“Don’t look at it,” Kerryn whispers, tugging on my sleeve. “Leela, don’t!” I glance down at her, noting the concern in her baby blue eyes. She’s just a child, she doesn’t know what she’s saying.
“Don’t worry, Kerryn,” I whisper back. “Nothing bad is going to happen. It’s just the sunset.” I pry her fingers loose, closing my hand around hers and pulling her along gently behind me. “It’s beautiful,” I tell her. “I saw one in a picture once, when I was about your age.”
We walk up the grassy hill, leaning against the steep incline. The wind buffets us from all directions, trying to push us back, but I’m determined. I’m leaving tomorrow, and I want to share this with my little sister before I go.
“Leela,” Kerryn begs. “We’re not supposed to look at it! The man on the news said it will make us blind!”
I snort, dismissive. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” I say. “Trust me, Kerryn, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see. The colours are amazing, all red and orange and gold. It’s magical.” I breathe heavily, struggling up the hill. I’m not as fit as I was the last time I made this trek. It will be worth it, though. One real look at the sun before I’m sent underground to fulfil my duty. One last taste of freedom.
We reach the crest of the hill, and I stop walking. Kerryn stands at my side, staring at the ground and shivering. My gaze is captured by the landscape in front of me, the city spread out below us, sunlight glinting off the windows. Behind each one is a family waiting for the light to die. I shake my head at their ignorance. How could something so beautiful scare them so much?
I lift my eyes and my breath catches in my throat. The sun has just touched the horizon, spreading a blanket of golden light over the dull city, bringing it to life. The clouds capture the colours, painting the sky red, orange, pink… It is breathtakingly beautiful.
“Kerryn,” I whisper, squeezing her hand. “Look.”
She whimpers and steps closer, shaking as she leans against my side. I glance down at her to see her eyes squeezed shut. With a sigh I crouch down in front of her, making sure I’m blocking the sun.
“Kerryn, it’s okay.” I reach up and sweep her blonde hair away from her face. She whimpers. “Come on, open your eyes. I’m right here,” I coax. She shakes her head violently. “Come on, honey, I’m right in front of you, you won’t even see it until you’re ready. Just open your eyes.” Slowly, so slowly, she opens her eyes. She peeks out at me through slitted lids, uncertain. I take both of her hands in mine and give them an encouraging squeeze. “See? Nothing to worry about.” I smile at her encouragingly.
“I’m scared, Leela,” she whimpers.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, honest. I already looked at it, and I’m fine, aren’t I?”
She hesitates, searching my face, then nods.
“Okay, as long as you hold my hand,” she says.
“Of course I will.” I squeeze her hands again, smiling at her reassuringly, then shuffle to the side so she can see the sunset spreading out behind me.
Her eyes go wide, and her jaw goes slack, and for a moment she just stares in wonder. She looks just like she did the first time she saw our puppy, Jock. I can’t help laughing at her.
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispers, her voice breathy. A grin splits my face.
“I knew you would like it,” I say.
“We should go to it,” Kerryn says, smiling serenely. My heart stutters, and I frown at her.
“What? Kerryn, what did you say?”
“Shhh, you’re too loud. It wants us to be quiet.” Her hands go limp in mine, and she takes a step forward.
“Kerryn, stop it,” I hiss. “This isn’t funny.” Images flash through my mind, the warnings thrown at us on the T.V., the posters all through the streets telling us not to look at the sun. But they’re all wrong, aren’t they? I looked at the sun and I’m still perfectly fine.
“It’s so pretty…” She takes another step and my hands go cold.
“Kerryn, stop it. Stop it right now!” I wrap my arms around her and hug her close. What the hell is she playing at?
“It’s okay, Leela. Just let me go.” She takes another step, and I am shocked at her strength. She jerks forward, freeing herself from my grasp. What is going on?
I scamper around in front of her, clasp my hands around her face, trying to block her view of the sun. She stares straight past me, blue eyes glazed and glittering. Her pupils are dilating and contracting at an alarming rate, and her mouth hangs open. Oh my god, what have I done?
She pushes me away and I stumble backwards, watching in horror as she glides straight past me. It looks almost as if she is walking on air. But that is impossible.
“Kerryn!” I yell, reaching out for her. “Kerryn, come back!” Tears well up in my eyes and spill over. In an instant I am sobbing, crawling madly towards my sister who is walking above the ground, ignoring my existence. “Kerryn, please!”
My eyes slip past her, drawn towards the massive glowing orb slipping beneath the horizon as slowly and surely as my sister is slipping away from me.
My body goes slack, and my mind goes blank. What was I so worried about? It is beautiful. The golden light spills forth, coating everything. Its edges pulse, rough and pointed like a child’s drawing. The red and orange and pink fall from the clouds, following the sun in its demise.
I stare into its golden depths, captivated by its beauty. It is glorious. The red in its centre expands, calling to me. The dark sphere at its heart pulses steadily, expanding and contracting and expanding again, growing inexorably larger with each cycle. I can feel my heart beating in time to its rhythm.
My limbs tingle as I get to my feet. I take a step forward.
Why did my mother warn me not to come here? Nothing bad could possibly happen with the sun watching over us.
Its light warms me. I tilt my head to the side, focusing on the glint in the centre of the massive orb. Funny, if I didn’t know better I would think it had teeth.
I am vaguely aware of someone screaming, yelling my name and someone else’s. They are sobbing. Why? What is that tugging on my arm?
I flick my wrist, wishing the pest away.
“Leela!” She screams. My mother’s voice? “Leela, what have you done?!”
The sun opens wide and I am compelled to go to it. The glittering teeth call me forward and I follow. They are so beautiful. Look how they shine! I can’t believe I didn’t come here sooner.
“Come, child,” It whispers. “Come home.”
It is all-encompassing. There is nothing else.
I hear a horrible wet, tearing sound. I feel a vague tingling in my arms, in my legs. My chest grows tight. Should I be concerned?
“Leela! Kerryn!” My mother’s keening fills my ears.
Oh my God. Kerryn.
I come back to myself, eyes wide with horror. The beast is all around me, drawing me in. Kerryn, where is Kerryn? What have I done? What have I done to my sister?
“Kerryn!” I scream. My body is rigid with fear. There is darkness all around me. It is inside me, too, I can feel it.
My skin burns, as if I am swimming in acid. I can feel my flesh bubble.
“Kerryn!” I am sobbing now, uncontrollably.
“Shhh, child.” Something strokes my face. “It will all be over soon…”
The razors dig into my flesh and I scream. The darkness forces itself down my throat, choking me.
What have I done?
what have I done
4/ 5Oleh Arnav Choudhary