by Bob the Squirrel
Kira glanced up at the sky before clutching her worn shawl a little tighter about her shoulders and hurrying onward. She was worried, for it was getting darker by the minute. She tried not to think about the greeting that would await her at home, or about what had happened at school. It was the third time that month that she had been late at school, this time as punishment for speaking her mind in class. Her mother had tried to talk to the school officers, but it couldn't be helped - the teachers always picked on her, singling her and a few others out and making them miserable at every opportunity. Talking to them would never do anything; they had their orders.
Nothing had gone right for her family since the terrible accident that left them almost bankrupt, nearly unable to make ends meet and pay the taxes that were raised almost daily by the government. Kira's life had fallen apart once her father had disappeared, mysteriously, at night, about five months past. He had been walking alone outside about half an hour past sundown, just going out to get water from the well. She remembered it so well... the hushed footsteps, barely audible over the noises of the crickets and owls. The footsteps froze, and then there was the shout, stifled in a moment, a thump as someone fell to the ground, footsteps followed by the rhythmic thuds of horses' hooves, growing fainter and fainter as they continued into the night. And then a complete, ghastly, unnatural, mind-wrenching silence that rang in her ears long after the crickets, owls, and all the rest of the nighttime animals had gone back to their interrupted business.
Kira shook herself mentally to stop herself thinking about the tragedy, because dwelling on it only made it worse. She glanced up at the sky once more, gasped, and broke into a headlong run. She had to make it home before dark.
Inside Kira's house, which was little more than a stack of concrete cubes coated with dull and faded paint, her mother was nearly hysterical. She had waited by the door, wretched with worry, ever since her two young daughters, Teresa and Rachel, had returned home. Teresa, who was eight years old, had hovered behind her mother waiting for Kira, worried about her sister but afraid to do anything but watch from a distance lest it upset her mother. Rachel, four, was not fully able to comprehend what was happening and had gone to play with her toys. Even at her age, she could sense the tension in the air, and she didn't like it. The minutes ticked slowly by, and there was still no sign of Kira. When at long last the sun dropped beneath the horizon and only the last few rays of light lit the dim urban streets, Kira's mother abandoned her vigil at the open door and went into the house, convinced that Kira had been lost as her father was. Teresa almost turned to follow her mother when she noticed a speck at the end of the road moving quickly towards her. A moment later, she was shouting, "Mom, look! Mom, it's Kira! Kira's coming!"
The air rushed through Kira's hair as she frantically fought her way through it. The wind she created tugged at her clothing and her bookbag, threatening to tear them away. She felt the beginning of a cramp in her side, she had to fight for every lungful of breath, and the bitingly cold air had, like a million tiny ice-cold fingers, finally tugged her ragged shawl from her thin shoulders. She did not see the sun sink below the horizon, taking with it the last of the magnificent sunset and most of the little remaining light. She did not see her mother turn away from the door; she did not hear her sister's shout. She was aware only of the need to propel herself forward, and to reach her door before the dwindling light left her in utter darkness, and the spirits awoke to walk the earth, hungry for human souls.
(To be continued)