The Wind family huddled inside the hospital room, coated in silence and contemplation. Included in the bunch, and not quiet by any means, was the youngest, Kirisini Wind. She watched the long faces of her household, curious about the strange emotions displayed. They weren’t weeping people, or one to appear helpless. The Winds were of solid stock, wise, and powerful. Things like disease, or death itself, were not a problem—if it didn’t happen to their own. Now, the sight of Gram’s ill form, snuggled beneath her polyester Pendelton stripe blankets, made the family miserable. She was their hero, a goddess who created her family from nothing, which became her everything, and she was everything to them.
Soon, their treasured Gram would be the first to return to her cloud. No one imagined this would happen, ever.
Kiri spotted Gram’s favorite blanket folded on her bedside table, along with the two empty pudding cups she and her brother Seth ate on her behalf, since she couldn’t keep anything down. Kiri ran her hand along the blanket’s dark, smooth surface, decorated with a golden sun, moon and stars, like every night sky Gram had created. “Bring it over, honey.” She reawakened. Her words were delicate, quieter than specks of dust. Kiri handed it over. Gram smiled but couldn’t stay awake long enough to take it.
In the distance, a nurse raised her voice against the number of visitors in the room. She mentioned the word security as she went head-to-head with another family member over the matter. Frightened, Kiri ran from Gram’s bedside and darted to Seth, running into him. “Stop it!” He barked and pushed her away. Despite the nurse’s continued protests, the family remained piled in beside Gram’s bed, on the floor, anywhere they could get to be next to their beloved.
When the nurse picked up her phone, Kiri saw her father nod to his brother, who turned to the pretty woman with an intoxicating smile. Kiri’s uncle took the phone from her grasp and broke it in half. He muted her half-scream with his gloved hand and leaned in, pouring whispers down her ear that made her blush and faint. He caught her mid-fall and settled her sleeping form in the corner.
House Wind resumed their grief in uninterrupted silence, taking turns to hold Gram’s frail, wrinkled hands. They filled themselves with the warmth and love of a woman they were about to say goodbye to forever. Still, Gram held on, smiling in and out of sleep for a little while longer, despite her weakened pulse.
“Gram’s dying…” Kiri said, perched on a swivel chair with pretzel crossed, scraped bare legs, long chestnut coiled hair, bright hazel eyes, reading glasses, and a wicked smile she inherited from grandmother. She spun and spun, humming the rest of the death melody while everyone else simmered in collective grief. Annoying as Kiri was, the family needed to hear the tune to resume the wheel of fate ride, no matter who fell off along the way.
“Gram Gram is dying, dying, dying!”
Gram woke up laughing in between hacking coughs. It was easy to forgive her granddaughter for the morose song. They were similar antique souls with dark interests, she didn’t expect anything less of the little girl that reminded her so much of herself. Gram had taught Kiri the song the day she learned of her life ending ailment. She hoped it would make her eventual passing easier to swallow.
“Come here Kirisini, come to your gram, please… our little beauty.”
The little girl gripped the table, halting to a stop. She hopped off the chair and went to her.
“Oh, I know where I’m going, you don’t have to remind me.” She smiled and pinched Kiri’s arm. She jumped back, giggling. “I want to tell you how to live forever…” Gram continued.
“What?” Kiri asked.
Gram cupped her hands, whispering into her ear. Kiri nodded as the family shot worried looks at each other. When Gram finished, Kiri leaped onto the bed and hugged her grandma tight.
The end came within their embrace.
Kiri’s father pulled her aside and took a knee to the seven-year-old’s eye level. She looked past him, watching her mother move the blanket over Gram’s face.
“Honey, what did Gram tell you?” Father asked. Kiri looked at his pained inky eyes, leaking dark sadness.
“She gave me a present,” her hot pink circle glasses fogged with moisture. She pulled them off, wiping hazel tears away. “… and told me she loves me, and I’m real smart and I’m the best one to take care of time.”
