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Worlds break every day. The trick is knowing if yours is next.
I don’t remember how long I’ve been in this one. Sometimes the sun goes down, sometimes it never comes up, and sometimes the sky remains a dusky grey, without light or darkness. People say going from one to another is safest, like playing hot potato, never sitting still so the break can’t happen while you are standing there. I used to jump, too. But then he was caught in one, the crack between us, and I’m sitting still now.
This world is a dusky sky, little clouds of smoky purple rustling about, concealing whatever may be around me. I’m sitting on one of the clouds, my legs outstretched in the smoky color, so I can’t see my toes. I’m too tired to jump now.
Someone runs toward me, their face gradually appearing through the dusk as they land on the world.
“Satellite?” They call through the gloom. I can see it’s a little girl, holding hands with a taller boy. They always travel in pairs. I did, too.
“Not one here.” My voice startles me. That’s why I chose this one to sit in. No satellite filling the air with high-pitched beeping, letting out an alarm if a crack starts. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. And most of the time they’re too late.
The little girl stumbles over a cloud. I can see them more clearly now. The girl looks tired, maybe too tired to jump again. She sits on the ground, chest heaving, looking around with uninterested eyes. Mine is not a very captivating world.
The boy stands next to her, a hand resting on her quaking shoulder. A brother, maybe. “No satellite here?”
I shake my head.
He bends to the little girl. “C’mon. We’ve got to go again.”
She shudders. I can see she can’t go anywhere. If she attempts a jump now, she might fall into the dark beneath the worlds.
I can see the boy considering. This is not a safe world to rest in, he is thinking. But it’s hard to go alone. He stands there, shifting from side to side as the little girl curls onto the cloudy ground, her breath coming in little gulps. Any moment, a crack could appear, and we will all be broken with the world.
“How long have you been here?”
I take my gaze away from a bit of pink above and look back at him. He’s talking to me again. “Not sure.”
“Is there a sun?”
I shrug. “So far, just dusk.”
He steps closer, giving me a thorough inspection.
“I’m not going with you,” I say, but my voice catches. To travel again. Maybe forget the blue world, the crack snaking across the sky and ground, his shouts.
“No!” the little girl cries, looking up at the boy. “Please…I-I can try.”
“No,” he says, curtly. “You’ll fall.” He looks back at me. “Are you sure? Where’s your partner?”
“Don’t have one.”
Understanding flashes across his face. “You don’t have to stay here.”
Behind him, the girl struggles to her knees, pleas perched on her lips, but she’s too tired to say anything.
The boy steps closer, his knees knocking into my cloud. “It would help both of us.”
“Please!” The girl surges forward, her hands clutching desperately at his shirt.
But he won’t take her. They may be brother and sister, but survival drowns all love. That’s why I’m here, and he is back there, in a world that maybe isn’t broken entirely yet. But I can’t get back, and he can’t get out.
I glance up at the pink again. It’s bigger now, a jagged line of color in the dusky sky. A crack.
I meant to stay here, sitting on my cloud, thinking about him, trying not to think of him, imagining the shards of world spinning through the atmosphere. But the boy gives a shout, the girl, a cry of terror, and I lunge forward, accepting the hand that is thrust at me.
I feel a tug at my boots. A crack, spreading in two directions, me and the boy on one side. And the little girl, still on her knees, on the other. She screams.
The boy screams too, his free hand outstretched, but already, he’s jumping, the animal instinct that overcame me on the blue world. Security, survival, escape.
But I’m tired. More tired than I thought. And as we leap from the clouds, faces uplifted toward the spinning galaxy that comes into focus, I feel my momentum, my energy fading. The boy, his cheeks glistening, looks down at me in alarm. I can make it, maybe. The boy is strong and I could hang on, be dragged into another place with another color.
So we land, my fingers clutching his, and the world comes into view, a bright, happy place, with three stars shining cheerful light onto a shiny ground.
I fall, tripping over the ground that seems to rise and fall in strange places. I’m like the girl, too exhausted to go on. The boy stares at me for a moment, his lips moving, but no sound escaping. Then he glances around, perhaps searching for another partner. But no one is here. And no satellite is visible in the bright air. So his hand slides from mine, his face determined, but frightened. If he can find someone, he may survive, but now, he must jump.
I watch him leap into the sky, disappearing from view in an instant. I lay there, my fingers tracing patterns on the smooth surface of the ground, watching the crack twisting across the horizon.