I told myself it was a dream, that time my sister Clara took the screen out of our second-floor window, bade me silent with a press of her nail-bitten finger to her lips, and flung herself from the sill.
In the dream-that-wasn’t, a goose made of snow and starlight whooshed out of the front lawn that marked the edge of the world, and she landed softly upon its back. They whisked up into the freezing night, snowflakes twirling their endless dizzy dance, though no clouds lowered the sky.
I watched her rise, her plaid nightgown fluttering in the wind, the same plaid nightgown she had worn as long as I had known her, and I felt the floor buck under my feet. Thunder jarred me as the walls jerked, and the whole world tilted sideways.
Once. Twice. Three times. Never more than three. The twin moons, dark black and ringed with green, appeared as they always did when the world shook, and seemed to stare down at me.
I clung to the windowsill and strained to see up into the darkness, the sky’s unforgiving curve. The snow-goose bounced against that curve with a note like struck glass, dissolving on impact, and Clara plunged to the ground. She didn’t have far to fall. The moons gazed at us like we gazed at snowflakes under the magnifying glass, waiting for them to melt. They never melted.
Clara, crumpled and groaning on the ground, rolled onto her back and screamed up at the moons, shook her fist at them, called them captors. The moons blinked, and vanished. The world righted itself with a BOOM, and I fled back to my bed, hoping I only dreamed.
Clara shook me awake the next morning for another Christmas, and we looked up at the sky together, the silver lines–like comet tails–marking the limits of the world.
“But you told me space didn’t end,” I said. Clara had read it, in the book lying open on the table. It was the only one she read; the books in the library wouldn’t come off the shelves.
“It doesn’t.” Clara wrung the neck of her nutcracker, the one she opened every day, and his wooden crown came off in her hand. “Someone put a lid over us.”
I watched the sky for days, waiting for the cracks, that damning evidence, to vanish. They never did.
* * *
Some days we heard music after the quakes, a tinny symphony that rose from the ground and made the snow shiver. Clara would climb under the Christmas tree with her book when the first notes started, put her hands over her ears and read. After she had attacked the sky, though, she began going outside and shouting, her voice fighting the deafening sonata for dominance until the last strains slowed to a pudding-thick crawl, then stopped altogether.
I tried to remember if I ever found the music anything other than confusing, but I couldn’t remember how old I was when I first heard it. Maybe I had always been ten. I never thought about it, before Clara attacked the sky, and sometimes I wished I could go back to not thinking about it.
* * *
We opened the same presents every morning: a nutcracker, now faded and paint-worn, for Clara, and a soft teddy bear, its fur rubbed away and one eye missing, for me.
“I hate this thing,” she said one morning, staring at the nutcracker in his nest of faded, crinkling paper. “And I hate that I can’t get rid of it.”
She had tried, many times: breaking it apart piece by piece, burning it with the magnifying glass. It always returned to its spot under our fading Christmas tree.
“This isn’t how real life is supposed to work,” Clara said as I climbed into bed that night. She stood by the window, glaring up at the cracks in the sky.
I sighed and smoothed the coverlet under my hands. “How do you know? Did your book tell you?” I tried not to hate the book for making Clara unhappy, but it was hard.
Clara looked over her shoulder at me. “I’m going to break the sky. And then we’ll both get out of here. You’ll see.”
I made a noise of agreement and closed my eyes, but sleep never came. I stared into the dark confines of my eyelids and listened to my heart pound at the thought of Clara’s idea. I couldn’t tell if it beat a tattoo of fear, or excitement.
* * *
Clara made her escape the next morning.
She unwrapped the nutcracker without looking at it, kissed my forehead, then charged up the stairs, ignoring my shouts as I followed. I reached our room in time to watch her leap from the window.
I leaned over the sill as the goose erupted from the snow and they charged those cracks in the twilit sky. The emerald-ringed moons blinked at Clara, and she hurled the nutcracker at them with a shriek.
The cracks yawned open, creaking like doors. Clara surged out, fist raised in the air, and as the hissing darkness rushed in, I saw her goose disintegrate, saw her fall, fall, not the short distance to our lawn, but somewhere else. Snow swirled around me, dry and familiar against my skin, and then something more rained down, clear and jagged and cutting. The moons vanished. The world crashed onto its side and rolled, end over end, tossing me about like a bit of wrapping paper.
When it finally quieted, I couldn’t see snow, or the outlines of our house, or our Christmas tree. Glittering fragments of sky lay scattered everywhere, drawing blood when I touched them, and I could see the toothy hole Clara had punched in the sky, the dark emptiness beyond it. I had no way to reach the hole, to follow her, and when I called out, I heard no answer. I hugged my faded Christmas bear and shivered, sat down amidst the ruins of sky to wait–for Clara to come back, for the moons to glow over me once more, for the dry darkness to steal me away, too.
The music began to play, note by laborious note, and even it sounded broken.
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