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Fiction Fantastic 2020 Winning Story: “When the Sun Goes Down” by Natasha Dracobly

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2020 Winners Anthology Fueled By Fire here.

“When the Sun Goes Down” by Natasha Dracobly, South Eugene High School

Honorable Mention, High School Level, 2020


When the Sun Goes Down

By Natasha Dracobly

South Eugene High School

“They say we’re gonna die.”

Callie’s hair looks like neon flames in the sunlight, even brighter than last time I saw her. She kicks her feet against the station wall, first her left foot, then her right. Thump. Thump. Callie always kicks things when she’s thinking.

“Sure do,” she says finally, after kicking the wall a few more times. She doesn’t look over at me.

“Well?”

Thump. Thump. “Well what?”

“Well, what do you think?” I know I sound nervous. I look away from her, twirling a strand of my hair around my finger. The wind on our faces feels colder today than usual. I push my hair out of my face, but the wind just blows it back again. It makes me angry for some reason. I kick the wall, too.

The station here is really more like a shack. It’s been Callie’s and my hideout since we were kids. Here, we’d laugh and run around without worrying about the gods watching us, or the rules we had to follow in the City. Here, we could just be ourselves. We’d climb up on the roof just like today, point at the setting sun and pretend we were great explorers. Callie would walk along the very edge of the roof, her feet only half-touching the tiles. I’d pull her away.

It’s been a while since I’ve been up here. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Callie, too. When I sent the message today, we hadn’t talked in months. Now, looking at her, she’s the complete opposite of everything I’ve become. She always refused to conform to what the City said. She never listened to the prophets. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised when she ran away completely.

“I thought they didn’t want you to think.” Callie still doesn’t look at me. I can’t even see her face now; the wind keeps blowing her hair in front of it. I think I might be angry at her.

I kick the wall again, harder this time. “Ow!”

She laughs, and turns a bit further towards me. I almost think she’s going to look at me, but she doesn’t. Her gaze stops at my shoes. She flicks her hand towards them. “You’re wearing City shoes. You can’t kick walls with boots like that.”

“Who says I can’t?” I kick the wall again. It hurts. I glare at my feet.

“Common sense,” she says. Callie loves to talk about common sense.

“Whatever.” I’m still angry. At Callie, at the City, at the prophets, at the gods. I can hardly tell at this point. I glance at the sun.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but it looks lower on the horizon than before.

I try to talk slower this time. Callie probably thinks I sound hesitant. Callie always used to say I sounded that way. It felt like she’d interrupt me once a minute at least to tell me to sound more confident. She never had any issues with sounding confident, of course. She was the leader. I was always happy to follow.

“If you only had a few hours left to live . . .” Callie’s not an idiot. She knows what I’m saying here. I twist my hair tighter around my fingers. “If you only had a few hours left to live, what would you do?”

She kicks the wall again with her nice wall-kicking boots. Thump. Thump. I glance at the sun again.

“Talk about a heavy question.”

I laugh. It sounds harsh, harsher than I ever sound. Maybe Callie’s rubbing off on me. “Well, you don’t have forever to answer it.”

She looks up at the sun, too, hot and blazing in the bright blue sky. The sky never looks this blue in the City. I should come out here more often.

That is, if I’m still alive.

Callie stares into the distance. She was always good at blankly staring at things while she thought. She used to stare at me. Now she refuses even to look my way. “I guess, if I was gonna die, I’d stop worrying about my job, or money, or the City rules. I’d just do what I wanted.” She shrugs. “But those are the things we live by out here anyway. If you really wanna let go of the City, you don’t have to die to do it.”

I almost say something, but the way she’s sitting, with her shoulders a bit hunched up, staring into the sky like she’s afraid, makes me stay quiet. Callie is never afraid.

“If you’re gonna die, and you know it, you should let go of whatever kind of expectations you’ve got on you. I mean, none of it’ll matter when you’re dead.” She pauses again. “I’ll tell you that. I’d never be able to do that myself.”

If we were like before, I’d go and sit down right next to her, and put my arm around her shoulder, and we’d just sit like that. We might talk, but mostly we’d just be there. Close together. Holding on.

But we aren’t like before. We aren’t anything, really, so I just look in her direction as I talk. “Callie, you’re better at dropping expectations than anyone. I mean, look at you. Look at how you’ve let go of the City.”

Callie shakes her head. Her hair flies around her face. She’s still looking at the sky. I just wish she’d look at me. I think everything might be all right then. “That’s different. You’ve got the expectations of the City on you. The expectations on me these days are different.”

“What are they?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

I nod. “Okay.” I probably wouldn’t. Callie’s probably right.

She stands up. She looks like a statue like this, silhouetted before the sun. I’d follow her anywhere.

“Are you leaving?” This conversation has been awkward, but I don’t think it’s been that awkward. I hope she doesn’t leave. I don’t really want to count down the minutes to my death alone.

“No.” She doesn’t elaborate. “The sun’s getting pretty low.”

I nod. “Yeah.”

“Not so many hours now. More like minutes. Not so much time to do things.”

“Yeah.”

I stand up, too. I’m a little closer to her now.

“So, what exactly did the prophets say? Just out of curiosity.”

“Right.” Callie’s always been one for gallows humor. “To pass the time.”

She grins. It fades quickly. “Exactly.”

I shrug my shoulders and stare resolutely at the sky. “They didn’t say much, to be honest. Just that when the sun goes down tonight, everyone who doesn’t believe in the gods will die.”

“Well, you don’t need to worry then, do you? You believe.”

“I’m afraid of the gods. It’s not the same as believing.”

“It’s basically the same.”

I shrug again. “Maybe.”

The sun is really very low now. Its light barely stretches to meet the dust that covers everything we can see. The stars are coming out now. I can see the moon.

“How long do you think we have? A couple minutes? Less?”

“Less.”

I count in my head. One second, two seconds, three seconds. I watch the light fade until it’s gone. My heart is beating faster than it ever has.

“Nothing!” I turn to Callie. “We’re fine, you were right!”

I reach to hug her just as she falls. She’s dead before she touches the tiles.

I don’t know what I do. I don’t know what I scream. I’m sure I scream. I don’t know anything. I know that somehow I got her off the roof, got both of us off the roof. I know I’ve been digging in the dirt by the station so long my hands are bleeding, and nothing has happened to me still. I’m still alive. My hands are bleeding, but I’m still alive.

I stand up. I’m coming back to Callie. I’m going to bury her. But first, I have to get a shovel, and maybe some bright red hair dye.