Flickering Lives

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“When is it?”
“Today.”
“Is it now?”
“Watch it for yourself.”
“Do they really say so? Do they really know?”
“They know. They should know.”
The kids press their faces tightly against the dirty school window, trying to look outside. It’s noon, the light seems so strong that you can hardly look the sun without squinting.
“Can’t believe it’s only 60?. It was 80 yesterday!”
“Didn’t you hear? We may not get heat anymore; we may not get sunlight anymore. The sun is failing!”
Suddenly, everything goes black, as if someone accidentally flipped the light button to off, except this time the button controls the world. The emptiness is a black hole, slowly eating up everything around it --- hope, courage, belief. Fear and despair saturates the atmosphere: when will this be over? Will it be over? Then, after what seems like eternity, the emergency lights flash on. Eerie white light fills their visions, like all the ghosts have escaped the underworld and come up to the ground. Nobody dares to move, as if the world will shatter the moment when silence is broken.
Finally, a little boy can’t stand it anymore and starts crying. Soon, everyone starts sobbing. A teenage girl whispers to her 17 year old  friend, “Oh Maggie, what are we going to do!?”
Maggie tries to comfort her, “Don’t worry, everything will be alright. We can do this.” Her friend whimpers, but nods her head. Maggie stares at the window with a sorrowful look. Although she pretends to be optimistic, she is desperate to know the answer, too. And like the other children, the answer doesn’t please her.
As Maggie attempt to assure the girl that they will be okay, her mind goes back to when she had last lived in Planet 1065. She remembers one of her last conversations with her mom.
“Maggie, go! Quickly!” Abbie said anxiously as she shoveled Maggie out the door onto the porch.
“Mom! Please!” Maggie begged, her eyes full of tears.
Abbie went inside and carried out Maggie’s duffle bag and hushed, “Hurry up, there's no time! I'll go catch you later.”
Maggie stood on the porch reluctantly, refused to board the spaceship. “No! Why can't you?”
Her mom shot a glance at the horizon, and urged, “Run Maggie, before it's too late!”
“Family Johann, please board in 10, 9, 8, …”
Maggie cried, “Mom!”
Abbie hugged her goodbye and whispered, “Oh honey, I wouldn't do this if it wasn’t for… I love you, and remember to take good care of yourself.”

“Hey. HEY!”


Maggie suddenly sits up. She turned her head to the source of the voice. It was that girlfriend of hers earlier. “Oh, sorry. What did I miss?”


The girl pouts and points outside. “What have you been thinking? Look! The sun is out!”


Maggie still looks a little confused, but she follows her finger and spots a ray of yellow light that looks vaguely familiar. She takes a moment to examine it more closely before she cheers. “Ah, you’re right! It is back. Looks like the scientists aren’t correct all the time.” Too bad they were 5 years ago, she thinks.


All the children rush out to the clearing at once, their little faces shining with joy. Even the adults let tears of happiness run down their cheeks. All but one.


Maggie sits in a corner, alone, lost in her own world. She keeps thinking back to her conversations with her mom long times ago.


5 year old.


“Mommy, where’s daddy?” Little Maggie asked, looking away from Bill’s picture.


“Bill’s a great warrior of our world. He saved all of us.” Abbie answered, a hint of grief hidden under her proud expression.


Maggie looked back at her dad’s picture and thought for a moment. Then she suddenly decided, “I want to be like that, too.”


Abbie seemed startled, “Don’t… I can’t afford to lose you, too.”


Maggie’s little face was overwhelmed with confusion. “But mommy, didn’t you say that we shall all be brave? Like daddy?”


Abbie sighed, “Yes, but… you’ll understand when you are older.”


Maggie continued to ask, “When is older?”


The 9 o’clock bell rang. Abbie looked relieved, and said, “It’s bed time. Now go to bed.”


Maggie pleaded, “Mommy!”


Abbie repeated, “Now.”

9 year old.


Maggie ran home in a flurry, and screamed at Abbie as soon as she spotted her in the kitchen: “Mom, who is dad?”


Abbie looked away from the carrots and frowned, “Maggie, why do you ask?”


Maggie told her mother, “Another planet failed today. Everyone was talking about those soldiers.” She paused for a second, then looked up to Abbie and asked, her voice trembling, “Was dad one of them?”


Abbie forced her eyes to move back to the carrots and started cutting again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


Maggie felt a wave of rage washed upon her, and shrieked hysterically, “I have the right to know! I lived nine years without knowing. He’s my father!”


