the sun out of her line of sight, and raise the canteen of water to her lips. Within a few minutes, she sits up.
“I’m so sorry. Everything went black.” She brings her palm to the side of her head.
“Maybe Legora will have supplies for your pain. Food for all of us. We’ll make it.” I grab hold of her hand and pull her up. With one of her arms around my shoulders, I let her lean on me.
Mattie is on my other side—still holding on for dear life.
He doesn’t speak. Not since Dad died two years ago. Dad was a thoughtful man, with beautiful blue eyes and a smile that could brighten your worst day. He and Mattie were closer than I’ve ever seen a father and son. But when Dad decided to do something, he didn’t let anything stop him. He woke up one morning and told us he couldn’t live in such a dreadful place. We barely had enough to eat one full meal a day, and he didn’t want to see his children go hungry any longer. So, he left the city in search of a better job—one that would keep us fed and clothed.
And he never came back.
Days turned into months, and soon the months turned into years. I suspect that, in this climate, nobody lasts long. If the vagabonds don’t kill you, Mother Nature will.
In the days and months after Dad left, Mama was so upset. She still is. There are some days I wonder if she doesn’t want to continue, and that’s why she’s sort of given up. I’m still standing. So is Mattie. If we can do it, she can. I know any loss of a loved one is horrible, but we have to move forward.
“What if he comes back to look for us?” Mama asked before we left our house.
“If he hasn’t returned by now, then he’s never coming back,” I had said.
She cried. Heart-wrenching, guttural cries. I’ll never forget that day. It took all of my determination and patience to convince her that we needed to seek help elsewhere. Our hometown, Fortune, had practically dried up. Our neighbors had left in search of bigger and better opportunities. We couldn’t have stayed forever.
Mama slips from my grasp and falls again. I don’t know how much longer I can be strong for her. One can only do so much for another before their faith diminishes.
And I’m rapidly losing faith in her.
“Okay, let’s camp here for the night. You can get some sleep and we’ll start bright and early tomorrow.”
Mama softly shakes her head. “No. We must continue.”
“Don’t be silly. You continue to collapse, and I can’t carry you the whole way. You need your rest. We all do.” I motion toward the backpack Mattie’s been carrying. “Eat up.”
Mattie digs inside, finding half of a loaf of crusty bread. He stares at it, but then realizes he has nothing else to eat. He bites into it with a
. His eyes… So much worry for someone so young. He shouldn’t have to go through this. Nobody should.
“I promise they’ll have fresh food in Legora. I won’t let you—any of us—eat like this again,” I say, placing Mama into a comfortable position. She rests against the rolled-up sleeping bag while I craft the tent.
“I’m so sorry.” Mama wails.
I glance at her. “For what?”
“For being an awful mother. I should’ve left over a year ago. I knew your father wasn’t coming back, but still, I wished.”
“Don’t blame yourself for losing him. It was his decision, not yours.” I continue to link the rods on the tent together for support. It’s slowly coming together. If I don’t do it by nightfall, we’ll freeze to death. The weather changes from scorching daylight to bitter darkness within a matter of hours. That’s one reason why we’re trying to settle in a new village. The more people there are the more means we’ll have to stay alive. If we ever make it…
Mama slumps over, and I quickly jump to sit her back up. She groans.
“You need to eat,” I say.
She shakes her head at me. She looks too exhausted to even open her mouth and chew. Mattie glances at the bread the size of his tiny hand, and hesitantly reaches forward to give it to Mama.
“Oh, no, Mattie. It’s yours. Eat it. You need your strength more than I.” She gently pushes his hand away. He looks at the hardened bread like it doesn’t seem so appetizing anymore.
“Take mine.” I reach over and grab my portion out of the bag with our only belongings.
“No, Andrina. You’ve been handing off your rations to Mattie and me. When was the last time you ate?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe a few days ago.”
She bites her lip. “You’ll die out here if you don’t have your strength.”