Father took her glasses and cleaned them with a cloth he pulled from his pocket. He placed them back on her face, stood up, and shot his wife a troubled glance. She rushed over.
“Kiri, let mama hold it, or daddy, huh?” Mother asked, holding out her open palm. Kiri shook her head no.
“What does she have?” Uncle called. He peeked over his wife’s shoulder for a better look.
“Gram gave her something?” Sister asked in a jealous whisper. The thought drained her face of color.
“Kiri was her favorite. You never talked to Gram like we did,” Seth snapped back.
“Enough!” Father boomed at them both. They shrank like neglected houseplants.
“Kiri, please, let us take it,” Mother begged.
“She said time, didn’t she? That’s what I thought I heard. Why would Gram give her time?” Aunt asked. She looked around at everyone else, each wondering the same. They murmured about time for a moment, then looked back to Kiri curiously.
Mother reached out. Her hands shook uncontrollably. Kiri felt bad about disappointing her mother, but couldn’t give in. Father looked at his wife and her potent, escalating anxiety bound to infect them all. He turned to Kiri angrily, but she closed her eyes, avoiding them both.
“Kirisini Wind, GIVE ME THAT HOURGLASS!” His words rattled the windows, loud as thunder. Kiri jumped in surprise.
“No!” she screamed back, clutching the prize to her chest. She jerked to the right. He lunged to catch her, but she’s too fast and shifts to the left evading him. She sprinted ahead, vaulting over her sister’s leg when she tried to trip her then dove to her knees when she saw her uncle ahead. She slid across the slick, sterile floor beneath his extended arm, barely missing his grasp. She scrambled up, back into another sprint as mother’s sobs echoed throughout the hall. None of them could stop her. She fled the hospital, far away from their grasp. If she looked back, it would ruin Gram’s plan. She had to keep going.
Keep running Kirisini… Keep running! Gram’s voice rang in her ear like a familiar melody. She did as she was told. The city landscape of trees, vehicles, chatter, people, blue sky, and beaming sun flew past her into a blended concoction of vivid, streaming colors. They pulsed through her senses, surrounding her like a flickered rainbow extravaganza the faster she ran.
The world you’re leaving is a funny game, a sequence of events on repeat woven within a web, within another, and another atop a random layer. Gram continued in her head.
Kiri ran faster, fighting the temptation to look behind, but it only grew stronger the longer she ran. She shot an eye over her shoulder and found the fast-moving silhouette barreling closer. She’s thrust backward by her shirt and dangled high. Her feet search for ground within the silhouette’s tight grasp, still trying to run in place.
“LET ME GO!” Kiri screamed.
“Where are you going?!” a voice she recognized screamed back, its grip loosened. When Seth stepped out of his silhouette, he emerged into his familiar, brotherly form.
“Running!” Kiri yelled.
“Running from what?” Seth yelled back.
He followed Kiri’s finger, pointed behind him at the Earth.
“We ran kinda far, I guess…” he murmured, inspecting their space surrounding as they hovered. “Dad’s gonna be pissed—”
In the blink of an eye, Earth disappeared. No warning, no sound, nothing. They looked at each other, and back slowly, in awe of the incredible dark void.
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Kiri began. “There’s another blue marble behind us, another behind that, and another. See?” They turned around, Kiri continued. “It goes on and on. They’re layers… remember what Gram said before?”
“The lights can go off at any moment,” Seth recalled.
“… but they don’t stay off forever,” Kiri continued.
She opened her palm, revealing the hourglass inside. Its shifting sands of time stood still. Seth’s milky eyes flickered into a ruby hue, darkening the longer he looked at it. He shut them and turned away. “I shouldn’t look!” he groaned, waving her away. “Put it away or something. Get it out of here,” she closed her hand. “… What do we do now?” he continued, apprehensively opening one eye.
“What Gram told me; we’ll go to a new layer. Maybe our home will be there, this time.”