A Star Falls on Mars

Olivia VanDenbos

            The sky was darker and redder than usual, making it a perfect day to grab water. My grandmother told me not to go to the river alone so there was Annenna beside me, swinging her arms.

            “I received a message from Nikal yesterday,” Annenna said, breaking the long silence between us. I liked Annenna as a family friend. As in her brother, Nikal, was a friend, and she was the family of that friend.

            “Have you heard back from your father yet?” Annenna asked, after I didn’t say anything about Nikal. I hadn’t heard back from my father in weeks, and I hadn’t heard from Nikal longer than that. A fact I tried not to let annoy me.

            “Leo?” Annenna asked again after I kept the silence. Annenna always said my name like a song, with each syllable extending longer than necessary.

            I rolled my eyes. “No I haven’t. My father has more important business out there actually,” I answered gruffly. The truth was I didn’t know exactly what he was doing in his fight against the Earthlings. I just figured there had to be some explanation why he hadn’t called. I wasn’t going to tell her that though.

            “Hm. Well, I’m sure you’ll hear from him soon,” Annenna said as she kicked a rock from her path. 

            I could see the Wishing Tree ahead, which meant the river wasn’t that far behind. Despite the clouds, it was still a rather oppressive day and if we were out there for longer it would only get hotter. I wanted to head to the river and back quickly. Truthfully, I had more reason to be hasty besides the weather. I was also worried about my grandmother being left at the hut alone. A month ago, Niykala’s parents were all killed when an Earth missile struck their home. Niykala was outside in their garden. In my mind I know there was nothing she could do to stop them. That Niykala had gotten lucky. But the look on her face when I saw her last was so dark and sullen. She was living with her heart gone. 

            “What do you think Earthlings look like?” Annenna asked as she twirled, her sandals kicking up dust.

            “What are you doing? Some dance routine? Knock it off. I want to get back soon.” I huffed.

            Annenna stopped dancing for a moment. “You don’t have to be so cranky.”

            I shook my head. I could feel that she was giving me a look but I couldn’t have cared less. 

            More silence. I could see the river now.

            “Well, I heard that they are fat,”she said, breaking the silence yet again. “Which is funny because they don’t have a lot of food either. I also heard their skin is green.” 

            “Why would they be green? That’s ridiculous,” I spat at her, my eyes still on the rocky pathway.

            “Because their planet is green, of course!” She whined back at me. 

            “So are we supposed to be red because Mars is?” 

            “Oh, whatever. I was just being logical.”

            I started opening one of my satchels. “Logical. You wouldn’t know what logic was if it hit you with a light beam.” 

            I crouched by the water as I filled her satchel first. Of course she made me carry ours both.

            “Well, clearly, they don’t know logic if all their water is gone. Anyway, I heard they go through cellular reproduction. Oh, wait, no. Photosynthesis. That’s what Mx. Heihart called it.”

            “Oh, of course you pay as much attention in class as you do to your chores, Annie,” I said as I filled one satchel. “Photosynthesis is only for plants.” 

            “Well, aren’t Earthlings made of plants? Their whole planet is made of-”

            I grabbed one of the filled water satchels and thrust it into her arms which she accepted with a huff. “You don’t know anything, Annenna.”

            She glowered back at me with a pout. In her position it was hard to take her seriously as her big round eyes stared up at me. It felt like being reprimanded by a puppy. I couldn’t help but smirk.

            “You should be nicer to young girls, Leo,” Annenna said with a smirk back. She held the water satchel close to her chest and put her head slightly down to hide her mischievous grin. I realized I had been pranked. 

            “You should be a nicer young girl then,” I said as I tousled her hair. She pushed me back playfully. 

            “Knock it off. You’re going to drop the water,” I said smiling. She widened her eyes with a gasp. It was my turn to irritate her.

            “Me? You’re the one playing around!” Annenna shot back from behind me. I had grabbed my filled satchel and was walking ahead of her now. I could hear her muttering frustratedly behind me. I knew Annenna well, though. She couldn’t be mad for long. She was either making faces at me or planning her next little trick. 

            “Leo, look at how bright that star is!” 

            I rolled my eyes. “Not very clever, Annie. It’s daytime. You’re not going to trick me with-”

            My whole body was suddenly propelled forward by a flash of light. It felt slow and fast, painless, weightless, and excruciating all at once. 

            I landed on the dust of the road, hard, facedown. I lifted my head to red all around, obfuscating my view. My chest felt heavy and I began to cough up dust. My face and hair were wet and dripping.

            “Annenna?” I gathered myself off the ground slowly. I looked at my hands. No cuts. 

            “Annenna!” I called out again. I was standing now and I could taste what was on my face: water. 

            My mind was like the dust around me, flying without direction. The only sound I could hear was the wind. I turned vigilantly, searching for which was the pathway home and which was the pathway to the river. “Annenna!” I screamed again, my voice pushing out of my chest.

            More silence.

            I turned and turned again, forcing myself to keep my eyes open. I turned until I stood still. The branches of the Wishing Tree were coming into view. In the shadows of the sands I could see a figure. A star was laid out on the pathway towards the river. Each limb was pointed, sprawling,  and spreading outwards in five different ways. I could see what looked like a star in the darkness.

            I stood, waiting for the dust to fully clear. 

Olivia VanDenbos goes to school in North Carolina. She was inspired to be a writer by her 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Estacio, who told her to never give up. She has family in Russia who served to inspire the basis of her story.