“Mama, I’m stronger than the both of you combined. I can take it. Besides, I need to keep watch tonight. I can’t stay awake on a full stomach.” Full? Who am I kidding? I could eat a wild animal right now and I’d still be hungry. But they don’t need to know that. One of us has to be on watch during sleeping hours. If we don’t, we could easily die in our sleep. The stars fall at night, too. Not just the daytime. They’re definitely a spectacle during twilight rather than during the day, but are still catastrophic.
“You’ve watched over us for the past few days. Let me do it tonight,” Mama says.
Before she finishes her sentence, I’m shaking my head. “No. You need to sleep. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new life for us. We have to finish our journey. I won’t see the two of you lying in the sand again.”
Mama’s lips form a thin line, and her eyes soften. “All right.”
After piecing together the tent and getting Mama and Mattie snuggled into our one and only sleeping bag, I sit near the circular opening; it’s unzipped enough that I can stick my head out and watch. In the vast distance, I see fiery orbs raining from the heavens. They’re beautiful from afar. Not only do I have to watch out for Mama and Mattie, but I have to make sure thieves and beggars don’t find us.
Back at our old home in Fortune, there were some men who broke through our front window and began taking what little food we had. We were all asleep in the nook upstairs. I was the sole person to wake up and catch them. Without any form of help—and without much thinking—I grabbed the weapon my father used when he hunted. A dagger. I forced the men to return our food and leave our home. They obliged, but promised to return. I couldn’t sleep for days afterward. Their faces splayed across the backs of my eyelids. Every night I wonder where they are and if they’re going to find us. I fear for Mama and Mattie’s safety the most. I never told them what happened. Instead, I presented the idea of moving to Legora.
Though hesitant at first, Mama soon came around to approving the suggestion. And here I sit, wondering whether we’ll see tomorrow. Wondering why life can’t be easier. Wondering why Dad had to leave.
I don’t remember my eyelids slipping.
I do remember the sub-zero breeze burning my nose, and causing my eyes to well with unwanted tears.
My entire body shakes. At first, I think it’s the ground, and that the fiery spheres have caught up to us. Then I think it’s a stampede of some sort. Maybe buffants—a mutation between buffalo and elephants. When they reach you, there’s no outrunning or escaping them. You’ll be trampled to death.
“Andy, wake up.” Mama’s hushed voice breaks through my drowsy thoughts. It’s then I realize the ground isn’t shaking, just me, and Mama’s causing it.
“I’m sorry I didn’t keep watch,” I tell her. One glance and I see that the opening to our tent has been zipped.
“Don’t worry. I woke after you fell asleep.”
“You didn’t rest?” I rub the crust from the corner of my eyes, and reach for the canteen. There’s little water left, and it’s beginning to thaw. Enough, though, that I can take a sip and wash the crap-taste out of my mouth.
“I’ll be fine. I think we’ll make it today.”
“I hope so.” I open the tent door and step outside. Immediately, the sun singes my face. I turn around and search for my torn baseball cap. Dad used to wear it. Mattie didn’t call dibs after Dad left, so I took it. But it provides enough coverage that my face won’t fry.
Mattie has trouble waking up. He’s been so exhausted lately, and with him malnourished, I can only imagine how much worse this trek is for his little body.
“Sweetie, you have to get up,” Mama coos.
Mattie rolls over, facing away from her. I’m sure that if he spoke, he’d tell her he doesn’t want to get up, that he’s too tired. But until he begins speaking again, we won’t know.
“C’mon, Mattster. The sooner you get up and get going, the sooner we’ll reach Legora.”
He slowly sits, pulling himself out of the sleeping bag.
“Are you excited?” I ask him.
He gazes at me with sorrow-filled eyes and slowly nods. I know he’s hungry and exhausted. I wish there’s a way I can tell him it’s going to be all right. Everything’s going to work out. But I can’t.
With Mama and Mattie awake, I take my usual position in rolling up the sleeping bag and disassembling the tent. In a few more hours we’ll be close to reaching the town we’ve journeyed for. My stomach performs a solo somersault at the idea that it’ll soon have food and drink. I lick my creviced lips.
As soon as Mattie takes the backpack with our diminished supplies, Mama takes the sleeping bag, and I take the folded tent. Then we begin another new adventure.