At the end of the next staircase, Dawn says: ”I have to go.”
David looks up. He is walking behind her this time, a few steps down. She cranes her neck to look at him. The next platform is close, its massive underside shading the siblings from the sun. A square hole, just big enough for one of them to step through, hovers a couple of steps over them. Bright light illuminates the open square.
David nods. “Almost there. Try to hold it.”
Dawn sighs. They keep climbing the final part of the empty staircase. The gold-and-dark-blue plateau can be seen, far below them. From this altitude, the plateau is barely bigger than Joe Bob Fenestre’s suitcase.
They step through the square hole, out onto a new platform. It is dark purple with large splashes of black. A wind draws past, and Dawn shudders, clutching her bare arms.
“Another empty one”, David remarks.
“Brotheeer”, she whines. He grabs her hand. “Come on.”
They walk to the very edge of the platform. He keeps her hand in a firm grip as she squats, pulling her pants down with one hand. David looks the other way while she goes. She is unfazed as she leans out over the edge; her blue eyes search the sky.
When she’s finished, she pulls her pants back up and David helps her stand up, regaining her balance.
They walk away from the edge. The wind ruffles their blond hair. Dawn says,
“I feel free.”
David is silent, surveying the new, purple-and-black platform. Dawn watches him intently.
Finally, he says: “It seems safe. Come on. It’s time.”
She nods. They sit down, face to face, in a yoga-like position. Dawn shuffles, impatient. David exhales slightly. The morning is quiet and clear, a blue sky over the platform.
David reaches out, touching his sister’s forehead with his index finger. He keeps it on a spot slightly above the space between her eyebrows.
“From the rising of the sun to the setting, to its rising again, we place what is hard to endure with what is sweet to remember, and find peace.”
Dawn’s face gets very serious as he speaks. She keeps still until he is finished.
Routinely, he withdraws his finger. They remain sitting, but it is clear that the ritual is complete.
Dawn sighs, leaning backwards on the palms of her hands. She bends her neck to the left, then to the right; it makes a slight crack. David looks at her, then away.
I went back to the living room sofa as she went to wash off the puke and sweat. The shady living room seemed even more silent and abandoned than before. Outside, I could hear the rain continue to fall.
Eventually she came back. She appeared out of the gloom of the dining area, wearing a white terrycloth robe. She fidgeted with her still-moist hair and refused to meet my eyes as she sat down next to me on the sofa. For a long time, neither of us spoke.
“Why?” I said, finally.
I didn’t know how to continue.
We both looked at the sofa table for a while. My half-eaten box of ice cream was the only thing on top of the glass disc of the table. The ice cream had started to melt.
After a minute or so, I tried again.
“I didn’t even know you did … that thing.”
She smiled, weakly. “I’m fourteen, brother.”
We were silent for a while. I laid my arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer. She was no longer shivering. She leaned against me, putting one of her small hands on my T-shirt. After a minute or so, she started to softly clench at the fabric. We sat there staring at the darkened television set.
“Brother”, she said eventually.
“Don’t ever leave me.”
They walk across the purple-and-black platform. Nearing the next staircase, David stops to look at his sister.
“Where’s the backpack?”
Dawn stops, too. She’s been walking briskly on her bare feet, free of the pine green backpack with all its brass buckles. “I lost it”, she says.
David watches her in silence for a while.
Dawn points at the small, square hole in the platform from which they emerged. “When we were walking up the stairs. With the dog.” David sighs. “We really needed that backpack.” Her eyes dart to her feet. “Sorry.” She shyly hides her hands behind her back.
“It was really heavy”, she says after a while. David shakes his head. “Let’s just forget it. You need to take this at least a little bit seriously.” She bites her lip and meets his eyes, nodding.
“Come on”, he says.
They continue up the new staircase. This one is not as long as the ones before it. After a short walk, they reach a new platform. It is forest green, with advanced patterns in glittering gold stretching into and around each other like rolling, twisting lianas. There is a strange structure in the middle of the platform; two large stone monoliths stand right next to each other with a glowing, almost pulsating field of energy in between. The monoliths are the shape of a small D and a small B on the left and on the right, respectively. They are slanting softly from the top to the bottom, gradually growing broader until they shoot out into well defined, rectangular feet. The middle of the stone structure forms a perfectly straight slit, large enough to step through. This is where the strange energy field shimmers and radiates its warm, light blue glow.
