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Falling from the Sky
The New York skyline was magnificent against the blue skies. Not a cloud was in sight as far as the eye could see. School buses and trains were filled with students, rushing to get to their classes on time before their teachers would scold them.
A small pair of size three white Keds were moving twice as fast through the crowds of people across the street. People were sounding their horns in frustration as kids and adults alike ignored the blinking hand telling them they shouldn’t go. The little girl didn’t care as she moved about swiftly to the other side of the street.
Her father had left for his work up in the big tower and her mother was still watching as she crossed the one street it took for her to get to her elementary school. Everything was back to normal for the beginning of the school year. The beautiful fall days had come back and the weather was cooling down from the heat of summer.
Something about the day wasn’t quite right to the little girl. Everything was perfect, actually. Just too perfect. There were teacher meetings earlier that morning and all the students were to be there at 9:30 in the morning.
“Gracie!” The little girl turned around to see a boy running to her. He was grinning as he held his lunch sack tightly in his left hand. Gracie blinked her green eyes a few times as the boy skidded to a stop in front of her, narrowly missing getting hit by a taxi that tried to go through the intersection early.
“Hi, Alex,” she whispered as they continued to walk. Her friend, Alex, lived a block away from Gracie. They always ended their walk to school together.
“My mom gave me two brownies today, so there’s one for you,” he said and turned a little pink in the cheeks. Gracie pulled at her ponytail and grinned.
“I love brownies!” Gracie replied. A breeze from the street was picking up as they came closer to the kids inside on the playground. It was almost time for school, both of them knew, but they always had a knack for somehow getting in just on time. Gracie was determined not to be one of the last kids in the classroom.
“We aren’t going to be late.” Alex replied, reading Gracie’s mind. Gracie nodded and stopped at the door to the playground. The metal gates around the space seemed like the entrance to a prison on their very first day of kindergarten. But now, they were third graders. The gates weren’t as haunting and gigantic as before.
“Hello kids,” a lady with glasses said as her curly blonde hair swayed in the wind. Mrs. Watson had been waiting there to let the students in. She was their favorite teacher.
“Hi, Mrs. Watson,” Alex said as he leapt into the schoolyard. Gracie followed and was smiling as she dropped her backpack, rushing over to a group of girls sitting around a tree.
“Gracie!” A girl with fiery red hair giggled and hugged her. She had not seen Shannon since they went to the Mamma Mia musical up in Times Square last week. It was an early birthday treat from Gracie’s dad and both girls loved seeing all the lights of the city at night.
“Hi, Shannon,” she said as she sat down in the empty spot next to her. All the girls smiled to her as they leaned in, continuing their intense talk. Shannon and the rest of the girls were hyped up about some new doll that Macy’s was stocking the shelves with. That’s what Gracie loved most about the city: she was a train or a taxi away from the largest toy store she had ever seen!
“I think the new Barbie doll is great! Better than the one I got for Christmas last year.” The girls were all in agreement when Gracie sniffed the air, scrunching her nose up in disgust. Something wasn’t right at all now. The air smelled like something was burning.
“Where did you get the doll?” a girl with blonde pigtails asked. She plopped herself down beside Gracie and smiled.
“Macy’s. I love Macy’s! My parents promised me I could go on my birthday too!” Shannon grinned to Gracie, tapping her arm.
“Aren’t you having your birthday up there next week? I’m so excited to go!” Gracie’s birthday was on Tuesday the eighteenth. It was exactly a week from today. She had a countdown going till her party on Sunday the sixteenth: only five more days.
“Yes! We are going to see a movie and eat afterwards,” Gracie said as she stared up to the sky. A few other girls were asking her questions about the party, but she wasn’t listening.
Gracie’s mind was somewhere else as she was staring up to the sky and her gaze was following a puff of gray. Gracie was worried and confused as to why the rest of the girls didn’t see what was going on.
“Look!” A kid from behind them pointed up to the sky where a trail of thick smoke was circling towards them. It was far enough away where it wouldn’t swallow them up, but it was close enough that the odor was potent.
“What happened?” Before Gracie could open her mouth to try and speak, she felt a shake. Usually, a small vibration would signal a neighboring subway train underneath, but this was stronger than any subway train.
All of the girls in the circle turned their attention to the smoke and the smell, babbling on about what could possibly be going on. Boys were talking about alien invasions. Girls were worried there was a fire in one of the nearby buildings.
“Kids, we have to get inside!” Mrs. Watson yelled through the courtyard as she pushed Gracie’s group of friends inside. They were scrambling to keep their balance in the heap of people as they were headed inside the old school building.
Gracie pulled back from her class group, putting two small hands to the windows of the doors as sirens and whistles erupted around them. Teachers were yelling to each other from behind her. Mrs. Watson was lost in the crowd of kindergarteners outside as she tried to get them inside.
“Gracie! It’s not safe to be out of the classroom!” Mrs. Watson looked petrified as she stared in disbelief at Gracie’s curiosity to see what had happened. From the looks of it, it was almost like a giant campfire similar to the one Gracie and her father made this summer in upstate New York.
“But, what’s going on?” Mrs. Watson pulled Gracie away from the doors without answering her question. As the doors shut, Gracie stared out to the quiet neighborhood plagued by frantic police officers. All the thoughts about her birthday party left her. The new Barbie doll at Macy’s didn’t matter anymore. As her happiness was fading, she watched the thick gray ribbon cut across her perfect New York City blue sky as she turned to walk back to her classroom in an effort to escape it.