Abbie placed down the knife and the carrot at once, making a loud Bang! on the counter, and glanced back at Maggie furiously. “Margaret Bernadette Johann! You don’t talk to your elders like that!”


Maggie stared at her mom unbelievably. Abbie had never called her by her full name. Tears were piling up in her beautiful blue eyes. She pleaded, “But mom!”


Abbie cut her off, “Alright! This is enough. You have homework to do. Now go.”


Maggie stomped her foot in resentment, but followed her mom’s instructions. But she could not see that right after she left, Abbie broke down and slid down to the hard concrete floor.

12 year old.


Maggie stood on the front porch, panting from running 2 miles back from school. She asked, “Mom, what happened? Why are we dismissed early? What…?”


Abbie greeted her with a worried look. “Maggie, go pack your belongings. Now.”


Maggie frowned, “But wait!”


Abbie raised her voice, “No but’s! There’s no time, don’t you understand? Now!”


Maggie stood there as if she was struck by lightning. She whispered, “Is it…”


Abbie pointed inside, “Now!”

 

Maggie stood at the entrance to the ship and implored, “Mom! Board with me!”


Abbie kissed her on the cheek, which was wet from tears. “I love you! Take care!”


Maggie was about to cry again. She gestured the mostly empty room and huffed, “Please! There’s plenty of room!”


Abbie explained patiently, “No Maggie, the oxygen wouldn’t suffice for all of us if there are too many.”


Maggie opened her mouth a couple of times and tried to find another reason. “But, but just you wouldn’t hurt!”
Abbie kissed her again and gazed in her eyes one last time. Oh, those gorgeous green eyes, full of meaningful looks that Maggie couldn’t yet understand. “Bye sweetheart. I’ve done my job to raise you up, now it’s time to find my Bill…”

 

“Mother!” Suddenly, Maggie opens her eyes. She whispers, “Oh mother, why do you have to be so selfish? Why would you just leave me alone? I’m not ready yet. Oh, mother…”


A teacher notices her, and asks, “Maggie, you feeling alright? Do you need me to call h… nurse?”


“No I’m fine, Ms. Clearwater.” Maggie replies, secretly wiping off the evidence of tears.


“Alright then. I just want you to know, I’m always here for you, okay?”


“Okay.” How would you ever know what I’ve been through?

 

“Did they say it’s today?”


“Yeah.”


“They were wrong last time. Maybe they are this time, too.”


“You never know.”


Maggie sits by the fountain, listening to people’s conversations. They are going to be right this time, she thinks. That’s what father said. She recalls the last conversations with her father that she remembers...


Bill waved a model at Maggie and asked, “Little Maggie Doll, do you know why stars usually fail after one or more of their babies explode?”


Maggie poked the sun multiple times before she looked up. “What’s fail, daddy?”


Bill smiled, “They go kah-boom. Like your balloon yesterday.” And made an explode gesture with his arms as he was talking.


Maggie giggled, “Hehehe, stars go boom-boom!” And mimicked her father’s actions.


Bill pinched her little nose and repeated, “You haven’t answered my question yet, Maggie Baggie.”


Maggie stood up and threw herself up like a firework, “Because their babies go boom-boom!”


Bill clapped, “That’s right! Their babies go kah-boom and they kah-boom too. You’re such a smart baby, Maggie Doll.”

Father, why did you have to leave us so early?


Maggie gazes up at the sun, and that’s when she notices.


Flob. A puddle of mud dances on the sun. Flob. Another one. Flob. Flob. Flob. It gets lower and lower each time, and finally, flob, a tiny piece lands a few yards behind her. Even from that distance she can feel its fiery energy, so hot she can barely stand it. Another piece lands in the fountain, evaporating all the water at once. Then, everything becomes dark, except for the colorful mud here and there. They shine such a bright color that they look brighter than any of the emergency lights. More and more are landing, like phoenix arising in fire, like comets dripping sweat.


“Activate Emergency Shield to Level 10, Activate Emergency Shield to Level 10.”


Around her, all the children are instructed to line up single file and follow the instructors to the ship. She also notices some adults, like Ms. Clearwater, are rushing back to school, each carrying a tiny black box. Suddenly, she realizes. They are the ones to guard everyone to safety. They are the ones who save the younger children. They are the soldiers. Her father was also one of them. Seconds later, the shields are activated.






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