David looks at the monument. “That’s the door.” He turns to his panting sister. She is sitting on the green-and-gold platform, her legs crossed. She appears to have little interest in the mysterious door. David asks, “Are you ready?” She keeps panting, not looking at him. He repeats his question; “Are you ready?” She briefly looks at him this time, then shrugs and looks away. David looks down at her for a bit, then stretches his arms into the air; the double-bladed axe dangles on his back.
There is no further staircase – this is the top platform. All around them, the magnificent view of the city; its multitude of colorful plateaus like schools of massive jellyfish. In the clear morning air, the city continues out into the distance, the green surface of the planet only a blur, somewhere impossibly far below. The tiny shapes of aliens, dark and jittery, are visible on a few platforms, but they are way too far off for their details to emerge.
David takes a seat next to his resting sister.
After a while, she says:
“Do we really have to do this?”
David cranes his neck to look at her. “What do you mean?”
“I really like him. I used to listen to him all the time.”
David searches her face. His blue eyes are indifferent. “It’s just a job”, he says. Dawn shakes her head. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. He just plays music.”
David says nothing.
“I don’t know”, Dawn pouts. She looks at the hundreds of brightly colored platforms, rising on incomprehensibly tall stone pillars in the distance. David mimics the way she bit her lip earlier.
“Hey”, he says. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get the job done, then back to Mr. Fenestre. It won’t be a big deal. You’ve been like this before.”
“No I haven’t.”
“It’s just cold feet. It’s always like this before a job. I mean, I feel it too. You can’t do anything about it. What’s important is that we don’t let that feeling stop us from doing our job. Right?”
Dawn is silent. She grimaces into the distance.
“Right?” David reaches over to her, putting a finger into her left rib. She shrieks and pulls away. “Don’t!” David shuffles closer to her. “Right? Right?” He keeps poking her in the rib. She shrieks again, trying to pull away, but David is relentless. He pins her down, tickling and poking her. She breaks into hysterical laughter. “Don’t!” she keeps screaming. “Idiot!” David just laughs, increasing the intensity of his attack. Soon they are both lying on their backs on the platform, laughing uncontrollably as they wrestle. Dawn kicks David hard in the side. “Idiot!” she yells. “Idiot!”
Their wound-up panting, laughing and screaming echo in the silent morning.
For a while they lay on their backs, panting and resting. Dawn’s face is pink, she exhales in long, deliberate bursts, making a sound like ‘fuu, fuu’. David clears his throat and rubs his side where Dawn kicked him. The sunshine coats their platform in shimmering lines of gold. The strange energy expands and shrinks silently between the monoliths.
Eventually, David sits up. He reaches into his pocket, producing the brown paper bag from Joe Bob Fenestre. Dawn, who has regained her ability to breathe, immediately looks at the bag. David unties the black string. He reaches inside, pulling something out which he hides in his fist. He ties the string around the bag again and puts it back in his pocket.
Dawn also sits up. She bends forward, pulling her legs towards herself, all the time keeping her gaze on David and his closed fist.
“Are you ready?” David asks her. He has suddenly gotten very serious. Dawn, equally serious, nods. “Mm.” David looks at his hand, opening it. In his palm are two purple pills, about the size of jelly beans. “You go first”, he says. Dawn doesn’t hesitate. Bending forward, she takes one of the pills.
“Can I chew it?” she asks.
She puts the pill in her mouth and starts chewing. David takes the other one, swallowing it whole. They come to their feet, turning to face the strange doorway. David takes a deep breath. Dawn is still chewing.
David lifts one hand, and his sister takes it. They take three steps towards the doorway, stepping in between the two monoliths. There is a flash, long and drawn-out, as they touch the energy field. It is accompanied by a strangely melodic crackling sound, which along with the flash seems to absorb the siblings, who dissolve in the center of the doorway and are gone.