Reflections of red and green danced in the falling rain. She hugged herself tightly as she walked. Nothing could stop the chill seeping in through her sweater, but it was the only comfort she had.
Lights from behind. A revving engine. She turned sharply, ducked down a narrow alley and just kept walking. The car didn’t even slow.
She kept walking.
Water poured into her shoes. Thunder rattled her bones. She leaned against a wall, trying to remember how to breathe. She stared up at street signs trying to make the letters into words. And then she was in front of the building, not even knowing how she had arrived.
She stood on the sidewalk for a long time, then turned back toward the road. The asphalt sparkled, faintly in the cold darkness. She climbed the steps and knocked.
She knocked again, paused barely a moment, then knocked again furiously. Sharp pain in her numb fingers as her knuckles wrapped on the wood.
A light sprang to life in the apartment. No sound.
She knocked even harder than before until finally the door opened. Her sister’s face, haloed by warm, steady light.
“What are you doing?” I cried. I had seen my ex-, Trevor, ahead of me on the sidewalk carrying a baseball bat and, curious, had followed him down the alley.
Trevor barely glanced at me before answering, “Hitting this wall.”
I tried to say something else, but was cut off by the loud clang of aluminum striking against cinder block.
“Right” I replied, still jarred by the sound. “But why?”
Another swing of the bat. “I’m trying to see what’s underneath.”
“Under— it’s a wall. Underneath is the inside of the building. Maybe some plumbing or some insulation.”
He shook his head matter-of-factly. “It’s not a real building.”
“Trevor, I’m getting a bit worried. Maybe I should call someone for you.”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “I’m almost through.” Then he adjusted his grip on the bat and took another swing. The bat rang sharply, but there was another sound underneath: a crumbling sigh. At the point of impact, bits of the wall flaked away like eggshell revealing a core of shimmering light.
“What . . .” I began. But as we stood there in the alley, a spiderweb of cracks spread out from the point of impact. Light began spilling into the alley.
“You find the human traditions intriguing, don’t you?” Nioll asked as the two ancient beings studied the party happening around them.
“How could I not?” Xiad replied.
A sneer: “I find these holy days primitive. Festivals celebrating a seasonal change based on the tilt of the planet’s axis? Childish.”
“It’s pronounced holidays.”
“An inconsequential distinction,” Nioll answered, dismissing the reply with a wave of the hand.
“And they’re not just celebrating the solstice,” Xiad continued. “At least, not exactly. Certainly they started by fearing the dark and cold, then rejoicing when the days got longer. But that is not what they celebrate now.”
“Oh? Then what is?”
Xiad watched the smiling humans. “Hope itself. The belief that goodness exists in the world and that it can overcome the evils and injustice that oppress them.”
“Then maybe they aren’t primitive, just naive.”
“Maybe. Or maybe we’ve grown too cynical. With all we’ve seen, maybe we need some hope.”
“Noble words,” Nioll admitted. “Worth consideration. Yet they continued to study their companion. “So . . . your love of these festivities has nothing to do with the egg nog then?”
Xiad looked down at the mug in their hands and smiled. “Well, maybe a little.”
Saul spotted the faint shape in the shadows. “It’s time,” a voice whispered.
“I know,” Saul answered. “I feel weary. Life here has been hard.”
The shape was clarifying. A head tilted. “Then why cling to this life so fiercely?”
Saul sighed. “It’s been too long since you were among people. You’ve forgotten what they’re like.”
There was a face now, frowning. “I’ve watched them interact with you. Small petty things, easily wounded and readily cruel.”
“Do I? Have they not been cruel to you?”
Saul coughed. “They are brittle, yes. And their broken edges cut deep. But there is more to them.”
Saul looked from the shadowy figure beside him to his family gathered around his hospital bed and now beginning to fade. “Light. They are vessels for it, carrying it inside and shining it into the darkness. Even the broken catch it, glinting radiance like shards of glass. To see a spark of curiosity, to hear music suffused with brilliance, to feel the warmth of a kind touch, these are why I cling to life. Their real tragedy is that they are all so desperate for it, rarely realizing how much they have to give.”