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Emily exists in a humungous ravine. Though it is more of a sunken pit in the countryside than a rocky canyon-gap (as some would think of it), it is Emily’s entire world. It rests below its surroundings as such that even the extraordinarily tall totems of sandstone and red clay are barely visible from the horizon line. Indeed, Emily entertains the thought that if there were life in outer space, it must think the earth full of obsessive totem-building, hideaway elves or something equally ridiculous. She would like to travel to outer space someday, but she knows there is no oxygen outside of Earth. People need oxygen to live. Emily often thinks of this unfortunate fact and sighs regretfully.
Emily has taken a liking to a boy named Peter. She thinks he is very cute with his innocent green eyes and random smiles. She is careful to keep this to herself, lest Peter find it silly and thus abandon her forever. However, she no longer needs to worry about this (though she often thinks of it in retrospect).
Peter disappeared last week. This saddens Emily. Although today is Halloween, she is not romping around town for the classic ritual of “trick-and/or-treat-ing,” as the other children are doing right now. Nor is she sitting around a flickering fire listening to creepy Halloween stories, as the older children are doing right now. She is not even participating in the annual contest for loudest scream (intended to simulate the screams of people who try to climb the walls of the Earth and fall). Instead, she has been sitting on the back porch with a jack-o-lantern (she carved herself, she would be proud to say) and a soggy little paper blotted with past tears. The paper is a letter from Peter after he disappeared. In his nervously uneven handwriting (beautifully imperfect, Emily would say), Peter tells Emily that he is not dead. He tells her that he lives outside the ravine now, teasingly calling his new town Alpha Centauri (he knows how much she loves it). She is tempted to believe him, but secretly thinks it impossible that Peter would be living on Alpha Centauri without the ability to breathe oxygen. Emily thinks he should be dead by now (not intentionally, Emily would say, but probably), but Peter claims that she lives in a ravine, Earth is of impossibly gigantic proportions, and that outer space is incomprehensible. Emily always laughs softly, but desperately wants to believe it is true (Peter is never wrong, she would say).
Emily’s favorite part of the letter is the postscript, where Peter tells her he misses her. Emily has swooned so many times over this simple sentence that she has already dedicated herself to finding him. She has carefully reasoned that Halloween (and its ridiculous tricky treating or whatever, she would say) is the perfect distraction for her attempt to escape the ravine. She fills with excitement when she thinks of realizing her dream of space travel.
She is a little embarrassed when she realizes she doesn’t know what to do. Emily gently folds the letter into a tiny paper square, drops it into the jack-o-lantern, and crinkles her nose at the smoky stench coming from the hollowed pumpkin. She is careful to avoid sudden movements as she slides between the totem pillars and comes to the Earth’s towering walls (made of sandstone and red clay, as Emily knows). She looks up and recalls that these walls are outrageously high. She sighs and walks to one of the totems.
Emily reaches into her jack-o-lantern and withdraws the candleholder, which is simply a disk-shaped piece of metal with a hole in the middle. She finds a jagged rock nearby and cuts the pumpkin in half using a zigzag pattern. Gripping the pumpkin by its stem, she jams the toothed edges into the totem pillar – to her delight, it lodges and offers traction. Instantly, she knows her plan of action.
Emily steps onto an eagle’s wing at the ground level block of the totem and uses her pumpkin pickaxe as a ledge to help pull her up to the next block, which is a bear’s nose. She proceeds in this manner, careful to move slowly lest anyone notice her, until she reaches the flat top of the totem pillar. She sits with her legs gripping the side of the totem (a most terrifying experience, Emily would say).
Emily looks around her and is disappointed to find that it is not outer space. It is wide-open grassland with no trees and a fresh blanket of oxygen everywhere. She closes her eyes and holds her breath as she leaps from the top of the totem to the edge of the new Earth – making it to the other side; she falls to the ground in relief. She turns back and, for the first time, she is breathless at the notion that her village exists in a hole. She runs a good distance away and looks back at the place she came from – it is no longer visible, save the very tops of the totem pillars. She bends over and presses the ground to make sure it doesn’t collapse.
Emily is startled by the broken silence. She turns – it is Peter. Uncertain of this reality, Emily stands in striking silence. After a long pause, she speaks.
“Please don’t scare me like that.”
“It IS Halloween.”
Emily doesn’t respond until Peter breaks into a smile.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, Emily.”
“I know you didn’t.”
“You don’t have to be scared anymore.”
“About this new Earth?”
“This is part of Earth. The village in the ravine is part of Earth. Everything is part of Earth.”
Emily is silent for a moment.
“Where’s outer space?”
“You did not go trick-o-treating?”
“Then consider this your Halloween treat.”
Peter puts his arm around Emily and gently lifts her chin to the sky. Emily sees the stars as she has never seen them before. They stand in silence for some time.
“Do you think we live in a ravine, Peter?”
“Maybe those scary Halloween stories about the night and people who die trying to scale the walls are just meant to scare us out of doing the same. Maybe there are walls on this new Earth that we can climb out of.”
“Where would that lead to?”
Emily points arbitrarily at the night sky.
“Maybe closer to outer space. Maybe Earth has levels, like the totem pillars. And as you climb each block, you get closer to the stars.”
Peter thinks for a moment.
Emily points to a particularly bright star that she thinks seems closest to her.
“Do you think we could ever reach that place? It’s very pretty, that one. Is it a planet?”
Peter follows her finger into the sky and gazes at the sparkling speck in the sky for an elongated pause. Emily looks at him questioningly, her finger still pointing towards the star.
After a while, Peter speaks very softly.
“That’s Alpha Centauri.”